Jul 14, 2015

Organic chemistry professor turns a ‘feared’ subject into one that inspires students.

UCLA Newsroom (Stuart Wolpert): Neil Garg admits that the mere mention of organic chemistry tends to strike fear in the hearts of undergraduates — and even medical doctors he meets often say it was their least favorite college class. So how has the award-winning UCLA chemistry professor turned his organic chemistry course into one of one of UCLA’s most beloved?

In a 20-minute talk at UCLA’s latest TEDx event, Garg explains how he teaches second-year students — none of them chemistry majors — to tackle problems so challenging that Garg himself didn’t learn to solve them until he was a graduate student. Garg engages students in part by showing how organic chemistry is relevant to everyday life, medicine and pop culture. He also encourages them to produce music videos about organic chemistry.
 
“It lets students work together in a class that’s typically known to be fiercely competitive,” he says. “And also to be creative and have fun in ways that aren’t so common in classes that are associated with hard sciences.”
 
Garg also talks about the importance of learning as many students’ names as possible — even in a class with enrollment approaching 400 — and of giving students confidence rather than letting them believe that some are being “weeded out” from a track toward medical school.