Welcome to Class: The Jazz of Chemistry
Meena Rao

As the director of Barnard’s Organic Chemistry Labs, senior lecturer Meena Rao is responsible for the technical aspects — the nuts and bolts — of making sure students have a safe and productive classroom experience while conducting experiments and proving theorems. Yet when she teaches her course The Jazz of Chemistry, she brings a creative approach to the science and leads students on a journey to explore how chemistry permeates nearly every aspect of our lives.

“There is chemistry everywhere and in everything, and that’s what students are going to learn in this class,” said Rao. Organized as a lecture seminar with a lab component, the course covers topics that are both expected — such as chemistry’s application in medicine, petrochemicals, and forensic science — and unexpected, like its use in cosmetics, art restoration, food flavors, beverages, and other consumer goods.

Meena Rao in chemistry lab
Rao, with students in the lab

One area the course will explore is the chemical of gems. While the chemical structure of rubies and emeralds are very similar, students will explore what accounts for their difference in color. At the end of the semester, Rao’s budding scientists will have gained hands-on experience in the techniques that various industries use involving chemistry, further emphasizing the multifaceted applications of science.

Rao hopes that students will have more than their curiosity piqued after taking the class; she wants them to be less intimidated by the sciences. “Chemistry is not [something] to be afraid of; it’s to be explored and enjoyed,” explained Rao. “When I see students open up by learning these subjects, that is the beauty of this course — and teaching — for me.” 

To learn more about Rao’s course, The Jazz of Chemistry, watch the video above.