The Elements of Food

Inside the CORE

Written by Annie Beckmann
Photography by Archives
July 9, 2014

A look at undergraduate courses in the new Core curriculum offers a better appreciation for how Seattle University inspires insightful and creative thinkers.

Chemistry, Food and Nutrition

Susan Jackels, professor of chemistry

A maximum of 19, mostly freshmen, although some seniors who still need science credits to graduate


To someone who isn’t a science major, studying the fundamentals of chemistry might sound like a formidable task that involves more than a passing acquaintance with the periodic table of elements. That may have been the case way back when, but today’s Core makes this natural science a lot more, well, palatable.

Becoming a better-informed consumer about issues related to food and nutrition is the focus of Chemistry, Food and Nutrition, taught by Professor Sue Jackels in the College of Science and Engineering. The course calls for understanding just enough about chemistry and science, says Jackels, without being too overwhelming.

Students learn about the basic components of food—proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, minerals, water and micronutrients. They also develop an understanding of calories, food labels, properties of foods and the chemistry of cooking.

The amazing part? The revelations, for sure. Students compare fruit juices with sodas and are surprised to learn there’s about the same amount of sugar in both.

In lab experiments, they burn a peanut to find out it’s mostly oil. At five different “potato chip stations” in the lab, teams weigh and mash a single potato chip with a mortar and pestle, then use petroleum ether to determine how much fat it contains.

Students explore the properties of triglycerides, that group of organic compounds that include fats and oils. Then they look into which fats are saturated and unsaturated, why trans fats are worse than saturated fats and talk about heart disease and healthy oils.

Freshman Taylor Fair says she was intrigued with a science class related to food. David Ho, also a freshman, equally appreciates the subject matter. “To learn about this makes it sound like I’m smart,” he says.

Sophomore Marc Delgado says he’s had an interest in food for a long time.
“This is a good bonding experience for us,” he says, as his lab team extracts oil from potato chips.  

In this Core class, there are quizzes but no final exam. Instead, two or three students team up to research an issue and craft a white paper on it. They present these at the end of the quarter on topics that include the effects of protein and amino acid supplements on athletic performance, nutrition and the brain, the role of gluten in the diet, caffeine addiction, nutrition vs. calorie count, foods and moods and the modern-day controversy about genetically modified organisms.
Good Food A new CORE class explores the chemistry behind food.