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Teaching Chemical Engineering with Coffee

Originally delivered Apr 27, 2021
  • Type:
    Archived Webinar
  • Level:
  • Duration:
    1 hour
  • PDHs:

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We describe a new class developed at U.C. Davis titled "The Design of Coffee," which serves as a nonmathematical introduction to chemical engineering as illustrated by the process of roasting and brewing coffee. Hands-on coffee experiments demonstrate key engineering principles, including material balances, chemical kinetics, mass transfer, conservation of energy, and fluid mechanics.

The experiments lead to an engineering design competition where students strive to make the best tasting coffee using the least amount of energy - a classic engineering optimization problem, but one that is both fun and tasty. "The Design of Coffee" started as a freshmen seminar in 2013, and it has exploded in popularity: prior to the pandemic it served 1,700 students per year as the largest and most popular elective course at U.C. Davis, and several other universities have implemented chemical engineering courses using coffee.

In this talk we focus on the class pedagogy as applied to hands-on activities, with an emphasis on how coffee serves as an engaging and exciting topic for teaching students about engineering design in an approachable, hands-on manner.


William Risternpart

William Ristenpart is a Professor of Chemical Engineering and the founding director of the Coffee Center at the University of California Davis. He received his Ph.D. from Princeton University and did his postdoctoral research at Harvard University.

In 2012, Prof. Ristenpart co-developed ECH 1, “The Design of Coffee,” which is now the most popular elective general education course on campus. His research expertise is in complex transport phenomena, with current research topics including nanoparticle electrokinetics, airborne disease transmission, and extraction dynamics of coffee....Read more

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