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Hitting a bump in my education


Last updated 3/18/2020 at 4:31pm | View PDF

My husband and I have been huge fans of the "Great Courses" DVDs for years.

Each of the hundreds of courses available typically includes 24 or 36 half-hour lessons taught by student-recommended professors. Our personal curriculum reveals a deep interest in science, linguistics and history, and our routine is to begin evening TV time by watching a class on the topic at hand.

I've been very satisfied with most courses but was 95 percent dazed and confused with our latest, "Biochemistry and Molecular Biology: How Life Works." The key problem was that our very learned professor was speaking to me in a foreign language. I know about proteins, molecules, RNA, DNA, glucose, electrons and neurotransmitters, but he whizzed through technical jargon and chemical bond drawings with no mercy for the uninformed. Hydrophilic carboxyl groups? Pentose phosphate pathway? Glyceraldehyde 6-phosphate? Pyruvate kinase? Seriously?

To be fair, before purchasing a course, my husband and I read reviews and content summaries - and decide together to buy or not. Thus, I was complicit in selecting this course, meaning that my continuous exasperation was, in part, my own doing.

By comparison, we recently tackled two other challenging courses - "Intro to Astrophysics" and "The Science of Flight." True, I zoned out during the presentation of differential equations in the first and hardcore aerodynamics in the second, but I was lost only 50 percent of the time.

At this point, I feel obligated to write about the 5 percent I liked in "Biochemistry and Molecular Biology." For example, I enjoyed (but still didn't understand) the multi-stanza poem or song our professor delivered to summarize each lecture. My favorite song was to the tune of "The Star-Spangled Banner."

Also, I had a moment of surprising clarity when part of a complicated drawing depicted how my statin successfully lowered (inhibited) my cholesterol.

Best of all were two big picture takeaways worth reflecting on. First was the professor's strong confidence that these fields of study offer hope of cures for and prevention of viral, genetic and other terrible diseases - and not too far in the future. Second was my awe in both the incredible complexity of the molecular processes within and among our bodies' cells and how beautifully they work much of the time. Perhaps imparting that understanding was the professor's primary intent all along.

- Sally Hartmann of Hinsdale is a contributing columnist. Readers can email her at [email protected]


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