Submitted by KVH / Harvey Mudd College on Wed, 06/08/2022 - 13:46
My Notes
Specific Course Information
Course Area and Number
Chem 190
Harvey Mudd College
Claremont, CA
Metals and Life ed. Eleanor Crabb and Elaine Moore
Course Meetings and Time
Number of meetings per week
2 meetings / week
Time per meeting (minutes)
75 min / meeting
Number of weeks
7 weeks
Lab Associated
Average Class Size
5 to 15
Typical Student Population
This course is taken by a mixture of sophomores, juniors, and seniors. The students are primarily chemistry or joint biology-chemistry majors. It acted as an upper-level elective, but sophomores who had completed Physical Chemistry were allowed to enroll.

Metals in biological systems can perform a wide range of reactions with exquisite efficiency and selectivity. In contrast, performing many of the same reactions in the lab requires harsh conditions and/or rare, expensive materials. In addition to their role in reactivity, metals in biological systems serve important roles in protein structure, electron transport, signaling, biological mineralization, and a host of other functions. In this class, we will investigate how metals support aerobic respiration, how metals provide us with food and fuel, and how metals in medicine facilitate healing through therapeutic and diagnostic applications.

This course seeks to take a holistic approach by connecting bioinorganic chemistry to three fundamental human needs: breath, nourishment, and healing. The first unit, Breath, follows the production of oxygen by Photosystem II, electron transfer in blue copper proteins, the transport of oxygen by hemoglobin, and aerobic respiration using cytochrome C oxidase. The second unit, Nourishment, looks at bioinorganic chemistry that sustains us through food and fuel. In gen chem, we learned about the Haber-Bosch process that feeds half the world. In Chem 190, we will learn about the nitrogenase enzyme that produces enough fertilizer to feed the other half. We will also discuss the hydrogenase enzyme and how it produces the fuel hydrogen. The third unit, Healing, looks at the roles of metals in diagnosis and in therapeutics.

Learning Goals

Granular learning goals were provided for each class session. Overall course goals are listed below.

Upon successful completion of this course, students will be able to:

  • Read a scientific article and report the main findings
  • Search the chemical literature using a database such as SciFinder or Web of Science
  • Describe the role of metal centers in oxygen generation and aerobic respiration
  • Compare and contrast nitrogen and hydrogen generation in biological systems and in society
  • Explain how metals are used medicinally in therapeutic and diagnostic applications
How the course is taught
This course was offered remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic and conducted via Zoom. Each class session included an interactive lecture and group work.
Grading Scheme
Preparation and Participation: 32.5% of the grade, evaluated by self-assessment
Homework: 32.5% of final grade
Student Choice Project: 35% of final grade
Creative Commons License
Attribution, Non-Commercial, Share Alike CC BY-NC-SA