Just a Thought with Dana Horgen

Author: Reddy Bernhold


Dana Horgen is an associate teaching professor of chemistry who started in July 2023. She has taught general and organic chemistry labs in her first two semesters for both chemistry and biochemistry majors and non-majors. Intrigued by Hollywood’s portrayal of chemistry, Horgen created a new lecture course for non-science majors called “Foundations of Chemistry” to offer insight into the media’s representation of chemistry and chemical processes in films.

What got you interested in chemistry?

My dad was a physicist. He worked in nuclear power…so he was always talking about science and a lot of physics. When I went to college, I knew I didn’t want to do that exactly, so I started out in chemistry, math and Spanish … I actually didn’t do well in gen chem in college. No one would have predicted that I would be where I am now based on those classes. But I did like labs. Then, when I got to organic [chemistry], me and one of my roommates were in the same class. The two of us together would raise the average of the seventy-person class … It kind of made me think, “Oh, wait, I understand this stuff – and not everyone does. Maybe I have an aptitude for this.”

What do you do in your new class “Foundations of Chemistry”?

I’m really trying to teach them chemistry, like general chemistry; we’re using a general chemistry textbook. I don’t really expect them to memorize quite the same volume of information [as I expect in my course for science majors, but] every day has a clip in it from a movie or TV show, and it sometimes relates directly to what we are talking about. I showed them a clip from “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire,” where the goblet of fire is blue, and it shoots the name out, [and] turns pink. The metal salts and stuff are the same as in the wizarding world. So [as a class we] figure out what metal salts must be present in the goblet of fire to have it be blue and pink. It’s a lecture class, but I will get them into the lab a couple of times because I just think that’s a fun way to experience chemistry.

What are your hopes for future classes at Notre Dame?

I was given the promise that I could teach this class again, and I can call it “Chemistry on Screen,” which is actually my nickname for it. [Going forward] there’s a lot of opportunity to collaborate with other people on campus, too… I didn’t necessarily come [to the university to teach this course], so I’m also super excited to work with chemistry majors in the organic lab, and – long term – revamp [and] revitalize the -171 gen chem lab!