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UNL chemistry professor connects the Wizarding World with ours


Rebecca Lai has two passions: science and Harry Potter. 

For nine years the associate professor of chemistry at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln has been bringing the two worlds closer together. 

“I think it’s fun to think outside the box,” Lai said. 

After much time spent pondering the connections between our world and the wizarding world Lai, who holds a doctorate in chemistry, decided to ask the chemistry department for permission to run a course talking about the connections she had found. 

“I had a pretty clear idea of how I wanted to run the class,” Lai said. 

In the Spring of 2012 the department debuted Muggles Guide to Harry Potter Chemistry, which was a once a week honors course.

Lai divided up the class into the four fictional houses at the Hogwarts academy and had them compete for house points. Lai said she’s a Ravenclaw, known for wisdom, wit and cleverness. 

“Every single class knew on that day which house was winning,” she said. “And everybody wanted to outdo one another.”

The class covered a variety of materials from: why gold is so sought after, potions vs medicine, spells vs technology and magical animals vs non-magical animals.

“I had way more lecture than class time,” Laid said.

The class lasted two semesters, but Lai continues working on Harry Potter science activities for kindergarten through senior year of high school. 

There’s an afterschool program where students spend seven weeks learning all about the science of Harry Potter and in the end graduate from Hogwarts. 

“That’s one of the diverse things about this,” Lai said.

The after school program takes material originally intended for a college course and turns it into concepts and activities to catch the attention of fourth and fifth graders. 

But this doesn’t mean that the program has left the university. Lai continues to give lectures on the topic at SciPop Talks. However, the class has not disappeared entirely. 

“The short answer is it could come back,” Lai said.

She is currently working on developing an online class. 

The main goal of these programs is to take science and connect it to the world of Harry Potter. 

“I am promoting science and chemistry,” Lai said “I am very clear in what I’m trying to deliver is to try to tie pop culture to science to introduce it to people who don’t like science, or are bored by science or don’t understand it.”