Registration Open for First DavidsonX Course: Medicinal Chemistry

The college will offer the first of several Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) taught by Davidson faculty beginning March 10. Professor Erland Stevens, chair of the chemistry department, will present the seven-week course "Medicinal Chemistry: The Molecular Basis of Drug Discovery" through DavidsonX, a nonprofit online learning initiative hosted by edX.

In "Medicinal Chemistry," Stevens will address how pharmaceutical drugs move from concept to market, and how a drug's chemical structure relates to its biological function. Students should be able to identify organic chemistry functional groups and read line-angle chemical structures. DavidsonX courses are free and open to the public; register now.

Medicinal chemistry is an area that touches the public more personally than most fields of chemistry. Stevens explained, "Students want to see where the rubber meets the road, and in medicinal chemistry we get to do that. Everyone knows someone with a good or bad encounter with medicine, and the process of developing drugs, their place in the health care system, and their price is constantly in the news. Medicinal chemistry is highly applied to our daily lives."

Stevens explained that the primary work of medicinal chemists is modifying molecular structure of known compounds to improve their function. The drug discovery process often begins with large collections of molecules held by a drug company. Each compound in the collection, which may include over a million different molecules, is tested for biological activity. The most active compounds, called hits, are further screened for factors such as transportability within the body, effectiveness against disease, ease of synthesis, improved function and even patentability. The structure of promising compounds is further manipulated until the molecules demonstrate drug-like biological activity.

Davidson and Wellesley College are the first highly selective liberal arts institutions to join the edX consortium for online learning. Founded by Harvard University and MIT, the nonprofit alliance is recognized as a leader in the field and has enrolled more than 1.2 million students through 31 affiliated institutions of higher education worldwide.

The college will apply new technologies and pedagogical techniques used to create DavidsonX courses in the traditional Davidson classroom, as well as to help shape the conversation about technology across the higher education landscape.

Additional DavidsonX courses will be added over the next several years. Registration is now open for "Representations of HIV/AIDS," taught by Professor of English Ann Fox and Professor of Biology Dave Wessner; the course will begin Sept. 22. Presented in conjunction with its on-campus counterpart, the course will explore how HIV/AIDS is portrayed in diverse genres through the perspectives of the scientist and the literary critic.

About the Instructor

Stevens earned a bachelor's degree in chemistry from Duke University. He conducted doctoral work at the University of Michigan, testing new ways to make heterocyclic compounds, many of which are used in pharmacological drugs, and received his doctoral degree in 1997. Stevens then served a post-doctoral appointment at Scripps Research Institute in California in the laboratory of Nobel laureate K. Barry Sharpless before joining the Davidson faculty in 1998.

Stevens used his training to develop a course in medicinal chemistry that would appeal to non-chemistry majors at Davidson. In 2013, he published Medicinal Chemistry: The Modern Drug Discovery Process.

Based on Stevens' academic training as an organic synthetic chemist, the book explains in detail the chemical manipulations necessary to create compounds that may be effective against disease. It also touches on the complex web of regulatory, commercial, ethical and political issues involved in creating drugs. The book is part of Pearson Publishing's "advanced chemistry" series.

For additional information about DavidsonX courses, contact Allison Dulin at


  • February 14, 2014