Coffee Break EP20 [VIDEO]: Tales from the Genome Interview

Happy Coffee Break! Udacity’s introductory genetics course Tales from the Genome launches on September 30, 2013, and will feature interviews with many people living with a variety of genetic traits.

Here, we talk with a person who has achondroplasia, which is the most common cause of dwarfism. Check out the course and share with a friend — see you in class!

Udacity Genetics Course Launching September 30th

Hi Udacity! Together with personal genetics company 23andMe, Udacity has developed an exciting new introductory course, Tales from the Genome, where you will take a journey into the biology of the human genome and learn basic genetics. Make sure to sign up for the course, which launches on September 30th, and share with your friends!

Although the whole course will be a learning extravaganza, Lesson 7 will be particularly handy when you want to read and understand genetic information available from personal genetics services such as 23andMe. We’re very excited to announce that 23andMe is offering a sweepstakes of 50 personal DNA testing kits for Tales from the Genome students! To be eligible, students must enroll in the course by October 31, 2013, and be based in the US. Winners will be announced on November 6, 2013. See the official rules here.

To be eligible, students must:

  • Sign up for an account at (both free demo account and Personal Genome Service accounts are eligible);
  • Sign up for an account at using the same email address as 23andMe account;
  • Enroll in Udacity’s course, Tales from the Genome; and
  • Complete any two lessons and two problem sets in Tales from the Genome.  The participant must answer all quiz questions within any two lessons and all questions within any two problem sets correctly.  These problem sets do not need to correspond to the two lessons completed.

Want to get started early with Tales from the Genome? You’re in luck, because course instructor Dr. Matt Cook has created a special bonus lesson, DIY Genetics: DNA Extraction in Your Kitchen. Grab a DIY buddy and get ready to get messy with DNA in your kitchen!

If you want more news from Tales from the Genome, be sure to follow Udacity’s Facebook page to see updates from Matt and check out our pre-launch Genomics photo album for behind-the-scenes fun.

Coffee Break EP17 [VIDEO]: Physics, the Moon, and Giant Triangles

Happy Friday and welcome to Coffee Break!

In this episode, Andy will demonstrate the giant triangle created between the Sun, Moon and Earth. The cool part is that you, behind the camera, are going to stand in for Earth.

Impressed with the physics that allows us to talk about this and other giant triangles? Sign up for Introduction to Physics and start learning more today!

Let us know in the comments if you see any extra Udacity “U”s in this week’s Coffee Break, and like our page on Facebook to see more (and vote for next week’s easter egg)!

Coffee Break EP13 [Video] – Tales from the Genome

Happy Friday!

In today’s Coffee Break, Matthew Cook, the instructor of Tales for the Genome is going to introduce the course to you.  He’s going to share with you why he’s excited and the things that you will learn.

In this course you will explore the biology of DNA and how the code of your genome creates who you are. This course will give you a new understanding of genetics, to learn more sign up for the course here.

New Course: Tales from the Genome

DNA, the genetic code of life
DNA, the genetic code of life

DNA is the organic software of almost all living things, and each individual cell is the hardware on which this genetic software is run. This amazing code, DNA, is the subject of one of Udacity’s newest courses launching this fall, Tales from the Genome: Adventures in DNA, Identity, and Health. This is an introductory course that will teach you basic genetic principles, regardless of your academic background. Together with the personal genetics service 23andMe, we will explore the biology of the most important code in your life: the human genome.

Most Udacity fans already appreciate the beauty of code, and most of you are likely to be far more expert at understanding and manipulating computer code than I am! (Although I am pleased with my progress so far in CS101). Still, I am continually surprised by how unfamiliar people are with their own personal genetic code wrapped up inside every cell of their body. Long before transistors, binary code, or the Internet, mother nature built her own coding system for all life on our planet. This code of life, billions of years in the making (Carl Sagan would be proud), is far messier, more dynamic, exceedingly more robust, amazingly more efficient, and absolutely more imperfect than man-made code.

Tales from the Genome will give you a taste of this complexity and begin to reveal exactly how much code is necessary to run a whole human body:

  • Just as there are two possible values in binary code (0 and 1), DNA (the code of our genomes) has four possible values (A, T, G, or C).
  • A single line of DNA code is always paired with another that can be inferred from the first: you may have heard of this before, DNA is almost always two strands that pair together in a regular way (the double helix).
  • One copy of the human genome is 3 billion pairs of code letters, so 6 billion actual code letters total; and each cell has two copies of the genome, so that’s 12 billion letters per cell.
  • Approximately 50 trillion cells in the human body means that you have approximately 1 yotta of DNA code letters. That’s 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 letters of code! If we think of one letter of DNA code representing one bit of information in computer code, then that’s equivalent to about 100 zettabytes of hard disk space. That’s more than 10 billion times more information available on today’s 2 Terabyte hard drives!

Somehow all of the DNA you have is wrapped up and organized inside your cells (and it doesn’t just sit there)! It is actively read all the time, even while you eat, sleep, and poop; every cell is reading different parts of the code, which makes that cell unique and allows it to do its job as a skin, stomach, blood, or brain cell. There are thousands of different cell types working together to make up who you are: one conscious being with specific traits and desires, a singular intelligence and personality. But at the root of it all, you are a giant conglomeration of cells all meticulously reading the genetic code to keep you alive and functioning, forming the basis of all of your traits. Tales from the Genome will show you how to connect your genome to your traits and reveal what it really means to be human. We will explore the personal stories of people living with a variety of traits, from lactose intolerance to dwarfism to breast cancer to bipolar disorder. We will learn about how the genetic code controls these traits and what impact these traits have on individuals, their personal relationships, and society at large.

When you sign up for Tales from the Genome you will acquire a basic understanding of how this organic code of your genome is turned into flesh and blood. To hear more about the course and get updates on its launch in the fall, visit the overview page and click “Take the Class” to enroll. I hope you will join us on the adventure, and maybe you will find out the secrets your genome holds.

Matthew Cook
Course Instructor

From Reinventing Education to Reinventing Science


At Udacity, we’re constantly inspired by seeing others work to broaden access to education and information.  We want to share a great note from Andrés, a Physics PhD student who writes that Udacity’s “effort to reinvent education is an inspiration for me to try to reinvent science.”

He elaborates by sharing thoughts on his journey in opening access to information as a PhD student:

The way we do science hasn’t changed much in the last 300 years. We live still in a publish or perish paradigm in which almost the only valuable scientific contribution to the world is a published journal article (behind a steep paywall, of course). But there’s a wealth of useful information unfit for such publications that we could share, reuse and profit from.

While making my own research for my PhD I wanted to have a written record of everything I do, all the ideas (good and bad), discussions, datasets, source code, plots, etc. so I could share them easily with my advisor and other colleagues, and get more and faster feedback than I do with usual means.

I started by making open notebook science keeping an online record of all my activities. I also needed some sort of cloud storage to share the results of my simulations, some sort of forum to discuss ideas (email is too cumbersome), a version control system for my source code and my datasets, a wiki-like knowledge repository for all the important information I came across, and a way to make collaborative writings in a sensible way.

Needless to say, I didn’t find a platform that met my all needs but, after taking Udacity’s Introduction to Computer Science and Web Development courses I felt empowered to develop it myself. So I made Research Engine which is an attempt to have an online tool meeting all my needs. I’m starting to use it for my PhD project and I think it’s being really useful. I would like to make Research Engine bigger and have people interested in it so, as suggested in How to Build a Startup I’m now actively looking  for feedback from my peers.

I want science to be made completely in the open with smart tools that helps us enhance our comprehension of the universe and, whether my current project succeeds or not, now thanks to Udacity I feel I can make such tools when I need them.

Andrés García Saravia Ortíz de Montellano
Mérida, Yucatán. México.

Tickles and Psychology

This summer, Udacity and San Jose State University are offering online courses for college credit in a couple exciting subjects. Today, we want to take the time to tell you about one course in particular – Intro to Psychology.

It involves snakes, babies, sea lions, jello brains, sense olympics, and it may help you answer the age-old question, “Why do I DO that?”

Susan Snycerski and Greg Feist of San Jose State, and Udacity’s very own Lauren Castellano, are teaming up to bring you a (sometimes literally) breathtaking overview of psychology in its many facets. Take a journey with them through all the major psychological concepts and principles, learn to critically evaluate psychological research, and gain a more in-depth understanding of human thought and behavior. Basically, if you’ve ever been curious about the way your brain works, or the way other people’s brains work, this is the class for you!

The deadline to enroll for college credit with San Jose State University is May 24, and space is limited, so hurry to get your spot today.