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University of Edinburgh

Nitrogen: A Global Challenge

University of Edinburgh via edX


It’s a perfect storm. Limited food, water and energy unequally spread between an expanding population, and a warming climate as the bitter icing on the cake. In all these global challenges nitrogen has a leading role to play. Here you will learn just how hard-wired into all of human civilisation nitrogen is, and whether the future will see it as our quiet savior or the toxic villain of the piece.

Nitrogen’s story is of the peculiar and the mundane, of water turning red and people turning blue. It is one of climate friend and pollution foe, of meaty feasts and looming famine. If your main thought of nitrogen is as a boring corner of the periodic table then it’s time to look again.

This innovative course, regardless of your background, will teach you core concepts about nitrogen and global change, allowing you to better understand the challenges and opportunities it represents. Key topics include food security, climate change, air pollution, water pollution, human health and more.

Learn through the award-winning teaching approaches of the University of Edinburgh’s faculty team. This course brings an engaging and expert approach to the global challenges of nitrogen, showing how the threats it poses for human civilization can be better integrated and tackled.

Taught by instructors with decades of experience in nitrogen and global change research, this world-first course is a collaboration between leading experts in the UK and India as part of the Newton-Bhabha Virtual Centre on Nitrogen Efficiency.


Week 1: Global Nitrogen Challenge
Introduction to nitrogen, its uses, and overview of its role in global food production, pollution and climate change

Week 2: Nitrogen and Agriculture
Introduction to the nitrogen cycle, history of nitrogen use for food production, interactions with climate change, future challenges for food security

Week 3: Nitrogen and Air Pollution
How nitrogen causes local and global air pollution, its impacts, trends and future challenges

Week 4: Nitrogen and Water
How nitrogen gets into our water, impacts on freshwater and the oceans, risks to ecosystems and human health

Week 5: Nitrogen Solutions
Improving nitrogen use in agriculture, smart food choices, tackling air and water pollution, integrated management

Taught by

Dave Reay, Andrea Moring and Hannah Ritchie

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4.8 rating, based on 5 reviews

Start your review of Nitrogen: A Global Challenge

  • Anonymous
    Great course if you are looking to learn more about nitrogen, it's importance on agriculture and climate change mitigation! Really recommend!
  • Anonymous
    I would like to be involved again in that course. Excelent teachers.

    I would recommend you teaching more about technologies, because the Haber-Bosch process is not sustainable.

    I would show patents and R&D activities about getting ammonia.

    Also there must be information about agriculture 4.0

    Congratulations from Mexico.

    I am an engineer and inventor.

    I am involve now in R&D activities about developing a new technology to produce ammonia, thanks to the course and I got it.

    I thank your valuable teaching.
  • Anonymous
    The course is of great importance for N implications (positive and negative) in agroecosystems and industries, especially for students and researchers in environmental sciences. It is also of great importance for the masses in general. It highlights the need for research on a potent GHG (N2O) emission from anthropogenic agricultural N, a major source of global warming.
  • Anonymous
    I am an AP Environmental Science teacher and was looking for a deeper understanding of the roles Nitrogen plays on our planet. The course was well laid out and gave me new ways to approach this topic with my students. This was a fantastic course for anyone wanting to look at Nitrogen's role in both agriculture and climate change.
  • Anonymous
    I took this class before starting my master's program to refresh my understanding of nutrient loading, nitrogen-fixing methods, nitrogen sequestration, and the nitrogen cycle. I found this course to be incredibly helpful and easy to digest. I would recommend this course to anyone interested in the environmental impacts of nitrogen. :)

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