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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


4.6 rating, based on 16 Class Central reviews

Start your review of Nitrogen: A Global Challenge

  • Its Well-designed and engaging, I learned a lot from this course. I had no prior knowledge of nitrogen, but by the end of the course, I had a good understanding of its importance, its potential risks, and the challenges of managing it sustainably. I also learned about some of the innovative solutions that are being developed to address these challenges. The instructor, Professor Dav Reay, does a great job of explaining complex concepts in a clear and understandable way.
  • Anonymous
    I enjoyed the course and found it interesting. I was surprised that switching to electric vehicles was not mentioned as a possible way of reducing nitrogen emissions. Some of the timeline graphs also ended some years ago, so perhaps some aspects of the course would benefit form being updated.
  • Anonymous
    it's a good course, specially that all the earth talk about this matter. we need to change and know more about nitrogen
  • Profile image for Rassarin
    I finished the class today.
    The class is useful.
    I think there is enoght and not too much content for anyone who is interested in understanding the key points about sustainable farming and its implecation on the environmental impact.
  • Anonymous
    I enjoyed the course. Prof. Dave is a really great teacher and made learning easy and fun especially with his anecdotes (wish all teachers were like him, the one on House was the best). My key learning from this MOCC is that we in Africa need to do a lot more to reduce NOx emission - especially the way we handle manure at the farm level and the way we apply it on the farms. Glad to learn about policy solutions from India on coating urea fertilizers with Neem oil.
  • Anonymous
    First, I would like to thank all the faculty and the university of Edinburgh for offering such a beautiful course. I loved this course and I found many new things, which I didn't know before. The only thing I found a little disappointing is that the course is too short and there is not much depth in it.
  • Anonymous
    The topics of the course provided me the insights and knowledge of Nitrogen to understand and address the global challenges related to N in the 21st century like low NUE, environmental challenges and global climate change.
  • Anonymous
    Before the course I thought Nitrogen... is just Nitrogen. But during the course I learned that Nitrogen is fundamental and plays a huge role in nature and our everyday life.
  • Anonymous
    Very good intro to Nitrogen in all its guises - simple and easy to understand with good videos and stats backing up discussion. Great overview of its impact in agriculture and climate change.
    Only improvements would be to mention the use of cover crops/green manure in agriculture to reduce reliance on synthetic fertiliser given the Haber Bosch process is so energy intense and generates CO2. Likewise, potential alternatives to synthetic fertiliser such as seaweed (is this feasible?).
  • Anonymous
    Great course, very easy to understand and so important for us to mitigate climate change. I would like to see a course exploring Biological Nitrogen fixation. I work in the R&D of selecting soil microbes for nitrogen fixation and developing natural products for agriculture, one of the solutions to decrease nitrogen pollution. Unfortunately, this technology was not mentioned in this course.
  • Anonymous
    Great course if you are looking to learn more about nitrogen, it's importance on agriculture and climate change mitigation! Really recommend!
  • Anonymous
    Great course if you are looking to learn more about nitrogen, and how affect N to the enviroment. 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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