Ice cream-making gives Philly kids a taste of a life-sciences career

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    This weekend’s Color of Science event at Franklin Institute showcases the careers of the diverse professionals who work in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

    When you ask middle school kids to draw a scientist, too often the image you get back is an old, white guy in a lab coat with glasses and a pocket protector, said Frederic Bertley, The Franklin Institute’s vice president of science and education.

    “The classic stereotype,” he said.

    He says this weekend’s Color of Science event at The Franklin introduces the public and students to the reality of the STEM world, including people of all races, ethnicities and genders.

    On Friday, there will be a panel discussion with four female scientists: Agnes Chau Klucha is Program Manager for Research and Technology Partnerships at UTC Aerospace Systems;  Jayatri Das is Chief Bioscientist at The Franklin Institute; Carmen Fernández-Metzler leads the consulting laboratory group PharmaCadence Analytical Services and Pediatrician Kristen Feemster is an infectious diseases doctor and health-services researcher at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

    On Saturday, those women’s work will be on display and interpreted for children in grades six through eight.

    Bertley’s message is: “These are people in our lives, contributing to our community now.”

    It’s nice to celebrate pioneers like Charles Drew, Benjamin Banneker and C.J. Walker, but some of those innovators have been dead 100 years, Bertley said. 

    Throughout the year, the Franklin also gives high school students from across Philadelphia a taste of what it is like to pursue a life-sciences career.

    “They get to meet with some of the most amazing scientists in their field,” said Danielle Marino, manager of the STEM Scholars program.

    Students join as freshman, meet once a week for four years, and do an internship in their junior year.

    “Sometimes the students will come out of it and say: ‘I loved it. I really liked working at Monell Chemical Senses Center, and learning about body odor. I loved it.’ And sometimes they’ll come out of it and say: ‘This is not for me,’ which is just as helpful,” Marino said.

    This month, the students are learning about food science and nutrition. There are lessons on the Maillard reaction, emulsification and how carbs work. During a recent workshop, the group used liquid nitrogen to make super-smooth ice cream.

    Science interpreter Ashley Singletary explained that the liquid is the same nitrogen in the air, except compressed.

    “Until it gets to about -320 degrees Fahrenheit. So, super duper cold,” she said.

    Camp supervisor Buddy Muhler mixed up three different ice cream recipes, and the students noted the taste and texture of each batch.

    When Muhler poured the liquid nitrogen from a vacuum flask into the mixing bowl, it hissed, bubbled and then threw a fog of vapor across the table.

    “When it evaporates and becomes gas nitrogen, it expands to 700 times its volume from being a liquid to a gas,” Muhler said.

    “Because we are freezing all of the ingredients super fast, it’s not going to give the ingredients enough time to form bigger crystals,” Singletary said. “So the smaller the crystals, the softer the ice cream and the smoother the texture is.”

    15-year-old Roneil Francis, a student at Tacony Academy Charter High School, said the ice cream was good. But Hasan Talouli rated the coconut milk and vanilla-bean version as “blah.” He said the texture was kind of rough for an ice cream. Bafode Keita, a student at Parkway Center City High School liked the strawberry version.

    “The texture is just about right. Sweetness wasn’t too sweet, it’s pretty good actually,” he said.

    Julieanne Valentin, 16, said she’s not sure she’s going to be scientist when she grows up, but said at the Franklin, she meets student from other schools who also love science.

    “Here, it’s like hands on, you actually get involved into what you are doing,” she said.

    “Every week, it’s a new thing that you learn; it’s not the same stuff every time.”

    Between the taste tests–and the giggling–teacher Danielle Marino quizzed the students and steered the discussion back to science.

    “Different sugars in your body are digested by different organs in your body, and also are useful for different things,” Marino said. “For example some sugars are useful for creating energy and come from carbohydrates.”

    Some of the STEM scholars are volunteering at the Franklin’s Color of Science program this weekend.

    Reporter Taunya English will be an unpaid moderator at the event.

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