What class? Applied Food Science and Engineering
Who teaches it? Professor Margot Vigeant, chemical engineering
"What's exciting about this course is that we peek under the hood about what makes food 'work.' What is the difference between a baked cookie and a raw one? Why does jam have so much sugar in it? What the heck is potassium benzoate, and what's it doing in my orange juice? Why are granola bars rectangular prisms and not another shape?
"Another thing that's cool about this class is the approach. Rather than making a list of everything I want the students to learn and then lecturing them on it, I make a list of everything I want the students to learn, then find or create problems. In order for the students to solve these problems, they have to learn all of the stuff I had on my list — and usually a lot more.
"We have about five problems that drive the entire class, and students have about two weeks to solve each one. For example, how can a manufacturer of tomato-based pasta sauce remain profitable if there's an adverse weather event that causes the price of tomatoes to double? In solving this problem, students learn about food preservation, federal regulation, heat transfer, mixing, food additives and, of course, how to actually make tomato sauce from scratch. In one class, we published a book on food science and history called The Story of Food.
"The most important thing I want students to learn is an attitude and approach toward engineering design and problem solving. There's lots more to learn than can ever fit in one class, but with this approach students realize they can gather resources to resolve any problem, not just food-engineering problems.
"I also want students to develop an appreciation for food science, food engineering and the unique ways in which this field interacts with culture, regulation and health. I want them to feel ready to pursue a career or further study in food — but even if they never apply this in the workplace, I call it success if this course impacts their personal lives.
"Students are surprised how difficult it is to create a product or process that meets all of their stated goals. Let's make a snack that is all-natural, nutritious, inexpensive, low-calorie, very tasty, with a long shelf-life — and that can, without reformulation, be sold in North American and European markets. Turns out, that is a really challenging task."
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