Chocolate confections making the materials science connection
URBANA — Jessica Sun won a golden ticket last week — not to Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory, but to Paul Braun’s materials science of chocolate lecture.
“I’ve always been curious about how chocolate is made, but I never thought about how my major could be inclusive to that,” said Sun, a freshman at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign’s Department of Materials Science and Engineering. “It’s kind of mind blowing and eye opening.”
Braun, a MatSE professor and Grainger Distinguished Chair in Engineering, guest lectured the course taught by associate professor Pinshane Huang.
“We all learn best when we are engaged,” Huang said. “Because MSE 182 is a broad introductory class, it is full of opportunities to bring in interesting stories and activities to illustrate how materials science and engineering impacts our daily lives or what areas our students might be working on in the future.”
Getting students to think about the materials behind the yummy confections is “something memorable and different,” Braun said.
Having previously taught the class, Braun’s inspiration to develop the candy-themed lecture came from a Materials Research Society bulletin article.
“(Chocolate) really seemed like a topic that could be engaging and simplified, yet also have some pretty sophisticated elements,” he said.
Intriguing indeed. The mostly first-year U of I students snacked on Ghirardelli, Hersey’s Lake Champlain and Lindt’s dark and milk chocolates, comparing their snap, surface finish and taste.
“They’re very thoughtful about it,” Braun said of the students’ observations. “They have the chocolates and they’ve made up their charts, and they’re scratching and breaking little pieces and really trying to do real observational science.”
Braun’s biggest hope for the students’ takeaway?
“Hopefully, by the end of the lecture, they can access it (the materials science of chocolate), and even go home and tell their grandmother about it,” he said. “That it’s accessible and they can (share about it) when they go home for Thanksgiving.”
For Sun, that’s an already made connection.
“Once you step into this class, into the field of materials science,” Sun said, “you start thinking about things that you never considered before.”
“Every single time someone asks me why I wanted to be a materials science major, I ask them, ‘What are you wearing? What are you holding in your hands?’” Sun said. “Everything is incorporated in materials.”
“That’s extraordinary to me,” Sun added.