Chemical Engineering Outreach Program with Food Applications and Avoiding Allergies

The objective of this project was to create an interactive outreach program that introduces the field of chemical engineering to elementary through high school aged students through a food chemistry group project . The design criteria for this activity included: minimal risk from allergens; ease of explanation of chemistry behind the chosen food product; that the final product of the activity could be observably different based on different inputs; that some of those differences be measurable through objective experimentation; that the activity work with a variety of age groups; and that the activity be completed in approximately 90 minutes. We were able to determine that agar-agar fruit snacks are a food product that students can make in a short amount of time without encountering common allergens. The mechanism of gelification of the fruit snacks can be described in simple or complex ways, depending on the age or interest of the student group. We were also able to determine a range of formulations that create gels with varying properties, and created basic tests that could differentiate between formulations of the product based on properties such as tensile strength, impact strength, taste, and texture. The project was run with three groups of students of varying ages and yielded positive results for both student attitudes and food product creation.