Presenter Bios

Pia Sorensen

Pia is Senior Preceptor in Chemical Engineering and Applied Materials at the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. She co-teaches the General Education course Science and Cooking: From Haute Cuisine to Soft Matter Science, which explores how everyday cooking and haute cuisine can illuminate basic principles in chemistry and physics. The course includes lectures by visiting top chefs from around the world, and the related public lecture series features these same lectures to the general public. 

Pia led the recent development of the online course Science & CookingX, and also teaches a Harvard course on the science of food fermentations. She is author and editor of several books, including the interactive online textbook “Science and Cooking: A Companion to the Harvard Course" (self-published) and "Online Chemistry Education and the Effect on the On Campus Classroom" (ACS/Oxford University Press). Her research interests range from science and engineering education — with an emphasis on online education and creative ways of teaching science and engineering in a liberal arts setting — to the science of food, and the chemical and microbial processes of food fermentations. 

As an educator in the science of food and cooking, Pia hopes to bring creative and intuitive approaches to science education that promotes awareness of the physics and chemistry everywhere around us. She is looking forward to working with, and learning from, innovative science teachers in the SteamED workshops. 


Vayu Maini Rekdal 

Vayu is a PhD student and HHMI Gilliam Fellow in the MCO program at Harvard, pursuing thesis research on gut microbes and nutrition in the Balskus lab. He is also the founder of the Young Chefs Program, a unique outreach program that uses cooking to empower students and educators with culinary and scientific skills.

Though he now has the honor to work in some of the world’s finest laboratories, his first experiments were done in the kitchen, mixing solutions, testing cooking temperatures, and tending microbial communities in sourdough starters. Vayu fell in love with cooking early on as a young boy in Stockholm, Sweden. As a young cook, he discovered many tools for creating unexpected flavors and sensations, none was more powerful than the science he learned in school. A molecular understanding of cooking improved flavor profiles, stabilized solutions, and maximized deliciousness. However, kitchen science was more than an ingredient for better food; it was a bridge to the principles informing our understanding of the universe. Cooking and science were beautifully interconnected, working together to catalyze learning about food, about nature, and about ourselves. 

Vayu believes that the intimate connection between food and science makes cooking an ideal medium to communicate scientific concepts and methods. To put this vision into practice, he founded Young Chefs. What started as a local after school program in Vayu’s college town has quickly evolved to a network of educators, community leaders, and college students who bring a unique educational approach to schools across the country and beyond. Young Chefs focuses on developing hands-on cooking science curriculum and either directly implementing it in diverse programs or supporting educators to bring it to their classrooms. The curriculum is formatted to Next-Generation science standards and contains a step-by-step instructor guide to the wonderful science of delicious, healthy, and quick foods.