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Sinking ice and hovering foams

Annual Science & Cooking Fair gives undergraduates a taste of science and engineering

Peter Boehm, John Randal Tyson, and Brian Butler developed a non-liquid rum-and-coke cocktail, winning the award for "most creative project."

Tofu pâté, sinking ice, and all-egg noodles replaced the usual fare in the Annenberg dining hall yesterday, at the second incarnation of Harvard's most delicious science fair.

The annual Science & Cooking Fair shows off students' final projects from the undergraduate, general-education course "Science & Cooking: From Haute Cuisine to the Science of Soft Matter."

This year, 63 teams presented a great variety of culinary creations. Chris Lehman '13 (social studies), and James Danner '13 (history and literature) attempted to recreate the texture, flavor, and acidity of a fresh raspberry in a spherified liquid form. Their classmate, Paul VanKoughnett '12 (mathematics), optimized the bubbliness of angel food cake. Most of the students who take the course do not intend to concentrate in science or engineering.

The Science & Cooking course brings world-famous, innovative chefs to Harvard to give guest lectures on specific aspects of scientific theory and culinary practice. (A separate series of public lectures is available online.)

Through the chefs' demonstrations of sweet treats like chocolate mousse and savory staples like steaks, students learn about colloids, rheology, and heat transfer. They then apply that knowledge in lab activities throughout the term and share their final projects with members of the Harvard community who can see a semester's worth of learning and, in most cases, taste the results.

"The projects are great," said course instructor David Weitz, the Mallinckrodt Professor of Physics and Applied Physics at Harvard's School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS). "We're convincing people who are not necessarily motivated to study science to actually enjoy it, and that's what I call success."

"They're also learning to ask scientific questions, and none of them are afraid of equations now," he added. "In fact, they cheer every time they see the equation of the week."

Many of the guest chefs returned to serve as judges at the Science & Cooking Fair. The top award, for "most creative project," was presented by acclaimed chef Ferran Adrià to a team that produced a non-liquid rum-and-coke cocktail in two phases. A few of the other awards included:

  • Most delicious—Variations on an olive oil gelée
  • Most entertaining—Levitating spheres of chocolate foam
  • Most systematic—The science of pancakes
  • Best project involving emulsification—Using garlic as a surfactant
  • Best potential for business applications—Analysis of the effects of brewing method and caffeination on coffee emulsions

The difference between the final projects and the work done in the lab during the semester, said Weitz, is that "nobody knows what the results are before they start doing the project."

"That's what real research is about," he explained. "The point is to have them informed as citizens, if they're not scientists—to have them appreciate what science is about."


Complete list of Science & Cooking project winners

Prize Title

Student Names

Project Name


Most creative culinary prize

Peter Boehm, John Randal Tyson, Brian Butler

The Non-Liquid Rum and Coke - The "Two-Phase"

Steve Hershman

Most entertaining project

Julia Mitelman, Melissa Niu, Catherine Kistler

Levitating Spheres of Chocolate Foam

Matt Barr

Best use of hydrocolloids

Brent Suter, Georgia Stasinopoulos, Ruo Chen

Gel-Ice: manipulating crosslink length in frozen iota gel to manufacture a better cooling agent and flavor release in beverages

Dilani Kahawala

Best emulsification project

Joshua Allen, Benjamin Sobel

Garlic as Surfactant: Emulsions and Interface Stabilization

Matt Barr

Best baking project

Alexander Sareyan, Brian Mwarania, Edgar Orozco

Molten Chocolate Foam Cake: The Effect of Aeration on Heat Diffusion

Naveen Sinha

Best potential business application

Jesse Kaplan, Chandan Lodha, Natalie Padilla

Brewed Awakening: An Analysis of the Effects of Brewing Method and Caffeination on Coffee Emulsions

Matt Barr

Most creative culinary prize

Peter Boehm, John Randal Tyson, Brian Butler

The Non-Liquid Rum and Coke - The "Two-Phase"

Steve Hershman

Best project on spherification

Sarah Stein Lubrano, Madeline Magnuson, Andrew Murray

Spherifying Foams

Risa Kawai

Most delicious project

Elizabeth Horton, Ariana Baurley, Tom Foley

Variations on the Olive Oil Gelee: Recipe Ratio Adjustments and Molecular Structure

Helen Wu

Most resourceful use of tools in lab

Jacob Drucker, Ron Serko, Sam Peinado

Wine Grapes: Gelation of Alcohol and Fruit Elasticity

Helen Wu

Best transglutaminase project

Claire Flintoff, Gabrielle Ehrlich, Nicholas Galat

Vegetarian Proteins and Transglutaminase Applications

John McGee

Most elegant simple experiment

Alex Brennin, Saieed Hasnoo, Miguel Cutiongco

Preventing Oxidation with Kitchen-Available Solutions

Anna Wang

Best application of theory

William Marks

Predicting Temperature of Chocolate Mousse without Air-ror

Matt Barr

Coolest project

Mariana Ramirez de Arellano, Michael Rizzo, Gavin Pascarella

Sinking Ice

Sorell Massenburg

Most creative use of rheology

Christopher White, Natalie Sandman

The conditions for optimal tenderness of meat

Steve Hershman

Least opaque project

Jeffrey Wilsey, George Hageman, Daniel Reichert

Transparent Treats: The Optics of Emulsions

Naveen Sinha

Most scientifically rigorous use of alcohol

Amy Vo, Emelyn Rude, Jane Chun

Alcoholic Foams

Naveen Sinha

Most comprehensive use of rheology

Julia Hu, Dona Ho, Suzi Lu

Perfecting Ricotta Cheese

Dilani Kahawala

Most systematic project

Austin Glamser, Melody Wu, Zuzanna Wojcieszak

The Science of Pancakes

Helen Wu

Best rheology of dessert

Peter Knudson, Milo Tong, Stanley Zheng

Italian Meringue Buttercream: Temperatures and Fruits

Dilani Kahawala

Best gelation of Alcohol

Peter Truog, Adrienne Lee, Audrey Anderson

Elasticity, Alcohol, and Hydrocolloids

Sorell Massenburg

Best improvement of traditional recipe

Mikhaila Fogel, Bobby Samuels, Sietse Goffard

The Science of Matzo Balls

Aileen Li

Best vegetarian fast food

Karen Ding, Peter Chen, Weina Zhao

Tofu Faux Gras

Aileen Li

Topics: Cooking