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February 14, 2023

Summer Lab Success

Written By: Nicolette Miscevich
Summer Lab students Kalin Fischer and Tessa Pham display their crème brûlée experiment.

For recent graduate Kalin Fischer, joining UW-Madison’s chemical engineering program was a no-brainer when choosing where she wanted to go to college. It offered excellent opportunities to focus on an exciting major and it was close to home. Her lab partner Tessa Pham chose chemical engineering to be part of a nationally-ranked program. In 2022, the two teamed up for CBE 424, aka Summer Lab, which required various experiments that students presented to the class. For Fischer, it was a chance to combine her love of baking with the trials of lab experiments. One of the questions in their capstone experiment was: how do egg yolk, cream fat content, and bake time affect the properties of crème brûlée?

Kalin Fischer analyzing test results.

This experiment was designed using a 2×3 factorial basis where 3 variables were varied between two levels, allowing for average comparisons between each factor. It consisted of varying egg yolk amount, cream fat percentage, and bake time. Fischer probed each factor’s different effects on sweetness, semi-solid viscosity, and creme color. The experiment’s results showed “the effect of different food properties that could be used to study other baked goods or custards.”

Tessa Pham’s burning question was: How do you determine the strength of crème brûlée using a marble drop? The process included determining the color on a LAB scale while using a flavor panel. The three factors tested were sweetness, texture, and appeal of the creme brûlées. Results of the experiment deduced that “more egg yolks make a stronger structure within the crème brûlée, and bake time had the biggest effect on color.” While “fewer eggs made a sweeter crème brûlée, and the texture wasn’t dependent on any factor.”

Lap partners Jacob Berry and Matthew Spotts test methods for drying corn.

Jacob Berry and Matthew Spotts also participated in 2022’s Summer Lab course. Berry says the UW-Madison culture was a big reason he chose to attend the university. “I loved the atmosphere on campus and the uniqueness of the city. It’s a cool place to be and there are so many things to do.”

For their summer lab experiment called the “Dehydration of Corn,” they tested corn drying methods. Berry and Spotts compared heat drying to blow drying at different temperatures and airflow rates while also “attempting to measure the humidity change of the air and relate it to how much mass the corn was losing.” The way to develop a drying curve was to observe how corn dried over time and to test the feasibility of using a wet bulb or dry bulb method to measure humidity. 

This experiment is important because, according to Berry, “drying is a very important process for the storage and shipment of food. Food that is too moist is more susceptible to microorganisms.”

The experiment’s results showed the effect of different food properties that could be used to study other baked goods or custards. Understanding food properties is essential in creating baked and other products in the food industry.

Congratulations to Kalin Fischer, Tessa Pham, Jacob Berry, Matthew Spotts, and all other Summer Lab participants for their great work and their recent graduation.