Food science students entertain, intrigue kids at elementary school science fair

March 05, 2020

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — It might not be a surprise if there are some aspiring young food scientists at Easterly Parkway Elementary School in State College after a group of Penn State students recently demonstrated how much fun the discipline can be.

Nine undergraduate and graduate students from the Department of Food Science in Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences took part in a science fair on Feb. 24 that allowed the kids to take part in some nifty experiments with food.

“Just based on their reaction, it was obvious they were mesmerized, captivated and intrigued,” said Josephine Wee, assistant professor of food science and faculty adviser and mentor for the Food Science Club. “Their eyes lit up, and in some cases their parents were as fascinated as the children.”

The Penn State students’ attendance at the science fair was outreach, not recruiting, noted Emily Furumoto, research associate in food science. “Of course, the kids are way too young to be thinking about college, but our department always is committed to outreach and science communication,” she said. “We had an opportunity to influence their parents and teachers to engage in food science.

The Penn State food science students offered three activities and demonstrations at the science fair. The first was called “Jolly Jelly,” a demonstration that showed how taste involves more than just the tongue, and how smell also plays a role in detecting flavor. 

food science students

Food science undergraduate and graduate students at the Easterly Parkway Science Fair (from left) Isabel Gutierrez Forbes, Stiphany Tieu, Cassidy Prince, Gabriella Pinto, Sharon Nieves-Miranda, Andrew Paff, Kiana Coleman and Brittani Bedford.

IMAGE: Josephine Wee/Penn State

“We had the kids hold their nose and close their eyes and taste jellybeans,” Wee said. “They could only detect sweet or sour that way. But when they could breathe through their nose, then they would be able to taste the flavor, whether it was peppermint or cherry.”

The second activity, called “Cabbage Patch Kids,” used cabbage juice as a pH indicator. Certain compounds in cabbage called anthocyanins can change colors when added to food or beverage, indicating pH. Wee explained that the elementary students enjoyed putting a couple of drops of red cabbage juice into an unknown solution and then watching it change color.

“‘That’s like magic,’ the kids would always say. Then, we would ask them, ‘Is this pH 5 or pH 2, and which one is more acidic?’”

The third activity was called “Magic Bath.” In it, the elementary school students made “gummy worms” in a salt bath. They put sodium alginate from seaweed into the water, and it reacted with the salt, growing a worm-like structure.

The Penn State students were a big hit at the science fair, Wee said.

“They had kids back to back from when they started at 6:30 p.m. all the way up to 9 o'clock. And there were kids that came back multiple times to the station to either try the jellybeans again or make more gummy worms. I don’t know if the kids realized it, but they were having fun with food science.”


(Media Contacts)

Last Updated March 06, 2020