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Teach engineering using something that a lot of kids and adults love: ice cream. We get expert advice on the technology and methodologies behind making ice cream from guest Joe Morris, production manager or "ice cream man" from Amy's Ice Creams in Austin. He gives a tour of the Amy's ice cream production facility and explains how art, science, technology, and engineering come into play. Also engineering teacher and chemical engineer Melanie Kong talks about potential ways to connect this to the classroom.

Our opening music comes from "School Zone (radio edit)" by The Honorable Sleaze. Our closing music is from "Late for School" by Bleeptor. Both are used under Creative Commons Attribution Licenses: creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0

Subscribe and leave episode reviews wherever you get your podcasts. Support Pios Labs with regular donations on Patreon or by buying a copy of the reference book Engineer's Guide to Improv and Art Games by Pius Wong. You'll also be supporting educational tools and projects like Chordinates! or The Calculator Gator. Thanks to our donors and listeners for making the show possible. The K12 Engineering Education Podcast is a production of Pios Labs.


Transcript of:

The K12 Engineering Education Podcast


Ice Cream Engineering

Release Date:




[Pius Wong]  Hey.  This is Pius.  Just wanted to give you some great news before the episode starts.  If you haven’t heard, the podcast will be at South by Southwest this March in Austin, Texas.  So Rachel and I will present some hands-on workshops for educators and professional engineers.  Look us up for more details.  And if you stick around to the very end of the episode, you might get a teaser for what’s in store.


[Pius Wong]  This is The K12 Engineering Education Podcast for November 7, 2016.

[opening music]

[Pius, narration]  What’s your favorite ice cream?

[Woman 1]  I would always say chocolate chip cookie dough.

[Woman 2]  Probably, we have an orange chocolate ice cream that tastes like those chocolate oranges that you get at Christmas.

[Melanie Kong]  When we go place to place, I would try their salted caramel.  That’s my benchmark ice cream.

[Rachel Fahrig]  I honestly just enjoy a good bowl of plain vanilla ice cream.

[music interlude]

[Pius]  So many people love ice cream, including students, and including me, your host Pius.  For this episode, I wondered how you could take something so ubiquitously enjoyed, like ice cream, and use it to hook students into engineering.  A trip to my local ice cream factory helped me sort out my thoughts.

[music fades]

[Pius, narration]  Let’s start with two engineering challenges.  The first one is a challenge of imagination.  If you could create an have any ice cream-related technology or product that you wanted, what would it be?  I asked this to Natalie and Frankie, two workers at an ice cream shop in Austin.

[Natalie]  I’d have to say an ice cream scoop that you never have to put in the water, so it gets warm enough to cut through.  I know it’s out there somewhere, but I can’t find it yet.

[Frankie]  Making ice cream with like dry ice.  Maybe in one of those whip cream containers or something, so you can make it real quick.  I don’t know.  I think that’d be really cool.

[Pius, conversation]  Like a spray ice cream kind of thing?

[Frankie]  Yeah.  I think just like freezing it real quick so it’s got that consistency.

[Natalie]  ..whipping cream, what flavor you want, and then able to quick-freeze it.

[Pius]  Oh right.  Like you see on the Food Network.  Those giant machines.

[Frankie]  Yeah.  You can do custom flavors and stuff like that.  I think that’d be cool.

[Pius]  Awesome.  Thank you.

[Pius, narration]  Those are neat ideas, and Natalie and Frankie came up with them pretty fast.  Maybe they think about ice cream more than the average consumer because they work with it.  Could students come up with creative ideas quickly?  Could you?

[music interlude]

[Pius]  The second challenge is a big old design challenge.  Suppose you have twelve ice cream shops, located all around town in Austin, Texas, spread out across twenty miles of the city, and you have to supply ice cream from your ice cream factory to all twelve stores every day, even when the traffic is bad and the summers are hot.  How would you design your system to supply all your shops with delicious, perfectly frozen ice cream, all the time, to keep your customers happy?  We’ll revisit these challenges later in the episode.

[music interlude]

[Pius, narration]  For now, to learn more about ice cream, let’s go to the ice cream production facility from Amy’s Ice Creams in Austin, Texas, to hear from an expert.

[Joe Morris]  My name is Joe Morris.  I do purchasing and production for Amy’s Ice Creams, and I’ve been an ice cream man for, knocking on the door of twenty years.

[Pius, narration]  Joe started working at Amy’s Ice Creams back when he was attending The University of Texas at Austin, and he was even certified to become a Latin teacher, but upon graduation, he was having so much fun that he stayed at Amy’s. 

[Joe]  We’re kind of a small but local ice cream company out of Austin, Texas, started by Amy.  She’s my boss.  Still runs the company to this very day.

[Joe]  If you’re coming in to enjoy ice cream, it’s usually because you’re celebrating something.  You’re treating yourself, or a birthday.  You get a good grade on your report card.  Or conversely if you had a crummy day.  If you walk out your door, you stub your toe, and your day rolls down from there.  Ice cream is kind of a socially polite, acceptable way to take your spirits up.

[Joe]  Ice cream is what we make, but what we’re really selling or what our main product is, is that memory.  It’s the joy that comes with eating the ice cream.  Our company motto is to make people’s day.  Ice cream is just kind of the vehicle by which we do that.


[Pius, narration]  Following this bigger mission, Amy’s ice cream grew from the original store in the 1980s to now twelve locations around Austin in 2016, suspiciously similar to the design challenge I gave earlier, I know.  And today all the ice cream is being made here.

[Joe]  So this is where we make all the ice cream.  We do what’s called small-batch processing.  We make one batch at a time. 

[Pius, narration]  Joe gave me a tour of the white-walled Amy’s production facility, with machinery constantly humming under the high ceilings and people working at their stations.

[Joe]  This one’s not running right now, but basically it’s just a big, metal tube, and this is a stirring mechanism that you put in. Slide it in there, and it stirs, kind of scrapes the walls.

[Pius, narration]  Joe was describing a few large, stainless steel machines against the wall that were constantly stirring and freezing ice cream.  Even though these were small batch machines relative to bigger factories, they still make many gallons more ice cream than your home ice cream maker.

[Joe]  The product, when it gets kind of frozen, is about 26 degrees Fahrenheit.  To ice cream, that’s actually a pretty warm day.  She’s about ready to pull out a fresh batch.  See, it kind of comes out pudding soft consistency.

[Pius, narration]  Then Joe pointed out the really tall blast freezers on the other side of the room.  They put the soft, freshly churned ice cream in there to harden overnight.

[Joe]  Tomorrow, it’ll be frozen at that -25 degrees, and it’ll be ready.  The finished product that you’re used to having.  At -25 degrees, it’s too hard to scoop.  So you kind of temper it back up to a warmer freezing temperature of -10 to 0 degrees Fahrenheit, which is what most standard home freezers are at.

[Joe]  This is our cake department.  So what they’re doing is actually building and making cakes.  What we do is we take the soft ice cream and put it into a cake pan, one of these, and it kind of makes a little hockey puck of ice cream.  Then they take basically two equal size pieces of cake and build them into a big cake and ice cream sandwich.  Put some cake down, put a little fudge or maybe some praline sauce, kind of to act as a little sticking agent, a little extra insulation, another piece of cake, and then the ice cream’s kind of sandwiched there in the middle.  They fresh-whip some frosting and they frost and decorate the cakes.  What happens is, the cake and the frosting all act as insulators to the ice cream.  That way the ice cream doesn’t melt.  Kind of gives it the chance to decorate, and they can freeze the cake when it’s over, and that way it doesn’t leak all out.  That’s the one thing you always have to consider is, that thermal exchange of keeping the ice cream cold until the point that you want to eat it.

[Pius, narration]  On this tour alone, Joe already gave several interesting ideas for integrating ice cream with engineering class.  You could base some thermodynamics lessons on getting ice cream to the right temperatures, or insulating your ice cream cake with just the right amount of frosting.  Maybe they have to design the water-circulation system for cooling the freezers.  You could say the ideas were churning in my head.

[rimshot sound effect]

[Pius, narration]  Joe showed a lot of the machines and processes of the Amy’s production facility, but there was also a lot to say about the ice cream, itself.  Amy’s likes to call it “good mood food,” but what is it really?

[Joe]  Ice cream is about 60% water.  Then it’s about 15% of sugar or syrup solution.  The sugar’s there to, A) add the sweet flavor that people enjoy, but physically, what it does is makes it to where the ice cream freezes a little easier.  It depresses the freezing point of the ice cream, so it’s kind of that soft ball of ice cream that’s edible, that’s not crunchy.  If it’s 60% water, you take anything that 60% water and you freeze it, it becomes basically just a big chunk of ice, and you can’t stick a spoon in there.  You can’t eat it.  But the sugar mixed in kind of makes a solution, and then you also have some milk protein solids, usually about 10% milk protein, and anywhere from 10 to 20% butterfat content.  Between the sugar and the butterfat content, you have most of your flavor, but you also have the two things that help you take that water and make it to more manageable ice crystals.

[Pius, narration]  So to review, Joe gave the rough formula of ice cream being about 60% water, 15% sugar, maybe 10% milk solids, and the rest being butterfat content for flavor.  We also know that good ice cream that’s smooth has as tiny ice crystals as possible. 

[Joe]  So the three main science things that you could do to that is, you can control the emulsory properties of the butterfat and sugar.  Sometimes you add other natural emulsifiers like egg yolks or some gums like vegetable gums or pectins.  The other thing that’s in there is the air bubbles.  When you’re stirring the ice cream, you’re naturally whipping a little bit of air in there.  Some ice creams will have pretty high air content.  We’re what’s considered super-premium ice cream, so we actually try to keep our air content as low as possible, but we have a higher butterfat content.  More of the good stuff and less air, and still trying to make a really small-crystalled, creamy ice cream.

[Pius, narration]  If you haven’t seen what ice cream looks like under a microscope, you should Google it.  You can see the mixed pockets of ice, fat, and air in the ice cream emulsion.

[Joe]  Trying to freeze the ice cream as fast as possible and stirring it while you’re freezing it is the best way to not only get that air in but also get those ice crystals as small as possible.

[Pius, narration]  So to get tiny ice crystals, you can mess around with the formula, and you can also freeze as fast as possible while mixing air in.  This already sounds similar to the classic chemical engineering techniques of designing products and processes, the product here being the ice cream mix, and the process being how you mix it all together and freeze it.

[music interlude]

[Pius, narration]  When talking about how Amy’s comes up with new flavors, Joe described what engineers sometimes call adaptive redesign.  They start with an ice cream recipe that they know already works, and they make changes and additions starting from there.

[Joe]  We start off with a base mix, that is made to our specific recipe.  It’s just milk, butter, sugar, and eggs, and it basically is our sweet cream ice cream.  So if you’ve never had sweet cream, it’s basically unflavored ice cream, but it’s the basis for every flavor we build off of.  Beyond that, we know how to build a recipe.  So to make vanilla we add vanilla.  To make chocolate we actually cook in chocolate.  To make strawberry, we chop up and stir some strawberries in there and make strawberry ice cream.  A joke I would tell when we have a group of kids is: I would say if we want to make banana ice cream,  we take bananas and mash them up in there, get banana milk, freeze and stir the banana milk, and you have banana ice cream.  If you want to make peppermint ice cream, put peppermint in the milk, take your peppermint milk, stir and freeze it, you get peppermint ice cream.  I can take my shoes off my feet, chop my shoes up, stir it into the milk.  We can make some shoe-flavored ice cream.  Now whether or not anyone would want to eat it is a full other question, but we have the ability to make shoe-flavored ice cream.

[Pius, narration]  They’ve been doing this long enough that they also know some boundary conditions for their ice cream experiments.

[Joe]  We do measure.  We do build recipes, and you kind of know what parameters to stay within, because if we tried to make Oreo cookies and cream ice cream and used too many Oreos – we used so many Oreos you don’t actually taste the ice cream in there, you just taste frozen cookies.  The proportions are off, and you aren’t going to enjoy it.  So it’s kind of knowing, you need at least this much – again, you want everyone to have a little Oreo cookie in there, but you don’t want to have a full Oreo in every single bite.  That’s where you work within your – here’s my window, and here’s too much.  Here’s not enough, so I need to find somewhere really happy in the middle.

[music interlude]

[Pius, narration]  Testing and data are critical when evaluating their ice creams.

[Joe]  When we get a new flavor, we send it out to a store, we actually engage not just our scoops in the company, but a lot of our stores will – are test kitchens.  So they’ll say, here’s a brand new flavor we’re beta-testing here.  And we’ll have, we’ll basically ask each customer that comes in, hey, can you help us sample this?  Tell us what you think.  Give a taster spoon of the flavor, and we have two buckets.  One bucket says yea and one bucket says nay.  Hey, this is a good flavor.  Yea, let’s keep it. You know what, not my cup of tea.  Nay.  You get really good, honest feedback.  The people who are going to be enjoying it are the customers, so you definitely want to engage them as early in the process as possible. 

[Joe]  Sometimes the flavor – I always think, you know, probably the first person to ever pick a vanilla bean off the vanilla bush and eat it – It tastes terrible.  A vanilla bean does not taste very good.  It’s very bitter.  It pulls the moisture out of your mouth.  It probably, thousands of years ago, whoever first tried it, probably thought it was poisonous.  It doesn’t taste very good.  But, you take vanilla, you soak it in an extract liquid and make a tea out of it, let it sit for a few weeks.  All of a sudden you have vanilla extract.  We put that in every dessert that we make.  It’s in cakes, cookies, brownies.  It’s one of the most popular desserts out there.  So sometimes it’s finding that weird ingredient, finding an interesting way to develop it into something people love.

[Pius, narration]  Just as in engineering, they learn from when they make something that doesn’t work, too.

[Joe]  Failure is a lot of times a good thing, because you realize that, OK, next time when I do this I’m not going to do that.  Man, I put a lot of cinnamon in this flavor, and the cinnamon was so strong.  It overpowered all the other ingredients.  People are not going to like it.  Next time, cut the cinnamon in half, and see what that does.

[Pius, narration]  All of this information from testing is recorded to help them judge new flavors and keep quality control for old ones.

[Joe]  Our store managers actually – part of their software that they have on their iPads in their stores is – One of them is a review form that basically.  Hey this is a new flavor, but even if it’s a flavor that is a regular, standard flavor they have a lot of, and it’s just off for some reason, they can give us that feedback to say, hey, this batch of vanilla dated this date, it tastes a little off.  Here’s what I’m tasting.  And we can go back, figure out what happened there.  Was it just a fluke?  You know, we know everything that was made on that day, kind of the whole schedule of what was made, and we can kind of backwards track and say, OK, here’s things it could be.  It may not be the exact answer, but it may be like, oh wow, that was so-and-so’s first day working, and we expect to have a few mistakes on someone’s first day.  So maybe they didn’t read the recipe correctly, or maybe they were still kind of nervous, spilled something, but it allows us – or conversely, if it’s, hey man, this batch of ice cream is – I’ve had it a thousand times, and today’s batch was just amazing, out of this world.  Whatever you did different that makes it amazing, please repeat that.  It can even be something as simple as, we know that on days when there’s not a lot of humidity in the air, the ice cream making process is a lot easier.  The ice cream turns out better because you’re not pulling out the extra moisture from the air.  The temperature, the humidity, affects us.  On rainy days the ice cream making’s a little bit harder, goes a little bit slower, because you’re kind of fighting the humidity in the air.

[Joe]  Making sure you know, again, what the process was, why something turned out great or why something didn’t turn out how you wanted to, and being able to account for that or correct it or change it, or anticipate it, balance it out, is something else.

[music interlude]

[Pius, narration]  Joe said it’s important for Amy’s to keep on producing new flavors for different neighborhoods.  How does Amy’s come up with them? 

[Joe]  In a normal month, we’ll produce about 400 different flavors of ice cream.  Kind of always trying new ones.  When it comes to designing a new flavor, we do have a process.  So it’s something as simple as find the germination of an idea, you know.  Somebody wakes up and says, oh my gosh, I’ve got the best new flavor.  Or taking two opposing flavors and finding a way to put them together.  We often have brainstorming sessions.  We’ll sit around and say, hey, next week in our meeting everybody comes with two new ideas, or two fun ideas.  We get everything from something really gourmet, fancy, to how come we’ve never really added chocolate chips to this?

[Pius, narration]  So they listen to customer requests, develop new flavors, and do rounds of testing interacting with customers again, attempting to quantify their opinions.  They can use this data to target pretty specific customers. 

[Joe]  You kind of get some neighborhood trends.  A great example is, we made a flavor that for several years, it’s called mango rose pistachio.  It’s a mango-based ice cream with a little rosewater and a blend of pistachios stirred in.  So it’s a very Mediterranean, South Asian set of flavors, and we have a few locations it does really well at.  One is our Arboretum store, because it’s – that community, there’s a lot of Mediterranean, South Asian families over there, and that’s kind of a warm flavor for them.  Our other location is our San Antonio store, which is right close to the Air Force base, and a lot of the soldiers who’ve spent time overseas in Iraq and Afghanistan – the desserts that they enjoy while they’re over there, a lot of the cuisine – rosewater is kind of like the vanilla that’s used.  And so while we put vanilla in everything, in all of our desserts here, rosewater is very common there, so it’s a flavor that candies and their baklavas and their treats and their ice creams, kir, all have a little rosewater, a happy little flavor.  Again, desserts are kind of a happy treat.  It’s what people eat to celebrate the end of a meal.  So those two locations, those flavors are really appreciated out of those customer bases.  Any other store that we send it to, it doesn’t do that well.  It’s just different enough that people don’t necessarily appreciate the rosewater flavor.  Even some of our – We know that at some of our stores that are in more school and family areas, that candy and cookie and flavors that we named after Star Wars characters are going to do really well, whereas some of our little more high-brow – flavors that are designed after signature cocktails are going to do better downtown near the bar district.  We put a flavor called Tito’s the Dude.  It’s got Tito’s vodka, and it tastes like a White Russian.  It’s a little more, a really delicious flavor, but doesn’t really sell well at a store right next to an elementary school.  But it sells really well downtown in the entertainment district.

[Pius]  You’re looking at the numbers and the data, and that tells you if you’re pleasing your customers.

[Joe]  Absolutely.  If you ask customers what they want, they’ll give you it.  Again sometimes it’s just ask them the questions.  Sometimes it’s seeing, wow I sent that tub of ice cream there, and it disappeared in four hours, whereas, we send a tub there, and it wasn’t that popular in that location, and it sat there for three days.

[music interlude]

[Pius, narration]  By now, Joe described how Amy’s already uses a lot of methods and technologies related to the engineering field.  So I asked him if there was any new ice cream technology out there that he would like to see.

[Joe]  Of course always just, the more data we can get in – Sometimes the man-hours of keeping that data, gathering the data, outweighs the benefits, so it’s kind of knowing that balance of getting the data and – You know, I spent twelve hours getting this data and I’m getting only one hour worth of work out of it.  So you want to make sure you’re spending your effort in the right direction.  Could always find new ways to adapt new ingredients.  So a lot of times it’s that information-sharing, culture-sharing, of how do you take a weird ingredient and find a fun way to present it out there.  Beyond that, just better and more efficient, energy-efficient equipment.  That’s, again, if the ice cream doesn’t stay frozen, we’re in trouble. 

[Pius]  Yeah, in Texas.

[Joe]  In the summer, better ACs, better insulation, that’s all what we like to look at and see.

[Pius, narration]  So future engineers, get working on that.

[music interlude]

[Joe]  I like to tell people to eat with their mind open and try new things.  Again, there may be a flavor of ice cream that just sounds disgusting to you, but go ahead and give it a try.  Those are the minds that I want, because you never know when you’re going to find that next great flavor.

[music fadeout]

[Pius, narration]  To help solidify everything I heard from Joe, I spoke to engineering teacher and chemical engineer Melanie Kong.  She’s also a self-professed ice cream aficionado, so I thought she might have some ideas about integrating this into the classroom.

[Melanie]  One of the pathways that chemical engineers can go into is food.  That was something I actually looked into.  So I had worked for Proctor & Gamble in consumer products, and I also interviewed at companies like Frito-Lay, working in and making consumer foods.  So food is definitely a viable option for chemical engineers out there.

[Pius]  What would chemical engineers do in, like, the ice cream production facility out there?  The generic one?

[Melanie]  So chemical engineers, the research and development chemical engineers would work on the lab-scale ice cream testing.  So, how do we make more creamy ice cream?  How do we get these flavors in there?  And they’d work at maybe the skill that we would usually ice cream in at home.  They would figure out what is the best recipe at the lab scale.  Chemical engineers would also work on how – now that we have this perfect recipe that our research and development engineer worked on, how do we scale that up and make millions of tons of ice cream in our processing plant?

[Pius]  Sounds like a fun job. 

[Melanie]  Yeah.  I happen to know somebody who interned at Haagen-Dazs, working in the strawberry cheesecake line, and he said he gained fifteen pounds that summer.

[Pius]  They have a division just for strawberry cheesecake? [laughs]

[Melanie]  Well, it was in a pilot plant, so this was in between the lab-scale and the full production facility.  It was in the in-between line.  During that time they were just testing, OK, what changes to the process should we make?  Are these changes good for the ice cream?  And you’re probably just churning out one flavor because you’re testing the process and not necessarily the flavors.  And so yeah, strawberry cheesecake was there.

[Pius]  I can only imagine, because they must have a division for vanilla and chocolate and like, all these other things.

[Melanie]  Well I’m sure there’s, you know, a whole bunch of design that goes around, how do you schedule your batches?  How do you clean out in between the different flavors?  And how long does that take?  How do you make as many batches as possible in a certain amount of time?  All of that stuff goes into plant design.

[Pius]  Would you say that even if you aren’t an engineer, you might use engineering thinking in a lot of these fields?

[Melanie]  Yeah, for sure.  I would say that even if you’re not an engineer you’d definitely be applying that thought process to your work.  And I’m sure that Amy’s did it.  I’m sure that other ice cream facilities have done it, where they’re trying to figure out what is the best recipe, for instance.  That would be a starting place.  And I’m pretty sure they have done a lot of testing, and in their testing they’ve probably varied some very specific factors.  They’ve varied the amount of cream, maybe.  They’ve varied their recipe.  How much of the flavoring to add.  And I’m pretty sure they did that in a consistent manner in order to figure out the best recipe.  Or maybe they didn’t.

[Pius]  No, yeah, that’s exactly what Joe Morris said, about testing and all that stuff.

[Melanie]  Yeah, there’s great engineering happening even if they’re not formally trained engineers.

[Pius]  Are kids and teens interested in ice cream?

[Melanie]  I’m sure that kids and teens are interested in ice cream, or at least most of them are.  Maybe some of them are lactose-intolerant.

[Pius]  I’m lactose-intolerant, but I eat it anyway.

[Melanie]  OK. [laughs]

[Pius]  They have Lactaid, which I’m sure some engineers were involved in making.

[Pius, narration]  Finally I presented to Melanie the open-ended, big design challenge I talked about at the beginning.

[Pius, conversation]  So the design challenge is this.  It is hot in Austin, in Texas, and your ice cream company has lots of different locations around town.  You need to get your ice cream to all your different ice cream parlors even in horrible Austin traffic, without any of your ice cream melting, or reducing in quality along the way.  What kinds of things could you design to help you keep your ice cream in a good condition?

[Melanie]  So gosh, as soon as you say that, I immediately start thinking about things that are not related, but this kind of thing makes me think about that last question, about ice cream technologies.  If you could maintain ice cream at the perfect eating temperature without it melting, that would be a new technology.  Maybe that would be a solution.  Working on the formula itself, and seeing if there is a way to have ice cream maintain that texture for longer.  So in what way are we supposed to take this challenge?  Are we designing something that the ice cream is in?  Are we designing the system?

[Pius]  So that was purposely unsaid.  So you’re right.  You have options.  You can change the formula, you can change the system.

[Melanie]  So the things I’m seeing we can change: we can change the ice cream, itself.  We can change what the ice cream is being carried in or saved in. 

[Pius]  The truck, for example, could be designed, or the container, or both.

[Melanie]  Yes, or both.  Or the formula,  Or you can figure out a different way to – It could just be optimizing the path that you take to your different locations.

[Pius]  Yeah, that’s cool.

[Melanie]  It could be a way that you – If you do it in series, maybe you can stash the ice cream in another freezer for 30 minutes and get it firm again before you keep on going.

[Pius]  That’s like the Uber challenge, trying to find the optimal path.

[Melanie]  Yeah, it reminds me of computer science, too.  So how many paths can you take to get between these things?

[Pius]  So this is a nice open-ended problem.

[Melanie]  Yeah, it is definitely open-ended in terms of the kinds of solutions.  I think that the kinds of – in terms of what students might do with this, and if you see students learning anything from it, I think it would really depend on what you were trying to get them to learn.  I’ve definitely seen cool lessons around heat transfer and like, heat transfer coefficients, and different materials, and conductivity of heat.  So it would basically be a thermodynamics lesson, where you have to design the packaging the ice cream is in, and what kinds of materials you would use to keep heat in for longer.

[Pius]  So if you’re saying, if you wanted to turn something like this into a lesson, if you wanted to turn this ice cream challenge into a lesson, you’d have to restrict it more so that the learning goals are more targeted?

[Melanie]  I think it would depend on what class you were teaching.  If you were teaching an engineering class, and this might be like a final design challenge, and you just wanted to see how students approach a problem, it would be really cool to leave it open-ended.  And it would be really cool to see what are the different ways you can approach this problem, what are the different ways you can break apart this problem.  Maybe it could be an exercise in systems, where, hey, you should work on the pathways, we’re going to work on the packaging itself.  So I think in an open-ended class like engineering, where we might not have as many specific standards that we need to deliver on, that would be great.  I think in classes like chemistry or physics, if there are specific learning targets, I think it would be a great problem.  You would just have to narrow our design solutions.

[Pius]  Yeah, I’m glad you mentioned systmes engineering as well, because I did not think of that at all.  But that totally makes sense.  Well, thank you, Melanie.

[Melanie]  Alright, thanks, Pius.

[closing music]

[Pius]  Now that you heard Melanie’s thoughts on designing an ice cream distribution system, and on related engineering lessons, let me know your thoughts, too. Review the show on iTunes, connect on Twitter, or find me at k12engineering.net.  Thanks to everyone who spoke to me for this episode, and thank you especially to Joe Morris of Amy’s Ice Creams in Austin, for the tour and talk.  For links to videos of Amy’s Ice Cream workers flipping balls of ice cream and doing other tricks, check out the show notes.  You might get some ideas for physics lessons while contemplating the kinematics of cookies and cream.


[Pius]  The views expressed in this podcast are not necessarily the opinions of any schools, companies, or other groups with which we might be connected.  Our opening music comes from “School Zone” by The Honorable Sleaze.  You can check them out on SoundCloud.  Our closing music is from “Late for School” by Bleeptor.  Both are used under Creative Commons Attribution Licenses.  Thanks for listening.

[music fadeout]

[Pius]  Hi, Rachel.

[Rachel]  Hi again, Pius.

[Pius]  Some of you might remember Rachel from previous episodes of the podcast, and I just have a quick questions for you, Rachel.  What’s your favorite ice cream flavor?

[Rachel]  Oh my gosh.  I have to pick one?

[Pius]  If you can.

[Rachel]   [sigh]  Well, you know what?  I’m all about – Some people are going to argue with me and be disappointed, but let me – I’m going to tell you why this is.

[Pius]  Controversy.

[Rachel]  I love vanilla.

[high five sound]

[Rachel]  That was a high five.

[Pius]  Not a slap to the face.

[Rachel]  [laughs]

[Pius]  I love vanilla, as well.

[Rachel]  Here’s why.  It is incredibly versatile.  It is a blank slate.  It’s like the canvas of Bob Ross, like, I’m Bob Ross painting a picture, only I’m just actually eating ice cream, but I could have caramel, or I could have strawberry, or I could have salted chocolate caramel, or I could have butterscotch, or I could have blueberry, or I could have a billion different things, but it all starts with vanilla.

[Pius]  I would say the same thing.  That’s my argument.  I call it the rice of desserts.  You can mix it with other things.  But in a way, I do find it a cheating answer sometimes, like wishing for more wishes, because you’re right.  It is like the ice cream of all ice creams.

[Rachel]  Except, you know what?  I honestly just enjoy a good bowl of plain vanilla ice cream, as well.

[Pius]  You know, I can get even more specific.  The vanilla that I like is the milk-based, icy, French vanilla – I mean, no, I mean just the vanilla bean ice cream.

[Rachel]  Yes, when you can see the beans, the seeds in it.  I agree.

[Pius]  And I don’t like the yolk in it.

[Rachel]  Nope.  That’s OK.

[Pius]  Oh dang.  I guess base on our previous episode…

[Rachel]  It’s like convergence for ice cream flavor.

[Pius]  …We’re in the same mind again.  On the count of three, what’s your favorite ice cream?

[Pius and Rachel]  One, two, three… vanilla!