What contains theobromine and polyphenols, has a myriad of different shapes, forms, and applications, and manifests as six known crystalline polymorphs that can be generated by manipulating fatty acid ratios and temperature of cooling? Stumped?
For those who are unfamiliar with the science and composition behind the making of chocolate have no fear, MIT has a lab for that!
Rachel Osmundsen ‘17 and Amber VanHemel ’19, president and vice president of the MIT Laboratory for Chocolate Science (LCS) use chocolate as a fun medium to apply and teach science.
Osmundsen has combined her love of science and culinary arts with her Course 3 education and has learned a lot about what goes into chocolate. She uses the techniques from her class, her research on novel cementitious materials with the Olivetti Group to the LCS.
“I am currently working on a class project along with the previous vice president of LCS on using advanced microscopy techniques to quantify the composition of chocolate, which is quite a fascinating problem! We may even employ some of the same machines I currently use in my research on alkali activated ash bricks, which is a neat overlap,” she said.
What LCS members love, they share with the community. The club hosts IAP truffle-making classes, uses chocolate as a vehicle for science education and outreach programs, and give out free hot chocolate in Lobby 10 during finals to boost students’ morale.
To do all these activities, the lab orders over 500 pounds of chocolate each year!
LCS's exposure on-campus is what led VanHemel to join the group. After visiting their booth at Activities Midway, she admits the first appeal was the chocolate, but then it became more than just that.
“I really love how the lab not only explores the science of chocolate to appease our own curiosity, but focuses on outreach and sharing this knowledge with others too," she said.
As the vice president, VanHemel is responsible for outreach. For example, she leads a Splash class on the science of chocolate and the truffle-making process. While teaching STEM topics to youth is one of her favorite parts of LCS, she says she sticks around because its fun.
VanHemel and Osmundsen are both heavily involved on MIT’s campus. VanHemel takes part in the Undergraduate Giving Campaign and in her dorm community, while Osmundsen is on the Undergraduate Association Sustainability’s Compost Committee. Additionally, they are varsity student-athletes; VanHemel is on the softball team while Osmundsen is on the lightweight rowing team. Despite their busy schedules, the two have found value in a club that gives back to MIT and its local community. It demonstrates the creativity and passion that MIT is known for.
“From being an active member in this club I have learned the value of doing something simply because you want to make other people happy, with no extrinsic value,” said Osmundsen. “I think it is important to learn to do what you love simply for the sake of doing it, especially at a technical school like MIT.”
Additional contributions by Stephanie Tran.