The Michigan Engineer News Center

Cookies, coffee, chocolate and … gin?

Chemical engineering students are getting a chance to apply their chemical engineering fundamentals to many food and drink related projects| Short Read
Enlargegin tasting winners
IMAGE:  The winners celebrate their victory. (L/R): Laura Hirshfield, Lecturer, Team Members Heather Fairbairn and Troy Khames, and John Britton, distiller, Ann Arbor Distilling Company
IMAGE:  Michael VanderZwaag, Laura Hirshfield, Anna Fowler and Colin Pitawanakwat at the Engr 100 poster session.

Chemical engineering students are getting a chance to apply their chemical engineering fundamentals to many food and drink related projects thanks to lecturer and research fellow Dr. Laura Hirshfield (BSE ’07).

Dr. Hirshfield previously taught our product design class for two years, and many projects involved the food and beverage industry, such as a straw with a coating that helps detect the presence of date rape drug. She also helped give our first-year students a better sense of the role of ChEs in the food industry through a Food Science and Engineering section of Engr 100, Introduction to Engineering. Students were introduced to chemistry and chemical engineering principles within the context of food: For example, they learned how heat transfer alters food properties or how to perform material balances to scale up food recipes for production. They investigated processes to make coffee and cookies and temper chocolate, recreated a popular food product with a constraint (such as nut-free Snickers bar or gluten-free Pizza Rolls), and worked on industrial projects with national and local food companies like Zingerman’s and General Mills.

This summer she led five teams of students in developing a blue gin as part of the University’s Bicentennial celebration, in collaboration with Ann Arbor Distilling Company. “We were very excited to see this project come off so well. This type of partnership with the University of Michigan opens up a whole new world to ChE students; a high-tech business in distillation where they can leverage their skills and advanced education,” says Rob Cleveland, Managing Director of Ann Arbor Distilling Co.

“Laura did an excellent job transforming a concept from a quick conversation into a wonderful experience for our students,” adds former chair, Mark Burns.

Faculty and staff had a great time during the taste testing event in August, and the team of Troy Khames, Thomas Hadlock, Margaret Braunreuther, and Heather Fairbairn was selected as the winners. (Heather and Troy are pictured in main photo.) Based on this experience, a distilling class will be offered as a special topics class in Winter term.

Thank you to our judges: Lola Eniola Adefeso, Mark Burns, Bryan Goldsmith, Johannes Schwank, Scott Fogler, Andy Tadd, Saadet Albayrak-Guralp, Brandon Johns, and Rob Cleveland.


gin tasting winners
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