The Penn State Pasto Agricultural Museum closed out its 2017 season with its annual, “Hey! There’s Science in My Ice Cream!” event on Sunday. The open house welcomed families, children and couples of all ages for an afternoon combining everyone’s love of ice cream with a little science and exploration.
Though the event has only been held for a handful of years, it easily attracted approximately 200 guests from the Centre County region, who came out on the drizzly Sunday for some indoor fun, food and live music, before the museum closes for the winter season in December.
On a normal day, the Pasto Agricultural Museum offers an array of agricultural artifacts and historic displays, which show how Pennsylvania farming and food production has changed over the centuries. As agriculture is an aspect of our lives that can sometimes go unseen, the museum hopes to help visitors better understand our food, where it comes from and how the choices we make regarding our food affects the world around us.
The ice cream social easily ties into this goal. According to curator Rita Graef, the event takes something everyone loves — ice cream — and connects it to food science. “ ‘Hey! There’s Science in My Ice Cream!’ engages our museum visitors to explore the intersection of science and history,” she said. “This is an especially tasty way to learn about where our food comes from and how science is a critical part of why foods, like frozen confections, taste so delicious.”
Plus, the draw of the ice cream brings parents in who may have never visited the museum with their families and children before, and it gives longtime patrons the excuse to re-visit the museum and see new exhibits and updates (including all the dairy-related items, and the model dairy cow, named Pam).
The main feature of the event was the ice cream-making demonstration, led by Bob Roberts, professor and head of food science at Penn State. Roberts is also the man behind the Ice Cream Short Course at Penn State, which takes representatives from top ice cream brands world-over, on an educational, seven-day journey, from “cow to cone.” Roberts led visitors — including a group of wide-eyed children — through the scientific “whys” of ice cream, before letting the kids get their hands on making some of the good stuff themselves, with a sweet reward at the end.
Other activities available included science experiments, such as hands-on stations covering some of the main components of ice cream, namely fats, air and ice crystals. Kids worked with student volunteers from the Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences to make oil-and-water lava lamps to represent the fats, create paper snowflakes for ice crystals and discover how air plays a role in food.
Also appearing at the event were Centre County Dairy Princess Gretchen Little and 2017 Grange Fair Queen Megan Royer, as well as additional volunteers from the Penn State Nutritional Sciences Department, to discuss the importance of dairy in a balanced diet.