For the better part of a decade I worked in chemistry laboratories that had regular access to liquid nitrogen. If I knew then what I know now…I would have eaten a lot more ice cream during those years.
Friday afternoon, the Northeastern student affiliates of the American Chemical Society hosted their annual liquid nitrogen ice-cream party and it was, well, delicious. A half dozen students donning white lab coats (one, like club adviser professor David Budil, was lucky enough to have his tie-dyed) stood on Krentzman Quad around a table that was covered in wonderful things like heavy cream, sugar, vanilla extract, and large dewars overflowing with steam that can only be handled with proper protective gear. There were also bottles of chocolate syrup, whipped cream, and sprinkles.
Every year for the last four or so, the NUSAACS student group has provided the campus community with delicious, silky ice cream, handmade before our very eyes. First, all the ingredients go into a stainless steel bowl. Then one student wearing plastic goggles and heavy duty “cryo-gloves” grabs the spoon and starts stirring while another (just as stylishly clad) pours an elusive clear liquid over it all. The liquid, a chilly 196 degrees below zero (Celsius), freezes the ingredients in an instant, while simultaneously condensing water particles in the air, said former club-secretary Rebecca Lewis. Billowing clouds of steam pour over the table as it’s happening.
Mark Naniong, the club’s vice president of campus and regional affairs, explained that the event is meant to show off the coolness that is chemistry to the rest of campus and maybe, just maybe, pique their interest a little. “It’s meant to show people what science can do. People like to see the steam,” he said, laughing.
This year’s crowd hit a record high, Lewis estimated. A hundred or so students stood around the table waiting for their chance to taste the scientific delight that took less than a minute to make.
I had seconds.