This morning I worked on developing a lesson plan for the ENGAGE program, to integrate everyday examples of engineering into undergraduate curricula and persuade more students to stay in related disciplines. I picked sous vide cooking, since it incorporates to many different aspects of both science and cooking:

  1. Engineering: an immersion circulator uses negative feedback to maintain the temperature of the water bath. How could this equipment be made more accessible to home cooks?
  2. Biochemical: the proteins or starches in the food denature at specific temperatures. Is it possible to qualitatively understand differences in these temperatures by looking at the amino acid sequences and protein sizes.
  3. Mathematical: the heat diffusion into the food can be modelled by diffusion equations. How well do these match up with values in recipes and why might there be discrepancies?
  4. Microbiological: microbial growth rates are relevant when developing safe food handling procedures. How does the temperature affect the doubling times of different  species?
  5. Culinary: in addition to precise control over texture, the method makes preparing fish, meats, and eggs potentially far more convenient (e.g. no need to soft boil eggs during service). How does a restaurant optimize the use of the water baths, if different foods require different temperatures?

I think that a similarly broad set of questions can come from looking at a single nutritional label, investigating the numerous roles of eggs in cooking, or all the steps involved in making chocolate.