If seeing liquid nitrogen ice cream created excites people about chemical engineering, Omega Chi Epsilon (OXE) is all for it.

The University of Iowa (UI) chapter of the chemical engineering honor society pops up ice cream stands in the Seamans Center at the Party After the (UI Homecoming) Parade and during finals week to highlight a tangible example of chemical engineering at work.

“Seeing the kids’ faces – their eyes get so wide – is so rewarding,” said 2022-23 OXE Vice President Kiana Resch, of Palatine, Illinois. “I love being able to show this is what ChemE is all about. This is what a ChemE can do.”

It takes about 45 seconds to flash freeze the batter. A ladle of liquid nitrogen at a temperature of minus 320 degrees Fahrenheit is poured into a mixing bowl as a Bosch drill with a whisk attachment blends the ingredients.

Safety is paramount. Protective gloves, closed-toe shoes, and a cryogenic freezer called a Dewar for liquid nitrogen storage are some of the measures to keep OXE members safe.

OXE member and spring 2023 graduate Anthony Scarpelli mixes liquid nitrogen ice cream

“You can get frostbite within seconds if not handled properly,” said 2022-23 OXE President Josh Halverson, of Iowa City. “Safety is a big part of chemical engineering. We take various precautions to prevent an incident, and we have several steps to mitigate if something happens.”

Patrons can get a bowl of freshly made ice cream with their choice of toppings – chocolate and caramel syrup, sprinkles, whipped cream and more – at $2 per serving. The proceeds help cover the supply costs and raise money for future events.

The event is a visible way for two-year-olds through retirees to learn about chemical engineering, said C. Allan Guymon, longtime OXE advisor and Sharon K. Tinker Process Safety Professor of Chemical and Biochemical Engineering.

“It gives students a visible example of the types of things chemical engineers do,” he said.

The ice cream recipe, tools, and process have been handed down from one OXE group to the next for several years. Each cohort strives to improve something, such as updating the standard operating procedure, enhancing safety protocols, or upgrading equipment.

The current leadership team of Halverson, Resch, and Sam Mittal, of Bartlett, Illinois, all graduated in May with chemical engineering degrees, so new leaders will emerge to keep the tradition going.

“I am excited to see who takes over and see what they do with it,” said Mittal, who served as 2022-23 OXE treasurer.


Back to Iowa Engineer 2023