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Sweet and savory science

by Linda Wang
January 20, 2019 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 97, Issue 3


Sharing science through Peeps

A chemistry Peeps diorama includes Peeps in a mini chemistry classroom, including lab benches, a blackboard, and a periodic table on the wall.
Credit: Kathryn Hughes
Marshmallow madness: Science-themed Peeps dioramas are sweet.

In this age of Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, scientists have many ways to draw attention to their science. Now a new contest is offering the opportunity to communicate science with Peeps. That’s right: Peeps, those sugar-coated, pastel-colored, awww-inducing marshmallow bunnies and chicks found ubiquitously in the US in the weeks leading up to Easter.

The science-themed diorama contest, which lets you share science and satisfy your sweet tooth, is sponsored by the Open Notebook, a nonprofit online magazine for science journalists. Since 2004, when the St. Paul Pioneer Press first introduced the concept of a Peeps diorama contest, these quirky competitions have popped up around the US. But “this is the first-ever science-themed Peeps diorama contest, as far as we know,” says Siri Carpenter, cofounder of the Open Notebook.

Science communicators (and avid Peeps diorama makers) Helen Fields, Kate Ramsayer, and Joanna Church came up with the idea to launch a science-themed Peeps diorama contest. “We wanted to have a contest where you could combine the ridiculousness of Peeps dioramas and something that we love doing, which is sharing science,” Ramsayer tells Newscripts. “It’s a great opportunity for people to show their creative side.”

The contest runs from Feb. 15 through March 10, and according to the contest’s rules, the diorama could be a depiction of anything—a famous eureka moment, a well-known scientist, fieldwork, life in the lab, or scientific processes. All sciences, from astronomy to zoology, are welcome. Prizes will be awarded in many categories, including Best in Show and “Peeple’s” Choice.

Carpenter notes that what makes a good Peeps diorama “are puns, a high degree of ridiculousness, and attention to detail.”

She also points out that just because they’re Peeps doesn’t mean that they can skimp on safety. “We highly encourage all of our Peeps to follow proper safety protocols, especially when working in the lab and near flammable materials,” Ramsayer says.

For more information about the contest, visit


Learning chemistry through cooking

Jozef Youssef and a student examine the texture of a sponge made from mushrooms.
Credit: Geoff Pugh/Telegraph
Fun with fungus: Jozef Youssef (right) and a student examine the texture of a sponge made out of mushrooms.

A new course at Imperial College London is, quite literally, hoping to satisfy students’ hunger for learning chemistry.

Starting this fall, first-year undergraduate chemistry majors at the university will be required to take an interdisciplinary course called Introduction to Culinary Practice, also known as the Chemical Kitchen.

Working in teams, students will learn the practical techniques required both for successful synthetic chemistry and for reproducible baking of breads, pastries, and soufflés.

“There’s always been a link between science and cooking, and I think this lab is an opportunity to look at some of the simpler things we do in the kitchen and see if there are skills that we can teach the students that will be beneficial to them,” says chef Jozef Youssef, who is partnering with the chemistry department to develop the course.


“As a scientist, you need to be extremely observant,” says Imperial chemistry professor Alan Spivey, who is developing the course with Youssef and professor of surgical education Roger Kneebone. “Precisely how you do things in the lab has implications not only for the success of your reactions but also for your own safety and also the safety of your colleagues,” Spivey tells Newscripts.

Spivey says the course will also delve into issues commonly encountered in both the kitchen and in the chemistry lab, such as reproducibility of results. He also hopes the course will encourage students to think about other parallels between chemistry and their everyday lives.

But perhaps the biggest perk of the class is that students will never leave hungry.

Linda Wang wrote this week’s column. Please send comments and suggestions to


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