On a Saturday evening in July 2020, Amy E. Hyduk-Cardillo, PharmD ’04 and her husband heated up the ribs they’d smoked a few days earlier, booted up Zoom, and sat down to learn more about their meal.
The Science of BBQ event was the first virtual offering in an ongoing series of similar food-centric alumni gatherings. Butler University Chemistry Professors Mike Samide and Anne Wilson, in partnership with the Office of Alumni Relations and Engagement, have been teaching small groups of alumni about the science behind their favorite foods—think beer, cheese, wine, and chocolate—since 2018.
“These events allow alumni to feel like they are back in class engaging with faculty, learning something new, and talking with one another,” Wilson says.
Each lesson covers the basic history, science, and production process of the featured food item, followed by discussion and usually an experiential component (aka, a food or beverage tasting). Hyduk-Cardillo, who attended several of the Science of… events held in-person at local businesses before the start of COVID-19, says virtual events have provided some relief during the pandemic.
“What’s been the silver lining around COVID-19 is the ability to see how organizations and businesses create new events, environments for hosting events, and ways of doing business that have been unique and fun to participate in,” she says.
The virtual Science of BBQ event focused on themes like the difference between grilling and smoking, whether you should use sauce or rub, and tips for achieving the best results. About 100 Butler community members from across the country attended, with the virtual setting allowing for a broader audience that extended beyond alumni and included parents, faculty, staff, and trustees. In September, Samide and Wilson also hosted a virtual Science of Beer presentation—complete with an at-home tasting experience.
“Food provides an easy way for anyone to connect with science,” Wilson says.
Samide says the educational portion of the events is taught in layperson terms, skipping some of the scientific complexities and focusing more on things like how various chemical compounds make up different flavor profiles, or how growing conditions and aging times affect the taste of wine.
“Events like these show that the University is really a place where we value learning and conversation,” Wilson says. “We are living the ideals of a liberal arts education—that there’s always something you can learn.”
Watch for future “Science of …” events to be listed on butler.edu/alumni/events.