Candy Club: Chemical Engineering with a Twist

By Jocelyn Visnov, Web Editor/Production Editor

Corn syrup and material science may sound like an unlikely combination at first. However, with experiments led by Connor Bilchak, Ph.D. ’14, students learn how to make their own sweet creations using principles of material sciences as part of the all new Candy Club. 

Bilchak, a Manhattan College alum and current visiting assistant professor of chemical engineering, first found inspiration for Candy Club while preparing experiments for a material science lab. 

“I was actually trying to design actual experiments for students to do as part of going through a material science lab,” he said, “And we were going to be looking at how Jolly Ranchers actually behave when you change their temperature.” 

It was then that Bilchak realized how experiments such as this one would showcase how principles of material science are found in everyday life. 

“At some point, I kind of said that like ‘This isn’t something that just materials engineers care about,’ anyone who’s ever gone trick or treating has experienced something with candy,” he said. “So this was something that I could really use to just showcase what chemical engineering and what materials engineering can do when we apply it to something more fun.” 

Bilchak explained that part of his motivation for Candy Club is to encourage students of all interests and majors to explore concepts in material sciences in a low-stress environment. 

“Look, you’ve learned a lot this semester and you’ve worked hard,” he said. “Come and do something that just kind of lets you vent, do something fun, and you know, lets you get to explore some science and engineering but just kind of like let all that stress out for a bit.“ 

As the club continues, Bilchak hopes to host “open cooking hours” which allow students to pick from a variety of recipes and create the candies of their choosing. In the future, the club hopes to tackle making milk shakes and chocolate from raw cacao beans as part of their club activities. 

Still in its early stages, the Candy Club has met only a handful of times. The club currently plans to meet again on Tuesday, Dec. 6 to make candy canes in celebration of  the holiday season. Bilchak also mentioned that over half of the students who signed up for Tuesday’s candy cane making event are liberal arts majors, rather than science majors. 

Candy Club events require students to sign up prior to the event. This allows Bilchak and graduate students to prepare materials for the experiment ahead of time. 

Gianna Villani, a chemical engineering graduate assistant, explained that when Bilchak expressed interest in creating the club, she was on board from the start. 

“I was his graduate assistant and I’ve always loved to research but also I’ve always loved doing something culinary,” she said. “So everything that I loved was put into one club, but I was interested in it from the second he said it.” 

Monsunmola Olowu, a fellow graduate assistant for the chemical engineering department, explained that students of all majors are welcome to join in on the Candy Club fun.

“If you’re interested, if you’re willing to learn, if you’re willing to have fun, you should definitely come try it,” she said, “ It’s a lot of fun and like I know with a lot of these you can try to make it at home too.” 

Keep an eye out for posters around Kelly Commons and Higgins Engineering and Science building for more information on upcoming events with Candy Club.