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Public Affairs : Cadets explore the sweet science in chemical engineering

Cadets explore the sweet science in chemical engineering

Story and photos by Mike Strasser
Assistant Editor

Oh, the sweet smell of science. It’s a chocolate scent that hovers along the hallway on the fourth floor of Bartlett Hall North every time members of the West Point Chemical Engineering Club open up shop.

The group known as the Chocolate Factory has been mastering the craft of chocolate-making since 2009 at the U.S. Military Academy. On Dec. 12, Class of 2013 Cadet Amy Hill was promoted from assistant to head of confectionary and received instruction from the outgoing cadet-in-charge, Class of 2012 Laura Ruiz.

Since joining the club three years ago, Hill has learned most of the skills needed to keep the Factory going, but this informal change of command allowed her to refresh her knowledge from start to finish as they made a batch of milk chocolate and hot cocoa.

This semester, the products made at the Chocolate Factory have been served at a football tailgate party, an Association of Graduates dinner and at the Directorate of Cadet Activities’ Club Night. Class of 2014 Cadet David Arrowchis first learned about this club through Lt. Col. Robert Bozic, the club officer-in-charge and assistant professor in the Department of Chemistry and Life Science.

Class of 2015 Cadet Mohamed Naif, an international exchange student from the Republic of Maldives, joined the club after seeing them at the tailgate. Both cadets also attended the pre-holiday lesson at the Chocolate Factory, taking notes and getting hands-on experience making chocolate.

In the initial stages of the process, the cadets were working with a mixture of 100-percent dark chocolate. Arrowchis got a taste of what full-strength tastes like.

“Chalky. I think the highest I’ve seen is like 80-82 percent, maybe. At 100 percent it tastes like chalk, kind of bitter, like super bitter chocolate,” Arrowchis said. “I actually like dark chocolate, but just not this dark. There’s no sweetness to it.”

Early in November, they hosted a Chocolate Show during a meeting for chemical engineering majors which Ruiz said helped promote their club to the underclassmen. Club members don’t necessarily have to be chemical engineering majors, either. Ruiz briefed on her internship—an advanced individual academic development—at the Hershey Company this past summer. The major chocolate manufacturer also provided the club with a significant amount of raw materials to include cocoa powder, cocoa butter, chocolate liquors and nibs.

“We were really, really lucky to get this from them and that they were willing to help us out,” Hill said.

Hill got a look at the industry when the club visited the headquarters in Hershey, Pa. It’s quite an eye-opener, she said, when comparing the basic stovetop operation at Bartlett Hall with the mass production happening inside a real chocolate-making factory.

“Chemical engineering is a massive operation and we can’t really simulate that well here because of cost and size,” Hill said. “We study large operations like Hershey in class … so it was fun to see the things we were calculating in class are actually real.”

Hill had a similar experience when she interned at Mullins Cheese factory in Wisconsin.

“It was interesting to me because as I was walking around the Hersey factory I saw the same processes. A lot of the processes they use to send milk through to make cheese are the same as sending cocoa beans through to make chocolate.” Hill chose chemical engineering as her major because it was an interest she developed since high school.

“I really liked chemistry but I wanted to see the actual applications of things and not just the inside of a little petri dish in a lab,” Hill said.

Joining the CE club gives her an opportunity, at least on a small scale, to put her studies into action.

The club members learn how to temper chocolate, juice the beans, heat the cocoa butter and add various ingredients like soy lecithin and vanillin. Like following any good recipe, the cadets learn with each step the specific amounts and temperatures required, and what happens when those numbers are not exact. While cleaning the equipment, Ruiz cautioned the cadets at the sink not to get any water on the product.

“Even a few drops of water can turn the chocolate into fudge,” Ruiz said. “It doesn’t have to be a lot. It won’t make fudge exactly, just a fudgy texture.”

The other cadets exchanged looks from hearing this. Perhaps next semester they’ll experiment with a fudge recipe but there are other ideas in the works at the Chocolate Factory. Hill wants to make white chocolate and there’s talk about coffee-flavored chocolate.

“I want to do a little more experimentation next semester because, so far, we’ve been doing just the basic milk chocolate,” Hill said. “I think it would be interesting to try making white chocolate and see if we could be successful in that. But the difficulty with experimentation is we don’t always have the time, so there’s always that time management factor.”

The club, officially known as the American Institute of Chemical Engineers Club also has a Chemical Engineering Car Team and a team of brew masters who study the chemical engineering behind making beer. Most recently, the group created a limited edition variety for Army-Navy Week at West Point.
 Click here to read what the cadet brew masters recently did to support Army-Navy Week at West Point.
 Membership in the club is not required for all chemical engineering majors nor are other majors excluded. Within the Department of Chemical Engineering there are roughly 50 cadets enrolled in this field of study, 14 are set to graduate in May 2013.

To learn more about the Department of Chemistry and Life Science visit their home page at

Class of 2013 Cadet Amy Hill whips up a batch of milk chocolate Dec. 12 during a final block of instruction from the outgoing head of confectionary, Class of 2012 Cadet Laura Ruiz. As the cadet in charge of the Chocolate Factory within the Chemical Engineering Club, Hill said she is looking forward to opportunities of experimenting with chocolate next semester.

The chocolate has to spend the right amount of time spinning in the conch to get the proper texture. Sometimes this becomes a matter of trial-and-error with cadets, who have been producing chocolate as members of the Chemical Engineerinng Club since 2009.

Besides the chemical engineering side of chocolate-making, cadets new to the Chocolate Factory, like Class of 2014 Cadet David Arrowchis, must also learn about the equipment, especially how to clean and assemble it.

New to the Chemical Engineering Club and the Chocolate Factory, Class of 2015 Cadet Mohamed Naif, an international exchange student from the Republic of Maldives, received some hands-on experience and took plenty of notes during a tutorial inside Bartlett Hall North Dec. 12.