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WVU Tech students learn real-world chemical engineering applications

Students work together to brew coffee

Dr. Kimberlyn Gray, Associate Professor of Chemical Engineering, is teaching her students chemical engineering applications through a staple of many college students’ diets: coffee.

Students in her Introduction to Chemical Engineering class spent several weeks roasting, extracting and testing to produce the best tasting coffee with the lowest energy consumption. Each team started with the same coffee beans, but everything else was up to the students.

“The idea is to give our students a way to learn chemical engineering in a way that’s really accessible. They learn things like heat and mass transfer. There are a lot of processes used in making coffee that are used in chemical engineering, so it’s a good way to introduce students to the concepts and terms of chemical engineering,” Gray explained.

Groups experimented with hot and cold brewing methods to reduce the energy output. Students explained they changed the brewing ratios, extraction time, brewing methods and ways to reduce the acidity of the coffee.

The project finished with judges rating the coffees in a blind taste test. Judges rated each coffee based on aroma, flavor, body, balance and acidity. Faculty and staff from across campus served as the judges.

Sydney McGraw, a freshman chemical engineering major from the Beckley area, said the project was a fun experience.

“The ability to experiment with the energy outputs and work together in groups is something I know will help me in the real world,” she said. “It was an interesting and fun experience with a real-world application,” McGraw said.

Students wait for coffee judging