When science and food collide

Science and food are two of my favorite things. So the subject of my research, the American Lobster, makes me one lucky scientist. While others may have ‘cuter’ animals to study, in our lab we get to dispose of our lab specimens through ingestion. We only eat animals that we’ve already experimented on, and of course, only if they haven’t been treated with chemicals. If we need to dissect a lobster nervous system, for example, we’ll save the tail and claws for dinner. Or if we’re recording nervous system activity through electrodes inserted into the brain of the lobster, once we’ve finished the experiment, we’ll take the animal home for a meal.

When visiting researchers come to see our lab, our advisor likes to show off the marvels of the lobster: both its scientific merits and its culinary delights. For a recent roboticist in town, our advisor’s son prepared a marvelous lobster bisque.

Here are some lobster parts ready for shucking:

 

And setting the lobster on fire was a necessary step in the process:

My advisor has even authored a cookbook (although it doesn’t seem to be available for sale anymore).

The intersection of science and cooking has been a topic of interest for those outside of the lobster biology world too. From experimental cooking approaches to the field of molecular gastronomy, advances in our understanding of chemistry and materials science have allowed cooks to create such marvels as foie gras tied in a knot or white chocolate caviar soufflé.

For those in the Boston/Cambridge area, I highly recommend checking out the ongoing Science and Cooking weekly lecture series (but arrive early to grab a seat). If you’re not in the area you can also stream the lectures online. All the info you need is here: http://www.seas.harvard.edu/cooking

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