Engineering alumni knead engineering in baking on new Netflix series


This story contains spoilers for the first season of “Baking Impossible,” which stars two engineering graduates from Penn State.

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa .– Baking a cake involves mixing the dough, baking a sponge, and decorating, but what if that cake also has to function as a canal boat or a vehicle that can cross a course obstacles? Penn State engineering alumni Sara Schonour and Renee Frohnert have faced challenges such as competitors for the new Netflix series “Baking Impossible,” which premiered on October 6. All eight episodes are available for streaming.

Renee Frohnert, a Penn State alumnus in electrical engineering, took part in Baking Impossible on Netflix.

IMAGE: Image provided by Renee Frohnert

The show brings together bakers and professional engineers to participate in “baking” challenges for a chance to win a grand prize of $ 100,000. Working in randomly assigned two-person teams consisting of a baker and an engineer, the “bakers” were tasked with performing edible engineering feats, from Rube-Goldberg machines to tasty skyscrapers that could withstand. to a simulated earthquake.

Bakers had access to a variety of equipment, including a laser cutter, carpentry, CAD drawing software and a hardness testing machine, and parts, including motors, wires, lights and Arduino microcontrollers.

Access to many tools is one thing; However, knowing how to use them to apply engineering principles to sugar and flour is another.

“I was thrilled to use the lab skills I learned at Penn State,” said Frohnert, a 2016 electrical engineering alumnus who is currently working as a business development manager at L3Harris Technologies and as a guest lecturer at Cornell University, where she graduated with a Masters in Systems Engineering in 2019. “J ‘ Was particularly excited about remotes, as I work with antennas, and we had to keep in mind that the signal would be weaker the further away the object was. There were a lot of balls when you started building and you had to learn not to marry your original design.

Schonour, a 2007 architectural engineering alumna and current vice president of education and engagement at Lytei, emphasized the importance of the engineering process in the series.

“Problem solving was a big part of the show for me,” Schonour said. “Every mission started with constraints, and we had to work with those constraints to come up with a hypothesis, test it, rotate and adjust to make the design work. It’s like, how do I take these ridiculously tough challenges and sum them up into something I can do with the Rice Krispies? “

The bakers applied concepts from various fields including physics, mathematics, electrical engineering, materials science and more to create each inventive cake. This application, said Schonour, could not have happened without the help of their teammates.

“We both had partners who were really talented people and very willing to collaborate and learn,” said Schonour. “It was great to work with someone who knew their trade – for example, how chocolate does its job, what happens when you leave it out, what happens when it does. gets too wet, when wet – and that made engineering much more achievable. “

Schonour worked with Rodolfo Bula Gonçalves, a former web developer turned pastry chef and bakery owner from Brazil. Frohnert’s partner was Steve Day, a pastry artist at the Boca Raton Resort in Florida.

“At first when we were paired up we thought I knew engineering and Steve knew baking and that would automatically fall into place,” Frohnert said. “Once we really started working as a team, you can see the edible and engineering came together in our designs as well. “

Their collaboration led to success. Both Penn State-affiliated teams made it into the bottom four, and Schonour and Goncalves moved up further – ultimately winning the top prize of $ 100,000.

“If you had told me when you entered this competition that we would be the winners, I wouldn’t have believed you,” said Schonour. “But this experience taught me so much to believe in myself, to do my best and to go all-in. It’s amazing what you can do with a ‘do it’ mindset and great teamwork. “

For engineers, the show was also an opportunity to highlight diversity in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. For Frohnert, who is involved in public speaking and social media outreach for STEM, math, the show has provided a platform to share his enthusiasm for the field with women and girls, has she declared. And Schonour used the show’s unique premise to inspire young people from diverse backgrounds.

“I hope that children and young adults who don’t want to enter a traditional field can see this and discover other possibilities in their career,” she said. “The cast was a great representation of where the talent really is, and it showed that when you bring diverse minds together, you can achieve amazing things.”


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