Purdue students put the 'happy' back into birthday candles

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NOTE TO JOURNALISTS: A color photo of the students with the candles is available from Purdue News Service, (765) 494-2096. Ask for the photo called Soybean Candles/Schweitzer.

May 1996

Purdue students put the 'happy' back into birthday candles

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- Now you can have your cake and eat the candles, too, thanks to three Purdue University students who have created an edible birthday cake candle that uses hydrogenated soybean oil instead of petroleum-based paraffin.

The peppermint-flavored candles don't drip, either, an added attraction for moms who flinch at the globs of wax left behind after the birthday wish blow-out.

Christened "Flavor Favors" by their student inventors, the soy-based candles burn an average 25 seconds longer than commercial candles, plenty of time for a rendition of "Happy Birthday to You," with enough left over for "You smell like a monkey and look like one, too."

The candles also have a slightly shorter flame height, so adults can satisfy their inner child and light all 29 candles on the cake with less risk of burnt fingers or setting off the smoke alarm.

The candles took first place in a universitywide undergraduate student competition sponsored by Purdue's Department of Agronomy and the Indiana Soybean Development Council. Inventors Amy Khal of Iowa City, Iowa , Rahul Nair of Jackson, Miss., and Adam Watkins of Goshen, Ind., all students in the Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering, will split a $5,000 prize. The second-place winner, a soy-based lip balm, nets creators Thomas Chang of Indianapolis , Heather Pfeffer of Cincinatti and Jocelyn Wong of Chicago $2,500.

The composition of the candles is 83 percent hydrogenated soybean oil; 16 percent glycerol, a sweet emulsifier; about 1 percent coloring; and a bit of concentrated peppermint oil for flavoring. A combination of fully and partially hydrogenated soybean oil gives the blue, red and yellow candles form and texture; the glycerol makes the candles slightly softer and easier to chew. The peppermint oil could be replaced by other flavors as desired, Khal said.

"The soybean oil replaces paraffin, which is a by-product of gasoline production," Khal said. "When you consider that, decorating a cake with conventional candles is not very appetizing."

Nair said most people consider conventional candles a nuisance. "We wanted to make something you didn't have to throw away, that you wouldn't mind putting on your food," he said.

Watkins, who was the designated candle eater for the team, said he wants to continue work on replacing the cotton wick with something tastier. Watkins is maintaining a World Wide Web page for the project at http://pasture.ecn.purdue.edu/~watkins/info.html

The second-place winner was "Soyleilo," a soy-based lip balm created by Chang, Wong and Pfeffer, all seniors in agricultural and biological engineering. Wong said the market for environmentally friendly cosmetics and beauty aids was booming, but none of the lip products relied on soybean oil as a earth-friendly renewable resource.

"We thought people would be more open to a biological product rather than a synthetic one -- that it would give them more confidence in the product," Wong said.

Don Meier, president of the Indiana Soybean Development Council and a Bartholomew County soybean farmer, said he was pleased by the quality of the entries. "Both products look like they have market potential, and that's one of the reasons why we sponsor the contest -- to help create new opportunities for American soybeans."

Purdue agronomy Professor Lee Schweitzer, who invented the soybean innovation contest three years ago, said he likes to see the students stretch their intellect and their abilities. "These students represent the cream of the crop here at Purdue. Some day soon they're going to be leaders in industry, and I want them to remember the rewards creativity and thinking outside the box can bring."

Agricultural and biological engineering Professor Bernard Tao was the faculty mentor for both teams. Tao recently won a national award from the American Soybean Association for developing new uses for soybeans.

Khal was part of last year's winning team, which created the "Firebean," a soybean-based firestarter for fireplaces and campfires. Chang and Wong were part of the team that created a set of soybean crayons that won the contest in 1994.

ACS code/960419 AgS schweitzer/9604f41

Sources: Amy Khal, (765) 746-5424; Internet, khal@pasture.purdue.edu
Adam Watkins, (765) 495-8329; Internet, watkins@pasture.purdue.edu
Rahul Nair (765) 495-8331; Internet, nair@atom.purdue.edu
Thomas Chang, (765) 746-2337; Internet, changt@pasture.ecn.edu
Jocelyn Wong (765) 746-1949;Internet, wongjx@pasture.ecn.purdue.edu
Heather Pfeffer, (765) 743-2139; Internet, pfeffer@atom.ecn.purdue.edu
Don Meier, (317) 482-4376
Lee Schweitzer, (765) 494-4789; home, (765) 743-6367; Internet, lschweitzer@dept.agry.purdue.edu
Bernard Tao, (765) 494-1183; Internet, tao@ecn.purdue.edu

Writer: Chris Sigurdson, (765) 494-8415; home, (765) 497-2433; Internet, sig@ecn.purdue.edu


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