Science Cakes

Below are some #sciencecakes I made to celebrate and capture the discoveries my colleagues made while finishing their dissertations.


Dr. Lauren Stadler
Dissertation: Elucidating the Impact of Low Dissolved Oxygen Wastewater Treatment on Pharmaceutical Fate (2015)
Cake Details: Wastewater treatment plants aren’t designed to break down the drugs we take and send into our wastewater. This means many of the drugs we take end up in rivers and hurt fish. Lauren’s research shows that if we aerate wastewater less, oxygen levels in the wastewater is lower, which might enhance the ability for microbes to break down drugs. This means a healthier habitat for fish, electricity savings, and a lower carbon footprint for wastewater treatment plants! You can read more about Lauren’s research here. I represent the results from her laboratory experiments with the following:

  • A chocolate covered pineapple biscuit represents the headworks of the wastewater treatment plant.
  • Chocolate-covered biscuit sticks represent the aeration basins where microbes break down pollutants, including drugs.
  • Peppermint patties represent wastewater treatment plant clarifiers.
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Dr. Robert Massatti
Dissertation: Effects of the Dynamic Pleistocene Climate on Plant Evolution: Integrative Tests across Multiple Spatial and Temporal Scales (2015)
Cake Details: How can we use family trees to uncover how history shaped our planet’s biodiversity? Rob decrypts patterns in DNA from different species of sedges to find out why this group of plants is so diverse. Some of this diversity stems from glaciers creating a changing mosaic of dry meadows and wetlands in the Rocky Mountain over thousands of years. This defines where plants can grow and how isolated they are from similar species. You can read more about Rob’s research here. I represent Rob’s many summers collecting sedges in the Rocky mountains with the following:

  • Mountains made of chocolate cake are frosted with green sedges to represent the different sedges that grow in wetlands and meadows in the Rockies.
  • Rob’s red truck that he used during field seasons is made of vanilla wafer cookies covered in chocolate and mini peppermint patties.
  • Heath bar crumbs form the dirt road leading to his field sites.
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Dr. Lauren Cline
Dissertation: The Ecological Factors that Structure the Composition and Function of Saprotrophic Fungi (2015)
Cake Details: Microscopic fungi help recycle carbon and nutrients in forests and grasslands by breaking down tough parts of leaves.  Lauren’s research shows that the group of fungi living in soils depends on who got there first and what kind of leaf litter is available for them to chomp on.  You can read more about Lauren’s research here.  I represent her field and laboratory experiments with the following:

  • Chocolate leaves depict successional changes in plant species over time in grasslands (ragweed and crabgrass) and forests (sugar maple and red oak).
  • Powdered sugar sprinkled over the leaves mimic communities of microbial fungi.
  • Japanese chocolate-covered cookies imitate mushrooms of saprotrophs.
  • A dark chocolate cake topped with malt chocolate frosting pays homage to fungi-made soil organic matter.
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Dr. Jasmine Crumsey
Dissertation: Exotic Earthworm Communities as Drivers of Soil Carbon Dynamics in Northern Temperate Forests (2013)
Cake Details: The types of earthworms that live in a forest change how carbon is moved and stored in soils.  You can read more about Jasmine’s research here.  I represent the soils from her field site in the following way:

  • Leaf litter (Oe/i horizons): chocolate leaves
  • Humus (Oa horizon): crumbled oreos
  • Organic mineral layer (A horizon): vegan chocolate cake
  • Mineral layer (B horizon): spiced apple cinnamon cake to mimic the sandy soils at the University of Michigan Biological Station.  There’s no E horizon at Jasmine’s field site.
  • Soil macrofauna: gummy earthworm
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Dr. Anne Jaskot
Dissertation: H I Gas Cycles and Lyman Continuum Optical Depth in Low-Redshift Starbursts (2014)
Cake Details: Lots of stars form in green pea galaxies!  Astronomers like Anne study how this starlight moves through these galaxies to discover more about the way our universe formed.  Read more about her research here.  I model these cupcakes after an image montage Anne made  from Sloan Digital Sky Survey’s photos of pea galaxies using the following:

  •  Green chocolate candies represent the galaxies and lay on a swirl of lime cream cheese frosting.
  • The base of the cupcake is a lime cake with graham cracker crust.
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Dr. Alex Bryan
Dissertation: Climate and Chemistry Modeling of Surface-atmosphere Feedbacks in the Great Lakes region (2014)
Cake Details: The source of rain and amount of ozone pollution in a particular area depend on how the physical and chemical properties of forests and the atmosphere interact together. You can read more about Alex’s research here.  This cake was made by Stacey Kawecki and put together with help from the rest of the Steiner Lab. I was lucky enough to help with the concept design for this cheesecake. We capture the importance of biosphere-atmosphere connections in the following way:

  • Cheesecake with graham cracker crust was used for a solid lithosphere
  • Chocolate trees with pretzel trunks and marshmallow shrubs represent the forest
  • Chocolate lake captures the hydrology in the system
  • Gumdrops held together with toothpicks mimic the chemistry tower at Alex’s study site and the isoprene molecule hanging around the side of the cake
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