Food Science
Army food scientist Jeremy Whitsitt demonstrates the chemical reaction used to heat Meals, Ready to Eat for students at East Central High School in San Antonio. The demonstration was part of an educational outreach effort by the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl.

SAN ANTONIO -- The science and chemical reactions required to produce food for the American warfighter were on full display by U.S. Army scientists visiting San Antonio for Saturday's U.S. Army All-American bowl, for students at East Central High School.

Physics, chemistry, culinary arts and food science students, as well as members of the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps, attended the presentation.

The demonstration was part of the educational outreach effort by the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command as it participates in activities at the high school bowl game.

The game features stellar high school athletes from across the nation and will be televised nationally by NBC. Kickoff is Saturday, at 1 p.m. (EST).

Jeremy Whitsitt, scientist at the Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center in Natick, Mass., demonstrated the science behind the heating system for the Army's Meals, Ready-to-Eat.

"The MREs are self-heated by a chemical reaction of magnesium, sodium chloride, water and iron. The reaction between the magnesium, sodium chloride and water create the heat while the iron ensures the food reaches the proper temperature," Whitsitt explained.

"This is one example of how science is used in producing food for the Soldier."

Whitsitt added that Army scientists and engineers have now created an endothermic chemical reaction that heats the food without water. He also stressed that there are numerous other factors that must be considered when developing food for the warfighter.

"How many of you have your food delivered to you by having it dropped 100 feet from the sky'" Whitsitt asked the students. "Food for Soldiers must be able to withstand a 100-foot drop without a parachute and a 1,200-foot drop with a parachute apparatus."

The food must also be able to last a long time without spoiling, since it is likely that an MRE will not be eaten until at least a year after it is created. Currently-produced MREs are required to last at least three years without spoiling. They must also be able to withstand extreme high or low temperatures and stand up to being rough-handled in the field.

"Technology is developing at a rapid pace, but there are still many more challenges that we need to overcome on the battlefield. A lot of that depends on you guys, the next generation of scientist, engineers and mathematicians," Whitsitt continued.

The presentation opened the eyes of the students to the dynamics of producing food for Soldiers.

"I didn't know the chemical mechanics required for producing the food. I had no idea how the process works and how far the science has developed. This was very informative," said Enrique Alonzo, a senior.

"It takes a lot of work to support the Soldiers who go to battle. It is so much more than walking around and firing weapons. Soldiers have to eat and they have to have water," said Chrystal Donahoe, a junior. "More goes into supporting the military than people realize."

Whitsitt was joined by Amanda Bonaca, a senior at Framingham State University, in Framingham, Mass., and member of the U.S. Army Student Career Experience Program. SCEP provides work experience directly related to a student's academic program and career goals.

"If you have an option to participate in these programs and earn money for college, do it. It helps you gain valuable experience. I love what I do," Bonaca said.

At the conclusion of the presentation, Whitsitt hammered home the primary focus of all of the work conducted by the Army science and technology community.

"We go out into the field and test the products with the Soldiers. We get their feedback and use that feedback in the development of the product. The last thing we want to do is rest on our laurels. That's not good enough. They deserve better and we strive to provide better," Whitsitt concluded.

Page last updated Wed January 5th, 2011 at 17:28