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A high-tech mix-in for ice cream

This could be just the PR boost that the cryogenics industry needs after its last, lamented brush with fame--or infamy--in the tawdry tale of Ted Williams' detour on the way to the afterlife.

Researchers in MIT's Cryogenic Engineering Laboratory have concocted a new method for cream. That's according to a page 1 story in the Boston Sunday Globe, which reports that the academics behind the sweet scientific breakthrough have held meetings with unnamed ice cream companies in hopes of commercial follow-through. The inspiration for the pursuit came several years ago from the dairy industry itself.

The idea was apparently tasty enough for the emerging-tech folks at the Deshpande Center for Technological Innovations, which gave professors John G. Brisson and Joseph L. Smith a cool $50,000 in starter money. The academics in turn recruited a young, thermodynamically inclined graduate student named Teresa Baker--fresh from a year at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, of course--to lead the project, the Globe said.

The technique, in a nutshell: In a low-pressure chamber, an ice cream mix (vanilla, in the prototype) mingles with liquid carbon dioxide, which expands into a deep-freeze gas (minus 40 degrees Fahrenheit). The result, according to the Globe article, is a dry, cold powder that "melts instantly in the mouth, releasing carbon dioxide vapor so quickly that the gas travels up the taster's nose, producing an unexpected but pleasant rush."

Doesn't sound exactly like the mouth-feel of Ben & Jerry's Cherry Garcia? The Globe article cites federal regulations on ice cream that suggest the new frozen dessert might technically be something different after all, and the researchers acknowledge as much.

"It's not ice cream in the usual sense," Brisson is quoted as saying. "It has a carbonated bit, and it just kind of goes 'whoof' on your tongue."

How now, black cow?