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More than 500 students at Salt Lake City's Bryant Middle School learned Monday that chemistry can be both delicious and fun. Aided by a team of engineers, the middle schoolers mixed up their own batches of vanilla ice cream and Silly Putty.

"I never knew you had to use so many ingredients to make ice cream," said 12-year-old Alexis Mahana. "Being an engineer looks hard but it sounds cool."

Nearly 20 chemical engineers from New York to Puerto Rico visited Bryant on Monday as part of the annual convention of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE), which is in Salt Lake City this week. They hope to inspire the next generation of engineers.

"In our lifetime, the issues of renewable energy, clean water and clean air [will require] new and novel solutions," said Rodney Dotson, a professor at City College of New York and chairman of AIChe's minority affairs committee. "That is what the world will look to [new engineers] to do."

Engineers, he said, help to solve a variety of human problems and their innovations spur economic growth.

On Monday, Dotson and his volunteers conducted their experiments simultaneously in every classroom at Bryant. They mixed pink or blue glue with water and a Borax solution to make stretchy putty. Students also learned how to freeze milk, sugar and vanilla to make ice cream.

The school was chosen in part because of its diversity — about half the students are Latino, African-American or other ethnic minorities. Women and ethnic minorities are underrepresented in science, technology, engineering and math professions. The disparity reflects a gap in interest, not aptitude, notes a September report on the issue prepared by President Barack Obama's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology.

At Bryant, seventh-grader Lauren Watkins could not decide which part of making ice cream was the "funnest." She and a partner placed milk, sugar and vanilla inside a small, sealed plastic bag and then placed that bag inside a larger one with ice and rock salt. She loved shaking the bag to remove the heat from the milk and cause it to freeze. It also was exciting when the bag exploded. But perhaps the best part, she said, was eating the end product.

"I learned about the chemical reaction between ice and salt," she said. "It was really fun."

Daniel Meza, a seventh grader, said he is sold on science already. He wants to be an aerospace engineer.

"You get to design rockets and go into space," he said.

Meza also had some challenges with his ice cream bag. He held it over a trash can as icy water streamed from a hole.

"The learning will stick with them because they get to make a mess and it's OK," Dotson said. "It's not every day they get to mess up the rooms."

Sally Torres, a 26-year-old chemical engineering student, said women outnumber men in her program at Prairie View A&M University in Texas.

"We need a lot of diversity. We are the future," she said.

Torres, who plans to work in the oil and gas industry, said she was first inspired by a childhood tour of one of the chemical plants in her hometown of Crosby, Texas.

"I wanted to climb all the distillation towers," she said. "I fell in love with it."