Smart stuff – The ice cream that will freeze granny (2002)

Tony Ryan

What connects creating the perfect tasting ice cream with bringing people back to life after cryogenic freezing?

Watch time: 49:11
Tony Ryan stands next to a group of children who are standing together, wrapped in a sheet
Image credit: Royal Institution

Lecture 5 – The ice cream that will freeze granny

From the 2002 autumn print programme:

What connects creating the perfect tasting ice cream with bringing people back to life after cryogenic freezing?

Creating an ice cream that will re-freeze time after time, but still remains as tasty as the day it was made, is a major culinary conundrum.

The problem requires all kinds of chemical trickery- from making sure the food keeps its flavour and fragrance to how much air it retains. But what are flavours and scents, and how are they experienced?

Raw potatoes are horrible, but chips taste great, so what does cooking do to the food, and how does it alter the molecules in the potatoes?

By studying food at this molecular level, we may be able to create the perfect tasting menu. New ways of conjuring up this faultless cuisine may come from the most unlikely places.

Serving up the perfect ice cream may depend on understanding how Arctic fishes stop themselves from freezing in their icy homes.

But if we can mimic this seemingly magical feat, could we do far more than making the perfect raspberry ripple? Might we be able to cryogenically freeze your granny and then defrost her back to her radiant self again, just like the perfect ice cream?

The final lecture explores the chemistry of food, life and death. 


Humankind’s ability to control and manipulate the atoms that make up the earth has enabled us to become the dominant species on the planet. From igniting fire with flints to sending text messages on mobile phones, everything we do and use involves a bit of chemical know-how.

This series of lectures will reveal the molecular miracles behind the everyday objects that define our modern world. From the planes, trains and trainers that get us from A to B, to the tasty burgers, chips and ice cream that refuel our bodies…everything around us is the product of ingenious chemical wizardry. Through unique experiments, demonstrations and audience participation events, this lecture series reveals the secrets of how it’s all done and contemplates how it could be done even better.