Kellie Gerardi and SunChips, a cosmic collaboration sparks ideas beyond the snack bag, interview

SunChips Solar Eclipse Limited-Edition Pineapple Habanero and Black Bean Spicy Gouda
SunChips Solar Eclipse Limited-Edition Pineapple Habanero and Black Bean Spicy Gouda / SunChips

As excitement builds for the upcoming solar eclipse, the celestial phenomenon is more than people jumping on a plane to experience a glimpse of that totality. The fleeting few minutes can spark a conversation about space, science, and even food. In collaboration with SunChips, Kellie Gerardi offered some poignant comments that will hopefully have people dreaming of exploring that great beyond for years to come.

For many people, enjoying a favorite snack, like SunChips, is a bright spot in their day. While that brand name might evoke an image of cloudless days filled with frivolity, it is the flavors that make people grab another bag off the shelf.

Ahead of the highly anticipated solar eclipse on April 8, SunChips is releasing a special flavor for the occasion. The SunChips Solar Eclipse Limited-Edition Pineapple Habanero and Black Bean Spicy Gouda is a taste that will have people talking about it for far longer than 4 minutes and 27 seconds.

The special limited-edition flavor captures the duality that the solar eclipse represents. For example, the pineapple habanero is bright and spicy. While that flavor component will not be overshadowed, the Black Bean Spicy Gouda is like the warm, robust undercurrent that feels comforting. The contrast between the two flavors is exciting.

As part of the special SunChips limited edition flavor release, the Frito-Lay snack brand partnered with scientist Kellie Gerardi. While people might stare at the cosmos and let their imagination run wild, the concepts that allow astronauts to break the Earth’s barrier can be complicated. The math equations and scientific concepts feel more like an alien language that has no Google translate option.

Since Gerardi is a pro at making these complicated subjects approachable to a wider audience, her SunChips partnership is a way for people to see beyond the polysyllabic words and mathematical cosines. Hopefully, the ideas will resonate in a way that inspires people to see how their path could take them to infinity and beyond.

During a recent conversation with FoodSided, Kellie Gerardi shared some thoughts on her SunChips partnership, women in STEM, and where space exploration might be going.

Cristine Struble/FoodSided: Making science engaging for everyone is important. How do you think the SunChips campaign brings fun to the event while still bringing in a little learning? 

Kellie Gerardi: One of the reasons why I was so excited to be a part of this partnership with SunChips is because my personal platform is all about taking the science of space and making it accessible and fun to the next generation and general public. I think that’s exactly what SunChips has been able to do with this major celestial event. You can’t do SunChips without the sun, so having a total solar eclipse and such a rare and special event and being able to create such a unique activation and campaign around that has really allowed the conversation to be taken from grocery store shelves and into the general public with a really fun limited-edition flavor mashup, something that is only available during the 4 minutes and 27 seconds of totality.

So it’s really bringing the message to the general public and allowing the SunChips team to share in to this really special societal moment and bring a little bit of learning along the way, with both tips on how to safely view the eclipse, the fun and the momentum and the buildup leading up to a total solar eclipse in the US and a really memorable snack to enjoy during as well. 

CS: Since the total eclipse is a rare occurrence, what tips or rules should people follow if they’re in the path of the eclipse? For people not in the path, what are some other fun ways to engage with the special event? 

KG: The first thing I would always point out to people is that this a really unique and rare special event. So, if it’s at all possible to find your way to a city that is in the path of totality, I would say that it’s worth it. And those cities can be found on NASA’s website, all the cities that you’ll experience totality during the solar eclipse.

If you are in totality, you want to make sure you are prepared. The first tip would be to make sure you have special eclipse glasses. The #1 most important thing to look for with those glasses is that they meet ISO standards. From a safety perspective, you never want to be looking directly at the sun without proper safety gear for your eyes. And then during the moments where you are in totality and the shadow of the moon is completely blocking out the sun, you can briefly remove your protective eyewear and look around and enjoy those couple moments of totality and the eerie twilight.

And for those that aren’t in the path of totality or can’t get there, I think there are a lot of fun ways to still stay engaged. There’s going to be a total exciting saturation of videos and clips available including from NASA and other scientific organizations.

And then I think SunChips is a really great way to be involved. This is a fun way to still be a part of something. So at 1:33 pm CT, no matter where you are in the US, you can head to during those 4 minutes and 27 seconds of totality for the chance to grab a bag of the new flavor. 

CS: The upcoming solar eclipse has many people traveling to get a glimpse of the scientific event. Do you think this excitement will cause a spike in people becoming curious about space exploration and potential space travel? 

KG: I think that’s a great question. One of the things that gets me so excited about an event like this is seeing how it captures so many people’s imagination and ones that aren’t necessarily working in the space or science industry but can enjoy a moment like this. I think it can really be a catalyst for people’s imagination and to want to learn more about the universe around us, the sky above us and everything in between.

In particular, I’ve been really excited sharing it with my daughter who is 6 years old and being able to hear some of her questions about the eclipse and see some of her natural enthusiasm and excitement for a big celestial event. It’s created more questions, more curiosity and more excitement and that’s been a really cool avenue for me to get to share a little bit more and spark her imagination in different areas too. Yes, absolutely I think an event like this can really spark people’s imagination and curiosity and get them more excited about space and science. 

CS: Looking at the STEM field today, more women are leading the conversation with innovation. How do you inspire the next generation to dream bigger and pursue a career in science? Who were some of your role models that inspired you? 

KS: One of the things that I feel so grateful for in the current generation is how much visible representation we do have today of women who are really leading conversations and leading efforts in space and science and all of these different STEM fields and STEAM fields more broadly. It’s one of the reasons that I really wanted to share my journey on social media. I think historically in my case as it relates to space flight, we haven’t seen that many women historically in these roles. I was the 90th woman in history to fly to space and I’m very excited for that number to continue to increase for the next generation.

For me, growing up I had a limited set of women that I could look to in these visible roles. And especially, even contemporarily as a mother who is flying to space, we’ve had only a handful. I’m very excited to be that resource to others and to future moms who endeavor to fly to space or to future women in STEM broadly. I think for me I have a lot of mentors in the space industry. I was very lucky to have a lot of women who took me under their wing in my career, who made bets on me, who championed me, who said my name in rooms I wasn’t in where opportunities were being discussed. I hope to pay that forward and that is something that I aim to do every day for the folks that I mentor and the ones I’m lucky enough to get to make bets on today in their career. 

CS: It seems that rockets are blasting off more frequently. Where do you see space exploration in the next 10 years? 

KG: I think that we are truly at the beginning of humanity’s next giant leap. Of course, on the Space Coast and I grew up in Jupiter, Florida as well so seeing launches that were a regular occurrence and having those front row seats to the final frontier is so motivating and inspiring. I think we’re truly at the dawn of our next era in space as a species and I’m so grateful and excited to be a part of it. And I’m excited for the next generation. I’m excited for my daughter to grow up and see both the democratization of access to space and the expansion of Earth’s economics sphere and our next giant leaps that we’ll make together as a species. I think space is something incredibly inspiring and unifying and I’m just so excited to see how the next generation propels us forward in the future.

Whether people are in the path of the solar eclipse, dream of breaking the earth’s atmosphere, or just want to enjoy an out of this world flavor, SunChips can be part of that celestial celebration. Be sure to check out on April 8, 2024 at 1:33 p.m. CT for more information.