Department of Food Science History
The Department of Food Science was formed in 1983 from the already-existing Food Sciences Institute. The Institute was comprised of nine faculty members from various departments in the School of Agriculture. Those departments included Horticulture, Animal Science, Agronomy, Agricultural and Biological Engineering, and Biochemistry. Dr. Bernard Liska, a food scientist, was Dean of the School of Agriculture at the time and understood the importance of formalizing the group into a department, bridging the gap between production agriculture and value-added products.
Dr. Liska named Dr. Philip Nelson, Head of the Institute, to be the first Head for the newly formed Department of Food Sciences. Nelson had assembled the Institute around disciplines, not commodity groups, and elected to build the new department in the same manner. This allowed for more flexibility and the ability to undertake a wide variety of research projects. Nelson’s own career to this point was developing bulk aseptic storage, aseptic bag-in-box packaging, and tomato processing. His successes in aseptic processing helped to save the remnants of the tomato industry in the state of Indiana and created a new, viable way to store and package seasonal products.
Throughout his years in research, he collaborated with members of the industry. When confronted with developing the new department, Nelson approached the industry to help him set the foundation for a cutting-edge department. Dr. Arnold “Bud” Denton, a retiring Senior Vice President from Campbell’s Soup, worked with the faculty to create a list of business principles that remain in place today. Vision and Mission Statements were developed, and the group agreed that they had two customers; students and the industry. (Though a standard practice today, at the time, these principles were unheard of for an academic entity.)
As the Department matured, it was recognized that our alumni were creating a legacy of excellence throughout the world. Their contributions to food science from their roles in government, academia, and industry were quickly helping us achieve our mission of being recognized as the best food science program in the world. The Department’s faculty created the Outstanding Food Science Awards, to allow us to recognize those who have “carried our banner” with pride. The annual event has been held each year since 2001.
In 2003, Dr. Nelson stepped down as Head and continued his role as a researcher and teacher. Dr. Suzanne Nielsen, a food chemist who was hired a month before the department was formed, was named the new Head.
During Dr. Suzanne Nielsen’s years as Department Head (2003-2013), she hired 11 tenure-track faculty members, and the number of administrative professional staff members in the department doubled. These increases occurred as research dollars accessed by faculty doubled, and the department added strength in the areas of nanotechnology and foods for health. Programs were put in place to mentor new faculty and staff and to create objective criteria for performance evaluation. The department doubled engagement efforts through Extension programs and expanded communication and interactions with industry and alumni. A major focus of Dr. Nielsen was on strengthening the graduate program, to complement the department’s already strong and well-known undergraduate program. Increased funding obtained at the college, university, and national levels allowed the department to increase the quantity, quality, and diversity of the graduate program, and create special programs for graduate student professional development. At the same time, undergraduate student numbers increased from 130 to 170. To help support the rapidly growing department, over $4 M in endowments were obtained to support department needs. A number of new and renovated facilities in the building were completed and many display cabinets were built. The long-time stark exterior of the Food Science Building was finally enhanced by successful efforts to get trees planted around the building in 2005, landscaping done in 2008, and a proper front entrance built in 2011. This latter project was announced in July 2010, when the Food Science Building was renamed the Philip E. Nelson Hall of Food Science to honor Dr. Nelson’s having won the World Food Prize in 2007, and his long-time contributions to the Department, the University, and the food industry.
Dr. Brian Farkas, a food science professor from North Carolina State University, succeeded Dr. Nielsen as Department Head in July 2013 and held the position until he left Purdue at the end of December 2019. Dr. Farkas continued the Department's long tradition of collaborating with industry and deepened the Department's entrepreneurial pursuits. Several spaces within Nelson Hall were renovated and improved as a result of his leadership. In 2016, a room adjacent to the pilot plant was transformed into the Skidmore Food Product Development Lab as a result of the generous donation from Doug and Laura Skidmore. Doug, owner and President of Skidmore Sales and Distributing, has been a longtime supporter of the Department and an Industrial Associates member. In 2019, the Skidmore Lab became a certified commercial kitchen which allows products produced in that space to be sold via retail outlets. This capability enhances the food science faculty and staff’s ability to assist food entrepreneurs which contributes not only to those individual’s livelihood, but also to Indiana’s economy. With the addition of a 1-Barrel brewing system from Lafayette, Indiana based Blichmann Engineering, LLC in 2018, the Department’s new pilot brewery became an integral addition to the pilot plant and key facility to support the fermentation sciences academic minor launched fall semester 2018. Collaborations with Chris Johnson, owner and brewmaster of People’s Brewing Company in Lafayette led to the development and production of Boiler Gold (2017) and Boiler Black (2018). A generous donation by the owner and employees of Morgan Foods in Austin, Indiana replaced the antiquated retorts in the pilot plant with a new one in 2019 enabling the Department to continue to train students and industry professionals in the basics of thermal processing and food preservation. Two Purdue collaborations led to food science student projects turning into retail products, Boiler Tracks Ice Cream (2018) and Boiler Bee Honey (2019).
Under Dr. Farkas’ leadership and support, several faculty initiatives came to fruition. Dr. Farkas added two new key faculty positions in the strategic areas of fermentation sciences and human gut microbiome. Dr. Steve Lindemann’s expertise and leadership is pushing Purdue toward becoming one of the nation’s multidisciplinary microbiome research hubs. In 2019, Dr. Haley Oliver secured funding and became the Director of the United States Agency for International Development’s first Feed the Future Innovation Lab to address global food safety. Dr. Oliver became the nation’s first woman selected to deliver the prestigious Justin Smith Morrill Memorial Lecture at the annual National Institute of Food and Agriculture, and Association of Public and Land-grant Universities Memorial Lecture Series in 2018. Dr. Amanda Deering’s collaborative leadership and work and with the Indiana State Department of Agriculture and State Department of Health resulted in the creation of the Safe Produce Indiana program and a new hands-on training hub for fresh produce growers. Located at Vincennes University, the training facility debuted in August 2019 and has improved the team’s ability to train fruit and vegetable growers to ensure that growers can understand and follow new Food Safety Modernization Act regulations for growing, harvesting, handling, and storage of fresh produce.
January 1, 2020, Dr. Ken Foster became Interim Department Head. Dr. Foster, a professor in Purdue’s Department of Agricultural Economics, had previously served nine years as that department’s Head. A lot was accomplished in Dr. Foster’s 18 months, from review of the department’s long-term strategy to dealing with an unexpected global pandemic and its far-reaching implications for teaching, research, outreach and departmental finances. Along the way, the accomplishments of outstanding colleagues and students were celebrated. Perhaps most importantly, a new permanent head for the department was hired.
On July 1st, 2021, Dr. Senay Simsek returned to Purdue Food Science, this time as department head. Dr. Simsek, from Turkey, completed a bachelor's degree in chemistry and a master's degree in biochemistry from universities there. Subsequently, she traveled to Purdue to pursue her doctorate in food science. After her graduation in December 2006, she began her career at North Dakota State University in 2007 and has spent the ensuing 14 years there. Dr. Senay Simsek has received numerous awards for research and teaching and published more than 200 peer-reviewed journal articles.
Dr. Simsek describes the vision that inspired her to apply for and accept the position of food science department head.
"Food encompasses many areas of society. It is power; it is essential; it is personal; it is cultural; it is science, and no one can survive without it,” she said. “Currently, the food industry is going through a revolution. We have challenges and opportunities. Emerging technologies provide us a range of opportunities to transform our food and agriculture systems. We must develop a strong vision to enhance food science at Purdue with a focus on being at the forefront of research, training students and providing the best service to the scientific community and the citizens of Indiana, the United States and the world."
Purdue University scientist and former “Tomato King of Indiana” pioneered breakthroughs in large-scale storage, packaging and transportation of fruit and vegetable products
(WASHINGTON, D.C., USA) – Dr. Philip E. Nelson of Purdue University was named winner of the $250,000 World Food Prize for his innovative breakthrough technologies which have revolutionized the food industry, particularly in the area of large-scale storage and transportation of fresh fruit and vegetables using bulk aseptic food processing.
Dr. Nelson was announced as the 2007 Laureate by Ambassador Kenneth M. Quinn, President of the World Food Prize Foundation, at a ceremony at the U.S. State Department on June 18, 2007 hosted by Assistant Secretary for Economic, Energy and Business Affairs Daniel Sullivan. Also participating in the announcement ceremony were World Food Program Executive Director Josette Sheeran, Acting Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Henrietta Fore, Congressman Tom Latham (R-IA) and World Food Prize Selection Committee Chairman and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Dr. Norman Borlaug.
In making the announcement, Amb. Quinn stated that Dr. Nelson’s food science research has significantly reduced post-harvest waste and spoilage and greatly increased the availability and accessibility of nutritious food worldwide, particularly in emergency situations.
“Dr. Nelson’s pioneering work, which began with tomatoes and later included a variety of seasonal crops, has made it possible to produce ultra-large scale quantities of high quality food,” Ambassador Quinn said. “This food can then be stored for long periods of time and transported to all corners of the world without losing nutritional value or taste.”
Dr. Nelson’s research led to the discovery of methods and equipment to preserve perishable food at ambient temperatures in very large carbon steel tanks (beginning with 100 gallon tanks and increasing in capacity to 1.8 million gallons). By coating the tanks with epoxy resin and sterilizing the valves and filters, food products were able to be stored and removed without reintroducing contaminants. As a result, enormous quantities of pathogen-free food could be distributed to plants around the world for final processing and packaging.
Later partnering with the Scholle Corporation, Dr. Nelson developed a low-cost aseptic “bag-in-box” system for preserving and shipping foods. By the 1980’s, this technology had spread throughout the global food industry. Working with another company, Fran Rica Manufacturing (now part of FMC), Dr. Nelson engineered a variation of the bag sealing fitment as a membrane, which ruptures during the fill and then reseals with a sterilized foil cap.
In the developing world, these technologies have made it affordable and convenient to transport and deliver a variety of safe food products without the need for refrigeration, averting loss due to spoilage. Citrosuco, a leading orange juice producer based in Brazil, has used the technology developed by Dr. Nelson to ship up to eight million gallons of orange juice to the United States and Europe. The technology has also been applied to bring potable water and emergency food aid to survivors of the 2004 tsunami in Southeast Asia and the victims of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, as well as to other crisis situations worldwide, and is used in school nutrition programs in developing countries.
“Affordable and safe movement of food is critical in fighting world hunger and Dr. Nelson's technologies will help food reach those in need,” said Sheeran. The World Food Program was one of several organizations to support the nomination of Dr. Nelson.
Dr. Nelson has been involved in the storage and packaging of food since childhood. He spent his early years working on his family’s tomato farm and canning factory in Morristown, Indiana and once earned the crown of “Tomato King” at the Indiana State Fair.
The 2007 World Food Prize was formally presented to Dr. Nelson at a ceremony at the Iowa State Capitol on October 18, 2007. The ceremony was held as part of the World Food Prize’s Norman E. Borlaug International Symposium, which focused on “Biofuels and Biofood: The Global Challenges of Emerging Technologies.” Further information about the World Food Prize can be found at www.worldfoodprize.org.
2007 World Food Prize Laureate Brochure