Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Young Scientist Research Award Feature – Dr. Bingcan Chen

Q&A with Dr. Bingcan Chen, winner of the Young Scientist Research Award


A brief bio: Bingcan Chen received his Ph.D. in 2012 from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.  He is currently an Assistant Professor of Cereal and Food Chemistry at the North Dakota State University.  The primary goal of his research is to gain a better understanding of lipid oxidation mechanisms in foods and cereal products, and to provide an efficient means to improve food quality.  Bingcan has been very active in lipid oxidation research since he was graduate student.  His Ph.D. thesis focused on the impact of reverse micelles on bulk oil oxidation and the effectiveness of antioxidants.  

His current research focuses on lipid oxidation, novel antioxidants, specialty oil (hemp and CBD oils) from new and emerging crops, and flavor chemistry.  He has published more than 80 peer-reviewed articles and four book chapters. Bingcan has received several awards from AOCS, including the Young Scientist Research Award, Division Junior Researcher Travel Grant, Young Scientists to Watch, and The Thomas H. Smouse Memorial Fellowship.  Bingcan has been an active member in the Lipid Oxidation and Quality (LOQ) division of AOCS since 2009 and is the past Secretary-Treasurer of the division. 

1) How did it feel to win the Young Scientist Research Award?

When I was told that I was awarded the 2020 Young Scientist Research Award at the end of last year, I was really excited. This award has been given for 20 years. If you look at the list of past winners, from the first awardee Prof. Alejandro Marangoni to the latest awardee Prof. Guodong Zhang, they are the greatest Lipid Chemists in the world. It is such a great honor for me to win this fantastic award. I feel my past years’ work has been recognized. Winning this award will definitely encourage me to continue conducting great research to advance science and serve the food industry.

2) How did you get started in the field that you are studying or working in?

I started my bachelor’s study in Food Science and had half a year’s internship in one of the biggest liquor manufacturers in China to not only make, but also analyze the quality of koji. I am keen on the chemistry of foods. After two years of professorship in China, I made a big decision and went to the University of Massachusetts Amherst in pursuit of a Ph.D. under the supervision of the world-renowned Lipid Chemist Prof. Eric Decker. I was so lucky to have the opportunity to work with Eric who passed all his knowledge onto me without reservation, as well as bring me into a new world, AOCS.

3) Can you tell us about the research?

After securing a Professorship at the North Dakota State University, I have developed a very active research program and continued to contribute significantly to the mitigation of lipid oxidation and strategies for improving oxidative stability of oils in foods. My recent research has revealed a mechanism for the increase in antioxidant activity due to changes in the phenolic and polyphenolic composition of pulses upon germination. This has helped us to develop new types of dual-effect functional food ingredients through bioconjugation of pea proteins with identified phenolics. My research has revealed the source of beany flavors that occur with legume flours and protein isolates, which allows us to develop new processing technologies and strategies to mitigate these flavors. In addition, we are trying to understand the interaction of food phenolics and proteins in a molecular level using site-directed spin labeling in combination with electron paramagnetic resonance spectroscopy. This research is particularly important to the sensory aspects of phenolics in foods. 

4) What challenges have you overcome during your course of study or your career?

Language was the biggest challenge I had when I started my Ph.D. I still remember I got 2 out of 20 on my first Food Chemistry quiz. The major reason was I could not understand very well. Since then, I have tried to find any opportunities to talk to different people and attend events. This hastened my adaptation to the new environment. I received A’s for the rest of the courses during my study.

5) What advice can you share on how you have achieved success thus far in your career, whether that be entering a graduate program or a career in a prestigious position?

As a food/lipid scientist, I always feel that the Food System is so complicated. Such feelings become stronger when more research was carried out. I often feel the knowledge I have gained still cannot solve all the challenges we are encountering in the food industry. Therefore, to collaborate with scholars in other fields can sometimes help solve the puzzles. As a good example, I have been working with a group consisting of electric engineers and agriculture engineers trying to develop a radio frequency sensing platform to be integrated in a combine for grain quality test in the field. This is a great way for me to learn knowledge we typically are not taught in food science. New ideas can be fostered during such close collaboration.

6) How has AOCS helped you in your career?

I have been an active member of AOCS since 2016 and a former student member of the Society since 2009. My first debut was in 2010 AOCS annual meeting in Phoenix, AZ where I gave my first oral presentation. After that, I served as Student Representative of the LOQ division, Advisory board member of INFORM magazine. I was also the past secretary & treasurer of the LOQ division (2018-20). AOCS, for me, is the home of Lipid and Food Chemists throughout the world, and attending the annual meetings is like going back home for a reunion. The people I know at AOCS are just like family members. They help me a lot in my career, kindling new ideas for my research, guiding me through my career and preparing recommendation letters. 

7) Where do you see yourself in the next 5–10 years? Any challenges in reaching these goals?

I have been in the current position at NDSU for five years, during which I have built up a strong research team. In the next five years, I will use this platform to continue the great research I have accomplish thus far. One fascinating research we are doing is the unitization of CBD oil in the food system. NDSU is one of the few universities in the U.S. allowing us to conduct research from field to table. In addition to a great researcher, I also see myself as a great educator and will try to train and shape more of our next generation of cereal/food science professionals.

8) Do you have any words of wisdom for AOCS student members?

As an AOCS student member, you have the privilege to participate in numerous activities which would be a great opportunity for the students to network with the peers. Be proactive and try to contact with the division you are associated with and be involved in the activities such as annual meeting round table discussions, division meetings, etc. Try to jump out of the comfort zone you have built and open your eyes as our field is a multidisciplinary area encompassing chemistry, biochemistry, physics, engineering and analysis. Try to talk to people with different research backgrounds which may ignite new ideas for your own research.

9) How has AOCS helped you develop as a young scientist?

AOCS annual meeting is a great venue for me to keep abreast of the latest research. One of my current ongoing projects was on the basis of a presentation I learned from the meeting. I always wish I could have the ability to attend multiple presentations simultaneously during the meeting as these talks are of the greatest scientific quality. I also use this as a mechanism to encourage myself to conduct influential research to pay back our community. 

Check out the AOCS Awards Video featuring him: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uz7UvgYVK5c

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