Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Hans Kaunitz Award Winner Feature: Mahesh M. Kharat

Q&A with Hans Kaunitz Award Winner: Mahesh M. Kharat

Bio: Mahesh Kharat completed bachelor's degree in 2012 in Food Science and Engineering at the Institute of Chemical Technology, Mumbai, India. He went on to pursue his master’s at the same institute and graduated in 2014. He completed his doctoral studies in food science at the University of Massachusetts Amherst in 2020. His laboratory group at UMass Food Science is globally recognized for its work in the area of colloidal delivery systems for food applications.

1) What was your reaction when you learned you won Hans Kaunitz Award Winner?

Firstly, I would like to congratulate all 2020 AOCS award winners. It is a great pleasure to accept the 2020 AOCS Hans Kaunitz award.

I felt extremely happy to know that I had been recognized for the award. This is a valuable recognition of my research at UMass Amherst as well as a great encouragement. I would like to thank my Ph.D. dissertation advisor, Prof. David Julian McClements, for the guidance, and our lab assistant, Jean Alamed, as well as all my colleagues who make the lab an amicable workplace— so thank you all. 

Perhaps most importantly, this was not possible without the support of my family and friends — I am very grateful to them!

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

I have been studying food science since 2008 when I started as a college student at ICT, Mumbai. Then, I used to observe the Ph.D. students and other researchers at ICT always involved in lab experiments and I was fascinated with the research in this area; that’s when I decided to start doing hands-on research during my master’s. I was more interested in knowing and studying how physical and chemical phenomena at the molecular level affect the properties and structure of the foods we see and eat. I, therefore, applied to work in graduate labs whose work is focused on colloidal particles and their interactions. I was fortunate to be able to work in such an accomplished group of students and researchers led by Prof. McClements here at UMass Amherst.

3) What challenges have you overcome during your course of study?

There were a few challenges I have overcome. 

Technically, many researchers have been working on curcumin encapsulation, so I needed to be up-to-date with the ongoing research and so that I could be sure my work was different and still very relevant. 

As far as the lab work is concerned, I had to be optimistic and not lose hope even when experiments fail or do not work out as expected. At the same time, I learned that maintaining my health and internal motivation, both for my own benefit and the benefit of those around me, was extremely important.

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

I would say “Patience is the key for a doctoral student.” If you can keep your spirits up even during the inevitable lows, then slowly but steadily you will get where you ultimately wish to be.

5) How has winning the AOCS Hans Kaunitz Award Winner helped you develop as a young scientist?

It has been a true encouragement for me to win this, one of the most prestigious AOCS awards. I remember receiving messages and emails from my colleagues, friends and family which truly motivated me. 

Every scientist would like her research to be heard and recognized which encourages their continued efforts in carrying out the research. I feel immensely fortunate to win this award and it has done nothing but inspire me to carry out more research in this area. 

6) Can you tell us about your current research?

I have been working on developing delivery systems for Curcumin which is believed to have many health benefits. We have studied various factors that may affect the chemical stability of curcumin in emulsions, including the effect of the oil phase, emulsifiers, oil-water interfacial area and antioxidants. We believe that our research has direct applications in developing food and pharmaceutical products that are aimed at delivering curcumin.

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