Could you tell us about your current research and how you got started in this field?
My current research, for which I just completed my PhD, is focused on structuring liquid oils into solid fats using enzymatic glycerolysis to produce partial acylglycerols, which are naturally present in liquid oils at low concentrations. Structuring through this reaction takes advantage of the higher crystallization and melting points of the mono- and diacylglycerols relative to triacylglycerols, with no change in the fatty acid composition of the starting oil.
This work addresses two major challenges that the food industry currently faces. The first being to reduce the saturated fat content of solid fats which are commonly used as food ingredients, as saturated fat is necessary to provide structure to the lipid components of foods but is associated with negative health effects. The second challenge is related to the sustainability of formulating foods with tropical oils. Because of its high saturated fat content, palm oil is used in a wide range of food applications. Our research is also looking to produce a viable alternative to palm oil using liquid oils from domestic crops modified to have similar functionality to that of palm.
As an undergraduate student in the Food Science program at the University of Guelph, I began working with Professor Alejandro Marangoni in the Food, Health, and Aging Laboratory. My work at that time was focused on ethylcellulose oleogels and their potential use in food applications. During this time, I became very interested in the field of lipid physical chemistry and upon finishing my bachelor’s degree I took the next logical step and began pursuing a PhD with Professor Marangoni as my advisor.
You have won several AOCS awards, do you have any words of wisdom for our SCIG student members?
One quote from Tony Robbins that I really like is, “Most people overestimate what they can accomplish in a year and underestimate what they can achieve in a decade.” This is very applicable to performing research. Research takes time and can be frustrating. It’s important to be patient and try to stay positive. There will be productive days and very unproductive days. Try not to be too hard on yourself when things aren’t going so well. Often, these unproductive days create the productive days. If you stay persistent and on track, good things can be accomplished over time.
How do you spend your leisure time during the pandemic?
I really enjoy spending my leisure time outdoors. Hiking with my dog and trail running happen to be two of my favorite activities and the pandemic has not put a stop to either. I also spend quite a bit of my leisure time reading, cooking, and playing guitar, and my baking skills have improved immensely.
What are your career goals and how has AOCS helped develop your career?
My career goal is to continue performing interesting and exciting research in an effort to improve the healthfulness of food products. The AOCS Annual Meeting has played a big role in my career development as it gives me with a yearly opportunity to present my research to experts in the field of lipid science. These interactions have provided me with valuable feedback on my work and have greatly improved my presentation skills and overall confidence as a researcher.
The Annual Meeting has also allowed me to build great connections and friendships with other researchers, and by attending the meetings I am able to learn from the best minds in lipid science and stay up to date on developments in the field.