Physics in Food Manufacturing Group is launched at the IOP

21 September 2017

Physicists involved in the food sector in industry and academia, funders and business partners were among those who gathered for the launch of the IOP’s new Physics in Food Manufacturing Group on 18 September.

Physics in Food Manufacturing Group is launched at the IOP
Wilde Fry

The group has been set up to foster links between those working in food manufacturing and to stimulate research, raise the profile of the role of physics in the sector and help to represent the views of physicists in food manufacturing to policymakers.

Speaking at the meeting, the chair of the new group, Professor Roger Eccleston of Sheffield Hallam University, said efforts to nurture collaboration between academia and industry would cut across the work of several of the IOP’s special interest groups, which was part of the motivation for establishing the Physics in Food Manufacturing Group.

Physics in Food Manufacturing Group is launched at the IOP
Wilde Fry

He outlined the work that the IOP has been doing in the lead-up to the launch of the group, including  the Physics in Food Manufacturing Summit in April 2016, which started off a year-long programme of new collaborations between academia and industry, its Health of Physics in Food Manufacturing report, published in October 2016, a special issue of Physics World focusing on food and a Physics in Food Manufacturing Topical Research Meeting held in Sheffield in January this year.

The new group’s secretary, John Bows of PepsiCo, (pictured top) said: “My vision for the group is to get more of the academic world more engaged with the food research area.” They would then gain insight into the exciting potential that the sector offers, he said.

Physics in Food Manufacturing Group is launched at the IOP
Wilde Fry

The group’s treasurer, Dr Robert Farr, formerly of Unilever and now at JDE, said there was a wealth of interesting problems in food manufacturing that go deep into physics, but a surprisingly low number of physicists in the industry, so he had been very keen to join the group.

Dr John Melrose, a member of the group’s committee, said he had spent half his life in the food industry and had now retired, but when he first started working on coffee as a scientist it had been rather lonely and he wanted to work hard to change that situation for scientists in the sector.

Other committee members Professor Thomas Krauss, of the University of St Andrews, Professor Wilson Poon of the University of Edinburgh, Professor Malcolm Povey of the University of Leeds and Dr Martin Whitworth of Campden BRI also outlined their reasons for becoming involved.

Physics in Food Manufacturing Group is launched at the IOP
Wilde Fry

Early career physicist Dr Anne Pawsey, of the University of Edinburgh, said she had been interested in the sector since doing a master’s in the physics and food area. She is also on the committee and said she had wanted to participate as there had seemed to be no-one of her age getting involved.

Following a lunch and networking opportunities, the meeting heard from three speakers with links to physics and food.

Kathryn Miller of Innovate UK explained how the agency – an executive non-departmental body – worked with physics researchers, partner organisations and the research councils to catalyse and enable the commercialisation of research. The food sector supports more than  four million jobs in the UK and is key to meeting many of the challenges identified in Innovate UK’s strategy, particularly in health and life sciences, she said, but it also has an impact in emerging and enabling technologies, infrastructure systems and manufacturing and materials.

Physics in Food Manufacturing Group is launched at the IOP
Wilde Fry

She outlined some of the aims of Innovate UK’s agri-food strategy, including increasing productivity and food quality, efficiency in energy use and shelf-life and meeting challenges in health and nutrition such as reducing salt and fat in food products. For those looking for funding she encouraged people to seek advice from the Knowledge Transfer Network, which co-ordinates the Food Innovation Network and can offer advice on Innovate UK grants and can review research proposals before they are submitted, she said.

Physics in Food Manufacturing Group is launched at the IOP
Wilde Fry

Professor Sarah Bridle, who is professor of astrophysics at the University of Manchester, spoke about the STFC Food Network (SFN), which she leads and which brings together the capabilities of the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) with the food sector. Having spent 20 years as a cosmologist, she is now spending half of her research time on agriculture and food, including applying astronomy techniques to image analysis in agriculture and leading the SFN.

When her children started school she had considered what she should do next in the face of global challenges and the impact of climate change, she said, and had decided to diversify her research interests. She said the Physics World issue on food had been “fantastically inspiring” but she had been struck by a view expressed by one writer that particle physicists contributing to food research might be a step too far, and she saw that as a challenge.

The SFN was trying to start new projects that had not been considered before, she said, and initial responses to a survey before the launch of the group had been encouraging. Several researchers who had just completed PhDs in cosmology or spent a few years in an international collaboration involving hundreds of people had said they now wanted to apply their skills to something else. There were already a number of projects involving food that used STFC facilities, such as applying neutron scattering to examine wheat proteins, while Raman scattering could be applied to examining unopened food containers.

She also mentioned the work of N8 Agrifood network of northern research-intensive universities and said that there was potential for several networks to network with each other.

Physics in Food Manufacturing Group is launched at the IOP
Wilde Fry

Professor Peter Barham, an emeritus professor at the University of Bristol, who has been researching the physics of food for most of his career, despite being advised to steer clear of it when he finished a postdoc, gave the final address. “It’s incredible to be at the IOP and have people talking about food and not being sneered at,” he said. An early pioneer in the field, Professor Nicholas Kurti, who was “the first physicist to really talk about food and talk about it properly”, had said, he noted: “I think it is a sad reflection on our civilisation that while we can and do measure the temperature in the atmosphere of Venus, we do not know what goes on inside our soufflés.”

Busting some food myths, such as the need to add a pinch of salt to green beans to keep them green during cooking, describing how to make ice cream with the aid of liquid nitrogen and noting that it was technically feasible to make a transparent “nano-mayonnaise” using particles smaller than the wavelength of light, he blended substantial physics content into a talk that applied to some of the challenges of the food industry.

Lara Maisey, groups and awards officer at the IOP, said afterwards: “It was very enjoyable to facilitate this well-attended and dynamic, member-led event. Collaborations were formed across industry and academia in physics in food and I myself learned a lot, including what happened when the eggs of certain types of penguins were boiled in the past...”

The group is to hold its first annual meeting in Edinburgh on 10 January. For information about joining the group, email lara.maisey@iop.org.