Delayed edification

Name: Udit Minocha
Major: Food science
Year: Ph. D. candidate
Hometown: West Lafayette; birthplace: Bombay, India

‘Sir’: At age 43, Udit is months away from getting his doctorate this May. “I have people open doors for me and call me sir,” he grins.

Dogged determination: Starting his Ph.D. three times—the second two nearly from scratch—Udit’s Ph.D. journey has lasted eight years. During that time, he has answered two separate calls to military duty in Iraq.

All about the commitment: In the National Guard since 1985, Udit served an 18-month tour in Kosovo from mid-2004 to 2006. As a battalion intelligence officer, he briefed patrols about local family rivalries, violence and criminal activity. “We were the face of the U.S.; we were loved by the Kosovars, but not the Serbs.”

Déjà vu: Interrupting his Ph.D. studies a second time, he went back to Iraq for a year beginning in late 2007. At an Air Force base south of Mosul, “in the middle of nowhere,” he circulated among local tribal leaders in nearby villages in his effort to uncover improvised explosive devices (IEDs).

Red-handed: Udit helped capture three men as they were planting an IED under a bridge near his base. A surveillance plane spotted them and Udit helped orchestrate their capture. In the following months, IED explosions in the area dropped noticeably.

The war he fights today: It’s against E. coli contaminations in spinach and lettuce. His experimental weapons are bacteria, which are proving effective as E. coli killers. The immediate battlefront is prevention. The goal is to figure out how to use the bacteria to prevent the contamination without making the lettuce and spinach brown and unappealing to grocery shoppers.

By Amy Raley