Purdue University Department of Nutrition Science: A Brief History

Written By: Rebecca Hoffa, rhoffa@purdue.edu

The Department of Nutrition Science has been a foundational ingredient in Purdue’s history as early as 1905 when the School of Science established the Department of Household Economics, which contained a dietetics and nutrition program — the first in the state. When it was developed, the President’s annual report noted the department was designed to “offer women opportunities comparable in scientific and technical value with those enjoyed by men.”

In 1926, Purdue established the School of Home Economics, which included the newly formed Department of Foods and Nutrition. The department began to make significant strides in research in the 1940s, including the study of requirements for and sources of ascorbic acid, the development of a “Master Mix” for baking, and a partnership with the animal science and poultry departments for interdisciplinary research on meat and eggs.

Later, in the 1950s, the Department of Foods and Nutrition’s research expanded with the arrival of Associate Professor Helen Clark, whose research of amino acids and proteins was critical in understanding these nutrients and making strides toward solving world food problems. Over the course of three decades, beginning the 1960s, Professor Avanelle Kirksey’s research in maternal, infant and child health make groundbreaking discoveries to address vitamin B6 needs during pregnancy and childhood. Clark and Kirksey’s research led them to becoming the first women distinguished professors at Purdue.

Innovative research continued to be a core element in the department as the Ingestive Behavior Research Center (IBRC) was established in 2005 to study factors that influence eating behaviors and body weight and became a research strength on campus.

In 2010, the Department of Foods and Nutrition joined the new College of Health and Human Sciences, and in 2011, it was renamed the Department of Nutrition Science. Today, the department continues to follow in the footsteps of Clark and Kirksey as it makes groundbreaking discoveries to address national and global health issues.