Purdue renames Food Science Building to honor Nelson

July 9, 2010

Philip E. Nelson speaks Friday (July 9) during a Purdue Board of Trustees meeting after board members approved a facility name change to create the Philip E. Nelson Hall of Food Science. Nelson ended a 50-year career at Purdue with his retirement in May. He was the food science department's first chairman when it was created in 1983 and served in that position for 20 years. (Purdue University photo/Mark Simons)

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WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - The Purdue University Board of Trustees on Friday approved renaming the Food Science Building in honor of Philip E. Nelson, who developed the program into one of the strongest in the nation and became an international laureate for his work in improving the world's food supply.

Nelson, who retired in May at age 75, ended a 50-year career at Purdue, most recently as the Scholle Chair Professor in Food Processing. He was the food science department's first chairman when it was created in 1983 and served in that position for 20 years.

The building, dedicated in 1998 after a campaign that Nelson led for its construction, will be called the Philip E. Nelson Hall of Food Science. Largely designed by Nelson, it has been a model for other food science buildings in the United States.

"Renaming this building in honor of Dr. Nelson is a fitting tribute to an innovative researcher and teacher who was instrumental in creating one of the most distinguished food science programs in the country," said university President France A. Córdova. "His name on the building will serve as a lasting symbol of the prestige he has brought to this university in food science education and research."

Nelson built the food science program from a small department of 30 undergraduate students, 10 graduate students and 10 faculty members into the largest in the country, with a peak of 150 undergraduates, 50 graduate students and a faculty of 19. Food science departments nationwide have worked to replicate his model for recruiting undergraduate students.

Nelson also provided leadership to the food science profession and food industry through its professional organization, the Institute of Food Technologists, of which he was president in 2001-2002.

He also served on high-level committees of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food and Drug Administration and National Academy of Sciences.

Nelson's work for Purdue extended to athletics, first as chair of the Athletic Affairs Committee in 1981 and then serving for 20 years as faculty representative to the Big Ten Conference and NCAA. He was chair of the search committee for athletic director in 1992 and was involved in the hiring of many coaches.

But it was his work in food science that brought Nelson international acclaim as recipient of the World Food Prize in 2007. Created by Nobel Peace Prize winner Norman E. Borlaug and often called the "Nobel Prize for Agriculture," the award honored Nelson for his aseptic processing innovation. The system revolutionized food trade by reducing postharvest waste and making seasonal fruits and vegetables available year-round and easier to transport worldwide. The technology was used to bring potable water and emergency food to survivors of the 2004 tsunami in Southeast Asia and to victims of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. It continues to be employed for safe and economical food processing, shipping and storage globally.

Nelson co-authored three textbooks, published more than 70 peer-reviewed articles and generated 12  U.S. patents and 28 international patents, largely through his research in aseptic processing.

Nelson was the first Purdue faculty member to receive the World Food Prize since it was established in 1986. Purdue's Gebisa Ejeta, Distinguished Professor of Agronomy, won the prize last year for research leading to the increased production and availability of sorghum in his native Africa.

In 2008 Gov. Mitch Daniels created the Philip E. Nelson Innovation Prize to recognize scientists annually for their discoveries, research and inventions.

Nelson's experience in food packaging dates to his youth. After receiving his bachelor's degree in agriculture from Purdue in 1956, he returned home to Morristown, Ind., to become plant manager of the family-owned tomato cannery, Blue River Packing Co.

When his father, Brainard, closed the cannery in 1960, Nelson worked briefly on the family farm, raising hogs, corn and beans before returning to Purdue, where he became an instructor in horticulture in 1961. He received his doctoral degree in 1967; his dissertation topic was the volatility of flavor in canned tomatoes.

Nelson had been a professor of food science since 1975. He also was director of the Food Science Institute from 1975-1983.

The Purdue food science program enjoys global prominence as "the direct result of Dr. Nelson's vision, leadership and perseverance," said Jay Akridge, Glenn W. Sample Dean of Purdue's College of Agriculture. "We are thrilled to celebrate the legacy of this great man who epitomizes excellence as an educator, researcher, inventor, leader and humanitarian by naming the Food Science Building in his honor."

Writer:  Keith Robinson, 765-494-2722, robins89@purdue.edu

Sources:  France A. Córdova, president@purdue.edu

                   Philip E. Nelson, 231-622-1902

                   Jay Akridge, 765-494-8391, akridge@purdue.edu