sealPurdue Science & Health Briefs

September 1997

Computers revolutionize food production lines

NOTE TO JOURNALISTS: A color photo of tomato paste being tested at the Purdue computer-integrated food processing lab is available. Ask for the photo called Smith/Food

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WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- A Purdue University laboratory is a proving ground for new computer sensors and on-line automation that are used in food production.

Wider acceptance of computer technology is revolutionizing the business of food manufacturing, say Purdue researchers, and the results are safer, more consistent products that save money for companies and make consumers happy.

Food scientists Timothy Haley and Steve Smith and laboratory manager Kent Wert run the computer-integrated food manufacturing laboratory in Purdue's Department of Food Science.

The research performed in the lab at Purdue not only is helping smooth the way for technology in food production, but it also is a conduit to the food industry for computer sensor and software manufacturers. Smith says the food industry is starting to embrace the value of production-line sensors that can measure complex food components, such as milk fat or the level of fructose in frozen grape juice.

"One tenth of one percent increase or decrease in fructose can cost a manufacturer $1 million per year," Smith says. "That makes a $10,000 to $40,000 electronic sensor, immersed in the product, a very good investment. The sensor can monitor the production process and sense chemical changes instantaneously. When such tests were performed manually, the changes often weren't noticed until the bad batch of juice was already packaged."

Steve Bresnahan, senior project engineer at Frito-Lay headquarters in Plano, Texas, says automation not only saved money for his company, but, with one product line, also increased sales.

"We used a product moisture sensor to measure the in-process moisture of our tortilla chips," Bresnahan says. "The result, coupled with a model-based, closed-loop control system, was a more consistent finished product. When we applied a similar sensor and control to our potato chip process, consumer preference for our chip over our competitors' shot upward from parity to 70 percent just by making each chip consistently meet product design. And that turned around the sales for our potato chips."

According to Smith, new career opportunities are being created by computer-integrated food processing. The Purdue food science program is the largest in the country, and its graduates have experienced 100 percent job placement over the past 13 years. Smith says they are finding jobs with food companies on the verge of computer integration or with the computer sensor manufacturers.

CONTACTS: Smith (765) 494-7908; e-mail,; Steve Bresnahan (972) 334-4183

'He says--she says' sells books, but doesn't stand up to research

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- If there is life on Mars, it won't include those insensitive men popularized in best-selling books and on talk shows, a Purdue University communication expert says.

"The popular notion that men and women are from different planets so to speak -- and thus they have trouble communicating with each other -- is a fallacy," says Brant Burleson, professor of communication.

Best-selling books, such as John Gray's "Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus," are based on a scholarly theory advocated by academics such as Julia T. Wood, the Nelson Hairston Professor of Communication Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Wood supports the idea that men and women are so different that they should be regarded as members of different cultures. Burleson has taken issue with the theory and says his research -- and that of others -- doesn't support it.

"Research shows that men and women are much more alike than they are different," Burleson says. "Men and women exhibit substantial similarities in their meanings, perceptions, values preferences, and on occasion, behaviors."

Wood and Burleson debated the topic in side-by-side articles in the most recent edition of the journal Personal Relationships. Wood maintains that the "different-cultures" theory is neither proven nor disproven. Burleson says it has been tested, and it doesn't stand up.

In studies by Burleson and others, both men and women prefer a communication style mostly associated with women, particularly in situations of comfort or support. These "person-centered communicators" are sensitive to others, acknowledge others' feelings, show support and listen well.

In one test, Burleson examined same-sex friendships, cross-sex friendships and opposite-sex romances. Participants evaluated the importance of different communication skills in the context of the relationships. The results showed that both men and women consider abilities such as comforting and ego support to be much more important than skills such as persuasion and giving information.

Burleson and others also obtained assessments of communication skills from first- and third-grade children. That study tested how each child was accepted or rejected by same-sex classmates.

If the different-cultures view were correct, Burleson says, boys should have preferred other boys who utilized "masculine" styles of comforting or communication. He says those include denying or ignoring other's feelings and drawing attention away from negative emotions. However, the most accepted boys were those with more "feminine" skills.

Burleson's findings make up a chapter in the upcoming book "Sex, Gender and Communication: Similarities and Differences," to be published in November by Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. Burleson and Wood also will take part in a panel discussion at the National Communication Association's annual conference in November.

CONTACT: Burleson, (765) 494-3321; e-mail,

Workshops help make classrooms 'gender friendly'

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- A Purdue University effort to create a more positive environment for female engineering and science students is attracting the attention of colleges and universities around the country and soon will expand to other disciplines.

Purdue's Classroom Climate Workshops were developed in 1995 to train engineering and science teaching assistants. The workshops use an interactive theater method of presentation and are the brainchild of Emily Wadsworth, assistant director of Women in Engineering Programs at Purdue. They were designed to help improve retention of female engineering students.

Wadsworth surveyed female undergraduate and graduate students in Purdue's Schools of Engineering and Science. Their experiences, combined with documented classroom behavior across all disciplines, were used to identify critical issues of gender inequity.

"We know, for example, that male students interrupt more often and speak longer than female students," Wadsworth says. "Teachers also tend to have more eye contact with male students and call on them more frequently. Since the majority of the faculty and students in the Schools of Engineering and Science are male, many are not aware of those differences or the effect they can have on the women in their classes. We want to change that."

In a collaboration with the School of Science and the School of Liberal Arts, scripts were written and graduate students from Purdue's Division of Theatre were enlisted as actors.

During the workshops, the performers act out three different scenarios with a facilitator leading a question-and-answer session after each scene. Participants then split into small discussion groups to talk about what they've seen and learned. So far, 550 teaching assistants have attended the workshops.

"Our post-workshop surveys show that participants are coming away with a new understanding of gender equity issues in the classroom and the importance of treating all students fairly," Wadsworth says.

Starting in the fall of 1998, the workshops will be offered to teaching assistants in all 10 of Purdue's academic schools. Wadsworth's acting troupe also has given command performances for Midwest colleges and universities, and at several national conferences. Demand for the program has prompted Purdue to make the workshops available on video. It can be ordered through Purdue's Continuing Education Administration for $150. For more information, call 1-800-359-2968.

CONTACT: Emily Wadsworth, (765) 494-6611; e-mail,

It's easy to reduce chemical exposure on golf courses, expert says

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- To most golfers, chemical use by the local golf course is one method to keep the grass green and the course in good playing condition. To others, it appears to be a threat to the environment -- or, even worse, to their own health.

Not to worry, says Clark Throssell, professor of agronomy at Purdue University and co-director of Purdue's Turfgrass Research and Diagnostic Center. He says golf courses are environmentally friendly, and golfers who are concerned about contact with the chemicals can take a few simple precautions to reduce exposure.

According to Throssell, most pesticides are applied wet, and if they dry before coming into contact with people, they will not easily come off the vegetation.

"Research has shown that once the pesticide dries on the leaf of the turf grass plant, you really can't just casually brush it off," Throssell says.

For those who want to restrict their exposure to pesticides and chemical fertilizers, Throssell has these additional tips:

CONTACT: Throssell, (765) 494-4785

Compiled by Amanda Siegfried, (765) 494-4709; e-mail,
Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; e-mail,

Photo caption:
Purdue food scientist Steve Smith (right) mixes tomato paste into water for testing on the McNabb Turbidity Sensor and the Maselli Refractometer, as Kent Wert, manager of Purdue's computer-integrated food processing lab, monitors the computer and food science junior Ben Siurek of Greenfield, Ind., controls the flow rate. (Purdue News Service Photo by David Umberger)
Color photo, electronic transmission, and Web and ftp download available. Photo ID: Smith/Food.
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