sealPurdue News

December 1998

Purdue's new Food Science Building opens for business

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- For Purdue University's Department of Food Science, moving day is a dream come true as faculty, staff and students relocate from their cramped, 85-year-old building to a brand new $28 million state-of-the-art facility.

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The new 120,000-square-foot, four-story Food Science Building will house 36 research and teaching labs, a 9,000-square-foot pilot plant, a teaching lab with 60 computer stations, and a computer-integrated manufacturing lab. All told, the $22 million building will house $6 million worth of equipment.

Students, staff and faculty have been moving equipment for the past two weeks from Smith Hall into the new building.

"The first benefit the new building will provide is well-prepared students for the food industry," said Philip Nelson, head of Purdue's food science department since its inception in 1984. "The number one food science student in the country is our 'new and improved product.' We'll certainly be the benchmark for other food science programs. They're all shooting at us now."

But students aren't the only ones who will benefit from the move. The new facility offers opportunities for food and fiber companies that want to augment internal research and development efforts with expanded sponsored research projects.

"The new building will provide us with expanded research facilities, including equipment," Nelson said. "This will allow us the opportunity to work directly with companies to develop new technologies for the food industry.

"The technical assistance we can provide to food manufacturing companies is the economic development role of the new building. We will be helping processors and others add value to agricultural commodities"

Because cost-cutting has significantly reduced corporate research funding, aligning with Purdue provides a business advantage, Nelson said. Such a partnership allows businesses to perform cooperative research with Purdue at less cost than doing it alone.

"Our industrial partners will have the advantage of working with a team of internationally known Purdue University professors," said Nelson. "They will have access to resources that are duplicated nowhere else."

Purdue's Department of Food Science is recognized as a world leader in aseptic processing, carbohydrate research and computer-integrated food manufacturing. Dedicated to satisfying the needs of both industry and consumers, the department has contact with more than 100 companies annually. Interactive relationships with more than 30 core companies form three key industry alliance efforts: the Industrial Associates Program, the Whistler Center for Carbohydrate Research and the Computer-Integrated Manufacturing Center.

"Aseptic processing in the pilot lab will be a major new thrust," Nelson said, thanks in part to a major equipment gift from Gerber Products Co. including new analytical equipment to examine advances in food safety.

Additionally, the department plans a faster response to industry needs, Nelson said. He said the new pilot laboratory will allow industry to test new methods or processes without significant initial start-up delays or costs.

Operating as a small manufacturing area, the pilot laboratory allows students and manufacturers to see how a process functions before putting it into production. Chemical, microbiological and food processing laboratories also are available.

Specific capabilities include aseptic and thermal processing of liquid and particulate foods, equipment design and development, destructive and non-destructive package integrity testing, sensor evaluation and application, and process design and improvement. In addition, the lab can evaluate shelf-life and sensory characteristics of foods and perform biomass conversion and fermentation.

The Computer-Integrated Food Manufacturing Center focuses on the integration of all aspects of production, from product design and production to shipping and distribution. Linked to the pilot laboratory, it provides hands-on experience for students in the integration of management, control, computers and food processing.

Food science, one of the youngest departments at Purdue, is a growing field of study. Interdisciplinary work under way since 1969 led to the formal development of the department in 1983. Nelson began gathering support for the new building in 1991. Purdue University President Steven Beering and Purdue Dean of Agriculture Victor Lechtenberg presented government and industry leaders with a proposal that outlined the benefits of a new facility to both students and the state's agricultural sector. In May 1995, the Indiana Legislature approved bonding authority sufficient to construct the new facility, with groundbreaking in July 1996.

Enrollment has grown dramatically from 59 students in 1992 to 150 undergraduates and 60 graduate students in addition to 20 food engineering students. "Not only are we growing in numbers, but also the academic quality of incoming students has increased and can be measured by the increase in Purdue students being selected for national scholarships," Nelson said. Undergraduate students may specialize in food science or food manufacturing operations, while graduate students may focus on food chemistry, food microbiology or food processing.

Graduates are considered among the top-ranked in the nation, Nelson said, thanks to targeted recruiting and a 100 percent placement rate over the past decade. In 1997, starting salaries averaged $32,000 and as high as $42,000. The list of employers includes such giants as M&M Mars, General Mills Inc., Kraft Foods Inc. and Frito-Lay Inc.

A State Dedication Day will be held Sept. 24 to recognize Indiana's contribution to the new complex. Guests will include state government officials, legislators and industrial representatives as well as agricultural producers. The event will start at 1:30 p.m. and will include a tour of the new facilities. Parent Day activities are planned for Sept. 19.

Source: Philip Nelson, (765) 494-8256

Writer: Jane Houin, (765) 494-8402, e-mail,

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; e-mail,

Purdue food science postdoctoral student Angie Broeker (right) and lab technician Peg Purdue set up James Bemiller's lab in Purdue's new Food Science Building. Faculty from the food science and agricultural and biological engineering departments are moving into the $22 million research and teaching facility. (Agricultural Communication Service Photo by Tom Campbell)
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