Favourite Thing: Graphs, believe it or not!! I love looking at graphs. I tell my research students “Bring me graphs!” x-y graphs are my favourite, because they show relationships. Ernest Rutherford (like me, a New Zealander, but unlike me, a Nobel Prize winner!) said “All science is either physics or stamp-collecting!” Bar graphs show data – which is stamp-collecting – but x-y graphs show relationships that reveal “how the world behaves”, which is a definition of physics.
Kelston Boys High School, Auckland, New Zealand (1979-83); Massey University, New Zealand (1984-86); Cambridge University, UK (1987-91).
BTech (Food), PhD, CEng, CSci, FIChemE, FIFST, SFHEA
Quality Bakers (NZ) Ltd., Palmerston North, New Zealand; Campden Food and Drink Research Association, Chipping Campden, UK; UMIST (University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology); The University of Manchester
Reader in Chemical Engineering (in the UK academic system, the scales are Lecturer, Senior Lecturer, Reader, Professor, so I’m not quite a professor).
School of Chemical Engineering and Analytical Science, The University of Manchester
Me and my work
I am an academic at a top university; this means I “do” higher education, which means expanding knowledge by doing research (expanding the amount of what is known) and by educating students (increasing the amount and quality of knowledge held by individuals), in the area of chemical engineering including food processing.
Mostly I teach, but I am a better teacher because I am also active in research. I teach chemical engineering (mostly things to do with heat and pressure), and I do research on food, mostly foods based on cereals (e.g. wheat). One of my main areas is bubbles in bread! Bread is the world’s most important food (maybe this isn’t something you’ve thought about before, but it really is). But what is so special about bread? We like bread because it is full of bubbles – they give it a nice texture when we eat it and allow it to be formed into interesting shapes, and different breads have different bubble structures that give them distinctive shapes and textures. Wheat is unique in that it is the only cereal that gives good raised bread; it is for this reason that wheat is the world’s most important cereal, because we like bread, and we like our bread aerated. Hence bubbles are the world’s most important food ingredient! Most food research is done by chemists, but bubbles are physical things, and chemical engineers have the right combination of skills to be able to make a unique contribution to understanding bubble behaviour in foods. And lots of other foods also have bubbles, including the luxurious ones – champagne, whipped cream, ice cream, Aero bars!
My Typical Day
Lecturing, guiding the researchers in my group, reviewing research papers, writing research papers, thinking up new research ideas.
Typically in one day or over a couple of days I would: lecture about heat transfer to a class of over 200; meet with design project groups of 7 to guide them in designing chemical plants; meet with individual research students and post-doctoral researchers studying a range of subjects, all based around cereals as a raw material for both food and non-food products; review research papers to advise on whether they are of sufficiently high scientific quality for publication; then, when I get time, write my own research papers!
What I'd do with the money
I’d use it to distribute the best food science book I know of: “On Food and Cooking”
I’d put it into books, because I believe in education and in reading as being at the heart of being well-educated. The best food book ever, in my view, is called “On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen” by Harold McGee. So, I’d like to put the money into making that book available – to whom, I’m not yet sure – any suggestions welcome!
The picture below shows my own books from the two Bubbles in Food conferences.
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
Who is your favourite singer or band?
Bread (obviously!). (They’re an old group – you won’t have heard of them.)
What is the most fun thing you've done?
Lecturing – believe it or not! The number one thing that people fear is speaking in public – it’s viewed by most poeple as really scary – but for that reason it’s also a real buzz, and I love it.
If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!
When I fantasise about such things, my top three wishes come out as: (i) a better memory; (ii) more energy; and (iii) greater creativity.
What did you want to be after you left school?
A food scientist. Someone came to my school in my final year and spoke about food technology, which struck me as an interesting subject and something people could relate to.
Were you ever in trouble in at school?
I once broke a window – that was about as troublesome as I got! (The former Wales and All Black rugby coach, Graham Henry, was the deputy headmaster at my school at the time; confessing to him was a scary experience, although he was fine about it.)
What's the best thing you've done as a scientist?
I organised two international conferences on Bubbles in Food, and produced the resulting books – seeing those books, which highlighted this subject for the first time and brought the most advanced knowledge about it together, was very satisfying.
Tell us a joke.
What do you get if you divide the circumference of a pumpkin by the diameter of a pumpkin? Pumpkin Pi!