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Please tell us about yourself. How did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and interesting career?

If you ask Ph.D. student Balunkeswar Nayak “Balu” what he likes about Washington State University and Pullman, he will probably say the change in colors throughout the different seasons and WSU’s worldclass research facilities, infrastructure, and distinguished faculty. “I refer to Pullman as a “research city” since a majority of the population is students.” The community environment allows Balu to meet new people, exchange ideas, and explore new interdisciplinary possibilities in food engineering. Balu received his bachelor’s degree in Agricultural Engineering from Orissa University of Agriculture and Technology in Bhubaneswar, India and his master’s degree in Post Harvest Engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) in Kharagpur, India. He joined the Department of Biological Systems Engineering in fall 2006 and began his doctoral studies in Biological and Agricultural Engineering. “The past two and half years have been the most trying, learning, challenging, rewarding as well as exciting years of my life both inside and outside of the laboratory,” says Balu.

What is your research about?

Balu’s current research, under the supervision of Professor Juming Tang, focuses on “the changes in antioxidants in high temperature extrusion cooking for snack foods prepared from legumes and colored potatoes.” He is exploring methods for adding even more value to a snack food that is already high in protein and low in fat. Colored potatoes contain the anthocyanins, a source of natural antioxidant. According to the National Cancer Institute, antioxidants may protect cells from the damage caused by free radicals,
and thus may help prevent certain forms of cancer and help reduce cardiovascular disease and effects of aging. “I want to combine these two benefits, proteins from legumes and antioxidants from potatoes, to produce a snack food that is high in protein and antioxidants,” says Balu. His research also involves collaborative work with                USDA-ARS scientist Dr. Jose De J Berrios at the Processed Foods Research Unit, Western
Regional Research Center in Albany, California. Balu received the 2008-2009 Washington State Potato Foundation “Excellence in Agriculture Scholarship” in recognition for his work towards development of agriculture. He also won second prize in the Engineering and Physical Sciences category at the 2008 WSU Wiley graduate research competition.

What are your future plans?

After graduation, Balu plans to work for a good research and development laboratory where he can apply his knowledge and experience from his Ph.D. program, and engage in intensive research that integrates food chemistry with applied engineering–with particular focus on the changes in functional and nutraceutical properties in foods with
the application of thermal processing