Just learnt from one of the students that there is a research group working on creating iron-rich bananas - who knew?!
St. Patrick’s High School Keady, Co. Armagh, Queen’s University Belfast (BSc) and University College Dublin (Ph.D)
PhD in Nutrition & Genetics, BSc. in Genetics
Sensory Evaluation Centre in Penn State University, USA,
Nutrition Research Scientist
UCD (University College Dublin)
Favourite thing to do in science: Giving people things to taste!
One of the things I do is looking at cheese intake, and how it impacts our nutrition and our health. I’m interested in how people taste things as well
I am a nutrition researcher, working for the ‘Healthy Cheeses’ group in UCD. One of the things I look at it the intake of various types of cheese in Ireland, and how they impact our nutrition.
Cheese is a really good source of lots of nutrients, like calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, and B-vitamins, which are needed for lots of things in our bodies, like bone health as well as muscle and brain function. However, cheese is also a source of salt, which is already too high in our diets, and a source of saturated fat, which many people believe to have a negative impact on heart health.
Recent evidence suggests that the link between saturated fat and heart disease also depends on the food, and that cheese may in fact have a positive impact on heart health! The theory is that there is something special about the matrix of cheese – the saturated fat in cheese is held together in a structure, with calcium and proteins that may affect how the fat is processed by the body. I am currently running a study to look at this ‘matrix’ theory in more detail. I am also interested in sensory evaluation – the science of how we see, smell, touch as taste things – and how different people can have different perceptions due to their genetics.
My Typical Day
I meet participants, take some blood, and send them away with cheese to eat every day for the next 6 weeks.
What I'd do with the money
I would use it to develop an app that could help people count their own tastebuds on their phone! (See the last picture)
I am interested in the number of tastebuds on people’s tongues and whether itcan affect how we perceive tastes and textures. I am working with a PhD student to develop a piece of software that will allow us to automatically count them from photos – at the moment, people have to count them manually and it takes a very long time, and it is subject to a lot of error, as people can easily make mistakes. If the software works, we hope to use it to make an app that people can take a photo of their own tongue, and use the app to count their tastebuds! This sort of thing could be used to do research in people’s own homes. In this way, anyone can do research – this is called “Citizen Science’ or ‘Science Crowsourcing” and it is becoming really popular.
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
Fun, energetic, creative.
Who is your favourite singer or band?
What's your favourite food?
Well, I have to say cheese don’t I?!?
What is the most fun thing you've done?
Two years ago I went snorkelling on the great barrier reef with my twin sister. We saw lots of clown fish (like Nemo).
What did you want to be after you left school?
An artist or a scientist.
Were you ever in trouble at school?
Hmm, yes, all the time (for talking!)
What was your favourite subject at school?
I had two – art and science.
What's the best thing you've done as a scientist?
One of the most fun things was during my PhD, I travelled to lots of schools to talk about science to kids and painted their tongues blue to look at their tastebuds – to collect data for my project.
What or who inspired you to become a scientist?
My Dad. He taught himself electronics after leaving school at 14, and recently built his own wind turbine.
If you weren't a scientist, what would you be?
A sculptor, or an animation artist like Nick Park (Wallace and Gromit, Chicken Run etc)
If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!
A massive grant to do research in taste and food choice would be my number one wish.
Tell us a joke.
A neutron walks into a bar and orders a drink. The barman says “For you – no charge” (Heehee)
Giving some visiting students a demo in the sensory booths – that’s where you taste and smell foods to evaluate them.
Someone really didn’t think things through when they weighed out their sugar…
A close-up of our sensory booths.
This is a picture of a tongue with blue food colouring on it. The blue food colouring helps the fungiform papillae (little bumps that house the tastebuds) stand out. And then you can count them. Some people have lots of these bumps while others have just a few. The jury is still out on whether that can affect how you perceive tastes and textures.
Me and a pal, Rachel, in our gear in the Sensory kitchen. You have to follow strict guidelines (hairnet, wash hands , gloves) when you’re working with food!
This is so cool. Its a container of PTC, and its from the 1980s or earlier, had to take a pic, very impressed. Its well past the expiry for using in experiments, but its cool to see that the research looking at differences in taste has been going on for so long! It was in the 1930s that a chemist first discovered that some people find this really bitter bitter, and others don’t.