Physics & food: the physics in your crisps & coffee

crisps coffeeA great post by , Regional Officer, Yorkshire & North East. Institute of Physics

“Professor Peter Lillford, who spent much of his career at Unilever Research, said he had seen physics play a growing role in understanding and improving food processing, including the use of heat transfer physics in soup-making and modelling the baking process by making use of the physics of solid foam. He described how the industry could both exploit existing research and explore new areas, such as modelling the flow of complicated liquids in the mouth. While much of processing design was still empirically-driven, it would be much better if we could determine likely outcomes in advance by using physics, he said.

Case studies showing the impact of physics in food manufacture and current scientific challenges were presented by John Bows, technology innovation manager at PepsiCo Europe R&D, Dr Robert Farr, a physicist in the strategic science group at Unilever, and Dr John Melrose, a coffee science expert at Jacobs Douwe Egberts.

Bows said that as a physicist he was keen to encourage more physics graduates into food manufacturing and he hoped that would be one of the outcomes of the summit. He described how physics underpinned crisp manufacture including understanding surface tension of potato slices, imaging the inside of the product and looking at how processing affected its structure. He had worked in microwave packaging and using MRI for remote measurement. Among the challenges he described were using imaging to track microstructure evolution during processing, thermal, electrical and physical measurement in situ and studying the properties of inhomogeneous materials.

Farr said that among the ways in which physics research impacted Unilever’s business was in large-scale numerical modelling of fluid flows, in vivo imaging and theoretical physics. Physics was applied to such problems as demonstrating how tetrahedral tea-bags were an improved design, enhancing the liquid properties of meal replacement drinks and understanding the drying process in foods. Continuing challenges included simulating microstructures under flow, in situ visualisation of microstructures and better understanding of structural dynamics.”

You can find the full article on LinkedIn

Physicists at University of Edinburgh work with food manufacturers too. You can read about the work of Dr Tiffany Wood from the School of Physics and Edinburgh Complex Fluids Partnership.

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