M.S. and Ph.D. programs are available in Food Processing within the School of Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering. Students engage in a challenging program of study in several areas including bioprocessing, food engineering, physical properties of biological materials, machine vision, sensor and control technology, and energy conservation in food processing.

The program in Food Processing accommodates students from diverse backgrounds; hence specific courses and sequence of course work may be difficult to project. Generally students are required to develop significant expertise in one field and to complement that expertise with studies in other areas. Current research and potential topics are given below.

AREAS OF RESEARCH

Machine Vision

Technological advances in video and image processing have opened a broad range of machine vision applications in agriculture. Powerful microcomputers and specialized hardware have fostered moderately priced, high-performance systems able to challenge the wide variability in size, shape, color and texture characteristics of agricultural produce and products. As a result, machine vision offers the critical potential to improve the competitive position of agriculture by increasing product quality while lowering production costs. Areas of research emphasis include on-line grading of plant seedlings, quality inspection of food and crop products, defect detection using spectral reflectance characteristics, and neural networks applied to pattern recognition and complex decision criteria. Potential research topics for graduate students include:

  • Identify and inventory plants for nursery/ greenhouse automation.
  • Develop methods for tissue culture automation.
  • Apply neural networks to product quality inspection.
  • Determine the potential for in-field identification of plant population and weeds.
  • Use machine vision microscopy for biological cell identification applied to process control.
  • Determine color and texture features affecting raw product quality.
  • Characterize uniformity of grain kernels to improve milling.

Food Processing

The more sophisticated design of modern agricultural process engineering indicates the need for more basic information of the physical and mechanical properties of biological materials. Properties data are needed to develop new sensors and instrumentation for process controls and quality assessment. Areas of research emphasis include development of physical properties of food products relevant to food process engineering and investigate innovative processes for better utilization of agricultural materials and conversion to value-added food products. Potential graduate student research topics include:

  • Develop dynamic techniques to measure textural properties related to texture of fruit and vegetables.
  • Develop models of fruit shape for orientation during on-line sorting.
  • Explore ways to insure the safety of fresh fruit and vegetables during mechanical harvest, handling and storage.
  • Optimize the process for supercritical fluid extraction of oil from pecans.
  • Develop techniques to restore texture to reduced-oil pecans.
  • Test modified atmosphere packaging of pecans and peanuts.
  • Devise ways to dry and separate petals from mechanically harvested marigold flowers.
  • Investigate ways to store and handle dried marigold petals to maintain xanthophyll content.
  • Develop new processing methods for value-added peanut products.
  • Investigate physical and electrical property changes in food during direct resistance heating.
  • Develop techniques for improved efficiency of xanthan gum fermentation.
  • Investigate new process development and optimization.
  • Develop innovative and improve existing equipment for food processing.
  • Develop insect resistant or repellent packaging for warehouse storage.

Sensor and Control Technology

A resource-efficient sustainable agriculture requires development of sensing and actuation systems that allow the direct use of computer technology in control of agricultural machines and processes. Computer capabilities are growing without apparent bounds. Potential exists to leverage this capability in improving efficiency and quality of agricultural production and processing systems. The greatest barrier preventing increased application of computer technology directly in agricultural systems is the lack of effective methods of sensing. Potential research topics include:

  • Develop design processes for networked control systems.
  • Develop sonic and optical systems for detection of plant material properties.

DEGREE REQUIREMENTS

All plans of study are tailored to individual students based on their interests and the guidance of the advisory committee. M.S. students must complete 24 credit hours of course work and 6 hours of research, including a thesis. A minimum of 36 credit hours of course work and 24 credit hours of research beyond the M.S. degree is required for each Ph.D. student.

The student’s plan of study will include BAE courses with additional courses in engineering, mathematics, computer science, statistics, agriculture and related science. These advanced level courses taught by Biosystems & Agricultural Engineering and other faculty and supported by well-equipped laboratories provide students with a strong background for addressing problems in food process engineering.

Students commonly start by taking three classes per semester. M.S. students generally take one and a half years to two years to complete their programs. Ph.D. students with a food & Process engineering M.S. degree are expected to complete their programs within three years with course work usually completed by the end of the second year. Upon completion of the majority of the courses and preparation of a research proposal, Ph.D. students take a written and oral qualifying examination covering the entire area of the student’s graduate study. In addition, M.S. thesis and Ph.D. dissertations must be successfully defended before the advisory committee at the completion of the research program. A non-thesis degree option is available for M.S. students which require a creative component, including a written and oral report.

The BAE Food Processing option covers a breadth of areas including agricultural processing, food engineering, machine vision and sensors and controls. All of these are based on principles of heat and mass transfer, fluid flow and electrical science. These principles are usually applied to biological materials, illustrating the uniqueness of our profession.

FACULTY

Danielle Bellmer, Associate Professor
Gasification and fermentation

Timothy Bowser, Associate Professor
Food processing and engineering

Nurhan Dunford, Professor
Food, oil/oilseed, and bioprocessing

Raymond L. Huhnke, Professor and
Director of the Biobased Products and Energy Center

Carol Jones, Associate Professor
Stored product engineering, packaging, storage, transportation, and logistics of biofeedstocks and physical properties of feedstock

Paul Weckler, Associate Professor
Sensors, instrumentation and controls; image processing and machine vision; and food and crop processing

FACILITIES

The department’s main laboratory facility is a 28,000 sq. ft., equipped with electronic, electric and machine shops. Laboratories for machine vision, instrumentation and food processing are available for graduate research.

Equipment includes a computer-controlled Instron testing machine, supercritical fluid extraction system, fruit drop impact tester, vibration shaker, vacuum packager, controlled temperature-humidity chambers, and various processing mills.

Machine vision support includes video cameras and processing hardware for both matrix and line-scan formats; development environments for VME-bus and PC-bus based systems; lighting hardware comprising fiber optic, high frequency fluorescent, strobe, and laser sources; color capability; computerized spectrography; and optical reflectance standards.

A computer network system provides information transfer between the laboratories, offices and other university facilities such as the library.

The Food and Agricultural Products Center (FAPC) includes 80,000 sq. ft. of offices, laboratories and pilot plant area. Completed in 1997, this facility was built to allow process development from the bench-top to pilot scale. It is designed for interaction with the food industry and is the home of multidisciplinary teams oriented to solve food and agriculture processing problems. Pilot plant facilities are available for processing of meat, dairy, fruit, vegetable, and cereal products. Research laboratories available for use are for; physical properties, engineering and electronics, instrumental analysis, experimental kitchen, and sensory analysis.