sealPurdue News

May 7, 2003

Nielsen named Purdue food science department head

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – A veteran researcher and educator is assuming the helm of the Purdue University Department of Food Science.

S. Suzanne Nielsen

Purdue School of Agriculture Dean Victor Lechtenberg announced the appointment of S. Suzanne Nielsen to the post. On June 10, she will succeed Philip Nelson who has been in the position since the department was founded in 1983.

"Suzanne has an outstanding record in both research and teaching, and brings an excellent understanding of the food industry and its potential for growth in Indiana," Lechtenberg said. "We are thrilled to have her on board as the new head of the department."

A Nebraska native and a University of Nebraska-Lincoln graduate, Nielsen joined the Purdue faculty in 1983. As a food chemist, she has focused her research on proteins that affect the quality of food.

While Nielsen plans to continue some research and teaching, her priorities are the goals she has set for the department, including adding to the faculty and increasing the number of graduate students.

"We have one of the largest undergraduate food science programs in the country with about twice the number of undergraduates and about the same number of graduate students as other schools," Nielsen said. "Compared to other food science departments in the country, we have considerably fewer faculty.

"We want to strengthen our research capabilities and the success of our students and our faculty. As a top-tier research university, we need to increase the faculty and the number and quality of our graduate students."

Nielsen said she will scale back her teaching schedule and turn some of her research responsibilities over to others, but she plans to complete work with six master's and doctoral students she currently has and teach a food analysis class in the fall.

"I don't want to give up contact with the students because it keeps you in touch with the reality of the program, of the students' needs and those of the faculty," she said.

Her major research area has been investigating the plasmin enzyme system in milk that affects the cheese-ripening process, which takes three months to a year. If scientists could discover a way to increase the plasmin found naturally in milk, they could speed up the cheese ripening process, making it less expensive and produce better quality cheese, she said.

She also has worked to find ways for people in developing countries to make better use of dry beans – such as navy, kidney and pinto – which are inexpensive sources of protein. This research, funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development, is aimed at people in Central and South America.

"My work in food chemistry is related to nutrition and the quality of food," Nielsen said. "With beans, if we can find out why beans stored in hot, humid conditions become difficult to cook, then people could afford to eat them rather than discard them or use them for animal feed."

Nelson said he is confident that Nielsen will meet and exceed current program goals.

"Suzanne has been a backbone of this department and is energetic and insightful," said Nelson, who will return to teaching and research. "I'm excited that she will be leading the department to new heights."

Nielsen, who currently is editing the third edition of her food analysis book, received her master's and doctoral degrees at the University of Minnesota. She has chaired the Indiana Section of the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT), has served on numerous IFT national committees, is an IFT fellow, and received the 2002 IFT William V. Cruess Award for Teaching.

Writer: Susan A. Steeves, (765) 496-7481,

Sources: Victor Lechtenberg, (765) 494-8391

S. Suzanne Nielsen, (765) 494-8328,

Philip Nelson, (765) 494-8256,

Ag Communications: (765) 494-2722; Beth Forbes,;

Related Web sites:
Purdue Food Science

* To the Purdue News and Photos Page