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Materials Science at Oregon State University

Wheat seeds, doughs, and batters as materials: from codons to cookies

Date: Thursday, Feb 26th
Presenter: Dr. Andrew Ross, Professor, OSU Crop and Soil Science and Food Science and Technology


Many of the material properties of wheat, its process intermediates, and finished-products are dependent on fundamental elements of polymer-polymer and polymer-solvent interactions.

Layered on this are expressions of the non-linear rheology of entangled polymeric networks, which can ruin your cookie, the influences of the glassy and rubbery states, and the vagaries of an often times wildly variable biological/agricultural raw materials.

But, this is the near chaotic system we need to understand to achieve our OSU mission of creating new high quality wheat varieties for Oregon.

So, we deal with it on a day-to-day basis, learn how to love it, and try to bring it under some semblance of control. We will look at grain texture and how it affects milling and fermentation, at absorption characteristics of flours and how they are measured, at batters for cakes or coatings that also rely on bubbles to help control flow characteristics, and if time permits on the fundamentals of gluten viscoelasticity.

Professor Andrew Ross is a faculty member of the Crop and Soil Science and Food Science and Technology departments at OSU and is the leader of cereal science research program. Dr. Ross is recognized as an innovative teacher of college level food chemistry. He uses a systems perspective to engage students and facilitate improved learning outcomes in food chemistry, highlighting the fascinating world of compound interactions and transformations during even the most apparently mundane of processing/cooking operations. Vehicles for engagement include, naturally, breads, but also coffee, chocolate, polymeric thickeners and gelling agents, terrestrial and aquatic meats, smoked meats and malts, and the perennial favorites, the chemistry of a grilled cheese sandwich, the physical chemistry of popping corn, and the pretzel lab. The common themes are the construction and breakdown of polymeric networks, and the impact of the browning reactions on foods.

Dr. Ross is also an experienced researcher in the field of cereal quality as it affects the texture and other qualities of staple cereal foods. His work is trending to a greater emphasis on wholegrains, focused on wheat and barley. His mission is to facilitate the production of delicious wholegrain foods that will encourage people to eat them and get their well-documented health benefits.

Dr. Ross in collaboration with the Oregon State wheat-breeding program has been responsible for the quality profile of 12 new wheat and 1 new food barley varieties since arriving at OSU. Among these, the variety Bobtail currently ranks in the top 3 highest quality soft white winter wheat varieties ever released in the Pacific Northwest according to 2012 USDA rankings.