R. Paul Singh, a UC Davis professor emeritus who has held dual appointments in the Food Science and Technology and Biological and Agricultural Engineering departments, arrived at the university in 1975. Since then, he has become known for his innovative work, including the creation of a food-processing system for NASA’s first manned mission to Mars. He also has played a significant role in establishing food-technology programs in countries such as Brazil, India, Portugal and Thailand.
For these accomplishments and others he recently was named the 2015 World Agriculture Prize Laureate by the Global Confederation for Higher Education Associations for Agriculture and Life Sciences. Singh will formally accept the award Sept. 20 in a ceremony at the Nanjing Agricultural University in Jiangsu Province, China.
Q: How does it feel to be this year’s World Agriculture Prize Laureate?
A: It is kind of a humbling experience when people recognize important work you have done in this manner. But it is also a recognition for a number of people that work with me, especially my students, either master’s or Ph.D students, and post-docs and so on, that work in our lab.
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Q: What drew you to study food technology?
A: Foods are really complex material to look at because of their chemistry and biology and so on. There are so many things going on, but that makes it exciting from an engineering standpoint. How do you handle this material to get the maximum benefit out of it?
Q: You have done a number of things, including working on food processing for the future manned mission to Mars. What are some of the limitations concerning food and space travel?
A: In the past programs for NASA, most of the food for the astronauts is always prepared here on Earth. ... But once you leave for Mars, you cannot have a second flight coming in bringing food. It was obvious in that kind of mission you have to be able to grow food and also process food, especially for the return journey.
Our approach was that we wanted to work with something where the food is familiar for the astronauts when they are on Mars or when they are traveling – familiar in the sense that they have grown up with it here rather than just meeting a nutritional need with a tablet or liquid. We could, for example, extract water from tomatoes. We first worked with tomatoes so that we can take tomatoes and make different products. From diced tomatoes, to tomato juice to tomato paste, as you go through those concentration steps, you extract water. We can get pure water out of the tomatoes, which can later on be put into the machine (food processor) or serve other purposes.
Q: Back on Earth, what’s the future of food looking like?
A: The major issue for food is to be able to handle what we produce in a more efficient manner ... and to have a more efficient use of resources because both water and energy are needed to do any kind of process to get the food from the farm to the table. The efficient use of those resources will be important whether that is here in California or anywhere else. ... Right now, anywhere from 30-50 percent of the food is lost before it gets to the consumer. That’s a tremendous amount. Even if you can cut that in half, you can take care of the food problem.
R. Paul Singh
He recently was named the 2015 World Agriculture Prize Laureate by the Global Confederation for Higher Education Associations for Agriculture and Life Sciences. Singh will formally accept the award on Sept. 20 in a ceremony at the Nanjing Agricultural University in Jiangsu Province, China.