Interview – Prof. Ardemis Boghossian

Our laboratory specializes in applications that require engineering synthetic and biological materials at the nanoscale. Food is one of the most obvious applications that comes to mind when we think about this interface. In food packaging, for example, we have biological food sources interacting directly with man-made materials.

Our goal is to optimize this interaction, to protect, preserve, or even enhance the quality of food. Our current work focuses on engineering sensors that can be incorporated into the package to monitor food quality, such as freshness. These sensors can communicate this information wirelessly using light that can be detected with portable devices. These devices will then be able to inform the user if the product has expired, or if there has been a breach in the packaging. These sensors can also be used in a feedback mechanism to control the release of agents that can protect the food against damage, such as over-oxidation.

Although we initially envisioned this technology to be used by retailers at the supermarket, we are looking towards future applications that take place in our very own kitchens. A fridge that can monitor and communicate your food quality and supply would be a game-changer when it comes to grocery shopping (imagine never having to speculate on whether or not you have enough milk at the store!). With the recent advances on smart fridges, our “fridge of the future” is just on the horizon, and the development of next-generation food packaging is key to realizing this future.

To know a bit more about you…

  • What treat would you take to a desert island? 

This is likely one of the most difficult questions anyone could ask me, since I can come up with an endless list of all my favorite treats. For a desert island, I would probably go for a bubble tea (“boba”). The drink itself seems quite practical for staying hydrated in the desert, and I guess the little bubbles can count as some sort of food or nutritional source. Most importantly, I just really like bubble tea! 

On a serious note, we all know that food systems are under pressure…

  • What would you like to see tomorrow in your supermarket?

We often find ourselves buying the same staple foods from the grocery store when we do our bulk shopping. It would be nice to have a general list of these frequent purchases already prepared or even ready for us when we arrive at the store. That way, we can just focus our shopping on the special or different purchases we want to make while having all our staple purchases out of the way. I think this is something that is quite feasible (especially since many of these stores have membership cards that already seem to log your purchases), and it would save us a lot of time.