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Stfx Senior Research Professor Dr. David Pink Honoured With International Achievement Award

Innovative research with computer simulations and ultra-small angle X-ray diffraction to probe fat structures has helped earn Dr. David Pink, StFX senior research professor in physics, the 2015 Edible Applications Technology (EAT) division of the American Oil Chemists Society (AOCS) Distinguished Service/Outstanding Achievement Award.

The award recognizes a scientist, technologist, or leader making contributions to the advancement of edible oils and/or the division.

Dr. Pink will receive the award on May 5, 2015 during the EAT dinner as the part of the AOCS annual meeting held May 3-6 in Orlando, Fl.

“I am honoured that this prestigious organization has selected my work, the work of a theoretical physicist, to be recognized as having made a contribution to the field of studying edible oils,” says Dr. Pink, who is also an adjunct professor in food sciences at the University of Guelph.

The award recognizes his work in mathematical modelling and computer simulations of edible oils

“Edible oils such as canola, milk fat, and coconut oil, appear to be composed of little ‘nanoplatelets,’ rectangular flat objects composed of fats molecules arranged neatly in rows and layers,” Dr. Pink says. “These nanoplatelets are about 100-1000 nanometers (0.00001-0.0001 centimeters) on a side, and one-tenth of that in thickness.”

They were characterized five years ago by Dr. Nuria Acevedo, now at Iowa State University, and Dr. Alejandro Marangoni at the University of Guelph.

“I set myself the problem of asking, a) how do these little nanoplatelets aggregate to form larger structures and, b) how do the resulting aggregates, called ‘TAGwoods, and super-aggregates of the TAGwoods  contribute to the oil binding capacity of edible oils, the ability of these nanoplatelet aggregates to ‘hold/retain’ liquid oils?” he says. “This retention is essential in being able to use these oils for cooking.

“This award,” he added, “is also a triumph for my closest collaborator, Alejandro Marangoni, who foresaw that theoretical physics could make a contribution to this field.”

Dr. Pink says he also wanted to find a project for his and Dr. Marangoni’s PhD student Fernanda Peyronel. He says he chose ultra small angle X-ray scattering (USAXS) because only this technique might measure the structures that his models say had to exist, and the world’s top USAXS facility is the Advanced Photon Source, located not far away, outside Chicago.

“In the end, with StFX senior physics research associate Bonnie Quinn writing the beautiful computer code necessary, I predicted what Fernanda should observe. Her measurements were all in accord with the predictions.”

Along the way, he says they needed to do some atomic scale molecular dynamics simulation and StFX adjunct professor Dr. Shah Razul, then-undergraduate student Colin MacGillivray, and Dr. Charles Hanna at Boise State University, carried that out.

The research work was funded through Dr. Pink’s NSERC Discovery Grant.

Dr. Pink says through the very successful collaboration, they published 16 papers or chapters in two and a half years. Dr. Peyronel received her PhD in December 2014 and she will also receive a graduate student award from AOCS at their meeting in May 2015.

What’s next?

Dr. Pink is making models to understand how oils behave under shear. With Professor Marangoni, he has a MSc student, Beth Townsend, modelling them and doing computer simulation, and a PhD student, Braulio Rodriguez, who is measuring what shear does to big aggregates called spherulites. Dr. Pink and Dr. Peyronel are continuing to use USAXS to study sheared oils. He and Ms. Quinn are modelling cheese; and through an NSERC Engage Grant, Dr. Pink and Adam Papp are modelling dough.