Understanding the physics of food: Meet Anne Pawsey

404926_917734277922_711720987_nAnne Pawsey (@ACPawsey) is a post-doctoral researcher who works in the soft matter physics group in the School of Physics, University of Edinburgh. Her research involves designing new methods to protect delicate food ingredients and transport them safely to the correct part of the digestive system. Anne tells us how her physics teacher at school got her hooked on science at an early age. Catch Anne on her Soapbox at Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, Argyle Street, Glasgow on 7th June 11-3pm, where she will be talking about “A physicist in the kitchen: Soft matter physics applied to food and drink”.



SS: Anne, how did you get to your current position?

AP: I followed a fairly standard path to get my current job. After my A-levels (Maths, Further Maths, Physics and Chemistry) I took part in a gap year scheme run by the Smallpeice Trust. I learnt technical drawing, metal work and CAD skills before being shipped to France for a month’s intensive language course, followed by a three month work placement at Alcatel Space. This made me realise how much I enjoy learning languages and travelling.  Once back in the UK I went to the University of Bristol to study physics. I did an ERASMUS year at the Institute National Polytechnique de Grenoble and learnt some physics, lots of French and improved my skiing. For my Master’s project I worked with Prof. Peter Barham on a project to create a complex food. I created a sweet that heats up as it is eaten. I really enjoyed the process of doing research and designing my own experiments so I decide to pursue a PhD.

I ended up as one of the first students of the Scottish Condensed Matter Doctoral Training Centre (CM-DTC). In my PhD I studied what happens to liquid crystal materials when small particles are mixed into them. I performed experiments and worked closely with colleagues who produced computer models of the same system. For my post-doc I’m able to combine my soft matter physics knowledge with food research which links back to my undergraduate work.


SS: What, or who, inspired you to get a career in science?

AP: Many people inspired me at different stages of my career. At school I had an amazing physics teacher, Mrs Conheeney, who showed that physics wasn’t just for boys and also ran lots of extra-curricular science and engineering activities. Whilst at Alcatel I saw a talk by the project manager of the Huygen’s probe (built by Alcatel the probe landed on Titian whilst I was on placement). She gave a brilliant presentation in her second language and showed some of the first images to be sent back. After that I wanted to be an astrophysicist but I seem to have got enjoyably lost on the way.


SS: What is the most fascinating aspect of your research?

AP: I find the fact that I can create a range of very different materials from the same set of ingredients endlessly fascinating.  These differences are often useful but can have negative effects, often seen in the kitchen where recipes such as mayonnaise can fail seemingly randomly despite have the same ingredients every time. I also find that understanding the physics of food means that all too often I know why a particular recipe I’ve tried to cook at home has failed miserably. Unfortunately, the food is often beyond rescue but I have better luck the next time.


SS: What attracted you to Soapbox Science in the first place?

AP: I love the idea that this is science communication with anyone who happens to pass by. Too often science is seen as something separate and “not for me”, and it will be great to be out in public and part of the “real” world.


SS: Sum up in one word your expectations for the day

AP: I’m excited, it’s going to be great fun.


SS: If you could change one thing about the scientific culture right now, what would it be?

AP: I’d make it so that everyone felt comfortable and welcome to contribute to scientific discussions. Everyone should feel that they have something to contribute and not feel judged for asking apparently simple questions for example. This would make science more inclusive and democratic.




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