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Hung Pham

Hung Pham
Potato Protein Aggregate Gels via pH-Temperature Route for Direct-Ink Writing 3D Printing
Program Year: 
Food Science; Biochemistry & Molecular Biology
David Julian McClements

During this summer, I had the opportunity to work with Prof. David Julian McClements and Prof. Jiakai Lu on developing plant-protein inks for 3D food printing applications. Unlike in previous experiences where I worked under graduate students or senior postdoc researchers, I now worked independently under the direction of my research advisors and held up my own responsibilities for the project, specifically identifying the direction of the project and breaking it down into smaller research questions to design better experiments. I was working with an under-investigated plant protein source from potatoes, and attempted to expand new functionalities for an emerging food processing technology, 3D printing. I discovered by adjusting pH and partially heat-treating proteins, protein inks have more malleability (not too tough as a cooked egg white, but not too soft like a soft-boil egg yolk), which enables 3D printing capabilities. This processing approach can provide a facile, scalable way to modify the flow and strength of plant-protein-rich food inks, without adding thickeners, starches, or additives, which can be unfamiliar to consumers or generate long ingredient lists that consumers don’t prefer. This was just one example of how protein from an unexpected source (potatoes are much richer in starch & fiber!) can open new functionalities to contribute to a more sustainable, animal-free food supply chain, without compromising all the things we love about dairy and meat. Besides doing experiments, I developed more expertise into rheology (the flow of ‘squishy’ soft materials) over the summer, by learning from in-depth literature to establish standard operating procedures and create new protocols that further helped other researchers in my department. I felt grateful for the program’s funding to support our research and help me accomplish this as part of my honors thesis that I will continue further in the semester. It was such a blast having Erica and Bill hosting workshops and communicating different resources to our cohort, making the summer program fun, engaging, and successful!