Dr Jin Chu
- Course: PhD in Food Science and Nutrition
- PhD title: Effect of cultivar and growth region on the mechanical and biochemical properties of canned baked beans
- Year of graduation: 2015
- Nationality: China
- Job title: Research Fellow
- Company: University of Leeds
Dr Jin Chu is a Research Fellow in the School of Food Science and Nutrition and a University of Leeds PhD alumna. Through her research, she aims to valorise food waste from the Chinese citrus canning industry to improve food safety and health. Dr Chu is part of Professor Caroline Orfila’s research team and is supported by her expertise in plant biochemistry.
Turning citrus waste into biodegradable food packaging
Sustainability has become a hot topic, with many people becoming increasingly environmentally conscious, and a growing awareness of the need to reduce and recycle food waste is helping to shape the conversation. Dr Chu is directly tackling the problem of food waste by enhancing the value of citrus waste by using it to produce a biodegradable food packaging which has a longer shelf life.
“Food waste is now a seriously problem because more than a third of all food produced globally goes to waste,” said Dr Chu. “The highest wastage, of around 45%, of total food losses is fruit and vegetables. My current research project is aiming to valorise the food waste from the Chinese citrus canning industry to improve food safety and health.”
More than a third of all food produced globally goes to waste. My current research project is aiming to valorise the food waste from the Chinese citrus canning industry to improve food safety and health.
She continued: “Citrus waste can be used to make bio-degradable food packaging (bio-film) to replace plastic, while also extending its shelf-life. It can also be made as pectin gels to reduce fat and increase fibre in the food in order to improve the nutrition. Additionally, it can replace the gelatine to make vegan-friendly food production.
She added: “The food waste we throw into the bin actually contain ‘gold’, if we can use it in the right way it would benefit us as well as benefit our environment.”
After graduating from Leeds, Dr Chu worked for the University of Lincoln’s National Centre for Food Manufacturing for over three years. There she worked on research projects driven by food industries aiming to solve commercial issues through science. Following this experience, Dr Chu took up her post as a postdoctoral researcher at Leeds.
She explained: “When the opportunity of postdoc in Leeds arose, I decided to come back to continue developing the topics I studied during my PhD. These are cell wall polysaccharides, and, in an interesting new trendy topic, food waste.”
She continued: “I achieved a very wide range of knowledge during my years working at the National Centre for Food Manufacturing, where I worked with different food industries including food microbiology, food processing, and new product development (NPD).
I was very excited to be able to come back to Leeds to develop my expertise, and explore it further with my newly gained knowledge.
“From a career development point of view, I wanted to focus in one targeted area and develop it more deeply instead of dipping into every area. Hence, when this postdoc position opened, I was very excited to be able to come back to Leeds to develop my expertise, and explore it further with my newly gained knowledge.”
Dr Chu is supervised by Professor Caroline Orfila, who is a Professor of Plant Biochemistry and Nutrition. Her expertise in plant biochemistry, especially in cell wall polysaccharide, fibre and pectin, complements Dr Chu’s research interests well.
“I cannot achieve what I have now without Caroline,” said Dr Chu. “She has given me an enormous amount of support and help along my studies and my career. She encourages me to pursue a science career path if I doubt myself, and throughout my career she has inspired me to develop more and more clarity in what I am looking for.”
My supervisor has given me an enormous amount of support and help along my studies and my career.
Dr Chu added: “Professor Orfila provided me with positive opportunities and guided me on how to develop my career systematically. I cannot express how grateful and thankful I am, but to work hard to show my appreciation.”
Living and working in Leeds
While studying for her PhD, Dr Chu was most inspired by the attitude of her supervisor. She also enjoyed the diverse and inclusive atmosphere and culture in the University’s postgraduate community, an aspect that continues to benefit Dr Chu in her postdoctoral role. Leeds is also a fantastic place to work and study, she explained.
Dr Chu said: “During my four years studying for a PhD at Leeds, the most important thing I learned from my supervisor and my colleagues is the attitude to be devoted to science. Although all the skills I learnt are very important and essential for career development, at the end of the day, your attitude will determine where and how far you can go.”
She continued: “We have a very varied team, with different nationalities, races, cultures and ages. I feel very lucky that I was part of such a team when it my first time living abroad. That is when and where I learned different cultures, religions and what is the best way to show respect to them.
We have a very varied team, with different nationalities, races, cultures and ages. I feel very lucky that I was part of such a team when it my first time living abroad.
“Our team have regular small seminars and we were also involved in other groups’ seminar to listen what other postgraduate students were doing. It is a good way to know new people and new projects.”
She added: “I believe Leeds is one of the best cities for living in UK; you can find everything you need here. It is big city with reasonable living expenses. It has lots communities and you definitely will find one you enjoy. I was actively involved in a Chinese Christian Church when I was doing my PhD, and I found a lot of good friends there whom I am still closely in touch with now.”