Dr. Paul Williams had always wanted to become a musician, but luckily for him, he decided to follow a route that would get on the world stage in a different way.
The 38 year old food scientist is one of the 13 young academic scientists recognised by ‘The International Society for Optics and Photonics’, as one of its 2020 ‘Defense and Commercial Sensing Rising Researchers’.
These academics include everything from Bioengineers to actual space rocket scientists; working at the most sought after research institutions such as MIT and NASA.
Now, you might ask yourself, ‘Why would a food scientist be added to a list that includes rocket scientists?’
Firstly, food science is like any other science with chemicals and lasers and things that blow up.
Secondly, it is not just about Paul being a scientist, but mostly about how he goes about doing his science and what he has managed to achieve.
Basically, he used infrared light to identify the different kinds of ‘game meats”.
He does this by identifying chemicals that is unique to each piece of meat and then make the lasers search for those chemicals in the meat.
In other words, he has made the lasers capable of knowing the difference between, for example, the meat of a springbok and blesbok.
You might then ask yourself, ‘What purpose does this serve?’
Paul describes his job as making sure that when your food reaches your plate, it is both delicious and what you asked for.
The problem with meat is that, once it is cut up, you cannot really see the difference between the different meats.
You might end up with horse meat on your plate and not know it.
Meat fraud is a huge problem, where meat suppliers take, for example, horse meat and sell them as beef.
It costs the industry billions and of course, nobody wants to sink their teeth into a piece of steak, not knowing that they are about to eat a horse.
Of course, it sounds like a ‘delicious’ profession but it is also difficult.
Food scientists need to understand things like biology, advanced mathematics, statistics, physics and chemistry.
Paul also had to teach himself how to programme so that he could create the code that tells the lasers what they need to look for.
He wrote a paper on what he found and was supposed to present it at the Society’s conference in April where he would have been honoured.
The conference was however cancelled due to the COVID pandemic and he instead had to present his findings over a live Zoom feed to an international audience.
Paul is currently a lecturer and academic researcher in the Department of Food Science at Stellenbosch University.
He has already published 19 academic peer-reviewed journal papers and he has supervised two doctorate students and 10 masters students.
This year, his interest in programming and statistics has led him to enrol for a Diploma in ‘Postgraduate Industrial Engineering’, which will allow him to learn a type computer coding language specifically for his research needs.
At the end of the day, Paul is hoping to make his findings available to the food industry so that they can use it to not only save the industry billions, but also to make sure that when you bite down on a piece of steak, you are in actual fact, eating steak.