#31: Science and Food with Dr. Amy Rowat


Dr.  Wendy Slusser  00:03

How do you make souffle with just chocolate and water? What makes souffle so light and fluffy? Today we are zooming in to the molecular level of food to answer these questions with Associate Professor of Integrative Biology and Physiology at UCLA.\, Dr. Amy Rowat. Amy is a pioneer in the realm of science and food. She uses food and cooking to open up the world of complex physics concepts to the non-scientists. As the co-leader of the Semel Healthy Campus Initiative Center’s Eat Well Pod, Amy advocates for change on campus to enhance food literacy, and increase accessibility to nutritious and sustainable food choices to all UCLA community members and beyond. Keep listening to learn more about Amy’s incredible journey through science and food and the secret to make a tender and delicious kale salad. Dr. Amy Rowat, thank you so much for being here. And I’m going to start with a memory I have of you when I first met you, and I’ll never forget, it was at one of your science and food lectures. And you had Billy Yosses, the White House pastry chef for Bush Jr. and Barack Obama. And he was presenting on how to create a chocolate mousse without cream by manipulating temperatures. And I have to say that, I mean, you’re a biophysicist trained at elite universities like Harvard, and you clearly communicated the complicated science of food through bringing it down to foods we all desire to eat, like chocolate mousse, and then of course, kale. And on top of all that you had famous chefs presenting recipes we all wanted to run home and try. So I’m going to start with this first question. Can we post your recipes on this podcast after we interview you?

Dr. Amy Rowat  01:57

Of course, of course. And some of those recipes, of course, are not mine. The chocolate mousse, for example, comes from Herve This, who’s a French scientist and molecular gastronomer, he calls himself but it’s a great recipe with just water and chocolate and like you say, manipulating temperature. The kale, I’ve sort of worked on a little bit as well. But I think the key technique of massaging it and cutting it finely is not unique, of course, to my recipe development. But absolutely, we can post the recipes.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  02:31

So Amy, you know, you’ve been the leader of the Eat Well Pod, member of the Eat Well Pod for six years, now leader. I’d love to hear your comments on that. What is the wild pod? And and what does it mean to you?

Dr. Amy Rowat  02:46

Well, we are a group of food-focused people from all over campus, including faculty, staff, students, that span many different disciplines, and as well as UCLA Dining. And the overall mission is to promote knowledge of food for everyone on campus, and in the UCLA community, and to make good food accessible for everyone as well. So a lot of our activities focus on improving food literacy, so improving and making knowledge of food accessible to everyone, and supporting projects that do that, that are carried out by students and faculty on campus, such as the development of new courses, or activities or events that engage people in thinking more deeply about food.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  03:35

And I know you’re very involved in the support of students with food insecurity. How are you doing that?

Dr. Amy Rowat  03:41

So making sure that food is accessible, good food is accessible to everyone on campus is definitely a big mission or important aspect of our mission. And so to achieve that goal, we have sort of a multi-pronged approach where some of the food literacy work we’re doing I think can really benefit knowledge of how to prepare and cook foods on a budget for example, and then right down to the hardware that’s required to, for example, store foods in refrigerators so that less of it goes to waste and it can be readily available for students and to pick up or eat in food closets for example.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  04:27

It’s very broad, but also really fantastic. So Amy, I’d like to take a pause and talk about kale a little bit more because you really motivated me to not cut corners, so to speak, and chop my kale very finely and I want to have you sort of share your wisdoms about kale and why you have to do that.

Dr. Amy Rowat  04:46

Kale is fantastic. But one of the issues in eating kale raw at least is that it can be very fibrous and hard to chew. And so by breaking down the fibers by massaging it with my fingers, for example. Or I do a combination of grabbing and forming clusters with the kale or by grabbing it and holding on to it and massaging it, while chopping it into very narrow strips. I find that that that gives a really good texture of kale that can be used raw in salads, for example.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  05:20

Something that struck me and that was where you described the plant itself, which is that the cell walls are so tightly aligned, right? This is what stuck with my, and correct me if I’m wrong, but they’re so tightly aligned, that that creates the bitterness. And that’s why you have to massage, is that kind of why you have to sort of break the cell wall? Because I do find with that thought process by breaking the walls down at least with the massaging and cutting finely, and then adding lemon to it, for instance. And you can hear the crunching of the walls, even when you’re massaging that the kale itself is less bitter after that. Because I don’t like raw kale, really. I mean, except once you explained to me, and that this also creates some advantage to the kale plant in the, you know, in the sort of agrarian world. And what would the kale plant benefit from with that kind of structure?

Dr. Amy Rowat  06:27

Well, definitely the cell walls are really important for the texture of plants and their ability to grow and shoot up to the sky to get enough sunlight, for example. So the plant texture is really balanced by these osmotic pressure inside of, or the pressure inside of the plant cells, which is determined by how much water there is inside of the vacuole, balanced by the structure of this of the cell wall and its ability to resist being stretched. So all of those fibers, molecules really, really help with that. So that’s why massaging or cutting finely can help break down those fibers so that it makes it more tender to eat. As for the bitterness, many of the taste molecules, presumably would be inside of the cells. So perhaps by cutting or macerating the cells, you’re releasing some of those bitter compounds, but I really don’t know.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  07:26

So are you saying that the fibers are really a series of small cells all together, and by cutting it, you’re breaking up the fibers by that?

Dr. Amy Rowat  07:37

The fibers formed sort of a interconnected network, at least that’s how many of them have been visualized in the world of plant cell wall imaging. So they might connect across or span many different cells. So by breaking those up, you’re essentially tenderizing the kale.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  08:01

It’s great, right, I think we’ll definitely have a few kale recipes posted. Now, one of the things that really has struck me is how you’ve been a true pioneer, breaking down the silos of science and food. And I’ve heard you talk about this concept of soft matter physicists, and I don’t really understand what that means.

Dr. Amy Rowat  08:22

So soft matter physics is a field of studying the physics of soft deformable materials, as opposed to hard matter like metals, for example. Soft matter refers to materials that are easily deformable, such as foams, gels, cells, biological materials, many of these things fall into into that category.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  08:46

And so as a soft matter, physicists, what does that mean for you and your research, but also in this whole arena that you’ve been developing around the science of food?

Dr. Amy Rowat  08:57

So in my research lab, we study the material properties of cells, which are materials that are easily deformable. And we try to understand what their texture is how easily they can deform through narrow gaps. And this is largely in the context of cancer cells. And then I also been using soft materials such as foams, emulsions, which are little droplets of liquid and another liquid, and gels to be able to communicate concepts of soft matter physics to undergraduate students and the general public.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  09:33

So, yeah, build on the emulsions inside fluids. Like what does that have to do with cooking and your whole evolution of developing a class or a course for students, college students around food and science.

Dr. Amy Rowat  09:48

So back when I was a postdoc at Harvard, I was working with colleagues there, Dave Weitz and Michael Brenner and Otger Campas, and started working with this chef, Ferran Adria from Spain, who was very interested in collaborating with us. And we thought an easy way to collaborate with this chef would be to develop a class and use concepts in cooking to teach some of these concepts in soft matter physics, which are not typically taught to undergraduates, especially freshmen. So we use these concepts such as emulsions, foams, and gels, to design a class that would teach students about science and the science of soft materials, but in the context of food and cooking.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  10:31

So me a full description about this course that you’ve developed at Harvard, as a postdoc, and now repurposed it here at UCLA.

Dr. Amy Rowat  10:43

Well, when I got to UCLA, I was tasked with creating a course for physiological sciences. With my background in biophysics, which I was trained in, I thought, I’ll pick out concepts in food that students need to know to understand biophysics. And so many of these concepts were similar to the concepts in this original soft matter physics course that we developed at Harvard, such as understanding what gels are, how they form, emulsions, foams, diffusion. I also integrated in a lesson on the physiology of taste and understanding how molecules bind to certain receptors like the taste receptors, proteins on our tongue. So the full structure of the class, Science and Food: The Physical and Molecular Origins of What We Eat, each week, there’s a biophysics topic and one of the classes of the week I teach the science. The other class is when a guest lecture comes in, and I have used lectures that somehow will introduce some other perspective on the science topic and how it relates to food and cooking. So that can range from nutritionists, farmers, food artisans that make for example, kimchi, or have developed a homemade yogurt business. Chefs, for example, including some of the chefs that Wolfgang Puck’s restaurants, like Ari Rosenson, who works the CUT, to Sherry Yard, who is a renowned pastry chef here. So altogether, this gets the students, I think, excited and interested to see how that science concept which may seem, you know, divorced from everyday life, but I try not to make it that way by giving lots of examples of how it relates to food and the plants and animals that we eat. But having that extra perspective, I think helps to highlight how the science concepts can be useful and relevant for everyday life. So that’s the main structure of the course. There’s homework assignments every week, and a midterm exam, and a final exam. And then this scientific Bake Off that we have that the students work on for the last few weeks of the class, where they’re developing their own experiments and gathering data and trying to study some aspect of pie

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  13:07

Bringing back to foam chocolate mousse again, I always want to bring it back to some of my favorite foods. You mentioned that that has to do with foam. So explain to me the recipe that Billy Yosses was presenting where he used water and chocolate and created chocolate mousse. How can you explain that in scientific terms?

Dr. Amy Rowat  13:28

So that recipe involves melting your chocolate and then whipping the chocolate while you incorporate water into it. And so you’re creating a foam because you have pockets of air that give that chocolate mousse it’s light, airy texture, and you’re using some of the molecules that are in the chocolate. Chocolate has lots of molecules that are amphiphilic that means that they like water and fat at the same time. So they like to be at interfaces and that interface in this chocolate mousse is the interface of the water and the air. So by using these molecules that are in the chocolate that are these natural amphiphiles, they naturally like to be this interface. They’ll help to stabilize that interface between the water and the air and it makes the chocolate stable. But then you also manipulate the temperature so you cool it down so then the fat molecules in the chocolate will freeze into a solid state so that makes the the foam this solid material that is the texture of chocolate mousse.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  14:33

And that takes the place of the cream that you normally would use that would have created that kind of foam.

Dr. Amy Rowat  14:40

That airy texture, that’s right.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  14:42

Yeah. So the whipping always happens anyway even if you had cream but it’s the temperature, rapid temperature change.

Dr. Amy Rowat  14:50

Right and then some other chocolate mousse recipes might use gelatin for example or some jelling agent that would be, provide that stability. Once you cool it down, it would sort of freeze into its position and the gelatin in that case would stabilize this foam. But in this case, we’re using the chocolate itself to do that.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  15:12

So with your science and food class, you can explain that kind of ampilif – how do you pronounce it?

Dr. Amy Rowat  15:18


Dr.  Wendy Slusser  15:18

Amphiphilic properties, which always struck me as something super interesting, because it’s really just positive and negatives on the ends of these molecules, right? That then, and that’s what soap is too, right? They dissolve the fat and then dissolve into water. And that’s what creates it?

Dr. Amy Rowat  15:35

Yep, the key point that I wanted to emphasize in the course at UCLA is how these concepts also relate to the plants and animals that we eat. So for example, those tough fibers in kale. What are those molecules? How do they help the plant? And how do we manipulate those as we cook? Same with thinking about meat and the texture of meat, the molecules that a cow needs, for example, to support its body weight, when it moves around are structural proteins that are also involved in regulating the texture of meat. So how do we manipulate those as we cook, and how do chefs deal with that? For example, understanding how much collagen is in a particular cut of meat is really important when you’re figuring out how to cook it over what period of time, at what temperature. So those were some of the concepts that I tried to highlight throughout the course and kind of give the central theme to the Science and Food course, which is called the Physical and Molecular Origins of What We Eat.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  16:42

Yeah, I really liked that idea that you are bringing people not just to the food itself, but to what the ingredients that are building that meal. So I want to get back to when we first met and it was a UCLA public lecture on the science of food, and what made you decide to branch out from teaching college students to broader public?

Dr. Amy Rowat  17:07

So when we first offered this class, it was at Harvard, the first Science and Cooking class that there was so much enthusiasm and excitement for these chefs that were coming, learning about the science underlying food, but the class size was limited. So we thought, well, maybe we need to broaden this out somehow so that more people can come and participate. And that was really the birth of these public lectures. So when I got to UCLA, I felt like that was an important aspect to continue. Because broadening the understanding of science and broadening participation in science is really important, I feel. So having these public lectures where people would come and learn more about science, learn more about their food seemed like an important step.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  17:54

As I understand you have, first of all, a line around the block of chefs who want to be in your lectures, and agents are knocking on your door right and left. And then also, you have sold-out events. I mean, explain to me why you think this is? I mean, why do you think it’s so exciting to people?

Dr. Amy Rowat  18:14

Well, there’s a confluence of factors, I think, that are at play here. So we have, on the one hand, people are just very excited about food these days. And you can see in the social media world, and Instagram, and all of these methods, people have to communicate their excitement about food. People want to know more about their food, people want to know more about what they eat. And then there’s also that chefs have gained sort of a celebrity status these days. And there’s a lot of excitement to follow them to hear what they have to say. And there aren’t so many opportunities to do that in an interactive format. So I think all of these factors have played a role in why these events are so popular.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  19:01

Yeah, I mean, I find that the topics you cover, they range from the microbiome, to sustainability, to minimizing food waste, and I found them incredibly informative. And I just wonder how, how do you pick those topics? And and also, like, what are people telling you like, what do they say about these public lectures?

Dr. Amy Rowat  19:24

So the topics we pick based on what we think will be interesting, largely. Some of the topics recently, I mean, we had future food a couple years ago, and that’s something I’ve been thinking about for a while, you know, how can science play a role in the future of food, and whether that be contributing knowledge of how we can generate more sustainable foods, how we can make food production more efficient. There’s also this interesting tension I think, between eating local and buying things at the farmer’s market versus some of these science-based approaches of genetically engineering, for example, proteins in a more efficient way that can be used in food production. So we brought on an ethicist to talk about that aspect along with the chef, Daniel Patterson, who spearheaded the restaurant Locol with Roy Choi here in LA, and Kent Kirshenbaum, who’s a scientist with a deep understanding of how we can, from molecules up, build foods of particular textures. So that created a really nice dialogue, I think, on that topic. Other topics have come about because a certain chef is excited to come to UCLA. So last year, for example, we had Massimo Bottura that was spearheaded by the LA Times Food Bowl Festival, that Jonathan Gold and Angus Dylan had really initiated. And he was in LA, and they wanted to do an event at UCLA. And he’s very passionate about sustainability and in food waste. So that formed the topic for that year. And I think in all of these elements, the really key thing here is just bringing in that scientific dialogue. People get scared about science, or they’re skeptical, and there’s a lot of misinformation floating about food issues. So I think that to me, is the core here, is bringing together people with different perspectives, including scientists that can talk in an educated way about some of these important food issues.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  21:30

Yeah, I mean, I think that you knit the different disciplines beautifully. And you’re a perfect example of it and given your incredible background in, training and as a physicist, engineer, postdoc, and faculty member, now tenured at UCLA, and then your ability to have conversations with the chefs in a meaningful and practical way. How can people who are listening know about your next event? I mean, I think that that’s something we’d all like to know about.

Dr. Amy Rowat  21:59

Well, we have a website, scienceandfood.org. And you can stay abreast with the new developments there. There’s also a link to be able to join our mailing list. And even if you’re not in Los Angeles, where the events are held, we do video them and we have a YouTube channel. And in addition, at the science and food site, you could read some of our blog postings as well. The undergraduates here are very active in maintaining a blog that I curate on topics related to science and food.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  22:31

And if have you ever influenced the chefs’ recipes?

Dr. Amy Rowat  22:33

It’s a good question. I was at this demo, at the cooking demo at the Santa Monica Farmer’s Market, where someone was doing a demo on tahini. And she’d formed a company actually to produce tahini-based food products. So she demo’ed a few recipes, and then asked if there was any questions. And actually, I have to give full credit to my son who’s three, because he’s the one who asked the question, it was more of a statement of how he had whipped cream the night before. But that made this really interesting connection between foaming tahini, which I think and some of the iSi Whip container, which is used very widely in the chef world to make, what’s a whipped cream maker, basically. You have a little compressed nitrogen that you stick on to this pressurized container and then you can whip whatever you want. And again, because tahini is ground-up sesame seeds that has all of these fats that are naturally inside of it, why wouldn’t it whip? Anyway, she took that challenge, she’s gonna go and do some experiments. So apart from that, I mean, I’m sure there have been other influences in the past, I’ve had some, one of the things the students do in my class is to engineer a pie. The final pie project involves students having to identify some aspect of a pie that they’re going to study. So this causes them to formulate a scientific question, identify a hypothesis, actually do experiments, analyze the data, and present a poster that describes the whole scientific process, along with a pie that is served at this poster fair. We call it a Bake Off, a scientific Bake Off. So the pie is served up and judges come around and just for fun, we have a taste test of the pies. So the judges, I’ve invited some local chefs and even there have been times when we’ve had Billy Yosses or Christina Tosi.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  23:00

Who’s she?

Dr. Amy Rowat  23:43

Christina Tosi is a pastry chef and founder of the Milk Bar in New York and which is now expanding also here to LA. And so in this process of these chefs and bakers judging the pies Zoe Nathan from Huckleberry, for example, also came. She’s a famous pie baker, fantastic baked goods. And so they’ve been, I think, surprised and interested in some of the pies that the students have made. But I think generally while they’ve been interested, it seems that none of the actual innovations that the students have made, may have made it into their recipes. I remember one team used chia seeds as a way to to increase the viscosity of their apple pie filling. So to make it stick together, so it doesn’t, it’s not very runny and liquidy when you slice it and it flows onto your plate. And at that time, Jonathan Gold was one of the judges and he actually wrote about it following his experience as a judge, that one of the downsides of the chia seeds is that they tend to get stuck in your teeth. So while there may have been some development, I’m not familiar with any who have actually impacted the processes of any chefs.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  26:08

Their repertoire, yeah. So one of the things that struck me in some of your public lectures, and I’m wondering if you’ve incorporated that in the class is your whole area of focus around minimizing food waste. And I know Billy Yosses came and, you know, really presented a really valuable lesson on pistachio paste and what you could do with it, which is considered a food waste that you presented at the Eat Well Pod, the Healthy Campus Initiative Food Day that happens every October. How does that play into your work that you’re doing?

Dr. Amy Rowat  26:45

Well, definitely, there’s themes of head-to-tail cooking, or stem-to-leaf cooking, or root-to-leaf cooking, I guess. I can’t remember the title of that lecture, but addressing how we can use all different parts of plants and animals in cooking, and is something that comes up in my class. I’ve contemplated incorporating a section on more quantitative analyses and approaches to characterizing food waste. For example, using carbon footprint calculations, like Jenny Jay here at UCLA has so elegantly done, and others as well. But that hasn’t yet made it into the class. But I think it’s definitely something that could be integrated in but it’s a little bit further afield than the actual biophysics approach of relating the textures of food to plant and animal physiology.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  27:42

Yeah, so explain to me a little bit more about that carbon foodprint and how that would relate to the biophysics. What is carbon footprint? What is that? What do you mean by that?

Dr. Amy Rowat  27:52

So the carbon footprint calculations that, for example, Jenny Jay, has been working on sort of ascribe carbon dioxide emissions to all of the processes that go into the production of a food. So that could relate to, you know, the amount of gas that’s needed to power tractors that have to till the soil, to where the food is transported to be processed. If it’s an animal product, considering how much methane or the carbon emissions from a cow would be important as well. So yes, so I need to think more how that how that would be integrated in, but I’m sure there is a link somewhere.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  28:36

Yeah, and I know that her some of her calculations demonstrate that the carbon foodprint of a beef burrito versus a bean burrito is 10 times greater. So it’s got some interesting ,sort of, connection to the environment and then the food that you eat.

Dr. Amy Rowat  28:52


Dr.  Wendy Slusser  28:53

So you know, you’ve been a professor at UCLA since 2011. But even before that, you had a distinguished career in research as a postdoc at Harvard and a doctorate student in Copenhagen. I’d like to know, how did these previous roles prepare you for your role at UCLA, and as a current leader of the Healthy Campus Initiative Eat Well Pod, focusing on making UCLA the healthiest place to eat, as well as learn, live, and work, and a researcher in biophysics? Like how did all these previous roles and these other places brought you to this place?

Dr. Amy Rowat  29:28

Well, since the age of three or so, I was always in the kitchen cooking and doing projects. They were basically experiments.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  29:39

Since you were three, just like your son.

Dr. Amy Rowat  29:41

Right, yeah. And well, this is what, as I hear the story from my parents, you know, and but there’s photo documentation.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  29:50

Like what?

Dr. Amy Rowat  29:51

Oh, of photos of me in the sink, you know, spooning muffin batter into tins, and even some recipes that I started writing out when before I could really spell. And so, you know, I’ve always been interested in food and cooking, and I contemplated going to chef school. But then I realized that going to graduate school, I could still cook, but it would be harder to still keep doing science while going to chef school. So I ended up at graduate school and then it turned out that my PhD advisor was very excited about food and ended up writing books on scientific aspects of sushi and seaweed and various other topics. So already at that time, I was realizing, and seeing these connections between the research I was working on at that time on lipid membranes, which are very thin nanoscopic layers of fat that surround all the cells in our body, and understanding how the research I was doing related to food. So I think these ideas have been brewing for a very long time, so to speak, right. So then being here, I think, you know, clearly the course development I’ve done before I got to UCLA poised me enough to develop the curriculum further. But all these other past activities, you know, I’d done a lot of volunteering when I was an undergraduate. We used to put on a big banquet each year for, it was our Society of All Nations student organization. And so I was, for many years, was one of the head chefs for that. And we put together this menu and banquet for hundreds of people, I suppose. So yes, I’ve always been involved in food in some ways. So that really all comes in handy. I think when in my work with the Eat Well Pod integrating with, you know, UCLA Dining, and other student organizations. And I’d also in high school volunteered at a food bank for many years. And so all of these topics, you know, come up in our daily discussions and work in promoting knowledge of good food to eat and making that accessible for everyone at UCLA.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  30:14

I mean, that just speaks to the advice to people is, you know, let your passion be your vocation.

Dr. Amy Rowat  32:16


Dr.  Wendy Slusser  32:17

You found a way to really integrate food into your occupation in a big way, it’s pretty cool. Would you say that there were any major research breakthroughs that you’ve done that have been related to your love of food and your knowledge of foods?

Dr. Amy Rowat  32:33

I don’t know, breakthrough is maybe a bit of a strong word. But we had a project a little while ago, where we were trying to figure out why the nucleus inside of the cell changes shape. So this is very commonly used for cancer diagnosis. Pathologists look at the shape of the nucleus inside of cell and they’ll say, oh, that one’s cancerous. They can even do prognosis and say, okay, this one, this is a bad one, this one’s not as bad, based on the shape of the nucleus. So it was a fascinating question from a biophysics perspective. What is it that makes the nucleus round? Why does it change shape? So we had a model cell system we were working with in the lab, but I kept trying to think of something even simpler, we could use to model this kind of shape change. And sort of I was reading a paper one day and came across this example, someone had cited about how these shape changes happen in everyday life, for example, heating a pot of milk, and this skin forms. And you can see the wrinkles across it, especially if you blow on it or something.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  33:40

So the skin of the milk, when you boil it and you have that you don’t like?

Dr. Amy Rowat  33:45

You have that layer, like a bunch of denatured proteins. It’s always gross, right? You always want to remove it, you don’t want that to get into your coffee. So anyways, we set up a system in my lab, mostly undergraduates did all that work of characterizing these wrinkles that form in the skin of milk. And it turns out, it’s driven by this evaporation of the water across the film of the milk, coupled with the material properties of the milk film itself. And you can start to see these morphological changes. And we characterize those, I can’t say that it provides any deep insight into the cell nucleus per se, but it was a paper that we published. So that’s I think the best example so far of how food topic has sort of made it into the lab, but we’re constantly thinking about new ideas. So we’ll see where that goes in the future of how food, or least edible molecules will make it into the lab.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  34:45

I think that this kind of integration or this sort of cross-collaboration of chefs, scientists has translated to something that you just achieved, I think, a real accomplishment. You’re a co-principal investigator on one of the first National Science Foundation’s grants is looking at training doctorate students in water, energy and food. And I’d like to know, you know, give me a little bit more information about that, and what are your hopes for that grant?

Dr. Amy Rowat  35:17

Well, I think it’s definitely an exciting and much-needed support for training, given the challenges we face in energy and water. And you know, food is really central because to that, because food production really heavily relies on water, and so.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  35:32

And energy.

Dr. Amy Rowat  35:33

And energy, yes. So, yeah, I think that the educational opportunities it’s going to provide for students, including internships in companies and nonprofits nearby, where they’ll be able to gain firsthand experience in some of these issues, like, for example, potentially, some of these plant-based food companies that are developing novel ways of making food that’s more sustainable. And so that’s a possible new direction of work for my own lab as well. So I think there’s some exciting potential.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  36:06

So you’re saying in your own lab, you might be looking towards developing food products or food?

Dr. Amy Rowat  36:13

Yeah, and understanding more how I could develop plant-based scaffolds, for example, for cells to grow on for cell culture, and possibly for food production down the line, but my lab would focus on more not developing a food product, but more of the basic research angle of it.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  36:33

What does that mean, when you say basic research aspect?

Dr. Amy Rowat  36:36

So not developing a product that will be in a supermarket that people could eat, but understanding more fundamentally, how cells might behave when they’re on a scaffold of some plant-based molecules versus some animal-based molecules like gelatin or something that could in the end, provide a more sustainable way for cells to be grown.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  37:00

So helping cells grow that might be ultimately food?

Dr. Amy Rowat  37:05

Right. But there’s not more I can say about that, right?

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  37:07

Yeah. But it’s an idea that might go forward in the future. That’s pretty cool. So I’d love to, you know, understand from your point of view, what kind of advice would you give others how to become a scientist like you?

Dr. Amy Rowat  37:23

Well, I think following your passion is really key. Because whatever one does, but being in science, especially academics, I’d say, just requires a lot of hard work and perseverance. And so being passionate and excited about what you do is, I think, one of the really key points, like you had mentioned already.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  37:46

Yeah, like, let your passion be your vocation.

Dr. Amy Rowat  37:49


Dr.  Wendy Slusser  37:49

Yeah, and is there a particular researcher that you admire?

Dr. Amy Rowat  37:54

I would say, not one particular researcher, but in general researchers, such as you know, Linus Pauling, who did really great science research in many different disciplines, but also some activism. You know, Ursula Franklin is another great Canadian physicist, who as a woman in science, you know, I appreciate that she was someone I admired. Back when I was an undergraduate, who was doing, again, great research in physics, but also she wrote several books and also an activist herself. So I think I’ve always sort of gravitated to admiring researchers whose impact has spanned many disciplines, and which is perhaps natural. And translates their knowledge to the community as well. So that’s more of the theme of researchers who I admire.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  38:50

Well, like so maybe to sort of build on that, is there some kind of recipe that you particularly yearn for when you are feeling nostalgic that you’d like to share?

Dr. Amy Rowat  39:02

I mean, macaroni and cheese was always my very favorite dish that my mom made for all my birthday parties. So that’s always a great dish to eat, as well. Delicious, yeah, and I discovered a great new recipe recently from J. Kenji Alt, who wrote the Food Lab recently. And it’s a very easy one-pot meal that’s very simple to make. You can do it in like five minutes. So you might want to add that to your repertoire as well.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  39:34

Oh, definitely.

Dr. Amy Rowat  39:35

But otherwise, nostalgic. I mean, I always loved making pies. And that’s something also that I always enjoyed eating as a child as well. Those are probably the top two, carrot cake.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  39:47

So all those bring you back to something, a happy moment.

Dr. Amy Rowat  39:51


Dr.  Wendy Slusser  39:52

Well, thank you, Amy, so much. Incredible. You’re just such a treasure here at UCLA. Being a leader of the Healthy Campus Initiative Eat Well Pod has just been a true joy for all of us to have you participate in really creating the healthiest campus in the country. So thank you so much.

Dr. Amy Rowat  40:09

Thank you.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  40:13

Thank you for tuning into UCLA Live Well. For more information about today’s episode and the resources mentioned, visit our website at healthy.ucla.edu/livewellpodcast. Today’s podcast was brought to you by the Semel Healthy Campus Initiative Center at UCLA. To stay up to date with our episodes, subscribe to UCLA Live Well on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen to podcasts. Get to know us a little better and follow us @healthyucla. If you think you know the perfect person for us to interview next, tweet your idea to us, please. Have a wonderful rest of your day, and we hope you join us for our next episode as we explore new perspectives on health and well-being.

0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.