Taking Dairy to Mars and Beyond

Supplying astronauts with enough food to make it to Mars and back to earth is a challenging task for NASA. It’s 140 million miles away and will take at least one year to travel to and from Mars. That doesn’t include an extended stay on the planet.

That’s why Iowa State University food scientists have been testing the effects of radiation on milk products. Tad Beekman, an Iowa State junior in food science and human nutrition, has been helping Lester Wilson, a University Professor in food science and human nutrition, test the effects of solar radiation on food.

“Tad’s working on the effects of radiation on rennet (an enzyme for curdling milk) because NASA would like astronauts to make cottage cheese from dried milk,” Wilson says. “What we’re trying to determine is what happens to the functionality of the enzyme and the dried milk when they are exposed to solar radiation.”

For the past six years Wilson has been working on the study. Now Beekman, Wilson and Christine Eckert, a senior in food science, are analyzing the data to be published in the Journal of Food Science. Beekman, Eckert and Jessica Schaumburg, a senior in food science, presented the results in July at the Institute of Food Technologies convention in Chicago.

Beekman says it’s been a learning experience that helped him understand what’s involved in the scientific process.

“Here’s the knowledge we have, here’s the data we have and we had to figure out why it’s happening as we write our final paper,” Beekman says.

Beekman sees college as the first step in his career. He says everything in college is a learning experience that provides marketable skills for future employment.

“I’m a Student Union Board performing arts co-director and it’s lots of fun, but I’m also learning marketing and management skills,” Beekman says.

He began his college career in animal science, but switched because he wanted to explore the science of food. His internships have provided him experiences related to food science. Last summer
 he interned at Johnsonville in Sheboygan Falls, Wisconsin. The summer before he interned at Newly Weds Foods in Chicago.

“Newly Weds Foods produces spices, batters and breading,” Beekman says.
“I evaluated sodium reduction in their products. It’s an innovative company that’s looking for taste inspirations.”

Beekman is a third generation Cyclone who grew up in Saline, Michigan.

He received a number of scholarships including the Award for Competitive Excellence and the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Dean’s Leadership Scholarship.

Beekman plans to intern at Johnsonville again this summer and to pursue his master’s degree in food science after he graduates. He hopes to pursue a career in food sensory research and innovative product development.