Dr. Anup Sharma poses with Raman spectrometer in his AAMU physics lab.
Huntsville, Ala. ---- A group of Alabama A&M University researchers have been awarded a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) grant to conduct research on novel ways to detect food contamination.
The public’s trust in a consistently safe food supply chain is so essential to the maintenance of everyday life that DHS has awarded a $98,000 grant to fund interdisciplinary research at AAMU that pairs gifted food scientists with two of the University’s leading physicists.
Physicist Anup Sharma received a grant from the DHS National Center for Food Protection and Defense (NCFPD) to further develop a laser technique useful in the detection of contamination in addition to honing in on significant quality variations in food.
Recently, Dr. Sharma, under a contract with the Army’s Aviation and Missile, Research, Development and Engineering Center (AMRDEC), made inroads with a technique known as “standoff Raman spectroscopy” to help find explosive chemicals in objects from a distance of a few hundred meters. The procedure entailed “shooting” an infrared laser beam at a distant target and collecting the resulting “chemical signature” via telescope.
The new award will enable physicists Sharma and Paul Ruffin to work with AAMU food scientists Armitra Davis and Judith Boateng to apply the same Raman spectroscopy technique to food science applications, more specifically for the identification of contaminants, as well as any notable changes in food product ingredients.
“The nature and source of food contamination, whether deliberate or accidental, can be very diverse,” noted Dr. Sharma. “It can include bacteria, agrochemicals, industrial waste, animal-related drugs, heavy metals and chemicals.”
The laser technique could potentially identify toxic elements and biological pathogens in common-use food and could do so from a safe distance of several meters, Sharma said.
If the AAMU team is successful in its research into the novel application of the standoff Raman laser technique, then they could open up additional avenues to monitor the food supply chain through new methodologies.
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- Jerome Saintjones