Exeter alumnus John Bows, who is now Director of R&D at PepsiCo, worked with third year Natural Sciences students to develop healthier and more sustainable snacks using plant proteins.

Natural Sciences PhD Programme launches with exciting collaboration

The University of Exeter’s innovative Natural Sciences department has teamed up with one of the world’s most famous multinational companies to offer a fascinating new student opportunity.

The partnership comes after Exeter alumnus John Bows, who is now Director of R&D at PepsiCo, worked with third year Natural Sciences students to develop healthier and more sustainable snacks using plant proteins.

Due to the potential of the work that was undertaken, it will now be partly taken forward by a new PhD project funded by PepsiCo.

New nutrition laboratories at Exeter also mean that future generations of project students are going to carry on the partnership, ensuring they get real-world experience.

Professor Geoff Nash, Director of Natural Sciences at Exeter, and who is both a Fellow of the Institute of Physics and The Royal Society of Chemistry, managed the academic side of the project.

Professor Nash said: “Many of our students are going on to study for PhDs, across all the sciences, and we’re really grateful to PepsiCo for enabling this PhD scholarship and their support of our students.

“The previous group project saw the students, using tools such as advanced x-ray imaging, investigate factors such as how different ways of preparing and cooking products affected their micro-structure, which in turn affects both the taste and digestion of the snack.

“They also looked at sustainability factors in production – energy usage, added ingredients and wastage. The final step would be to consider sustainability of sourcing.”

John Bows added: "We have a big focus on innovation and so we’ve been looking not only at how we can make existing products healthier without sacrificing taste, but also what new nutritious products we can introduce.

“Having the mix of students working together in this way is much more like a real-world research team where you have people of all backgrounds and specialities working together. It’s very unusual when studying and I think it gives these students a real advantage when it comes to their future careers.”

Faye Langston, who was one of the students on the original project, has stayed on in Exeter to take the research forward as part of her PhD, supported by PepsiCo.

She said: “We worked with a prototype recipe from PepsiCo and trialled a range of different processing methods to see what impact this would have on things like texture, product density and nutrition.

“Some of the key things we discovered included the fact that boiling time influenced cracker texture, and it was possible to match traditional cracker texture by optimising boiling time, particle size and process (baking) time/temperature. This means it’s possible to create a healthier, plant-based snack that matches what consumers are traditionally used to.”

Faye is also one of the first students to study on the new Natural Sciences PhD programme, which was launched in January 2020. This exciting new programme builds on the extremely successful undergraduate degrees and will allow postgraduate students to pursue research across mathematics and the sciences, unconstrained by conventional boundaries.

Date: 21 January 2020

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