uc davis chemical engineering assistant professor teaching glaucia helena carvalho do prado food
Photo: Katherine Hung/UC Davis.

Faculty Spotlight: Glaucia Helena Carvalho do Prado

Assistant professor of teaching Glaucia Helena Carvalho do Prado joined UC Davis in fall 2021, energized by the opportunity to connect with the diverse campus and share her background in food engineering to show students how to apply their skill sets to a variety of fields.

Prado received her Ph.D. in chemical engineering from the University of Alberta, but she came into the field through food engineering. Food engineering, which is popular in her native Brazil, is a combination of food science and chemical engineering that prepares students to work in food processing. As she worked toward her Ph.D. doing petroleum research, she proved how transferrable the skills were.

“Basically, what I had to learn was the behavior and properties of crude oil instead of milk, chocolate, vegetable oil,” she said. “All of the principles—heat transfer, the oxidation reactions, thermodynamics—are the same, you just need to apply it to a new material.”

That insight informs her teaching and it’s something she uses to connect with students in class. She likes to survey her students about career goals and interests so she can use their interests to show how the concepts they’re learning are applicable. This fall, she says one student wanted to develop their own line of skin care products, so she used skin care products as an example to explain supercritical fluids to the class.

“I must have a connection with the students,” she said.

A New Food Engineering Class

Prado is teaching chemical engineering thermodynamics (ECH 152) this fall and will be co-teaching the kinetics and reactor design lab (ECH 155) in winter quarter. She’s most excited, however, to pilot a new undergraduate course in food engineering this spring. She plans to show students how to apply chemical engineering concepts to food systems and teach them the nuances of the industry.

“I want students to think about how entropy that we learn in thermodynamics is related to food products like chocolate, and what that has to do with getting the perfect texture for chocolate,” she said.

While cost, energy efficiency and yield are still important, food engineers also need to think about safety, taste and texture when they design products—something other industries wouldn’t take into consideration.

“Every process parameter that you change, such as temperature and pressure, is going to affect the taste and the texture of the final product and your consumers are going to notice,” she said.

She plans to have students look at case studies in food engineering and complete cooking assignments to learn the concepts that can prepare them for food industry careers.

“I want to expose chemical engineering students to everything that takes place in the food industry so if they end up working as food processing engineers, they have this knowledge,” she said.

Helping Students

As part of her position, Prado will research ways to improve learning in chemical engineering courses and study new forms of assessments beyond homework and tests that may give students a better experience.

Prado was the first in her immediate family to go to college, so she wants to pay it forward by working with women and low-income students in engineering. Her goal is to learn what causes them to quit their programs and what faculty and institutions can do to remove these barriers and increase retention.

She is also interested in researching the career goals of women in chemical engineering around the world. Her food engineering program at the University of Campinas in Brazil was around 80% women, so she wonders if there are similar trends in the U.S., Canada or the Middle East, and if programs can use this to their advantage to get more women into chemical engineering.

“I want to research that and see the difference among different cultures in the career interests of female students,” she said. “Because then you can design the curriculum to attract and improve the number of female students in chemical engineering.”

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