When Potatoes Fly


In the December 22, 2012 on-line issue of our local paper (the News & Observer), I spotted an interesting image. It was several sacks of potatoes comfortably relaxing in an airplane seat. My first impression was that they must not fly much because they were stuck in the middle seat in coach, then I wondered, just where were they going? This tongue-in-cheek account of an article written by Associate Press reporter Jason Keyser described how bags of potatoes were being used as “stand-ins” for passengers as engineers for Boeing Co. were developing better ways to assure a uniform signal for in-flight Wi-Fi. Why did they use potatoes? Because they needed a material with dielectric properties similar to humans. Where do you find such information on materials? Why in Journal of Food Science of course. The engineers doing the testing for Wi-Fi signal distribution had found the article by O. Sipahioglu and S.A. Barringer on “Dielectric properties of vegetables and fruits as a function of temperature, ash, and moisture content” (Journal of Food Science, 2003, 68(1):234–239). Without firsthand information, I can only assume that after perusing the data for 10 vegetables and 5 fruits that they decided the optimal subject was the potato.

The point I would like to convey with this example is the interconnection of all scientific endeavors. We tend to put many labels on science and technology. How often have we heard the debate between basic and applied research; or the more recent terminology of basic and translational research. By claiming the title of Journal of Food Science, we are implicitly focused on understanding food, but this should not be narrowly interpreted. Using principles developed in polymer chemistry and physics regarding properties such as glass transitions and gelation point has been instrumental in moving the science of food forward. Likewise, the many advances in molecular biology have provided research tools than have expanded our understanding of both bacteria we use to ferment foods and those that can cause food-borne illness. All food science research should have similar goals of 1) identifying a phenomena or problem of interest, 2) formulating a hypothesis, and 3) using the best scientific tools available that measure the properties which will allow us to evaluate our hypothesis. The scientific method inherently has no designation of basic, applied, or translational; just a goal to generate new or refined knowledge. That goal, the generation of new or refined knowledge regarding foods, is the most fundamental goal of the Journal of Food Science. However, we also hope to be contributing to the vast world of science and technology. If you have a “potatoes for WiFi testing”-like story regarding your research published in the Journal of Food Science, I would be happy to hear about it. A forthcoming editorial could possibly be on the topic of “best non-food uses for information on foods.”



E. Allen Foegeding, Ph.D.

Editor in Chief