New faculty profile: Audrey Girard specializes in food chemistry

Audrey Girard joined the UW–Madison faculty in May 2021 as an assistant professor in the Department of Food Science.

What is your hometown? Where did you grow up?
I grew up in northwest Kansas. My hometowns are Quinter and Hays, KS.

What is your educational/professional background, including your previous position?
I graduated from K-State with a B.S. in Bakery Science and Management, then went to Texas A&M for a Ph.D. in Food Science and Technology. After my Ph.D., I was a research scientist at A&M working on protein-polyphenol interactions and collaborating with an interdisciplinary team to develop wheat cultivars with superior food quality, as well as teaching a couple of food science courses.

How did you get into your field of research?
Growing up on a farm, I had an innate connection to agriculture and food production. Then, I learned I loved research after working in a professor’s lab early in my undergraduate studies. I love puzzles, and I see scientific research as a never-ending puzzle. So, I continued my education to get a Ph.D. to be able to chip away at that puzzle. Food chemistry is a natural fit.

What are the main goals of your current research program?
My overarching goal is to use protein chemistry to improve food quality and sustainability, as well as to promote human health. Current projects include modifying protein functionality (foam-ability, eating texture, etc.) with polyphenols and reducing off-flavors in proteins. I am excited to develop an inclusive research program that aims to produce high-caliber science while training scientists to be leaders and innovators to solve food-related problems.

What attracted you to UW–Madison?
UW–Madison is a great school with excellent resources. The energy and collegiality here made it a really attractive choice.

What was your first visit to campus like?
In February of 2020, I came to Madison for an in-person interview. Though the weather was cold, I felt the Midwestern warmth and friendliness. To relax between interview days, I ran along the Lakeshore Path – loved it immediately (including the cold and snow)!

What’s one thing you hope students who take a class with you will come away with?
I hope students walk out of my classes with more confidence in their abilities to think through problems and figure things out. Though bits of information are important, we’re all walking around with a world of information at our fingertips. The key is how do we use that information – critical thinking skills are more crucial now than ever.

Do you share your expertise and experiences with the public through social media? If so, which channels do you use?
I infrequently tweet: @Girard_foodsci

Do you feel your work relates in any way to the Wisconsin Idea?
Absolutely. There are a number of tie-ins: improving food processing methods to increase marketability of Wisconsin agriculture products; improving quality and nutritive value of foods for Wisconsin and beyond; and educating future food scientists via courses and current food scientists through industry short courses.

What’s something interesting about your area of expertise you can share that will make us sound smarter at parties?
Enriched flour has B-vitamins (thiamine, niacin, riboflavin) and iron added to it that were lost from the grain during the milling process. This was popularized in the 1940’s and all but eliminated deficiency diseases like beriberi (thiamine deficiency) and pellagra (niacin deficiency). Since the late ‘90’s, enriched flour also has folic acid added to prevent birth defects.

What are your hobbies and other interests?
I read and run daily. I’ve had a library card everywhere I’ve lived, even during internships. Trail running is my favorite kind, but I’ll run just about anywhere. This summer I’m also enjoying vegetable gardening.