In Memory of a World-Leading Food Scientist

Professor Jim Harper (1923-2014), Faculty Emeritus at Ohio State University (USA), passed away on the 13 July.

Professor Jim Harper was well known to many in the New Zealand food industry as a leading food scientist, both in New Zealand and in the United States. He played a huge role in the New Zealand dairy industry during the 1980s. He started the Whey Products Section at the New Zealand Dairy Research Institute (NZDRI) which, over the course of 5 years, developed the ultrafiltration process for whey to produce a range of functional whey protein concentrates. This technique allowed underutilized whey to become a profitable product. These concentrates changed the face of the New Zealand dairy industry as we know it. Jim was made an honorary Fellow of the Royal Society of New Zealand in 1998, in recognition of his contribution to the New Zealand dairy industry.

Professor Peter Munro comments “Jim made a huge contribution to the science needed to develop the whey protein concentrate industry in New Zealand. He tells the story in his own words in a fascinating chapter in the recently published book Whey to Go .”

After leaving his full-time job at NZDRI to resume an academic role at the Ohio State University, Jim returned regularly to the NZDRI, and subsequently Fonterra, during the Northern winter. From 2006 onwards, Dr Harper spent the winter quarter in New Zealand working alongside Dr Mike Boland of the Riddet Institute on a wide variety of topics. These areas of research included nanotechnology, the effects of high-pressure processing on muscle tissue from meat and fish, and protein nutrition for the elderly.

After 2010, then in his late 80s, Jim could no longer maintain his regular visits to New Zealand due to health considerations, but his presence was by no means forgotten. He was honoured at the inaugural Riddet Institute National Conference: “Future of Food” in 2009 with the Harper symposium. This symposium covered the uses of dairy protein in foods of the future. At the symposium, Jim presented a paper on “Foods of the Future”, which concluded with the statement:  and as in the past – the future will surprise and astound us” . A statement that typifies Jim’s interest and excitement about a science-enabled future.

Jim contributed chapters to a number of New Zealand-originated books, including the above-mentioned Whey to Go , the recently published Food Structures, Nutrition and Health and both editions of Milk Proteins: from Expression to Food .

“Those of us who worked with him will remember Jim’s cheerful disposition, his willingness to engage in debate on a wide range of science topics, his passion for supporting and developing students and early career scientists, and his love of a good cup of coffee”, say Dr Mike Boland.

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