Dr. Yeonhwa Park is an Associate Professor in the Department of Food Science here at UMass Amherst. Dr. Park was born and grew up in Seoul, South Korea and attended undergraduate and graduate school (MS) at the Seoul National University, majoring in Pharmacy. She then came to the University of Wisconsin, Madison to attain her Ph.D. degree. She chose to study pharmacy because her father wanted her to have a major with job security and her brother was already studying pharmacy as well. She liked studying pharmacy because she liked knowing that she could potentially help others with their health. By the time she graduated with her MS degree, she wanted to reach more people, so she decided to study Food Science.
Dr. Park did not know much about food science until she began looking into graduate school. She applied to Pharmacy graduate school in the US but realized that most of pharmacy research was not what she would like to do. She wanted to reach the general public rather than only those with specific diseases. At the same time, Dr. Park's Ph.D. advisor in Food Science was looking for a student with her background, so it was a perfect opportunity. Dr. Park says that all of these factors drove her decision, but getting to do the research she was interested in was most important to her.
Dr, Park's current research interests include determining biochemical mechanisms of food bioactives and the role of environmental chemicals in the development of obesity and type 2 diabetes. Students in her lab will conduct a research project using food bioactives (compounds found in food) for the prevention of obesity. 1-2 Ph.D. graduate students will directly supervise them. Students will study an animal model called Caenorhabditis elegans, which is a nematode with a short life span. They will learn how to grow, treat with a particular food component, and determine overall body fatness and life-span in these nematodes, including learning biochemical mechanisms of how body fat and aging are regulated in the body. This research experience will offer thought on how food influences our body, not just provides energy, but also changes our biology. Skills learned during this summer program are not limited to the field of study in food, but rather include skilss that can be used in other areas, such as medicine, pharmacology, biology, biochemistry, etc. Thus, students will complete this program with a good idea of how research in those fields is done and also help them decide whether they want to pursuit a career in the biomedical field.
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