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Meet Chris Northard!

Meet Chris Northard, food scientist and ultimate frisbee athlete!

Hi, I'm Chris Northard!

What kind of work do you do?

I work as a food scientist in the Research & Development department at Saputo Dairy Foods. My job focuses on the development of dairy products such as cottage cheese, sour cream, and ice cream mix.
Many of the dairy foods you eat start as a simple concept, from a shake at your favorite ice cream shop to the cottage cheese at your local grocery store, and it’s my job to take that concept and turn it into a formula, to take that formula through the testing phase, and finally to oversee the large scale production of that product.
The world of food is constantly changing as consumers call for healthier products, cleaner labels, and natural flavors. As new trends develop, it is the food scientist’s responsibility to be aware of these trends and to be continually providing food that meets the consumer’s demands.

How did you become interested in biology, and what did you study?

I’ve always been fascinated by science. In college I essentially split my time three ways between biology, chemistry, and anatomy/physiology. What I liked about biology was it was so diverse and I could go from studying microbiology and looking at an organism on the cellular level, and then turn around and study an entire population of organisms in ecology. It was being able to understand how something at a micro level can affect something much larger that made me interested in biology.
Food works in a very similar way. Understanding what is going on at the microscopic level can help you understand how your finished product is going to function and what it’s going to taste like, such as the way proteins contribute to the body and mouthfeel of sour cream. While food scientists typically have more of a chemistry background, the great thing about biology is it is applicable to so many different careers and a strong biology background can get you into a lot of different fields.

What do you do for fun in your spare time?

In college I played ultimate frisbee, and I continue that today by playing in a couple of leagues as well as coaching a local high school team. I love watching sports and cheering for my favorite basketball team, the Minnesota Timberwolves, as well as my favorite soccer team, Liverpool FC.
Chris playing ultimate frisbee.
I also try to keep myself busy by going to as many concerts as possible and listening to as much new music as I can. Currently, I can’t stop listening to the new album by The Last Shadow Puppets. I also enjoy playing guitar as well as a few other instruments. Some other hobbies of mine include napping, eating pizza, running through the grass barefoot, and shutting down my friend Brian Theisen in pick-up basketball.

What’s your one piece of advice for people interested in biology?

Take as many opportunities as you can to try new things. Before discovering my interest in food science, I tried a wide variety of different jobs and internships, I even spent some time interning as a zookeeper.
Don’t be afraid to sign up for a class or apply for an internship because you’re worried you might not enjoy it. Much like research and development, finding the right career requires trial and error. As a wise co-worker once described research and development to me, “You have to kiss a few frogs before you find a prince”.

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