Charlene Van Buiten – Food Science and Human Nutrition

Charlene Van Buiten is a new CMB faculty member in the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition. Her research focuses on the biochemical functionality of plant-based foods in treating chronic inflammatory diseases of the gastrointestinal tract and how processing techniques can be used to enhance their health benefits. Dr. Van Buiten has a strong background in biochemistry research and food science.


Describe your career path.

I became interested in food and nutrition as a high school student, and decided to pursue a degree in Nutritional Sciences at the University of Connecticut. While I was there, I got involved with food chemistry research, studying the influence of the electron transport chain on the redox state of myoglobin and resulting color changes in meat products. My focus shifted to plant-based food chemistry as a USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture predoctoral fellow at Pennsylvania State University, where I earned a PhD in Food Science as studying protein-polyphenol interactions and their potential therapeutic applications with respect to celiac disease. I continued my scientific training at Rutgers University in New Jersey for two years on a NIH National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health postdoctoral fellowship studying botanical therapies for metabolic syndrome before joining the Food Science and Human Nutrition faculty at CSU in August 2019.


What made you choose academic over other career paths?

I chose academia over industry because I believe academia provides the best platform for a food scientist, such as myself, to have an impact on the world at large. Through my research, I am able to explore both food quality and healthfulness, whereas an industry position might be somewhat limiting in one of those aspects. I also love to teach and am inspired by the prospect of helping to advance the fields of nutrition and food science by introducing future professionals to the topics that interest and inspire them.


What are the big questions you want to answer through research?

How can we use processing technologies to enhance both the quality and healthfulness of plant – based foods? How do interactions between food components influence their potential to confer health benefits to the consumer? How can we take advantage of naturally occurring interactions between food components to develop novel therapies for chronic inflammatory diseases of the gastrointestinal tract?


What does your research team look like?

I am new to CSU, so the Food Structure and Function Lab has room to grow! Currently, I have one graduate student working in my lab and a couple undergraduates who are getting started with research.


How do you achieve work/life balance?

I find that setting non-work goals holds me accountable to work / life balance. I like to run, so one thing that works for me is signing up for races. If I don’t take the time to train / exercise, I know that I’ll wish I had come race day.


Who is your scientific hero and why?

Rosalind Franklin. In addition to her discoveries regarding structural characterization of DNA, she persevered many societal obstacles throughout her career. The story of her being denied credit for her work is an important reminder to self – advocate and pursue a lab atmosphere were all voices are heard and treated with respect.


What do you know now that you wish you had known in graduate school?

I wish I’d known that no one is expecting you to know everything all the time – you’re there to learn, so if you don’t understand something, it’s in everyone’s best interests if you speak up!


What do you enjoy most about mentoring students?

I enjoy learning about my students’ backgrounds and goals with the intention of finding ways to help them take the next step towards those goals. One of the first things I always ask when meeting with a student is “What led you here and what do you want to do when you’re done?” In a majority of cases, the students I’ve worked with have had different career paths from mine, and have different goals, which gives us each an opportunity to learn from each other in the time that we’re working together.


What do you look for in a graduate student?

I look for creative problem-solvers who are motivated to learn new lab techniques and are passionate about their work.


What would students be surprised to know about you?

I love to travel, mostly for the food- some of the most interesting things I’ve eaten are crickets in Mexico and reindeer tartare in Sweden.


Are you currently looking for students?