Phil Nelson is an accomplished food science researcher, developing ground-breaking technologies in aseptic processing that have significantly changed the food processing industry worldwide. But Nelson’s finest legacy to the food industry, the academic community and his alma mater may well be the visionary leadership he has given to Purdue’s Department of Food Science, leadership that has fueled the growth and development of the department into one of the nation’s leading programs.
Nelson graduated from Purdue University in 1956 with a B.S. in Horticulture, the home department of food processing work at that time. Following graduation, Nelson served for three years as plant manager of the Blue River Packing Company. In 1961 he returned to Purdue as an instructor in Horticulture. Nelson received his Ph.D. from Purdue in 1967, also in Horticulture, and joined the department’s faculty that same year. In 1975, Nelson was promoted to professor of food science and named director of the Food Sciences Institute. He directed the institute for the next eight years until 1983, when, spurred by Nelson’s vision and leadership, Purdue created a Department of Food Science. Since the department’s inception, he has served as its only head. The department’s growth under his leadership has been truly phenomenal.
During the early years of the Department of Food Science, the Purdue School of Agriculture was faced with downsizing, but Nelson was undaunted in his vision for the department’s programs. He initiated the Whistler Center for Carbohydrate Research, now the premier center of its kind. His own research in aseptic processing made Purdue a leader in that area of technology, and resulted in 12 U.S. and 28 foreign patents. Nelson has presided over the introduction of a wine teaching and research program, and the computer network he developed for the department became the Computer Integrated Food Manufacturing Center. In 1998 USDA selected the department to house its Food Safety Engineering Center. Nelson continues to keep his department at the forefront of industry trends, forming in 199_ the interdisciplinary Center for Functional Foods that brings together researchers from the schools of Agriculture, Pharmacy and Consumer and Family Sciences. Through the years, Nelson has forged partnerships with industry that allowed his department to grow, even during times of university and school austerity. These partnerships have fostered a synergistic relationship that has resulted in the development of a curriculum that is in sync with industry’s changing needs, a 100 percent placement rate for Food Science graduates and the completion of a state of the art Food Science complex in 199_.
Nelson’s service to his profession is extensive. He is a charter member of the Purdue chapter of Phi Tau Sigma, the food science honorary fraternity. He served as the fraternity’s national membership chairman and as its national president. He has served on numerous national committees for the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT), including three years on the Executive Committee. He has twice served on IFT’s National Long Range Planning Committee, and twice he has served as the national chair of the committee, from 1982 to 1986 and from 1995 to 199_. He chaired the Indiana Section of IFT from 1974 to 1977. He has served on several committees for the National Academy of Science, and has served three separate terms as chairman of the North Central Food Science Administrators. Nelson served for nine years as a trustee of the Food Processors Institute, five of them as the institute’s chairman.
Nelson’s research in aseptic technology earned him many accolades, among them the 1976 IFT Industrial Achievement Award, the first time the award was presented to a university professor. Four years later, in 1980, he was named a Fellow of IFT. In 1995, IFT awarded him its highest honor, the Nicholas Appert Award, for preeminence in the field of food science and technology. That same year, the food processing industry presented him its highest award, the Forty-niner Service Award. And in 1997 he was presented the USDA Secretary’s Award for Personal and Professional Excellence in recognition of his sustained demonstration of accomplishment and notable achievements in scientific research.