An Indian couple celebrate double graduation in New Zealand

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Mumbai: Husband and wife Amit and Namrata Taneja have had plenty to celebrate lately – the couple both graduated from Massey University’s College of Health.
They met while studying food science at GND University in their hometown of Amritsar, Northern India, in 2000. Four years later, and now engaged, Dr Taneja moved to New Zealand to study at Massey University’s Manawatū campus, leaving his fiancée behind. After 18 months apart, the couple were reunited, and married shortly after Dr Taneja completed his Master’s degree in late 2005.

Earlier this month, Dr Taneja graduated with a Doctorate of Philosophy, while Mrs Taneja graduated with a Master of Food Technology with Distinction. They live in Lynfield, West Auckland, with their seven-year-old son.

Dr Taneja, 37, jokes that his wife has been incredibly patient. “Not only did I leave her during our engagement to pursue study in New Zealand, but she waited for me to complete my thesis so we could graduate together. My son was born at the same time as my PhD confirmation, so it has been a journey for the whole family.”

His PhD thesis focused on drying emulsions, and the changes that take place when spray drying milk protein stabilised emulsions with high oil content. “Drying into a powdered format is a convenient way of increasing the shelf life of perishable emulsions and is generally carried out using spray drying. It is important that spray drying does not affect the structure of the emulsion as this may negatively impact the physical and chemical properties of the resulting powder.

“The effect of heating the emulsions before spray drying was also examined. I found that an optimum level of protein is essential in order to preserve the emulsion structure during drying. The impact of heat treatment can also be minimised through the modification of emulsion composition. My research confirmed that in-depth understanding of the impact of emulsion composition and processing conditions used is crucial for designing new powdered emulsion products.”

Currently employed by Danone Nutricia as technology manager, Dr Taneja looks after the new base powder development portfolio for New Zealand made early life nutrition. “I work with the teams in the Danone Nutricia plant to develop new base powders in the factory which are used to make products such as Aptamil toddler and Karicare toddler milks. I also work with any New Zealand base powder suppliers to make sure they deliver the nutritional values and quality we expect for our products.”

He has always been keen to work at the forefront of innovation. “It’s a real motivator. I love looking forward, reading new materials and investigating how to apply knowledge and science. It’s really exciting and innovative work. My passion lies between the interface of research and the industrial side of things.”

Mrs Taneja’s research was about maximising the viability of probiotic strain Lactobacillus casei, at ambient storage by optimising growth conditions and drying conditions. She also looked at alternative drying techniques, such as fluidised bed drying as a lower energy intensive alternative to more expensive freeze drying.

The couple’s graduation was a family affair. Dr Taneja’s sister and niece attended the graduation ceremony. “Unfortunately, my parents couldn’t attend, but the live feed service of the graduation ceremony was brilliant. Initially my father, an eye surgeon and a professor in a medical school in India, was disappointed he couldn’t make it, but his disappointment turned to joy once he was able to see us on the live feed,” he says.