Prestigious Marie Curie Fellowship awarded to early career researcher

Dr Alejandra Acevedo-Fani’s research career is about to take a leap with the award of a prestigious Marie Skłodowska-Curie Individual Fellowship (IF) within the EU Horizon 2020 research programme. These 2-year fellowships are extremely competitive and Dr Acevedo-Fani’s project proposal was recognised with a seal of excellence. She will take up her new position as a Marie Curie Fellow within the Iberian Nanotechnology Laboratory (INL) in Braga, Northern Portugal in March 2020. Dr Acevedo-Fani will be splitting her time equally between Portugal and New Zealand, over the next 4 years, working on both her new fellowship and continuing her Research Officer’s role at the Riddet Institute.

Alejandra is thrilled to receive the fellowship, especially being recognised as one of the programmes best proposals,” I am very excited about this development in my career and the opportunities the fellowship provides. The Marie Curie Scheme is very competitive and although a new call for fellowship applications is open every year, we know that not many get funded. It is highly prestigious and to have my proposal granted is a great reward, as well as it being recognized as high-quality. Horizon 2020 is the biggest EU Research and Innovation programme and it is an honour to be included in it.”

“The advantage of being a Marie Curie Fellow is that it opens up so many opportunities. professionally and it provides career enhancement. This fellowship is orientated to fully support the career development and prospects of the researcher, but both the profile of the institution you are coming from and going to must be high quality. There is a large and well-established community of Marie Curie fellows and this provides not only knowledge exchange opportunities but also networks via gatherings and conferences. Essentially, I lead the project and that is a wonderful learning opportunity for me as an early stage career researcher. With this advantage, I hope that after my fellowship, I can move to a more senior position that will take me to the next level on my career path. And I can enjoy New Zealand and European summers every year!”, Alejandra says.

Dr Acevedo-Fani’s fellowship project is entitled “Advancing Frontiers in personalised foods for seniors through nanotechnology and 3D printing aiming at enhanced nutrition and superior flavour”. Her focus on the elderly section of the population is a conscious choice to anticipate a modern food and nutrition trend. About 25% of the human population is elderly and this sector of the population is growing, especially in Europe. The elderly population have special nutritional requirements: balancing the need for different nutrition together with the issues of slowing appetite and difficulties with chewing and swallowing.

Dr Acevedo-Fani’s project will create new food structures, that provide flavour, health-promoting properties, are visually appealing and deliver the right balance of nutrients whilst being acceptable to the elderly palate. She will apply technology from 3D printing and nanotechnology to improve or design food with personalized nutrition and deliver the right nutrients for elderly people. 3D printing has been used recently to create shapes and limited products but has not been applied to functional foods or personalized nutrition. “From my research interest point of view, I want to do research on future food systems and utilize new nano technologies or materials to create new foods, especially new foods with high nutrition and high value. This interface between food science and nutrition is where I want to enhance my knowledge, as well as learning new tools in nanotechnology and 3-D printing”. she says.

Alejandra will be collaborating and working with Dr Miguel Cerqueira at the Iberian Nanotechnology Laboratory, a leader in the field of nanotechnology applications in Europe. This research institute is made up of Iberian (Portuguese and Spanish) and international scientists and is relatively new – formed about ten years ago by the Iberian governments.  It is hoped this first collaboration will initiate a long-term relationship, working together on new projects and with transfer of staff and students between Portugal and New Zealand. The first of these will be a doctoral student intern who will visit New Zealand with Dr Acevedo-Fani in September 2020.

Distinguished Professor Harjinder Singh, director of the Riddet Institute congratulates Dr Acevedo-Fani and is delighted to retain her expertise within the institute, while also enabling her development. “Alejandra has been a great asset to the Institute since her arrival in 2016. This next step for her will not only develop her as an individual but as an early career researcher and leader. Her plan to return to New Zealand each year ensures the close collaboration with the INL will be maintained and opportunities for others to follow in her footsteps will be created. The joining together of the institutions intellectually is very exciting and provides the opportunity for new areas of research to develop. The seal of excellence is a high endorsement of her calibre as a scientist – something that the team at the Institute know and have benefited from over the last few years. We wish her every success for our new working arrangement.”

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