September 2022

Switzerland’s got talent: Meet Prof. Ardemis Boghossian from EPFL’s Nanobiotechnology lab

Nanobiotechnology and food science – what’s the connection? Prof. Ardemis Boghossian and her team at EPFL have brought these two fields together to develop intelligent packaging technologies that tackle food waste while keeping consumers safe.

How does your work shape more sustainable food systems?

Our laboratory specializes in applications that require engineering synthetic and biological materials at the nanoscale. Food is one of the most obvious applications here. In food packaging, for example, we have biological food sources interacting directly with man-made materials. We aim to optimize this interaction, to protect, preserve, or even enhance the quality of food.

Tell us about a project that you’re currently developing.

My colleague Niloufar Sharif and I are currently working on developing engineering sensors that can be incorporated into packaging to monitor food quality, such as freshness.

The sensors would detect molecules or gases produced by microorganisms. By measuring these compounds, we can build a picture of the condition of the food itself and its surrounding environment. The sensors communicate this information wirelessly using light that can be detected with portable devices and these devices can let the retailer or consumer know if the product is no longer safe to eat. The sensors can also be used to protect the food against damage, such as over-oxidation.

Once the devices are ready, we’ll need to adjust them to respond to different gases and then start to incorporate them in packaging as tags or labels, and to test them with real food. There’s still more work to be done, but I believe that real-time food monitoring could hold the key to both better waste management and safer food.

How do you see these innovations being used in the longer term?

We initially imagined that this technology would be predominantly used by retailers to ensure food quality in supermarkets. But we’re increasingly seeing opportunities to use this technology to develop B2C solutions too.

The sensors could be integrated into a fridge that could automatically monitor and communicate your food quality and supply. I think this would be a real game-changer for consumers as it would hugely simplify the weekly grocery shop. It could also have a huge impact in terms of food waste – giving consumers the confidence to know if their food is still safe to consume. 

Based on recent advances in fridge technology, I feel like these smart solutions are already on the horizon. I see our work on developing next-generation food packaging as laying the foundations for these innovations. 

How can actors in the Swiss food ecosystem engage with your lab? 

If you’re interested in finding out more about the topics we work on, you can reach out to my colleagues at the EPFL Integrative Food and Nutrition Center. The IFNC’s team acts as an interface between EPFL researchers and the outside world, mostly food industry players. Collaborations always start with a scientific question. Contact Christian Schwab, the Center’s Executive Director, to find out more. 

About Prof. Ardemis Boghassian

Ardemis Boghossian was appointed Tenure Track Assistant Professor at the Institute of Chemical Sciences and Engineering (ISIC) of the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) in 2015. She received her Bachelor of Science in Engineering (B.S.E.) degree in Chemical Engineering from the University of Michigan in 2007. In 2012, she graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) with a doctoral degree (Ph.D.) in Chemical Engineering under the supervision of Michael S. Strano.

She continued her research career as a postdoctoral fellow in the Frances H. Arnold laboratory at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) as a protein engineer, applying methods of directed evolution to engineer cells that can electronically interface with electrodes.

At EPFL, Professor Boghossian implements a highly interdisciplinary approach to addressing fundamental challenges and developing novel technologies that exploit the synergy between nanotechnology and synthetic biology. Through her focal points in the fields of optoelectronics and protein engineering, she contributes new biological and biochemical methods for the production of durable hybrid nanomaterials for energy and biosensing applications.

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