Darren Saunders, ESR Senior Scientist based in Christchurch, has been awarded the 2018 Shimadzu Prize for Industrial and Applied Chemistry for his work in food chemistry. The NZ Institute of Chemistry awards the prize annually for meritorious achievement in the field of industrial or applied chemistry. It was first awarded in 1978.
One of Darren’s areas of specialty is food forensics. He and his team often work for industry and the government to address safety, quality and authenticity concerns in products. An example of their work has been to test for chemical contaminants in spices available in New Zealand.
“Sometimes synthetic colours long banned from food will be added to spices to intensify their colour, but some of those ingredients are illegal or pose a food safety risk,” he says.
Another project Darren has been involved in is testing the authenticity of Manuka honey. “In such cases, we might be asked to serve as an independent verifier for an exporter or importer of products or ingredients.”
The team is also frequently called in to confirm that the ingredients within a product are what’s stated on the label. “For example, we might be asked to undertake an analysis of a natural extract or ingredient to make sure the claims being made are accurate and it is what it purports to be.
Darren says he is mindful of the many worthy people put forward for the award. "I'm quite surprised and humbled that it came to me." He thanks ESR and previous colleagues for support over the years. "I've had a lot of fun getting there."
Darren has been passionate about chemistry since childhood. He still remembers visiting his chemist to buy ingredients to make gunpowder. He says, "It began with Mickey Mouse in Fantasia who got me thinking about the magic of alchemy as a child and the pharmacist who happily sold a little boy all the ingredients to make gunpowder in the more health and safety liberal eighties."