The scientists who typically toil away outside the public eye at the U.S. Department of Agriculture research facility on Buchanan Street near Interstate 80 in Albany will be under a big spotlight this week.
The USDA's 74-year-old Western Regional Research Center is being honored in a ceremony Thursday for having been awarded "National Historic Chemical Landmark" status by the American Chemical Society, the nation's preeminent professional association for chemists and the world's largest scientific society.
The distinction is being conferred in recognition of the center's research in the chemistry of flavor dating back to the 1940s, according to a press release issued jointly by the American Chemical Society and the Western Regional Research Center (WRRC). The center is part of the USDA's Agricultural Research Service.
The award also makes the center the only institution ever named a National Historic Chemical Landmark twice. In 2002, it was made a landmark for its breakthrough work that enabled the production of safe and stable frozen foods.
The Albany facility developed ways to use such techniques as gas chromatography and nuclear magnetic resonance to identify the volatile chemical compounds that give foods their distinctive flavors. The work often began with processing tons of fruit or other foodstuffs and was gradually refined over the years to produce methods that became widely copied in what is now a $600 billion processed food industry, according to the center.
"The award reflects a huge body of research by a team focused on determining the chemical 'essence' of flavors and odors," according to the center's website.
Dignitaries scheduled to attend the ceremony at the center Thursday include:
- California Secretary of Food and Agriculture Karen Ross
- Catherine Woteki, USDA Under Secretary, Research, Education, and Economics and Chief Scientist
- American Chemical Society President Marinda Li Wu
There are 69 National Historic Chemical Landmarks in the United States listed on the American Chemical Society's website. Five are in California, with four in the Bay Area, including Gilman Hall at UC Berkeley, selected in 1997 for the Department of Chemistry's contributions to chemical thermodynamics and molecular structure and several Nobel Prizes.