Current Staff

Karthik Pandalaneni, Ph.D., Assistant Director, [email protected]

Karthik Pandalaneni

Dr. Karthik Pandalaneni joined PPIC in November 2020 as Manager of Operations and assumed the role of Assistant Director in June 2022. As the Assistant Director of PPIC, he oversees research projects, conducts member relationships, and coordinates PPIC events and communications. Additionally, Karthik seeks out research funds for the center from federal and state commodity groups, and develops research grant proposals. Prior to working for PPIC, he was a Global Application Scientist. He completed his Ph.D. in Food Science from Kansas State University (2018). During his Ph.D. he worked on improving dairy processing techniques in lactose crystallization and evaluating high protein dairy beverage stability by studying ingredient functionality in the application. He obtained his Master’s in Food Biotechnology from the University of Leeds, UK, in 2010 and his Bachelor’s degree in Industrial Biotechnology from India, in 2009. He enjoys spending time with his wife and daughter, and exploring all that Minnesota has to offer, especially in the summertime! 

Echo Crawford, MS, Research Project Manager, [email protected]

Echo Crawford

Echo Crawford joined the PPIC team in April 2024 as a Research Project Manager. She graduated from the University of Georgia with a Master of Science in Food Science. Her research focused on evaluating processing conditions and hydrocolloid addition on the functional properties of Aquafaba (the cooking water from chickpeas) and exploring optimal conditions of processing and hydrocolloid addition to use it as an egg substitute in cake. While at UGA, Echo also taught in the Food Processing Lab - getting hands-on experience with pilot plant level equipment. After graduating, Echo went on to work as a project coordinator for a safety and regulatory compliance consulting group before spending time working in Quality and Operations for a protein powder/dietary supplement company. As a vegan for over a decade, Echo has had a longstanding passion for animal protein substitutes and interest in new and sustainable plant-based foods. In her free time, you’ll likely find Echo in the air doing circus arts – with dance trapeze, aerial hoop, and aerial silks as her main disciplines – or cooking up a storm.

Adiella Abelseth, BGS-Education, Communications Generalist, [email protected]

Adiella Abelseth

Adiella joined the PPIC team in February 2021 in an administrative role. She graduated from Simon Fraser University (Canada) with a Bachelor of General Studies in Education in 2014. A Bachelor of General Studies allowed her to have a balanced education between the arts and sciences. For 6 years she taught in elementary schools in Brazil and England. During that time, she spent many hours editing a number of Food Science and Engineering research papers. After years of working with children, including one year of online schooling during covid, Adiella can appreciate the importance of projects being visually appealing and well organized. She brings an artistic side to updating and managing our PPIC website, as well as producing promotional material.


Serap Vatansever, Ph.D., Postdoctoral Researcher, [email protected]


Serap Vatansever, Ph.D., joined PPIC as a postdoctoral researcher in August 2021. Her current research focuses on nutritional, structural, functional, and flavor characteristics of various plant proteins and their processing. Serap received her doctoral degree in the Cereal Science Program as well as a graduate level certificate in the Statistics at North Dakota State University, USA, in May 2020 and then was a postdoctoral research associate at South Dakota State University (SDSU), USA, between June 2020 and August 2021. She focused on enhancing the utilization of pulse ingredients in the food system through flavor modification using supercritical carbon dioxide extraction during her doctoral program. During her postdoctoral study at SDSU, she investigated the effects of diverse storage conditions on the nutrient and functional characteristics of pulse flours as well as supervising three graduate and eight undergraduate researchers for other research activities at the laboratory. She also had experiences on pulse ingredient functionalities and their food applications, sensory evaluation of foods, food fermentation, food microbiology and biotechnology, other food processing technologies, and applied statistics over five years. Serap concluded her B.Sc. (2009) and M.Sc. (2012) in the Department of Food Engineering at Pamukkale University in Turkey. Also, she was an exchange student through Erasmus Program for a year in the Department of Food and Nutrition at University of Helsinki, Finland, during her undergraduate program. Serap has published fourteen journal articles and one book chapter, and presented various technical presentations globally. Serap is an active member of the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT), American Oil Chemists’ Society (AOCS), and Cereals and Grains Association. She is the recipients of “Elwood F. Caldwell Scholarship Award for Volunteer Service of MN IFT Section” in 2020 and “Outstanding Volunteer Award of IFT Protein Division” in 2021.

Sima Saeidy, Ph.D., Postdoctoral Researcher, [email protected]

Sima Saeidy

Dr Sima Saeidy joined PPIC team in October 2022 as a postdoctoral associate. She graduated from Isfahan University of Technology (IUT), Iran with a Ph.D. degree. Her research focused on the extraction of Ferula assa-foetida gum (an endemic gum exudates) and the chemical characterization of its polysaccharide and protein. During her PhD, she enrolled in the Chemical Engineering, Applied Thermodynamics and Biosystems (GePEB) team at Clermont-Auvergne University in France working on several methods of structural elucidation of the gum including NMR, HPLC, GC-Mass/Mass, etc. Sima has expertise in the characterization and improvement of functional properties of hydrocolloids as emulsifying, foaming and thickening agents. As a postdoctoral researcher in IUT she worked on technology development for extraction of value-added components from sugar beet by-products. She conducted several industry projects, advised numerous graduate students, and taught at the university as well. As a researcher at PPIC, she will be working with Professor Pam Ismail attending optimization of protein extractions from different plant sources, as well as novel functionalization technologies to improve textural, nutritional, and flavor properties of protein ingredients and products. In her free time and for special occasions Sima enjoys baking and decorating cakes!  

Christopher Sherve, BExSc, MClinExPhys, Researcher II, [email protected]

Christopher Sherve

Christopher Sherve is a Researcher II in the Plant Protein Innovation Center and Dr. B. Pam Ismail’s Lab located in the Department of Food Science and Nutrition at the University of Minnesota. He joined in February of 2022 after coming from General Mills (GMI) as a Lab Technician in their Analytical Lab at the Oat Production Plant in Fridley MN. Chris finished his course work in Biology in the Spring of 2020 before beginning work at GMI the following fall.  Before beginning his food science career path Chris was an Exercise Physiologist and Cross Country/Track and Field Coach during which he completed a Masters degree in Clinical Exercise Physiology from the University of Mary, Bismarck ND in 2016.

Mendora Creek, B.S., Research Specialist, [email protected]

Medora Creek

Medora joined the PPIC team in January of 2023 as a Research Specialist. She graduated from the University of Minnesota with a bachelor’s in Food Science and minor in Chemistry. During her undergraduate career, she participated as a research assistant in various in vivo projects studying Salmonella control and prevention in turkeys. Prior to joining PPIC, Medora was working as a lab technician in a food microbiology testing laboratory. In her free time, you can find her trying new recipes and crafts, and exploring new places. 

Taylor Otness, B.S., Research Specialist, [email protected]

Taylor Otness

Taylor joined PPIC as a Research Specialist in June of 2023 after receiving his Bachelor's degree in Food Science and Nutrition from the University of Minnesota in the Spring of 2023. During his studies, Taylor worked as an undergraduate research assistant studying cereal grains and the effects of non-thermal processing on the functionality of wheat flours and doughs. He has passion for sustainable resource and nutrition. He is currently considering returning to the University of Minnesota for his Master's degree in Food Science. Taylor is an outdoor enthusiast, spending his free time with hobbie like camping, cycling, rock climbing and snowboarding.

Katie Engel, B.S., Research Specialist, [email protected]

Katie Engel

Katie joined PPIC in May 2023 as a research specialist after graduating from the University of Minnesota with a bachelor’s degree in Food Science and minor in Nutrition. During her undergraduate studies, Katie completed internships in R&D, test kitchen, and confectionery positions where she developed artisan and novelty chocolates in addition to reducing waste streams of snack products. She is now focusing on plant protein research prior to pursuing a Master’s degree in Food Science. In her free time, Katie enjoys baking, reading, playing piano, and going to hockey games.

Kavan O'Rouke, B.S., Research Specialist, [email protected]

Kavan O'Rouke

Kavan joined the PPIC team in January of 2024 as a research specialist after receiving his Bachelor of Science in Food Science from the University of Minnesota in the Fall of 2023. During his time at the University, he worked as an undergraduate research assistant with several projects including oat protein extraction and fractionation, camelina and pennycress protein extraction and ultrafiltration, and hemp protein extraction. Kavan has a passion for a sustainable food future and enjoys working with alternative protein sources, processes and plant-based foods. During the Summer of 2023, he had the opportunity to work as an R&D Intern at PURIS, focusing on sustainable protein applications in the industry. He hopes to continue his studies at the University of Minnesota and work towards a Master of Science in Food Science. Outside of school, Kavan enjoys making music, baking sourdough, and exploring new places.

Mathias Marvel Gunawan, B.S., Research Specialist, [email protected]

Mathias Gunawan

Mathias joined the PPIC team in February of 2024 as a research specialist after receiving his Bachelor of Science from the University of Minnesota in Food Science and Nutrition in Fall of 2023. He worked as an undergraduate research assistant during his time at the university, focusing on amino acid digestion,
anion exchange chromatography and size exclusion chromatography on pea proteins. Mathias has an interest in product development specifically for animal protein substitutes. He is currently considering returning to the University of Minnesota to pursue a master’s degree in food science. In his free time, he likes to play volleyball, go sightseeing, and play video games.

Sarra Grazza, MS Food Safety/Microbiology, PPIC Intern, [email protected]

Sarra Grazza

Sarra joined the PPIC team in August 2023 as a PPIC Intern. She graduated with a Master of Science in Food Safety and Microbiology from the American University of Beirut, Lebanon. Her research focused on the microbial safety of food products with an emphasis on antimicrobial resistance (AMR) spread in the food chain. She also holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Biology (Honors) from the Lebanese American University, Lebanon. Sarra completed both her master’s and bachelor’s degrees as a recipient of the fully funded Tomorrow's Leaders Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI) scholarship funded by the U.S. Department of State for excellent academic standing and leadership potential. During her undergraduate journey, Sarra was also awarded a fully-funded opportunity to attend the University of California, Berkeley for an exchange semester in the United States. Sarra has acquired extensive research and laboratory skills working as a graduate student researcher at the Food Microbiology laboratory at the American University of Beirut where she developed experimental protocols and contributed to the AMR research taking place at the Faculty of Agricultural and Food Sciences.

Samara Silva Pituco, M.S. Food Quality and Safety, PPIC Intern, [email protected]

Samara Silva Pituco

Samara joined the PPIC team in September 2023 as a PPIC Research Intern. She graduated with a Master of Science in Food Quality and Safety from the Polytechnic Institute of Bragança (IPB), Portugal. She also holds a Bachelor’s degree in Food Engineering from the Federal University of Technology – Paraná (UTFPR), Brazil. Samara's academic journey was enriched by international experiences. Prior to beginning her Bachelor's degree, she was awarded with a full scholarship for a cultural exchange program in San Francisco, California. During her undergraduate studies, she participated in a double diploma degree program that enabled a year-long academic adventure in Portugal, with affiliations to both UTFPR and IPB. She is a PhD Student Member of the Mountain Research Center (CIMO), Polytechnic Institute of Bragança (IPB), Portugal, and Laboratory of Separation and Reaction Engineering and Laboratory of Catalysis and Materials (LSRE-LCM), University of Porto, Portugal. Samara is currently pursuing her PhD in Chemical and Biological Engineering at the University of Porto, Portugal, and her thesis focuses on developing integrative and sustainable approaches to valorize protein fractions from Spirulina biomass as natural emulsifiers and colorants. Beyond her academic pursuits, Samara loves hearing people's stories and experiences. Family holds a special place in her heart, and she finds joy in spending time with them, especially around the dining table where her passion for cooking comes to life. Samara's character is further enriched by her faith, and she firmly believes in the harmonious coexistence of faith and reason.

Sarah Martinez, Ph.D., Program Development Consultant, [email protected]

Sarah Martinez

Sarah joined the PPIC team in March 2021 and assists the PPIC Director, Dr. Pam Ismail, in developing and managing relationships with external stakeholders of plant protein research. She retired recently to Oregon after over 28 years in corporate R&D. Her last role was a director of product development at Hill’s Pet Nutrition (a division of Colgate-Palmolive). Prior to that, she held several scientist and management positions at Mead Johnson Nutritionals (previously a division of Bristol-Myers Squibb Inc).  In both roles, Sarah played a key role in a number of fat, protein and hydrocolloid technology development initiatives. Her passion for innovation in food science is demonstrated in numerous successful commercial product launches as well as issued patents and patent applications. Sarah was the President of the Oregon Section of the Institute of Food Technologists (OSIFT). She got her MS and PhD degrees in Food Science from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Her B.S. degree in Food Technology was from the University of the Philippines.