Ana­lyzing the lipid con­tent of dried animal skin on co-​​op last summer with the Uni­ver­sity of Crete in Greece has inspired fourth-​​year chem­istry major Vic­toria Ronga to pursue a career as a food chemist.

I had a mindset that I was going to do organic syn­thesis and work for a phar­ma­ceu­tical com­pany, but this co-​​op opened my eyes to so many other things you can do with chem­istry,” Ronga said.

In Crete, the student-​​researcher used nuclear mag­netic res­o­nance spec­troscopy to ana­lyze lipid con­tent in goatskin donated by the Uni­ver­sity of Ljubl­jana in Slovenia.

Ronga said animal skin with high con­cen­tra­tions of free fatty acids is indica­tive of increased degra­da­tion. Animal skin degra­da­tion, she noted, is an impor­tant factor for art preser­va­tion­ists to con­sider when choosing restora­tion methods.

It was incred­ible to see the phys­ical sci­ence behind his­tory,” Ronga said. “Everyone was shocked to find out that I was working with archae­o­log­ical materials.”

The unusual nature of the expe­ri­en­tial learning oppor­tu­nity encour­aged Ronga to explore the poten­tial of com­pleting her next co-​​op in the field of food chem­istry, which she called the “black magic of the chem­istry world.”

The Reading, Mass., native said Chicago and New Jersey are hubs for food chemists, who use their exper­tise to engi­neer nat­ural and arti­fi­cial fla­vors. As Ronga put it, “It’s more an art form than pure science.”

Her love for food, chem­istry and the unknown pulled her in this direc­tion. Ronga gave one example of com­bining all three pur­suits. “There’s a lot of chem­istry involved in baking,” she explained. “If you know the chem­istry behind it, then you can make some­thing new.”

What’s her favorite food? “Any­thing with sugar in it,” she quipped. “I have a major sweet tooth.”

Ronga, who lived in Crete with stu­dents from Spain and Fin­land, encour­aged stu­dents studying or working abroad to build a peer sup­port system. “It was like having a family in a for­eign country,” said Ronga, who expressed interest in com­pleting a second inter­na­tional co-​​op. “We helped each other with everything.”