Beyond the sensory booths are laboratories, where OSU development engineer Qingyue Ling lets his imagination run wild. Here, he dreamed up a quick, customizable laser tattoo that could replace those annoying paper stickers on fruits and vegetables.
Now, Ling is testing laser perforation technology to improve infusion of sugar into blueberries so they can be quick-dried with less energy and still maintain their shape and texture. Blueberries were one of many fruits he tested when he helped develop a patented process to infuse carbonation into fresh fruit to create an effervescent snack called Fizzy Fruit. In 2006, Popular Science magazine named Fizzy Fruit one of its “Best of What’s New.”
Ling has used radio waves to tune the flow of energy to precisely the amount needed to heat food more rapidly and uniformly than with microwaves. He has also equipped a lab to test Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) as a way to label and track large units of food products. Instead of tracking with barcodes, which need to be visible to be read, RFID uses radio-wave labels that can be scanned in any direction with a push-button sensor. Stacks of crates within a warehouse can be monitored in seconds.
“One salmonella outbreak can cause the recall of 100 million fresh eggs, not because they are all infected but because we don’t know where the infected eggs are,” said Ling. “With RFID, we can quickly track and identify the exact boxes that hold the infected eggs.”
Ling imagines that someday we’ll check out at the grocery store by pushing our cart past a radio frequency sensor that will itemize our groceries, tally the amount due, and prompt the shelves to be restocked. In seconds.