Trinity College grounds on a beautiful sunny day

Dr Julia Low (TCFS 2007): A taste for discovery

Never afraid to try new things, Julia’s enthusiasm for academic exploration has recently seen her embark on a four and half year journey to the small city of Palmerston North (population of 75,000) in New Zealand.
In 2017, Julia completed her PhD in food sciences, however, the formally trained psychologist admits at the start of her research she did not know much about food sciences.
‘‘I went into my PhD not knowing there are six tastes. I loved Diet Coke and my parents said artificial sweeteners are bad for you and I didn't believe it. I ended up doing my research on sugar, while trying to prove them wrong,” explains Julia.
A claim she continues to refute, with research recently published by the Cancer Council showing that artificial sweeteners do not increase the risk of cancer.
However, Julia also credits her parents for their encouragement and their belief that Julia should find her own calling.
Now, Julia is an expert on sweeteners and carbohydrates and it is this expertise that has seen her chosen as a researcher for the grant at Riddet Institute, Massey University.
Similar to Yakult in Japan, the New Zealand government are currently researching and developing their own microbial strands. Julia’s role is to make sure this strand is palatable for consumers in fermented food products.
“Someone is developing a strand and I’m working on making sure people like it, ensuring it tastes good and trying to understand the reasons why,” says Julia.
One of her key responsibilities will be the training of participants to test the products, which is designed to ensure their perceptions of taste are clearly defined.
This process is familiar to Julia, who was previously involved as a panel member for a strawberry panel and training participants for a toilet paper panel, where individuals were tested for over 200 hours.
“We try to train people so they see, feel or taste something it’s exactly the same, so when something is different, they know the difference.”
Julia is both excited and nervous by the challenge of moving to Palmerston North, with an entire population less than the MCG crowd on Grand Final day.

Last year Julia got married to Damien Kong (TCFS 2007). The pair met on their first day at Trinity, started dating three days later and have been together ever since. She hopes that Damien will soon join her in New Zealand along with their two Pomeranians.
Julia loved her time at Trinity and hopes to return one day, perhaps as a drama teacher. She particularly liked drama class with Joanne Wilson and performing on Drama Night.
“I think I was a beggar in the final play. We actually did very well, I think we got a 9.8.”
Given Julia’s thirst for discovery and experimentation, we expect to hear big news about her research endeavours in the near future.

Photo credit: David Caird, The Herald Sun