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Tracy Frank, Published January 10 2014

NDSU professor’s work helps wheat farms, markets

FARGO - Senay Simsek wants North Dakota’s wheat quality to be the best in the world. The North Dakota State University associate professor and cereal scientist in the Department of Plant Sciences is in charge of the hard red spring wheat quality laboratories at NDSU.

The labs analyze thousands of hard red spring lines each year for their flour and baking-quality profiles, according to the North Dakota Agricultural Experiment Station. During busy months the lab runs 24 hours a day to make sure the quality analysis is done on time.

Simsek meets with wheat producers, both domestic and international buyers, breeders, wheat pathologists and geneticists. Those meetings will often take her overseas as more than 50 percent of the state’s hard red spring wheat is exported, she said.

She works with farmers and the North Dakota Wheat Commission on developing high-quality spring wheat. She also researches how to develop new markets for hard red spring wheat.

Usually three or four important projects come from interactions with overseas customers, Simsek said. Not only does that research help the customers and farmers, it also gives graduate students who work with Simsek the opportunity to work on finding solutions to real agricultural problems, she said.

She has done research projects with major U.S. food companies, including looking into ways to make refrigerated dough less sticky, she said.

“It’s nice to see that what I work on has real applications,” she said. “The goal is always to improve the marketability or applications of spring wheat in different products.”

Simsek says the best part of her job is that she can help the state’s economy.

“I really like to do research. I do research that helps the state economy and serves the farmers,” she said. “I also like to teach. This is a unique position that combines all of that.”

Simsek is also a prolific writer. Since joining her department at NDSU in 2007, she has published more than 60 peer-reviewed journal articles and more than 80 abstracts.

In the past year alone, she has been awarded two major honors for her work. In September, she received the 2013 American Association of Cereal Chemists International Young Scientist Award for outstanding contributions in basic and applied research to cereal science.

She also won the first NDSU Bert L. D’Appolonia Endowed Associate professorship in Cereal Science and Technology of Wheat.

“In her short time at NDSU, Simsek has built a strong research program that is recognized internationally,” said Rich Horsley, professor and Plant Sciences Department head, in a news release. “She has been very successful in obtaining grants to outfit a laboratory that had minimal analytical equipment when she arrived on campus to one that is fully equipped to address research problems associated with carbohydrate chemistry and wheat quality.”

Some of Simsek’s other awards include the Larson/Yaggie Excellence in Research Award and the Andersons Early-in-Career Award of Excellence from the NC-213 U.S. Quality Grains Research Consortium.

Simsek lives in Fargo and is a mother of three. She grew up in Turkey and earned her bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Bulent Ecevit University in Turkey. She earned her doctorate in food science from Purdue University.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Tracy Frank at (701) 241-5526