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Lab Group

Mar 01, 2016
Our lab focuses in solving practical problems and interesting chemical reactions in food using olives and olive oil as study cases.

Our lab focuses on solving practical problems and interesting chemical reactions in food using olives and olive oil as study cases. We are always open to new members joining our lab (to stay or to visit) when we are able to accommodate them. If you are interested in getting to know us, feel free to send an email. Here are our current team members:


Xueqi Shirley Li

Shirley is the assistant director at the UC Davis Olive Center. Her daily job includes making sure everyone is doing well and feeling happy in the lab, working with Selina on her wonderful and/or crazy research ideas, and assisting Dan with various olive center events and center products sale. When she’s not playing with HPLC or GC in the lab, she likes reading, traveling, snuggling with her cats, and sometimes cooking.

Shirley earned her master’s degree in food science from UC Davis in 2013. Her master’s thesis was on the effect of different cold storage conditions on the quality of extra virgin olive oil. Olive oil study has been a good friend to her for the past five years, and will definitely be a life-long friend no matter what.

Lauren Crawford

My name is Lauren Crawford and I’m a first year Ph.D student in the Food Science and Technology department. I completed my BS in Food Science at Cornell University with a minor in Nutrition. I’m interested in food chemistry and its applications for improving the quality or healthfulness of products, so working with the UC Davis Olive Center seemed like a perfect fit. As my PhD project, I am helping to develop an innovative processing method for black table olives that reduces water usage/toxicity while increasing the olives’ nutritional content.

When I have free time, I enjoy running, reading, being outdoors, cooking and, of course, eating. I also love traveling and even got the opportunity to spend a semester abroad in Vienna, Austria. Having otherwise lived in upstate NY my whole life, I’m excited to now be experiencing a new part of the country. In the future, I hope to continue with research, either in an industry or academic setting.

Juan Polari

Juan is a first year PhD candidate at the Food Science and Technology department. He earned a degree in Chemistry from the University of Buenos Aires, Argentina. After graduating, he developed most of his professional experience in the field of fats and oils chemistry, focusing on quality assessment and bioactive compounds purification for food applications. He was fascinated by the world of olive oil while following a graduate course in olive oil sensory science at University of Jaén, Spain. At UC Davis Olive Center, he found an ideal place for further developing his academic training into this field. For his thesis project, Juan is studying the effect of processing conditions on sensory characteristics and chemical composition of virgin olive oils produced form super-high-density orchards in California. After finishing his graduate studies, he expects to contribute to the development of the olive oil industry in Argentina, working towards the integration of academic and productive sectors. In his free time, Juan enjoys cooking, reading and improvising endless blues solos in his guitar.

Austin Phung


My name is Austin Phung and I am currently a master’s student majoring in Pharmaceutical Chemistry. I joined the UC Davis Olive Center Chemistry Lab spring quarter of my junior year as an undergraduate. I initially joined this lab because of my interest in the chemistry, health aspects, and other chemical properties of olive oil. When I first joined this lab, I learned new lab techniques and gained hands on experience with helping Shirley, our assistant director, on different experiments. Specifically, helping her test parameters pertaining to total phenols, peroxide value (PV), and free fatty acids (FFA). Then, as a senior project, I worked on comparing and analyzing PV and FFA official methods to some proposed method counterparts. Then, I modified the proposed methods in order to create similar results to the official methods. This project gave me better insight on the subtleties between methods, in terms of reagents and the amount used. In addition, it helped me to become a better researcher by thinking carefully about the problem and coming up with a new way to approach it. Currently, my master’s project revolves around testing oxidation parameters in fish and fish oil supplements. As a pharmaceutical chemist, I take interest in medication that is sold on the market. In addition, this project would be a great way to help understand whether it is better to eat fish or take supplements. Furthermore, the information from this project could possibly help companies take action on the current processing, manufacturing, and packaging of these supplements. I hope to apply what I learned to certain areas in future research, like understanding the properties of olive oil, fish oil, or other natural products that can be used to help modify or create new medication. Overall, my ultimate dream is to work in a pharmaceutical company to help discover, modify, or synthesize drugs.

Ken Cunningham

I am a 3rd year Biological Systems Engineer major here at UC Davis. I’m currently working with Lauren on extraction methods and analysis of California-Style Black Olives. In my free time, you can find me tilling soil in the backyard or jamming this season’s produce. In the future, I want lead a team in solving the world’s global food issues.

Suk Wah Wong

Suk Wah Wong, who goes by the name of Suki, was born in Hong Kong, but moved to San Francisco, California with her parents when she was seven years old. She grew up in the Sunset district of San Francisco. In Fall 2014, she transferred from a community college, called City College of San Francisco, to the University of California, Davis (UC Davis) as a Nutrition Science major with the Nutritional Biology emphasis. Besides studying for school and participating in the lab of the UC Davis Olive Center, she also likes to do the following: read regarding food, nutrition, and exercise, eat healthy, exercise, play sports, cook, study the Bible, listen to mainstream music, and spend time with her family and friends. After hearing about the UC Davis Olive Center, she first got involved with the center by volunteering at a sensory evaluation course it was holding in June 2015. The sensory aspect of olive oil truly amazed her. Since she was interested in learning more about olive oil, specifically its nutritional and health aspects, and strongly believed that one must understand the food prior to understanding the roles of its nutrients, she has been working with the UC Davis Olive Center since July 2015. In the future, she would like to attend professional or graduate school and work in the field of medicine, nutrition, or epidemiology. She is grateful for all the experience she has been gaining from the UC Davis Olive Center while having the opportunity to work with many wonderful people.

Duangkamol (Dahlia) Yingyongkitmongkol

I like to do pilates, cook, and bake in my free time. I became interested in UC Davis Olive Oil Center and Olive Oil itself when I volunteered for the Olive Oil sensory course. It is very interesting for me to be a part of this lab learning how food and health, chemicals and science, all intertwine. In the future, I hope to go to graduate school and seek a job in the field of food research and development.

Lucia Olmo Garcia


Lucia is visiting us from Spain, where she is a PhD student in the Department of Analytical Chemistry at the University of Granada. Born and raised among olive trees, she decided to mix her cultural heritage with a scientific vocation after finalizing a MS in Food Quality and Technology. For her thesis project, she is working in the characterization of products and by-products of the olive industry by applying different metabolomic approaches. When she is not quantifying phenolic compounds, she enjoys doing handcrafts, going to the countryside and spending time with her four dogs.

Chelsey Souza


Chelsey is a third year undergraduate student studying Pharmaceutical Chemistry. She is very excited to be a part of the Olive Center Lab Group, which allows her to apply the knowledge learned in the classroom to research in the lab. She is also involved with hosting tasting events to inform others about the Olive Center. Outside of classes she holds the position of Vice President of the Chemistry Club, is a member of the Chemistry Career Conference, and a member of the Educational Outreach and Picnic Day Planning Committee at UC Davis. She enjoys yoga, hiking, gardening, snowboarding, and baking in her free-time.

Alicia Lim


Alicia is currently a fourth year undergraduate at UC Davis majoring in Forensic Chemistry and Japanese. She became interested in the UC Davis Olive Center because she wanted to learn more about a commodity she uses every day to cook - olive oil. In particular, she is interested in the adulteration of olive oil and in methods to detect adulteration. In the future, she hopes to attend graduate school and work in the field of forensics. In her spare time, Alicia enjoys knitting, watching anime, listening to music, reading fantasy/sci-fi novels, and taking catnaps.

Chiaohwei Lee


My name is Chiaohwei Lee and I’m a third year undergraduate student majoring in Pharmaceutical Chemistry in UC Davis. I am one of the student intern working in the Olive Center. I did not know much about olives until I attended a presentation given by Dr. Wang. The presentation sparked an interest in me, and therefore inspired me to study more about olives and olive oils. As a Chemistry major, I am most interested in the chemical composition of olive oil and how it effects the quality of the oil. In the future, I would like to earn a M.S. or PhD. in the field of Organic Chemistry in order to do more research regarding organic molecule synthesis. Ultimately, I hope to be able to discover a molecule or even synthesize a new molecule that would impact the world in a positive way. In my free time, I enjoy running, doing Pilates, dancing, and spending time with my friends and family.

Bashar Ammari


My name is Bashar Ammari. I’m a third year chemical engineering major from Burbank, CA. I was born in Amman, Jordan where at a young age, I was exposed to olives through my family owned olive groves. Along with olive oil research I'm extremely passionate about mathematics, physical science, astronomy, technology, and music. In my free time, I like to learn more about classical and ethno-musicology as well as educate younger kids in STEM fields. I hope to excite younger generations about science and technology while contributing to new discoveries in chemistry and chemical engineering.

Lu Li

Lu Li

My name is Lu Li, I am a senior at UC Davis, majoring in Food Science and Technology and minoring in Technology Management. When learning food chemistry in my junior year, I found olive oil very intriguing because of its chemistry properties, flavors, varieties, health benefits, etc. Fortunately, I had the opportunity to join the Olive Center and to study olive oil processing and quality test methods. Also, I was involved in multiple olive oil tasting events representing the Olive Center. Besides studying, I love cooking, reading, and traveling. My ultimate goal of life is to experience all cultures and to witness all creatures around the world.

Ava Moin


Hi! My name is Ava Moin. I got my BS in Cellular and Molecular Biology with a minor in Microbiology from Iran. I’ve moved to this country in March 2015, and since then I’ve been taking some English courses at UC Davis Extension Center and then at Sacramento City College. I got interested in food science field, and I wanted to get some experience in this field, therefore I chose UC Davis Olive Center to get more lab experience. As I’m learning more and more about olive oil, I’m getting more and more interested about it and about working in this lab. This year is going to be one of the busiest and the most important period in my life. I’m about to start studying for GRE and TOEFL exams to apply for graduate school here. In my spare time, I like watching movies, reading a book, listening to music, cooking (Persian food), and maybe walking around the town sometimes.

Chang Lin

Hi! My name is Chang Lin. I am a second year undergraduate student majoring in Food Science and Technology. I am from Guangzhou, a city in southern China. I joined the UC Davis Olive center because of my strong interest in the chemistry and preservation of olive oil. I learned a lot of lab techniques and knowledge on olive oil processing after participating in the lab as a research assistant. After successfully mastering all the lab techniques, I hope I can utilize what I have learned to create my own research project in the future. In my free time, I like to learn new languages, try new cooking recipes, and take pictures of food. It is an honor to work in the lab, especially among talented researchers and other amazing interns.

Allison Tearjen

Allison Tearjen

My name is Allison Tearjen and I am a second year chemical engineer. I am from Yorba Linda, CA. I enjoy lame jokes and plan to travel the world someday. After completing my undergraduate degree I plan to work in industry for food processing and engineering. I enjoy being a part of the olive center and am currently working on a paper about the shelf life of olive oil.

Brandi Kaspar

brandi kaspar

My name is Brandi Kaspar and I am a fourth year Food Science major with a minor in Nutrition Science. I am very involved in the Food Science department and am an officer of the Food Tech Club here at UC Davis. I was born and raised in Dana Point, California in Southern California. I became interested in Food Science when my brother left to go to UC Davis to study Food Science. He would call me and tell me all about what he was learning. I followed in his footsteps and also went to UC Davis to study Food Science. I became interested in olive oil after taking a food science lab class that consisted of testing different olive oils and included a sensory portion of the lab. I also volunteered at a sensory evaluation course. I hope after I graduate I can use the skills I have obtained for the interning at the Olive Center to find a job in quality assurance in June 2017.




UC Davis Olive Center

The UC Davis Olive Center is a self-funded university/industry coalition that seeks to do for olives what UC Davis did for wine.

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