A Food and Safety Chemistry Expert at ACT
Having obtained a Ph.D. in Agricultural and Environmental Chemistry with Designated Emphasis in Biotechnology, from University of California, Davis, Mary Kalamaki has brought to ACT – where she holds the position of Assistant professor of Chemistry, Department of Science and Technology,- her valuable academic experience and the outcomes of her acknowledged research in microbial food safety and public health. She also serves as an invited expert in the Working Group of Food Quality and Safety of the Federation of Veterinarians of Europe that evaluates current food safety practices and proposes modifications that will enhance the safety and quality of food sold in the EU.
By using metagenomics and high-throughput DNA sequencing methods Dr. Kalamaki studies microbes directly in their natural habitats (i.e., without culturing). She also works on factors and stress conditions that influence virulence gene expression in the foodborne pathogen, Listeria monocytogenes. “Foodborne disease outbreaks in recent years and the emergence of new food-associated pathogens have indicated a vulnerability of our food supply” she notes pointing out the need for rapid detection and identification of potential risks in order to prevent food-borne diseases.
In the past, she has taught in five academic institutions in the US and in Greece. At ACT, she really enjoys the philosophy and didactic approach of small-sized classes, which enables her to modify the teaching according to the dynamics of the class, in order to identify students who need more assistance and even students that need more challenges. “The best reward is when I hear they were inspired to take more chemistry or to pursue a career in a related discipline,” she says.
The new ACT Chemistry Lab provides her an “inspiring space to teach science” but also a state of the art equipment which she uses in her research and research collaborations with public academic institutions. With colleagues from the School of Dentistry of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, took tissue samples from surgery, and performed molecular analysis using ACT’s new, state of the art, real-time PCR machine. Additionally, a team of scientists of the ACT Science and Technology Department has started a new innovative project aiming to investigate food safety practices in community meals (soup kitchens) in Thessaloniki.
Known for being passionate in promoting Science to young students, Mary Kalamaki is also excited when she teaches younger students. Last summer she began teaching at the ACT Biotechnology Summer Camp for High School Students, “a great opportunity to expose HS students to this rapidly evolving and often controversial scientific field” as she describes it. She is also the instructor of the newly introduced course “Nutrition: Highway to Health” which is offered to the high school students of Greece’s Center for Talented Youth (CTY - Greece), a collaborative venture between our institution, Johns Hopkins University, and the Stavros Niarchos Foundation.
She is also very fond of coaching her kids in their science classes, and creating fun experiments using household chemicals/items. “Science is always fun” she believes. She is right!