Yu Wang was born in China as an only child in a family with protective parents, but Yu knew she wanted to see the world. She studied food engineering during her undergraduate years in Hefei, China, and wanted to change direction to study food chemistry.
It was not easy to switch career paths in China, she said. Yu found that the opportunity was available in the U.S., so Yu left China on a mission to earn her master’s and Ph.D. in food chemistry and to follow her passion.
Yu focused on flavor research throughout her Ph.D. and had what many might call a dream job upon graduation, working at Mars Chocolate Inc. as a flavor chemist. When the University of Florida/IFAS Citrus Research and Education Center (CREC) was looking for faculty in citrus flavor research, it offered the perfect next step.
“If you want to study flavor, you want to study citrus flavor,” she said, noting citrus flavor was a niche area of study sought after by flavor chemists.
With citrus being one of the most widely studied flavors and scents and used in many industries such as food and beverage, household products and perfume, discoveries made in citrus flavor and scent research reach consumers around the world.
The retiring faculty member who previously held the position was a well-known expert in the flavor research community. Yu previously met him as a Ph.D. student and admired his work, so the position felt like a perfect fit. Yu joined UF/IFAS CREC in 2015.
Yu notes her proudest achievements include mentoring students and seeing them succeed.
“I like research, but the education aspect is a huge part of why I am here,” Yu said. “You can change people’s lives. It’s a learning process for me but I enjoy it. It makes me feel fulfilled to see the students I work with succeed.”
Looking to the future, Yu contributes to the fight against citrus greening, a disease that threatens the nation’s citrus industry. In addition to studying flavor, she utilizes her expertise in analytical chemistry to develop new ways to study citrus greening. Her skills in citrus flavor chemistry can be extended to study the citrus compounds relevant to the development and control of citrus greening which will help growers fight the disease.
“I want to share the message that anything is possible,” Wang said. “It is important to pursue your dreams and do what you want to do. There are so many options and possibilities! Keep an open mind and keep trying. I want to share that message with young girls, especially. You never know what is out there for you and you can pursue a career that you are passionate about.”
About this Series: The year 2020 commemorates the centennial year of the passage of the 19th Amendment, a crucial achievement in the women’s suffrage movement. This milestone reminds us of the collective spirit marshalled to enact this change. Throughout the year, UF/IFAS is highlighting female researchers, educators, staff members, students and innovators who embodied a similar trailblazing spirit during their engagement with the university. These trailblazers left an indelible mark on both the university and the state of Florida. The 19th Amendment states, "The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex,” although some women were still denied the right to vote until the passage of the Civil Rights Act of the 1960s. We hope this series inspires others to ignite their own trailblazing spirit and effect change in our world.