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USDA-ARS Food Science and Engineering Research Internship

ARS Office/Lab and LocationA research opportunity is available with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Agricultural Research Service (ARS) within the Beltsville Agricultural Research Center's Food Quality Lab located in Beltsville, Maryland.

The Agricultural Research Service (ARS) is the U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief scientific in-house research agency with a mission to find solutions to agricultural problems that affect Americans every day from field to table. ARS will deliver cutting-edge, scientific tools and innovative solutions for American farmers, producers, industry, and communities to support the nourishment and well-being of all people; sustain our nation’s agroecosystems and natural resources; and ensure the economic competitiveness and excellence of our agriculture. The vision of the agency is to provide global leadership in agricultural discoveries through scientific excellence.

The Food Quality laboratory is part of the USDA’s Beltsville Agricultural Research Center (BARC). BARC has fully equipped modern laboratories located on a 6,000 acre campus only 10 miles from Washington, D.C. There are hundreds of scientists conducting agricultural research at the Center. The University of Maryland at College Park, MD is located 3 miles from our research facility. In addition, the National Institutes of Health, American University, Joh Hopkins University, and University of Maryland, Baltimore County are in close proximity to our laboratory. This allows access to professional advice on scientific matters, to equipment, and availability to a full array of seminars, workshops, and conferences.

Research Project: The overarching goal of this project is to advance science and technologies to improve food quality, safety, and nutrition of fresh fruits and vegetables on Earth and in space. Relevant objectives for this research project will be one or two of the following (or alternatives related to them):

  • determine vegetable production practices on plant growth, microbial communities, and product quality and nutrition;
  • assess post-harvest handling and fresh-cut processing conditions on food quality and safety;
  • evaluate the effect of simulated micro-gravity in space on plant growth and microbial proliferation. 

The participant will collaborate with an interdisciplinary team in developing novel solutions to improve food quality and reduce post-harvest loss and waste. The particular role of the participant can be tailored based on the participant’s technical strength. A candidate with a microbiology strength will be involved in evaluating produce growing and post-harvesting handing conditions on microbial contamination, proliferation, and inactivation. A candidate with a background in engineering will focus more on the fresh-cut processing pilot plant operation; equipment/apparatus prototyping, installation, and testing; 3D printing and image analysis etc. A candidate with a strength in food science, horticulture, or plant physiology will be contributing research on the food quality, safety, and nutrition assessment; investigation of plant growth and ripening, and defense mechanism; and development/evaluation of active and intelligent packaging etc.  

Learning ObjectivesThe participant will learn research and laboratory skills including the use of 3D printer, UV-VIS spectrophotometer, automated bacterial spreader and colony counter, BSL-2 cabinet, imaging analysis, random positioning machine, microscope, texture analyzer, and HPLC, etc. The participant will also advance his/her skills and ability to properly collect scientific data, analyze results, and collaborate with interdisciplinary teams.   

Mentor(s)The mentor for this opportunity is Yaguang Luo ( If you have questions about the nature of the research, please contact the mentor.

Anticipated Appointment Start Date: December 2022.  Start date is flexible and will depend on a variety of factors.

Appointment LengthThe appointment will initially be for one year, but may be renewed upon recommendation of ARS and is contingent on the availability of funds.

Level of ParticipationThe appointment is full-time.

Participant StipendThe participant will receive a monthly stipend commensurate with educational level and experience.

Citizenship RequirementsThis opportunity is available to U.S. citizens, Lawful Permanent Residents (LPR), and foreign nationals. Non-U.S. citizen applicants should refer to the Guidelines for Non-U.S. Citizens Details page of the program website for information about the valid immigration statuses that are acceptable for program participation.

ORISE InformationThis program, administered by ORAU through its contract with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to manage the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE), was established through an interagency agreement between DOE and ARS. Participants do not become employees of USDA, ARS, DOE or the program administrator, and there are no employment-related benefits. Proof of health insurance is required for participation in this program. Health insurance can be obtained through ORISE.

Questions: Please visit our Program Website. After reading, if you have additional questions about the application process, please email and include the reference code for this opportunity.

The qualified candidate should have received a bachelor's or master's degree in one of the relevant fields (e.g. Microbiology, Biology, Material Science, Engineering, Food Science, Horticulture, Post-harvest Plant Physiology). 

Preferred skills include strong laboratory research skills, and ability and skills at equipment operation, maintenance, and troubleshooting.