Kirtley Watts

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Alumni Spotlight

Kirtley Watts


BS Applied Physics, Rutgers University–New Brunswick

What she does:
Kirtley Watts is a process specialist at Puratos Corporation, a food ingredient supplier. Puratos Corporation makes ingredients for other bakeries to use in their foods. You may never see a Puratos-branded bread mix on a store shelf, but that doesn’t mean that the company’s items aren’t in many of the packaged baked goods you buy.

As a process specialist, Watts works on scaling up new recipes for ingredients.

“Our R&D will make something delicious in the lab—a fruit filling that you’d see in a pie, for example. At lab scale, they can make 3 pounds at a time. On our production line, we could be making 3,000–6,000 pounds at a time.”
Watts’s job is to translate a recipe for three pounds of cherry filling into one that works on industrial equipment.

How she got here:
As an undergrad, Watts lured other students to her study groups by promising home-baked goods. After graduating, a friend pushed her toward food science. During her job interview with Puratos, Watts described how she fixed her own gas oven. (“It was pretty frightening—I shoved everyone out of the house.”) The impressed interviewer said that’s why she was hired.

Best part about her job:
“I get to do a lot of experimentation... As long as things are documented, I can change whatever I want.” She’s working on developing “clean label” preservative-free versions of existing products. Watts says she also loves going to the store and seeing her products on shelves. “That’s my filling on that bar, or that’s my glaze. It feels so good to see something you made.”

Most frustrating part of her program:
“I want to innovate and make new things... I may want to make 90,000 things, but to run a business, we need to make nine things and make them well.”

How she uses physics:
Watts puts her problem-solving skills—honed by her physics degree—to work by setting up and calibrating new equipment.
“There’s a lot of physics and engineering involved when you’re making food on a mass scale.” Beyond that, Watts has brushed up on her organic chemistry, crucial for food science.

Most surprising fact about her:
She still bakes for fun! “Recently I’ve been baking cookies, for like eight weeks.... I make pie dough for fun.”

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