Dr. Jessica Cooperstone

Dr. Jessica Cooperstone
Associate Professor

How can we improve the nutritional quality of food to enable people to live healthier lives? That’s the question at the heart of Dr. Jessica Cooperstone’s research as an assistant professor in the Department of Horticulture and Crop Science and the Department of Food Science and Technology.

Cooperstone’s work, which is part of the University’s Food for Health initiative, examines how components of fruits and vegetables contribute to human health. Specifically, she tries to understand how to improve the nutritional quality of food while making crops taste better. “We’re trying to better understand what foods do in the relationship of human health and how foods can be used in a preventative way to fight chronic diseases,” she says.

Cooperstone relies on the Waterman facility to help grow the tomatoes needed for her research. By partnering with experts in agriculture, she has greater access to produce that is grown with care and attention. She also appreciates that her students have been able to learn about the growing process first-hand.

“I think our graduates need to have some practical, hands-on experience in seeing how things grow in the field or how to recognize signs of disease or past damage,” she said. “This provides a living laboratory to encounter the real-life problems they’re going to see in their work.”

What makes Waterman valuable, according to Cooperstone, is the facility’s potential for fostering new partnerships across disciplines. With its access to the University’s innovation district, she believes the facility will be a great setting for collaborative discussions on how to grow plant foods with new benefits.

“As we try to improve nutrition, we need to make sure we are not sacrificing other things that are also important,” says Cooperstone. “We can create the healthiest tomato, but if it’s susceptible to disease, it’s a nonstarter. Being able to talk about improvements in a holistic way with many perspectives is very valuable.”