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(1951 – )

Quick Facts

Jane Topel is recognized internationally for her work in starch and biomaterials.

Jay-lin Jane-Topel was born in Taipei, Taiwan in 1951 to Tong-Hsiang Cheng and Chih-Fei Chen-Cheng. Her father was a colonel in the National Chinese Army during WWII and the family fled from the Peoples Republic of China to Taiwan in 1949. She attended the National Chung-Hsing University in Taichung, Taiwan, and received her bachelor’s degree in Food Science and Technology. She then attended Texas Woman’s University, Denton, TX, receiving her MS degree in Chemistry under Professor James Johnson, and then on to Iowa State University for a PhD in Biochemistry focusing on carbohydrates. She studied under the internationally known carbohydrate pioneer Professor Dexter French and upon his untimely death finished under Professor John Robyt. She spent three years in the Department of Grain Science and Industry at Kansas State University, Manhattan, KS, as a Post-Doctoral Research Associate working on cold-water soluble starch with another internationally recognized carbohydrate chemist, Professor Paul Seib.

She joined Iowa State University in 1987 as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition, and later was promoted through the ranks ultimately achieving a Distinguished Professor. She became a key partner in the starch and biomaterials programs of the Center for Crops Utilization Research and her early leadership in starch-based plastics and soy-protein-based polymers provided the underpinnings for acquiring National Science Foundation funding to establish an Industry and University Cooperative Research Center, the Center for Bioplastics and Biocomposits. She devoted her efforts and life to conducting research on structures, properties, and applications of starch and on application of protein as a biopolymer, and teaching/mentoring more than a hundred graduate students, Post-doctoral Fellows, and Visiting Scientists. She taught courses in food chemistry and food carbohydrates that were regarded as rigorous.

Jay-lin is very proud of being an eminent carbohydrate chemist following a long tradition of starch research at Iowa State University, including the works of Professors D. French, R. Rundle, and R. Bear. She carried the continued fundamental research on advancing of our understanding of starch structure and properties for which Iowa State was internationally recognized, as it should be since Iowa produces more starch through corn than any other area or crop in the world. Throughout her career, she worked with outstanding students developing new methods to reveal internal structures of different starch granules and elucidating how amylopectin chains are organized, providing new understanding in the fine structures of different starches; to understand relationships between starch structures and properties of starch; to develop and characterize resistant starch for health benefits and preventing Type-II diabetes; and to use starch and protein for environmentally friendly biomaterials to replace petroleum-based plastics. She worked closely with USDA scientists to screen Latin American corn varieties for useful starch variants in the GEM (Germplasm Enhancement of Maize) collection. She also applied her research findings by working with companies, such as Kellogg, General Mills, Poet, and National Starch and Chemical. Her work was extensively funded by the Iowa Corn Promotion Board and the Iowa Soybean Promotion Board.

She published more than 215 peer-reviewed scientific papers, which were cited more than 10,000 times by other scientists, and 10 US Patents for her inventions. She delivered more than 230 invited lectures on her research in more than 30 countries. She received more than 20 major awards, including the Alsberg-French-Schoch Award, the highest award for starch research, and the Fellow Award from the American Association of Cereal Chemists, International, and the Merit of Science Award from Japanese Applied Glycoscience Association. No faculty member was more devoted to their career than Professor Jane-Topel. If she was not traveling for an international lecture you could count on her being in her office, she had given up her passion for tennis early in her career. She had high expectations for her students and taught them to work hard, which all embraced because they recognized how hard she worked. Many of her students are now faculty at other universities or have very responsible positions in industry.

In 2002, at age of 52, she surprised all her friends and married her beloved husband Professor of Animal Sciences David G. Topel, the former Dean of the ISU College of Agriculture. She retired from Iowa State University in 2016 holding the title of Charles F. Curtiss Distinguished Professor in Agriculture and Life Sciences. They donated their life’s collections of Chinese jade carvings, wood carvings and other art to ISU and its Brunnier Art Museum (University Museums) for others to enjoy. A portion of their collection is on exhibition in the Periodical Room, Iowa State University Library.

In 2016 they received the Order of the Knoll Faculty and Staff Award for their substantial commitment to promoting and expanding philanthropy at ISU. They continue to live in Ames during the summer head for warmer climes in Carlsbad, CA, during the winter. As of this writing, Professor Jane-Topel continues to collaborate and share her knowledge and experience on starch with other scientists and giving lectures around the world.

Selected Source

From personal interviews with Jane-Topel.

ISU Foundation, donor profile:

Ames Tribune, “ISU Professors give Chinese Art”, Jan. 26, 2014.

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