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Watt, Bernice K.

Published onNov 08, 2021
Watt, Bernice K.

(June 10, 1910 – March 8, 1984)

Quick Facts

Born Bernice Lydia Kunerth, Watt was a 1932 Iowa State College graduate and a lifelong nutritional researcher for the United States Department of Agriculture. The research done under her leadership is still the basis for a large deal of nutritional information today.

Source: ISU Library Special Collections.

The eldest of two daughters, Bernice Kunerth was born in Ames, Iowa. Her father, William Kunerth, served as a physics professor at Iowa State College (now University). In 1928 Kunerth enrolled in Iowa State College, completing a combined major in Foods, Nutrition, and Chemistry in 1932.

Just one year after completing her undergraduate career, she earned a Master of Science degree at Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kansas. The title of her thesis was "The Utilization by Human Subjects of the Nitrogen of Beef Round and Beef Heart". She would remain in Manhattan working as a food/nutrition research technician and instructor until 1938. Over the next two years, Watt completed a PhD in Nutrition Chemistry at Columbia University in New York where she penned her dissertation, "The Effect Upon Utilization of Varying Calcium and Phosphorous within the Limits of Normal Dietaries". For roughly a year she served as an assistant professor until taking a job in Washington, D.C. with the USDA in 1941.

Bernice Kunerth became, Bernice Watt in 1942 when she married Raymond Dewey Watt in 1942 (A fellow Iowa State graduate from 1922).

Nutritional research was the crux of Watt's tenure with the USDA which would last until 1974. Although she retired in 1974 she would continue academic research, publishing article such as "The Nutritive Value of Frozen Foods" (1977) and the "Nutritive Values of Fruits and Vegetables" (1978). By the time of her retirement she was Leader of the Nutrient Data Research Center and had been awarded the Distinguished Achievement Citation from Iowa State (1969), the Borden Award (1972), and the USDA Distinguished Service award (1974). Later on she would be awarded the Elvehjem Award for Public Service in Nutrition in 1980. Having published over 70 academic journal articles and evaluated the nutritional content of over 3,000 foods, her impressive career assisted in expanding the data on nutrients (From 13 nutrients in 275 foods to 50 nutrients in 3,000 foods).

Watt passed away on March 8th, 1984 as a devoted mother of three children and active community volunteer in Fairfax, Virginia. Currently the Bernice Kunerth Watt and Raymond D. Watt Endowed Scholarship assists students studying food and nutrition science in continuing their academic endeavors. Iowa State University also currently holds the Bernice K. Watt endowed lectureship in her honor.

Selected Sources

"Today's Seeds for Tomorrow's Harvest", Iowa State University Library – Special Collections Department

"150 Points of Pride", Iowa State University – College of Agriculture and Life Sciences

"Students Earn Scholarships from FSHN", Iowa State University – College of Agriculture and Life Sciences

"Elizabeth A. Yetley, Ph.D", National Institutes of Health (NIH)

Bernice K. Watt Papers 1910-1984, MS 271, Archives for Women in Science and Engineering, Special Collections, Iowa State University Library

"100 Years of Agriculture: 1925-1950", Iowa State Daily

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