Andy Rao, professor emeritus of food science, dies at 85

M.A. “Andy” Rao, known as one of the top food scientists in the U.S. and the world during a distinguished career that included more than three decades at Cornell AgriTech, died in July 2022 in Leesburg, Va. He was 85.

Rao specialized in food engineering research, edited books, published two book chapters, refereed papers, guided graduate students and traveled the world attending meetings, giving papers, and teaching short courses. He was a Fulbright scholar on two sabbaticals — Brazil (1980-81) and Portugal (1988-89).

M.A. “Andy” Rao

“He was a pillar of our department,” said Olga Padilla-Zakour, director of the Cornell Food Venture Center. “The reputation we have today is because of people like Andy Rao.”

Padilla-Zakour was among those, including colleagues and former students, who remembered Rao during a celebration of life ceremony earlier this year at the Geneva campus.

“He was an outstanding mentor, professor, teacher, adviser,” said Alfredo Vitali, a visiting scientist from Brazil who worked with Rao. “He treated us like family and celebrated our achievements. He was an unforgettable soul.”

Rao was born July 4, 1937 in Dornakal, India. He studied chemical engineering at Osmania University (India), earning a bachelor’s degree in 1958 and master’s degree a year later. He was a lecturer at the university from 1959-61.

He came to the U.S. in the early 1960s, completing a second master’s degree in chemical engineering at the University of Cincinnati. He was a research associate at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio and completed his Ph.D. in chemical engineering at The Ohio State University in 1969.

Rao then worked at American Standard, Inc. in New Jersey as a project engineer in the heat transfer and plastic processing section. During this assignment, he conducted his initial work on liquid flow and developed his interest in rheology, which is the study of the flow of matter.

In 1971, he and his wife, Jan, moved to Campinas, Brazil, where he led the food engineering department at the University of Campinas until 1973. Rao then joined the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station as an assistant professor in the Department of Food Science and Technology. He was recruited to address the needs of the state’s food processing industry with improved techniques for food preservation.

Rao initiated projects on energy conservation in commercial canning and freezing, heat transfer and the deformation and flow of liquid foods. He was promoted to associate professor with tenure in 1978.

He also made significant contributions to improved manufacturing processes for juice, wine and purees. He was promoted to full professor in 1986 after demonstrating excellence in the field of food engineering, continuing his research on food rheology and energy conservation.

In addition to his research, he was known as a renowned professor who was there for his students in and out of the classroom – especially international students who came to the U.S. with some uncertainty, as he had decades before.

“He knew what it was like to be by yourself in a foreign land,” said Dulce Paredes, M.P.S. ’83, Ph.D. ’86, adding that Rao helped her get a job in the U.S. right before her planned return to her native Philippines. “He literally changed the trajectory of my life.”

Rao edited several books, published more than 100 papers, and won numerous awards.

He retired in December 2004 but continued to do editorial work for years. From 2007 to 2011, he also worked at Massey University in New Zealand for two months each year.

Rao is survived by his wife of 52 years, Jan; son, Hari; daughter-in-law, Heather; and granddaughter, Charlotte. He was also survived by three sisters, two brothers, and numerous nieces and nephews in India and the U.S.

Mike Hibbard is a freelance writer for Cornell AgriTech.

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Abby Kozlowski