People usually describe me as a little bit hyperactive and crazy! The crazy part usually results in building innovative projects and developing new ideas while I often use the hyperactivity part to realize those projects in a dynamic way. But I’m also tempted to describe myself as curious. Understanding processes, reactions, reasons why …since I was a child, I have always asked heaps of questions. I came to Dunedin in 2016 for a 6-month internship studying the effect of sweetness on cognitive functions. That time fuelled my interest and passion for sensory science and neuroscience, mainly due to the trust that Dr Mei Peng (Senior Lecturer, Department of Food Science, University of Otago) had in me. We ended up writing and publishing my first paper on the topic as well.
Dunedin is more than 20,000 km away from Montpellier, my hometown in France, and I first came here with my friend Agathe for the opportunity to discover a new culture and have the kind of life experience which happens only once. Since being here we have seen breath-taking landscapes every single weekend, hitchhiked all over New Zealand, and met amazing people; but we were always back on Monday morning, ready to do more research.
My love for the topic never stopped and I returned to start my PhD, again under supervision of Dr Mei Peng, Professor Elizabeth Franz and Professor Indrawati Oey. My “baby” which we often call our PhD project (although sometimes I think that it would be easier to have an actual baby) is about assessing a Human Sensory Fingerprint, including all five senses, and see if we can link individual sensory perceptions to modifications of the brain’s reward circuitry. This brain pathway evolved to increase organism’s behaviours that improve its chances to survive. However an over-stimulation of this circuitry can alter this pathway and lead to different type of addictions and compulsive behaviours. My research could bring some explanations to the overconsumption and craving for sweet, salty and fatty food around the world. I find it exciting and I am looking forward to another one and a half years full of craziness, hyperactivity and curiosity…. and “envoûtante” research, which means “bewitching” or “delightful”.
Nicky Richardson is an International Marketing Coordinator at the University of Otago. With degrees in music and marketing, both from Otago, she is passionate about education, and the places it can take you.