NIU accepts $930,000 NIH grant for FoodMASTER program

DeKALB, Ill. — Science education has never tasted so good. NIU received a $930,000 National Institutes of Health Science Education Partnership Award for a FoodMASTER initiative.

FoodMASTER uses food as a tool to teach mathematics and science. The NIH grant aims to expand the existing FoodMASTER initiative science curriculum to K-12 teachers and educators throughout Illinois and nationally.  FoodMASTER is already being taught in several southern states, and curriculum is being tested for Illinois schools.

Melani Duffrin

Melani Duffrin

“Teachers who use food as a tool see more engagement with students in the classroom, and have seen improvement in academic performance,” said Melani Duffrin, the NIU health sciences professor who created the FoodMASTER Initiative and serves as project leader.

FoodMASTER hands-on activities include activities such as preparing egg white foams; learning chemical reactions by observing browning reactions in bananas; determining where bacteria can be located on your hands using Glo Germ; and, using cabbage juice to determine a basic or acidic solution.

Duffrin began developing the program in 1999, and received an NIH grant six years later. The program, which is funded for five years, is in its third new program cycle. Duffrin, who previously ran the program from two other universities, brought the program to NIU last year.

“NIU is where I wanted to come. We have always run this program research at institutions in rural areas, servicing underserved and minority populations,” Duffrin said. “The FoodMASTER program is also designed to inspire and encourage underserved and minority youth to consider careers in sciences. NIU has the population of what we are trying to achieve,” she added.

Duffrin shows educators how to use FoodMASTER in classrooms.







Beverly Henry, interim chair for the NIU School of Interdisciplinary Health Professions emphasized the impact this initiative can have. “The FoodMASTER program highlights the benefits of research in practice. With this grant, Dr. Duffrin brings many opportunities for students, faculty, and staff to work together for STEM education and healthy eating.”

The project kicked off the first phase of testing new curricular activities called “FAN cards” at the DuPage County Illinois Teacher Institute earlier this month. The Food and Nutrition (FAN) cards are mini-lessons that can stand alone or introduce existing FoodMASTER activities that can be downloaded from

“The idea behind FAN cards is that FoodMASTER activities will be in a format that is more user-friendly for community educators,” Duffrin said. “FAN cards will also be of use to science teachers because they will be able to use the mini-lesson format to engage students in subject matter prior to beginning the more in-depth FoodMASTER activities that are designed for formal classrooms.”

Duffrin said the event was well received, with teachers enjoying the curriculum.

The NIH grant to NIU will fund additional free curriculum, an updated website, pilot program testing in other states, and continued FoodMASTER initiative rollouts in Illinois and nationally.

The Food, Math, and Science Teaching Enhancement Resource Initiative (FoodMASTER) program is supported by the Science Education Partnership Award and the National Institute of General Medical Sciences.

For more information about the FoodMASTER program, contact Melani Duffrin at

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