Colombia Purdue Initiative — CPI

David Orrego profile picture


PhD in Agricultural and Biological Engineering, Purdue University
MSc in Biotechnology, Universidad Nacional de Colombia - Medellín
BSc in Biological Engineering, Universidad Nacional de Colombia – Medellín


What was your research topic and how did you become interested in it?
Through middle and high school, I developed a special fascination for biology and related topics. Initially, I thought a program in biology or microbiology would be ideal for me because I did not like numbers. However, during my last year in high school, I found a program in Biological Engineering at Universidad Nacional that sounded interesting and covered most of the topics I wanted to study. To my surprise, I performed much better at math classes that last year in school than my previous years! This made me feel comfortable with the decision of pursuing a BS in Engineering. Also, during my last years in college, I became more interested in the engineering side of the program (bioprocesses) than in other lines like molecular biology, genetics, and microbiology. I worked on fermentation technology throughout my master's program, and one year before finishing, I decided to apply to the 'study abroad' fellowships offered by Colciencias. Fortunately, I was selected for the fellowship and was also accepted at Purdue in the Agricultural and Biological Engineering department, ranked #1 across the United States. 

By August 2013 I started my Ph.D. in Agricultural and Biological Engineering working in the Laboratory of Renewable Resources Engineering (LORRE) under the direction of Dr. Michael Ladisch. During four years as a student, I worked in the design, optimization, and scale-up of bioprocesses to add value to agro-industrial products and residues through the application of enzyme technology. Specifically, we focused on the design of an alternative milling process of corn to separate all its fractions (starch, oil, protein, fiber) in a simple and fast way, using enzymes instead of chemicals and heavy machinery, thus reducing the environmental impact and improving the economy of the process.

What were the most difficult and the most gratifying aspects of your studies?
The hardest part was my first semester at Purdue. Dealing with the cultural shock and with four classes while trying to get used to the language and the system in general. I remember getting a headache almost daily! But, at the same time, the most rewarding part was obtaining good grades in all my classes that same semester and proving to myself that I was up to the challenge. Throughout the four years as a student, I can recall many rewarding memories like running my first half-marathon here at Purdue, helping with the first Colombian Student Association (CSAP) symposium, and winning my first poster competition.
David Orrego López at the first CSAP Symposium
David Orrego López with his friend Juliana Vasco from Ohio State University at the first CSAP Symposium, 2015.
What are your plans after graduation?
I am currently working as a postdoctoral researcher at Purdue to continue the scale-up of the process developed during my studies, working together with a food company. In the future, I plan to return to Colombia, live close to my family, and condone the debt assumed with Colciencias.
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