Tim Schwemler | Sustainability and the Science of Brewing Beer
Tim Schwemler, C’16, an environmental science major, was inspired to study sustainability during his first year at the Mount, after reading Dickson Despommier’s novel, The Vertical Farm: Feeding the World in the 21st Century.
Thanks to a Summer Research Internship Award from the School of Natural Science and Mathematics, Schwemler spent the summer working on a research project fueling that interest, and his interest in the science of brewing beer.
The ongoing project involved using an advanced portable piece of equipment called a gas chromatograph mass spectrometer (GCMS) to identify various types of hops, one of the key ingredients in beer. The data from the GCMS can also be used to determine how healthy the plant is.
“The goal of the research project was to differentiate hop varieties using the GCMS, and to determine if a growing hop plant is under any sort of stress, like lack of water or pests,” Schwemler said.
The GCMS includes a portable piece which gathers samples while in the field, and then connects to the main piece in the lab, which analyzes the collected samples.
“Learning how to use the GCMS and using it so often was the most valuable lesson I learned through this internship because not every undergraduate student has the chance to work with such advanced scientific instruments,” he said.
Schwemler worked working with Garth Patterson, Ph.D., assistant professor of chemistry, on the project. The two first connected when Schwemler took Patterson’s science of brewing class this spring. The class planted 10 hops plants on the Mount’s campus and part of Schwemler’s internship duties includes taking care of the plants.
“A typical day in the lab consisted of looking for research articles, and running hop samples with the GCMS, looking for similarities and differences between varieties,” Schwemler said, “I also tended the plants and assisted Dr. Patterson in brewing beers by creating recipes.”
The hops that Schwemler and Patterson planted need to mature before being used to brew beer, but Patterson hopes they will be usable by next year.
“This internship has made me a lot more interested in the beer industry,” said Schwemler, “but it also reflected my passion for cultivating more sustainable agricultural practices, like using less water for crops, since farmers will know if plants are thirsty or not by using the GCMS.”