Eastern Michigan University creates program in fermentation science

Program to prepare students for careers in scientific support of craft beer industry, wineries, food industry, pharmaceutical areas and ethanol production

YPSILANTI – In response to the recent boom in industries related to fermentation, especially craft brewing, Eastern Michigan University is creating a four-year program in fermentation science. The program, set to begin in fall 2016, was approved today (Friday, Feb. 5, 2016) by the EMU Board of Regents.

Students can choose to major or minor in fermentation science, and will receive an education designed to prepare them for a career in the broader fermentation industry.

Cory Emal and Gregg Wilmes, professors of chemistry at EMU who designed the new academic program, say it is intended to provide students  with an understanding of the basic science behind fermentation, tied together by several specific courses in that area, along with required core science courses such as biochemistry, microbiology, analytical chemistry, organic chemistry, cell and molecular biology and genetics.


The food and beverage industry is a possible career area for graduates of the fermentation science program. Craft beverages such as beer, wine and cider have increased in popularity, as have fermented foods such as yogurt, bread, cheese and dry-cured sausage.

“The program will emphasize the analysis of fermented products and troubleshooting of the related processes, reflecting the importance of quality control in an increasingly competitive marketplace,” Wilmes said.

Students will complete a capstone project with community partners, ranging from a traditional internship to a collaborative research project focused on an issue of concern to the given business.

Fermentation is the process by which organisms convert carbohydrates into energy and other by-products in the absence of oxygen. The term is commonly used to refer to the production of alcohol from sugars, such as in the production of beer and wine, but fermentation is also present in many other common processes, such as the leavening of bread and production of sauerkraut.

Emal and Wilmes note that nationwide there has been a significant increase in the interest in and consumption of fermented food and drinks, spurred from an increase in small-batch, artisan crafted products and from an increased acknowledgment of the health benefits of a diet that includes certain fermented foods.

Thus, craft beverages such as a beer, wine and cider have increased in popularity, as have fermented foods such as yogurt, bread, cheese, dry-cured sausage and kimchi.

Additionally, non-food fermentation is on the rise, such as in the production of fuel ethanol from biomatter, and in the production of pharmaceutical products.

“As the market for these products has increased, so has the need for trained and knowledgeable college graduates to fill scientific position in various rapidly growing industries,” Emal says. “The program brings together subjects from multiple disciplines, primarily chemistry and biology, and frames them in the context of the science of fermentation and its practical application, done through the creation of several new courses.”

Those new courses include offerings such as Introduction to Fermentation Science, Instrumental and Sensory Analysis of Fermented Products and Fermentation in Foods.

Graduates from the program would qualify for challenging careers in a wide variety of areas, including scientific support of breweries and wineries, pharmaceutical companies, and biofuel producers. Additionally, students with an interest in the management side of the industry can choose from several electives offered by the Hotel and Restaurant Management program at Eastern.

“It’s a rigorous program that serves a burgeoning industry in a variety of areas,” Wilmes says. “In addition to its distinct and targeted academic offerings, we are excited about the opportunity to build strong ties with community partners, as students doing their capstone projects apply what they’ve learned in coursework towards real problems in the industry.”

For more information, see the program website and the program’s Facebook page.

About Eastern Michigan University
Founded in 1849, Eastern is the second oldest university in Michigan. It currently serves 22,000 students pursuing undergraduate, graduate, specialist, doctoral and certificate degrees in the arts, sciences and professions. In all, more than 300 majors, minors and concentrations are delivered through the University's Colleges of Arts and Sciences; Business; Education; Health and Human Services; Technology, and its graduate school. EMU is regularly recognized by national publications for its excellence, diversity, and commitment to applied education. For more information about Eastern Michigan University, visit the University's website.

February 05, 2016

Written by:
Geoff Larcom

Geoff Larcom