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Wayne State College fermentation science program

Wayne State College chemistry professor Dave Peitz talks about the college's new fermentation science degree program at a lab in the Carhart Science Building. The lab will house equipment students will use to learn the science behind brewing beer and making wine.

WAYNE, Neb. | A new academic program at Wayne State College sounds like a dream major for certain students who fit the partying, fun-loving stereotype.

Learn about brewing beer and making wine, plus get college credit for it.

But the college's new fermentation science major isn't designed to help party animals find a better way to catch a buzz.

Anyone who's serious about the major must be ready for a lot of time in chemistry labs, learning the ins and outs of the brewing process, plus how to analyze a product's contents to determine what makes a batch of brew good or bad.

"The perception of the degree has a lot of fun aspects," said David Peitz, a chemistry professor and chairman of the Wayne State chemistry department. "That's kind of the hook. They're all interested in it, but it is a research-based degree. A lot of people just want the brewing class, how to get started in their basement. That's not what this is."

What it is is a response to a growing need brought to the attention of college administrators.

Tammy Evetovich, dean of Wayne State's School of Natural and Social Sciences, discovered that need about a year and a half ago during a conversation with members of the Nebraska Wine and Grape Growers Association. They told her of a shortage of people with knowledge of the science behind making wine and beer.

Wayne State College fermentation science program

Wayne State College chemistry professor Dave Peitz holds a small oak wine barrel embossed with the college's name while framed between a pair of immersion chilling coils used in small-scale brewing.

"Breweries are popping up everywhere," Evetovich said. "I think there's a need for people who have a knowledge of science in those fields. I realized there are not a lot of colleges offering this."

With a little research, she and professors discovered the growing number of wineries and breweries in Nebraska, Iowa and South Dakota. They saw a niche they believe Wayne State can help fill.

"It's just an area we don't have a lot of graduates in, but it's a growing area," Peitz said.

Those who view the program as a free academic pass or a source of free booze better take a closer look at the program's requirements.

Among the 57 hours needed to get the chemistry degree with a concentration in fermentation science are seven chemistry classes, including two semesters of organic chemistry. There's microbiology, plus three chemistry classes specifically designed for the program that teach the principles of fermentation, including the one that attracts most students' attention: sensory analysis of beer and wine. Or, tasting.

It's not the BYOB blowout some might envision. Brewing will be done in small amounts for tasting and testing purposes only.

"It's all research, it's all chemicals. We're technically not brewing beverages," Peitz said. "We can't bottle and sell. We'll make it in small quantities."

Wayne State College fermentation science program

Wayne State College chemistry professor Dave Peitz demonstrates a gas chromatograph and mass spectrometer in one of the college's chemistry labs.

That doesn't mean students won't be coming up with new and better brews. One of the program's goals is to develop relationships with private business and industry to provide students with internships and other professional opportunities. If students come up with a new beer recipe, Peitz said, perhaps a local brewery could brew it and sell it. If all goes well, Wayne State could someday offer weekend continuing education classes for home brewers and wine makers.

It's all part of the goal to blend teaching the art of brewing and wine making with the science behind it. With that knowledge, graduates would have the ability to start their own business or work at a large industrial brewery, even an ethanol plant.

Wayne State College fermentation science program

Wayne State College chemistry professor Dave Peitz, opens the well plate holder of a spectrophotometer in one of the college's chemistry lab.

Peitz said the college will ramp up publicity for the new program soon and offer the first classes in the spring semester.

It's not exactly an invitation to a party, but it could definitely quench a student's thirst to learn more about brewing.


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