By Sarah Libbon
Many college students have sampled beer, but how many have collected and analyzed samples to help a local brewery ensure the quality of their beer? One student at the University of Wisconsin-Superior can make that claim, and she’s likely the envy of her peers.
Mandy Tomlinson never guessed she’d be sampling and testing water for a brewery, but the UW-Superior third-year student, majoring in chemistry with a Spanish minor, found herself in that position when she landed a job at Lake Superior Research Institute (LSRI). LSRI, one of four research institutes affiliated with UW-Superior, conducts environmental research and provides services that benefit the people, industries, and natural resources of the Great Lakes Region and beyond.
“I knew the lab experience would help me prepare for a career in dentistry,” she said. “I work in the microbiology lab. I didn’t have any experience in that area when I applied, but the staff scientists have taught me everything I need to know. It’s been a great experience.”
Little did she know that one of her research assignments would be to test the water used to make beer at Earth Rider Brewery, a trendy new microbrewery located in the working harbor and nightlife district of Superior.
Tomlinson worked closely with Heidi Saillard, LSRI Associate Researcher, to conduct the testing. Together, Saillard and Tomlinson collected samples at the brewery and brought them back to the lab to test for contaminates to ensure safety and quality.
“We needed to test the water we use for brewing to make sure it is free of contaminates and of the highest purity,” said Allyson Rolf, lead brewer at Earth Rider. “We liked the fact that LSRI could come and collect the samples, which ensures the integrity of the collection process. And, we liked the idea of supporting the University and its students.”
Matt TenEyck, Director of Lake Superior Research Institute, agreed that the water testing for Earth Rider was a win-win scenario.
“Our research at LSRI must be broad enough to include the needs of the local community,” he said. “Given the number of breweries in the Twin Ports region, the tremendous amount of biology and chemistry involved in brewing, and LSRI’s mission to provided hands-on training and education, this is a great example of a community-based partnership that provides amazing opportunity for all involved.”
For students like Tomlinson, the chance to work in an applied research laboratory that is conducting research that not only benefits businesses like Earth Rider, but also the entire Great Lakes region and beyond, is an invaluable experience. To date, LSRI has involved over 550 undergraduate students in its research initiatives.
“Student research assistants like Mandy have been such an asset to LSRI. They have contributed, in some way, to nearly every project LSRI has worked on,” said Saillard. “They provide us with the help we need, while we provide them with a variety of experiences in the lab and in the field.”
“I feel like I’ve gained a competitive advantage by working at LSRI that will help me when I apply for dental school,” said Tomlinson. “Not many undergraduate students can say they’ve work side-by-side with professional researchers while they were undergrads.”
As for the water tests for Earth Rider … not surprisingly, they all came back clear.
“Earth Rider is a pretty up-and-coming place,” said Tomlinson. “It’s cool to think I had a small role in helping them make their beer.”
Sarah Libbon is the Associate University Relations Specialist at the University of Wisconsin-Superior.