Featured Post Header

Featured Posts

About the Blog
Learn more about Tree Town Chemistry and its contributors. Could you be next?
Great Blogs by Women in Science
Check out this star-studded blogroll of women writing about chemistry, science, and engineering.
Newest: UMich SLACkers
Read about the experience of a few UMich researchers who visited a national lab.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Yeast and Ketones: How One Scientist Broke in to Professional Craft Brewing

After a long week of lab work, few things are better than a relaxing beer with friends. However, you might be surprised to know just how much chemistry can be involved in bringing that tasty brew to your glass. Consistently producing great beer, especially at large scale, requires careful analysis and attention to detail to keep the process moving smoothly.

Tyler Glaze, Quality Assurance/Control Manager at Short's Brewery in Bellaire, MI, told me in a recent e-mail interview about his journey to make a career out of brewing science.

Glaze's studies as a chemist began first at College of the Canyons and then at Cal Poly (California Polytechnic State University), where he started with a heavy course load in biochemistry with aspirations of getting his BS. "It was rough going from the start," he wrote. Though he enjoyed organic chemistry ("Who doesn't love a good Grignard reaction?"), he had particular trouble with his quantitative analysis class which was required for the major. "That course looming over my head drove me to abandon biochem and seek out another path. After that semester I 'discovered' beer for the first time and the stars started to align."

Glaze then switched his focus to microbiology. Learning the ins and outs of yeast and other microorganisms went hand in hand with his growing interest in craft brewing. The change in major would throw a wrench in his schedule and make continuing at Cal Poly more difficult, "but I thought, 'What the hell? Why not?'"

By the end of the semester, Glaze had left Cal Poly and been placed on a wait list at the University of California Davis brewing school. The wait was three years. In the interim, Glaze worked and continued homebrewing while blogging and publishing podcasts about his hobby. After a year, while still on the wait list at UC Davis, he tried his hand applying to Short's Brewing Company. "When I applied to [Short's] I had a weird resume: 4th-year college chemistry/microbiology dropout, beer blogger, podcaster, and amateur wine aficionado."

Despite the weird resume, he landed an interview. He was taken into the quality control lab at the brewery, which at that time, "wasn't too fancy. I identified the 1960's era UV spectrophotometer, the bio-safety cabinet, and the autoclave. I knew how to use them all, so that was a plus and I got the job." After that, he was on his own, armed with his own creativity, a "set of [American Society of Brewing Chemists] methods 200 pages thick," and the job of setting up whatever program he thought was needed to improve Short's beer. "My chemistry knowledge seriously came in handy at that point." Glaze started by implementing a protocol to quantify a compound called diacetyl in the finished beer, and also by cracking down on microbial control using information from certain tests. "Without those two skill sets, I would probably not have become a full-time employee after my internship period was over."

But he kept the job, and it's been Short's Brewing Co. ever since.

Glaze's job has evolved over time to include less and less bench work. These days, with the lab established and running, he focuses his attention on training new employees and on planning large future projects to continue improving the quality control process at Short's. When asked about how creativity played a role in his work, he responded that although the individual tests themselves were fairly standard, seeing the big picture in the test results and using them to develop better ways of handling beer requires quite a bit of ingenuity. Progress in brewing has a special reward: "When you get something right the beer starts to taste better. It's really gratifying."

Tyler Glaze started with the goal of getting a chemistry degree, but realized early on that it wasn't for him. By staying flexible, exploring his options, and working hard, he was able to combine his interest in science with a rich and complex system that also happens to be delicious: craft beer. The result? A career that he loves. "My advice to someone who is considering going off the beaten path would be to hurry up and do it. You'll thank me later when all of your friends have stress ulcers and mid-life crises and you have had your dream job since age 22 and have really made people happy with something that you are passionate about."

Mr. Glaze and everyone at Short's
are doing a great job - trust me.
I'll drink to that.

For more information on the chemistry of beer brewing, there are many blogs and podcasts available, but you might start with the very thorough "beer sensory science." If you're a scientist by trade and you reside behind the paywall, there's also the Journal of the American Society of Brewing Chemists and the Journal of the Institute of Brewing (UK-based), to name two notable publications. Finally, for more information on nontraditional chemistry careers, you might start wit this ACS webinar or this extremely detailed list.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Chemistry Literature Feature Vol. II

In this edition of the Tree Town Chemistry literature feature, we'll take a look at nifty experimental methods for determining the nature of electrocatalysts, self-illuminating quantum dots, and a sympathetic read for synthetic chemists everywhere. Have you seen a good paper lately? Written one? Send it in and have it featured here! treetownchem@gmail.com

A bit of advice before we continue, though... if your lab mates are starting up a game of cards and they ask you to play, you may not have as much of an option as you think.

Overheard at Michigan
   "It's okay, you don't have to play [euchre]. I have a heart, and if you don't care about it, then you don't have to play."

Analytical: The Genesis of a Heterogeneous Catalyst: in situ Observation of a Transition Metal Complex Adsorbing onto an Oxide Surface in Solution
In this communication, published in Chemical Communications (RSC), the authors use an extremely sensitive type of balance to examine the adsorption/desorption of well-known platinum complexes to surfaces, and suggest that their technique could be extended to the study of supported catalysts. I wonder whether this type of in situ technique could be used to understand whether soluble molecular electrocatalysts become heterogeneous (solid particles) during use.

Chemical Biology: A Conserved Water-Mediated Hydrogen Bond Network Defines Bosutinib's Kinase Selectivity
Many important drugs function by disabling a protein which is especially relevant to a disease state - a feat which is far easier said than done. In the case of this study published in Nature Chemical Biology (NPG), the authors investigate pieces of the intimate mechanism by which a potential anti-cancer agent called bosutinib interacts with kinase proteins (which are overly active in cancer cells). Interestingly, the authors use simple FTIR spectroscopy to provide strong support for their findings that the confined water within the protein binding pocket is critical to the drug's functionality.

ChemBio people might also be interested in the Materials paper, which deals with a new idea for in vivo tumor imaging.

Inorganic: Anchoring a Molecular Iron Catalyst to Solar-Responsive WO3 Improves the Rate and Selectivity of Photoelectrochemical Water Oxidation
Published and highlighted in the Journal of the American Chemical Society, and again in this prestigious publication, this communication addresses the possibility of customizing the surface of a light-absorbing solid electrode with a catalytic molecule. The authors show this new hybrid photoelectrocatalyst produces oxygen from water faster and with less wasted energy than either component alone. --suggested by Tanya Breault

Materials: Self-Illuminating 64Cu-Doped CdSe/ZnS Nanocrystals for in vivo Tumor Imaging
Inorganic materials in the form of quantum dots - particles so tiny that they take on a whole new set of properties - have gained popularity as imaging agents for medical technology. The authors of this study, published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society, introduced radioactive copper atoms into a common quantum dot composition. As the copper decays and emits alpha particles, the quantum dots light up due to Cherenkov radiation, providing both PET and luminescence images of tumors in living rats.

Organic: Review of "More Dead Ends and Detours. En Route to Successful Total Synthesis" by Miguel A. Sierra, Maria C. de la Torre, and Fernando P. Cossío
Total synthesis is one of the more terrifying concepts in chemistry. Chemists will develop schemes for synthesizing large molecules with incredible complexity, involving tens or sometimes hundreds of steps. Personally, the idea fills me with dread - however, for some, the chase is extremely rewarding. Angewandte Chemie (GDCh) recently ran a book review of the aforementioned title, in which a group of synthetic chemists gives a personal record of their hands-on experiences in total organic synthesis. Sounds like it would be worth a read by any synthetic chemist!

Physical: Enthalpy-Entropy Compensation Effect in Hydrogen Storage Materials: Striking Example of Alkali Silanides MSiH3 (M = K, Rb, Cs)
With growing research interest in the proposed hydrogen economy, chemists are pursuing numerous strategies for storing gaseous hydrogen safely. This study in the Journal of Physical Chemistry C (ACS) examines the ability of alkali metal silicon compounds to reversibly take up and release gaseous hydrogen. The authors establish a basic thermodynamic basis for their findings, establishing that more stable compounds are formed when the hydrogen atoms being absorbed are more constrained in the final structure.

Remember, if you come across an article that you think should be featured here, send it in! treetownchem@gmail.com

ACS - American Chemical Society
GDCh - Gesellschaft Deutscher Chemiker (German Chemical Society)
NPG - Nature Publishing Group
RSC - Royal Society of Chemistry