The college experience essentially boils down to two things—drinking and schooling. Rarely do those worlds collide, other than when the former impedes the latter.
And while more cheap beer is probably the last thing that most college students need, univeristies are also breeding grounds for innovation, so why not push the boundaries of alcohol production while you're studying?
This is exactly what a trio of University of Pennsylvania students going by the team name "Fermento" have sought to do, and it might forever change the face of the beer industry.
Alexander David, Shashwata Narain, and Siddharth Shah, students from UPenn's Wharton School and the School of Engineering and Applied Science, recently won a $10,000 prize for finding a way to speed up the most time-consuming part of the beer-making process—fermentation.
By using an approach called "microfluidics," the team found that they could potentially speed up beer fermentation by nine times, without compromising quality or composition, according to a University of Pennsylvania press release.
The implications for cost-cutting in the beer industry (not to mention among their binge-drinking classmates) are huge and it's no coincidence that the students' advisors include executives at MillerCoors, Anheuser Busch InBev, Biocon India, and Heineken.
"[Fermentation] typically takes up to three weeks in a standard batch reactor setting, making it the longest step in the $520 billion global industry's production process," the press release said. But by increasing the surface area of liquid sugars exposed to yeast, Fermento were able to accelerate the rate at which yeast converts sugar to alcohol by 70 percent.
In order to win said prize, Fermento beat out two other UPenn teams with ten-minute presentations followed by questions from a panel consisting of biotechnology experts and investors who "evaluated the market potential and technical feasibility of each pitch."
Along with the cash prize came the rights for the three undergraduate students to commercialize their biomedical engineering technology.
All of which bodes well for Team Fermento, and is a testament to what can be done when college students focus on improving beer instead of drinking it.