Exhibition Gives a Taste of What's Brewing at Cooper
December 07, 2016
This past Friday, December 2, a crowd of 75 students, faculty and alumni got a taste of something new brewing at Cooper. Associate Professor of Electrical Engineering Sam Keene’s independent study course, “The Science and Art of Brewing,” culminated with an exhibition of brewing elements, equipment and beer created by his students this fall.
Professor Keene proposed the idea this summer to Acting Dean Richard Stock for a course in fermentation science. They decided to start small as an independent study, opening it to students from all three schools. The course covered the history of brewing alongside recent brewing innovation and entrepreneurship. As for the technical aspects, students learned the fundamentals of water chemistry, sanitation, wort production and equipment, microbiology and yeast health, fermentation, the design of beer and the diagnosis of off-flavors. Much of the course was hands-on with a capstone project of designing and producing a fermented beverage.
As this was a new course needing substantial equipment and materials, Professor Keene had to fundraise to turn it into a reality. Working with the Office of Alumni Affairs and Development, Keene raised over $8,000 to fund the class. “I emailed nearly every student who has taken a class with me in my time at Cooper with a description of the project, and a request for donations,” Keene says. “I posted the same information on my Facebook wall.” For a number of the donors, many of whom were recent graduates, it was their first gift to The Cooper Union. Using a concept similar to a Kickstarter campaign, donors were encouraged to give in any amount and were recognized with small perks like pint glasses and invitations to the final exhibition. “Within a few days of sending the email, we had received enough donations and pledges to purchase all the equipment we needed, and fund the class for the entire year.”
Four students enrolled – Jessica Marshall EE’17, Emily Adamo A’17, Stephanie Restrepo AR’17 and Monica Abdallah ChE’17 – an interdisciplinary mix as Professor Keene hoped. While chemical engineering may be the obvious background for the course, Keene included elements of electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, art and architecture. The students’ different backgrounds contributed to the learning experience. Inspired by a historic label for Peter Cooper’s standard glue, Emily Adamo and Stephanie Restrepo collaborated on the logo design for the pint glasses used for the exhibition. “It was really exciting to see how differently Steph, Jess, Monica and I all approached the process,” Emily says. “When we brew together we're all considering and observing things from different perspectives. Working together on a process none of us have studied before felt super new and refreshing.”
The final exhibition included visuals about the science and process of brewing as well as more immersive activities to understand the project. Attendees tasted and chewed malts (“Chewing emulates the chemical reaction of the mashing stage of our brew process, and the grains get sweeter as you chew them,” Professor Keene says), smelled six different hops used in their brews and of course, sampled five beers produced in the course. Jessica Marshall, who worked with Professor Keene on conceptualizing the course this summer, remarks, "The success of this course shows just how much - and how quickly - positive change can be accomplished at Cooper Union when students, faculty, and deans across the three schools share a common vision and the drive to execute it."