Working with Cleveland Whiskey would give students practical
experience, relevant to local industry. It would also be easy for
students to understand the applications of the research. But first
we needed the equipment, space, and other operational plans for
doing the work on our campus.
We would also need funding. So, we started applying for
grants. (Note: Grant writing is a major component of graduate
research, too.) Our first
grant proposal was to
the ACS Collaborative
this funding award
gave us reassurance
that we were doing
and it inspired us to
We proceeded by submitting two more grant proposals — one to the ACS Two-Year College Faculty/Stu-dent Travel Grants program, and another to the Center
for Teaching Excellence at LCCC. We ended up winning those,
too! Despite the fact that all of these grant awards were modest, collectively we were beginning to put together something
Invest in the people you work with
At a community college with 15,000 students and virtually no
chemistry majors, how would I recruit students to participate
in a chemistry research project and motivate them to produce
results? Money! Money is a great incentive, especially for stu-
dents on shoestring budgets.
Another grant opportunity met this need. This semester, every
student in my group is working under a full scholarship, thanks
to the NASA Community College STARS Program. Needless to say,
each of the students is thrilled to work on the project.
Current friends = future collaborators
As a teacher, I knew my responsibility in this research effort was
to teach my students how to analyze bourbon whiskey for flavor
compounds. The problem was, I didn’t know how to do it myself.
How would I know? I’d never done it before.
I turned to Coleen McFarland, a friend from college and a
senior analytical chemist at Envantage, Inc., a premier analytical testing lab. Not only did Coleen’s company have substantial
expertise in the area, it was also a true pleasure to work with
a trusted friend. It was a most valuable validation for why it’s
important to stay close with your friends from college. They are
your future collaborators, job references, sources for insider tips
and opportunities, and so much more.
Build on prior knowledge to get new results
At LCCC, we now get to do research using samples of experimental whiskey flavors that are not yet commercially available. Using
GC-MS, we profile the distinct flavor compounds that are leached
from the various woods in these uniquely flavored bourbon whis-kies. Thus, we have been able to identify and quantify the flavor
compounds for each of these unprecedented bourbons. Because
of the applied nature of our research, new students readily understand the work and begin to contribute quickly, generating practical and relevant information for our industry partner, Cleveland
The bottom line: You never know what you can do until you
try. Be open to new ideas, use the resources around you, and soon
you could also accomplish something that seems impossible.
Regan L. Silvestri, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of chemistry
at Lorain County Community College, near Cleveland, Ohio.
His background includes service in the Peace Corps as a visiting
professor in the Republic of Kazakhstan. Through his “Magical
Science!” shows at local schools, he has reached combined
audiences of tens of thousands of enthusiastic students.
Cleveland Whiskey: Pioneering Spirits
Traditionally, whiskey is produced by aging a clear, distilled
spirit in a charred oak barrel for up to 10 years or more. During this time, the spirit becomes flavored with compounds
that leach into it from the charred oak.
At Cleveland Whiskey, CEO Tom Lix has developed an
innovative technology that accelerates the aging process of
whiskey from a matter of years to just days. Essentially, the
process involves placing the new spirit in a stainless steel
vessel with pieces of charred wood of a controlled surface
area, sealing the vessel, and subjecting the headspace above
the liquid to a precisely defined cycling of pressure. This
forces the alcohol into the wood, extracting compounds from
the wood that naturally flavor the whiskey. The company has
also begun using the technology to experiment with other
new flavors, including bourbon aged naturally with cherry,
apple, hickory, maple, and honey locust woods.
Resources for Collaboration
• Student resources: www.acs.org/undergrad
• Local sections: www.acs.org/localsections
• Technical divisions: www.acs.org/divisions
• Local businesses: www.chamberofcommerce.com/chambers
Use small successes
to build momentum
for big ones.