Brett Brothers and Thadeus "Tad" Beekman have both been involved in research while pursuing their degrees at Iowa State. Photos by Whitney Sager.

Research key component of food science students’ time at Iowa State

For many aspiring food scientists, research is a major component of their collegiate studies. Opportunities to conduct research in laboratories while pursuing degrees have made lasting impacts on two soon-to-be graduates.

Thadeus “Tad” Beekman, senior in food science, and Brett Brothers, graduate student in food science, quickly became involved in research at Iowa State, gaining valuable experience that will help them following graduation.

After making the switch to food science from animal science his freshman year, Beekman joined University Professor Lester Wilson’s lab, where he has spent the last three years as an undergraduate research assistant. He’s conducted research related to aronia berries, the possibility of making cheese on lunar and Mars missions, and the influence of wavelength on the aroma of herbs.

Brothers’ decision to come to Iowa State to pursue his master’s degree was an easy one – he grew up in Ames and was aware of the level of research for which Iowa State is known.

“I learned a lot during my undergraduate studies and wanted to apply what I learned to a graduate degree,” Brothers said.

He’s been working in Professor Tong “Toni” Wang’s lab, conducting corn fermentation research, specifically looking at where free fatty acid is formed during the process of converting ground corn to ethanol.

Perhaps one of the most valuable life lessons Brothers has learned during his graduate studies has been learning how to fail when experiments don’t go as planned.

“I learned a lot through failed experiments,” Brothers said. “They’ve all been learning opportunities.”

Wang has been impressed with the work Brothers has done in her lab. She said his research findings are “one of a kind” with his paper being the first report showing how free fatty acid content in corn distillers oil can be different depending on the assay methods used, and the high degree of oxidation of this type of oil.

“Brett is a perfect example for how unexpected research results can be a gift for making one gritty, critical in thinking, and masterful in problem solving,” Wang said.

For Beekman, a highlight of his time at Iowa State has been his research on aronia berries. Continuing the work started by Wilson’s previous research assistant, Beekman has worked to determine the best time to harvest the berries, as well as looked at their sugar and acid content, and how the berries can be used for natural coloring.

The results of his research have been submitted as a manuscript - it’s just waiting to be published. Beekman has been able to present his research related to aronia berries at research symposiums.

“It’s exciting to be able to talk about it,” Beekman said.

Putting extra time and effort into their work in the lab has proven beneficial to the students as they’ve seen success along the way.

“For me, just being willing to put the work in and seeing it pay off later,” Beekman said. “Faculty members want to see you succeed and they push you to do your best.”

When it comes to individuals who have been influential to the students’ time on campus, Brothers said Wang has been a great help along his journey to obtaining a master’s degree.

“Dr. Wang has been very helpful and she’s passionate about what she does,” Brothers said. “She pushes you to be the best you can be.”

Working alongside other graduate students in the lab and bouncing ideas off each other also has aided Brothers in his progress.

“I’ve really enjoyed my time here. I’ve learned a lot about research and life,” he said.

Following graduation, Beekman will head to the University of Arkansas, where he has accepted a full-ride, four year Distinguished Doctoral Fellowship in the area of sensory science. He said he likes sensory analysis because it allows him to work with food and interact with consumers regarding food at the same time.

“You have to understand food science in order to work with sensory analysis – it helps you understand why foods have the qualities they do and how consumers perceive those specific qualities,” Beekman said.

Though he’s still looking for a job, Brothers hopes to obtain a position in research and development for a food company.