Students Learn Chemical Engineering via Craft Brewing Process

Dr. Michael Smith

What do Cape May Brewing, Evil Genius Beer, Conshohocken Brewing and Montauk Brewing all have in common (besides beer)? Villanova University alumni are their founders or head brewers! With such significant representation in the craft brewing industry, it makes perfect sense that the College of Engineering would offer “Introduction to Beer and Brewing Technology,” a Chemical Engineering special topics course. It also isn’t surprising that the course was filled within the first two hours of registration.

Taught by Associate Professor Michael A. Smith, PhD, “Introduction to Beer and Brewing Technology” is intended to reinforce students’ understanding of concepts in chemical engineering through learning about brewing science.  Dr. Smith says: “We are studying each step of the beer brewing process and how it relates to topics studied in chemical engineering. The goal is to understand how each part factors into the final product.” The brewing process will be related to transport phenomena, heat transfer, mass transfer, biology and process design. Students who want to go even deeper can take Dr. Smith’s Transport Phenomena course for which he has adopted an applications-based approach using the brewing process.

A cornerstone of the special topics course will be a major project, in which students will be required to develop a business plan and preliminary process design for a small-scale brewery. This will include recipe formulation and brewing, equipment sizing and cost analysis, process conditions, and packaging and marketing considerations.

For Dr. Smith, exploring the brewing industry is not only about teaching chemical engineering concepts, but also about connecting the discipline to the broader culture. “So many of us enter the profession without a clear sense for what it entails. My hope is to introduce a bit of history, how cultural and technical developments over time have shaped the industry.”