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SIU’s iFERM receives $2.5M in innovation, research funding

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CARBONDALE (WSIL) -- Southern Illinois University Carbondale's Fermentation Science Institute, iFERM, is taking part in a state-wide effort to further the research and innovation of regional foods through funding announced by Gov. JB Pritzker Wednesday.

Initially, SIU is set to receive $2.5 million, which allows iFERM's facility in the McLafferty Annex to finish construction started years ago. Looking at iFERM's lab from the outside, one would never guess the facility is still under construction.

"Basically, in this space, we'll have largely an open space, with floor drain, a trench drain that will go all the way through the space," said Director Matt McCarroll, describing the finished product while sweeping his arm across an empty room the size of a high school gym. The facility fell prey to Illinois' budget crisis around 2014, and construction was put on pause.

"And the $2.5 million dollars that we're receiving will allow us to build out that facility, place equipment and additional equipment within there," said McCarroll. "That will allow us to do a teaching and research kitchen, a formal sensory laboratory, distillery, molting operations for barley, and as well as cheese-making operations."

McCarroll said the new funding will put his program back on track and "actually allow students to get hands-on training with the equipment that we're putting in."

Training, which Assistant Professor Katherine Witrick said, is in demand.

"Because industry is calling for more technical people," said Witrick. She said SIU will have the facilities for research matching the needs of larger-scale industry.

"While small-scale research is good, I really want to make my research more applicable to the industry in which I'm doing it for," said Witrick. "I came from large brewing, and so I want to be able to go back to where I came from and be like, 'Here's the research. I'm doing it on a large enough scale that it would impact you."

This type of research is envisioned in the project Gov. Pritzker announced, which provides $500 million in capital funding to a statewide group.

"Illinois' nexus of partnerships, innovation hubs, public and private universities, national laboratories, and international research programs is the foundation for a technology ecosystem that will rival any location in the world," said Pritzker in a press release. "And through the Illinois Innovation Network, DPI's success will radiate across the state to 15 hubs from Chicago to Rockford to Peoria to Edwardsville. We are investing in workforce development, innovation and R&D all across our state."

SIU already has an advantage; its program is one of only seven recognized nationally by the Masters Brewers Association, said iFERM's director.

"And so this new grant, and the infrastructure that we're now able to implement, really just pushes that further and sets us apart."

Joe Rehana

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