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PhD student puts Cornell’s land grant mission into practice

Lindsay Springer
Lindsay Springer

by Andrea Elmore

What began as a hobby for Lindsay Springer, PhD candidate in food science and technology, has turned into a career path.  Springer started making wine for fun after earning an MS in Biomaterials Science and Pharmaceutical Science.  At the same time she wanted to continue her education and earn a PhD, but was struggling to decide on a program.  With some encouragement from her husband, Springer decided to switch directions and pursue her passion, wine.

Although enology is a change from her previous education, as Springer explains it “as different as biomaterials and enology may sound, biomacromolecules all play by the same rules, so I fell into my research comfort zone quickly.”  Not only has Springer excelled in her research, she has completed projects for an extension assistantship and gained experience in teaching.  With all three experiences, Springer has practiced first-hand Cornell University’s land grant mission of education, outreach, and applied research.

Under the guidance of Dr. Gavin Sacks, associate professor in the Department of Food Science, Springer’s thesis research has focused on factors that limit the extraction of condensed tannin from grapes into red wine. 

“Condensed tannins are extremely important for wine quality, especially for mouthfeel characteristics, but their extraction into wine varies extensively by cultivar and even wine region,“ Springer explains.  “My research has identified several pathogenesis–related grape proteins that are stable in wine and that can efficiently bind and remove tannin.”  The quantities of these proteins are higher in disease-resistant interspecific hybrid cultivars and are also expressed at higher levels in V.vinifera when disease pressure is high.  The relationship between protein and wine tannin quantities suggests that these proteins are important determinants of red wine quality.    

In addition to research, Springer was nominated for an extension assistantship in Spring 2014.  This appointment required her to contribute her expertise to several enology extension projects.  For one task she helped to execute a week long extension workshop on cider and berry production, hosted by Cornell Cooperative Extension.  “It was great to learn what it takes to put on an extension workshop and work with a class of people for the entire week,” said Springer.

Springer also shared her own expertise as part of her assistantship, giving talks to industry at two conferences.  “I was able to connect with wine makers and grape growers in the industry and discuss the chemistry and challenges surrounding tannin management, with a special focus on challenging climates,” said Springer.  Finally, she is finishing up a blog page on tannin chemistry for the wine community.

With coaching and teaching experience prior to coming to Cornell, Springer was prepared to take on the responsibilities of a teaching assistant in the Department of Food Science for both Winemaking Theory and Practice II and Wine and Grape Flavor Chemistry. Recently, she was awarded a Graduate Research and Teaching Fellowship by the Center for Teaching Excellence, which provides professional development opportunities to graduate students considering academic positions in higher education.

Through her work at Cornell, Springer has both contributed to and benefitted from Cornell’s land grant mission of education, outreach, and applied research.  She specifically points out how each experience has informed her in another, such as how her work with extension has added more meaning to her research.  “I truly enjoyed the extension experience and seeing how the industry embraced my presentations and really benefited from them.  Having people race up to you after a talk with loads of questions and ideas is really rewarding,” said Springer.  “I always felt energized when I got back in the lab, knowing that my research was valued and helpful.”

As for her future career, Springer is keeping an open mind.  She hopes to use the communication skills she has been honing to improve scientific understanding across a wide range of people, whether it’s through writing, presentations, or in other ways.  As Springer explains, “I hope to find a challenging, rewarding career where I can do great things to make the world a better place."

Andrea Elmore is undergraduate coordinator for the viticulture and enology program, in the department of food science at Cornell.