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  • Writer's pictureOlivia Wieseler

The Science of Beer

Updated: May 24, 2023

This Nebraska PA takes beer more seriously than your bartender


If you walked into the Beadle Center on the University of Nebraska - Lincoln campus in November 2018, you might have come across a giant photo of a glass of Guinness beer being projected onto the wall, while biochemistry major Andrew Cook completed his undergraduate thesis. While his classmates did projects on curing cancer, he did his on brewing beer.


“Everybody in biochem was like, ‘Oh, I'm going to do some kind of research project on the biochem of cancer treatment or whatever.’ And I’m just like, ‘Yes, girl, you try hard,’” He said with a laugh. “I’m going to do it on beer, and so I did. My thesis was basically how Saccharomyces cerevisiae, which is the scientific name for yeast, converts glucose down into ethanol, basically, and then different research projects that they're doing to make the yeast develop different alpha and beta acids to help give off characteristics to the beer. And I literally got like a 97 (percent) on the project, and the instructor loved it.”


Cook didn’t go into biochemistry for beer, though. Like many, Cook wasn’t sure where his life was going after high school. He thought about being a car mechanic or a pilot, but when he geared up in PPE and watched five surgeries while shadowing a doctor at Regional West Hospital in Scottsbluff, Nebraska, he knew that’s what he wanted to do.

“I saw that, and I was like, ‘This is freaking cool,’” he said. “…So that's kind of what got me turned on to medicine.”


From there, Cook took the initiative to take every single science class Gering High School had to offer. He knew the medical field was competitive, so he did whatever he had to do to give himself the best shot at med school.


However, while attending college at University of Nebraska - Lincoln, Cook decided that even though he wanted to be in the medical field, he wasn’t sure being a doctor was the route for him. That’s when he discovered the position of physician assistant (PA).


“I think a lot of people going into the medical field (think), ‘well, you can be a nurse or a doctor; that's all there is.’ Nobody ever stops to consider what if I want to be an occupational therapist or a speech pathologist?” he said. “So, I had no idea what a PA was. … At the time, I was like, ‘Well, I guess I could just job shadow a PA.’ Worst case scenario, when I interview for med school, I could say, ‘Oh, well, I job shadowed being a PA, and I didn't like it, and that's how I knew I wanted to be a doctor even more.’ Turns out it was the exact opposite.”


Cook changed course halfway through his undergraduate degree to work toward getting into PA school instead of med school, majoring in biochemistry and taking additional psychology and geriatrics classes.

Andrew sanitizes the keg before putting alcohol into it.

As many college students do, Cook discovered his love for alcohol as he became of age. It began with the typical college parties and beer coolers, but since majoring in biochemistry, Cook found a new appreciation for the science behind alcohol, specifically for craft beer.


“My roommate and I at the time … we turned 21, and so we go to Walmart. … There's this variety pack of Sam Adams beer that has all different kinds, so we got that. … It was just like, ‘wow, this is so much better than Bud Light.’


“Then I started learning about them — like, what's the difference between all these beers? And I got more and more interested in it.”


Beer became his passion. He collects the bottles of every flavor of craft beer he has tried, and even brews his own beer at home today. In fact, if he hadn’t gotten into PA school, his backup plan was — you guessed it — beer.

Andrew pours his latest brewing concoction into the keg.

“I had a bachelor's degree in biochemistry — which I really don't care at all about biochemistry — but it looked good on a resume when you're applying to (PA) schools,” he

said. “So I was like, ‘Well, how can I use this in a job that I actually enjoy doing?’ So my backup plan was really just culturing yeast for breweries.”


Nevertheless, Cook did get into PA school, but it wasn’t easy. He applied to six schools and only got into one — Union College in Lincoln, Nebraska. He secured one of 30 spots at Union, which he vied for alongside 700 other applicants. He said getting into the school has been his greatest achievement thus far.


“It's probably been my greatest achievement mainly because it's the thing that I've worked the hardest and the longest on in my life,” he said. “And that's not to say that there are bigger, better achievements to be had later in life, but I'm so young, and up until this point, it's really the hardest thing that I've worked on in my life.

“It's something that I've put effort into ever since I was in high school, starting in those science and math classes then, and literally seven years of college later and passing tests and outperforming other students and being the top of the top.”


For now beer will remain a side passion. But who knows? Cook still has much of his life ahead of him and a business in beer might still be on the horizon.





Right: Cook poses with a freshly poured

pint of his latest brew - butterbeer.

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