Founder of the Illinois Alt Protein Project and bioengineering Ph.D. candidate Aidan Brougham-Cook shares future plans and key learnings for the RSO.
The Illinois Alt Protein Project is an RSO started by bioengineering Ph.D. candidate Aidan Brougham-Cook in the spring of 2021 with the help of undergraduate bioengineering student Lauren Krause (BIOE ‘23), who now serves as the club’s president.
“It began with the funding of my Clean Meat Project proposal in October 2020, which helped my interest in cellular agriculture and alternative proteins gain momentum,” said Brougham-Cook. As for Krause, she was interested in environmentalism.
In order to receive the funding for this project, the Student Student Sustainability Committee required that Brougham-Cook had a plan to connect his ideas through the student body. From there, Brougham-Cook connected with Amy Huang, a university innovation manager at the Good Food Institute, where she agreed to sponsor the Illinois Alt Protein Project and helped establish it. The goal of this RSO is to connect with students across the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and inform them about what alternative proteins are, why they are important, and how to get involved in alternative protein research, education, or career. Brougham-Cook stated that since starting the RSO they have seen interdisciplinary interest from students in engineering, food science, animal science and business.
Currently, Brougham-Cook and fellow RSO member and bioengineering undergraduate student Donna Gieser (BIOE ‘22) are continuing the Student Sustainability Committee Award Project by pursuing two specific research areas: bioreactor optimization/implementation and stem cell characterization for cell line development. Both members hope to give a public presentation about the work before the end of the spring 2022 semester.
As for future plans, the Alt Protein Project has many. They would like to start an alternative protein career panel, host a guest speaker series with professionals in the industry, put on taste test events, develop an on-campus crash course on alternative protein and collaborate with other student organizations. Bigger plans include, “successfully helping one or more club members get a job or internship in the alternative protein field and also marketing the Illinois Alt Protein Project beyond the campus,” said Brougham-Cook.
Brougham-Cook also shared a list of key learnings from seminar speakers last semester:
- Dr. Nair from Mycorena taught our members about how fermentation can aid in the alt protein movement.
- Dr. Giuseppi Scionti from NovaMeat introduced how he founded and came up with his plant-based 3D printed meat company.
- Aqua Cultured Foods came to talk about their fermented seafood alternative. They gave our members a more business-minded way to start your business if you aren’t starting with a science background.
- Dr. Micheal Miller from UIUC’s food science and human nutrition department spoke on the utility and science behind fermentation.
John Pattison from Cultured Decadence explained how his company uses cell culture to make seafood and how he started in this business.
In the 2022 spring semester, Brougham-Cook wants to bring in more professors from UIUC who are doing research on alternative protein. For the career panel, “we hope to bring in folks from some bigger alt protein companies (Beyond, Impossible, JUST etc.) to speak to us about the opportunities available at these companies. More importantly, how can students position themselves to have a better chance at getting the job/internship. For freshmen and sophomores, it will be important to know the kind of courses they should take to make themselves more competitive,” he said.
Anyone who would like to join the Illinois Alt Protein Project, email the student organization at email@example.com or Aidan at firstname.lastname@example.org. Every background is welcomed!
Lauren Krause (President), bioengineering
Aidan Brougham-Cook (Vice-President, Research Committee Chair), bioengineering
Donna Geiser (Secretary), bioengineering
Priyanka Patel (Outreach Committee Chair), MCB/animal science
Jesse Phillips (Treasurer), food science
Yash Shah (Education Committee Chair), food science