Some of UMass-Amherst’s earliest breakthroughs can be linked to its agricultural college heritage. By the beginning of the 20th century, the school had food production down pat; food preservation was the natural next step. In 1918 — partly in reaction to a wave of food shortages during World War I — the school started the country’s first food science program, working to develop new preservation methods and even selling the results of their research via a local Amherst storefront. WWII brought increased demand from the front lines, and the faculty responded with new breakthroughs in canning and freeze-drying. In recent years, UMass-Amherst’s partnership with Ocean Spray has led to the development of some unique cranberry-based consumables, including cran-apple juice and Craisins.
There’s also been a considerable amount of research at Amherst dedicated to ensuring there’s still a planet to feed in the future. One of climate change’s early academic heavyweights, the UMass geosciences professor Raymond Bradley, was the coauthor of the now-famous “hockey stick” graph study, which shows that the earth had a generally stable temperature until about 1900, when it started to spike upward. A few of the science faculty have had breakthroughs in sustainable energy in recent years, including microbiologist Susan Leschine’s 2002 discovery of a bacteria called the “Q microbe,” which eats plant material and spits out ethanol, and Derek Lovley’s 2003 identification of a microbe that can produce electricity from mud and wastewater.