Newswise — Northern Michigan University will offer a new medicinal plant chemistry program, beginning with the fall 2017 semester. It is the only four-year degree of its kind to combine experimental horticulture and advanced analytical chemistry with an optional entrepreneurial track. The program is designed to prepare students for success in emerging industries related to medicinal plant production, analysis and distribution.

“There is great demand for qualified technical personnel and great opportunities for skilled entrepreneurs,” said Mark Paulsen, head of the NMU chemistry department. “Our focus will be on analyzing variations in plant compounds and the impacts of different growing and processing methods. The knowledge and skills acquired are applicable to the cannabis industry, but also translate to the broader field of natural products chemistry and a wide range of professional opportunities.”

Paulsen said graduates could pursue careers in herbal supplements, fermentation science, food chemistry and environmental analysis. They would also be prepared for a variety of entry-level lab positions or graduate school.

The program will comply with federal and state laws. A year-long capstone research project will give students hands-on experience cultivating and harvesting legal plants. They will also extract and analyze targeted compounds using the industry standard: Liquid Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry. The department is purchasing a new LC-MS instrument for the program.

“Laboratory testing helps to enhance consumer safety and quality,” said Professor Lesley Putman. “There’s entrepreneurial potential in the ability to control and standardize compound concentrations. Students might go on to operate a dispensary, analytical lab or a combination of the two. Or they might use their technical proficiency to develop new methods for analysis.”

NMU’s program offers an entrepreneurial track with accounting, finance and marketing courses to prepare students for a business related to medicinal plants. The alternative bio-analytical track provides advanced scientific understanding beyond the core courses in chemistry and plant biology. There is also a cohort component designed to strengthen connections among freshmen and facilitate mentoring by advanced students.

Professor Brandon Canfield said NMU’s program is an innovative, inevitable response to national trends.

“In 2015, Forbes called legal cannabis the best startup opportunity for entrepreneurs and investors and the marijuana economy is projected to grow by triple-digit percentage points by 2020,” he said. “Analytical laboratories will play a critical role in that growth. In fact, cannabis chemistry is now a recognized subdivision of the American Chemical Society. There is a major gap in educational opportunities for those interested in this field between graduate-level research—primarily on the effects of medicinal plants on the body and mind—and non-accredited, non-degree programs. This will be the first four-year undergraduate program dedicated to this topic.”

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