- One of the elements of education is to popularize the acquired knowledge using social media. I mainly focus on young audiences, I want to inspire them to self-development and perhaps a future scientific career - says Weronika Majchrzak, a doctoral student in the Department of Environmental Biotechnology at the Faculty of Biotechnology and Food Sciences, who brews beer herself and uses social media to educate others. In the interview, she talks about her scientific passions and how activities in the Kollaps Scientific Circle have influenced her personal and professional development.
At TUL we have a series that popularizes students with passion, "Kariera kołem się toczy," in which your person fits well. How has participation in the Kollaps Student Research Group influenced your scientific development?
My adventure with the Kollaps Chemistry Research Group began in 2017. during the “Cooltural Beer Festival”. The opportunity to participate in the workshop instilled in me the desire to develop in this direction. This is how my interest in brewing began. At the next Beer Festival, I was already actively involved as an organizer, being in the brewing and logistics sections. This was the period of my first scientific development, then I gained theoretical knowledge of beer production, which in 2018 I have already put into practice, I brewed my first independent brew. A year later, I coordinated the ninth edition of the festival.
This was a very important period for you in your education and further development?These two years completely changed my approach to studying, I stopped treating my studies as an obligation and started looking at them as an opportunity for personal development. I started thinking about how to use the raw materials used to make beer in other industries, until I made soaps based on hopped wort extract. This path led me to formulating cosmetics based on brewing raw materials and to the first line of cosmetics based on commercial hops extract. The products were presented at my first scientific conference, which took place in 2019 in Lublin. Participation in the Board of the Research Group has greatly enhanced my planning and management skills and has proven to be an important item on my resume.
What was your education like at the Faculty of Biotechnology and Food Sciences?
Initially, I will not hide, I just wanted to get an engineering degree and say goodbye to the walls of the university. In my second year of study, this decision changed, because joining the Research Group completely changed my interests and view of studying. Being in the Group opened up many avenues for me, thanks to which I got into one of the more beleaguered specializations in the biotechnology major at the time, and a little later I did a paid internship at a scientific research institute as part of an EU program organized at the faculty. In addition, I had the opportunity to obtain certifications as an Internal Auditor.
Activities in the Student Research Group made me gain confidence and self-presentation skills, which translated into a great presentation of my engineering work. Even then I heard that I should go for a doctorate.
Eventually, a decision had to be made about the next stage of education. The time has come to choose a master's degree program.
Until the last moment I was hesitating which field of study to choose whether to continue my studies in biotechnology, or maybe I should go for cosmetic technology. I chose the latter course because I value interdisciplinarity, which, looking back, led me to my PhD. While reviewing scientific journals and trade journals for formulations, I came across bioferments, which are now an integral topic of my scientific research. I was invited to the doctoral program at the time by the reviewer of my master's thesis - Prof. Krzysztof Smigielski, who also at the same time began research work on bioferments at TUL.
The topic of your doctoral dissertation is: Bioferments from natural products in cosmetic technology. How does the research look like and what do you want to prove in your dissertation?
My research is quite interdisciplinary and aims to produce an innovative line of natural cosmetics and a range of health-promoting bioactive products using bioferments made from food industry waste.
Fermentation yields a raw material with higher biocompatibility and bioactivity. Both the manufacturing process itself and the elements used in it, i.e., microorganisms and plant biomass, are completely safe for the environment and humans. The main idea is to focus on the use of waste materials in order to keep the process as ecologically sound as possible, with the main focus being on waste from typically Polish plant products.
What is the innovation of your PhD research?
The goal established in the work is characterized by a high degree of innovation, since the issue of biofermentation is still a trending topic. Most of the available scientific reports deal with exotic plant species typical of countries both culturally and geographically distant from us, for the production of bioferment will be used agro-food waste, which seemingly does not represent any value and does not play a significant role in the industry. I am also keen to make the technological process as fast and simple as possible so that it can be implemented in industry.
In 2022, the trend for Kamchatka berry began in the Polish market, hence the focus of scientific and research work on this raw material. After six months of research, we applied for "Bioactive preparation from Kamchatka berry" to the Patent Office of the Republic of Poland, and three months later we also made such an application for bioferments made from the pomace of Kamchatka berry, where we used mainly environmental strains found in the berry.
Currently, I have quite interesting observation results about the fermentation process itself, or rather its conditions, which is a breakthrough in the ongoing research and will further optimize the process of bioferment production without negatively affecting volatiles and bioactive substances. I make no secret of the fact that we have begun work on bioferments with waste raw materials from beer production, but at this point we are preparing further patent applications in this regard.
I am also conducting aging studies of cosmetic masses enriched with the developed bioferments, at this point the results promise to be promising. There is quite a bit of work ahead of me, which I believe will show many breakthroughs in both cosmetic technology and food technology.
You are pursuing a PhD in the Department of Environmental Biotechnology. Who is the supervisor of your dissertation?
My promoter is Prof. Krzysztof Śmigielski, and my assistant supervisor is Ilona Motyl, Ph.D. I have a great deal of support from both promoters and staff and doctoral students in the Department of Environmental Biotechnology. I also appreciate the help of students who take part in the work I conduct in the lab as part of their scientific volunteering or internship.
You are known on social media as "Werka od piwerka," where you promote beer culture on TIkTok. Gazeta Wyborcza wrote an article about you. Where did the idea for this form of beer promotion come from?
I want beer to not just be badly associated. Consuming beer is a kind of cultural custom, as is drinking wine. I present beer mainly from the production side, focusing on home production or the use of raw materials or brewing waste in cosmetics.
There was also the fact that I am a woman, which made me lose credibility. Currently, I have a circle of regular followers.
I also use my social media activity to promote my studies, including my doctorate. I talk about the opportunities they offer, but I also share the failures. I care about authenticity and don't want to be labeled as an influencer.
You are planning to defend your doctoral thesis in a year, what are your future career plans? Will it be a career in science?
The most important thing for me as a scientist is that the research I am doing is not finished with my PhD. At the beginning of this year, my colleague Wiktoria Liszkowska and I developed a project entitled "Low-temperature valorization of fruit pomace as a key to producing natural food and cosmetic products." It was submitted to the NCRD within the framework of the competition No. LIDER XIV.
I am also in the process of applying for the PRELUDIUM 22 competition, where my project will focus on scientific work related to the stability of cosmetic pulp with the addition of manufactured bioferments and the evaluation of their cytotoxicity.
An integral part of my activity at TUL is working with students, where I rely on their involvement and free reasoning. I really appreciate this form of contact. It develops me and one of my dreams is to be able to teach at the university.
In addition to my activities at TUL, I try my hand at start-ups. In cooperation with my friends from Warsaw, an idea was developed for candies that make sweets not taste good to us, which reduces the consumption of these unhealthy products during the day and is the answer to the epidemic of obesity, diabetes or insulin resistance. The idea is currently in the prototype stage, and we are currently looking for an investor.
Interviewed by Malgorzata Trocha