Student Spotlight: Austin Montgomery

Austin Montgomery

April 22, 2024

Austin Montgomery is a doctoral candidate in food science and technology with a concentration in food/flavor chemistry from Bedford, Pennsylvania. He earned a B.S. in chemistry from Juniata College and now studies the interaction between beverages and aluminum beverage cans under the guidance of Gavin Sacks at Cornell.

What is your area of research and why is it important?

My research broadly investigates how beverages interact with aluminum beverage cans. While aluminum cans are the most sustainable type of package currently available, there are mechanical and sensory problems that can occur throughout long-term storage. My work investigates markers of packaging failure (current markers are not always suitable for all beverage types), develops accelerated aging tests to rapidly test compatibility between beverage and can, and develops can treatments that extend the shelf life of problematic beverages in aluminum cans.

What are the larger implications of this research?

The main goal of my work is to extend the shelf life of canned beverages, which limits food waste. Aluminum cans are the most recyclable and most recycled type of packaging. In some industries (like wine/cider), its known that there is a potential for off-aroma formation in cans, and glass is preferred. My work gives producers the confidence to switch to a more sustainable packaging option.

Your work was selected as the 2024 Best Enology Paper by the American Journal of Enology and Viticulture. Can you speak about this paper and its findings?

Our work in this paper first proved that if you store wine (or hard cider) in aluminum beverage cans, significantly more hydrogen sulfide (H2S, rotten egg aroma) will get produced compared to glass storage. An accelerated aging test was developed which winemakers can use to test their wine before deciding to can a large volume (and potentially have to dump it or pull it from shelves). Sulfur dioxide (SO2, also called sulfites) is a nearly essential wine preservative that protects against microbial spoilage and oxidation. However, we found that a synergistic effect between low pH and SO2 is tightly correlated with H2S production. The most important result is that we gave winemakers chemical guidelines on where to put pH and SO2 levels so that off-aroma formation is limited.

What does it mean to you to have your work selected for this recognition?

It was an honor and a surprise. Of course, this work was a team effort with the other co-authors, but it feels good to do work that has an immediate impact on the industry. I’m fortunate for the opportunity to study a field that I’m so passionate about with such a great advisor and lab group.

President Pollack has designated this academic year’s theme as freedom of expression. What does freedom of expression mean to you?

To me, freedom of expression is a tricky line to draw. Everyone has a different background, culture, and experience which shapes their reality. Unfortunately, everyone only knows what they know. Hurtful things can be said via ignorance. Its above my pay grade to determine where that level of freedom is. In an ideal world, all community members accept that everyone is limited by their reality, and mutual respect is given regardless of personal views… but I think our world is too complicated for full-on freedom of expression. Maybe a nice intermediate goal would just be for people to be okay with who they are. That sounds nice.

What are your hobbies or interests outside of your research or scholarship?

I spend a lot of my free time golfing – my goal is to get to scratch golf by the time I finish my Ph.D. (although this is unlikely). Other than that, I find magic in making music, live music, coffee, cooking, team sports, and sharing a beer(s) with good friends.

Why did you choose Cornell to pursue your degree?

I’ll be honest, I didn’t have many options… I got lucky. 🙂