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Chemistry students at the University of Leicester have been thinking outside the box and putting their skills to the test in real-world industry by conducting a pioneering gin-making experiment.

As part of their mission to innovate and create the world’s greatest gin recipes, Leicestershire-based gin distillery 45 West approached the University to see how their leading academic expertise and Botanic Garden research environment could be used to drive innovation.

Image Credit: University of Leicester

Twelve of the University’s talented science students worked alongside Edward Gibson, the head distiller at Leicestershire-based Burleighs Gin.

Students were able to put their lab skills to the test during distillation and discovered how a process they frequently use in chemistry experiments is applied in industry to create one of Britain’s most loved drinks. The experiment gave students the opportunity to apply skills learned from their degree in an imaginative way.

Leicester Chemistry graduate Hilary Wu said: “I’ve really enjoyed applying the skills I’ve learned on my degree into a practical situation. To see that distillation can be used outside of the laboratory has been really fascinating. I decided to take a very systematic and analytical approach, which is what we are taught as chemistry students and it’s really opened up my eyes to the possibilities of working in the gin industry.”

Before the experiment began, students were given a fascinating insight on the history of gin, how it has evolved and the intricate processes of making the perfect tipple.

Image Credit: University of Leicester

Edward Gibson, Burleighs Head Distiller, said: “I had always been intrigued by the fact that just a few miles away from the distillery the University of Leicester Botanic Garden grows such a wide variety of botanicals in a scientific research environment. When the opportunity arose to work with the university’s talented students to see how their knowledge and the university’s high-quality, locally grown botanicals could be used in my gin-making, it was a no brainer. The results were excellent and I look forward to seeing how we can further develop our collaboration with the University of Leicester.”

Students experimented with botanicals which had been carefully selected by Dr Richard Gornall, director of the University’s Botanic Garden, who oversees the academic operations of the well-known gardens in Oadby, which are open to the public throughout the year.

Dr Gornall said: “I am passionate about my academic research and always interested in finding novel ways to apply my work in real world applications. This experiment sparked my interest because I know that Burleighs are a distinguished gin-maker focussed on producing high calibre products and I hope it will generate even more public engagement with our popular gardens. Involving our talented students was important because it demonstrates the university’s commitment to providing valuable industry opportunities which will help them to gain the employability skills they require to launch their careers.”

Marking the start of an exciting relationship, 45 West Distillers and the University of Leicester are exploring further collaborations in the near future.