Dating back to the 2nd century AD during China’s Han Dynasty, and possibly earlier, the ancient art of papermaking helped transform the way people kept and transferred knowledge, records and language. Gallop ahead a couple thousand years, and that proud tradition is still alive today at SEFS—though with some modern upgrades.
Every fall, using the pilot paper machine in Bloedel 014, several students in the Bioresource Science and Engineering (BSE) program roll up their sleeves to produce a few rolls of handcrafted paper. Organized by the student chapter of the Technical Association of the Pulp and Paper Industry (TAPPI), the annual papermaking fundraiser helps cover student conference fees and support other events. “It’s a social event just as much as a learning event,” says Megan James, a senior BSE major and president of the student chapter of TAPPI. They also host barbecues and bowling events, as well as a resumé café to help students fine-tune their applications.
James first participated in the papermaking project as a freshman. Now, her favorite part is seeing everybody get a chance to get their hands dirty in the various stages of production, from stock preparation and the pulping of materials, to the final messy day—in goggles—using the paper machine. “It’s a great opportunity for students who are leaning about these things in the classroom to see everything take place, and actually participate,” says James. “Some students have never seen the machine run before.”
The paper itself—which is 100 percent non-wood—is composed of a giant reed (arundo domax), bagasse from sugarcane, and Washington-grown wheat straw. As a holiday flourish, students also added some plumosa ferns to the slurry during production, so you’ll find some festive accents in the paper. (The reeds are native to Egypt, but in this case the materials came from Mark Lewis’ lab; he’s the faculty advisor for TAPPI.) This year’s crop was produced on November 28 and featured several styles and weights, including card stock, regular 8.5×11-inch copy paper, and greeting cards.
Papermaking is only a small part of the BSE experience for a handful of students, yet this kind of hands-on training has broader applications in the field. Many BSE graduates go on to work for chemical vendors or pulp and paper companies, and since the curriculum has expanded to include biofuels, students are finding additional opportunities with research positions or graduate school. “The great thing about this major is that it prepares students with a specific skill,” says James. “We’re kind of like specialized chemical engineers, equipped to go into pulp and paper and the emerging biofuels field.”
James is a perfect example of the market value of this skillset, as her papermaking career won’t be ending with graduation. Following a successful internship with Procter & Gamble last summer, James has received a job offer to continue on full-time starting this summer. She’ll be working as a process engineer at a brand-new plant in Bear River City, Utah. The plant, located about an hour and a half north of Salt Lake City, produces toilet paper and paper towels for brands such as Charmin® and Bounty®.
Congratulations, Megan, and the rest of the papermaking crew!
Photos by Dustin Cardenas/BSE