The Science of Maple Syrup

“We get a little twitch in our shoulder when March comes around,” professes Dr. David Higgs. It’s maple syrup season! This past year, Biological Sciences Department’s botanists, Dr. David Higgs and Dr. David Rogers along with Vince Shaff and other faculty, staff and students launched a small project to try and harvest sap on Parkside’s campus in order to make maple syrup. On Wednesday, March 11, Higgs and Rogers shared their interesting work during Parkside’s Science Night with the surprising science behind maple syrup. With Rogers specializing in plant and forest ecology and Higgs in plant molecular biology and physiology, it made for a fascinating night.

The sap harvesting season usually starts in March. Higgs and Rogers have already distributed their sap siphons and buckets throughout the Greenquist trees. You may spot a few of their blue buckets hanging on the trees. They use a more traditional way of collecting the sap, using a siphon and hanging a small container on the tree and then transporting it to a cooker to make the syrup. While this traditional way still exists in some places, today it is more common to use piping systems, instead of the buckets, that move the sap by gravity flow or vacuum systems into tanks where reverse osmosis starts the conversion into syrup instead of cooking. To make syrup, you need to remove 98 percent of the water in the sap, whether it be through reverse osmosis or cooking. What is left after that is your syrup. So if 98 percent of the water is removed, then what is syrup really made up of?

Maple syrup is mainly made up of carbohydrates, and the makeup of a majority of those carbohydrates is sucrose. Essentially, sucrose is sugar and is what gives maple syrup that sweet taste that we all crave. Usually the syrup is about 88 to 99 percent sucrose. The concentration all depends on the time of year that it was harvested. In the late season there is less of a concentration of sucrose and more fructose and glucose. Fructose and glucose are also sugars, and actually derive from sucrose. Fructose and glucose are monosaccharides, simple sugars, and are the building blocks of sucrose, a disaccharide. When sucrose breaks down it is broken into those simple sugars. This breaking down process in the sap actually happens when the sap is sitting in the buckets, hanging on the trees. When it’s later in the season the weather becomes warmer and becomes an incubator for yeasts and bacteria in the buckets, the culprit of splitting sucrose into fructose and glucose. This process is called inverting and is fueled by the enzyme invertase. This higher concentration of fructose and glucose still makes perfectly good syrup, just a different appearance and taste. When the sap is cooked down, the fructose and glucose actually caramelize which gives the syrup its darker coloring. This darker syrup is usually referred to as Grade B syrup.

The sweetness comes from the sucrose, but what gives maple syrup that maple flavor? Higgs says that it is not completely understood, but is thought to be a combination of a specific mix of amino acids paired with the presence of the compounds maple furanone, strawberry furanone and maltose.

So we have looked at sap at a chemical level, but what about the physiological side of it? Why are we able to draw out sap from a tree to make syrup? Higgs explains that the harvesting season only provides this small window because it is the time when the tree is transporting the sucrose from the roots to the branches. The syrup is essentially the product of last seasons photosynthesis. In the fall, before the tree looses it’s leaves, the tree transports its energy that it stored from photosynthesis in the leaves down to the roots to store it over winter. This energy reserve in the roots is what the tree uses in the spring to make new leaves. The energy is stored as starch in the roots and leaves, but before being transported to either end of the tree, it is converted into sucrose, the sap we collect.

While almost any maple tree has sucrose in the spring that can be used to make syrup, Dr. David Roger explained how to best identify the sugar maple tree (the best type of tree to tap). The Norway maple is the one maple tree that has a bitter sap that you can’t make syrup from, and unfortunately is most similar looking to the sugar maple. You can tell the difference between these trees by looking at the leaves. The Norway maple has more lobes and long tapered teeth on their leaves while the sugar maple’s leaves are smoother. But at the time of harvesting sap, the trees don’t have any leaves left so the best way to identify the sugar maple is by looking at the buds and the bark of the tree. The sugar maple’s buds are quite distinct. They are long and stiff and are made up of about 11 to 13 scales. They also often have ancillary buds. The bark is another way of identification. The sugar maple’s bark has soft ridges and valleys and is a beautiful, light-grayish color.

Once you have correctly identified the sugar maple trees, harvesting sap and making syrup is a very fun and interesting hobby. But it’s not just a fun hobby. Wisconsin is actually the fourth largest producer of syrup in America, and Vermont makes the most syrup in the U.S. at about 42 percent. But worldwide, Canada is the boss in the maple syrup industry, making 80 percent of the world’s maple syrup.

Though the maple syrup industry booms and it’s tastier than ever, Rogers brings to light studies that show that sugar maple trees are being greatly affected by climate change and global warming. Scientists’ estimates show that the number of sugar maple trees will greatly decrease over the years. Now just imagine how sad your mornings will be with no syrup on your pancakes. It’s time to stop global warming.

Article by Liv Gripko

Governor Walker’s Budget Offers More Questions than Solutions

When Governor Walker unveiled his new budget, one of the key components was a thirteen percent cut of state funding for the University of Wisconsin higher education system. Widespread concern throughout the UW system spread. Chancellors from different UW branches talked of how this would affect their schools, and ultimately the students. But what do we really know about the impact of this budget? How will it affect us here at UW-Parkside? The answer seems to be a resounding: “We are not quite sure.”

Here is what we do know. We know that the Governor has done this before. We know that when things get cut, they stay cut, and there is no use in trying to get him to change his mind. He has a very precise idea of what he wants, and whether you agree with it or not, he is going to carry that idea forward. So where does that leave the UW system as a whole? More directly, where does that leave UW-Parkside and Parkside students? Let’s look at it from large scale to small.

This budget will go into effect in two years, beginning in the year 2017. That means the system has two years to figure out how it is going to handle the reduction of funding. Throughout the system the consensus seems to be that in order to function under the new budget, there will have to be a serious loss of jobs, first and foremost. The Chancellor of UW-Milwaukee forecast a loss of 200 to 300 personnel, UW-Stout predicted 50 to 90 and UW-Stevens Point estimated around 115. The leaders of both UW-Madison and UW-River Falls have said that there seems to be no way to avoid layoffs and that there is a high possibility that jobs will be cut. But what type of jobs?

The Chancellor of UW-Milwaukee said that it would have to start with Administrative jobs first, then there would be a decrease in full-time professors with a switch to more part-time adjunct professors, then research funding would be cut and finally, costs to students. Here at UW-Parkside, this reporter was told by a reliable source that is currently teaching here that already ten current teachers that hold multiple positions within their departments have been told that they will not be coming back. Another source who is a long time professor here said, on the condition of anonymity, that he was aware of professors either losing their jobs entirely or getting pay cuts, while administration was being given raises. A student senator told us that when discussing the budget with the Chancellor here at Parkside, the perception was that our Chancellor was unsure of exactly what was going on.

We do know that there is a tuition freeze that lasts until 2017, so if you are going to graduate within that time frame, you do not have to be concerned about that. But it seems like you do have to be concerned about larger classes, fewer teachers being asked to accomplish more tasks and possibly a smaller administration staff to assist you with your non-scholastic concerns. After 2017 there is a big cloud of confusion as to what will happen to the students. The Governor was asked and he said that there would be an “inflation-based cap” on tuition, but that was not specifically written in the budget. This reporter encourages all of you to go to the webpage, and at the bottom of the page there are links to view a budget summary, the governor’s speeches and transcripts as well as reactions to this budget. What we do know is that the UW-system is losing money from the state. What we don’t know is how hard it will hit us and in what fashion, and not knowing seems to be worse than the facts.

Wings for a Cause

On Monday March 9, Family Video will be teaming up with Buffalo Wild Wings to help to find a cure for Lymphoma. Lymphoma is a blood cancer that affects millions of people. The American Cancer Society estimates that over 79,000 new cases will be diagnosed each year.

To help put a stop, or at least a dent, in these numbers Buffalo Wild Wings has agreed to help Family Video by donating 10 percent of each check before taxes to the cause. Just mention Family Video’s Lymphoma Drive to your server. This will be going on all day long on Monday from 11 a.m. until close at midnight.

Each year Family Video does a promotion to raise money for research. Last year, Family Video alone raised 1.2 million dollars! Help them with their cause by eating some chicken wings on Monday, or stop by any Family Video location to donate from March 13 through March 29. Each location will also be raffling off different items with all proceeds going to researching a cure for lymphoma.


Article by Krista Skweres

“Fifty Shades of Grey” vs “Nymphomaniac”

I remember the fan-girls drooling over Edward and his lack of emotion. I remember hating people asking me if I were “Team Edward” or “Team Jacob.” I remember wanting to scream when people would get mad at me for not having read the book “Twilight.” Why, dear Universe, why is this happening again? The novel that the new film-mania of “Fifty Shades of Grey” is based on doesn’t hide the fact that it was originally written as a fan fiction of the novel “Twilight.” My first question would be why anyone would want a fan fiction of something that was already pretty terrible. My next question is what is it that causes people to flock to it?

The film opened in theaters Feb. 13, just in time for Valentine’s Day. Opening weekend it grossed more money than ever anticipated, especially considering the ratings that multiple critics have given it. The film made $81.7 million dollars in the first three days alone. This is more than any movie that could be classified as a chick-flick has ever made. It has a whole following behind it as well, all the way up to domestic violence groups trying to boycott the movie, claiming that the sexual relationship between the main characters, and seemingly the entire point of the film and novel, is that of an abusive one. This has also been said of “Twilight” as well (though strangely never about “True Blood”). This leads to my final why: why is this so interesting to women that they are flocking to see it or read it? The only answer I can think of is the kinky content.

Lars von Trier directed a series of films that released in March of 2014 entitled “Nymphomaniac: Volume I and II.” This pair of films starred Shia LaBeouf, Stellan Skarsgard, Charlotte Gainsbourg and Jamie Bell on top of others. As one could tell based on the title, all of these films are about the same type of content of “Fifty Shades of Grey.” What’s the difference? One actually gave audiences what it was craving and the other didn’t. With the idea of eroticism being the only thing appealing about a movie or book, it would be safe to assume that the potential audience would be wanting a certain level of activity as well as visuals. Here lies the difference between American directors and really any other country’s directors.

In his film, Von Trier fulfills all of the things that the imagination could come up with in regards to a film about eroticism. It shows body parts that the audience loves to be titillated by, usually in the form of porn star stunt doubles. It has dialogue that would make anybody blush, and it follows through with a great storyline that holds the audience captive. The main thing that almost all reviews are saying about “Fifty Shades of Grey,” including the user reviews that are often times harsher than the professionals, is that there is a lack of all of these things. The storyline is lacking, which is to be a bit expected of the first film in a trilogy. But the thing that most people are upset about is that there is a lack of scenery to the film, and that all things wild that were supposed to be there, aren’t.

So with a film that is lacking the one thing that promises to be its salvation, why did it gross so much money in so little time? Maybe there’s something that I’m not seeing. My suggestion to anyone who’s debating seeing it is to check out Lars von Trier’s film instead. It promises to be everything that you’re searching for in “Fifty Shades of Grey” and more.

Article by Krista Skweres