Local university introduces medicinal plant chemistry program

MARQUETTE — A local university is on the brink of launching a medicinal plant chemistry program, with the first set of students to arrive in the fall.

“Our program is going to be very unique in the Upper Midwest, and really the country as a whole,” said Dr. Mark Paulsen, a chemistry professor at Northern Michigan University. “At the undergraduate level, there are really not a lot of programs specifically targeted at medicinal plants.”

Northern Michigan University’s new medicinal plant chemistry program is set to take in its first round of students this fall. According to Paulsen, staff observed an increased interest in herbal supplements as well as using plant products for medicinal aids and health regiments. And in order to satisfy quality control and find safe and effective practices for the products, a new major was created.

Over the course of the last year, a market survey was conducted to assess the demand for the major and Paulsen says the prospects look good. The newest four-year degree prepares students for future careers in food chemistry, analytical chemical testing and product quality verification for medicinal products. Students will take a mix of chemistry and biology classes to complete the degree, but it also has a unique business aspect.

“One of the interesting things we think about the program is that it has an entrepreneurial track in it so students get a combination of the science courses and an appropriate business background in case they’re trying to make their own job,” said Dr. Paulsen.

The curriculum has made its was though NMU’s Board of Trustees and the Michigan Association of State Universities and is ready to be put in action. Paulsen said well over $100,000 worth of upgrades and new equipment will be purchased for the program. There was one misconception Paulsen wanted to clear up about the programs ties to medical marijuana.

“One of the things we talk about with people interested in the program is medical cannabis. It is a growing area in some parts of the country,” Dr. Paulsen said. “This program would provide training for that, but we feel the program is much broader than that and is certainly not focused on anyone particular plant material.”