HACKETTSTOWN, NJ (Warren County) – Every day, people around the world consume millions of M&M candies. With the confections manufactured daily in a nearby Hackettstown facility, Centenary University chemistry students set out to answer a question about the iconic candy: How much sugar is in a single M&M?
That basic question holds important business implications for sugar procurement by Mars Wrigley, which has its corporate headquarters in Hackettstown and Newark. M&Ms are a true Jersey treat: The first M&Ms were manufactured in Newark in 1941.
Earlier this year, Centenary and Mars Wrigley began exploring ways the neighboring entities could form an educational partnership. The firm’s research and development team proposed this fall’s project with nine Centenary seniors enrolled in an Analytical Chemistry class taught by Ahmet Kukrek, Ph.D., assistant professor of chemistry. The goal was to demonstrate how scientific research provides practical solutions for global companies.
“It was a very collaborative process between Mars Wrigley and Centenary University students. Their scientists didn’t want to give our students a meaningless project—this is something that’s important to their internal team,” said Dr. Kukrek. “The R&D team wanted students to be as creative as possible in their research approach, so they didn’t share much about what they were working on in their own labs.”
Under the direction of Dr. Kukrek and Mars Wrigley scientists, students were tasked with searching existing literature and developing research methods to analyze the sugar content of a single M&M. As their research progressed, the students met virtually every two weeks with the R&D professionals, who offered guidance on research methods and preliminary results. At the end of the fall semester, the student teams presented their findings to representatives from Mars Wrigley.
Dr. Kukrek said the approach mirrored methods used in leading graduate research projects. “This was just like a graduate school research project,” he explained. “Centenary students were given a real problem that a real company is facing and were charged with finding a solution.”
“Involving Centenary University in Mars R&D work was a great way to examine the project from a different perspective and to obtain innovative ideas,” said Eyal Ben-Yoseph, Ph.D., technology fellow with Mars Wrigley. “This project gave the students an opportunity to work on a real-life problem. They did an excellent job and provided a solution that benefited Mars. This was also an opportunity for Mars to give back to the community.
Centenary University is located less than a mile from our Hackettstown production facility, and this was the first collaborative project with the science department. Based on our experience, we are looking forward to more collaboration opportunities in the future.”
While they were discovering the answer to the problem, students also gained hands-on lab experience, at a time when many college labs were closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Dr. Kukrek added, “All of this research was happening while most of the big universities were closed and undergraduates weren’t allowed in labs. This was a great way for Centenary and Mars Wrigley to collaborate, especially during these difficult times.”
Krassi Lazarova, Ph.D., chair of the Centenary University Science Department, said she looks forward to partnering with Mars Wrigley US on additional projects. “This initiative was a testament to an industry collaboration done right,” Dr. Lazarova noted. “It provided an important learning curve for our students, who rose up to expectations and impressed the R&D team at Mars Wrigley. This will set a strong foundation for more industry-commissioned projects in the future and a closer relationship between Centenary University and Mars Wrigley.”