Skip to Main Content

Graduate researcher makes the most of fungi

Ethan Hillman likens his arrival at Purdue to speed dating. Hillman, who chose the Purdue Interdisciplinary Life Science (PULSe) program for graduate study, rotated through multiple labs, looking to find the right match for the next five years. 

“I liked the idea of not being on one set path – of merging biology, chemistry and engineering.”  The rotations influenced Hillman’s research choices. “I was in a termite microbiology lab first, and then I did some regenerative medicine/tissue engineering,” said Hillman. “Ultimately, my research combined these different viewpoints.”

In spring 2016, he joined the new lab of Kevin Solomon, assistant professor of agricultural and biological engineering. 

“When I came to Purdue, I never had in mind to be in my advisor’s lab, because it didn’t exist yet,” noted Hillman. “My advisor helps me grow in different ways toward what I want to do in my career.” 

Hillman, a New Castle, Ind. native, previously attended Anderson University where he completed a double major in biology and chemistry. 

Now, Hillman is interested in the versatility of microorganisms to produce useful products. “I engineer anaerobic fungi to convert agricultural waste into useful biofuels and pharmaceuticals.” To do so, he collects fungus from livestock and from zoo animals before isolating the different samples in the lab. 

“These fungi naturally degrade plant biomass in the GI tracts of herbivores; however, I’m adapting them for bioproduction applications,” explained Hillman.

“I’m very interdisciplinary; I have trouble staying in one field,” said Hillman, a trait that makes him well-suited to his research, which involves genetics, microbiology, biochemistry and engineering. “I like discovering the underlying mechanisms of how different microbes and microbial communities are acting, and how we can leverage that from an engineering standpoint.” 

Hillman says his next step is a postdoc where he can refine techniques to better understand specific microbial communities. Thanks to his advisor, Hillman feels prepared for a career in academia. “He’s been doing a lot to get me exposure to the different components of that, so when I move on I’ll be well equipped.”

Featured Stories

The base of the Grand Canyon at the Colorado River
For the love of the land

2016 was the first time that Jalyn Gearries, a Natural Resources and Environmental Science (NRES)...

Read More
A close-up of hands with blue nail polish planting sage next to the Native American Educational and Cultural Center
Purdue Agriculture’s Sloan Scholars

The Sloan Indigenous Graduate Partnership (SIGP) is an organization of 11 universities funded by...

Read More
Purdue's bell tower stands tall behind a foreground of purple petunias
Purdue agriculture professors named AAAS Fellows

Purdue College of Agriculture professors Songlin Fei and Tesfaye Mengiste have been named fellows...

Read More
almonds on a table with almond milk
Homemade nut-based dairy analogs raise questions about bacterial risks

Many consumers know the food safety risks of dairy products, eggs and raw meat. But they are less...

Read More
A bottle of Boiler Bee Honey sits on the edge of chrome table in Skidmore lab with two students cooking in labcoats and hairnets in the background.
The sweet (and spicy) taste of victory—National Honey Board funds a food science development competition at Purdue

In the past few years, specialty sauces like hot honey combined the classic warm, sweet feeling...

Read More
Against a black backdrop, three dozen egg carton are neatly arranged to surround many loose brown eggs
Butcher Block adds eggs from chickens fed orange corn

The Boilermaker Butcher Block’s selections will now include farm fresh eggs laid by Purdue...

Read More
To Top