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Agricultural and Biological Engineering

Agricultural and Biological Engineering

International Research Experiences for Students (IRES)

Track I: The Broad Impact of Flavor. A Research Experience on Metabolomics of Microbial Populations during Cacao Fermentation

A NSF-supported program

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About the Program

Interested in scientific research and in making a difference in the livelihood of smallholders? You can achieve both through scientific research on cacao fermentation in beautiful tropical Costa Rica. 

Very few realize that cacao needs to be fermented before it is converted into chocolate. Cacao fermentation ultimately determines the market value of the cacao beans. Unfortunately, there is insufficient understanding and scientific characterization of the biochemical processes involved in cacao fermentation. Smallholders are typically not paid the full potential value of their beans because they sell them unfermented. Companies that consolidate and ferment beans cannot control well the fermentation process due to the lack of robust scientific information. Through this interdisciplinary IRES, students will gain an in-depth understanding of scientific research and cacao processing. Participants will learn analytical techniques, carry out field and laboratory research, and apply statistical tools to maximize the value of local cacao products. In addition to the research experience, this IRES participants interact with cacao farmers and chocolate manufacturers and will have the opportunity to visit mesmerizing landscapes and learn about the history and culture of Costa Rica. 
This program engages students in a highly collaborative and diverse research environment involving research mentors at the Universidad Nacional in Heredia, Food Quality and Innovation Laboratory, Costa Rica (adjacent to San Jose, the capital city) and researchers from the University of Georgia, Department of Food Science and Technology and from the University of Florida, Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering. 

Please contact José Reyes De Corcuera ( for additional information on the program and how you can participate!

Participant selection will be completed in February. A predeparture workshop in which participants will learn the logistics of the program as well as the scientific background necessary for a successful program will be run in March.

A group of students extracting cacao beans from pods.

Students extracting cacao beans from their pods.

A student pipetting in the lab

A student participant working on DNA extractions.

Eligibility Requirements

• US citizens, nationals, or permanent residents
• Graduate or undergraduate in good academic standing at any four-year higher education institution in the USA
• One semester of Spanish language is required, two are highly preferred
• Students must have passed at least one of the following courses:
  · Organic chemistry
  · Microbiology
  · Analytical Chemistry
• Preference will be given to students with majors closely related, such as:
  · Biological Engineering
  · Biological Sciences
  · Biochemical Engineering
  · Chemistry
  · Food Science
  · Microbiology

Students from underrepresented groups are encouraged to apply.

Application and Selection Process


At NSF-ETAP Search for "Cacao Fermentation"


About 10 finalists will receive an invitation on February 23rd


Selected participants will be notified by March 08

Cost & Stipends

Covered by the Program

Airfare to Costa Rica: $1000

Local Transportation in Costa Rica: $250

Entrance Fees to Group Organized Cultural Events: $100

Personal Living Expenses Stipend While in Costa Rica: $4000

Subsistence Stipend in Costa Rica: $1400


Not Covered by the Program

Tuition and tuition/fees for a summer research course are not included.

Program Timeline

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Workshops and Info Sessions

Dr. Reyes with students Ana, Dominika, and Arath

Dr. Reyes with past student participants Ana, Dominika, and Arath
Cacao beans drying
Cacao beans drying.

Zoom Info Sessions

January 22 • 23 • 29 • 30, 2024
5:00pm to 5:30pm

Meeting with students to go over the program details and answer questions about the program.

Meeting ID: 933 9496 6185
Passcode: 974513

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Kickoff Workshop

March 22, 2024
9:00am to 4:00pm

Kickoff workshop in which the Program Directors and Collaborators in Costa Rica will present the research challenge, provide background literature to the participants, and guide them in the preparation of proposal of the research that they will carry out.

Students will learn about the science, history, and culture of cacao and chocolate through short lectures, readings, and group reflections.

Students visit large- and small-scale cacao farms, tour chocolate manufacturing facilities, and experience all the steps required to go from "bean to bar".

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Our Team

Principal Investigator: University of Florida

José I. Reyes De Corcuera

Associate Professor

Agricultural & Biological Engineering
Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences
University of Florida

Principal Investigator: University of Georgia

Koushik Adhikari


Food Science & Technology
College of Agricultural & Environmental Sciences
University of Georgia


Universidad Nacional de Costa Rica

• Carlos Hernández
• Alejandra Mencía

Escuela Superior Politécnica del Litoral

• Juan Manuel Cevallos
• Daynet Sosa

AboutWorkshops & Info SessionsTeamResources & Application

Resources & Application

• Information Trifold
• Flyer
Link to NSF-ETAP Application