Wu and students make contributions to chemistry

February 27, 2013

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Dr. Tsunhsueh Wu conducts research with students Rebecca Schmitt (center) and Jennifer Yoder.

 

PLATTEVILLE, Wis. — Assistant Professor Dr. Tsunhsueh Wu first arrived in the chemistry department at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville in 2008, and since that time, has become a tent pole of the department. Two articles which he co-authored have been published in the Journal of Applied Physics, and this past November a third article was published which bears Wu’s name. This last article, which appeared in the International Journal of Electrochemical Science, was special, because the entire project, from research to authorship, was done alongside two UW-Platteville undergraduate student researchers, Rebecca Schmitt and Hannah Molitor.

Junior chemistry major Rebecca Schmitt, from Green Bay, Wis., began working with Wu during her first semester at Platteville in the fall of 2011 after finding the research assistant position posted on UW-Platteville’s online job board.

“Working with Dr. Wu is awesome,” said Schmitt.  “He understands that I haven’t taken every chemistry class, and if there’s something I don’t understand he’ll sit down and explain it to me.”

“It is a rewarding experience for me,” said Wu of working with students, “because I am training young scientists. I enjoyed the culture of undergraduate research well-established in the chemistry program. A majority of our students who graduated from our program received undergraduate research trainings. My colleagues and I think that this experience is able to sharpen our students’ skills to make practical applications using chemistry.”

The article, “Voltametric Method for the Determination of Lactic Acid Using a Carbon Paste Electrode Modified with Cobal Phthalocyanine,” explored new options for testing the lactic acid content of food, using an electrochemical sensor much like those used by diabetics to test glucose. Research for the article consisted of trial-and-error tests to find the combinations of carbons most sensitive to lactic acid.

Lactic acid is a compound that can contribute to food spoilage, so improved testing methods could save money and waste for businesses that make and sell products like cheese or sauerkraut.  Wu’s research could potentially even lead to improved exercise techniques; lactic acid is also the chemical that makes muscles sore after a workout.

Both Wu and Schmitt were excited about their research’s publication.  “This is the fruit of our collaboration,” said Wu.  “It’s a nice milestone for our group. Now that we’ve concluded our first findings, we can go deeper. I’m excited about the beginning of this research journey.”

“It’s cool to say, at 19, that you’ve been published,” said Schmitt. “It helps Dr. Wu, but it also benefits me.” Schmitt continues to help Wu with other projects, like testing the vitamin C content of orange juice over time, and occasionally helping him prepare for labs.

Research for the article began in December 2010, when Wu first discovered the sensor and made a proposal for funding from WiSys, which assists research projects at the System’s 11 comprehensive campuses. Wu will continue his research to find electrochemical sensors that will detect other chemicals besides lactic acid.

Zachary Bushman presented his poster at the Wisconsin Science and Technology Symposium. He has recently been accepted in the Ph.D. program at Kansas State University and Penn State University.

 

Each year, WiSys holds a Wisconsin Science and Technology Symposium.  Wu attended the conference in 2011 along with several students. “I really wanted them to see how important science is to the state of Wisconsin,” said Wu, “and to see the opportunities they could find beyond UW-Platteville.”

For Wu, working with and alongside students is the most important and rewarding part of being a professor at UW-Platteville. “If I can get a student excited about what they are doing, I feel I have planted a seed of success for their future career in science,” he said.

Contact: Joseph Wu, assistant professor of chemistry, (608) 342-6018, wut@uwplatt.edu

Written by: Jacob Reecher, UW-Platteville University Information and Communications, (608) 342-1194, reecherj@uwplatt.edu

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