Researcher of the Month
Marine Sciences major, Class of 2016
Research Mentor: Dr.Qingzhi Zhu, School of Marine & Atmospheric Sciences
“I am very lucky to have Dr. Zhu as my mentor,” reflects Wen Cong, a Marine Sciences major. “He works directly with me. … He basically treats me like a graduate student. He taught me everything a scientist should do in setting up an experiment, how to search primary literature, how to write and express results like a scientist.”
Wen Cong first began working with Dr. Qingzhi Zhu in the School of Marine & Atmospheric Sciences (SoMAS) in spring 2015. He presented a poster on his research titled “A Composite Planner Fluorosensor for Simultaneously Measuring Two-Dimensional Oxygen and pH Distributions in Marine Sediments” last April at the campus-wide URECA poster event, and has since then been working on optimizing the prototype of the planar fluorosensor he developed. This fall semester, Wen had the opportunity to do some fieldwork in Jamaica Bay’s saltmarshes, working with Dr. Kirk Cochran and Dr. Qingzhi Zhu of SoMAS, learning how to deploy sensor foils into marshes, perform in-situ measurements using optical sensors and how to collect and save sediment core and porewater samples.
Wen has a positive view about the long-term benefits of what you learn though doing research. He notes: "I think it’s lucky every time I make a mistake: because if I make the mistake now, it prevents me from making a bigger mistake in the future." Recently, Wen Cong received word that he had been selected for the prestigious Mote Marine Laboratory summer fellowship which will allow him to spend 10 weeks in the Laboratory's Ocean Technology internship program this coming summer in Sarasota, FL. Following graduation (December 2016), Wen plans to pursue a Ph.D. in marine biogeochemistry.
Wen is an international student from Nanjing, China. Wen’s hobbies include listening to classical music and watching documentary films. Below are excerpts from his interview with Karen Kernan, URECA Director.
Karen. Tell me about your current research, and how you got involved.
Wen. One year ago, when I was thinking about research, I went to talk to Dr. Cindy Lee. And she recommended that I talk to Dr. Zhu. So I got in contact with Dr. Zhu, told him of my interest in marine geochemistry, and he accepted me to his lab.
Dr. Zhu proposed a great project for me: developing a composite sensor for oxygen & pH. When I first started, Dr. Zhu recommended that I read articles about this field. I searched the literature and became more knowledgeable, and then worked with him to make a prototype which was completed last May. The sensor we developed is able to perform a spontaneous measurement of 2 dimensional oxygen and pH distribution. This is an innovation in the marine chemistry field: until now, the sensors that have been developed are separate, used solely to measure oxygen or solely pH. But we were able to develop them in one composite sensor that can measure both the oxygen and the pH at the same time.
I am currently working on optimizing the sensor prototype, and finalizing the project which includes optimizing a nanoparticle synthesis method in order to obtain more homogeneous planar sensor membranes and accurate measurements. The sensor can be useful for testing water quality because testing the oxygen concentration and pH of marine sediment is a very important parameter for estimating whether a water body is healthy or not.
How has your mentor helped you?
I am very lucky to have Dr. Zhu as my mentor. He works directly with me. I have a lot of questions to ask. And Dr. Zhu is very patient, willing to answer all of my questions. He treats me like a graduate student. He taught me everything a scientist should do in setting up an experiment, how to search primary literature, how to write and express results like a scientist, etc.
And he gave me a brand new project where I really learned something. I enjoy doing the research and solving problems. And from doing the research and reading the literature, I have a much better understanding of this field.
How has research enhanced your education?
Doing research has broadened my view. Before doing research, I just took the courses and learned the knowledge, and studied from the professors’ lectures. But after starting in research, I have a better understanding of this field. Now in my course in marine chemistry because I’m working on the pH/oxygen sensor, I can apply the knowledge of what I have learned to my current class. So I can think further. Doing the research has also pushed me to learn more chemistry. I’m taking a graduate chemistry class this semester that is challenging....but it is going to be very helpful for working in a marine chemistry laboratory.
What advice do you have for other students about research?
First, you have to find a good mentor. It’s very important. Your mentor can help you to learn more skills, and to become better prepared for graduate school. Second, patience is important. When you are doing the research, you are dealing with different things with uncertainty, and a lot of times your method might be proven wrong. You have to be prepared to accept the failure and keep working to find a solution. I think it’s lucky every time I make a mistake: because if I make the mistake now, it prevents me from making a bigger mistake in the future.
I can add one more point of advice. Prepare a notebook: after each experiment, you have to summarize your result and then see whether you have something you can improve or not. Be sure to write everything down--not in a piece of paper but in a notebook, a notebook where you record the date, the temperature, the humidity…and everything you did.
Have you become more efficient or methodical over time?
Yes, I have become better trained – more proficient in performing, manipulating the instruments and other devices. I also feel that my presenting skills also became better this semester, in part through a class I took where we were involved in doing the review/summaries through mini lectures we presented to the class.
Are you planning to present your research project this spring?
Yes, I participated in URECA last semester and presented my prototype. This spring, I will be able to present the whole project – the optimized, final project. I am looking forward to it. URECA was an enjoyable experience. It was good to talk to different people coming to the event, and to get advice from some of the professors about the project. It is also a useful skill learning how to create the poster and write the text.
Congratulations on your upcoming summer fellowship at Mote Marine Lab!
I am glad they selected me. I’m looking forward to working with the scientists who are dealing with real problems in the field of marine biogeochemistry. And I want to see if I have a chance to test my sensor, that’s the thing I’m thinking about. I really want to see if it works in the field!