Student studies boosting plant defenses

August 28, 2018
Michael Campbell
Michael Campbell

PLATTEVILLE, Wis. – Michael Campbell used his summer break to continue researching volatile organic compounds and is nearing the completion of a research project that he began over a year ago. Campbell, a senior chemistry major from Watertown, Wisconsin, was selected to participate in the first-ever summer undergraduate scholars program at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville.

The objective of his project is to learn how to release volatile organic compounds over time to improve a plant’s defense system. Campbell has researched this project for over a year, but he has put in many hours beyond what would be considered a year of research.

“With this research experience, one 40-hour week is more time than you would put in during a full-semester lab experience for one course,” Campbell said. “During these past two summers, I spent 20 weeks in the lab. A summer research program amplifies a student’s lab experience.”

Campbell‘s research advisor is Dr. Raja Maunnamalai, assistant professor of chemistry; and they are collaborating with Dr. Muthu Venkateshwaran, assistant professor of crop physiology and molecular biology. Venkateshwaran researches what compound would be most effective for the crops, and Campbell then makes a nanoparticle with the recommended compound to learn how to release it over an extended period. Venkateshwaran and Campbell have identified many such compounds of interest, which they are characterizing for their role in plant disease management.

“Investigating the role of volatile organic compounds is an interesting topic to me that has real-life problems to be solved as pathogens are becoming resistant to current pesticides,” Campbell said. “Synthetic pesticides can have negative side effects with the environment and disrupt the food chain. Volatile organic compounds focus on promoting the plant to boost its own defenses, making it more resilient rather than killing other life around the plants.”

Campbell encourages others to seek out opportunities for research and professional development.

“I’ve learned how to start a project and work through it gradually,” Campbell said. “I’ve done the initial paperwork, read scholarly articles and conducted the experiments throughout the scientific method. Working with a project from the beginning to its completion is a really satisfying feeling. Anyone looking to gain more experience should start researching as soon as possible. If you are nervous, talk to your professor. They want to get more people involved with their projects.”

The Pioneer Summer Undergraduate Scholars Program features nine other students from a variety of majors. They selected a research project of their choice and were expected to devote full-time effort to their project while they were given the opportunity to learn more about leadership development, research ethics, graduate school applications and how to prepare scholarly presentations.


Written by: Dalton Miles, Student Writer, Communications, 608-342-1194,


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