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September 30th, 2006

Undergraduate mentoring: Sunlight’s effect on aquatic organic matter

Undergraduate Cuong Huynh (CU-Boulder) is being mentored by Natalie Mladenov and Diane McKnight on a project to uncover new ways in which sunlight affects aquatic organic matter. Cuong's efforts are funded by CU-Boulder's Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP) and Bioscience Undergraduate Research Skills and Training Program (BURST). The main goal is to equip Huynh with an understanding of the research method and skills in analytical and laboratory techniques, while at the same time answering some interesting research questions.

Degradation of dissolved organic matter (DOM) by ultraviolet light - also known as “photobleaching” - can cause complex compounds in vegetation to be broken down to simpler compounds which are more readily consumed by bacteria. Huynh has been running experiments using a high-powered solar simulator to reproduce the process of photobleaching with plant leachates and DOM samples. Huynh is also using a new statistical modeling tool in order to quantify changes in the optical properties of DOM as a result of photobleaching.

This research experience is a stepping stone to Huynh’s main interest: the chemical structure of plants and their medicinal properties. He plans to present the results of his research at an international meeting in 2007: the International Association of Theoretical and Applied Limnology (SIL2007).