Spotlight: Tuan Tran ’13

Posted on August 16th, 2011 by

Tuan Tran '13 installs a column on the HPLC instrument.

Tuan Tran, junior ACS chemistry major and mathematics minor, started his education at Gustavus on the pre-medical school track.  After researching with Dwight Stoll, professor of chemistry, however, Tran is reconsidering his options. “I used to want to be a doctor, but I am very interested in Stoll’s research, and may go to grad school for analytical research,” said Tran. “It has a lot of application in other fields, like medical and pharmaceutical research, to detect drug traces from blood or urine samples, or enable the analysis of carbohydrates, environmental and natural products.”

Analytical chemistry involves obtaining and processing information about the composition and structure of a sample, with the goal of determining what substances are in the sample, and how much of each is present.  Tran spent the summer studying carbon–modified porous silica, a material that can help scientists separate isomeric compounds and highly retentive compounds that are difficult to elute from traditional carbon-based HPLC columns. The carbon on silica materials used in the Stoll lab are unique because they are mechanically more stable than the dominant commercially available carbon-based column, providing the user with more method development options.

Tran works closely with Stoll, in a relationship closer to colleagues than professor and student. Tran said “ At the beginning of the summer I asked if I could do anything for him (Stoll) to help with his proposal project, and he said, ‘it’s not my project, it’s our project. We’re a team.’”

Tran appreciates the opportunity to work so closely with a research adviser on campus, especially a professor as distinguished as Stoll. Last spring, Stoll received the prestigious LCGC 2011 Emerging Leader Award in recognition of his work on chromatrographic applications and techniques.  As an international student from Vietnam, Tran struggled to find a research program that offered grant money to international students until Stoll offered Tran a spot in his research lab. Tran said, “I looked for research program elsewhere but it is not easy because many grants are for American citizens. I got lucky and got the presidential faculty scholarship.”

Although Tran is now considering pursuing analytical chemistry as a career field, he was not always so enthusiastic about professor Stoll’s work..” It (analytical chemistry) isn’t very straightforward, and not really chemistry, so I didn’t like it at first. It is not inorganic or organic chemistry, but I really like it now because there is a lot of math and instrumental work, a little like engineering.  Stoll assigned me the project I have because it is hands on–detecting chemicals and analyzing the product instead of mixing chemicals together and processes like that.” As a student interested in both chemistry and math, Tran found the research he performed this summer was a perfect balance of his two interests.


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