During her time at Rutgers, Megan Wang (’21, SEBS/HC) has taken a deep dive into her research in food science developing the knowledge she needs to understand what goes into our food (including our favorite snacks!), the chemistry and biology involved in stabilizing food, and the many facets of creating, managing, processing, developing, and overseeing food safety.
Megan was recognized by the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences as a George H. Cook Scholar, after participating in the program doing independent research, writing a senior thesis, and presenting her work. Her research, under her adviser Dr. Ludescher, focused on the effect of varying water activity using different solute systems (salt, sugar, and polyhydric alcohols) on the fluorescent emission of the molecule 3-hydroxyflavone. This molecule is the backbone structure for flavonols, which are compounds naturally produced by plants that have been found to have a range of health benefits including anti-carcinogenic, anti-inflammatory, and anti-oxidative effects. The results of the project may contribute to the development of a new method for measuring water activity, which is an important parameter in determining shelf life, ensuring food safety, and understanding types of spoilage that can occur in the product.
As a sophomore, Megan was an Aresty Research Assistant in Dr. Lam’s lab in the plant biology department looking at correlations between ploidy, the number of sets of chromosomes in the genome of an organism, and starch production in duckweed, a small aquatic plant. Duckweed has a relatively high starch content and has potential for applications in producing bioethanol. If the ploidy of the duckweed strain affects the starch production, it could be useful for selecting duckweed strains to be studied for use in bioethanol production.
Developing protocols for her own experiments and solving the problems that appeared throughout her research experience taught her that
"even the most daunting of obstacles can be overcome with a little patience and rational thinking. Oftentimes, we know more and are more capable than we believe. It’s also alright to ask an adviser or other faculty member for advice if needed."
Megan had the opportunity to travel to Thailand over winter break in her junior year with five other students and her professor for a two-week program called Food and Sustainability in Thailand. They explored the nexus of food sustainability, safety, and security—how these three things are achieved and how they may be in conflict—visiting different types of farms, including a high-altitude organic lettuce farm and an organic melon farm, as well as food companies like Thai Union Foods and River Kwai Foods. She also got to learn about Thai culture, visiting the Grand Palace and temples in Bangkok and learning how to make some Thai dishes in a cooking class at the Salaya campus of Mahidol University.
"I gained a deeper understanding of why there can be no single copy-paste solution to any of the challenges facing the modern world. Sustainability, for instance, may look different in different countries because it is influenced by available resources, culture, and regulations.Applying this to daily life, listening to others, and making an effort to see a situation from their perspective will help people come together as a global community while maintaining our diversity."
When not in the lab, Megan’s been working to capture life at the Honors College in her role for the past two years as editor of the weekly newsletter, Inside the Honors College. She met this commitment with creativity and intelligence each and every week during the academic year to produce the weekly communication that serves the entire Honors College community. In all, she has been a part of the Honors College Media Team for four years and has written numerous significant features that served to help build awareness and community, including coverage of news events like the opening of the Honors College Makerspace, Move-In Day, Studio Night, and our largest annual service event during Welcome Days; as well as student features to celebrate our Honors College Changemaker awardees and seniors.
Megan has also been active in the Rutgers Chinese Student Organization as an executive board member where they celebrate Chinese culture and partner with other student organizations at Rutgers. Among her favorite events is “ChinaNite,” a theatrical fashion show fundraiser that has woven into it original student-created stories focused on issues facing young adults in the AAPI community.
Megan will be continuing at Rutgers this fall to pursue her master’s degree in food science.