Skip to the content

Kansas State University

[an error occurred while processing this directive]
  1. K-State Home >
  2. News Services >
  3. May news releases
Print This Article  


Source: David Wetzel, 785-532-6731,
Photo available. Contact or 785-532-2535.

Thursday, May 13, 2010


MANHATTAN -- David Wetzel, professor of grain science and industry at Kansas State University, has been named one of two Fellows of the American Association of Cereal Chemists International this year. This is one of the top international honors in cereal chemistry.

Wetzel is internationally known for the localized chemical analysis of biological material at the cellular and subcellular levels using infrared microscopy. He has pioneered the use of infrared microscopy to study various biological materials. As a result, his research is published in 41 different scientific journals and has been presented at conferences worldwide.

Wetzel has spent the past three decades at K-State teaching and conducting research, including probing grain kernels at the cellular and subcellular level for protein, carbohydrate and lipid content using infrared microscopy. In 1991, K-State's Microbeam Molecular Spectroscopy Laboratory was established by Wetzel and chemistry professor Clifton Meloan.

Wetzel credits the inspiration of several senior scientists, and the perspiration and perseverance of his graduate students as reasons for the Fellow honor.

"One four-letter word we never use in my laboratory is can't," Wetzel said. "I expect a high level of tenacity and curiosity from my students and they're the ones who have done the work that has led to any success that I may achieve."

Wetzel is perhaps the first scientist to use the National Synchrotron Light Source infrared beamline to analyze biological samples. With synchrotron microspectroscopy, he produced high-resolution images revealing the microchemical structure of different botanical parts of single wheat kernel slices. He was invited to contribute the cover article for Science magazine in 1999, and edited a 280-page issue of a French journal devoted entirely to the biological applications of FT-IR microspectroscopy. Fifty-five scientists worldwide were contributors.

He has presented 150 talks on his microspectroscopic research at conferences in Europe, Asia, Australia and South America, including a keynote address this year in Thailand at the International Conference on Near Infrared Spectroscopy, and as an invited speaker at the International Conference on Advanced Vibrational Spectroscopy in Melbourne, Australia.

Under Wetzel's guidance, graduate students developed numerous high performance liquid chromatographic and mass spectrometric methods for analyzing cereal grains and their products. He designed and built a new type of near infrared instrument, the basis for dedicated systems to optically measure polymer rheology and wheat protein strength. Near infrared analyses from his lab enabled K-State wheat breeders to achieve a 2.5 percent increase in wheat protein content.

"This award recognizes the ongoing contributions of professor Wetzel to the field of cereal science and technology," said Dirk Maier, head of K-State's department of grain science and industry. "Being selected as a Fellow of a scientific society is the highest honor bestowed on members of the AAAC. We are proud of his lifetime accomplishments."

Wetzel said the goal of his research for the Kansas Agricultural Experiment Station has been to define, measure and predict wheat quality at the molecular level for K-State's wheat breeders. The need for the online monitoring of the chemical contents of wheat products during processing led to the development and co-patent of an innovative instrument called an acousto-optic tunable filter near-infrared spectrometer. The instrument was later adapted by NASA for early Mars Rover space expeditions.

Wetzel also has applied the microspectroscopic techniques he developed for grains to brain tissue to study Alzheimer's and multiple sclerosis plaque and the effects of strokes. He also has studied heart tissue to better understand arthrosclerosis and aortic aneurysms. Wetzel said he is particularly proud of a 2009 article he wrote with his two sons, who are medical doctors, on microspectroscopy to assess heart health.

Wetzel was recruited from the University of Illinois at Springfield to join the K-State faculty after more than 10 years of teaching instrumental analysis in several places. He has a bachelor's degree in chemistry from Augustana College, and a master's and doctorate in analytical chemistry, both from K-State.