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Patrick Herchenbach

Patrick has a $3,000 NASA grant to perhaps, detect bacteria on other planets. 

Patrick is studying an inexpensive way of detecting dangerous bacteria in food, and even, perhaps, on other planets.

Herchenbach’s research project represents an opportunity for undergraduates to gain hands-on, real-world experience conducting important and meaningful research.

“This method would effectively get rid of all lab equipment and allow anyone with a phone and a battery to use this system,” Herchenbach says. “All my work put together would result in a cheap system to detect bacteria for food safety applications or even on other planets.”

This method would effectively ... allow anyone with a phone and a battery to use this system.
— Patrick Herchenbach

Q: Where are you from?

A: I am from the rural community of Humphrey, Nebraska.

Q: What’s your major and graduation year?

A: I am double majoring in chemistry and music and will graduate in May of 2023.

Q: What kind of research are you doing?

A: I do analytical electrochemistry research.

Q: Why is research important to you?

A. My research has really opened a lot of doors for me and helped me realize what I want to do after graduation.

Q: What’s the importance of the research?

A: The goal is to create a cheap and accessible system to detect bacterial life. Our original goal was to enable people around the globe without access to professional labs to detect bacteria in their food. This grant from NASA has opened up a new possibility in which our system could be utilized to detect life on other planets as well.

Patrick Herchenbach doing research in a lab at Creighton University

Q: How do you do your research?

A: The project focuses on a chemical reaction that produces light called electrochemiluminescence that can be used to detect molecules that are important for bacterial life and can therefore indicate the presence of bacteria.

I’m working towards this goal by using my iPhone camera to photograph the light, making my own electrodes in lab and creating a simple circuit to use a battery to produce the electricity needed instead of our expensive lab instrument.

Q: What are your plans after graduating? How is this research helping you reach your goals?

A: I plan on pursuing a PhD in analytical chemistry. My project helped me realize that I am passionate about chemistry and research. My involvement in undergraduate research really is the reason that I discovered what I want to do with my future.

Q: Would you recommend research to incoming students?

A: I would 100% recommend research to any incoming students! I became involved with research my sophomore year because I was pre-med, but this project has opened so many doors and helped me determine what I want to do after graduating.