Quality analysis techniques earn honors for doctoral student

‘Sensitive, simple’ solution keeps beverages safe

Quality analysis techniques earn honors for doctoral student

November 28, 2018

Food science doctoral student Yanqi “Cookie” Qu, an advisee of associate professor Lili He, was awarded first place and a $10,000 prize in the Millipore Sigma Food & Beverage Safety Award competition held Oct. 22-23 in Darmstadt, Germany. 


To achieve the honor, Qu “successfully demonstrated contributions in research, education or information transfer while displaying innovative and effective strategies to promote safety in the food and beverage arena,” according to organizers. Burlington-based Millipore Sigma, Merck’s global life science business, was formerly known as Merck Millipore. 

His advisor says of Qu’s accomplishment using a technique for detecting molecules called surface-enhanced Raman scattering (SERS), “We are very proud of Cookie. I would say it is an amazing experience for him. He has made us so proud not only because he won this prestigious award, but also because he has done such an outstanding job on delivering his scientific work on SERS to the industrial world. This should benefit everyone in the SERS area. Congratulations to him!”  

Qu says, “I am pleased to receive this award; it is the highest recognition of my work. It’s really exciting to compete at the national level. Also, it was a cool and amazing experience to explore the Merck headquarters in Darmstadt because the moment I went in to their innovation center, I felt that I had entered the future. I was stunned that everything is so innovative and cutting-edge.” 

Yanqi Qu with award checkQu adds, “This experience definitely gives me confidence to pursue my food science career. I am really grateful for the help and arrangement from Merck KGaA. More than that, I want to say this award does not only belong to me but also belongs to my lab and my family, because without the help and support from my advisor, my lab mates and my family, I surely cannot go this far.” 

Qu presented his research on safety and quality analysis of alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages using SERS for detecting molecules, in this case pesticide residue in a beverage. SERS is increasingly used as a detecting technique because it is convenient and offers faster analyses compared to standard techniques, Qu notes. 

In his presentation at the conference, Qu reported on his strategies for accurately testing that a pesticide residue in a beverage is below the maximum limit in apple juice and green tea. Qu says that the SERS method also has the ability to profile the bioactive components in red wines and to evaluate their safety. 

Further, he and his colleagues used SERS to establish a database of 16 commonly used natural and artificial colors, sweeteners, acids and fruit juices to assess the potential adulteration of artificial colors or foreign ingredients in juice and beverages. “Overall, SERS can provide a fast, inexpensive, sensitive, and simple solution for safety and quality assessment in beverage and food industry,” he concludes. 

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