Eckley Scholar Erin Yuan ’21 Studies Antioxidants in Spices and Tea
Oct. 16, 2020
BLOOMINGTON, Ill. — Senior chemistry major Erin Yuan ’21 brought the kitchen into the chemistry lab with her 2020 Eckley
research project, studying the interactions of antioxidant contents and properties
in tea and spices.
With the aid of her faculty advisor, Associate Professor in the Chemistry and Biochemistry
Department Manori Perera, Yuan studied the difference of antioxidants present in tea
and spices, in order to observe the effect of combining them. Yuan hypothesized that
novel mixtures, such as cinnamon tea, would significantly differ in antioxidant content
from pure spices and tea.
Despite lab closures in June due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Yuan still made progress
in her research with slight modification to the project initially proposed. She worked
on a literature survey surrounding the project while also working on another component
associated with antioxidants in tea. She brought to completion the development of
an undergraduate lab that was started by previous research students in Perera’s lab.
This work led to a manuscript that was later submitted to a chemical education journal.
Her work could be used in upper-level chemistry courses like quantitative analysis
or capstone labs.
Once the chemistry laboratory reopened, Yuan analyzed the antioxidant concentration
of 13 samples using mass spectroscopy –– an analytical tool useful for measuring the
mass-to-charge ratio of one or more molecules present in a sample –– to determine
the presence of antioxidants and UV-visible spectroscopy to test their properties.
This work involved instrumentation at Illinois Wesleyan as well as Illinois State
While the data collected using mass spectroscopy was not able to clearly show that
the hypothesis was valid or invalid, this work provided some new ideas that could
enhance the project. For Yuan, this is another skill set that will help in any research
lab or industrial work.
“Those valuable experiences deepened my understanding of chemistry and strengthened
my ability to conduct an independent study, which will make me more confident and
comfortable in further studies,” Yuan said.
“I would describe this experience as a valuable opportunity for immersive learning
and an excellent simulation of a researcher’s life. Unlike doing research during the
semester, it gave me a chance to entirely focus on the project with a compact experimental
process. What I learned through the project is going to be powerful support for my