For 27 years chemistry professor William Wacholtz has been doing research, teaching and mentoring students at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh.
Wacholtz was the recipient of the 2016 Celebration of Scholarship Faculty Mentor award for his work in mentoring undergraduate student researchers. Since beginning his career at UW Oshkosh in 1989, Wacholtz has supervised more than 40 students in a variety of research projects.
“Research and teaching is what we do,” Wacholtz said. “For me, teaching is the most re-affirming, enjoyable aspect of my job.”
Giving students high-impact, hands-on learning experiences allows Wacholtz to pass his knowledge on to the next generation and help them gain experience.
“I am no different than they are,” Wacholtz said. “I was raised in small town on a cattle ranch and I try to help them realize they have all the ingredients to become any kind of scientist they want to be or to go on to medical school or other professional programs.”
Wacholtz grew up in Missoula, Montana, and originally wanted to be a professional musician prior to pursuing a career as a scientist. He has a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from the University of Washington and a doctorate in chemistry from Tulane University.
“As a sophomore at the University of Washington, I started working with John Macklin and he taught me nuclear magnetic resonance on inorganic systems,” Wacholtz said. “I was learning to make new molecules and worked in the lab for three years.”
Just as he participated in research as an undergraduate student, Wacholtz provides opportunities for undergraduate students in his lab. Wacholtz’s research focuses on structural property relationships in how light interacts with matter, artificial photosynthetic processes and how light energy can be converted into stored energy.
“The goal of the research is to find ways to make better use of our energy,” Wacholtz said. “We are looking at molecules and how photons can be converted to storable energy—it is very important for a more sustainable future with less dependence on fossil fuels.”
Wacholtz’s students have a vital role in his research.
“Undergraduate students are the people who help me to do the things I need to do. I only have two hands and can’t do much if I don’t have people helping,” Wacholtz said. “Having students help gives you the ability to talk it out, clarify things in your mind and students even suggest new experiments and new ideas I never would have thought of on my own.”