Posted Online: Aug. 30, 2012, 8:42 pm

RI chemist still loves to teach in his 70s

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By Anthony Watt, awatt@qconline.com

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Photo: Todd Mizener
Augustana College and Rock Island High School alumni Prof. David Wetzel, of Kansas State University, delivers a lecture on analytical chemistry in Augustana's Hanson Hall of Science on Thursday.
Though in his 70s, a chemist with Quad-Cities roots is still going strong.

David Wetzel, 77, formerly of Rock Island, is a professor at Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kan., specializing in analytical chemistry, or developing ways to measure an item's physical properties.

Mr. Wetzel teaches and applies his expertise to agriculture, helping to improve wheat crops and working in other areas as well. He recently returned to Rock Island to give a guest lecture about his field to Augustana College students.

"I still work full time," he said. "I'm having a lot of fun."

The 1952 Rock Island High School graduate played football there.

"I was never very good, but it taught me never to be intimidated," he said.

He went on to Augustana and focused on chemistry -- something he said he began studying because of his sister's interest before finding his own passion for it.

He earned his bachelor's degree in chemistry at Augustana in 1956 before receiving a master's degree in analytical chemistry from Kansas State in 1962 and a doctorate degree in the same field from Kansas State in 1973.

Although he has been associated with several institutions of higher education, Mr. Wetzel said the quality of his Augustana experience stands out.

"I haven't found a higher standard than what I found at Augustana," he said.

Chemical analysis can be used to further developments in a number of fields, he said, from law enforcement to medical science. A version of a device he helped develop was used in an early Mars rovers, he said, to help search the planet for the potential for life.

He counts his work with students among his greatest accomplishments. He said teaching was something that, early on, he did not think he would want to do. Then he got a job teaching at a small school in the Chicago area. From then on, he said, he found it also to be a passion.

Mr. Wetzel said he enjoys watching his students mature and begin to ask intelligent questions.

"The most important thing with students is to develop their curiosity," he said.




BIOBOX

Name: David Wetzel.
Age: 77.
Job: Professor at Kansas State University.
Education: A bachelor's degree in chemistry at Augustana College in 1956. A master's degree in analytical chemistry from Kansas State University in 1962. A doctorate in analytical chemistry from Kansas State in 1973.
Family: Connie, his wife, and two adult sons -- Louis and Mark.
Tie to the Quad-Cities: formerly of Rock Island.
Advice for budding scientists: "Approach your teacher and ask for a part-time job doing something nonroutine. That's where the fun is."