2022 Young Chemist Award Winner

Congratulations to our 10th Annual Young Chemist Award winner, Colby Ott!

West Virginia University's Forensic and Investigative Science Department

Research Title: Forensic Identification of Seized Drugs Utilizing In-situ Electrochemical-Surface Enhanced Raman Spectroscopy (EC-SERS)

Summary: The entrance of fentanyl analogs and other novel psychoactive substances into the drug market made accurate screening and identification of these drugs using typical methods difficult. Rapid and reliable detection of illegal drugs is an essential task to deliver timely investigative information, inform future analyses, and improve the safety of laboratory personnel, first responders and crime scene investigators.

Using electrochemistry and surface-enhanced Raman spectroscopy (EC-SERS), Colby’s research aims to provide an effective and selective method for detecting fentanyl, its analogs, and other drugs of abuse in seized samples. EC-SERS is a fast, inexpensive, and more efficient platform than current methods, improving positive identifications and reducing laboratory backlogs and costs. Future applications may include use in forensic, clinical and point-of-care analyses and settings.

Colby Ott Headshot


Two $2,000 runner-up prizes were awarded to Gabriel Cerron-Calle from Arizona State University for his research on nano-enabled bimetallic electrodes for sustainable ammonia production by electrocatalytic nitrate reduction, and Ivneet Kaur Banga from the University of Texas at Dallas for her work on passive breath profiling for ultrasensitive detection of endogenously produced VOCs using electrochemical methods.