Joseph Creanza, a junior soil and crop science major at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville, recently earned first place at the 2020 Student Research and Innovation Showcase. His project focused on using plant essential oils to control white-mold disease in soybeans.

The student competition featured 15 students from across the University of Wisconsin-System and was sponsored by WiSys, an independent nonprofit that advances scientific research throughout the UW-System by assisting with grants, patents and licensing processes. Creanza earned a cash prize of $750.

Essential oils have been used for hundreds of years in personal-care products or aroma therapy. But they’ve also been used as antimicrobial agents.

“People are usually surprised and interested when they hear about how essential oils can be used in sustainable plant-disease management,” said Creanza, a native of Whitewater, Wisconsin.

He identified the smallest concentration of essential oils that would inhibit fungal growth in culture plates. He identified the concentration of the oil with the least phytotoxicity to prevent damaging plants. Then he identified essential oils that are effective in preventing and controlling the disease in plants.

His work is part of a research project funded by WiSys Technology Foundation. The applied research grant was awarded to Muthu Venkateshwaran, an associate professor of crop physiology and molecular biology, and Raja Maunnamalai, associate professor of chemistry, both at UW-Platteville.

Creanza joined Venkateshwaran’s research group as a freshman in 2018. He has been working on multiple research projects studying plant-microbe symbioses. His involvement in the most recent research project is part of UW-Platteville’s Summer Undergraduate Scholars Program, which offers students the opportunity to spend the summer engaged in research in their area of interest while being mentored by a faculty member. Visit for more information. 

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