Welcome to the Kansas NSF EPSCoR (KNE) news and announcements blog. Stay up-to-date with all the happenings, discoveries, events and funding opportunities associated with KNE. Enter your email in the "Follow by email" box below an to the right to stay notified of new posts. Feel free to leave comments.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Nebraska student travels to Kansas State University to conduct summer research in AMO Physics

Kurtis setting up his
research experiment.
   Kurtis Borne really enjoys the field of laser optics so when the opportunity to conduct further hands-on laser research as a participant in the Kansas State University (KSU) Atomic Molecular and Optics (AMO) Summer Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program presented itself, he immediately applied. The main reason Kurtis wanted a research experience in AMO physics was because he had already spent a lot of time studying its theoretical principles while attending the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO).
   Kurtis is a native of Omaha, NE and is currently majoring in Physics and German with a minor in Mathematics.  He is also a Physics Lab Instructor and the Society of Physics Student Vice President at UNO.
  During this past summer, Kurtis worked in the James R. Macdonald Laboratory at KSU with Dr. Artem Rudenko and Dr. Daniel Rolles on a project titled “Visualizing ultrafast molecular motion in interferometric pump-probe experiments.”  The purpose of the project was to build a new interferometric setup for pump-probe experiments and to analyze the fragmentation patterns of cyclohexadiene (C6H8) from single pulse laser interaction.  When asked what he hoped to find as a result of his research, Kurtis said “The molecule I work with has been studied for decades. I hope that I can identify patterns that have already been confirmed, so we can continue on to more advanced methods of studying this molecule.”
The above diagram is a Dalitz Plot used to read
the energy distributions of three fragments 
  So far, his research has produced various fragmentation patterns of the molecule; and as a result, he has been able to conduct further studies of the associated geometry and energy that has been detected.  As for the impact of his research, Kurtis said it will assist the researchers at Kansas State University with applying the newly equipped delay stage for more accurate pump-probe experiments that test the dynamics of this molecule as well as other molecules.
  As for his personal learning experience, Kurtis said this AMO REU has taught him how to assemble and program optical equipment, to utilize the theory behind the experiments and to implement new methods for analyzing data. Overall, Kurtis enjoyed this opportunity and would highly recommend it to anyone interested in studying experimental AMO Physics, but added it requires a lot of time management, patience as well as a willingness to learn new skills.
   When he returns to his home institution, Kurtis plans to continue studying AMO Physics, and he wants to shadow individuals who work in laser induced-ultracold atom trapping so he can draw comparisons to his research.

Funding for this Research Experience was provided by the Kansas and Nebraska NSF EPSCoR Track 2 Grant #1430519 titled: "Imaging and Controlling Ultrafast Dynamics of Atoms, Molecules, and Nanostructures."  The grant's educational objectives are designed to enhance STEM education in Kansas by supporting activities that will lead to an expanded STEM workforce or prepare a new generation for STEM careers in the areas of atomic/molecular/optical science.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Kansas Physics and Physical Science Teachers "Model the Unseen" in their lesson planning with the assistance of Kansas NSF EPSCoR AMO Researchers

   On June 9-10, 2016, Kansas NSF EPSCoR continued its successful Atomic, Molecular and Optical (AMO) physics teacher professional development initiative.  This year's title was “Modeling the Unseen in the Physical Sciences.” Twenty four high school and middle school physics and physical science teachers from all over Kansas participated in this two day educational opportunity held at Kansas State University (KSU) .
Dr. Chris Elles, Dr. Uwe Thumm, Mr. Jared Bixby, and Mr. Zach Conrad
  The objectives for the workshop involved addressing the Science and Engineering Practices listed in the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), encouraging teachers to use modeling strategies in their lesson planning, and facilitating the opportunity to make curriculum connections to the cutting edge AMO Research occurring in Kansas. Participants reviewed the NGSS with Jared Bixby, Education Curator for the Sunset Zoo, and received an update of the state’s science assessment plan from Zach Conrad, Interim Science Consultant for the Kansas Department of Education.
Teachers tour the James R. Macdonald Atomic, Molecular and Optical Physics Lab with Dr. Kevin Carnes
   Dr. Kevin Carnes, KSU Research Professor of Physics & Associate Director of Operations JRM Lab, and Dr. Charles W. Fehrenbach, KSU Research Assistant Professor of Physics, led tours of the James R. Macdonald Laboratory (JRM) explaining the history of the lab, the various lab equipment processes, lasers and the innovative AMO experiments currently taking place in the lab.
Penny Blue, Dr. Jackie Spears (KSU) and Dr. Paul Adams (FHSU) facilitate modeling instructional strategy discussions and lesson planning activities
    Penny Blue, a science instructor from Lyons High School in Lyons, KS and teacher participant from last year’s teacher workshop, provided an introduction to modeling instructional strategies. Then teachers were asked to review lessons they currently teach to identify ways to incorporate modeling practices into their instruction.  The first day ended with teacher’s discussing takeaways from the the tour and presentations with Dr. Jackie Spears, Professor of Curriculum & Instruction (KSU) and Dr. Paul Adams, Dean of the College of Education, Anshultz Professor of Education, and Professor of Physics at Fort Hays State University (FHSU) as well as preparing questions for the next day's interactive activities working with the Kansas NSF EPSCoR AMO Chemists and Physicists.
Round table discussions with Kansas NSF EPSCoR AMO Researchers
   On day two, teachers spent the morning participating in round table discussions with Kansas NSF EPSCoR AMO researchers: Dr. Chris Elles (KU), Dr. Uwe Thumm (KSU), Dr. Bret Flanders (KSU) and Dr. A.T. Le (KSU).  Each researcher provided a short presentation of their own research and talked about how they use models in their work.  Then, the researchers brainstormed with teachers to ascertain curricular connections to the AMO Research.  

   During the afternoon session, the teachers were given time to enhance or create lessons to include the Science and Engineering Practices of the NGSS, modeling instructional strategies and curricular connections to the AMO research.  As was done last year, the follow-up sessions will include asking some teachers to present their workshop experiences, their new AMO lessons and any lessons learned after teaching those lessons to the Kansas Association Teachers of Science in April, 2017.

A Google Docs repository was created to store the lessons developed at the workshop. Teachers were encouraged to direct their colleagues across the state to use the resources housed in the Google Docs Kansas NSF EPSCoR AMO Physics Lesson Plan Repository.

Education and outreach funding for the physics teacher workshop was provided by the Kansas and Nebraska NSF EPSCoR Track 2 Grant #1430519 titled: "Imaging and Controlling Ultrafast Dynamics of Atoms, Molecules, and Nanostructures."  The grant's educational objectives are designed to enhance STEM education in Kansas by supporting activities that will lead to an expanded STEM workforce or prepare a new generation for STEM careers in the areas of atomic/molecular/optical science

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

2015 Kansas NSF EPSCoR Teacher Workshop Participants Present at the 2016 Kansas Association of Teachers of Science Conference

   As part of the follow-up activity to the 2015 Kansas NSF EPSCoR Summer Teacher Workshop “Connecting the Physics of Waves and Electromagnetic Radiation with the Next Generation Science Standards,” three physics teachers, Penny Blue from Lyons High School in Lyons, KS; Chery Shepherd-Adams from Hays High School in Hays KS; and Brian Vancil from Sumner Academy in Kansas City, KS presented the lessons they created during the workshop at the 2016 Kansas Association of Teachers of Science (KATS) conference.  Dr. Paul Adams, College of Education, Dean Anschutz Professor of Education and Professor of Physics at Fort Hays State University and Dr. Jackie Spears, Professor of Curriculum and Instruction and Director of the Center for Science Education in the College of Education at Kansas State University, chaired the session.  Both, Dr. Adams and Dr. Spears are Kansas EPSCoR Education and Outreach collaborators.

   During the summer workshop, teachers were asked to create lessons that would connect the Kansas and Nebraska NSF EPSCoR Track 2 grant “Collaborative Research: Imaging and Controlling Ultrafast Dynamics of Atoms, Molecules and Nanostructures,” research with the newly adopted Kansas Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) for high school physics.  As part of the follow-up the teachers were asked to report back on how the lessons were received in the classroom.  In addition, they were invited to speak about their experience at the KATS Conference that was held April 15–16, 2016 in Rock Springs, KS. Penny discussed several key behaviors of electromagnetic radiation by modeling a “Pinhole Camera Activity.”  Cheryl created a “Perspective Activity” to demonstrate light wave behavior passing through various devices and Brian explained how he used a simple bread board spectrometer to help students understand Spectrometry and discover that the energy of a photon is proportional to its frequency.  The session was well attended and well received.

This year the 2016 Kansas NSF EPSCoR Workshop titled “Modeling the Unseen in the Physical Sciences” will take place June 9-10 at Kansas State University.

Education and outreach funding for the physics teacher workshop was provided by the Kansas and Nebraska NSF EPSCoR Track 2 Grant #1430519 titled: "Imaging and Controlling Ultrafast Dynamics of Atoms, Molecules, and Nanostructures."  The grant's educational objectives are designed to enhance STEM education in Kansas by supporting activities that will lead to an expanded STEM workforce or prepare a new generation for STEM careers in the areas of atomic/molecular/optical science

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Manhattan High School Student Explores Growing Nanowires

    Zach Culbertson, a junior at Manhattan High School in Manhattan KS, enjoys learning about science research.  At school, he participates in the Science Olympiad, Scholars Bowl, Quest, FRC Robotics Club, Tennis, and Fencing.  He also enjoys studying Arabic, the Middle East and Politics.
    As part of a class assignment, Zach was asked to explore his career interests and select someone in that position of interest to interview. He knew he enjoyed science, engineering and “hands-on research." In addition, he knew "practical lab experience is very useful in any science career,” so, Zach decided to investigate a career in physics and to interview Dr. Bret Flanders, Associate Professor of Physics at Kansas State University and a member of the Kansas NSF EPSCoR Track 2 Collaborative Research: Imaging and Controlling Ultrafast Dynamics of Atoms, Molecules and Nanostructures research team.  It was during this interview that Dr. Flanders saw great potential in Zach and offered him an afterschool internship opportunity to work in his lab.
    The focus of Dr. Flanders’ research is making electrodes for the creation of nanowires to be used for experiments involving electronic transfer.  Zach is responsible for constructing and thinning electrodes so that “we can ‘grow’ nanowires” on the tips of the electrodes by sending an electrical current through a solution containing the unique materials needed to create them.
Above are illustrations of methods used for growing nanowires.
    Zach said his lab task is to grow nanowires that can be used to study electronic transfers that will “help increase the speed and efficiency of the electronic devices.”  He stated that the best part of the internship experience is seeing the practical use and impact of what he has learned in his high school science classes.  Zach added that this internship has given him “lots of practical laboratory experience related to lab procedures and practices" as well as an opportunity to better prepare him for whatever kind of science career he chooses to pursue.
    As for his future plans, Zach said, “I would like to attend college, hopefully Harvard, and am looking at going into Aerospace Engineering or Biomedical Engineering, and Middle Eastern Studies. I would also like to try to get involved with the World Food Program as a volunteer.”

The Flanders Group works in the areas of soft matter nanotechnology and biological physics.  Current projects focus on measuring the distribution of cell-electrode residence times as a function electrode-voltage.

Education and outreach funding for this high school internship opportunity is provided by the Kansas and Nebraska NSF EPSCoR Track 2 Grant #1430519 titled: "Imaging and Controlling Ultrafast Dynamics of Atoms, Molecules, and Nanostructures."  The grant's educational objectives are designed to enhance STEM education in Kansas by supporting activities that will lead to an expanded STEM workforce or prepare a new generation for STEM careers in the areas of atomic/molecular/optical science.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Emporia State Partners with AVID Climate Initiative to Explore Aerosols

     Dr. C. Matt Seimears, Chair and Associate Professor of the Education/Early Childhood/Special Education Department at Emporia State University was awarded a Kansas NSF Education and Diversity award to develop four spring 2015 mini-camps and a summer 2015 camp addressing the AVID Climate Initiative (ACI).
Seimears' mini and summer camps’overarching goal was to initiate an AVID/ACI systemic reform involving Emporia State University, USD 259 Wichita, Kansas and USD 490 EL Dorado, Kansas; and Butler Community College (BCC) and to train each participant from USD 259 Wichita, Kansas; USD 490 EL Dorado, Kansas; and Butler Community College (BCC) to the use of the newly developed ACI curriculum. USD 259 is an urban district, USD 490 is a rural school district both with underrepresented populations of minority and first generation education students. Specifically, the camps were designed to analyze the impact of Aerosols in relationship to the atmosphere as well as create climate experiences and experiments that could easily be replicated district wide. In addition, the program exposed both students and teachers to the possibilities of STEM Climate careers. Two ESU faculty, one BCC science faculty member and eleven rural students, eight teachers and twelve pre-service teacher candidates from five high school AVID programs within USD 259 and USD 490 participated.

   The highlights of the program were: 1.) determining Wichita might have too much brake dust in the air above the city, and 2.) discovering the existence of burning pasture Aerosols in air around rural parts of Kansas.  Participants commented, “This was very exciting, we had no idea that even sea spray can be an Aerosol in the air. We always thought it was only hair spray or paint cans.” Students built a solar dehydrator as a final project.

   If future funding becomes available, Seimears plans to invite urban students and teachers from the Kansas City area to participate next year. He wants to continue to encourage students, especially those from lower economic and underrepresented communities, to pursue STEM climate careers .

AVID, which stands for Advancement Via Individual Determination, is a global nonprofit program whose mission is to close the achievement gap by preparing all students for college or other post secondary opportunities.  

The 2015 Kansas NSF EPSCoR Education and Diversity Grants were designed to enhance STEM education in Kansas by supporting activities that will lead to an expanded STEM workforce and prepare a new generation for STEM careers in the areas of climate or energy research or atomic/molecular/optical science.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Kansas EPSCoR Climate and Energy Exhibit travels to the Courtland Art Center

The Courtland Art Center in Courtland Kansas is featuring the Kansas NSF EPSCoR research exhibit on renewable energy and climate change.  The EPSCoR exhibit is titled Kansas: Climate and Energy Central, which is the central theme of the major research initiative, Climate Change and Energy: Basic Science, Impacts and Mitigation.

This traveling exhibit showcases the research of Kansas scientists who worked together to address the challenges Kansas faces in the areas of renewable energy and climate change. The key components of the research exhibit are broken down into four modular displays. These modular displays focus on the exploration of following research themes:
  1. Farmscapes examines Kansas farmer’s land practices and the impact of their choices
  2. Climate Science presents locally collected data and illustrates how climate trends are defined, compared and used to make future decisions. 
  3. Energy explores better ways to use the sun’s energy, examines the potential of protein based solar cells and investigates the role of nanotechnology
  4. Pathways explains how Native American traditions can be utilized to create a balanced relationship with nature.
The exhibit will be featured at the Courtland Art Center from now through February 29, 2016. Arrangements to visit the exhibit can be made by calling 785-527-0941 or emailing nick@jenrusfreelance.com. 
This exhibit originated with the Flint Hills Discovery Center museum in Manhattan, KS. 

Special thanks for developing this exceptional community outreach project goes to the team of Kansas EPSCoR scientists and faculty: Dietrich Earnhart, Department of Economics, University of Kansas; Charles W. Rice, Department of Agronomy, Kansas State University; Judy Wu, Department of Physics, University of Kansas; Joane Nagel, Department of Sociology, University of Kansas; and Dan Wildcat, American Indian Studies, Haskell Indian Nations University along with Chuck Regier and Joel Gaeddert of the Flint Hills Design company. 

Learn more about this exhibit here:  http://courtlandarts.com/blog/2016/1/climate-science-exhibit

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

2015-2016 Kansas EPSCoR First Awards Announced

Kansas NSF EPSCoR provides funding support for Kansas to build its research capacity and competitiveness in science and technology. One mechanism utilized to provide this support is the Kansas NSF EPSCoR First Award program. This program is designed to assist early career faculty with becoming more competitive for funding from the research directorates at the National Science Foundation by: 1) encouraging early career faculty to submit proposals to the NSF (or other federal funding agency) as soon as possible after their first faculty appointment, and 2) by accelerating the pace of their research and the quality of their subsequent proposals. 

For the 2015-2016 academic year, Kansas NSF EPSCoR honored six faculty members from across the state with First Award grants in the areas of Climate and Energy Research or Atomic/Molecular/Optical Science. The researchers and  their projects that were awarded the Kansas NSF EPSCoR funding are:

Placidus Amama
Assistant Professor 
Chemical Engineering
Kansas State University

Nanocarbon Hybrid Structures for Fast and Reversible Lithium Ion Storage

Current efforts to increase the performance of lithium-ion batteries (LIBs) have focused on decreasing the diffusion distance of Li ions through the use of nanostructured electrodes with unique geometries. The use of 30 nanostructured electrodes with exceptionally short ion and electron transport distance will result in a significant decrease in the diffusion time. Significant enhancement in the LIB performance of over 50% is anticipated with the use of 3D nanocarbon electrodes. However, efforts thus far have failed to produce 3D nanostructured electrodes with the optimal architecture and textural properties due to the limited understanding of the complex electrochemical interactions within the multicomponent 3D electrode system (current collector, active material, and electrolyte). Consequently, there is a complete lack of guidelines for the rational design and synthesis of high-performance 30 nanostructured electrodes. The goal of this research is to fabricate high-performance 30 electrodes using carbon nanotubes (CNTs) as the nanoscale building blocks.

Hitesh Bindra
Assistant Professor
Mechanical and Nuclear Engineering
Kansas State University

A novel method to simultaneously separate CO2 and recover thermal energy from flue gases

This project will focus on evaluation of PI’s recent invention ‘Sliding Flow Method (SFM)’ for simultaneous energy and CO2 recovery from flue gases in fossil-fueled plants. The proposed method first recovers heat energy from the flue gases, and then utilizes same energy to recover CO2. The primary objective of this work is to measure the unknown critical design parameter i.e. axial dispersion of adsorbed CO2 molecules in a packed powder bed. Spectroscopy and other characterization techniques will be applied under different experimental conditions. Once determined, the axial dispersion values will be used for the development of a higher efficiency adsorption based flue gas purification system. A laboratory scale version of this purification system would be developed to assess the performance. This new concept proposed here has potential to fulfill the objectives of reducing the discharge if undesirable components into atmosphere with negligible water consumption and energy destruction when installed in the flue gas exhaust of existing plants. The nature of the proposed research is novel and transformative solution to one of the fourteen Grand Challenges in Engineering, as identified by National Academy of Engineering.

Alice Boyle
Assistant Professor
Kansas State University

Consequences of climate variability for prairie birds

The proposed project is central to the Kansas NSF EPSCoR focus on climate, investigating biotic responses to current climatic variability, filling crucial gaps in knowledge that limit our ability to predict and manage for the consequences of future climate change. Prairies are characterized by highly variable climate, yet we lack the theoretical knowledge to predict whether adaptions to such conditions offers organisms greater resilience to additional change, or whether they already experience conditions near the limits of their physiological capabilities. This study capitalizes upon a 28-yr data set of avian abundances and the infrastructure and experimental manipulations made possible by the Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) program at the Konza Prairie in NE Kansas. It integrates the insights from long-term data with detailed, mechanistic, individual-level data from a marked population of declining songbirds to predict biotic responses to future environmental conditions. This project provides exceptional opportunities for field-based training in research for undergraduates, and concrete plans for broad dissemination of study results commensurate with the scope of this funding opportunity. 

Zheng Chen
Assistant Professor
Electrical Enginnering and Computer Science
Wichita State University

Solar Energy Storage Using Ionic Polymer-Metal Composite Enhanced Water Electrolysis for Hydrogen Production

The long-term goal of this research is to develop an energy-efficient solar energy storage system. Existing solar energy harvesting systems are facing a critical issue in that the harvested solar energy is not storable. Ionic polymer-metal composites (IPMCs) have a built-in water electrolysis capability that can convert electricity to storable hydrogen fuel. However, the energy-conversion efficiency of IPMC-enabled electrolysis needs to be further improved in order to make the energy storage more efficient. The research objective of this project is to improve the energy-conversion efficiency of IPMC-enabled electrolysis through advanced fabrication, multi-physics modeling, and robust control from a system perspective. The educational/outreach objectives are to equip engineers with state-of-the-art modeling, advanced fabrication, and control skills and to inform the public society about solar renewable energy systems. The project accomplishes its objectives by the following:
  • Investigating energy-conversion efficiency of IPMC-enabled electrolysis.
  • Developing a multi-physics and control-oriented model for IPMC-enabled electrolysis.
  • Developing an adaptive and robust control strategy for IPMC-enabled electrolysis.
  • Developing a micro-fabrication process to fabricate micro-thin IPMC film.
  • Integrating and evaluating the solar energy storage system. 

Michael Clift
Assistant Professor
The University of Kansas

Sustainable Catalytic Methods for the Conversion of Biomass into Fine Chemicals

The long-term goal of this research program is to develop cofactor mimics as catalysts to enable novel synthetic transformations initiated by C-H and C-C bond cleavage. This approach to chemical synthesis is unique in that it relies on bond cleavage reactions to generate versatile reactive intermediates that will participate in a wide range of subsequent reactions. By contrast, classical synthetic approaches often focus exclusively on the development of bond forming reactions. The overall objective of this proposal is to develop new methods for quinone catalyzed C-C bond cleavage that will facilitate the conversion of bio-renewable feedstock chemicals into fine nitrogen-containing chemical commodities. Further, we seek to promote scientific curiosity and enhance the problem-solving skills of undergraduate students by integrating specific aspects of the proposed research into an innovative, inquiry based laboratory experiment for organic chemistry lab courses. Several aims are proposed to pursue these objectives:
  • Develop topa quinone (TPQ) mimics as catalysts to enable the oxidative decarboxylation of α-amino acids to provide versatile imine intermediates that will be utilized in subsequent in situ additions to generate amine-containing fine chemicals.
  • Develop TPQ mimics as catalysts to promote the depolymerization of lignin model compounds via C-C bond cleavage at the β -O-4 linkage to deliver imines and other useful products.
  • Develop and implement an inquiry-based laboratory experiment for undergraduate organic chemistry students using quinone catalysis to enable amino alcohol cleavage.

Gisuk Hwang
Assistant Professor
Mechanical Engineering
Wichita State University

Absorption-Controlled Thermal Diode and Switch (ACTS)

Completely new and unified theoretical/experimental frameworks of thermal diode and switching mechanisms are proposed using adsorption-controlled thermal transport in gas-filled heterogeneous nanostructures. This enables a) serving scalable and efficient thermal management systems (R > 15) with both theory and experiment, b) understanding atomic-level thermal transport mechanisms through thin adsorbed film in the nanostructures, and c) developing a basic building block for advanced thermal managements for highly-efficient, responsive renewable energy/environmental systems and completely new energy-saving applications i.e., thermal logic gate/computing. Despite rigorous advances in theory, experimental demonstrations for the practical applications have been much lagged behind. Main challenges have been poor steady-state efficiency/transient response time, difficult large-scale manufacturing, and limited operating conditions (very low pressure and cryogenic operation temperatures). Thus, an innovative approach that enables both high thermal diode/switch efficiency with fast transient response and experimental realizations would be highly transformative to carry significant impacts for clean energy and environment future.  This work will advance fundamental understandings of atomic-level thermal transport mechanisms through the thin film (adsorbed layers) near heterogeneous surfaces for energy, nanomanufacturing and biomedical systems.