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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.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Kansas NSF EPSCoR Presents Six Faculty with First Award Grants related to Climate and Energy Research or Atomic/Molecular/Optical Sciences

Kansas NSF EPSCoR helps Kansas build its research capacity and competitiveness in science and technology. The Fall 2014 First Award program helps early career faculty become 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. This fall, Kansas NSF EPSCoR honored six faculty with First Award grants in the areas of Climate and Energy Research or Atomic/Molecular/Optical Science. The researchers and their projects that will receive Kansas NSF EPSCoR funding are:

Biomass: A Sustainable Approach to Unsustainable Times in Interior Alaska

Joseph P Brewer
Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies
The University of Kansas

This research will examine the role of local and Indigenous environmental knowledge in the design, management, and outcome of a unique off-the-grid biomass energy project in Fort Yukon, Alaska. Winter is harsh, 40-70 below zero Celsius, and heat is provided by costly and unsustainable fossil fuels. The goal of the Fort Yukon project is to offset diesel cost of $4,080,000 over five years or 145,000 gallons per year by cutting and chipping cottonwood trees and using the feedstock in a separate, non-gas dependent, boiler system. While the science and approach to identifying species and harvest areas are sound (EA, 2013), information on the areas harvested has yet to be document and calculated. The foundation of this research agenda is valuing local/Indigenous knowledge, researchers will gather and document that knowledge used in the decision-making processes. Using interdisciplinary approaches, the PI and two graduate students will investigate the decision to deck wood on site, extract data from the operations/logistics side of the harvest, measure the ecological impact of cutting and decking on-site, and measure water content of wood decked. Initial conversations have revealed rich local and ecological knowledge unique to this Indigenous community; this research will extend that important data collection.

Multilayer Strategies for the Investigation of Electron Recombination Reactions in Organic Photovoltaics

Marco Caricato
Assistant Professor of Chemistry
University of Kansas

Dr. Caricato proposes to develop multiscale computational strategies that incorporate mutual polarization between layers based on extrapolation techniques. The goal is to treat complex molecular systems in a realistic environment through the best compromise between accuracy and computational effort. High levels of theory will be employed on the core system while the effect of the surrounding is introduced in a fully self-consistent manner. These methodologies will be used to study electron recombination reactions, which are one of the main causes of efficiency loss in dye-sensitized solar cells (DSSCs). The scope is to gain a mechanistic understanding of these reactions, and possibly suggest ways to minimize them. 

Bandgap Tunable 2-D Nanomaterials for Advanced Energy Conversion and Storage

Ram Gupta
Assistant Professor of Chemistry
Pittsburg State University

This project has been conceived to increase our knowledge of the field of 2-dimensional (2-D) nanomaterials for their applications in energy conversion and storage. 2-D nanomaterials such as graphene and molybdenum disulfide (MoS2) are very attractive for energy applications due to their tunable optical and electronic properties. In addition, they show very unique tunable interlayer thickness dependence properties which could be interesting for charge storage applications in a wide range of electrolytes. The development of promising new synthetic methodologies and the establishment of a fundamental approach to modify their properties will provide 2-D nanomaterials with potentially useful properties and applications. The objective of this research is thus to: (1) synthesize graphene quantum dots (GQDs) and nanosheets of MoS2; (2) study the effect of size, chemical doping and surface functionalization on the optical and electronic properties of GQDs; and (3) study the effect of these modifications on their ability to convert solar light into energy and energy storage efficiency. Funding for this project will enable us to enhance our fundamental understanding of 2-D nanomaterials and their applications in clean energy production and storage.

Future Efficient Electricity Distribution Network with Distributed Resources Growth
Chengzong Pang
Assistant Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science
Wichita State University


Electricity plays an important and leading role in the flourishing of the world’s economy as sustainable and cost-efficient energy carrier for everyday needs. Due to rapid growth of electric vehicles in fast developing metropolitan areas, the reliability and stability of distributed system is impacted by optimal sitting and sizing of parking lots including different levels of charge and discharge stations with embedding renewable generation for utilities. This proposal hence deals with the fundamental demands of future distribution system development: efficiency, reliability, and sustainability. The research will focus on integration of several seemingly unrelated concepts: renewable generation and energy storage at dispersed locations or buildings, optimal sitting and sizing of parking lots with bi-directional charging/discharging stations, load leveling and efficiency optimization of energy consumption based on improved Demand Side Management (DSM) techniques, and improved asset and outage management based on Automatic Meter Reading (AMR). The final outcome of this research will be a demonstrated concept of an integrated solution for reaching the efficiency, reliability and sustainability goals. 

Structural Characterization of Atomic Nanosystems Using Ion Mobility Spectrometry with Mass Spectrometry

Alexandre Shvartsburg
Assistant Professor of Chemistry
Wichita State University


A major research area formed over the last decade is nanotechnology, as seen in the US Nanotechnology Initiative and parallel foreign programs. Most new nanomaterials that emerged from those efforts are carbon assemblies such as fullerenes and associated graphenes, which were first discovered in the gas phase using mass spectrometry (MS). Here we propose to apply the novel approach of differential or field asymmetric waveform ion mobility spectrometry (FAIMS), coupled with MS, to separate and probe the isomers of nanoclusters, specifically carbon species including fullerenes. Such moieties have been studied by linear IMS, but FAIMS that is much more orthogonal to MS has shown superior power to distinguish species with fine structural variances. Hence application of FAIMS should lead to a fuller understanding of the morphological diversity of atomic nanosystems and detection of previously unresolved geometries. Subsequently, the structures separated by FAIMS would be further characterized by a following linear IMS stage and/or spectroscopic methods.

Three Dimensional Integrated Circuit (3D IC) Design and Analysis for Green Computing and Renewable Energy System

Yang Yi
Assistant Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science
University of Kansas


Renewable energy sources are mostly affected by climate change and other environmental factors like irradiance, temperature, wind speed, fog that makes the energy source unstable, how to minimize the effect of climate changes, maximize the use of the renewable energy, and optimize the workload performance become more and more important. Three dimensional (3D) integrated circuits could enable new paradigm for green computing and renewable energy applications, by integrating different technological compartments such as CMOS (complementary-metal-oxidesemiconductor-transistor), nano-devices, logics, memory, and analogue sensors. This project provides promising modeling and design solutions for the through silicon via (TSV), which is one of the most critical components in 3D integrated circuits for green computing and renewable energy applications. In the first research thrust, we will focus on introducing an accurate and efficient TSV model for 3D integrated circuit design and analysis. In the second thrust, we will design TSV structures that could resolve the signal integrity issues at high speed data transmission in renewable energy system. This project will lay a solid foundation for a practical design methodology providing higher reliability, lower power consumption, reduced delay, and system miniaturization for green computing and renewable energy system.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Faculty Receive 2015 Education and Diversity Grants Building on Kansas NSF EPSCoR Climate and Energy Research or Atomic/Molecular/Optical Science

The 2015 Kansas NSF EPSCoR Education and Diversity Grants are designed to enhance science, technology, engineering and mathematics (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 climate or energy research or atomic/molecular/optical science. This Fall, Kansas NSF EPSCoR awarded five Education and Diversity grants in the areas of Climate and Energy research or Atomic/Molecular/Optical Science. The projects that will receive Kansas NSF EPSCoR funding are:

Improving Climate Education through Field Observations and Data Analysis

Paul Adams
Anschutz Professor of Education and 
Professor of Physics
Fort Hays State University


The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) have a significant focus on climate change education that will engage students in observations of the climate and analysis of climate change data for K-12 students to demonstrate their knowledge and understanding. While the vision advocated by the NGSS is a significant step to improving science education in the country, the knowledge and skills necessary to implement this vision lags behind. K-12 teachers often do not have sufficient background with climate-based observations and the skills to deal with climate datasets. The proposed teacher workshop is designed to address this issue through a four day workshop that will introduce teachers to climate observation protocols developed through GLOBE (Global Learning and Observation to Benefit the Environment) and databases and database analysis tools in MY NASA DATA (Mentoring and inquiry using NASA Data on Atmospheric and earth science for Teachers and Amateurs). Introduction to these tools with academic year follow-up will increase teachers’ pedagogical content knowledge for teaching earth science, specifically climate change, in alignment with the NGSS and the Kansas NSF EPSCOR focus on climate (Track 1).

STEM Education Through Sustainable 
Energy Curriculum

Deepak Gupta
Assoc. Professor and 
Director of Engineering Technology
Wichita State University

The objective of this proposal is to expand and prepare a new generation of STEM workforce. This objective will be achieved through the development of sustainable energy systems based curriculum modules that can be seamlessly adopted by K-12 and community colleges as well as professional development of K-12 teachers and community college faculty members. To achieve this objective, Wichita State University (WSU) will partner with Wichita Area Technical College (WATC), Butler Community College, and regional high schools. The project deliverables include: (a) Modular sustainable energy systems curriculum (with the focus on solar energy) using the problem based learning (PBL) model; (b) Train the trainer program (professional development of K-12 teachers and 2-year college faculty); and (c) Mentorship program with college students as mentors for K-12 students. These deliverables focus on the following activities: (a) expand student career options with modular curriculum design that can be adopted at different grade levels, (b) partnership with K-12 and community college, (c) development of curriculum and educational materials including a focus on underrepresented population, (c) professional development program for educators, and (d) introducing K-12 students to STEM fields through mentoring and schools visits. This project will stimulate the interest of high schools students and facilitate the transition from high schools to STEM based 2-year and 4-year climate and energy research related programs. It will also use existing resources available from US Department of Energy, Brightergy and other resources.

“Fun in the Sun:  Using Solar Fuel Research to Educate, Challenge and Inspire Children”

Kevin Leonard
Assistant Professor in Chemical and 
Petroleum Engineering
The University Of Kansas

One of the grand challenges of our time is to directly convert solar energy to chemical energy (also known as solar fuels). If successful, this would have an enormous impact on how fuels and chemicals are made by lessening human dependence on fossil fuels and inhibiting greenhouse gas emissions. Dr. Kevin Leonard uses custom-built devices, robotics and 3D printers to overcome this challenge. His research demonstrates how creativity and innovation are used to address real-world energy challenges. It offers an ideal launch pad for challenging and inspiring children. This project will foster a new partnership between KU and Project CREATE, a non-profit group focused on Cultivating Responsible, Enriched, Artistic, Tech-Savvy Enthusiasts. We will pilot innovative ways to use 3D printing with children in grades 4-7 for an energy-themed summer camp. The hands-on activities will emphasize science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) concepts as well as creativity, problem-solving and teamwork. A special effort will be made to encourage female and minority youth to retain interest in STEM beyond middle school.

Advancement Via Individual Determination
(AVID) – Climate Initiative (ACI)

C. Matt Seimears
Chair and Associate Professor in 
Education/Early Childhood/Special Education
Emporia State University

The overarching goal of the Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) – Climate Initiative (ACI) is a systemic reform involving Emporia State University, USD 259 Wichita, Kansas and USD 490 EL Dorado, Kansas
K–12 public school partners (USD 259 is an urban district, USD 490 is a rural school district both with underrepresented populations of minority and first generation education students) and Butler Community College (BCC). ACI aims to develop an advantage for the high school AVID and rural students to expand their access to STEM climate career opportunities as students of underrepresented groups within the central part of the state of Kansas. ACI’s goal is to introduce and prepare all students that are part of this initiative for STEM climate career pathways, and provide climate experiences and expanding it district/school wide. Two ESU faculty, one BCC science faculty member and five high school AVID programs from USD 259 and rural students from USD 490 will be part of the initiative. ACI will also train each participant in the use of newly developed materials to create an extended assessment process of STEM climate career pathways. Four spring 2015 mini-camps and a summer 2015 camp will take place with the AVID Climate Initiative student groups to study the impact aerosols have on the climate and environment. Students will study aerosols in the air during their mini-camp and summer camp experiences at the BCC Andover, Kansas campus location. The second location will be held in various locations in the city of Wichita, Kansas. The overall goal of this project will be to develop and test a targeted partnership that will support the continued growth of AVID and rural students into STEM climate career pathways, as well as implement a model that can exist beyond the last funding date.

Energizing Underrepresented Student Populations to Enhance the STEM Workforce in Kansas


Betsy Yanik
Professor in Mathematics and 
Economics
Emporia State University

This proposal is a collaboration between Emporia State University (ESU) and Flint Hills Technical College (FHTC). The main components of the program will be a STEM Opportunities Day on each campus and a five day summer workshop offered jointly by FHTC and ESU. These programs will particularly focus on reaching out to the Hispanic population in the Flint Hills region of Kansas. The STEM Day on each campus will focus on the STEM programs offered by each institution. This daylong celebration of STEM opportunities will consist of four science hands on workshops which connect to the topic of energy. The summer workshop will allow for a more in-depth experience for students to work with STEM faculty and undergraduate students. The educational message to these young students is to value looking at situations using quantitative skills and scientific inquiry. This program will not only make Hispanic participants aware of the diversity of STEM careers, but also will better inform faculty and undergraduate students about the STEM opportunities at their “sister” institution. The pre-college participants will receive both STEM career information as well as some enrichment mathematical and scientific instruction. The summer program will extend the depth and variety of STEM activities in which Hispanics students will be engaged. The program is local in its scope but if successful may serve as a national model for better informing both faculty and students of the wide array of STEM careers facilitated by these schools; as well as develop a deeper understanding and appreciation for the educational opportunities at technical schools and universities.










Monday, December 8, 2014

Research yields material made of single-atom layers that snap together like Legos

EPSCoR research discovery yields new synergistic materials

Exciting scientific breakthroughs are milestones that Kansas NSF EPSCoR strives for in its mission to tackle global challenges like climate change and solar-based renewable energy. EPSCoR supported physicists at the University of Kansas have achieved such a milestone by creating a new substance from two different atomic sheets that interlock much like Lego toy bricks. According to the researchers, the objective of this investigation was to design new synergistic materials by combining two single-atom thick sheets.  Prior to this discovery, building artificial materials with synergistic functionality was challenging because most materials had different atomic arrangements at the interface and could not connect.

Top Row:  Tungsten Disulfide
Bottom Row:  Graphene
Hsin-Ying Chiu, assistant professor of physics and astronomy at KU benefited from receiving a KNE First Award in 2013, spurring her research program that contributed to this discovery. Chiu and her team, experimented with an innovative and versatile “layer-by-layer,” bottom-up nanofabrication technique to connect an atomic sheet of graphene to an atomic sheet of tungsten disulfide to form a new synergistic material designed to improve solar cell proficiency. The new material utilized the best components of the individual atomic sheets and showed promise in the development of more efficient solar cells and flexible electronics.

Chiu worked with Hui Zhao, associate professor of physics and astronomy at KU using ultrafast laser spectroscopy in KU’s Ultrafast Laser Lab to analyze the movement of electrons between the two materials. Their research along with the use of the facility also contributes directly to another NSF EPSCoR funded project called Imaging and Controlling Ultrafast Dynamics of Atoms, Molecules, and Nanostructures. It is a collaboration between Nebraska and Kansas studying how light interacts with matter that involves 30 researchers including Zhao.

The research groups led by Chiu and Zhao are further testing this Lego approach to fabricate more synergistic materials.  By combining atomic sheets that absorb light of different colors, they can potentially produce a large number of new synergistic substances that react to the solar spectrum and convert energy between electricity and radiation.

For more information please visit the full story at:  http://goo.gl/spfVXF

The KU story was also featured as research news on the NSF web page: http://goo.gl/jd75Wb

To access the published article go to:  http://goo.gl/d1vGkL

This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation of USA (DMR-0954486, IIA-1430493), Kansas NSF EPSCoR First Award (EPS-0903806) and start-up funding by the University of Kansas. The National Basic Research Program 973 of China (2011CB932700, 2011CB932703), Chinese Natural Science Fund Project (61335006, 61378073), Beijing Natural Science Fund Project (4132031).