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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, September 19, 2017

Kansas NSF EPSCoR receives 20 million dollar grant to survey and study aquatic, plant and soil microbiomes

University of Kansas and Kansas State University researchers using liquid nitrogen to freeze a core of stream sediment collected from Kings Creek at Konza Prairie Biological Station,
photo courtesy of Walter Dodds, Kansas State University
     Kansas is one of five states to receive a NSF EPSCoR Research Infrastructure Improvement Track-1 (RII Track-1) award this year.  RII Track-1 awards provide up to $20 million total for 5 years to support improvements to physical and cyber infrastructure as well as human capital development in research areas selected by the jurisdiction's EPSCoR steering committee as having the best potential to improve future research and development (R&D) competitiveness of the jurisdiction. Furthermore, the project's research activities must align with the specific research priorities outlined in the jurisdiction's Science and Technology (S&T) Plan. The other recipients of the NSF EPSCoR RII Track-1 awards for 2017 are Alabama, Rhode Island, South Carolina and Wyoming.
Kansas is one of five states to receive a
    The Kansas EPSCoR project titled, Microbiomes of Aquatic, Plant, and Soil Systems across Kansas (MAPS), involves the collaboration of researchers from the University of Kansas, Kansas State University, Wichita State University and Fort Hays State University.  These researchers will work together to conduct surveys of plant, soil and aquatic microbiomes and then record their environmental characteristics. Because Kansas has large gradients in precipitation and agricultural land use, it is an ideal environment for studying these microbiomes.  Kristin Bowman-James, a KU distinguished professor of chemistry, Director for Kansas NSF EPSCoR and the principal investigator of the project explained “Studying these tiny living things can be critical to understanding several key issues for the state, including agricultural sustainability, water quality, greenhouse gases, plant productivity and soil fertility."
     The Kansas NSF EPSCoR research team will specifically focus on the plant, soil and aquatic microbiomes’ environmental characteristics as well as assess the ability of these microbiomes to influence crop production, soil condition and water quality. Major project goals involve the development of a mechanistic understanding of microbiome-mediated ecosystem functions; predicting ecosystem responses to changes in precipitation and land-use patterns; and identifying ways to select for and utilize microbiomes to produce desired characteristics.  Some of these desired characteristics could increase agricultural productivity or drought tolerance, determine efficient nutrient utilization, and enhance soil quality.
    In addition, the project team will seek to expand the workforce in microbial, plant, and soil science, genomics, bioinformatics and ecology with the intent to integrate the research into educational activities designed to improve Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM). The educational goals of the project will encourage the participation of both urban and rural areas of mainstream, the economically disadvantaged, first-generation college students, Native Americans, and other under-represented groups culminating in an effort to expand the workforce in microbial, plant, and soil science, genomics, bioinformatics and ecology.

To read more about the project and the award go to:



Education and outreach funding is provided by the Kansas NSF EPSCoR RII Track-1 Award OIA-656006 titled: "Microbiomes of Aquatic, Plant, and Soil Systems across Kansas."  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 aquatic, plant and soil microbiome environments and ecological systems.

Monday, September 11, 2017

KS EPSCoR sponsors KU Natural History Museum's physics programs presented to KU TRIO Talent middle school stduents

Trio students conducting physics experiments at the KU Biodiversity Institute and Natural History Museum
    This summer Kansas NSF EPSCoR provided participation support for two of the University of Kansas (KU) TRIO Talent Search summer programs, Career Horizons and Discover Technology.  The middle school students involved in these summer programs engaged in hands-on physics activities at the KU Biodiversity Institute and Natural History Museum. Career Horizons is a program for rising 7th graders and Discover Technology is a program for rising 8th graders. The Career Horizons' learning experience focuses on exploring careers in STEM, attending college, and personal recreational/health and wellness as well as creates opportunities for students to increase a positive peer network. The Discover Technology opportunity is designed to enhance students’ excitement about the world of science and technology, increase career planning abilities, strengthen a positive peer network, and help students explore a global community.
       Kansas EPSCoR had previously partnered with Dr. Teresa Macdonald, Associate Director, Public Programs for the KU Biodiversity Institute & Natural History Museum, this past spring to provide funding support for Kansas middle school students attending her physics hands-on activity programs. To continue that partnership Kansas NSF EPSCoR extended its support to cover these two KU TRIO summer camps' participation in the following physics programs. For the Career Horizons group, they selected the Cartoon Guide to Energy program and for the Discover Technology students, they selected the Quarks: Ups, Downs and the Universe program.  Dr. Macdonald taught both programs.
    Dr. Macdonald said the partnership with the KU TRIO programs began in 2016 when Rebecca Dukstein, Director of KU TRIO Talent Search, was referred to Dr. Macdonald, by Dr. Alice Bean of the KU Physics and Astronomy Department. When Ms. Dukstein contacted Dr. Macdonald they discussed the possibility of creating physics-themed activities that could become part of these two TRIO summer programs.  Ms. Dukstein commented, “We wanted our students to have the opportunity to learn about physics in a fun, interactive way, with hands-on science demonstrations and experiments.”
    As for what the students thought about these learning experiences, on their end of the day evaluations Ms. Dukstein said the students wrote “they loved the activities.... They also commented that it was one of the best activities of the day and they sited different things they learned during the science session at the museum.”  Dr. Macdonald also heard from the students informally, and they told her “they really liked the program, had fun, and learned new things.”  Both Ms. Dukstein expressed her appreciation to Kansas NSF EPSCoR by saying “If it wasn’t for this 'Scholarship Fund', we would not have been able to bring our students to the museum and enhance the opportunity to learn about physics.” Dr. Macdonald echoed her gratitude by commenting, “We appreciate the funding provided by Kansas NSF EPSCoR ... that helped us offer engaging science learning experiences to underrepresented audiences.”

The KU TRIO Talent Search is a free college access program sponsored by the University of Kansas and funded through the U.S. Department of Education. The goals of the KU TRIO Talent Search are to encourage 7th and 8th grade students attending public schools in Kansas City and Wyandotte County to remain in school, pursue post-secondary education, and eventually earn a certificate, associate’s degree, or bachelor’s degree. 

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.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Kansas Elementary Teachers Learn About The Nature of Matter With The Support of Kansas NSF EPSCoR

  As a further extension of outreach to Kansas Science teachers, the Track 2 Grant #1430519 titled: Imaging and Controlling Ultrafast Dynamics of Atoms, Molecules, and Nanostructures sponsored the Operation Primary Physical Science (OPPS) Workshop at Fort Hays State University.  The workshop was held July 17 – 18, 2017. Twenty four elementary school teachers, mostly from the rural communities across the state, were invited to participate in this two day workshop to study how to teach the Nature of Matter and aligned it with the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).
   Dr. Paul Adams, Dean of the College of Education, Anshultz Professor of Education, and Professor of Physics at Fort Hays State University (FHSU), has been involved with the highly successful Track 2 Kansas EPSCoR High School Physics and Chemistry Teachers’ workshop, Modeling the Unseen in the Physical Sciences, for the last 3 years. As a result of the Kansas adoption of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) in June of 2013, a new vision was created for teaching and learning K -12 Science.  The relatively new NGSS structure involves transforming traditional science teaching approaches by shifting the focus from the memorization of facts to greater student engagement in the processes of science. Using the NGSS Disciplinary Core Ideas, the Science and Engineering Practices and the Crosscutting Concepts, (known as three dimensional teaching) teachers are now expected to guide students to understand the big ideas of science, conduct investigations and develop models; and bridge concepts across disciplinary boundaries. Because many elementary teachers are not as well prepared to lead students in content-rich, inquiry-based quality instruction, Dr. Adams developed this workshop to meet their need.  He also wanted to provide an aligned connection between the NGSS elementary physics curriculum and the NGSS high school curriculum.  Specifically, the OPPS workshop addressed enhancing the elementary school teachers’ content knowledge related the particle nature of matter as well as experience and develop a three dimensional learning pedagogical approach.
Earl Leglieter leading a modeling lesson
   Earl Leglieter conducted a session on Modeling Strategies, similar to the one he presented at the 2017 Kansas EPSCoR Modeling the Unseen in the Physical Sciences high school workshop in June, but with a specific goal to build a particle model of matter, a first step to understanding chemistry and physics. Adams presented the NGSS three dimensional teaching strategies using National Science Teacher Association materials, and later facilitated teachers’ processing discussions.
  Teachers were given a pre/posttest which showed a significant gain in content knowledge [(P<2e-10) from a mean of 38 to 71].  In addition, the teachers said they enjoyed learning more about structuring lessons to involve modeling and inquiry; having students work in small groups to develop skills of cooperation and learning from others; how to help children learn by discovery through the use of open questions; and how to give students time to experiment and investigate in order for them to come up with ideas on their own.  Furthermore, the teachers really appreciated this opportunity to learn more about NGSS, modeling strategies and teaching physics.
   One Teachers commented “It was good to see actual physics lessons that could be adapted to my level,” and another recognized the need to lead students to figure out solutions on their own. Overall, the teachers were happy to have new curriculum, new experiments, and a different way to teach the states of matter.

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.