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 and to the right to stay notified of new posts. Feel free to leave comments.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

New Faculty Receive KNE First Awards for Climate and Energy Research

The summer of 2013 saw seven new faculty researchers in Kansas receive Kansas NSF EPSCoR First Awards to support their programs in climate and energy science. KNE First Awards is a competitive program to provide research funds for early career sciences in Kansas.  Learn more about the recipients below.

A novel task and data regrouping based parallel approach to solve massive problems faster on multithreaded computing systems

Abu Asaduzzaman, Assistant Professor of Electrical Engineering & Computer Science, Wichita State University

The growing demand for developing energy-efficient faster computing systems is fueling the interest in developing better concurrent/parallel techniques to solve computation intensive problems. In designing methods for parallel computing, both the extent of the difficulty and the nature of the proposed solutions depend significantly on programming and architectural constraints. Current state of the knowledge on parallel processing is focused on designing massively multithreaded systems. The aim of this research is to develop an innovative task and data regrouping based parallel strategy to solve complex problems faster for saving energy and time and thus minimizing environmental and climate impacts.

Coherent transport and localization dynamics of excitons in molecular aggregates

Wai-Lun Chan, Assistant Professor of Physics and Astronomy, University of Kansas

One of the major challenges in nano-structure based solar cells is to effectively direct photo-excited excitons to interfaces for charge dissociation. Nature provides a valuable lesson - effective exciton transport in photosynthetic complex is mediated by interplay between coherent coupling and incoherent trapping at reaction sites. Similar mechanisms should presence in organic materials but are neither well understood, nor utilized in photovoltaics applications. Using time-resolved photoemission spectroscopy and fluorescent spectroscopy, we will temporally, spatially, and energetically resolve the exciton dynamics in molecular aggregates. The results will be used to study the competition between ultrafast coherent transport and exciton localization.

Two-Dimensional Heterojunction Tunneling Transistors for Low Power Applications

Hsin-Ying Chiu, Assistant Professor of Physics and Astronomy, University of Kansas

The proposed research addresses the grand challenge of developing low power circuit design based on heterojunction tunneling transistors by artificially stacking atomically thin layers of nanomaterials, i.e. carbon-­‐based nanomaterials and transition metal dichalcogenides (TMDs). Moreover, the proposed research will be conducted with a unique platform of combined electrical transport and optical pump-­probe measurements, which can serve a broad range of research schemes of studying physics at interfaces between two different nanomaterials. Therefore, this research will utilize the unique heterojunction properties of novel nanomaterials to develop low power and high-performance nanodevice applications.

Development of an FPGA-based Adaptable Peak Current-mode Control

Erik Mayer, Assistant Professor of Electronics Engineering, Pittsburg State University

This research focuses on the development of an adaptable, peak current-mode control for use in buck and related power converters. The control will use the modified z-transform model to determine the optimal amount of compensating ramp necessary for converters operating under a wide range of conditions. The applications would include a converter for charging batteries with solar power and a buck converter replacement for pre-charge resistors in electric and hybrid vehicle inverters. The control will be FPGA-based which will allow for several concurrent controls to be implemented on a single integrated circuit along with supervisory control.

Computational Studies of Biocatalyst Systems for Biomass Conversion

Katie Mitchell-Koch, Assistant Professor of Chemistry, Wichita State University

Biorefining of cellulosic feedstock for the production of ethanol and other biofuels is a promising direction for energy independence and efficiency. Bioengineered enzymes are being developed by companies, such as Abengoa Bioenergy, for these purposes. Computational studies of enzyme-solvent and enzyme-substrate interactions will inform the rational design and engineering of enzymes. Results can be used to tailor the properties of these biocatalysts and their solvent systems in order to facilitate rapid transport of substrates to and from the active site, faster reaction rates, and catalyst specificity.

Multifunctional Copolymeric Photovoltaics

Shenqiang Ren, Assistant Professor of Chemistry, University of Kansas

This proposal will address a key challenge of multifunctional excitonic system: programming optical, electronic and magnetic properties by organic photovoltaic material design. The goal is to understand principles that govern rational design, synthesis and self-assembly of excitonic photovoltaic polymers, and to discover their unique coupling among room temperature excitonic multiferroic and photovoltaic properties. The project will be comprised of following interrelated sub-programs: (1) synthesis of semiconducting polymers with new optical, magnetic and electronic properties. (2) understanding of the integration between exciton multiferroics and photovoltaics to contribute the extension of exciton-based nanotechnology.

Charge and energy transfer upon inner-shell photoionization

Artem Rudenko, Assistant Professor of Physics, Kansas State University

Charge and energy transfer reactions drive numerous important processes in physics, chemistry and biology, with applications ranging from artificial photosynthesis to molecular electronics. This project aims at revealing basic mechanisms and time scales of charge rearrangement and energy redistribution in molecular systems upon inner-shell photoionization. After creating a localized source of positive charge by the core-shell absorption of an X-ray photon, charge and energy flow in different molecular environments will be studied on the atomistic level by coincident momentum spectroscopy. Expected results will shed light on fundamental interatomic relaxation processes and advance our understanding of radiation damage mechanisms.

To learn about past KNE First Awardees please visit

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

1 Kansas Farmer

University of Kansas Students enrolled in Professor Patrick Dooley’s VISC 414 Visual Communication: Publication and Editorial designed six posters presenting topics related to BACC:FLUD research. The posters draw inspiration from the art, science, and history of the Dust Bowl, as we turn to the sciences and the arts for a better understanding of the environmental realities facing Kansas today. 1 Kansas Farmer visually communicates the research of the Biofuels and Climate Change: Farmers’ Land Use Decisions (BACC:FLUD) project currently being conducted by scholars at the University of Kansas and Kansas State University, which examines Kansas farmers’ land use decisions and their relationship to biofuel crop opportunities and climate change.

This collaboration utilizes graphic design principles to illuminate, translate, and communicate aspects of BACC:FLUD research and its relevance to Kansans. The posters will be displayed at the University of Kansas Spencer Museum of Art and will be available for future circulation. Methods of ascertaining viewer response to the posters and the issues they explore are currently in development. 1 Kansas Farmer capitalizes on a local audience primed to consider the historical impacts of agricultural land use on the environment during the Dust Bowl, and turns that attention toward current research addressing those issues and their present and future impact upon the state.

These posters will be displayed in the main hallway of the Spencer Museum of Art in the fall of 2013 in conjunction with a small exhibition related to KU’s 2013-14 Common Book, Timothy Egan’s The Worst Hard Time, a book about the Dust Bowl. To design these six panels, 24 students engaged with photographs taken by Larry Schwarm, an artist commissioned by the Spencer and BACC:FLUD to interrogate the conditions under which agriculture occurs in Kansas today, artworks from the Spencer Museum of Art and K-State’s Beach Museum of Art, interview quotations, survey responses, and other research collected and conducted by the BACC:FLUD team. 1 Kansas Farmer fosters an art/science collaboration to communicate research about important issues effectively and compellingly to audiences.

Professor Dooley’s students pose with one of the designs.
In addition to Professor Dooley and his class, others involved in the creation of the works included Kate Meyer; Spencer Museum of Art (KU); Dietrich Earnhart, Economics (KU); Larry Schwarm, Photography (Emporia State University); Jane Gibson, Anthropology (KU)  Stacey Swearingen White, Urban Planning (KU)  BJ Gray, IPSR (Jane’s KU grad student); Dana Peterson, KARS (KU); Jude Kastens, KARS (KU)  Belinda Sturm, Engineering (KU); Jeff Peterson, Agricultural Economics (K-State); Russell Graves, Agricultural Economics (K-State), Dave Mechem, Geography (KU)  Nate Brunsell, Geography (KU)  Chris Brown, Environmental Studies (KU); and Alyse Zadalis, IPSR (KU).

Friday, September 6, 2013

Hybrid Materials on Nanostructured Templates to Improve Lithium-ion Batteries

By using hybrid materials assembled on a vertical brush-like nanostructured template, a university-industrial collaboration has developed novel anode materials for lithium-ion batteries with eight-fold improvement in storage capacity and five-fold improvement in charge-discharge rate.

Jun Li, professor of chemistry at Kansas State University, and Judy Wu, University Distinguished Professor of Physics at The University of Kansas, worked together to develop these materials with their collaborators at NASA Ames Center for Nanotechnology and Catalyst Power Techologies Inc. both in California.

Lithium-ion batteries are critical energy sources for portable electronics. Improving the energy capacity, the charge-discharge rate (i.e. power), and lifetime can significantly enhance these devices. It is particularly important for new renewable energy applications such as electric cars and storage of intermittent electrical energy generated by solar cells and wind turbines.

Silicon has been known as a good Lithium-ion anode material which can theoretically provide about 10 times higher Li storage capacity than the current commercial anode material (i.e. graphite). However, the pulverization caused by the large volume changes during charge-discharge cycles has limited its usable lifetime. Coating silicon as thin shells around vertically aligned carbon nanotubes allows it to freely expand and contract but remain in good electrical contact with the highly conductive and stable carbon core. The hybrid material has shown dramatically improved performance.

The core-shell hybrid nanostructure (see the TEM image at the center) allows the reversible volume change during cycling between the charged (right) and discharged (left) states.

Energy-Related Education Programs Benefit Kids and Scientists Alike

Informal science opportunities such as museum visits offer youth and their adult chaperons an opportunity to experience science in an engaging, hands-on manner that promotes interest and supports life-long learning. This is exactly why Teresa MacDonald, Director of Education, is offering up at the University of Kansas Natural History Museum.

Nanoscale and energy are two important areas of current science and engineering research that are well placed to make connections between research and everyday life. The collaboration between scientists and educators has given researchers in the Kansas NSF EPSCoR-funded project, Nanotechnology for Renewable Energy, the opportunity to enhance their knowledge of educational research and practices, specifically in informal science education.

Creating informative, engaging and challenging educational experiences are effective at enhancing science knowledge and understanding, as well as generating interest in science subjects and careers. The resources developed as part of this project have engaged youth, teachers and parents, as well as the broader general public with these important science ideas through hands-on programming and extensive online material. These experiences build capacity with everyone involved in terms of their content knowledge related to nanoscale, energy and related topics, and scientists’ understanding of informal science education.

The goals of creating these opportunities were to provide challenging and engaging science education experiences that introduce core ideas about nanoscale, matter and energy. The diverse activities developed to meet these goals have successfully reached out to both youth and adult participants, and their audience continues to grow.

How Small is Small explores size and scale, where 2nd through 6th graders discover what are the smallest things in the universe are and how small they are. The new Cartoon Guide to Energy hands-on program for elementary and middle school groups that use classic cartoon scenarios to explore how fundamental forces and properties of matter build a framework for thinking about energy across its different contexts. Science Shorts is a set of four mini animated videos about solar energy and electricity. It has now had more than 20,000 views (logo and screen shots above). Photon Invaders, an online game about solar cells is now available as an Android app. Another game that explores how electrical charges work has been created (Eddie’s Obstacle Course) and the app version was recently released (screen shots above).Quarked! Adventures in the Subatomic Universe (www.quarked.org) is a website that introduces kids ages 7 and up, and their families and teachers to the exciting world of particle physics. It continues to have visitors from more than 60 countries, with more than 72,000 unique visits in 2012.

For more information about these museum offerings please visit http://naturalhistory.ku.edu/education.

The museum has developed some awesome refrigerator magnets and temporary tatoos of these characters that are fun for all ages.

Contact the KNE office if you are interested in obtaining them at no cost: nsfepscor@ku.edu or (785) 864-3096.

Adaption Strategies for Grain Sorghum for a Varying Climate

Plant growth simulations developed by Kansas State University researchers have shown that by shifting planting dates earlier by three weeks and applying irrigation at appropriate times, farmers can mitigate sorghum yield losses due to increasing temperature and decreasing precipitation.

Management practice adjustments, especially planting date shifts and irrigation have the potential to counteract the effect of climate change on the yield of some crops. This research provides farmers with alternative strategies to adapt to the effects of climate change and decrease their yield loss.

Rapid change in temperature, precipitation and the concentration of carbon dioxide is a major concern. These climate variables directly and indirectly affect the agriculture sector, mainly by reducing productivity. Researchers can use highly detailed crop models to simulate the effects of different predicted climate scenarios. The results can allow them to suggest crop management strategies to farmers for adapting to a given scenario. An adaptation strategy such as shifting planting dates earlier allows a crop to grow in a comparatively favorable environment avoiding the detrimental effect of higher temperatures on growth. A focused irrigation strategy can also help to balance reduced soil moisture and leaf water, caused by lower precipitation and higher temperatures.

This research is being conducted at Kansas State University Department of Agronomy by Abhishes Lamsal, Aavudai Anandhi Swamy, M.B. Kirkham and PV. Vara Prasad. Photo credit: Milo Head (by Larry Schwarm, used by permission)