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.

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 
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).

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

KU, K-State field stations key sites in 30-year NSF project

The University of Kansas and Kansas State University will soon be active participants in the National Ecological Observatory Network, or NEON, one of the most extensive long-term initiatives in the history of the National Science Foundation (NSF). The NSF NEON project establishes sustainable efforts for gathering data related to the causes and consequences of climate change.

This has been a long-time goal of the Kansas NSF EPSCoR major initiative Forecasting Ecological Change in the Central Plains (2006 to 2010). This project led by Dr. Leonard Krishtalka (KU) and Walter Dodds (K-State). The objective was to mature the state’s niche strength in ecological forecasting into a competitive, centers-level capability.

More than 40 scientists and engineers and 70 students representing more than a dozen disciplines conducted research using the Kansas grasslands as the model ecosystem to assess the ecological and societal impacts of global change on coupled human-natural systems. One of the grand challenges of the 21st century as articulated by the National Research Council, the International Program on Climate Change, the National Science Foundation and other national agencies is evaluating and predicting the biological and ecological consequences of accelerating global changes in the environment and human society.

The NSF NEON Sites across the U.S.
Forecasting Ecological Change in the Central Plains was conceptualized and operated as a regional-scale model of the national NEON effort now being realized. In Kansas, it improved and incorporated sensing technologies, informatics, telecommunications, cyberinfrastructure, and large-scale modeling to enable acquisition and analysis of data, and forecasting of environmental phenomena.

As part of the future NEON initiative, two biological stations out of the 106 domains identified in the 30 year NSF funded endeavor are located in Kansas: The University of Kansas Field Station located at KU; and The Konza Prairie Biological Station located at K-State. Together, the Kansas sites are known as the Prairie Peninsula domain and form the only multi-state eco-climatic region designated in the project.

For more information on this story please visit: http://goo.gl/dcJ6Pu

For more information on NSF NEON please visit: http://www.neoninc.org/

Soliciting Proposals: RII Track-2 Focused EPSCoR Collaborations

The National Science Foundation (NSF) Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) FY 2015 Research Infrastructure Improvement Track-2 Focus EPSCoR Collaborations (RII Track-2 FEC) solicitation has been released as NSF 15-517. The deadline for proposals is 20 February 2015.

The solicitation is posted at: http://www.nsf.gov/funding/pgm_summ.jsp?pims_id=505148.

In FY 2015, proposals aligned with themes consistent with NSF priorities, including such areas as cognitive science and neuroscience, clean energy, and food security, are encouraged.

Please continue to contact Kelvin Chu (kchu@nsf.gov, 703.292.7860) with questions.

Friday, November 14, 2014

KU to host Big 12 universities water workshop

Water use – and abuse – has emerged in recent years as a major challenge in Kansas, affecting all aspects of life in the state. It is a focus for multidisciplinary research at the University of Kansas and is the subject of a statewide policy initiative, the 50-Year Vision for the Future of Water in Kansas.

Water is also a concern beyond the borders of the state. A distinguished group of researchers from all Big 12 universities will meet Tuesday, Nov. 18, in Lawrence to share their findings and discuss opportunities for future intercampus collaborations concerning water.

For details about the event please visit http://news.ku.edu/ku-host-big-12-universities-water-workshop.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Konza Prairie research program receives $6.76 million NSF grant renewal

Long-term ecological research at Kansas State University's Konza Prairie Biological Station will continue for another six years with a $6.76 million grant renewal from the National Science Foundation.

Konza Prairie, an 8,600-acre native tallgrass prairie research station, is jointly owned by Kansas State University and The Nature Conservancy and managed by the university's Division of Biology in the College of Arts & Sciences.

The "Konza" is a delightfully unique asset in Kansas that has played a critical role in KNE research the last 12 years from ecological genomics and ecological forecasting to the current climate change studies taking place.

Kansas NSF EPSCoR congratulates the program's director John Blair, university distinguished professor of biology and K-State, and the co-principal investigators for their success in continuing this important research facility.

For more information on this story please visit http://www.k-state.edu/media/newsreleases/nov14/lterrenewal11614.html.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Climate and Energy Museum Exhibit Travels

Kansas NSF EPSCoR, with the help of Flint Hills Design (Newton), developed the first temporary museum exhibit for the Flint Hills Discovery Center in Manhattan. The Climate and Energy exhibit helped kick off the grand opening for the Discovery Center in 2012 and remained there until summer 2014. The unique exhibit was designed to easily travel to other spaces throughout the state when it's stay in Manhattan was complete.

It's next stop is the Kauffman Museum at Bethel College in Newton where it will occupy their temporary exhibit space. A plan is being developed to find several sites giving many audiences an opportunity to learn about the kinds of science being done in Kansas and its impact. Here are some pictures of the display in its new home.

Please stop into the Kauffman Museum if you are in the neighborhood and visit the exhibit before it travels onward. This blog will provide updates on future sites and its availability. If you are a facility interested in being a host, please contact nsfepscor@ku.edu.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Kansas Researchers Talk About Water and What It Means for the State

There is no mistaking that water is important to Kansas farmers. Where it comes from, how it is used and regulated are on the minds of many, especially in the western, more agricultural part of the state. How farmers respond to the quality and availability of water and how it affects their crop and irrigation decisions was the focus of a unique symposium sponsored jointly by the Biofuels and Climate Change: Farmers' Land Use Decisions research team and the Kansas Natural Resource Council, which took place at the University of Kansas on September 26. The goal of the symposium was to disseminate the project's research findings to key stakeholders and policy-makers in the state.

Gene West farm, Kiowa County, Kansas (Photo by Larry Schwarm)
The symposium titled Kansas Waters: Research and Communication - From Data to News, drew an audience of about 50 stakeholders, mainly from the Kansas Water Office and other policy-making agencies, along with University of Kansas and Kansas State researchers.  The morning began with research presentations on water use including what motivates or impedes underlying irrigation decisions as well as cultural aspects with regard to farmers' attitudes and perspectives on water usage. Other topics included the role of water rights on conservation and how other restrictions affect usage. The research results demonstrate that Minimum Desirable Streamflow restrictions effectively reduce agricultural water use within the Lower Republic River basin.  More broadly, research results reveal that water rights constrain, but not fully, agricultural water use when considering the entire state of Kansas.  In the early afternoon, presentations focused on water quality: the impact of agricultural activities on surface water quality and how farmers perceive water quality.
The latter part of the afternoon included a workshop on how to communicate science and policy to different audiences such as the general public, the legislature, institutions and the media. A variety of stakeholders from these audiences spoke about their perspectives on the best ways to communicate the findings from the morning session.

The afternoon discussion drew a clear conclusion.  Legal restrictions on irrigation exist yet farmers in the Central Plains are quickly depleting groundwater aquifers and draining surface water.  Thus, a richer understanding of policy effectiveness is important.

Update: See a related story from September 27, 2014 in the Lawrence Journal World at http://www2.ljworld.com/news/2014/sep/27/ogallala-water-continues-pore-farm-fields-despite-/ .

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Upcoming Governor’s Conference on the Future of Water in Kansas to be held in Manhattan

Registration for the Governor's Conference on the Future of Water in Kansas is now OPEN! Visit http://www.kwo.org/Ogallala/Governors_Conference/Governors_Conference.htm to register online.

The annual Governor’s Conference on the Future of Water in Kansas will be held November 12-13, 2014 at the Hilton Garden Inn and Conference Center in Manhattan, KS. This third year for the conference will highlight the latest policy and research development of water issues in Kansas. The conference brings together scientists, water managers, state and federal officials and legislators, city and county administrators, environmental organizations, irrigators and citizens who share an interest in Kansas water resources. A large focus will be sharing the outcomes of the past year to address the Governor's 2013 Call to Action to develop a long-term vision for our state's future water supply.

The agenda, keynote speakers, registration, lodging information and information about the student poster session can be found at the conference website: http://www.kwo.org/Ogallala/Governors_Conference/Governors_Conference.htm.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Going Green: KU students grow algae for biofuel, cleaner water

Kansas NSF EPSCoR funds biofuel research as part of its major initiative, Climate change and Energy, Basic Science, Impacts and Mitigation. One of the projects has been studying ways of using treated wastewater and top-down ecology to grow high-yield algae. Lead researcher, Belinda Sturm, associate professor of civil, environmental, and architectural engineering, continues her research as part of KU's Feedstock to Tailpipe Initiative.

She and her colleagues are working with a team of about 25 KU graduate and undergraduate engineering students to turn the tiny water-based plants into biofuel.

“We remove nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus that harm the environment and make a useful product,” Sturm said. “That’s the bottom line. We’re cleaning up wastewater and creating a biofuels feedstock.”

One of the goals of the KU project is to show how a city or county could grow its own algae to treat nutrient-rich wastewater. After the algae consume the nitrogen and phosphorus, the cleaner water can be returned to nature.

- See more at: http://features.ku.edu/article/going-green-ku-engineers-tap-tiny-algae-biofuel#sthash.n8MFsMqZ.dpuf

Monday, October 6, 2014

KNE Welcomes New Education, Outreach and Diversity Coordinator

Please join Kansas NSF EPSCoR in welcoming Rosemary Blum as its newest staff member. Beginning September 29, Rosemary accepted the position of Education, Outreach and Diversity Coordinator. Part of KNE's mission is to strengthen linkages between research and education and to increase diversity by enabling participation of women, underrepresented minorities, and persons with disabilities within its programs. She will be in charge of developing and running a variety of programs for EPSCoR in this capacity.

Rosemary comes to KNE from Houston, TX where she was the Instructional Math Coach and Math Curriculum Adviser for two high school Math Departments. Prior to that she served as the Assistant Dean of Students at Louisiana State University, the Director of Student Judicial Affairs at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln and the Coordinator for Student Development working with Transitional Programs and Non- Traditional Student Services at Southern Illinois University. In addition to her university experience, she has taught a variety of math courses spanning 6th grade through high school for the Austin public school system in Texas and the LSU Lab School in Baton Rouge, LA. She has her bachelor's degree in Secondary Education: Mathematics from the University of Texas and a master’s degree in Higher Education: College Student Personnel from Southern Illinois University.

Her husband is a distinguished professor in the KU Geology Department and she has two sons. The oldest son attends law school at George Washington University in Washington DC, and the youngest son is a freshman playing basketball for Trinity University in San Antonio. Outside of work, Rosemary enjoys traveling, watching sports (especially basketball) and painting.

She can be contacted at rblum@ku.edu or 785-864-6120.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Request for Proposals: Kansas NSF EPSCoR Education & Diversity Grants

Kansas NSF EPSCoR has announced a request for proposals for Education & Diversity Grants.

Download and read the full RFP at http://goo.gl/q6kvT5.

Education & 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. These awards are targeted to leverage the educational strengths of the universities in Kansas. An Education & Diversity Grant proposal may target any level of the student population; the general public; K-12 teachers; community or four-year college faculty; or employees in the Kansas workforce. The initiative may employ formal or informal educational methods. Priority will be given to proposals with a significant component that increases diversity by enabling participation in the EPSCoR project’s activities by women, minorities, persons with disabilities and members of other underrepresented groups (such as first generation college students or participants in geographically underserved locales).

Due to the importance of building on existing program strengths, only proposals related to climate or energy research or atomic/molecular/optical science will be considered. These areas are the focus of the current EPSCoR initiatives (see http://www.nsfepscor.ku.edu for more information).

Submission deadline: Monday, November 3, 2014

Monday, September 22, 2014

NSF announces the Community College Innovation Challenge

Students compete for cash prizes and professional coaching to develop STEM-based solutions for issues of local to global concern

Friday, September 19, 2014

Today, the National Science Foundation (NSF) launches its Community College Innovation Challenge. In this contest, NSF is challenging students enrolled in community colleges to propose innovative science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM)-based solutions to perplexing, real-world problems. An incentive: Teams submitting top ideas will receive professional coaching and cash prizes.

More than 40 percent of U.S. undergraduates are enrolled at community colleges. Groups underrepresented in STEM as well as first-generation college students make up a significant portion of students on community-college campuses. NSF-funded projects at community colleges support STEM students transferring to four-year colleges as well as receiving education and training to become part of the high-tech workforce--in fields as diverse as biotechnology, cybersecurity and advanced manufacturing.

Knowing the creative potential of these students, NSF invites teams of community-college students to identify key problems and propose innovative solutions in areas with potential for solving some of America's most daunting challenges: big data, infrastructure security, sustainability (including water, food, energy, and environment), broadening participation in STEM, and improving STEM education.

"Engaging the talents of these students is a priority for us," said Susan Singer, who leads NSF's Division of Undergraduate Education. "Through this competition we would expect to not only identify innovators but also to see new ways for students, faculty, community and industry to work together."

Ideas may be submitted through Jan. 15, 2015 via NSF's CCIC website. Each team must consist of three to five students currently enrolled and in good standing at a two-year associate-degree-granting institution, as well as a faculty mentor and a community or industry partner. Up to 10 teams will be selected as finalists and invited to participate in a three-day Innovation Boot Camp. This professional development workshop on innovation and entrepreneurship, featuring experts in a variety of related fields, is designed to hone skills applicable to commercializing ideas, using technology for social applications, communicating with stakeholders and creating business strategies.

Final-round judging will take place in person on the last day of Innovation Boot Camp. Each student member of the first place team will receive a $3,000 cash prize. Cash awards will also be distributed to team members on the second and third placed teams. Interested students may visit the challenge website for the full eligibility criteria, entry guidelines, timeline and prize information.

This challenge furthers NSF's mission by enabling students to discover and demonstrate their ingenuity to use science to make a difference in the world and transfer knowledge into action. It also furthers the benefit of incorporating research into the traditional teaching mission of the community college. Get updates on Twitter: #CCIChallenge.


Monday, August 25, 2014

Request for Proposals: Kansas NSF EPSCoR First Awards

Kansas NSF EPSCoR has announced a request for proposals for First Awards.

Download and read the full RFP at http://www.nsfepscor.ku.edu/funding.html.

Kansas NSF EPSCoR (KNE) helps Kansas build its research capacity and competitiveness in science and technology. The 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.

Only projects with research in areas that are related to the current Kansas NSF EPSCoR initiatives of Climate or Energy Research (http://www.nsfepscor.ku.edu/ph6.html) or Atomic/Molecular/Optical Science (http://www.nsfepscor.ku.edu/rii_t2_2014.html) are eligible for First Awards. Other eligibility requirements apply so please read the RFP carefully.

Submission Deadlines:
Letter of Intent Due by 5:00 PM MONDAY, September 8, 2014.
Final Proposal Due by 5:00 PM MONDAY, October 27, 2014.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP) application period is now open!

The NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP) application period is now open! NSF is soliciting applications for the GRFP until the posted deadlines in late October and early November 2014. Since 1952, GRFP has provided Fellowships to individuals selected early in their graduate careers based on their demonstrated potential for significant achievements in science and engineering. Three years of support is provided by the program for graduate study in science or engineering and leads to a research-based master's or doctoral degree. The NSF expects to award 2,000 Graduate Research Fellowships under this program solicitation pending availability of funds:

Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP) PROGRAM SOLICITATION (NSF 14-590)

GRFP is also soliciting reviewers for the GRFP applications. Disciplinary and interdisciplinary scientists and engineers, and other professionals with science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) graduate education expertise, are invited to serve as reviewers for the Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP). This opportunity is described in a Dear Colleague Letter:

Dear Colleague Letter - NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program - Invitation for Reviewers (NSF 14-107)

Friday, August 8, 2014

Ultrafast laser technology research in Kansas, Nebraska receives NSF EPSCoR Track 2 grant

How light interacts with matter is one of the grand challenges of atomic, molecular and optical research. A Kansas and Nebraska consortium led by university researchers has received a three-year, $6 million award to understand ultrafast molecular processes on the order of a millionth of a billionth second, or one femtosecond. The award is divided equally between the two states.

Research activities in the two states involve 30 people and are led by Anthony Starace, professor of physics at UN-L, and Itzik Ben-Itzhak, university distinguished professor of physics at Kansas State University.

Diocles Extreme Light Laboratory at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Image courtesy of the Communications Department of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

See more at:  http://news.ku.edu/2014/08/08/ultrafast-laser-technology-research-kansas-nebraska-receives-federal-grant

and: http://www.nsf.gov/news/news_summ.jsp?cntn_id=132269&org=NSF&from=news

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Calling all Scientists and Engineers... Announcing The Vizzies!

From NSF: Do you love animating data, creating science apps, or taking macrophotographs? In the 2014 Visualization Challenge, sponsored by the National Science Foundation and Popular Science, your handiwork can receive its due glory and win you cash prizes.

For more information visit http://www.nsf.gov/news/special_reports/scivis/index.jsp.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Early-Career Faculty Receive First Awards Building on Climate and Energy Research

Building research capacity in Kansas involves many tactics, one of which is bolstering the talent of it's young, up-and-coming university faculty members. This is what the Kansas NSF EPSCoR (KNE) First Award program does.

Each year KNE solicits transformational research proposals from early-career faculty members at Kansas' Regents Universities. These newly appointed assistant professors are eager to begin their research programs with funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF) or other federal funding agencies. KNE helps by jump starting their research with a First Award that will hopefully lead to a successful NSF proposal.

This year, KNE awarded nine First Awards in the areas of Climate and Energy research.

Our Children's Grasslands: Understanding Present and Predicting Future Diversity of Dominant Great Plains Grasses

James Beck, Assistant Professor, Biological Sciences, Wichita State University

Despite their immense value (forage, biofuel, ecosystem services) and vulnerability to climate change, we currently lack even a basic picture of how genetic diversity is arrayed across Great Plains grasslands. The proposed research has two main goals: 1) document genomic and cytological diversity across the ranges of ten dominant Great Plains grass species by analyzing DNA extracted from thousands of museum specimens; and 2) predict potential loss of such diversity under numerous climate change scenarios. Critically, our novel use of museum DNA eliminates the need for extremely time consuming fieldwork, allowing us to understand the genetics of these species at an unprecedented depth and scale. This work has clear relevance to the KNE Climate Change and Energy initiative. Specifically, its combination of cutting-edge genomic and climate modeling techniques to predict the effects of climate change on grassland genetic resources sits squarely within the Climate Change and Mitigation sub-project.

Experimental and Modeling Analysis of CO2 as a Control on Microbial Activity in Anoxic Environments

Matthew Kirk , Assistant Professor, Geology, Kansas State University

The objective of the research is to test the hypothesis that an increase in CO2 abundance can stimulate microbial iron reduction, leading to a decrease in the rate of sulfate reduction or methanogenesis, where those groups compete with iron reducers for electron donors. Results from a preliminary set of experiments are consistent with the hypothesis (Kirk et al., 2013); additional experiments and numerical modeling are needed to examine sulfate-deficient systems, the sensitivity of the relationships, and mechanisms.

The proposed research is related to climate change. In response to warming, rates of organic matter degradation are expected to increase in many soils, elevating the flux of CO2 into the subsurface. Geochemical evidence indicates that this effect is already occurring, including a study at the Konza Prairie. Understanding how this increase will affect subsurface microbiology is important because microbial populations strongly influence water quality and carbon storage in the subsurface.

New Solid Polymer Electrolyte Materials for Next Generation Lithium Batteries

Bin Li, Assistant Professor, Mechanical Engineering, Wichita State University

Solid polymer electrolytes (SPEs) are ideal replacement of prevailing liquid dominated electrolytes for new generation lithium batteries (LBs), due to superior stability and safety, and sufficient mechanical strength of polymers. Meanwhile, their excellent shapability and conformability promise the development of energy and electronic devices with complex 3D configurations.

The proposed research will attempt to resolve two critical issues of current SPEs, that is, low room temperature ionic conductivity and high SPE/electrode interfacial resistance, by means of recent successful synthesis of novel imide polymers by PI.

The new polymers possess several advantages which do not commonly exist in reported SPEs: (1) simultaneously high density of hetero elements and amorphous structures for high ionic conductivity; (2) remarkably high modulus and good adhesion with electrodes, which are essential to low interfacial resistance and high interfacial stability, suggesting their great potential as SPE hosts for high efficiency and reliable energy applications of LBs

Trustworthy and Privacy-Preserving Data Management in Smart Grid

Fengjun Li, Assistant Professor, Electrical Engineering & Computer Science, University of Kansas

Smart grid is identified as the national science and engineering grand challenge areas in the United States. It integrates existing power grids with modern information infrastructure to achieve “smart” generation, distribution, management and consumption of electric power. Two critical SG components are Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) for two-way connectivity and smart grid applications such as demand-response and outage management that utilize the real-time metering data for “smart” management and control. However, data collection and management are often considered as two orthogonal processes where raw meter data measurements using different information models are collected in various AMIs and then processed at the meter data management systems (MDMSs) to support upper-layer applications. This not only results in inefficient data collection but also faces various security and privacy problems intrinsic in AMI data collection (e.g., false data injection, consumer data privacy, etc.) To tackle the problems, I propose to develop a comprehensive data collection and management framework to integrate trustworthy and privacy-preserving data collection in AMIs and efficient data management for smart grid applications. The proposed project will include a series of cryptographic techniques for data confidentiality and authentication, outlier detection and distributed incremental verification, privacy-preserving data aggregation, and adaptive data collection based on user privacy attribute configuration.

Determination of the molecular structures of Cu/Fe-modified ZSM-5 catalysts for methane-to-methanol conversions from first-principles method

Bin Liu, Assistant Professor, Chemical Engineering, Kansas State University

This study is motivated by the development of an alternative more energy efficient methanol production process utilizing the abundant natural gas resource and the Cu/Fe modified ZSM-5 catalyst to replace the current two-step reaction pathways. The investigation will be carried out from a theoretical perspective using first-principles calculations. The detailed molecular modeling shall examine several key factors that is believed to govern the zeolites catalytic properties relevant to methane oxidation: (1) the geometry of the active sites, (2) the metal ion oxidation state, (3) size and shape effects of zeolite cavities, and (4) thermodynamics/kinetics of methane oxidation pathways. The broader impact of this modeling study will help: (i) design novel catalyst materials tailored for active and selective methane oxidation and (ii) offer insight in alternative solutions to produce chemicals in more energy efficient and environmental friendly manner.

Investigating the CO2 Exchange in a Tall-Grass Prairie Ecosystem using an Analytical Lagrangian Dispersion Analysis and Stable Isotopes

Eduardo Santos, Assistant Professor, Agronomy, Kansas State University

A better understanding of the biophysical mechanisms controlling soil and plant CO2 exchange in ecosystems is needed to improve our current knowledge of the carbon cycle and predictions of future climate scenarios. Stable isotopes of carbon and oxygen (13CO2 and C18OO) are powerful tools for studying the exchange of CO2 between land and the atmosphere across a range of spatial scales (from single-leaf to global scales). New optical sensors have allowed continuous and accurate stable isotope atmospheric concentration measurements under field conditions. These measurements can be combined with existing micrometeorological techniques to study gas exchange at the ecosystem scale. I propose the use of a novel approach that combines an analytical Lagrangian dispersion analysis and concentration profiles of stable isotopes in the air for determining isotope signatures of soil and plant flux components and partitioning the contributions of soil and plants to the CO2 flux in a tall-grass prairie ecosystem.

Towards Energy Efficient Learning and Adaptation in Cognitive Radio Wireless Networks

Yi Song, Assistant Professor, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, Wichita State University

The research objective of this proposal is to design, analyze, and evaluate an energy-efficient learning and adaptation framework for cognitive radio networks (CRNs). Cognitive radio has recently emerged as a promising technology to overcome the imbalance between the increase in spectrum access demand and the inefficiency in spectrum usage. A “cognitive radio” is a radio that can change its transmitter parameters to opportunistically exploit the unused spectrum without causing harmful interference to incumbent users. Learning and adaptation capabilities are the two distinct features of CR devices to detect the unused spectrum and adjust the transmitter parameters based on the learning information. These two capabilities are crucial for the success of CRNs. However, both the learning and adaptation operations are energy intensive, and can quickly drain the batteries of CR devices if not managed efficiently. This issue is currently unexplored in the literature and requires significant research efforts to save energy.

Integrated Process Development for Protein and Oil Recovery from Microalgae Biomass

Lisa R. Wilken, Assistant Professor, Biological and Agricultural Engineering, Kansas State University

The goal of the proposed research is to design an integrated process for protein and oil fractionation to reduce costs of bioenergy production. Aqueous enzymatic oil extraction (AEOE), a non-solvent and environmentally friendly method, will be developed to co-extract oil and protein from microalgae biomass. AEOE uses mild processing conditions that preserve protein activity and functionality necessary for sustainable food and pharmaceutical applications. Critical process parameters that will be investigated include enzyme classes and activities, dosage, incubation conditions, and protein/oil separation and refining methods. In the future, the integrated process is expected to be applicable to metabolically- and genetically-engineered biomass.

Microbial mechanisms of drought tolerance and the implications for grassland soil carbon storage

Lydia Zeglin, Assistant Professor, Division of Biology, Kansas State University

In Kansas grassland soils, after periods of drying, soil microbiota exhibit multiple strategies of response to rainfall that support greater soil C storage. These strategies include decreased carbon dioxide efflux, decreased enzymatic potential for soil organic matter decomposition and increased microbial C use efficiency. However, it is not clear which subset of cells mediates these shifts in situ, how widespread these strategies are (including prevalence in grazed or cultivated soils), or whether these climate-soil feedbacks are mediated by plant responses. This project will evaluate the distribution and operation of microbial drought tolerance mechanisms in Kansas grassland soils with contrasting plant communities, moisture regimes and management histories. Many soil microbes are well-adapted to drought; however the severity of drought events is predicted to increase in Great Plains grasslands. Data from this project will help define the potential for grassland soil C sequestration under future climate change and land management scenarios.

To learn about past KNE First Awardees please visit http://www.nsfepscor.ku.edu/first-awards-yr4.html