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

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Collaboration between Kansas State University, Oklahoma State University and Langston University seeks to boost crop yields to feed a growing world population

Dr. Stephen Welch, KSU; Dr. Phillip Alderman, OSU; Dr. Franklin Fondjo Fotou, LU
Stephen Welch, professor of agronomy at Kansas State University (KSU), Phillip Alderman, assistant professor of agronomy at Oklahoma State University (OSU), and Franklin Fondjo Fotou, assistant professor and chair of the department of technology at Langston University (LU) in Langston OK, have received a RII Track-2 FEC NSF EPSCoR four-year, $4 million award.  The project, titled Building Field-Based Ecophysiological Genome-to-Phenome Prediction will study methods to improve crop yields, crop breeding programs, and in-field management using wheat as the example crop. The team plans to develop computer models and supporting data systems that combine crop physiology and genetics with actual environmental measurements such as canopy temperatures, soil profiles, and development phases.  They will use the new computer models and data systems to predict how wheat will perform in different environments. In addition, these models and data systems will be used to predict crop traits as well as provide insight for on-farm crop management and food security.  

For more information about the award go to:  RII Track -2 FEC EPSCoR OIA - 1826820


Wednesday, August 29, 2018

University of Puget Sound student studies impact of soil microbial communities on native Kansas grasses

Ben Papadopoulos (left); and Ben holding a snake 
during an REU fieldtrip to the KU Field Station
     Ben Papadopoulos is a biology major and math minor at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, WA. He first became interested in soil-plant relationships and organisms, like arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi, when they were mentioned in some of his core biology classes. Because he enjoys opportunities to engage in science projects, when he heard about the chance to “dig into” soil-plant microbe relationships as part of the department Ecology & Evolutionary Biology (EEB): Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program at the University of Kansas (KU), he had to apply. Ben worked with Dr. James Bever, Distinguished Foundation Professor in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Senior Scientist with the Kansas Biological Survey, and Lead Investigator on the Kansas NSF EPSCoR OIA-1656006 RII Track-1: Microbiomes of Aquatic, Plant, and Soil Systems across Kansas (MAPS) Plant Team, to develop his research project titled: The influence of historic precipitation regimes & land-use history on soil microbial mediated plant drought tolerance. The focus of Ben's research was to determine “whether soil microbial communities from historically dry climates enhance drought response in plants more than microbes from wet climates, and how differing land uses alters those relationships.” 
Kansas grass specimens inoculated with 
various whole soil microbial communities 
     Ben further explained his research project this way: “Climate change threatens stability of important human land use needs by decreasing the frequency of precipitation events. Given the implication that drought might have for plant productivity and diversity, it is important to understand the impact of climate change and land use on future natural and agroecosystems. Soil microbial communities play a pivotal role in mediating key ecosystem processes and driving plant productivity and diversity. Agricultural practices alter microbial communities, reducing the ability of agricultural soils to mitigate disturbances which are exacerbated under altered precipitation regimes. Understanding how undisturbed microbial communities mediate drought stress may be key to securing future food production. We used the precipitation gradient of Kansas, USA and systems varying in historical land use as a proxy for understanding how microbial communities confer drought stress in plants. We examined 1) how microbes across different precipitation and land use histories influence plant growth response; 2) the ways in which microbes from low precipitation gradients mitigate drought stress in plants; and 3) how land use history may alter this interaction. To examine these questions, we tested three species of grasses from native, resorted and agricultural systems inoculated with whole soil microbial communities from different historic precipitation and land use conditions in a full factorial design. Plants were measured for growth over time and compared across groups. We also collected fungal hyphal density for all inoculation types, indicating a general trend of increasing density with decreasing disturbance. This information will help shape productive land management strategies in a changed world.” The findings of his research revealed “that the agricultural plant, sorghum, showed different reactions to the various soils after only 3 weeks of growth where the other species did not, and that little bluestem does much better in live soils versus our sterile control.” Through this summer's research experience, Ben said he learned more about how to plan, start, and write a research project, especially as adjustments needed to be made. Plus, he added, “I also learned more about plant diversity, grasses, mechanisms of drought response and microbes!”
     Ben returns to the University of Puget Sound as a senior this fall.  Originally, Ben is from Denver, CO, and he says Tacoma WA is one of his favorite places to live. In addition to participating in this summer's research program, Ben has completed an Ecology study abroad program in Costa Rica, is a member of the Phi Sigma biological honor society, and is a Teaching Assistant. As for Ben's co-curricular involvement, he is a member of the varsity crew team, a member of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon Washington Gamma chapter, and serves on a university faculty-student committee. Currently, Ben is researching PhD programs as well as specialized masters programs with the hope of pursuing a future career in research.

Workforce Development, Education and Outreach funding for the Summer MAPS REU program is provided by the Kansas NSF EPSCoR RII Track-1 Award OIA-1656006 titled: Microbiomes of Aquatic, Plant, and Soil Systems across Kansas.  The grant's workforce development and 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.



Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Three Kansas Assistant Professors receive NSF EPSCoR RII Track-4 Awards

     NSF EPSCoR RII Track-4 Awards provide opportunities for non-tenured investigators to visit the nation’s premier private, governmental or academic research centers to learn new research techniques in their area of interest, develop collaborations and partnerships, access unique equipment and facilities, and transform their research. This fellowship experience is intended to enhance a Fellow’s research trajectory and have lasting impacts on his or her career direction well beyond the award period.  In turn, these benefits are also expected to improve the research capacity of their institutions.  Three faculty from Kansas, two from the University of Kansas (KU) and one from Kansas State University (KSU) have been awarded NSF EPSCoR Track-4 awards with start dates of October 1, 2018.
 
Dr. Abigail Langston
KSU Geography
     Dr. Abigail Langston is an Assistant Research Professor in the Geography Department at KSU.  The title of her NSF EPSCoR RII Track-4 Award OIA-1833025 is Using Novel Applications of Luminescence Techniques to Evaluate Channel Mobility and Bedrock Valley Development.  Langston describes the significance of her collaboration with the Desert Research Institute Cord Luminescence Laboratory (DRILL) located in Reno, NV as follows:  “The processes that control vertical incision in bedrock rivers are widely studied and well characterized; however, the fundamental processes that control lateral erosion have not been quantified in the laboratory or in the field. Field data that describes past channel mobility and defines absolute time constraints on the length of lateral erosion intervals are vital for better understanding the conditions that result in wide bedrock valleys. Analysis of luminescence properties is a key tool for dating fluvial deposits to determine periods of lateral erosion and vertical incision. It also has the potential to illuminate transport processes, such as channel mobility, during periods of sediment deposition. Research conducted during this project has the potential to transform our understanding about the processes and timing of the evolution of bedrock valley systems. Two main project objectives support the overarching goals: (1) learning single-grain luminescence techniques to date the depositional age of sediments with complex transport histories; (2) interpreting luminescence properties as a proxy for fluvial processes, such as channel mobility. Using luminescence techniques to interpret geomorphic processes is an emerging application that has the potential to give insight beyond dating. When this project is complete, the geomorphology community will be closer to interpreting luminescence properties as proxies of transport processes to assess past channel mobility from sediment deposited in association with periods of bedrock valley formation and ultimately a new way of interpreting a wealth of measured, but previously unexamined data….  Determining the timing of past and current river incision is important for predicting the effect of ongoing landscape change on humans who live and work near rivers in Kansas, the PI's home state. The PI's home institution, Kansas State University, will benefit from the professional development of the PI, her extended collaborative network with DRI, and the incorporation of dating techniques in research and teaching to demonstrate how local rivers change on decadal and centennial time scales that humans must be prepared to adapt to."

Dr. James Blakemore
KU Chemistry 
     Dr. James Blakemore is an Assistant Professor in the Chemistry Department at KU.  The title of his NSF EPSCoR RII Track-4 Award OIA -1833087 is Pulse Radiolysis Studies of H2 Generation by [Cp*Rh] Complexes to Characterize Design Rules for Improved Catalysts.  Blakemore describes the intent of his award as follows: “The research effort of this fellowship focuses on experimental study of mechanisms of proton and electron management in reductive molecular catalysis. Proton/electron management is important in artificial photosynthetic systems that can be used to generate energy-dense chemicals and fuels; in such systems, water serves as a sacrificial reagent to provide reducing equivalents to catalysts that mediate formation of reduced products. A group of [Cp*Rh]-based molecular catalysts (Cp* = pentamethylcyclopentadienyl; Rh = rhodium) developed in the PI’s laboratory are the target of the studies in this project, as they are highly active for catalysis, recyclable, and built from commonly available components. However, unexpected metal- and ligand-centered protonation events have recently been implicated in the activity of these compounds, motivating detailed studies aimed at revealing the features of their structure and bonding that favor efficient catalysis. On-site experimental work at Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL) located in Long Island, NY,will focus on pulse radiolysis and time-resolved UV-visible and infrared spectroscopic studies in order to generate and observe the transient intermediates involved in catalysis, with the goal of elucidating the roles of specific protonation sites, metal hydride species, and ancillary redox-active ligands. Complexes that feature a variety of ligand environments will be studied, including model compounds that complement the active catalysts. The outcomes of this research include fundamental knowledge for rational design of improved molecular catalysts, particularly systems with ligand environments built upon cyclopentadienyl-type ligands that may function as unconventional proton relays. Notably, the design rules developed here could be broadly useful, as cyclopentadienyl ligands are ubiquitous in organometallic chemistry and catalysis, and are commonly used in industry…. Research findings from this Fellowship will also be integrated into curriculum development efforts to transmit the new theory and knowledge to young researchers, train undergraduate and graduate students, and nurture a skilled and educated professional workforce to grow local industry and economy.”

Dr. Xianglin Li
KU Mechanical Engineering
     Dr. Xianglin Li is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Kansas.  The title of his NSF EPSCoR RII Track-4 Award OIA - 1833048 is Pore-Scale Transport Phenomena in Li-O2 Battery Electrodes Characterized by Nano-Tomography. Li describes the significance of his award as follows: The collaboration with Prof. Shawn Litster and access to the unique X-ray Computed Tomography Facility (XCFT) at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU), made possible by this Fellowship, is the key to reconstructing high-resolution (~50 nm) pore-scale structure and for subsequent studies of Li-O2 batteries. The reconstructed three-dimensional nano-tomography of customized battery electrodes will 1) be integrated with statistical models to transfer pore-scale morphology to electrode-level properties; 2) be coupled with fluid dynamics models to predict its electrochemical performance; and 3) facilitate the understanding of pore structure evolution caused by the solid Li2O2 precipitation/depletion during discharge/charge. The new knowledge and theory, as well as the new techniques, developed in this project will enable research and development of advanced electrode materials to significantly improve the specific energy and power of Li-O2 batteries. The profound scientific significance will last beyond this Fellowship and promote electrochemical technologies with high energy and power density such as fuel cells, Li-ion batteries, metal-air batteries, super capacitors, and redox flow batteries. The success of this project will initiate a longstanding collaboration between the PI and Prof. Litster to pursue new knowledge and foster more collaborative research between the University of Kansas and CMU. It also provides an excellent opportunity for one graduate student to receive systematic training on conducting scientific research, initiating collaborations, and disseminating research findings each summer…. Research findings from this Fellowship will also be integrated into curriculum development efforts to transmit the new theory and knowledge to young researchers, train undergraduate and graduate students, and nurture a skilled and educated professional workforce to grow local industry and economy.”

Congratulations to all three NSF EPSCoR RII Track-4 Award recipients.

Descriptions of the recipients research is taken directly from their individual project's NSF web posted abstract available through the links above.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

HERS student studies the impact of rising sea levels on gentrification

     
Trevor presented his research at the UCAR Conference
 in Boulder, CO in July 2018.
     This summer, Kansas NSF EPSCoR partnered with the Haskell Indian Nations University in support of the Haskell Environmental Research Summer Internship (HERS) program as part of an education and outreach initiative for the RII Track-1 Award OIA-1656006 titled: Microbiomes of Aquatic, Plant, and Soil Systems across Kansas. HERS is a summer research internship program “dedicated to preparing tribal college students for scientific and technical careers to help meet the challenges of climate and environmental change.”  Specifically, the program focuses on Indigenous Research and methods as well as provides an overview of Traditional Ecological Knowledge systems.  The goal of the program is to prepare students for graduate school by providing opportunities for students to improve research, writing and presentation skills. During their HERS experience, students complete an in depth research project on climate and/or environmental change. This year the program invited 13 Indigenous Students from across the United States to participate in the 8 week summer program.
    One of the 2018 HERS participants, Trevor Guinn, has a passion for city and urban studies, and when Trevor learned about the HERS opportunity, he knew he wanted to participate. Trevor is from Carthage, MO and is a member of the Cherokee Nation. He is a sophomore at Haskell Indian Nations University and majoring in Liberal Arts. Trevor became excited about the HERS program because he wanted to learn more about professional research and how climate change impacts Native Tribes in America.  He describes his reasons for wanting to be apart of the 2018 HERS Cohort as, “I wanted to look more in depth with how the structures in our society perpetuated climate change and vice versa,” so he focused his research on the impact of sea level rise on gentrification.  In order to tie his passion for city and urban studies to the project, he concentrated his research “on sea level rise within the New York City Metropolitan area and how potential land loss, green infrastructure, and increased storm activity could potentially displace vulnerable populations and change the makeup of neighborhoods in the Brooklyn and Queens boroughs.” The title of his research is Head Under Water: Sea Level Rise and Gentrification in Brooklyn and Queens, NY.  He describes his research journey as follows: “My original intention was to study how those living along coastal regions could potentially intensify the housing crisis that many large cities are currently enduring. But over time, I began to become more interested in the topic of gentrification, where wealthier residents make institutions and resources such as housing and goods less accessible to lower income populations. I found through my research that New York has some of the greatest levels of income inequality in the United States. The potential for poorer neighborhoods to be displaced already exists in many areas of the city, but that sea level rise and storm surges along the coastlines are becoming gradually more intense, and many inhabited places are of threat of permanent inundation. For low income backgrounds, particularly those of color, they faced more risk of being displaced from their neighborhoods, not just by water levels, but by wealthier residents looking to seeking higher ground from the loss of land.”  Trevor presented his research at the University Corporation of Atmospheric Research (UCAR) 2018 Conference in Boulder, CO this past July.
     When asked about what he thought of his overall HERS experience, Trevor said, “The experience that I had with the HERS internship was amazing. I learned that I had so much opportunity that I had never thought about before entering. The staff and mentors gave me an amazing opportunity to learn more about what I was deeply passionate about, and how I could translate that into a fulfilling career where I felt I could bring the change that I wanted to see.” As for future plans, once Trevor finishes his associates degree, he hopes to transfer to a state school and pursue a bachelor’s degree in Urban Planning/Geography and eventually attend graduate school.

Workforce Development, Education and Outreach funding for the HERS program is provided by the Kansas NSF EPSCoR RII Track-1 Award OIA-1656006 titled: Microbiomes of Aquatic, Plant, and Soil Systems across Kansas.  The grant's workforce development and 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.



Wednesday, August 15, 2018

First generation college student studies "Nitrogen cycling and metabolism in a drought-ridden prairie stream" during her MAPS KSU summer REU experience

Molly Fisher
       A great love for the natural world, a father with a passion for the outdoors, and an even stronger interest in studying water, led Molly Fisher to Kansas State University (KSU) this summer to participate in a research experience for undergraduate students (REU).  Molly is a first generation college student from Nashua, Iowa and is an Environmental Science Major at Simpson College in Indianola, IA.  She said she applied to the 2018 KSU Summer REU opportunity for two reasons.  One, “both of my environmental professors (who I greatly admire) from Simpson College, Dr. Clint Meyer and Dr. Ryan Rehmeier, completed graduate degrees” at KSU, and two, she can’t ever “pass up an opportunity to conduct research in or on water when it arises.”
Molly recording temperature and dissolved oxygen in the field
and making acidified filter packets in the lab
     This summer, Molly worked with Dr. Walter Dodds, KSU Distinguished Professor and Lead Investigator on the Aquatic Team for the Kansas NSF EPSCoR OIA-1656006 RII Track-1 Award: Microbiomes of Aquatic, Plant, and Soil Systems across Kansas (MAPS). The title of her project is Nitrogen cycling and metabolism in a drought-ridden prairie stream. Her study, however, faced some research challenges.  As she explains it, she attempted “to work in an extreme drought situation at the Konza Prairie Biological Station,” but she had to continually modify the project in response to the “decreasing water levels in the pools of what was left of Kings Creek.” And, as a result of this summer’s drought conditions, she was only able to complete her research on “two pools which were within 50 yards of each other.” She describes her research as follows: “I was attempting to determine nitrogen cycling and metabolism in these pools using a labeled isotope method (15NH4Cl) during an extreme drought. This entailed adding a calculated amount of labeled ammonium chloride to contained stream water. We then filled six recirculating chambers with the isotope water. Rocks which have the biofilm on them (the biofilm is what cycles the nitrogen) were also placed into the chamber. All chambers were covered for the first 40 minutes to determine ecosystem respiration (of the biofilm). Once those 40 minutes were up three chambers were uncovered and three were not. After the uncovering, the chambers ran for two hours. Every ten minutes the temperature and dissolved oxygen were recorded. Water samples were taken before isotope addition, after the isotope addition, and after the chambers were ran. Rocks were collected before and after chamber runs to analyze the biofilm. Rocks were scraped, filtered, and the filters were dried. To determine NH4, water samples were filtered, spiked with a calculated amount of regular ammonium chloride, MgO and NaCl were added alongside an acidified filter packet and were placed on a shaker table. To determine NO3, water samples were filtered, spiked with a calculated amount of KHSO4, MgO and NaCl were added, the samples were boiled down, and then more MgO in addition to Devardas alloy was added. Samples were placed in a drying oven for 48 hours then placed on a shaker table.”  She then sent her samples to an isotope lab for further processing and is awaiting the results.  Once she has her results, she will be “comparing it to data taken from normal precipitation years as well as flood years.”
     Molly’s favorite part of this whole summer REU experience at KSU has been “getting the opportunity to work with all the great individuals in the Dodds’ Lab. I owe a huge thanks to everyone (Dr. Walter Dodds, James Guinnip, Sammi Greiger, Lane Lundeen, Sophie Higgs, & Anne Schechner) for their patience, kindness, and willingness to help. They made me feel as if I had always been a part of their lab. They assisted me in more ways than I could ever imagine especially the grad student who worked closest with me, James Guinnip.”  She said she also learned, “There will be many mishaps in all aspects of one’s research.  Sometimes the only thing to do is laugh and continue. Additionally, surrounding yourself with great individuals to assist you in your research holds monumental importance.”
     Molly will be a junior at Simpson College this fall.  She is the Campus Activities Board (CAB) President, a past President of Alpha Lambda Delta Honor Society, and a Junior Class Senator for the Simpson College Student Government Association (SGA).  In addition, Molly is an active member of Beta Beta Beta Biological Honor Society and the Sustainability Club as well as a Carver Bridge Scholar.  In addition to her co-curricular activities, Molly has made the Dean’s List four times, the fall of 2016, the spring of 2017, the fall of 2017, and the spring of 2018.   
     Molly’s other interests also reflect her passion for studying water.  She has conducted ecological research through prior summer programs at Simpson College and through a study abroad course in the Cayman Islands this past May.  She mentioned it was through this course she had the opportunity to study “the effect of depth and location on the amount of coral bleaching.”  Furthermore, it was during her visit to the Cayman Islands that she also received her certification in scuba diving.  In her spare time, Molly enjoys being outside and describes herself as an “avid runner.”
     As for Molly’s future plans, she will graduate from Simpson College in 2020 and plans to attend graduate school and earn a Ph.D. in the biological sciences.  She added, “I aspire to continue to research coral reefs, but will go where opportunities arise.”


Workforce Development, Education and Outreach funding for the Summer MAPS REU program is provided by the Kansas NSF EPSCoR RII Track-1 Award OIA-1656006 titled: "Microbiomes of Aquatic, Plant, and Soil Systems across Kansas."  The grant's workforce development and 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.


Wednesday, August 8, 2018

MAPS summer REU student from UMass studies fungal drought tolerance at KSU

Achala Narayanan
     Achala Narayanan traveled to Kansas State University (KSU) this summer from Amherst, Massachusetts to study Extreme Drought in Grassland Ecosystems (EDGE) with Kansas NSF EPSCoR  OIA-1656006 RII Track-1: Microbiomes of Aquatic, Plant, and Soil Systems across Kansas (MAPS) researcher Dr. Ari Jumpponen.  As a biology major with a mathematics minor at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst MA (UMass), Achala first became interested in ecology after taking a biological anthropology class and reading books about evolutionary biology. Her interest in systems and how different components affect and are affected by singular changes came from her opportunity to work on behavioral experiments with birds and volunteering in a soil microbial ecology lab. While working in the soil microbial lab, she studied bacterial lignin-degrading capabilities.  She said, “that's when I discovered how interesting it was to look at big picture community interactions at such a small scale - a microbial scale," and "Dr. Ari Jumpponen's work at KSU was a fascinating representation of that field.”
Growing fungal colonies 
     Achala describes her project, EDGE, as follows: "Climate change projections show that the future holds climate extremes. I am doing a small study to look at whether systems are already becoming adapted to these environmental changes. Broadly, I am looking at whether environment selects for certain ecotypes. Specifically, I am looking at selection of fungal drought tolerance. We collected soil from two sites (Hays Agricultural Research Center and Konza Prairie Biological Station) with different mean annual precipitation…. At these sites they have set up rainfall shelters to experimentally impose drought. Looking across sites, and across these treatments (drought manipulation vs. ambient), we were trying to determine how the proportion of drought tolerant fungi varied. We expected that when grown on drought-selective media, the drought-imposed, xeric soils would yield a greater proportion of colony forming units as compared to mesic soil from ambient conditions. I did colony counts of the number of fungal colonies that grew on media … and also extracted DNA from these plates, to look at what fungal communities are present and how they vary across the precipitation treatments and the sites… there seems to be marginal evidence for greater number of colonies in the drought-imposed conditions as compared with the ambient conditions.”
     Her favorite part of her summer REU experience was learning new skills such as “how to sample soil, plate and grow fungi on media, extract DNA, run gels, and modify the experimental design along the way.” She also learned “how to organize and plan experiments, and how and when it is necessary to try different approaches to answer a question.... there is a lot of trial and error involved in executing an experimental design, and changing the plan is a standard part of the process.” In addition, Achala enjoyed working in the lab, attending lab meetings and discussing everyone’s project with them.  She said within the lab, the group developed "a great community with people always offering help and advice." And, she added, the overall experience "has been fun."
     As for her immediate future, she plans to return to UMass in the fall of 2018 where she is a part of the Commonwealth Honors College on a Dean's Award scholarship and is also an alto in the University Chorale. “Singing is a huge passion” of hers.  Her long term plans include applying for graduate programs in biology so that she can one day have a career that balances "fieldwork/research along with science education and communication."  Her dream job would involve working at “Institutions like natural history museums or biological stations.”

Workforce Development, Education and Outreach funding for the Summer MAPS REU program is provided by the Kansas NSF EPSCoR RII Track-1 Award OIA-1656006 titled: "Microbiomes of Aquatic, Plant, and Soil Systems across Kansas."  The grant's workforce development and 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.