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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.