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A K-State scientist is digging deep to solidify information about potential tungsten contamination in the nation's groundwater and aquifers.

Tungsten is a naturally occurring metallic element that in its alloy or solid form is primarily used for incandescent lightbulb filaments and X-ray tubes.

In an effort to limit toxins in the environment, tungsten is replacing lead in fishing weights and in ammunition for hunting and recreational shooting. The military is substituting tungsten in its high kinetic energy penetrators and small arms ammunition, as well as other ammunitions.

"Tungsten originally was thought to be nontoxic, as it was believed to be an inert metal of low environmental mobility," said Saugata Datta, assistant professor of geology. "But tungsten is a contaminant in groundwater and a growing concern."

Scientists and health officials began connecting tungsten to clusters of childhood leukemia cases in the Western U.S. after finding high concentrations of the element in residents' bodies. People examined lived in towns near tungsten-bearing ore deposits and even hard metal processing plants. Drinking water in these areas has an elevated concentration of tungsten.

"Animal model studies have shown tungsten can be toxic and even carcinogenic," Datta said. "Because of this, we need to understand tungsten's biogeochemistry in the environment, about which very little is known."

To find out how tungsten reacts and relates to groundwater and the surrounding environment -- referred to as biogeochemistry -- Datta recently began collaborating with Karen Johannesson, professor of earth and environmental sciences at Tulane University.

Their research is being funded by a three-year grant issued by the Hydrology Division of the National Science Foundation in fall 2010.

The project investigates the biogeochemistry of tungsten reaction and transport in the environment. More specifically it's an evaluation of how tungsten concentrations change along groundwater flow paths and modify the groundwater makeup.

When tungsten is exposed to oxygen -- a process called oxidation -- it often seeps into the ground and even into groundwater-bearing aquifers. During this process the tungsten can also mix with organic matter present in natural soils. In the presence of sulfur rich solutions, it forms thiotungstate complexes, which are also toxic.

To gather information the researchers are looking at pristine aquifers, like the Ogallala, as well as affected aquifers. Data from these findings can be used to create a conceptual model for this project and future studies, Datta said.

"Looking at emerging contaminants is one of the biggest things for an environmental geoscientist, and health is a big issue connected to any elemental or environmental study we do," Datta said.

"We are trying to approach this project from the standpoint of understanding this element and its behaviors in the environment before taking our findings to the general public so the situation can be addressed," he said.

Datta's previous work studied arsenic levels in the groundwater in West Bengal, India, and Bangladesh. Along with a K-State graduate student, he looked at why naturally occurring arsenic -- another toxin in nature -- got into groundwater from river-borne sediments, and finding well locations for cleaner water.


When you sit down to watch a new flick, whether you enjoy the movie may depend on the person sitting next to you, according to research from a K-State professor. It's especially true if you are awkwardly watching a movie's steamy love scene with your parents.

"We know that most of the time people enjoy watching movies -- that's why they do it," said Richard Harris, professor of psychology. "But sometimes we watch a movie that isn't what we describe as 'enjoyable.' For whatever reason, the experience is uncomfortable emotionally or in other ways."

Such research is important, Harris said, because movies are a very common form of entertainment, particularly for teens and young adults, the largest movie-viewing demographic.

"We should know psychologically what the attraction of movies is, what the experience is like, and what the effects are," he said.

Harris has conducted two studies that show we may not enjoy watching a movie for two reasons: what we're watching and who we're watching it with. Particularly, the combination of watching a steamy love scene with your parents proved to be most unpleasant.

"The topic of sex seems to be the most difficult for parents and teens or young adults to talk about with each other," Harris said. "Seeing a movie with a graphic sex scene forces both parties to confront this awkwardness and implicitly acknowledge each other as sexual beings, one of the hardest realizations for teens to admit about their parents or parents to admit about their children. It's not easy, and apparently, not fun."

Harris' research is based on feedback from 400 participants and appears in an upcoming issue of the journal Applied Cognitive Psychology.

In his first study Harris' team asked participants questions about when they didn’t enjoy watching a film. Viewers indicated content with violence, sex, vulgar language or other troubling themes made them uncomfortable. The type of co-viewer and their interactions with the content also created unpleasant experiences.

The study focused on those uncomfortable movie-viewing moments and how viewers acted during the movie and after it. Harris said the gender of the viewer influenced reactions, a somewhat surprising result.

"Contrary to gender stereotypes, women were actually more likely to talk about it, both during the movie and after," Harris said. "Men were more likely to do the avoidance types of responses: start talking about something else, not say anything at all or pretend it didn't bother them."

Harris' second study offered a more controlled look at movie-viewing experiences. Researchers created a set of 25 different movie-watching scenarios made from five types of movies and five co-viewer groups.

The types of movies included a very violent movie, a sexually explicit movie, and the films "Brokeback Mountain," "The Notebook" and "American History X." The co-viewer groups included watching the movie with your parents, a spouse/significant other, a group of same-sex friends, a gay friend and a first date.

In each scenario, researchers asked participants about their discomfort level and how they would handle it. According to results, "The Notebook" caused the least distress among viewers. While the type of movie -- including a very violent or sexual movie -- influenced the discomfort, the co-viewers ultimately determined if the movie-viewing experience was enjoyable.

Research also indicated that some movie types, such as comedies, are enjoyed more with groups of people. At the same time, certain types of co-viewer groups, such as a group of men going to a romantic movie, almost never occur. But the same men may go to that same romantic movie with a different person, such as a girlfriend.

Despite the discomfort from watching a certain movie, a quarter of the participants in both studies said they would be interested in seeing a movie that made them uncomfortable again, and a third of participants said they were glad they saw it.


Cancer, according to statistics from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, has become the leading cause of death in Kansas, surpassing heart disease.

But efforts by Kansas State University are helping to tackle the disease in several ways.

The Johnson Center for Basic Cancer Research at K-State supports research, education and outreach, all vital in the fight against cancer, said Rob Denell, university distinguished professor of biology and center director.

"Our strength is basic research, which provides the foundation for more focused investigations into new approaches to preventative medicine, diagnosis and treatment," Denell said. "You have to have basic research before you can have treatments and cures."

To underscore the importance of basic research, Denell says to look no further than recent winners of the Nobel Prize in medicine and physiology. Half the recipients in the last 10 years were scientists using basic research components to make important advances.

"They were given the Nobel Prize because of the impact of their studies on our understanding of normal human development and disease, most notably cancer," Denell said.

The K-State cancer research center now has 70 faculty researchers representing five colleges and 12 departments. The number of researchers has climbed by 40 in just eight years.

"Their research runs a wide spectrum, enhancing our understanding of molecules, cells, organisms and other basic components of life. This provides a huge informational database for advancing cancer research and more," Denell said.

The research also provides an economic boost to the state.

Since opening in 1980 the center has provided nearly $1.3 million in Innovative Research Awards, $840,000 in technical and mentoring support, and $152,000 for a cancer research assistant professorship, all made possible through private donations.

"Not only does this support help K-State recruit excellent, up-and-coming researchers, it is leveraged by our faculty, who then win large grants. We help them become more competitive, and they bring in more than $40 million a year in extramural funding," Denell said. "That translates to a regional economic impact of $60 million a year, a conservative estimate of what is contributed to the economy of Manhattan, the state and the region."

The center enhances K-State student learning and recruitment as well.

"The center provides undergraduates with opportunities to conduct real laboratory research," Denell said. "Our cancer research awards have supported the work of more than 800 undergraduates and their faculty mentors to date.

"These undergraduate research awards can be an impetus for keeping talented young people in the state, with some attending medical school or graduate school in Kansas. We know that many of these students go on to become health care professionals, including doctors and researchers," he said.

The center also provides scholarships for Kansas high school students interested in studying health-related fields at K-State.

Key collaborations contribute to the center's efforts to fight cancer and help Kansas. Two formal agreements with the University of Kansas benefit the state. The first agreement formally supports the KU Cancer Center's bid to earn National Cancer Institute status. The second agreement encourages research interactions between K-State and KU.

"This will help advance our basic cancer research to clinical trials through KU," Denell said.

Another collaboration is with the Midwest Cancer Alliance, which makes clinical trials available to a broader array of Kansans. The K-State cancer research center and the renowned Stowers Institute for Medical Research in Kansas City are the sole research-only institutes in the alliance, which is composed mostly of major hospitals across Kansas.

More information about the center, including how to contribute to its fight against cancer, is available at


Cargill has announced another milestone in the company's partnership with Kansas State University: a $500,000 gift that will help fund the construction of the Cargill Center for Feed Safety Research.

The facility will conduct studies with pathogens such as salmonella and E. coli to address current food and feed safety issues facing the feed industry.

"K-State can provide specialty livestock diets to support infectious disease experiments, oral vaccine studies and other trials under high-level, bio-safety controlled conditions. This work can't be done anywhere else in the United States," said Kirk Schulz, K-State president.

"Animal nutrition research during the past 50-plus years has focused on several key areas, including the establishment of nutritional requirements of animals," said Gary Pierzynski, interim dean of K-State's College of Agriculture. "The growing importance of related factors, such as food safety and control of foodborne pathogens, is increasingly evident. Future animal nutrition and feed processing technologies research must take these factors into consideration to ensure the long-term sustainability of animal agriculture."

Once operational, the facility will allow for planned research on a variety of food and feed safety efforts, including feed processing technologies to sterilize feed and lower bacterial/viral introduction to livestock operations and the food chain. The facility will be in the department of grain science and industry complex along Kimball Avenue. It will be part of the new O.H. Kruse Feed Mill and Biorefinery Teaching and Research Center; the groundbreaking for the facility was in October 2010. The facility also will be near the site of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility, which will conduct research on dangerous and exotic foreign animal diseases.

The Cargill Center for Feed Safety Research will be jointly operated by the K-State departments of grain science and industry and animal sciences and industry, and will serve as a critical link between the research, teaching and outreach efforts of the departments.

"Advancements in food safety are one of the biggest focus areas for the industry at the present time," said Chuck Warta, a vice president at Cargill Animal Nutrition. "Feed and feed ingredients are an increasingly critical part of the safe food system. Helping enable this research is an investment that reaches beyond Cargill. The entire animal feed industry will benefit from the continued development of food, feed and feed ingredient safety."

Philanthropic contributions to K-State are coordinated by the Kansas State University Foundation. The foundation staff works with university partners to build lifelong relationships with alumni, friends, faculty, staff and students through involvement and investment in the university.