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Kansas State University
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Sources: Michael Reppert, mreppert@k-state.edu;
and Jim Hohenbary, 785-532-6904, jimlth@k-state.edu
Photo available. Contact media@k-state.edu or 785-532-6415.
News release prepared by: Kristin Hodges, 785-532-6415, khodges2@k-state.edu

Monday, April 20, 2009

K-STATE SENIOR FROM MANHATTAN RECEIVES NATIONAL SCIENCE FOUNDATION GRADUATE FELLOWSHIP

MANHATTAN -- A Kansas State University student has received a National Science Foundation Graduate Fellowship for graduate studies in physical chemistry.

Michael Reppert, senior in biochemistry, chemistry and mathematics, Manhattan, will receive three years of funding for graduate studies that includes a $30,000 annual stipend and payment of tuition and fees.

The National Science Foundation Graduate Fellowship awards outstanding graduate students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics disciplines who are pursuing research-based master's and doctoral degrees.

"Valued at more than $100,000, National Science Foundation Fellowships represent a major effort by the U.S. government to invest in the future potential of the best math, science and engineering students in the country," said Jim Hohenbary, K-State assistant dean for nationally competitive scholarships. "Being recognized by the National Science Foundation really highlights the hard work and talent that Mike has demonstrated during his undergraduate career."

Reppert is involved in research projects with Ryszard Jankowiak, K-State professor of chemistry, and Virginia Naibo, K-State assistant professor of mathematics.

For his project with Jankowiak, Reppert looks at the primary events of photosynthesis. He is studying the molecular details of how plant proteins and the chlorophyll molecules they bind are able to harvest sunlight and convert it into usable energy. The researchers use laser-based spectroscopies to study electronic structure and excitation energy transfer processes in a variety of complex biological systems, including spinach proteins involved in photosynthesis.

Reppert's role is to model the experimental data using quantum mechanics and computer simulations. He said the research has implications for a wide range of energy-related issues.

"Existing technologies are not going to be able to support the world's demand for energy for much longer," he said.

"Solar power seems like a particularly promising solution to the problem, but the solar cells we have right now are either too expensive or too inefficient to be practical on the type of massive scale that will be needed to replace fossil-fuel sources of energy," Reppert said. "Our goal is to understand how natural systems like plants and algae are able to harvest sunlight in order to apply that knowledge to the eventual design of high-efficiency solar cells to combat the energy problem."

His research with Naibo is closely related to the chemistry project, though focused more on the theoretical and computational side of the problem, he said.

"We are working both to improve our current models of the experimental data generated in the lab and to come up with new methods of extracting useful information from easy-to-get experimental data," Reppert said.

He said the numerical methods the researchers are developing are intended to make it easier for chemists and physicists to obtain certain types of experimental data.

His chemistry research is funded through Jankowiak's U.S. Department of Energy EPSCoR grant; his research with Naibo is funded through the Center for Integration of Graduate and Undergraduate Research at K-State.

Reppert said he likes that his research incorporates different areas of science and mathematics.

"I think it is a truly astounding thing to see how beautifully the world fits together and how neatly all the different branches of science come together to explain the world around us," he said. "To me, research is a bit like an enormous scavenger hunt that God set up for mankind to entertain themselves here on earth. Getting paid to do research seems almost too good to be true, sort of like getting paid to do the crossword puzzle every day."

Reppert will pursue a Ph.D. in physical chemistry at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His career goal is to work at a university where he would conduct research on fundamental physical and chemical principles as they apply to biological systems.

Reppert also has been a Goldwater Scholar and a National Merit Scholar. He has received the Presidential Award for Distinguished Undergraduate Student in Research and the Phi Lambda Upsilon award for academic performance as a sophomore. He also has been awarded the Presidential Scholarship, the William and Melissa Harold Memorial Scholarship, the Dow K-State Alumni Association Scholarship, the Travis W. Miller Memorial Scholarship, the Jack and Betsy Lambert Scholarship and the College of Arts and Sciences Excellence Scholarship.

He is a member of Phi Kappa Phi, Phi Eta Sigma and Golden Key honor societies, and has been a member of the K-State mathematics team. He served as a peer minister for the Baptist Campus Center, is a member of the K-State Juggling Club and has received a black belt in kung fu. Reppert is the son of Jay and Sue Reppert, Manhattan.