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Sources: Nicole Wayant, nwayant@k-state.edu;
Douglas Goodin, 785-532-3411, dgoodin@k-state.edu;
and Diego Maldonado, 785-532-0581, dmaldona@k-state.edu
Photo available. Contact media@k-state.edu or 785-532-6415.
Video available. Access at http://www.k-state.edu/media/webzine/research/index.html
News release prepared by: Kristin Hodges, khodges2@k-state.edu, and Katie Mayes,
kmayes@k-state.edu, 785-532-6415.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

K-STATE SENIOR FROM TOPEKA RECEIVES U.S. DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE SCHOLARSHIP AND UNIVERSITY'S PRESIDENTIAL AWARD FOR UNDERGRADUATE RESEARCH

MANHATTAN -- A Kansas State University senior has received a Science and Mathematics Research for Transformation scholarship through the U.S. Department of Defense for graduate studies in geography, and is the recipient of K-State's 2009 Presidential Award for Distinguished Undergraduate Student in Research for her work to predict disease outbreaks.

Nicole WayantNicole Wayant, senior in geography and mathematics, Topeka, received the Department of Defense scholarship, which includes payment of full tuition and employment placement through department. The scholarship recruits civilian scientists and engineers to work for the department and is for students that demonstrate potential for a successful career in research and development.

As the recipient of K-State's Presidential Award for Distinguished Undergraduate Student in Research, Wayant also receives $1,000 and a plaque. The award was established to recognize outstanding individual contributions to the creation of new knowledge at K-State.

Wayant is an undergraduate researcher in K-State's Remote Sensing Research Laboratory and has been working on a project with K-State's Douglas Goodin, professor of geography, and Diego Maldonado, assistant professor of mathematics. By linking vegetation with malaria, she is developing a method to help determine when and where malaria outbreaks might occur.

Wayant said malaria is most prevalent in tropical and sub-tropical world regions, which links malaria to precipitation; since precipitation is related to vegetation, the researchers assume malaria is related to vegetation. The researchers used a satellite-derived vegetation index and two data sets of malaria occurrence cases in two departments of Paraguay, Alto Parana and Canindeyu, from July 1981 to March 2003 and entered the information into MATLAB, which is computer software for computations and analysis.

Maldonado said Wayant designed and wrote original MATLAB functions to implement a correlation analysis algorithm for the data based on Fourier denoising. He said her analysis could have implications in the prediction of malaria breakouts and could provide insight on the evolution of malaria in South America, as the time series data used span more than 20 years.

"The techniques Nicole is developing will provide fundamental insights into the large-scale dynamics of arthropod vectored disease and will help control the spread of these diseases," Goodin said. "Nicole's contribution to the scientific analysis of this problem is not only beyond the capability of most undergraduate students, it rivals that of many established researchers in the field."

Wayant will present the research in May at the Kansas Section Mathematical Association of America. She previously presented the work in March at the National American Association of Geographers Meeting, and at the Regional American Association of Geographers Meeting in September 2008, where her paper received second place.

"Nicole goes far beyond just following instructions or taking indications," Maldonado said. "She brings her own ideas and suggestions to the research discussion. Her accomplishments have been recognized at the national, regional and campus level, and I am certain that this is just the beginning of her successful contributions to science and society."

Wayant is involved in another K-State research project with Max Lu, associate professor of geography at K-State. Using spatial statistics, she mapped where high and partially low rates of cancer deaths occur in the Midwest on a county level. The procedure was completed for three different time periods to see how cancer has progressed geographically, she said.

The NASA Kansas Space Grant Consortium funded the research on malaria and vegetation, and the Terry C. Johnson Center for Basic Cancer Research funded the cancer project. Wayant said she liked approaching the projects from a geographer's perspective.

"Instead of just answering questions with numbers, geography also tells us where these phenomena are happening," she said.

Wayant graduates from K-State in May and will serve a third consecutive summer internship with the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency. In the fall, she will pursue a master's in geography at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. In agreement with the Science and Mathematics Research for Transformation scholarship, Wayant then plans to work for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Topographic Engineering Center in Alexandria, Va.

She is a member of the Phi Kappa Phi honor society, is an undergraduate research assistant in K-State's Remote Sensing Research Laboratory and is presently an undergraduate scholar with K-State's Integrated Research Center. She was the inaugural recipient of the Abraham Anson Memorial Scholarship from the American Society of Photogrammetric and Remote Sensing, and was named an Anderson Outstanding Senior in Academics by the K-State Alumni Association. She also has served as an intern with U.S. Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas. A 2005 graduate of Topeka's Seaman High School, Wayant is the daughter of Bruce and Dawn Wayant.