Sources: Megan Miller, mmiller@k-state.edu; and Carol Shanklin, 785-532-7927, shanklin@k-state.edu,
http://www.k-state.edu/media/mediaguide/bios/shanklinbio.html
Hometown interest: Independence, Mo.
News release prepared by: Greg Tammen, 785-532-4486, gtammen@k-state.edu

Thursday, Feb. 23, 2012

Two graduate students honored at research summit for science benefiting Kansas

MANHATTAN -- Two Kansas State University graduate students have been named the KansasBio winners at the ninth annual Capitol Graduate Research Summit.

Ayomi Perera, doctoral student in chemistry, Sri Lanka, and Wilson Smith, a master's student in civil engineering, Independence, Mo., each received a $500 scholarship from KansasBio. Additionally, Perera and Smith will present their posters at the KansasBio board of directors meeting in May.

"The 10 graduate students who represented Kansas State University at the Capitol Graduate Research Summit did an outstanding job presenting their research projects," said Carol Shanklin, dean of the Graduate School. "I'm very proud of them. Congratulations also go out to Mrs. Perera and Mr. Smith, who were recognized for their excellent projects that not only advance the state but also highlight the value of graduate education and research."

The Feb. 16 summit featured Kansas-related research conducted by 33 graduate students from K-State, the University of Kansas, the University of Kansas Medical Center and Wichita State University. The students shared their findings with state legislators, the Kansas Board of Regents, industry representatives and other attendees. The summit was supported by KansasBio and the graduate schools and graduate student organizations at each university. Two students from each university were selected as winners.

Perera's poster was "Design of a 'Greener' Solar Cell using Mycobacterial Protein MspA." Her major professor is Stefan Bossmann, professor of chemistry.

Perera's research focuses on developing more environmentally friendly dye-sensitized solar cells from less toxic dyes and bacterial proteins. With the state's abundance of sunlight for extended periods of time, solar energy is a viable alternative to fossil fuels for Kansas residents, she said. The project is in response to the limited availability and adverse environmental effects of burning fossil fuels.

"I think the Capitol Graduate Research Summit provided a great platform for researchers to communicate their work to legislators," Perera said. "It's very important to bridge the gap between science and politics as lawmakers ultimately decide the funding available for research. For multidisciplinary research like mine, continuous support and funding is especially crucial in developing and completing the project. I believe this was a great opportunity for me to discuss the significance of my work with them. I also had the opportunity to interact with graduate students from other universities in Kansas and learn about interesting projects going on in the state."

Smith's poster was "Feasibility of Using Lignin: Plant Derived Material for Stabilization of Unpaved Roads." His major professor is Dunja Peric, associate professor of civil engineering.

Smith is studying and testing lignin, a sustainable, plant-based material that may improve the quality of unpaved roads throughout Kansas. Lignin acts as an adhesive material and can be extracted from crop residue. Adding it to loose gravel in unpaved roads could provide better support for vehicles, protect roads from erosion and save the state money in upkeep and maintenance costs.

"When vehicles drive on unpaved roads, there is a lot of dust that is thrown into the air," Smith said. "In addition, travel is impaired because of raveling and washboarding, which are forms of soil collapse on the top surface of the road. These are all things that can be mitigated by lignin because it holds the soil particles together and in place."

Smith is testing various concentrations of lignin with soil and water in order to understand how different levels affect road erosion. Currently samples with 4-9 percent lignin concentrations show the highest strength benefits.

As an agricultural state, Kansas has an abundance of lignin, Smith said.

A news release about Smith's research is available at http://bit.ly/y6Ichm. Additionally, a video about his work is at http://youtu.be/X6ZMjlNDx0U.