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K-State Today

April 22, 2011



Advancement through education: K-State community contributes to state's scientific history

By Julie Fosberg

On Saturday Kansans are encouraged to celebrate the state's 150 years of scientific achievements. And throughout this scientific sesquicentennial, Kansas State University has been there since nearly the beginning.

Ad Astra Kansas Day is a day to celebrate the research and advancements of Kansas residents. The Hutchinson-based organization Ad Astra Kansas Initiative is leading these efforts to promote Kansans contributions to science and technology that have affected Kansas and the world.

Each month this year Ad Astra is announcing more names on its list of the state's top 150 scientists of past and present. Four months in, 11 faculty and graduates from K-State have been chosen to be among historically noted Kansas researchers like George Washington Carver, Charles H. Sternberg, Clyde Cessna and Clyde Tombaugh.

Of those 11, the four active K-State faculty chosen thus far are: Charles W. Rice, a university distinguished professor of soil microbiology; Samantha Wisely, an associate professor of biology; T.G. Nagaraja, a university distinguished professor of diagnostic medicine and pathobiology; and Christine Aikens, an assistant professor of chemistry.

Nominations came last fall from universities and other organizations. Each scientist is featured on a digital trading card that includes a picture of the researcher and their scientific stats -- similar to a sports card. The cards are meant for K-12 students to help teach and emphasize the importance of science and innovation and the role they play in the history and future of Kansas.

The four current K-State faculty selections have each made important scientific contributions to the state, U.S. and the world:

* Rice was a member of the 2007 Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and performs research in areas involving agricultural greenhouse gas mitigation and soil carbon sequestration. Rice is also one of five team leaders for the Kansas National Science Foundation Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research, a group using climate modeling to predict the effects of different climate scenarios and develop strategies for adaptation and mitigation to possible changes in climate.

* Wisely's research explores how environmental changes affect wildlife and animal habitats. She investigates how human-induced degradation to the landscape leads to genetic alteration in a species, as well as how this impacts the emergence and prevalence of wildlife diseases. She's also looking at how climate change shapes a species's evolution through habitat alteration. She helped lead a study into how Kansas' wildlife, particularly the greater prairie chicken, is affected by wind turbines, and is also part of a recovery team that works with the black-footed ferret, an endangered species that has an important role in the prairie ecosystem.

* Nagaraja has spent more than a decade studying E. coli O157 in beef cattle, looking at how the organism persists in cattle and their environment and how beef is exposed to it during the production process -- before eventually ending up on plates across the world. He contributed to a U.S. Department of Agriculture-funded project that found cattle fed a diet that includes the by-product distillers grain have higher levels of E. coli O157. Distillers grain is what's left after the starch from corn is removed to make ethanol.

* Aikens' research is in theoretical, physical and materials chemistry. Her projects range from sustainable energy sources to altering the optical properties of nanoparticles to develop a more effective cancer treatment. She's been recognized as one of the country's most promising young scholars by both the National Science Foundation and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.