September 14, 2011
Researchers in mechanical engineering and food safety rank among state's top scientists
A mechanical engineer and food safety scientist are the latest Kansas State University professors to be named as two of Kansas' top 150 scientists in state's 150-year history.
Youqi Wang, a professor of mechanical engineering, and Abbey Nutsch, assistant professor of food safety and security, were recently selected by the Ad Astra Kansas Initiative as part of the organization's celebration of the state's sesquicentennial. Throughout the year the initiative is spotlighting Kansas researchers, inventors and engineers from the past to the present who have advanced their field. So far, 10 active faculty members at K-State have been selected as a top Kansas scientist.
Wang specializes in manufacturing and advanced materials. Her focus is on developing materials, textiles or fabrics that are ballistic-resistant and could be used as better body armor for the U.S. military.
To do this, Wang starts with a strand of yarn, which has thousands of fibers. Each fiber has strands, and between each strand there are fiber-to-fiber interactions. These interactions dictate the fabric's physical and mechanical properties, or its behavior.
Wang uses a computational model she developed to simulate how a fabric would behave in a ballistics situation, given the fabric's properties. With that she can look at how much force a single thread can withstand, as well as what happens when the threads are changed. For example, does braiding or twisting make the strand stronger?
The end goal is to design thick layers of fabric, or a 3-D woven fabric that can absorb most of a bullet's energy, or segment the energy so it's not concentrated on a single area.
Nutsch studies food microbiology. Her research has included assessing the microbiological safety of meat products, and evaluating the application of antimicrobial interventions for both fresh and processed meat products.
She has collaborated on projects that have ranged from investigating the ecology of E. coli O157:H7 and salmonella to developing mathematical models that predict the spread of epidemics.
Currently her work is focused on educating the next generation of food safety professionals, and has included taking students on U.S.-Mexico studies where they learn about safety practices of cross-border goods.
"What I enjoy most about food science and food safety are the involvement and intersection of so many disciplines," Nutsch said. "Some may find that aspect frustrating because it means there are gray areas, but I think it reflects real life. The challenges we have in the food safety world are complex and multidimensional. They certainly can't be solved through the lens of just one discipline. That's something that I try to convey to my students as well."
The Ad Astra Kansas Initiative is a Hutchinson-based organization that works toward promoting the scientific accomplishments of Kansas researchers and innovators who work in the field of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Ad Astra's project, "Science in Kansas: 150 Years and Counting," celebrates the state's sesquicentennial. It is meant to emphasize the importance of science and the career possibilities in research and innovation to K-12 students.
Ad Astra has recognized other historically noted Kansas researchers like George Washington Carver, Charles H. Sternberg, Clyde Cessna and Clyde Tombaugh.