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K-State Today

August 23, 2012

Five doctoral students win financial backing for promising research

Submitted by Communications and Marketing

Five Kansas State University doctoral graduate students were awarded Kansas State University Research Foundation doctoral research scholarships for projects that could improve industry and human and animal health. 

Recipients of the 2012 Kansas State University Research Foundation doctoral research scholarship are Evan Patrick Hurley, chemistry, Bomoseen, Vt.; Steven Arnold Klankowski, chemistry, La Crescent, Minn.; Yanjie Bai, grain science and industry, China; Qian Wang, anatomy and physiology, China; and Sivasai Balivada anatomy and physiology, India -- all doctoral candidates.   

Each student received a $15,000 stipend and as much as an additional $5,000 for tuition reimbursement. Students were chosen based on academic performance, publications, presentations and the potential for intellectual property or commercial application from their research. The scholarship helps graduate student researchers with tuition so they can focus more on their project rather than securing funding through a part-time job. 

Additionally, the scholarship spotlights one of the opportunities in the K-State graduate program and is meant to encourage new directions in research -- a key component to the vision of K-State becoming a top 50 public research university by 2025.

"The five graduate students chosen this year are a great representation of the innovative and diverse research opportunities available to students at the university," said Marcia Molina, vice president of the Kansas State University Research Foundation, or KSURF. The foundation is a nonprofit corporation responsible for managing technology transfer activities at the university.

The students' research is as follows:

* Hurley is looking at the basic interactions between molecules to understand how they recognize and communicate with each other. He compared it to molecular dating -- understanding how and why molecules pair up with particular partners will enable the design of materials with predictable structural landscapes.

"Molecules are inherently selfish; they don't really like to partner with others that aren't like them," Hurley said. "If we can break that trend and manipulate them in such a way that they will pair up with others in a predictable and controllable manner, this may result in improved physical properties and the materials may be easier to handle, store, pack into a tablet or improve bioavailability. As such, the result has numerous applications, especially in the pharmaceutical and agrochemical industries where the physical properties of a substance are directly related to how the molecules arrange themselves."

Hurley's major adviser is Christer Aakeroy, professor of chemistry.

* Klankowski is developing high-performance nanostructured electrode materials for future lithium-ion batteries. The electrode provides 10 times the energy storage capacity of the current carbon-based electrodes used in lithium-ion batteries. As a result, batteries used in electric cars, laptops and other electronic devices can last longer.

"Demand for portable electrical energy is increasing substantially and we will need batteries that have the performance to store and deliver large amounts of energy both quickly and effectively," Klankowski said. "With the progress we are seeing, I hope one day to drive from Manhattan to my folk's house in Minnesota on a single battery charge."

Klankowski's major adviser is Jun Li, professor of chemistry.

* Bai is looking at an improved method to develop octenylsuccinic anhydride modified starch, or OS starch. The starch is used as an emulsifier in the food and beverage industry and is currently prepared through a complex process. A patent application has been filed for the technology.

"This new technology has been developed to prepare octenylsuccinic anhydride-modified starch in the industry in a cost effective manner that significantly simplifies the process and manufacturing equipment," Bai said. "The new technology introduces a hydrophobic group on starch, degrades starch and makes starch soluble in one step."

Bai's major adviser is Yong-Cheng Shi, professor of grains science and industry.

* Wang is studying the transport and regulation of salt in human mammary gland cells by a protein channel. She has found a toxin that elevates the sodium absorption and retention in the outer membrane of mammary cells. Findings may lead to improving the health of dysfunctional mammary glands as well as other tissues in the body affected by salt transport.

"My research is exciting because it identifies mechanisms that can treat or prevent mastitis, a disease that affects 10 percent of women and is the most costly disease in the dairy industry," Wang said.

Wang's major adviser is Bruce Schultz, professor of anatomy and physiology.

* Balivada's research focuses on using a temperature-based treatment to kill metastatic tumors. Currently, metastatic tumors are difficult to target with therapeutic agents. His research uses magnetic nanoparticle-loaded cells that can travel to metastatic tumors. When the tumors are exposed to an alternating magnetic field, the magnetic field causes the nanoparticles to vibrate and increase in temperature. This heat generation can kill the tumor cells.

"This exposure will cause specific temperature increases and will decrease the tumor burden," Balivada said.

Balivada's major adviser is Deryl Troyer, professor of anatomy and physiology.