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K-State Today

April 12, 2011

Chemistry research lands Aikens among state's top scientists

Submitted by Julie Fosberg

Christine Aikens' work in chemistry is earning her more than national funding these days. It's putting the Kansas State University assistant professor in K-12 classrooms around the state -- as a trading card.

Aikens was recently named one of the top 150 scientists in Kansas, both past and present, by the Ad Astra Kansas Initiative's "Science in Kansas: 150 Years and Counting." The project is part of the yearlong celebration of the state's sesquicentennial, and features each scientist and his or her research stats on a digital trading card. The cards are 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.

"It's kind of neat and really nothing I expected," Aikens said. "I think it's great that the students will get to see a variety of scientists and know that you don't have to pick just one path in science. It has so many fields and areas to choose from.

"I like chemistry because it's both very practical and interesting," she said. "You can do many things in it. 

Aikens' research is proof of the various possibilities within chemistry. Her current projects range from sustainable energy sources to altering the optical properties of nanoparticles to develop a more effective cancer treatment.

In February she was granted the two-year $50,000 Sloan Research Fellow award from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, an honor given annually to recognize the achievements of early-career scientists and the potential they have in their field.

In 2010 she received a four-year $600,000 CAREER award from the National Science Foundation -- the most prestigious award the foundation gives to promising young scholars -- to support her research exploring how plants and inorganic systems can use light to split water into hydrogen and oxygen. The findings could lead to clean, renewable sources of energy.

Aikens' work with gold nanoparticles has also been supported by the U.S. Air Force Office of Scientific Research.

Having discovered science at a young age, Aikens is also working to help other young minds find it. Each year she organizes an energy and sustainability workshop for middle school students, where they study solar power, biological energy and other renewable energy technology and materials.

Aikens joined K-State in 2007. She earned her bachelor's degree from the University of Oklahoma, her doctorate from Iowa State University and was a postdoctoral research fellow at Northwestern University.

More information about the Ad Astra Kansas Initiative, as well as the scientists' trading cards, can be found at http://www.adastra-ks.org/.