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K-State Today

December 3, 2015

K-State teams develop leadership in the food/energy/water nexus

Submitted by Karen Burg

Dear faculty and staff,

Water is a key limiting resource in both rural and urban environments worldwide, and multidisciplinary water research that addresses this growing challenge is vital. K-State research expertise in global food systems is the knowledge major funding agencies such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the National Science Foundation will be seeking in the coming years. NSF's Innovations at the Nexus of Food, Energy, and Water Systems, or INFEWS, initiative is one example. In fiscal year 2016, this particular program will likely offer significant research funding to understand the interactions of these three highly interconnected systems. We took two purposeful steps this fall to prepare to compete for these and related awards.

First, the Office of the Vice President for Research, the Associate Deans for Research Council, the Kansas State University Institute for Commercialization and other partners co-hosted a Knowledge Based Economic Development (KBED) event in mid-October to identify opportunities for interdisciplinary research collaborations and to contribute to a critical research needs report for NSF. Approximately 45 faculty members participated, forming a water "think tank." Some participants had a long history of funded research activity, while others were new to research or the topic area but have vital subject matter expertise. Cross-disciplinarity is vital, as NSF increasingly requires teams to combine traditionally funded fields such as science, engineering and math with business, communications, economics and social science to ensure projects are technically, socially and economically successful.

We were pleased with the turnout at the KBED event, which provided key talking points for an NSF regional workshop — one of 17 around the country — that was on campus on Nov. 19-20. The research needs report was completed at the workshop, and NSF will consider this report as requests for proposals are fashioned next year. I am excited by the activities so far and confident that the KBED event and workshop will result in future funding opportunities to address scientific and technical problems in the Great Plains.

By way of second step, the Office of the Vice President for Research offered a Water Seed Grant Program to fund one interdisciplinary research award and up to three team development awards. These projects will result in urban-rural water interface or INFEWS submissions. Awards were made are as follows; note the fantastic range of disciplines represented!

  • Seeding Growth of a Critical Zone Observatory for Water Research in Kansas. Pamela Kempton, Saugata Datta, and Matthew Kirk, Department of Geology in the College of Arts and Sciences: $89,710.

  • Can Teff Decrease the Water Strain in the High Plains? Doohong Min, Department of Agronomy; Barry Bradford, Department of Animal Sciences and Industry; and Mykel Taylor, Department of Agricultural Economics in the College of Agriculture, and John Harrington, Department of Geography in the College of Arts and Sciences: $9,700.

  • Water Management Across the Rural-Urban Interface: An Interdisciplinary, Integrative Systems Model. Trisha Moore, Biological and Agricultural Engineering; Jason Bergtold, Department of Agricultural Economics in the College of Agriculture, and Brent Chamberlain, Landscape Architecture and Regional & Community Planning in the College of Architecture, Planning and Design: $11,295.

  • Solar Thermochemical Ammonia: Decoupling Fertilizer Production from Fossil Fuels. Peter Pfromm, Department of Chemical Engineering, College of Engineering; Viktor Chikan, Department of Chemistry, College of Arts and Sciences; and James Bloodgood, Department of Management, College of Business Administration: $11,295.

I look forward to seeing how these promising teams and their projects develop; thanks to all who took the time to prepare and submit concepts. Thank you also to Mary Lou Marino and Allison Stratton in the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs for administering the process and to the following reviewers for bringing a wide range of expertise to the panel: Loretta Johnson, College of Arts and Sciences; Ernie Minton, College of Agriculture; Beth Montelone, College of Arts and Sciences; Noel Schulz, College of Engineering; Lee Skabelund, College of Architecture, Planning and Design; and Jackie Spears, College of Education and K-State Olathe.

Many thanks also are due to Mary Rezac, interim associate vice president for research, for chairing the review panel and working with the KBED organizational team to help gather the K-State water "think tank" participants on short notice. I deeply appreciate the KBED team and the faculty who enthusiastically participated in the discussion and NSF workshop. Research success in the water and INFEWS arena requires a long-term strategy. The purposeful meeting and planning that occurred in October is a model we will continue to use as K-State moves forward with this and other research priorities.


Karen J.L. Burg

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