Phase V: Major Initiative

Understanding and Forecasting Ecological Change in the Central Plains

From 2006 through 2009, the major initiative of Kansas NSF EPSCoR (KNE) was Understanding and Forecasting Ecological Change in the Central Plains. An overarching goal of this initiative was to develop a research infrastructure to enable solutions to Grand Challenge and other 21st century problems in the biosciences, an area of strategic importance to Kansas, the region, and the nation. The objective was to mature the state’s niche strength in ecological forecasting into a competitive, centers-level capability. Established and highly qualified scientists led the initiative with the long-term goal of achieving sustainability through major federal agency funding, state and industry investments, commercial products and royalties.

The scientists who conducted research for Understanding and Forecasting Ecological Change in the Great Plains used the Kansas grasslands as the model ecosystem to assess the ecological and societal impacts of global change on coupled human-natural systems. One of the grand challenges of the 21st century as articulated by the National Research Council, the International Program on Climate Change, the National Science Foundation and other national agencies is evaluating and predicting the biological and ecological consequences of accelerating global changes in the environment and human society. These global changes are critical for grasslands, an ecosystem of worldwide importance that provides resources and services to human societies, and an area of particular significance to the Kansas and regional economy. A better understanding and ability to forecast these phenomena and their consequences are fundamental to sustaining grassland ecosystem services: supplying clean water, recycling essential nutrients, sequestering carbon, preserving biodiversity, and guarding against invasive species and emerging diseases.

The project established an ecological forecasting collaboratory to enhance and integrate established expertise and infrastructure across universities, academic units, and research centers in Kansas. It 1) improved and incorporated sensing technologies, informatics, telecommunications, cyberinfrastructure, and large-scale modeling to enable acquisition, analysis of data, and forecasting of environmental phenomena; 2) enabled integrated, cross-disciplinary educational experiences for a diverse population of students; 3) fostered mentoring and professional development of underrepresented minorities, women, and junior faculty participating in the project; 4) positioned Kansas researchers to participate fully in NSF high priority initiatives while supporting state efforts to develop a biosciences economy; and 5) added value to agricultural and natural resource management.

The research area encompassed the Kansas River basin, which includes all major land-use types in the Central Plains. The basin is a hydro-logically defined region within sharp east-west gradients of precipitation and native plant communities, which influence human decisions concerning land-use.

Within this region, and in accord with the two overarching science questions, research focused on the characteristics and reciprocal impacts among four components: climate, land-use and human socioeconomic systems; biogeochemistry; aquatic and terrestrial biodiversity; and hydrology.

Since off the shelf wireless and communication components to serve the four research areas were not yet available, KU’s Information Technology and Telecommunications Center (Frost-KU) — the designated State of Kansas Information Technology Research Center of Excellence — designed and developed the sensor networks for monitoring environmental parameters and processing the data.

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Education & Diversity Grants

In July of 2007, KNE awarded five Education and Diversity Grants designed to enhance science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education in Kansas by supporting activities that will lead to an expanded STEM workforce or prepare a new generation for STEM careers. It is anticipated that these awards will benefit a broad spectrum of the Kansas population from K-12 students and teachers to community colleges to Native American students.

Research Experiences for Teachers

PI: Bala Subramaniam, KU


Four area high school chemistry teachers will engage in full-time research for six weeks in the summer of 2008 to learn how to integrate sustainable engineering and technology concepts and practices into their curriculum. Talented teachers will be recruited from area school districts that serve a majority of under-represented and economically disadvantaged students. Read more about this project here.


Empowering Community Colleges with Cybersecurity Programs

PI: Kameswara Rao Namuduri, WSU

Kamesh Namuduri receiving a certificate that was awarded to Wichita State University (WSU) by Joan P. Ruhl, Deputy Director, Information Assurance Directorate, National Security Agency (NSA) in a ceremony held at Boston University.      KNE funds will be used to enhance laboratory facilities and research activities in the area of Information Assurance in community colleges and increase awareness of information security related issues in the community. The activities are expected to lead to the establishment of a nationally recognized center for excellence in Information Assurance at WSU within the next two years.

Recruiting Native Americans into the Environmental Sciences

PI: Raymond Pierotti, KU

The Kansas Riverkeeper, Laura Calwell (far right) and EPSCoR student participants
The long-term goal of this project is to build a critical mass of skilled Native American Environmental professionals to work with tribal and other Indigenous communities. The grant will support increased research opportunities and activities that enhance the educational experience of Native American undergraduate students. These students will receive broad exposure to technical and policy issues involved in wetlands and watershed management. See Education Highlight for more information.

A Systematic Approach to Infusing Science Research into K-12 Classrooms

PI: Jacqueline D. Spears, KSU

This project will develop a more systematic process for selecting research applications that address diversity issues through the inclusion of research applications more likely to appeal to female students and Hispanic students. It plans to create an infrastructure that involves a much broader network of teachers in the process of evaluating and disseminiating web-based science research lessons. More about this project....

Ecology and Evolution: Helping Students Understand a Changing World

PI: Joseph Heppert, KU

This project will provide professional development to twenty middle school teachers at Kansas City Kansas Public Schools (USD 500). Participants will explore aspects of the Kansas NSF EPSCoR research on ecological forecasting, and will be able to bring cutting edge ecology research techniques and findings into their classrooms. More about this project >>

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Planning and Innovation Grants

In Phase V, Planning and Innovation Grants are intended to assist in the development of large (budgets > $500,000), collaborative multi-investigator, multi-disciplinary, research proposals to the NSF by providing opportunities for research collaborators to:

Assembly and Properties of Functionalized Carbon Nanotubes

PI: Christer Aakeröy, KSU

Assembly and Properties of Functionalized Carbon Nanotubes, awarded to Dr. Christer Aakeröy, KSU Department of Chemistry, will assemble new and experimental data from four research groups at KSU in areas related to nanoscale science. The synthesis, assembly and characterization of functionalized (and soluble) carbon nanotubes (CNT’s) are expected to influence areas such as ion-channel blockers, superconductivity, biosensors, and highstrength composites. The newly created research group will address critical issues that may subsequently allow the transformation of CNT’s into chemical architectures that can be interfaced with biomaterials.

Logistics, Distribution, and Infrastructure Planning for Kansas Biofuels and Biomass Industries 2020

PI: Jan Twomey, WSU

Logistics, Distribution, and Infrastructure Planning for Kansas Biofuels and Biomass Industries 2020,awarded to Dr. Janet Twomey, WSU Department of Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering, will use KNE funds to plan a proposal to conduct research,infrastructure planning, policy and decision making for Kansas biofuels (ethanol in particular) and biomass industries for the year 2020 and beyond.

Two major problems confront the industry of renewable energy crops. New research is needed to find new energy crops and more profitable uses of byproducts, and there continues to be a lack of logistics and efficient distribution.

Twomey’s grant will focus on the logistics,distribution and infrastructure to support these industries. For example, ethanol refineries are being built without analysis related to plant location. Proximity to efficient and lowcost rail transportation is preferable to costly transport by truck.

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Faculty Start-Up Grants

New Faculty Start-up

Ecological Genomics:
1. Stuart Macdonald, KU
2. Greg Houseman, WSU

Ecological Forecasting:
1. Jorge Soberon, KU
2. Ford Ballantyne, KU
3. Kendra K. McLauchlan, KSU
4. Jesse Nippert, KSU




Education and Outreach

Expanding Your Horizons and Master-It ESU
McNair Scholars Program KSU, KU, WSU
Qrazy Quarks: An Interactive Multimedia Education Project KU
Workforce Development and Climate Change in Indigenous Communities Haskell

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Science, Education, and Collaboration


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