A conduit of progress: 2016 year in review
Last year, the Western Kentucky University Research Foundation received more than $18 million in external awards in support of projects within the foundation’s scope to inspire and promote research for discovery, innovation, creativity and service.
Here are some of the 2016 highlights from the various WKU research and service centers the WKURF supports and showcases:
Applied Physics Institute
The Applied Physics Institute received more than $450,000 in external awards that were used to conduct research to solve real world problems, such as a project to develop a gamma and neutron radiation monitoring system, led by Dr. Ivan Novikov, WKU associate professor of physics.
Dr. Vladimir Dobrokhotov, WKU associate professor and director of Applied Physics Institute, was granted $75,000 in January to develop a pocket-size analyzer for detecting microorganisms, chemicals and toxins in food. He was also granted $262,339 in September to distribute a wireless network of novel, integrated sensors for analysis of chemical compounds in pipelines and identification of gas leaks.
Engineering Manufacturing Commercialization Center
Dr. Stacy Wilson, WKU electrical engineering professor and director of the Engineering-Manufacturing-Commercialization Center, was granted $74,360 in January through a Kentucky Science and Engineering Foundation Fellowship toward research of a sinkhole detection device.
Folk Studies and Anthropology/Kentucky Folklife Program
Within Folk Studies and Anthropology, more than $190,000 was received toward projects like the MACA Archaeological Site Stewardship Program (Dr. Darlene Applegate, WKU associate professor of folk studies and anthropology) and Foklorist in the Park: Documenting and presenting traditional arts in Cumberland Gap National Historical Park (Brent Bjorkman, director of the Kentucky Museum).
Dr. Michael Ann Williams, WKU folklore professor and head of the department of Folk Studies and Anthropology, received a $143,100 grant in July toward an instruction project regarding curatorial operations and museum management in order to expand visitor and public involvement.
Kentucky Climate Center
In the Kentucky Climate Center, funds were received to support a variety of projects including the Mesonet (Dr. Stuart Foster, WKU professor of geography and geology) and the Kentucky 2016-2017 Alliance Grant (Scott Dobler, instructor of geography and geology).
Dr. Rezaul Mahmood, professor of geography/meteorology and associate director of the Kentucky Mesonet and Kentucky Climate Center, was involved in two research projects and one public service project in 2016. In June, Mahmood was granted $10,000 for the public service project, “Kentucky Population Health Institute.” In September, he received two research project grants, one sponsored by the USDA for $69,821 for developing safe, efficient and environmentally sound management practices of the use of animal manure. The other grant, for $13,333, is for the NOAA SciTech Task 0003 National Mesonet.
National Science Foundation – Research Experience for Undergraduates Program
Dr. Amber Schroeder, WKU assistant professor of psychology and REU program director, was granted funding for two research projects in February and August involving the NSF REU site and advancing psychological research with technology. These grants totaled $192,064.
Besides these two projects, other highlights included funds to research the development of adolescent non suicidal self-injury and suicide (Dr. Amy Brausch, WKU associate professor of psychological sciences), as well as Dr. Matthew Shake, (WKU associate professor of psychological sciences) and his involvement with examining cognitive changes in older adults using a mobile application to improve health and functioning.
Ogden College Electron Microscopy Facility
The Ogden College Electron Microscopy Facility hosted some 85 freshmen and sophomores from WKU and around the region to use their transmission electron microscope as part of the of the national SEA-PHAGES curriculum. In this Howard Hughes Medical Institute supported program, beginning students learn about the process of scientific inquiry by isolating and characterizing bacteriophage (viruses that infect bacteria) from soil samples. The data they gather on their phages is added to a national depository and ultimately helps to better understand the relationship between viruses and their hosts.
In addition to working with 33 students from WKU’s program, the facility hosted classes from Centre, Georgetown and Lindsey Wilson Colleges, Morehead State and Spalding Universities, the University of Evansville and Somerset and Bluegrass Community Colleges. Funds to help support this educational outreach came from a NIH-INBRE grant to Dr. Rodney King, WKU biology professor. In June, this total grant allocated $302,557 toward the “Kentucky Small Genome Project.”
It was an impressive year for the Biotechnology Center with 10 different WKU faculty members (Dr. Noah Ashley, Dr. Simran Banga, Dr. Sigrid Jacobshagen, Dr. Jarrett Johnson, Dr. Moon-Soo Kim, Dr. Rodney King, Dr. Jill Maples, Dr. Shivendra Sahi, Dr. Nilesh Sharma and Dr. Ajay Srivastava) receiving external awards in 2016.
Dr. Noah Ashley, assistant professor of biology, was granted funds in both March and September for two research projects totaling over $1.3 million. The March project involved the National Science Foundation Research in Undergraduate Institutions. The project focuses on the physiology of sleep and assessment of the costs of experimental sleep loss in arctic-breeding songbirds, in hopes that his findings can be used for human medical treatments.
In September, the second research project was allocated as a three-year award amount in collaboration with the National Institutes of Health Academic Research Enhancement Award. This project entitled “Sympathetic regulation of inflammation from sleep fragmentation,” investigates how the sympathetic nervous system reacts to sleep loss and inflammation because it may lead to a variety of health issues, including cardiovascular and metabolic disease.
Dr. Shivendra Sahi, professor of biology, was awarded $497,882 toward his research project entitled “Functional characterization of gold responsive genes and development of plant based system for efficient synthesis of gold nano-particles.” His research aims to discover efficient ways to synthesize gold nano-particles using different species of plants, including Arabidopsis thaliana, a common model organism in plant biology.
WKU Small Business Accelerator
In May, Bucks for Bright Ideas 2016 recognized 18 winning individuals/teams from nearly 100 business ideas submitted by individuals interested in starting their own business. The annual competition is open to any resident, high school or college student who lives in the 28 counties of the Bowling Green, Elizabethtown and Owensboro regions of the Kentucky Innovation Network. Competition winners received free services from regional professional firms for market research, patent search, accounting support, product design and more. All applicants had the opportunity to receive free one-on-one assistance from business development experts and their ideas remained confidential.
As one of the WKURF research and service centers, the WKU Small Business Accelerator added 13 new members, developed a series of new programs to further support the needs of start-ups, early stage and established companies and also expanded the value proposition through partnerships with local economic development agencies and participation in on- and off-campus entrepreneurial networking and educational events including, but not limited to: Idea Festival, Welcome Back WKU, WKU South Campus Student Information Fair, South Central Kentucky Opportunity Network for Entrepreneurs, South Central Kentucky Launch Experience and Hack the Hills.
Through the grants allocated in 2016, the WKURF provided more opportunity for progress and continued its mission of connecting resources and advancing initiatives developed at WKU by faculty and students.