KU News: KU, Kansas State faculty receive Higuchi-KU Endowment research achievement awards

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KU, Kansas State faculty receive Higuchi-KU Endowment research achievement awards

LAWRENCE — Four faculty members at two Kansas universities were named recipients of the Higuchi-KU Endowment Research Achievement Awards, the state higher education system’s most prestigious recognition for scholarly excellence. The annual awards are given in four categories of scholarly and creative achievement.

 

Dole Institute announces early spring programming
LAWRENCE — The Robert J. Dole Institute of Politics at the University of Kansas has announced the the first half of its spring 2024 programming lineup, featuring a series on world leaders in wartime; the return of visiting fellows from the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington, D.C.; the annual A Conversation on Race program; a student-led program on the 2023 Kansas Speaks opinion survey; and the annual Easter Egg Roll.

 

Neptune-like exoplanets can be cloudy or clear — new findings suggest the reason why
LAWRENCE — Jonathan Brande, a doctoral candidate in the ExoLab at the University of Kansas, has just published findings in the open-access scientific journal The Astrophysical Journal Letters showing new atmospheric detail in a set of 15 exoplanets similar to Neptune. While none could support humanity, a better understanding of their behavior might help us to understand why we don’t have a small Neptune, while most solar systems seem to feature a planet of this class.

 

 

Full stories below.

 

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Contact: Vince Munoz, 785-864-2254, [email protected]

KU, Kansas State faculty receive Higuchi-KU Endowment research achievement awards
LAWRENCE — Four faculty members at two Kansas universities were named recipients of the Higuchi-KU Endowment Research Achievement Awards, the state higher education system’s most prestigious recognition for scholarly excellence.

 

The annual awards are given in four categories of scholarly and creative achievement. This year’s honorees:

 

John Colombo, professor of psychology and director, Life Span Institute, recipient of the Balfour Jeffrey Award in Humanities & Social Sciences.
Wen-Xing Ding, William Warner Ambercrombie Professor of Pharmacology, Toxicology & Therapeutics, KU Medical Center, recipient of the Olin Petefish Award in Basic Sciences.
Jie Han, Roy A. Roberts Distinguished Professor of Geotechnical Engineering, KU, recipient of the Irvin Youngberg Award in Applied Sciences.
David Poole, University Distinguished Professor of Kinesiology (College of Health & Human Sciences) and Physiology (College of Veterinary Medicine), Kansas State University, and director, Cardiorespiratory Exercise Lab, recipient of the Dolph Simons Award in Biomedical Sciences.

The four will be recognized at a ceremony this spring along with recipients of other major KU research awards.

 

This is the 42nd annual presentation of the Higuchi awards, established in 1981 by Takeru Higuchi, a distinguished professor at the University of Kansas from 1967 to 1983, his wife, Aya, and the KU Endowment Association. The awards recognize exceptional long-term research accomplishments by faculty at Kansas Board of Regents universities. Each honoree receives $10,000 for their ongoing research.

 

The awards are named for former leaders of KU Endowment who helped recruit Higuchi to KU.

 

Balfour Jeffrey Award in Humanities & Social Sciences

John Colombo

John Colombo is a professor of psychology and director of the Life Span Institute. His work involves the relationship between early neurocognitive development and developmental outcomes later in childhood and the environmental factors that shape neurocognition early in life.

 

Colombo’s research has reshaped the field of infant psychological assessment. Early in his career, Colombo developed methods for using behavioral and anatomic measures of visual attention in infants that are now used in nearly 75% of work in the field. He also observed that performance on these tasks were associated with cognitive function in early childhood.

 

For the past 25 years, Colombo has collaborated with colleagues at KU Medical Center to improve lives around the world. His work with Susan Carlson, AJ Rice Professor of Nutrition, demonstrated that key nutrients such as essential fatty acids, prebiotics and zinc improve infant neurodevelopment. This led to changes in infant formula in the early 2000s that continue to benefit millions of people.

 

Colombo has held multiple leadership positions at KU, including as former interim vice chancellor for research and interim dean of the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences. He earned his bachelor’s degree and doctorate from State University of New York at Buffalo.

 

Olin Petefish Award in Basic Sciences

Wen-Xing Ding

Wen-Xing Ding is the William Warner Ambercrombie Professor of Pharmacology, Toxicology & Therapeutics at KU Medical Center. He is also a KU Cancer Center member and holds an adjunct professor position at Internal Medicine of KUMC. He studies the role of mitochondria in cell death and organ injury.

 

Despite its notoriety as the powerhouse of the cell, mitochondria have not always been easy to study, but Ding’s research changed that. Among his discoveries is developing a tool for better quantifying mitochondrial turnover and newly made mitochondria. This technique helps researchers in neurology, pharmacology and hepatology.

 

Alcohol-associated liver disease (ALD) has become a major financial burden and a leading cause of liver transplantation worldwide. Owing to the COVID-19 pandemic that led to further increased alcohol consumption, ALD-related liver transplantation and mortality are more significant. Ding found that regular alcohol consumption leads to the production of large-sized mitochondria called megamitochondria. These are more challenging for the body to remove through autophagy, its natural waste management system for clearing dead cells, resulting in liver disease. Ding’s research could lead to better liver disease treatment through boosting autophagy with medications.

 

Ding received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Shanghai Medical University, completed graduate medical education at the National University of Singapore and a postdoctoral research fellowship at the University of Pittsburgh.

 

Irvin Youngberg Award in Applied Sciences

Jie Han

Jie Han is the Roy A. Roberts Distinguished Professor of Geotechnical Engineering in KU’s Department of Civil, Environmental & Architectural Engineering. His research has been applied in Kansas infrastructure to make roads, bridges and pipelines more enduring.

 

When roads, bridges and pipelines are constructed, engineers need to consider how soil and rock can support them safely and sustainably. One of Han’s many discoveries involves geosynthetics, manufactured polymers added to soils to improve strength and stiffness for infrastructure foundations. Methods that Han developed have been added to multiple professional and regulatory guidelines, such as the Federal Highway Administration’s geosynthetic design and construction manual and the American Association of State Highway & Transportation Officials’ bridge design specification.

 

To accommodate changes to where people live, more and more infrastructure is being built on soft soil. Han developed analytical models to assess the reliability of column-supported embankments in these soils. Several papers published from this work have been awarded by international associations and conferences between 2014 and 2022.

 

Han earned a bachelor’s degree in geotechnical engineering from Tongji University and a doctorate in civil engineering from Georgia Institute of Technology.

 

Dolph Simons Award in Biomedical Sciences

David Poole

David Poole is a University Distinguished Professor of Kinesiology & Physiology and director of the Cardiorespiratory Exercise Lab at Kansas State University. He holds the Coffman Chair for Distinguished University Teaching Scholars and the Elizabeth Chapin Burke Chair for Health and Human Sciences and is a world-renowned expert on how the body transports and uses oxygen during exercise.

 

Poole is one of the most internationally recognized scholars in his field both numerically and qualitatively. A ranking published by Stanford University included him in the top 2% of most-cited researchers worldwide across all disciplines. Another analysis named him the fourth most-published researcher on oxygen from 2013 to 2023. Poole’s work on capillary recruitment during exercise challenges the Nobel-prize winning findings of August Krogh from the early 20th century. His contemporary microcirculation model identifies novel therapeutic targets for treating cardiovascular and metabolic diseases

 

Poole’s work on gas exchange bridges the gap from the microscopic to the body in motion. His work has diverse applications from reducing lung damage in racing horses to improving anesthesia protocols in elephants and understanding, the determinants of fatigue and exercise intolerance in elite athletes and patient populations. From bench-top science to bedside Poole’s work identifying the limitations to oxygen movement has helped heart disease treatment and patient quality of life.

 

Poole earned a bachelor’s degree in applied physiology/exercise science from Liverpool Polytechnic, a doctorate in kinesiology from the University of California, Los Angeles, and a doctorate in physiology from John Moores University.

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Contact: Maria Fisher, 785-864-4900, [email protected]

Dole Institute announces early spring programming
LAWRENCE — The Robert J. Dole Institute of Politics at the University of Kansas has announced the the first half of its spring 2024 programming lineup, featuring a series on world leaders in wartime; the return of visiting fellows from the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington, D.C.; the annual A Conversation on Race program; a student-led program on the 2023 Kansas Speaks opinion survey; and the annual Easter Egg Roll.

 

Fort Leavenworth Series

This semester’s programs begin at 3 p.m. Feb. 7 with the first installment of the Fort Leavenworth Series. The Dole Institute will continue its partnership with the Command and General Staff College’s Department of Military History at Fort Leavenworth to host the Fort Leavenworth Series throughout the year. The series provides free historical lectures to the public facilitated by world-class military history professors.

 

The 2024 series theme is “World Leaders in Wartime” and will explore influential wartime leaders from medieval times to the present, detailing their achievements and military service. Lectures are scheduled at 3 p.m. for the first Wednesday of each month.

 

Feb. 7: “George Marshall” with Bill Nance

March 6: “Winfield Scott and Joint Warfare in 1847-1848” with Lt. Colonel Nathan Jennings

April 3: “King Henry II, King of England” with John Hosler

May 1: “William McKinley” with Amanda Nagel

June 5: “Chiang Kai-Shek & Mao Zedong” with Geoff Babb

Aug: 7: “George Washington & the Whiskey Rebellion” with Shawn Faulkner

Sept. 4: “Winston Churchill” with Dave Cotter

Oct. 2: “Augustus the Strong: Elector of Saxony” with Ethan Rafuse

Nov. 6: “Abraham Lincoln” with Harry Laver

Dec. 4: “Vladimir Putin” with Sean Kalic.

 

Spring programs

At 10 a.m. Feb. 8, the Dole Institute will present “Grappling with the Nation’s Pressing Fiscal Challenges” in partnership with the Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC). This program features visiting fellows from the BPC, Rachel Snyderman, director of economic policy, and Emily Wielk, economic policy analyst. Snyderman and Wielk will break down what’s at stake and why fiscal policy will remain front and center in the coming years.

 

The institute’s annual A Conversation on Race program, moderated by Barbara Ballard, senior associate director, will take place in late February. Guest speakers include Shawn Alexander, professor and chair of KU’s Department of African & African-American Studies, and Deborah Dandridge, associate librarian, field archivist and curator of African American Experience Collections for the Spencer Research Library.

 

This spring’s Student Advisory Board Program, “Kansas Speaks: The Crossroads of Policy and Public Opinion,” will feature guests Kansas Speaks Policy Fellow Alexandra Middlewood as well as state Reps. Christina Haswood and Nick Hoheisel, two legislative members of the Kansas Future Caucus.

 

The program at 7 p.m. March 25 will include a discussion on insights from the 2023 Kansas Speaks public opinion survey, which is produced by the Docking Institute of Public Affairs at Fort Hays State University. The survey addresses issues such as marijuana legalization, Medicaid expansion, abortion rights, climate change and more. This event will explore crucial topics affecting young people and the wider community in Kansas, combining data-driven insights from the survey with real-world experiences and legislative perspectives. This program is presented by the Dole Institute Student Advisory Board (SAB) and moderated by SAB Coordinator Allie Haggar.

 

Easter Egg Roll with Dole

Finally, save the date for the Lawrence family-favorite tradition of the Easter Egg Roll with Dole from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. March 30. The event will feature an egg rolling race, inspired by the White House Easter Egg Roll, egg hunt, bunny corral, live music, story time, crafts and more.

 

“Our early spring programming slate features timely conversations about leadership and policy development,” said Audrey Coleman, Dole Institute director. “The Dole Institute is proud to work with the Command General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, the D.C.-based Bipartisan Policy Center, Kansas legislators and many others for engaging discussions representing a variety of viewpoints.”

 

Detailed information on programs can be found at doleinstitute.org. All programs will take place in-person at the Dole Institute and be live-streamed on the institute’s website and YouTube channel. Additional spring programing will be announced in the coming weeks.

 

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Contact: Brendan Lynch, 785-864-8855, [email protected]

Neptune-like exoplanets can be cloudy or clear — new findings suggest the reason why
LAWRENCE — The study of “exoplanets,” the sci-fi-sounding name for all planets in the cosmos beyond our own solar system, is a pretty new field. Mainly, exoplanet researchers like those in the ExoLab at the University of Kansas use data from space-borne telescopes such as the Hubble Space Telescope and Webb Space Telescope. Whenever news headlines offer findings of “Earth-like” planets or planets with the potential to support humanity, they’re talking about exoplanets within our own Milky Way.

 

Jonathan Brande, a doctoral candidate in the ExoLab at the University of Kansas, has just published findings in the open-access scientific journal The Astrophysical Journal Letters showing new atmospheric detail in a set of 15 exoplanets similar to Neptune. While none could support humanity, a better understanding of their behavior might help us to understand why we don’t have a small Neptune, while most solar systems seem to feature a planet of this class.

 

“Over the past several years at KU, my focus has been studying the atmospheres of exoplanets through a technique known as transmission spectroscopy,” Brande said. “When a planet transits, meaning it moves between our line of sight and the star it orbits, light from the star passes through the planet’s atmosphere, getting absorbed by the various gases present. By capturing a spectrum of the star — passing the light through an instrument called a spectrograph, akin to passing it through a prism — we observe a rainbow, measuring the brightness of different constituent colors. Varied areas of brightness or dimness in the spectrum reveal the gases absorbing light in the planet’s atmosphere.”

 

With this methodology, several years ago Brande published a paper concerning the “warm Neptune” exoplanet TOI-674 b, where he presented observations indicating the presence of water vapor in its atmosphere. These observations were part of a broader program led by Brande’s adviser, Ian Crossfield, associate professor of physics & astronomy at KU, to observe atmospheres of Neptune-sized exoplanets.

 

“We want to comprehend the behaviors of these planets, given that those slightly larger than Earth and smaller than Neptune are the most common in the galaxy,” Brande said.

 

This recent ApJL paper summarizes observations from that program, incorporating data from additional observations to address why some planets appear cloudy while others are clear.

 

“The goal is to explore the physical explanations behind the distinct appearances of these planets,” Brande said.

 

Brande and his co-authors took special note of regions where exoplanets tend to form clouds or hazes high up in their atmosphere. When such atmospheric aerosols are present, the KU researcher said hazes can block the light filtering through the atmosphere.

 

“If a planet has a cloud right above the surface with hundreds of kilometers of clear air above it, starlight can easily pass through the clear air and be absorbed only by the specific gases in that part of the atmosphere,” Brande said. “However, if the cloud is positioned very high, clouds are generally opaque across the electromagnetic spectrum. While hazes have spectral features, for our work, where we focus on a relatively narrow range with Hubble, they also produce mostly flat spectra.”

 

According to Brande, when these aerosols are present high in the atmosphere, there’s no clear path for light to filter through.

 

“With Hubble, the single gas we’re most sensitive to is water vapor,” he said. “If we observe water vapor in a planet’s atmosphere, that’s a good indication that there are no clouds high enough to block its absorption. Conversely, if water vapor is not observed and only a flat spectrum is seen, despite knowing that the planet should have an extended atmosphere, it suggests the likely presence of clouds or hazes at higher altitudes.”

 

Brande led the work of an international team of astronomers on the paper, including Crossfield at KU and collaborators from the Max Planck Institute in Heidelberg, Germany, a cohort led by Laura Kreidberg, and investigators at the University of Texas, Austin, led by Caroline Morley.

 

Brande and his co-authors approached their analysis differently than previous efforts by focusing on determining the physical parameters of the small-Neptune atmospheres. In contrast, previous analyses often involved fitting a single model spectrum to observations.

 

“Typically, researchers would take an atmospheric model with pre-computed water content, scale and shift it to match observed planets in their sample,” Brande said. “This approach indicates whether the spectrum is clear or cloudy but provides no information about the amount of water vapor or the location of clouds in the atmosphere.”

 

Instead, Brande employed a technique known as “atmospheric retrieval.”

 

“This involved modeling the atmosphere across various planet parameters such as water vapor quantity and cloud location, iterating through hundreds and thousands of simulations to find the best fit configuration,” he said. “Our retrievals gave us a best-fit model spectrum for each planet, from which we calculated how cloudy or clear the planet appeared to be. Then, we compared those measured clarities to a separate suite of models by Caroline Morley, which let us see that our results are in line with expectations for similar planets. In examining cloud and haze behavior, our models indicated that clouds were a better fit than hazes. The sedimentation efficiency parameter, reflecting cloud compactness, suggested observed planets had relatively low sedimentation efficiencies, resulting in fluffy clouds. These clouds, made up of particles like water droplets, remained lofted in the atmosphere due to their low settling tendency.”

 

Brande’s findings provide insights into the behavior of these planetary atmospheres and caused “substantial interest” when he presented them at a recent meeting of the American Astronomical Society.

 

Other findings

Moreover, Brande is part of an international observation program, led by Crossfield, that just announced findings of water vapor on GJ 9827d — a planet as hot as Venus 97 light-years from Earth in the constellation Pisces.

 

The observations, made with the Hubble Space Telescope, show the planet may be just one example of water-rich planets in the Milky Way. They were announced by a team led by Pierre-Alexis Roy of the Trottier Institute for Research on Exoplanets at Université de Montréal.

 

“We were searching for water vapor on the atmospheres of sub-Neptune-type planets,” Brande said. “Pierre-Alexis’ paper is the latest from that main effort because it took approximately 10 or 11 orbits or transits of the planet to make the water-vapor detection. Pierre-Alexis’ spectrum made it into our paper as one of our trend-data points, and we included all the planets from their proposal and others studied in the literature, making our results stronger. We were in close communication with them during the process of both papers to ensure we were using the proper updated results and accurately reflecting their findings.”

 

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