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Kristi Henderson
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Professor recognized for influential algae research

Mon, 02/18/2013

LAWRENCE – Blue-green algae aren’t regularly on the minds of the masses. However, that changes quickly when toxic and unsightly blue-green algal blooms crop up in a local lake or reservoir, putting a damper on summertime fun.

Val SmithWhen researchers approach the problem of blue-green algae, their work is frequently influenced by the findings of Val Smith, a University of Kansas professor of ecology and evolutionary biology. Nearly 30 years ago, Smith wrote a paper on the influence of nitrogen and phosphorus ratios on the proliferation of blue-green algae. He found that these highly undesirable algae were rare in lakes that had a high ratio of nitrogen to phosphorus.

The Association for the Sciences of Limnology and Oceanography (ASLO) has recognized Val Smith’s paper as one of the most influential in the field of aquatic science during the 20th century, and Smith has just been named the 2013 recipient of ASLO’s John Martin Award. Established in 2005, this award recognizes a past paper in aquatic sciences that is judged to have had a high impact on subsequent research in the field.

Since it was originally published in 1983, Smith’s paper has been cited more than 800 times, making it one of the most influential publications in the area of eutrophication, which is the study of ecosystems’ response to excess nutrients. This paper’s demonstration that low nitrogen to phosphorus ratios promote the growth of nitrogen-fixing cyanobacteria, or blue-green algae, in lakes, spurred policies to limit the amount of phosphorus released by humans into fresh waters.

In his summary of Smith’s contributions, David Schindler, nominator and distinguished professor at University of Alberta, says that this paper set the stage for using phosphorus management to reduce eutrophication.

“The control of a single element, phosphorus, has improved the water quality of many of the world’s most important lakes, but has saved billions of dollars over the multiple nutrient control strategies that have otherwise been suggested,” Schindler said. “Clearly, it is one of the most important papers in aquatic sciences in the 20th century.”

This award will be presented at the annual ASLO 2013 Aquatic Sciences Meeting, which will take place Feb. 17-22 in New Orleans. ASLO is an international society that was founded in 1956. For more than 50 years, ASLO has been the world’s leading professional organization for researchers and educators in the field of aquatic science.

Smith has been at KU since 1993. After receiving his bachelor’s degrees in chemistry and in biology from the University of Kansas in 1973, Smith obtained a master’s degree in ecology from Rutgers University, and a doctorate in ecology from the University of Minnesota. His primary expertise is in the ecology and physiology of algae. His current research is focused on efforts to develop algal biofuels as part of KU’s multidisciplinary Feedstock to Tailpipe Initiative, which is overseen and supported by KU’s Transportation Research Institute.

The Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology is part of KU’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, which encourages learning without boundaries in its more than 50 departments, programs and centers. Through innovative research and teaching, the College emphasizes interdisciplinary education, global awareness and experiential learning. It is the broadest and most diverse academic unit at the University of Kansas.



Wanna Skype? Chancellor gets creative to surprise Truman winner. See it here: http://bit.ly/1awodaa
Rock Chalk! Junior Ashlie Koehn named KU's 18th Truman Scholar
Ashlie Koehn, a University of Kansas junior from Burns studying in Kyrgyzstan, interrupted helping her host family prepare dinner to make a Skype call on Monday evening.

RT @kulibraries : Check out this news feature & then check out his book with us: http://t.co/gLNJxmtx1B #KULibraries #KUWorks https://t.co/L…
Wanna Skype? Chancellor gets creative to surprise Truman winner From KU News Service: http://bit.ly/1awodaa Ashlie Koehn, a University of Kansas junior from Burns studying in Kyrgyzstan, interrupted helping her host family prepare dinner to make a Skype call on Monday evening. To her surprise, Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little was on the other end of the call letting Koehn know she had been named a 2015 Harry S. Truman Scholar. Koehn is the 18th KU student to be named a Truman Scholar and the only 2015 recipient from the state of Kansas. Earlier this month, she was also named a 2015 Udall Scholar. And in spite of a distance of more than 10,800 kilometers and 11 time zones, Koehn’s thrill from hearing the news from the chancellor came through loud and clear. “Ashlie’s experience at KU epitomizes a quality undergraduate experience. She challenged herself in her coursework, exposed herself to different research opportunities, studied abroad in Germany, Switzerland and Kyrgyzstan, and participated in both student government and community service projects,” Gray-Little said. “This is quite a year for Ashlie. Her hard work is a wonderful reflection on her and also a great reflection on the university, and we all congratulate her.” Each new Truman Scholar receives up to $30,000 for graduate study. Scholars also receive priority admission and supplemental financial aid at some premier graduate institutions, leadership training, career and graduate school counseling, and special internship opportunities within the federal government. Koehn, a member of KU’s nationally recognized University Honors Program, is majoring in environmental studies, economics and international studies. Her goal after earning her KU degree is to pursue a master’s degree in economics at either the London School of Economics or the University of Reading, with a focus on the economics of climate change. In 2014, she received KU’s Newman Civic Engagement Award for her work establishing the Coalition against Slavery and Trafficking. Her involvement with the issue was sparked by Hannah Britton, associate professor of political science and women, gender, and sexuality studies, who hosted national conference on contemporary slavery at KU three years ago. “Ashlie and I met several times to think about what KU students could contribute to the issue of slavery and human trafficking, and the result was her founding of KU CAST,” Britton said. “After a year as president, Ashlie successfully handed the organization over to the next student leader. She demonstrated her strong leadership qualities by setting a unique goal and then pursuing it with her sense of passion, engagement and dedication. No matter the country or context, her leadership strength is evident in her coursework, her public service and her work experiences.” The University Honors Program works with a campus committee to select KU’s nominees for the Truman Scholarship and supports them during the application process. Anne Wallen, assistant director of national fellowships and scholarships, noted it was an amazing ruse to pull off the surprise. Originally, the call was set up to be between Wallen and Koehn. “I was totally not prepared to be greeted by Chancellor Gray-Little, but it was an amazing surprise for sure,” Koehn said. “As a first-generation student, it took time to learn the collegiate system, but my parents taught me to be resourceful and independent from a young age and KU and the Kansas Air National Guard have provided me with the opportunities to drive me into the future, both at graduate school and in my career. I plan to use the Truman Scholarship to pursue a career as an environmental economist helping to shape future trade agreements and leverage action on important international environmental issues, particularly concerning climate change.” Koehn also had a surprise of her own for the chancellor — the meal she was helping to prepare was not exactly typical Kansas dinner fare. On the menu with her host family in Kyrgyzstan on Monday was a traditional Kyrgyz meal called Beshbarmak, or “five fingers,” because you eat it with your hands. The dish is made of horse and sheep and was being prepared as a birthday celebration for Koehn’s host mom. Chancellor Gray-Little, as she signed off from Skype, made sure to encourage Koehn to enjoy her Beshbarmak. Koehn is the daughter of Rodney and Carolyn Koehn of Burns. She graduated from Fredric Remington High School in Moundridge. She is an active member of the Kansas Air National Guard and currently on leave while studying abroad in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. She is a member of the KU Global Scholars Program and a past member of the Student Senate. In addition to being named a 2015 Truman and Udall scholar, she was named a 2014 Boren Scholar and Gilman Scholar and in 2013 was named the Kansas Air National Guard Airman of the Year.


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