Kristi Henderson
College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

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.

Happy Kansas Day, Kansans! We caught sunflowers standing tall at the Grinter Family Farms just outside Lawrence last fall. You may wonder how the sunflower came to be the State flower in 1903 and we found an excerpt from Kansas legislation: Whereas, Kansas has a native wild flower common throughout her borders, hardy and conspicuous, of definite, unvarying and striking shape, easily sketched, moulded, and carved, having armorial capacities, ideally adapted for artistic reproduction, with its strong, distinct disk and its golden circle of clear glowing rays -- a flower that a child can draw on a slate, a woman can work in silk, or a man can carve on stone or fashion in clay; and Whereas, This flower has to all Kansans a historic symbolism which speaks of frontier days, winding trails, pathless prairies, and is full of the life and glory of the past, the pride of the present, and richly emblematic of the majesty of a golden future, and is a flower which has given Kansas the world-wide name, "the sunflower state"... Be it enacted ... that the helianthus or wild native sunflower is ... designated ... the state flower and floral emblem of the state of Kansas.

We caught sunflowers standing tall at Grinter Family Farms outside of Lawrence last fall. Happy Kansas Day, Kansans!
Explore KU: The Bells of Mount Oread KU’s Campanile, a 120-foot-tall timepiece that tolls automatically on the hour and quarter-hour, not only sounded in the 2015 New Year at midnight with 12 mighty gongs, but also regularly rings up memories for many Jayhawks – the 277 faculty and students who gave their lives during World War II, the graduates who walk through its doors at commencement, and aspiring students who have strolled through the Lawrence campus. (See For nearly 60 years, KU’s 53-bell carillon has been tolling the sounds of peace and serenity across Mount Oread since it was installed in June 1955 inside the landmark World War II Memorial Campanile, which was dedicated in 1951. (See The carillon is also a four-octave musical instrument, which is played with a giant keyboard and foot pedals. University Carillonneur Elizabeth Egber-Berghout (, associate professor of carillon and organ, climbs 77 steps up a spiral staircase in the bell tower to perform recitals several times a month.

One of 34 U.S. public institutions in the prestigious Association of American Universities
26 prestigious Rhodes Scholars — more than all other Kansas colleges combined
Nearly $290 million in financial aid annually
46 nationally ranked graduate programs.
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Top 50 nationwide for size of library collection.
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