Jayhawks recognized for research at 2024 Capitol Graduate Research Summit

Wed, 04/24/2024


Genevieve Prescher

LAWRENCE — Four University of Kansas students received honors during the 21st annual Capitol Graduate Research Summit in Topeka on March 22. Annie Chuning, Kara Hageman, Natalie Lind and Luke Parker were each honored for their exceptional research and presentations at an event that assembles the top graduate student researchers in the state of Kansas.

Food insecurity, health and BMI

Annie Chuning, doctoral student in clinical child psychology, received a research award from the Office of Graduate Studies at the Lawrence campus for the project titled "Rates of Food Insecurity Influence Parent/Child Mental Health and BMI in Rural Kansas."

Ann Davis, professor of pediatrics at KU Medical Center and Chuning's faculty adviser, said the main goal of the research was to assess food insecurity among families who participated in the National Institutes of Health-funded “iAmHealthy” study.

“The project was designed to bring a state-of-the-art obesity treatment program to rural families in the state of Kansas, and we discovered that a high proportion of our participants also had food insecurity. Annie’s project helped us to learn more,” Davis said.

Chuning found high rates of food insecurity in this overweight or obese rural population, and these were associated with higher depression, anxiety and body mass index for parents in the study.

"There is a lot of stigma surrounding food insecurity, and very few researchers have looked at food insecurity in families living in rural areas with overweight or obese individuals," Chuning said.

Davis said the findings show overlap between food insecurity and obesity and indicated that treating one may improve the other.

This study’s findings can better inform policy related to the food supply in Kansas, prioritizing availability, affordability and accessibility of fresh, minimally processed foods from local suppliers while shifting perspectives about the underlying causes of obesity and how it can increase the mental health burden for parents.

Davis' current intervention study, which extends the previous project to also provide a parent-focused program prior to family-based sessions, is actively recruiting. They are looking for families living in rural areas who may have weight-related health issues.

Orthopedic joint infection prevention

Kara Hageman, 2020-2024 Self Graduate Fellow and a doctoral student in bioengineering, received a research award from BioKansas for the project titled "Preventing Orthopedic Joint Infection by Developing Antibacterial Bone Cement."

With bacteria developing resistance to current antibiotic treatments, Hageman's approach provides an alternative prevention strategy. By combining bone cement with bioactive glass, her work aims to lower the occurrence of infection around orthopedic implants while reducing antibiotic use of orthopedic implants.

"The goal of my research is to develop a material that can be utilized in total hip or total knee replacement surgeries that does not fully rely on antibiotics to ward off bacterial infection," Hageman said.

"Implant related infections are particularly difficult and result in vastly increased expense and morbidity. We have not yet found an acceptable way to prevent them,” said Terence McIff, associate professor of orthopedic surgery and sports medicine at KU Medical Center and Hageman’s faculty adviser.

“Bioactive glasses already have proved themselves useful as healing aids and can be formulated to also have antimicrobial properties. These resorbable and osteoconductive glasses can easily be incorporated into the bone cements we currently use to both prevent and treat infection locally at the site of the infection surrounding an implant,” McIff said.

“Total joint replacement surgeries are predicted to rise and reach 4.5 million by the year 2040,” Hageman said. “With infection being the No. 1 cause of failure, and bacteria developing resistance to the current antibiotic medications, there is a large need for better prevention methods.”

Nuclear fuel recycling strategies

Natalie Lind, 2023-2027 Self Graduate Fellow and a doctoral student in chemistry, received a research award from BioKansas for the project "Uranium Catch and Release as a Strategy for Nuclear Fuel Recycling."

Lind's project aims to develop a new method for extracting and recycling uranium from nuclear waste, which could make nuclear power more sustainable.

"The objective is to develop a process for isolating uranium by driving it from solution onto an electrode surface," said James Blakemore, associate professor of chemistry and Lind’s faculty adviser. "It's a 'catch and release' strategy to remove and isolate the uranium."

With 95% of spent fuel still usable, Lind's method could benefit nuclear plants by providing recycled uranium for fuel while reducing disposal volumes.

"Our electrically driven chemistry could lead to more practical ways to separate uranium from used nuclear fuels,” Blakemore said.

Lind has demonstrated the efficacy of the "catch and release" method for uranium recycling. Blakemore said this breakthrough evolved serendipitously, with Lind having "eagle eyes to spot something special happening."

“I am driven to develop strategies to reduce the environmental burden associated with waste from nuclear power,” Lind said. “One promising approach involves the recycling of used nuclear fuel, which would not only reduce the total amount of nuclear waste requiring disposal but also curb the annual mining of uranium.”

Integrating AI into higher education

Luke Parker, doctoral student in curriculum & teaching in the School of Education & Health Sciences, received a research award from the Office of Graduate Studies at the Lawrence campus for the project titled "Transforming Academic Landscapes: A Comprehensive Study of Artificial Intelligence's Integration in Higher Education."

Steven White, associate professor in the department of curriculum and teaching and Parker's faculty adviser, said Parker’s research aims to provide a comprehensive overview of how AI technologies are being integrated into various facets of campus life.

Through a wide-ranging survey methodology encompassing graduate students, faculty and staff, Parker’s study examines the diverse patterns of AI usage, attitudes and ethical perceptions within the university community.

By critically examining the potential of AI to revolutionize educational practices, Parker aims to inform the development of robust ethical frameworks and guidelines for AI integration in academia.

"The value of research lies in its application; I hope that the research that I do is not contrived to a journal article or book chapter that is never read, but instead is used to inform policy, to inform practice, and ultimately to benefit students and teachers," Parker said.

"This research will serve as a critical resource for informing policy and decision-making, ensuring strategies for integrating and governing AI are aligned with the needs of our community,” White said.

Wed, 04/24/2024


Genevieve Prescher

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Genevieve Prescher

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