LAWRENCE — Three University of Kansas students received honors during the 20th annual Capitol Graduate Research Summit in Topeka on March 22. Kalin Baca, Samantha Ghali and Griffin Welfer were each recognized for their outstanding research and presentations at an event that brings together the top graduate student researchers in the state of Kansas.
Each graduate student will receive a $500 award. The Office of Graduate Studies also promoted their innovative research on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook during Graduate-Professional Student Appreciation Week.
Kalin Baca, doctoral student in chemical engineering, received a research award from the Office of Graduate Studies at the Lawrence campus for the project “Recycling Refrigerants to Reduce Global Warming.” Baca is also part of a research team that won an award from the Department of Energy for work on the same topic.
“My research is focused on separating refrigerant mixtures into their component parts, using ionic liquids, so they can be effectively recycled,” Baca said. “This separation technology is currently being tested at the pilot scale.”
Refrigerants play an essential role in technology, comfort, health care and many more applications. This technology is being commercialized by a startup company, Icorium Engineering, founded in Kansas and featured in this School of Engineering video. Their work ultimately may transform the way refrigerants are reclaimed and recycled in the refrigerant industry.
“Kalin’s research is of critical importance in our understanding of how to control and reduce global warming,” said Mike Werle, dean of postdoctoral affairs and graduate studies at KU Medical Center. Werle served as the KUMC and KU Lawrence campus representative at the summit.
“There is currently a global effort to exchange one chemical refrigerant with others that have a lower impact on climate change,” Werle said. “The chemical being removed from service must also be recycled in a way that will not allow it to be released.”
Samantha Ghali, doctoral student in child language, received a research award from the Office of Graduate Studies at the Lawrence campus for the project “Building Early Literacy Skills at Home: Insights from Bilingual Families.”
“The goal of Samantha’s research is to identify strong mechanisms to enhance the abilities of families to provide bilingual skills,” Werle said. “In addition, various strategies to aid in the teaching of bilingual skills to families will be provided.”
Ghali said that it is sometimes assumed that the language a child acquires from birth is the same language used for reading and writing at school. This is especially true in the case of Arabic, in which multiple dialects of the language are spoken.
“The language learned at school, Modern Standard Arabic, is not a natively acquired language – it is largely taught in school and typically reserved for formal interactions,” Ghali said. “For many children, that formal dialect is vastly different from the language they speak at home. My research focuses on the development of spoken language, reading and writing in multilingual families.”
Results from this study will help teachers, administrators and parents alike in Kansas to provide a solid educational foundation that will positively affect the Kansas workforce.
Griffin Welfer, doctoral student in biochemistry and molecular biology, received a research award from the Office of Graduate Studies at KU Medical Center for the project “Telomeric Ribonucleotides Cause Rapid Telomere Shortening and Telomere Instability.”
“Griffin’s research is focused on understanding the basic mechanism that controls telomeres,” Werle said. “Griffin, his colleagues and his mentor are investigating the novel hypothesis that the intrinsic structure of the ribonucleotides (RNA) can dramatically alter the stability of telomeres.”
Welfer is part of the Freudenthal Lab at KU Medical Center. The goal of the lab, Welfer said, is to fill the knowledge gap between DNA damage and human disease in hopes of beneficially impacting the treatment or prevention of human ailments.
His research findings could have major implications in the medical field.
“My work has identified a novel DNA damaging mechanism that may play an important role in the development of cancer,” Welfer said. “These findings may guide future pharmacological interventions to both prevent and treat cancers.”
About the summit
The free Capitol Graduate Research Summit provides an opportunity for the public and state senators and representatives to learn more about the important work of graduate students across the state.
Founded by graduate students 20 years ago, the summit brings attention to the innovative research conducted by students at state universities and emphasizes the public benefits of graduate students’ research. KU students joined graduate students from Emporia State University, Fort Hays State University, Kansas State University, Pittsburg State University and Wichita State University at the summit.