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Students win top marks in statewide competition

Every year, graduate students across the state compete in the Capitol Graduate Research Summit (CGRS). The prestigious competition is designed to show lawmakers and the public the quality of educational research being done on campuses across the state.  

Students selected are involved in research in areas such as physical and natural sciences, engineering, sociology, history, and education. They present their research, and their presentations are judged by faculty from participating institutions.  

This year’s CGRS included submissions from Pittsburg State, Emporia State, Fort Hays State, Kansas State, University of Kansas Medical Center, the University of Kansas, and Wichita State. 

Kaitlin Barnett, graduate student in communication, won first place and said that it feels “rewarding” to see her hard work yield results.  

“…I was honored to have even had my abstract submitted, let alone to have a winning submission,” Barnett said. “There were so many other excellent entries from PSU for the summit, and I am proud of the hard work my peers have submitted.”  

Barnett presented research focused on understanding where people looked for information regarding COVID-19 and preventative measures early in the pandemic and how those sources and the time they spent using them impacted their belief about the virus.  

“…It helps understand how different information sources impact vested interests about health risks and can be used to help create more effective health messages in the future,” Barnett said.  

Felipe de Souza, graduate student in polymer chemistry, won second place in his cohort of the BioKansas competition with his research into green flame retardants for polymer materials.  

“…It (my research) has direct application in several sectors such as construction materials, furniture, footwear, automobile industry and, many others,” Souza said. “On top of that, it introduces new materials that come from low-cost sources or biowaste, making the process eco-friendly. Plus, introducing flame retardancy properties is an important safety aspect that is desired everywhere.”  

Souza was also happy to see the time spent researching and the effort that was put into these presentations pay off.  

“…It was a satisfying feeling that the hard work we’ve been doing is paying off,” Souza said. “It motivated me to keep doing research and we are making a difference. I watched the 1st place presentation and think they presented really well. On of that, their topic was extremely relevant.”  

Trupti Patel, graduate student in polymer chemistry, won first place of the BioKansas competition for research on activatable prodrugs which are used to target breast cancer cells.  

“I was absolutely surprised and shocked when I found out that I won… (first) place,” Patel said. “I felt so privileged that I made my lab and my school proud. I received a great support from everyone who contributed towards my project directly or indirectly.”  

The BioKansas competition is open to all research projects in STEM areas.   

“Cancer is one of the leading causes of death and it is worldwide,” Patel said. “The project I presented proposes that we can only kill cancer cells while keeping the healthy cells as it is. This feature makes the project unique because the traditional treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation therapy destroy the whole body whereas the combination drug therapy only kills cancer cells.”  

Souza was glad to have the opportunity to present the research in front of elected officials.  

“The competition has an interesting approach that connects the younger scientific community with the representatives of the state,” Souza said. “Through that, we could directly show how science can improve our lives and what type of research has been done around the state of Kansas.”  

The competition featured submissions from students at Emporia State, Fort Hays State, K-State, KU Medical, University of Kansas, Wichita State, and PSU. 

“…It was my first time participating in such a competition and I absolutely enjoyed it,” Patel said. “It was really a proud moment to compete among the best research institutes…”  

Usually, the competition is held in person in the Capitol Rotunda at the statehouse in Topeka. However, this year, the CGRS was held virtually on Thursday, Feb. 18 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  

“The online competition took away the anxiety that I usually feel before any presentation that I might have to give,” Souza said. “Also, since it was recorded, we could repeat it if we made a mistake or wanted to record it again. On the other hand, the face-to-face presentation must be in one shot, not giving room for any mistake during the presentation. However, the Capitol’s atmosphere was something that I missed.”  

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