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High school students research carbon emissions at KPRC

According to their website, the Kansas Polymer Research Center’s mission is “to promote economic interests by delivering advanced technology unique technical services in chemistry and material science.” Thanks to grants, the future of environmental science is already being built at Pittsburg State University. 

A group of seven high school students and two undergraduate students from around the state of Kansas are working alongside researchers at the Kansas Polymer Research Center (KPRC) to study carbon emissions. The students taking part in the internship are funded by scientific grants from a variety of different sources including from the polymer chemistry program at Pittsburg State, the NASA Kansas Space Grant, and grants from the National Institute of Standards and Technology. The students also receive a wage of eight dollars an hour and a 20-hour work week. 

The students include Isabella Earp of St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Overland Park, Parker Neely of Columbus High School in Columbus, Ashlan Brooks, Anjali Gupta, Madeline Ellis, and Cassia Allison of Pittsburg High School, Kamilla Frevele of Southeast High School in Cherokee, as well as Peyton Klamar, an undergraduate student at Pitt State, and Edilawit Mehari, an undergraduate student at Cottey College in Nevada, Mo.  

“It’s pretty amazing what’s happening here,” Ellis told the PSU marketing and communication department. “It’s exciting to be a part of it.”  

The students are working with scientists who have come from around the world to work at the KPRC. Scientists at the KPRC regularly collaborate with industry partners, corporations, environmental organizations, state and federal agencies and departments, and production associations to help develop innovative intellectual properties. The KPRC works with Cargill, Cessna, Raytheon, Honeywell, the United States Department of Energy, CertainTeed, Samsung, the United States Department of Agriculture, the United Soybean Board, the Kansas Soybean Board, and the Missouri Soybean Merchandising Council. 

The students’ research this summer primarily concerns fuel cells used in electric cars. Electric cars currently count for less than two percent of cars on the road in the United States, but recent movements suggest that electric vehicles could be more common in the future. 

“Reducing the cost would make them more affordable to the masses, while improving their charge would make them more travel friendly,” associate professor Ram Gupta told the PSU marketing and communication department.  

In addition to their research, the students learn about accomplishments of researchers at the KPRC. For example, two students during last year’s summer research internship assisted associate professor Ram Gupta in developing new methods of converting biowaste, such as plant materials and scraps, into energy containers. Other students have helped develop safety technologies such as flame-retardant foam used in construction and vehicles. 

The students learn practical skills that can be used directly in the polymer industry. The state of Kansas has approximately 1.2 million jobs in the polymer industry.  

“It feels like I’m doing something valuable to fix things,” Neely told the PSU marketing and communication department.  

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