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Kansas Polymer Research Center awarded 1.4M grant

Magdalene Asare, research assistant, works in a lab of the Kansas Polymer Research Center. KPRC was awarded a 1.4 million grant to create agricultural jobs in the local area. Diego Oliva

A new 1.4 million dollar grant recently presented to the Kansas Polymer Research Center (KPRC) will soon be utilized to purchase updated equipment and add staff to their over twenty-five-year-old plastics program.

This most recent grant is an extension on a previous grant (for 2.9 million) that the program received in Sept. 2020 from the National Institute for Science and Technology (NIST). The extension is meant to extend on the goals started with the previous grant.

“We had previously received a grant from NIST for upgrading our testing laboratories over in the Plastics Testing Lab in the Kansas Technology Center (KTC),” said Tim Dawsey, executive director of the Tyler Research Center (the building which houses the KPRC). “We followed that with another grant from NIST last year that focused on adding scientific research staff to the KPRC as well as updating equipment. This 1.4 million was a continuation of that grant. A big part of what we’re doing right now is pushing out our searches for those personnel so we can add more scientists to our research staff.” 

The ultimate goal of many of the scientists, students and researchers at the KPRC is to craft solutions to many of the world’s problems using polymer science.

“Some really cool stuff goes on out here,” Dawsey said. “A lot of students here are working on real-world research. We like to refer to it as ‘industrially-relevant research.’ More recently, I like to use the term ‘user-inspired research,’ so we’re looking at real-world problems. Our scientists come in here and try to find material science solutions—polymers and plastics—that can come in and solve some of those problems. Some of the this [grant] money that’s coming in is supporting fixing the problem we have with existing plastics. There is a real-world problem we have with plastics and the waste, so this is something that really has to be addressed.”

Magdalene Asare, graduate student in polymer chemistry, began working with the KPRC during the summer on a variety of projects.

“This is my first year here, but I came here during the summer, on June 1, and I started research,” Asare said. “I did energy-based, and I also did some with polyurethane. Polyurethane is mor interesting for me because we use oils to make foams and then we study the properties of the foams like flammability, resistance, and other chemical properties as well. We’re making foams from renewable sources.”

Another graduate student, Wang Lin, recently began his first semester in the material sciences program after completing a master’s in chemistry.

“This is my first semester for material science, but I’ve worked here over two years,” Wang said. “I’m pretty familiar with the work. We are working on the energy storage program and water-splitting based on the energy.”

In upcoming years, the KPRC hopes to receive more funding to continue its problem-solving objectives.

“We’re always looking for new opportunities,” Dawsey said. “The Economic Development Administration (EDA) is one we look at, the department of commerce; these are all areas that we’re looking into now. [The 1.4 million] is a great shot in the arm and I think it’s a real vote of confidence in what we’re doing here, that the folks in the federal government believe in what we’re proposing.

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