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Archive for Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Scientists point of KU pride

April 13, 2005

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This past Monday, Kansas University held a news conference to announce that the National Science Foundation had awarded $19 million to the university to establish a new research center to study the polar icecaps. This was the second NSF center to be established at KU within the past three years. The earlier center was established in 2003 to do research in catalysis. The establishment of the two centers at one university is a remarkable achievement. There are only 25 of these centers funded by the NSF. Thus, KU accounts for 5 percent of the centers nationwide.

The two centers have a number of things in common. First, they are both directed by faculty members of KU's School of Engineering. The earlier center focused on catalysis is directed by Professor Bala Subramaniam, of the department of chemical and petroleum engineering. The new center, for the study of the polar icecaps, is directed by Professor Prasad Gogineni, of the department of electrical and computer engineering.

Both faculty members hold distinguished professorships at KU, and the centers are the direct outgrowth of their research over the past decade. Both faculty members spent an incredible amount of time and effort to establish KU as one of the leading research universities in their respective fields. Both also are absolutely dedicated to ensuring that KU and their research centers help the university, the state of Kansas and the world.

Usually when one talks about research and teaching as being dedicated to helping mankind, one is talking about medical research. But the research that Professor Subramaniam and Professor Gogineni do goes far beyond this. Professor Subramaniam's research will have impact on a wide range of environmental issues. Professor Gogineni's research may well definitively settle what effects global warming is having on the polar icecaps and how this will affect the future of the human race.

Prasad Gogineni, who will direct the new center announced this week, doesn't look like a real-life Indiana Jones-style adventurer. He is a mild-mannered man, who is devoted to his research, his students and his family. He is remarkably humble about his amazing achievements. Yet Prasad (who is a friend of mine, I must admit) spends his summers at the North and South poles. He flies over the ice sheets and lives at remote military bases.

He is a man who thinks nothing about going to some of the most inhospitable places on the planet in order to use his various remote-sensing techniques to measure the thickness of the ice. Over the years he, and his fellow scientists, have been instrumental in documenting changes in the ice caps.

Unfortunately, global warming and its effects on the polar ice has become highly politicized, often to the detriment of good science. None of this deterred Prasad from carrying out his research. And it's a good thing that he has persevered. If Prasad and his colleagues can give us a better idea of what is happening at the North and South poles they may, in fact, give us a chance to react before the poles melt entirely and bring about a global disaster that will make the recent tsunami look mild by comparison. Prasad and his fellow scientists may well end up actually "saving the world," which is a pretty good accomplishment, in my opinion.

There is no question that the work of KU scientists like Prasad Gogineni and Bala Subramaniam is of national, if not international, importance. They benefit KU and Kansas in many ways. They bring the best students to KU, their research will bring new industry and jobs to Kansas, and they provide very real benefits to all of us. They are to be congratulated on their achievements. Bravo!

-- Mike Hoeflich, a professor in the KU School of Law, writes a regular column for the Journal-World.

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