Archive for Thursday, October 13, 2011

Four Kansas researchers honored with Higuchi awards

October 13, 2011


Four Kansas scientists — one from Kansas University, one from KU Medical Center and two from Kansas State University — have earned Higuchi-KU Endowment Research Achievement Awards, the state’s most prestigious recognition for excellence in research.

Each award comes with a plaque and $10,000 that can be used for ongoing research.

Takeru Higuchi, a distinguished professor at KU from 1967 to 1983, and his wife, Aya, established the awards in 1981.

The four researchers will be honored in a ceremony at 3:30 p.m. Nov. 9 at the new Education Pavilion at the Lied Center. The public is invited to the event, which will be followed by a reception.

The awards recognize achievement in: humanities and social sciences; basic sciences; biomedical sciences; and applied sciences. Each award is named for former KU Endowment leaders who played a role in attracting Higuchi to KU.

This year marks the 30th consecutive year the awards have been given out. This year’s recipients are:

• Balfour Jeffrey Award in Humanities and Social Sciences, to William Staples, professor and chair of sociology at KU. His research focuses on social control and surveillance.

He said in his research, he saw a lot of focus elsewhere on “big brother” government surveillance, and he decided to do more research on private surveillance.

“There are all these ‘tiny brothers,’” he said. “Everything from surveillance cameras to cash registers,” that keep track of people’s activities.

He said he was honored to receive the award, considering the strength of research at KU.

“I think you could throw a dart at a list of my colleagues and there’d be many people that would be qualified for this kind of recognition,” he said.

• Dolph Simons Award in Biomedical Sciences, to Edward Stephens, professor of microbiology, molecular genetics and immunology at KUMC. His research involves the field of retrovirology, especially the causes of human AIDS. His work is at the cellular and molecular level and centers on the Vpu protein and how it causes diseases in a target host.

“It’s a great honor,” Stephens said. “I’m really glad that I won it, and hopefully it will allow me to recruit more graduate students.”

• Irvin Youngberg Award for Applied Sciences, to Xiuzhi Susan Sun, a university distinguished professor of grain science and industry at Kansas State. Her work focuses on biopolymers, and ways to produce chemicals and materials from renewable feedstocks such as grain, corn and straw that are environmentally beneficial and sustainable, replacing petroleum-based products.

She holds eight patents and has six patents pending.

“I’m thrilled and I’m happy to do something for the people of Kansas and the world,” Sun said. “I feel rewarded.”

• Olin Petefish Award in Basic Science, to Michael Kanost, a university distinguished professor of biochemistry at Kansas State. His research primarily focuses in two areas — on insect immune systems and on the chemical makeup of insect exoskeletons. The immune systems of insects can help with a variety of issues, including how insects spread disease and in coming up with biological pathogens that can help with pest control, he said. Knowing how exoskeletons are made might help people create new materials that are hard, lightweight and flexible, which could have medical uses, he said.

“It’s going to help with some travel and those sorts of things,” Kanost said of the award. “It’s an honor to be recognized with that prestigious group of researchers.”


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