KAMS students at Fort Hays State working on global research project

KAMS research project-longer aprons

By Diane Gasper-O'Brien
University Relations and Marketing
HAYS, Kan. - It's not unusual to see high school students on college campuses in the summer as they attend camps ranging from athletics to music to leadership, and everything in between.

Most of those youngsters are trying to learn a little more about their areas of interest and hone their skills to take back to their high school to put into practice the next school year. But one particular camp at Fort Hays State University in 2017 featured a project that could make a big difference globally.

Students from two different countries worked on an energy research project with Dr. Arvin Cruz, associate professor of chemistry, putting in many hours in a week's time to formulate the data on an energy project.

Now, high school students from the Kansas Academy of Mathematics and Science and the Daejeon Science High School for the Gifted in Daejeon, South Korea, will be co-authors of Cruz's research project.

Two of those are Amelia Richter from Dodge City and Danica Kostner from Kingman, now in their second year of attending KAMS - the state's premier residential academic high school program for juniors and seniors - housed on the Fort Hays State campus.

"There's no way I would have had this kind of research opportunity or the chance to present in such an advanced atmosphere if I hadn't been at KAMS," Richter said.

"I am really looking forward to working with Dr. Cruz more," she said. "This semester, we are going to optimize and perfect (the project)."

Kostner agreed, saying that working on the research project - and her experience in KAMS in general - have "changed my life."

"I wasn't very good at speaking up, and I was forced out of my shell here," she said.

"I have gained so much by being here at KAMS," added Kostner, who plans to continue her education at FHSU after graduating from KAMS next spring. "Doing research with professors who have done this for a long time is the best thing I could have asked for."

Richter and Kostner, along with KAMS classmate Alli Depew from Wichita, will join Cruz in presenting initial research findings regarding solar conversion which were derived from work at the summer camp. Their research paper has been personally invited by the organizers of the 2017 Rocky Mountain Regional Meeting of the American Chemical Society in Loveland, Colo., in October.

Dr. Roger Schieferecke, director of KAMS, said that Myunghee Choi, head teacher of the International Relations Department at the Daejeon school, told him that some of the students coming to FHSU for this summer's trip were interested in chemistry. He knew right where to turn for help.

"I had worked with Dr. Cruz before on some summer camps," Schieferecke said. "I knew he would be very excited about the project and engaged with the students. I knew he would take it and run with it."

A second research paper that was part of the research camp on energy is titled "Soxhlet Extraction of Avocado Endocarp and Trituration of Avocado Mesocarp for Biodiesel Production."
In layman's terms, that means converting the chemicals extracted from the seed and the meat of an avocado into a biofuel.

The primary student author of this project - which will be presented at the 2017 Midwest Regional Meeting of the ACC in Lawrence, also in October - is Marissa Carman, a former KAMS student from Wellsville who now attends FHSU as a biology major. Cruz also added two Korean students who put in an extraordinary amount of work and interest in the project as co-authors.

One of those, Sim Woo Bae, said he would like to major in environmental studies in college and thoroughly enjoyed the summer trip to FHSU. He wants to publish the paper in his school's newspaper back in Korea.

"I thought this was a great experience," Woo Bae said during the group's last night in Hays. "I am really interested in the environment, and Dr. Cruz taught me a lot about environmental issues."

The week-long event was the fourth of its kind involving students from the Daejeon school and KAMS. Daejeon students also visited FHSU last year, and KAMS students have been to Korea twice.

This partnership is just one of many opportunities available to KAMS students while living on the Fort Hays State campus.

Those attending KAMS have the opportunity to be involved with clubs and organizations on campus. Now, a group of them gets to participate in a global research project.

"This is a chance for students to be exposed to research activities involving chemistry, and they are helping with the presentation," Cruz said. "We are exposing them to why we are doing what we are doing, the broader impact on the world. Everybody is benefitting here."

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