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K-State chemist's work brings more national recognition as promising early-career scientist

MANHATTAN, KAN. -- A Kansas State University chemistry professor has been selected as a Sloan Research Fellow for her success as a promising young scholar, particularly in the research areas of sustainable energy and gold nanoparticles.

Christine Aikens, assistant professor of chemistry, has received the two-year $50,000 award, which the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation gives annually to early-career scientists and scholars as a way to recognize their achievements and potential to contribute to their field.

"It's an honor to be part of that group," Aikens said. "So many previous awardees are recognized now as being at the top of the field. This award will give our research group the flexibility to study some intriguing problems that are not funded by other sources."

This year, 118 researchers from 54 colleges and universities in the United States and Canada received the Sloan Research Fellowship. Only 23 of the 118 awards were given to chemists.

"This is an extraordinarily competitive program and it marks Christine as being among the very brightest stars of her scientific generation," said Eric Maatta, head of the department of chemistry who nominated Aikens for the award.

The fellowship is the second major research award that Aikens has recently earned. Last year she received a five-year, $600,000 NSF CAREER award to support her research that looks at how plants and inorganic systems can use light to split water into hydrogen and oxygen. The research can lead to clean, renewable sources of energy.

"We are proud of Dr. Aikens' accomplishments and the recognition she has received for her research," said Kirk Schulz, K-State president. "With creative and forward-thinking researchers such as Dr. Aikens, K-State is well on its way to becoming a top 50 public research university by 2025."

Aikens plans to use the Sloan Research Fellowship for computer resources and professional travel.

She has a broad range of research interests and the award will support some of her supplemental research involving gold nanoparticles. The U.S. Air Force Office of Scientific Research has been supporting her gold nanoparticle research for several years, but the Sloan Research Fellowship will allow her to explore more fundamental topics, such as nanoparticle growth mechanisms.

"The systems we're looking at have a lot of applications," Aikens said. "We're doing fundamental research to try and understand why they are so useful."

Aikens is particularly interested in the optical properties of nanoparticles and how they can be used in cancer research. Nanoparticles are very tunable, and they can be altered to a particular wavelength so they absorb radiation. As a result, the nanoparticles can be used to develop more effective cancer treatment that focuses on cancerous tissue and does not damage good tissue.

"It's these kinds of applications that have really driven our research," Aikens said. "We're really a fundamental group trying to understand the reasons for why it would do this. After you understand something, you can apply it to different situations and know what you're doing. You can control it."

Two other researchers in the K-State's department of chemistry have previously received the Sloan Research Fellowship: Duy Hua, university distinguished professor of chemistry, and Mark Hollingsworth, associate professor of chemistry.

Aikens joined K-State in 2007 after serving a postdoctoral research fellowship at Northwestern University. She earned a bachelor's degree from the University of Oklahoma in 2000 and a doctorate from Iowa State University in 2005.


Contact: Christine Aikens
Kansas State University

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