William M. Keck Foundation awards K-State $1M grant toward research

Award advances the investigation of stochastic heating and how it can accelerate chemical reaction rates.

The William M. Keck Foundation awarded $1 million to a research collaboration lead by Kansas State University’s Bret Flanders, professor of physics, Paul Smith, professor of chemistry, and research partner, Christine Orme, senior staff physicist, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in Livermore, California. The grant advances their investigation of stochastic heating and how it can accelerate chemical reaction rates. The research project, “Accelerated reaction rates through stochastic heating at (bio)chemical interfaces,” has the potential to improve understanding and strategies related to, but not limited to electrochemical, biomineralization and biochemical reactions and aligns with the Rules of Life, among the 10 Big Ideas that the National Science Foundation uses as a roadmap for future funding.

The W. M. Keck Foundation limits their awards to a few projects each year and focuses on “distinctive and novel” approaches to medical research, science and engineering. This is the first W. M. Keck Foundation award to a Kansas State University-led research initiative and will support three principal investigators, two graduate students and one postdoctoral researcher, as well as the purchase of key pieces of instrumentation.

“This is the first grant from the Keck Foundation that K-State has been the primary researcher on,” said Peter Dorhout, vice president for research at Kansas State University. “Keck wants to make a difference in big projects. It speaks very highly of our faculty, particularly Bret, to be able to have a creative idea that gets their attention. Despite his concept being pretty risky and unproven, Bret demonstrated he could do it. There’s proof of concept.” Dorhout believes the crossover of disciplines — physics, chemistry, biological materials and biological systems as investigative foundations — and crossing over in areas that are high risk to the researcher, is one reason the W. M. Keck Foundation was interested in supporting the project.

“We take all sorts of scholarly work and discovery very seriously,” said Amit Chakrabarti, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Kansas State University. “We have a culture of supporting research in our college, so a big success like this tells us we’re on the right track.”

The need for philanthropic investment in research is necessary for faculty to accomplish preliminary research that leads to successful large grant applications.

“The physics of living systems is a physics frontier,” explained Bret Flanders, lead investigator of the W. M. Keck Foundation-awarded project. “This award will initiate a new avenue of biophysical research in the physics and chemistry department at K-State and through the collaboration, at Livermore National Lab. The W. M. Keck award and the research it will fund are significant steps forward.”

Based in Los Angeles, the W. M. Keck Foundation was established in 1954 by the late W. M. Keck, founder of the Superior Oil Company. The foundation’s grant making is focused primarily on pioneering efforts in the areas of medical research and science and engineering. The foundation also maintains a Southern California Grant Program that provides support for the Los Angeles community, with a special emphasis on children and youth. For more information, please visit www.wmkeck.org.

As Kansas State University’s strategic partner for philanthropy, the KSU Foundation inspires and guides philanthropy toward university priorities to boldly advance K-State family. Visit www.ksufoundation.org for more information.

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