• Big Opportunity for Big Learning

    Grant accelerates corporate partnerships in research
    Researchers from the UMKC School of Computing and Engineering are launching the Center for Big Learning in conjunction with their participation in the National Science Foundation’s Industry and University Collaborative Research Center Program. The NSF grant of $3 million to four universities over the next five years is designed to encourage innovative research in artificial intelligence and deep learning, and significant partnerships between university researchers and industry nationwide. The initial phase incorporates NSF partnerships with four universities: University of Missouri–Kansas City, Carnegie Mellon University, University of Florida and University of Oregon. Each university will recruit at least three industry partners that are interested in big learning solutions who will match NSF funding. The program could lead to a potential investment of $1.5 million in UMKC alone. The UMKC team is led by Zhu Li (director), and Yugyung Lee (co-director) with active participations from faculty members including Sejun Song, Praveen Rao, Reza Derakhshani, Shui-Qing Ye from the School of Computing and Engineering. The center will be supported by SCE faculty ZhiQuiang Chen, Baek-Young Choi, Chi Lee, Shui Ye and Yongjie Zheng and Peter Koulen, faculty researcher from the School of Medicine. They will collaborate with researchers from the other sites. While private companies seem to have more access to capital for this type of research, it is more cost-effective for them to form university partnerships. “It’s very exciting,” Lee says. “These companies don’t know what the product is yet. They want to find out what’s possible. We have the opportunity to take on some risky projects and develop prototypes, and they can take the solutions.” Because individual workers with comparable education and experience can be very expensive for companies, especially for cuttingedge research, supporting university research can be incredibly cost-effective, especially with the structure of this project at UMKC. “We’ll be creating a workforce prepared with top-tier knowledge of this sector right here in Kansas City,” says School of Computing and Engineering Dean Kevin Truman. “Through this industry partnership, faculty have the opportunity to develop some of the most exciting new technology solutions that will be going to market immediately. This isn’t just researching to know the answer, this is researching to create actual processes that will impact real people in real time.” Each of the research projects, which will be located in the new Robert W. Plaster Free Enterprise and Research Center expected to open in 2020, are focused on network management, deep learning, artificial intelligence, the web and the Internet of Things. This technology will enable systems to analyze large data sets and develop new prediction models that allow for more sophisticated processing and voice and image recognition. In its current form, this is the technology that drives systems like Amazon’s Alexa and Microsoft’s Cortana. As the technology develops, it will enhance sophisticated applications such as heart monitoring implants. “Our mission is to accelerate the innovation and impact to the real work,” Li says. “UMKC has its own unique strengths in embedded systems deep learning in imaging, compression, communication and fully embedded systems.” The team has attracted five industry partners this year with which to collaborate: RIC Semiconductor, CloudMinds, Electronic Telecommunications Research Institute, SquareOffs and Tencent Media Lab. These companies, as well as the participating schools and their partners, will have access to all of the research generated by the consortium. This is a key selling point when attracting partners. “All the universities did a fantastic job of getting commitment letters from potential industry members and coming up with compelling projects for the full proposal submitted last year,” Rao says. “As result, the NSF panelists were impressed by the team and, ultimately, the Center for Big Learning was funded.” Derakhshani, who has experience in both academia and the private sector through his role in developing the technology that led to EyeVerify (now Zoloz), which was the largest technology transfer project in the university’s history, agrees. “Industries coming to universities to solve their problems is a good model. This means that academics don’t create solutions that are looking for a problem,” he says. “In industry, you are always looking at your quarterly results. That’s what’s right about the partnership. Academia doesn’t have quarterly reports. We can focus on creating new and interesting knowledge. We fill the gap.” INDUSTRY PARTNERS To date, the UMKC site of the Center for Big Learning (CBL) has secured five research partners. The team will work with each company to develop artificial intelligence and big learning solutions for their specific challenges. The resulting technology will be shared with other CBL members. RIC Semiconductor is a Dallas startup working on novel 77Ghz RF solutions for radar, imaging and communications. CloudMinds is developing mobile-internet cloud services, a platform to augment Cloud AI with human intelligence, secure private networks connecting robots and smart devices to Cloud AI and mobile devices as a robot control unit. CloudMinds is co-funded by the CEO of Softbank, the owner of Sprint. Electronic Telecommunications Research Institute is a Korean government-funded research center focused on core technologies in information, communications, electronics and broadcasting. SquareOffs is a micro debate platform designed to raise awareness, engagement and traffic for online publishers and brands. Tencent is a leading provider of internet value-added systems in China focused on social media platforms and digital content services. MEET THE RESEARCHERS Zhu Li, Ph.D.Director, Center for Big Learning; Associate professor, Department of Computer Science Electrical EngineeringJoined UMKC: 2015 Yugyung Lee, Ph.D.Director, Center for Big Learning; Professor, Department of Computer Science Electrical Engineering Joined UMKC: 1999 Reza Derakhshani, Ph.D.Associate professor, Department of Computer Science Electrical EngineeringJoined UMKC: 2013 Praveen Rao, Ph.D.Associate professor, Department of Computer Science Electrical EngineeringJoined UMKC: 2007 Sejun Song, Ph.D.Associate professor, Department of Computer Science Electrical EngineeringJoined UMKC: 2013 This story originally appeared in Explore, the UMKC research magazine.  Aug 31, 2018

  • Combatting the Opioid Crisis

    Armed with data, evidence-based practices and prevention strategies, UMKC researchers and health professionals are on the front lines in the war on...
    Each day in the United States, 144 people die from opioids. As if that’s not startling enough, an estimated 2 million Americans are addicted to prescription opioids, and more people die each year from overdoses than car crashes. National leaders in 2017 declared America’s opioid epidemic a public-health emergency — a designation typically reserved for natural disasters University of Missouri-Kansas City health professions faculty and staff are combatting the crisis on multiple fronts locally, regionally and nationally — all armed with research. Their work is an all-out 360-degree approach: from mining data to educating future health professionals and training current care providers to helping people and their families who are struggling with the highly addictive class of painkiller. “It’s not just an urban problem or a rural problem, it’s an everywhere problem,” says Heather Lyons-Burney, clinical assistant professor at the UMKC School of Pharmacy. “One thing is not going to fix this problem. We have to attack it from different angles.” Data Tells the TaleThe research of Maureen Knell, clinical associate professor in the School of Pharmacy, is being cited with greater frequency in the wake of the opioid crisis. The New York Times, The Kansas City Star and Kansas Public Radio have featured Knell and longtime collaborator Rafia Rasu of the University of Kansas School of Pharmacy. For years, they’ve been analyzing data from about 690 million outpatient clinic visits by patients who suffer from chronic pain not related to cancer. They’ve detected some surprising patterns. People 35 to 49 years old were more likely to get an opioid prescription than younger adults — and more likely to get one than those over 65. “Maybe physicians have the assumption that they’re safer in middleaged patients,” Knell says. Primary-care doctors were more likely to prescribe opioids than specialists, especially if they had a longstanding relationship with their patients. Financial factors might be at play, with providers more likely to steer Medicaid patients toward inexpensive generic opioids for pain rather than alternatives like physical therapy or newer brand-name non-opioid painkillers, Knell found. Linked to that, Knell and Rasu discovered discrepancies in opioid prescribing that seemed to be more cultural than clinical. Poverty and chronic health conditions are higher in the South, which could explain the higher rates of opioid prescription there. “As far as the patterns we saw, we found that opioid use was reported in 14.3 percent of the total patient visits,” Knell says. The pair also found that Hispanic patients, regardless of where they lived, were 30 percent less likely to get an opioid prescription than their non-Hispanic counterparts. They said that could be due to language barriers that make it more difficult for patients to describe their pain, making physicians feel less confident they will be able to communicate how to take the drugs safely. Or it could be that Hispanics have a higher tolerance for pain, which is consistent with other studies as well, Knell says. So what are the key takeaways from these findings? Knell says prescribers aren’t always following guidelines like those from the American Academy of Pain Medicine and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A prescription has to be appropriately written, and they need to verify if a patient already has tried something else as a first-line therapy. Also, Knell and Rasu hope to influence policymakers, public health officials and health care providers through their research. Up next: Knell and Rasu want to analyze newer data. Their last study was based on data from 2000 to 2007, the most recent when they started. Building Capacity for ActionOne of the main reasons our nation has not been able to address the opioid epidemic is because we don’t have the workforce capacity to do so, says Laurie Krom, co-director of the Addiction Technology Transfer Center Network, called the ATTC for short. For 20 years, UMKC has housed the national and regional ATTC coordinating offices. Their top mission: accelerate the implementation of promising addiction treatment and recovery practices and services. The topic of opioids dominates the ATTC’s news and upcoming events lists. The ATTC is part of the Collaborative to Advance Health Services at the School of Nursing and Health Studies. To address the workforce problem, the Collaborative, in partnership with the American Academy of Addiction Psychiatry, was awarded an $8 million grant for two years from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration to support primary-care providers in the prevention and treatment of opioid-use disorders. The project is an unprecedented alliance of physician, nurse, allied healthcare and behavioral health organizations with broad national, regional and state networks and technical expertise in preventing, treating and supporting recovery from substance-use disorders. “This money will go to provide training and assistance to build the capacity of physicians and counselors to provide treatment in evidencebased care,” says Krom, who also is an investigator on the grant, the work of which will benefit those needing treatment nationwide. “Our hope is that it will have an impact on the people and communities who are suffering,” says Holly Hagle, co-director of the ATTC Network, UMKC assistant research professor and principal investigator on the grant. In addition to Hagle and Krom, Patricia Stilen, director of the regional ATTC Network, also at the Collaborative to Advance Health Services at UMKC, is an investigator on the grant. Those people suffering are close to home. In 2016, more than 900 people in Missouri died from overdosing on opioids. According to state data, one in every six deaths was opioid-related. Krom says 419,000 people in Missouri have diagnosed substance abuse disorders. She says 17,000 of those people are children between 12 and 17 years old. “Kansas City, St. Louis and southwest Missouri are really being impacted by the opioid epidemic,” she says. Preventing ProblemsWhen Heather Lyons-Burney first became a pharmacist two decades ago in Missouri, prescriptions for heavy-duty pain medication were only given for the worst suffering, for those who just underwent surgeries, who had cancer or who were in hospice care. But then the tide turned. Newer agents — opioids — with long-lasting pain relief would take care of those who suffered back and other types of ongoing pain. No need to worry about addiction, right? Wrong. People sought them for more than pain relief and soon pill mills — places where unethical doctors hand out prescription drugs like candy — sprouted up across the country. The health-care industry cracked down on itself, and the tide has turned again. “Providers are looking for other ways for patients to manage pain instead of narcotics,” she says. “Like physical therapy and chiropractic care, for example.” As a pharmacist, Lyons-Burney has become involved with preventing opioid use on many levels in Missouri: Through leadership positions in the Missouri Pharmacy Association and the Ozark-area pharmacy community where she lives and works. Through county coalitions in Greene County in Springfield and Taney County in Branson. Through the choice not to carry controlled substances at Faith Community Health, the nonprofit clinic she helped establish. Through working with Generation Rx, a prescription drug misuse prevention program run by university student pharmacy chapters. Through teaching future pharmacists at UMKC. She’s based at the UMKC School of Pharmacy at Missouri State University in Springfield, but through broadcast classes, teaches students at the two other locations in Kansas City and Columbia. This past summer, she has been researching how prevention efforts have worked through survey data. “We have a responsibility to people to fight this problem and help people,” Lyons-Burney says. “We’re getting there.” This story originally appeared in Explore, the UMKC research magazine.  Aug 31, 2018

  • UMKC First U.S. Campus to Install CityPost

    Digital bulletin board powers student and faculty communications with a host of innovative tools
    New school year, new technology. The University of Missouri-Kansas City is the first university in the U.S. to install CityPost digital kiosks. The eight kiosks — on UMKC’s Volker and Health Sciences campuses — resemble giant smart phones and provide up-to-date information on university services and how to access the best of Kansas City. Kiosk users might have experienced similar kiosks along the streetcar route, which loops from Union Station to the River Market. “As Kansas City’s university, we are committed to connecting our community to the rich resources available in our city,” said UMKC Chancellor C. Mauli Agrawal. “We’re thrilled to be the first university in the nation to benefit from CityPost kiosks. Leading on the forefront of change and progress fits our vision of what UMKC should be all about. These kiosks are just one visible, tangible indicator of that vision.”  The digital kiosks are part of a communication network that broadcasts real-time, location-based information and alerts to provide safer, better connected public digital solutions. Information is powered by 55-inch smart screens and a companion CityPost mobile application. UMKC CityPost, in partnership with Duke Energy, is a wholly owned subsidiary of Smart City Media LLC of New York, the same creator of the kiosks along the Kansas City streetcar line. As Kansas City’s university, UMKC was invited to be the first campus site in the U.S. for CityPost. No public or tuition dollars are used to fund the system. Photos by Brandon Parigo Bob Bennett, chief innovation officer for the city of Kansas City, said the partnership that brought the kiosks to UMKC help to guarantee that Kansas City is one of the top 50 smart cities in the world. He noted the personal component is as important as the technological one. “These kiosks can be a critical venue to gather for human-to-human interaction without staring at phones,” Bennett said. “Kansas City can now claim 62 connected blocks when campus is included. We would not have been able to do this without private partners.” “We are honored to better connect the students and faculty to all the great things at UMKC, and to help build a stronger information bridge from the campus to the greater Kansas City community,” said Tom Touchet, CEO of Smart City Media LLC. “CityPost is a connected campus bulletin board and this is UMKC’s very own channel. We look forward to all of the new and innovative communications that our publishing tools will help provide. A college is a small city in itself and nobody understands how better to communicate within it like the students and faculty. We look forward to empowering them to use our new tools, and do new things.” Using touch-screen technology on the 7-foot-tall UMKC CityPost blue-and-gold kiosks, visitors to campuses can learn more about student services, dining options, UMKC and KC events, where to discover art and when to enjoy sporting events throughout the city. The kiosks also include local news, bike-rental info, walking maps and a selfie app. “We’re proud to be a part of bringing digital infrastructure solutions to forward looking communities such as UMKC,” added Michael Luhrs, Duke Energy vice president of customer solutions. “We expect our partnership with Smart City Media to significantly accelerate across North America and help enable what smart cities are all about.” “Rather than hunching over separate mobile phones, students and visitors can explore campus and Kansas City together,” said UMKC Provost Barbara A. Bichelmeyer. “The UMKC CityPost kiosks provide students and visitors the chance to explore campus and Kansas City communally.” UMKC sophomore Daphne Posadas said that the kiosks are great for students. “Students do not like to ask for help, and this definitely takes away the fear factor,” Posadas said. “Also, as a native Spanish speaker, I really appreciate the translations app. It’s a wonderful addition for diversity on campus.” Information is available in nine languages in addition to English. The kiosks can translate information into Arabic, Bengali, Hindi, Korean, Mandarin Chinese, Nepalese, Spanish, Vietnamese and Urdu. See a map of the kiosks on the UMKC campuses: CityPost-Kiosk-Maps.pdf Are you a UMKC department or organization that wants to add information to the kiosk? Email Aug 20, 2018

  • Super-Cheap Solar Discovery

    UMKC researchers develop a dramatically less expensive material
    Just a dollar per gram instead of $100. That’s how much a new material — nicknamed PCA-1 — costs compared to what is currently used in high-performing perovskite solar cells. At the same time, PCA-1 greatly simplifies the fabrication process and improves device performance in terms of both efficiency and stability. This remarkable and potentially game-changing material was developed by chemistry researchers at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. The UMKC team’s discovery, led by Curators’ Professors Zhonghua Peng and Kathleen Kilway, was recently published in a top peer-reviewed journal, Advanced Energy Materials. “This discovery leaps over a major hurdle in making solar power less expensive. The potential value is immense, because solar power is non-polluting and inexhaustible.” -UMKC Chancellor C. Mauli Agrawal Solar power, generated by silicon solar cells, remains much more expensive than power resulting from burning of fossil fuels. An emerging form of solar cell called perovskite solar cells has become the new star of the solar industry and the focus of research over the past decade. Perovskite cells can generate as much power as silicon solar cells, but can be produced at a drastically lower cost by using simpler and easier fabrication processes, among other appealing merits. To function well, perovskite solar cells need to incorporate highly effective charge transporting materials in the device — that’s where UMKC’s PCA-1 comes in. “The current state-of-the-art material used for transporting positive charges is extremely expensive, costing around $100 per gram for material expense alone,” said Yong Li, one of the UMKC researchers. “In addition, a complicated, so-called doping process is required to make it an effective charge transporter. To make it worse, the doped material tends to attract moisture that is detrimental to the stability of the perovskite.” PCA-1, on the other hand, is easy to synthesize and takes only two to three simple steps from inexpensive starting compounds. “The material cost for PCA-1 can potentially be as low as $1 per gram,” Kilway said. Furthermore, “PCA-1 is found to exhibit high instrinsic charge mobility and thus does not require any doping, greatly simplifing the fabrication process,“ Peng said. “In addition, PCA-1 is hydrophobic, having no moisture attracting oxygen or nitrogen atoms, and can form dense and uniform film on top of perovskite, forming an excellent moisture barrier layer for the perovskite underneath.“ The UMKC team has demonstrated that PCA-1 can lead to perovskite solar cells with near record-setting efficiencies and significantly improved long-term stability. “This study reveals that PCA-1 is an ideal charge-transporting material for perovskite solar cells,” Peng said. “We will continue this project, and anticipate further performance and stability improvements with the utilization of state-of-the-art perovskite materials.” Other co-authors on the journal article are graduate student Kyle Scheel and research associate Robert Clevenger of UMKC; and Wan Shou and Heng Pan from Missouri University of Science and Technology. Funding for the research came from the National Science Foundation, the University of Missouri System Fast Track program, the Interdisciplinary Intercampus research program, the College of Arts and Sciences and the Curators Professorship funds. Aug 08, 2018

  • Father and Daughter Renewable-Energy Powerhouses

    Both law school alums, they recognized opportunity as demand for alternative energy grows
    Take a quick day trip nearly anywhere around the country, and it’s easy to see that renewable and alternative energy is gaining momentum. The evidence is everywhere, from large wind farms dotting the landscape to clearer, bluer skies that have lost the brown and smoggy tinge of just more than a decade ago. Wind and solar power is no longer just accessible to corporations and large municipalities. Now that alternative energy is more affordable for the individual consumer, not only is it possible that you and your next-door neighbor can go off the grid, it is more probable that you will in your lifetime. Consider the economic impact of wind power alone: there are 75,000 megawatts of wind power installed in the U.S. today, contributing 5.4 percent of the capacity of the power grid. This is expected to double to 10 percent by 2020, and to 20 percent by 2030, according to U.S. News and World Report. This will create 300,000 additional jobs in wind alone, not including solar. “The renewable industry is experiencing a level of policy uncertainty that may be unprecedented even for an industry accustomed to the shifting sands of federal and state policy,” according to a 2018 outlook report by Deloitte. “It may be a challenging landscape to navigate, but the potential for rewards could be substantial.” In sum: with renewable energy on the rise and all of its related complexities and uncertainties, it is poised for opportunities – opportunities that a father-daughter team of UMKC School of Law graduates are seizing. Many opportunities “Practicing law in itself is rewarding because it’s an intellectual challenge,” says Jennifer Gardner (J.D. ’07), senior staff attorney with the clean energy program of Western Resources Advocates in Salt Lake City. “But this type of law, where I work chipping away at retiring coal plants and adding more solar and wind, this is something at the end of the day I can genuinely feel good about.” Around the same time Gardner became interested in renewable-energy legal work, her father, Mark Gardner (J.D.’77), became involved in the field. Based in Springfield, Missouri, his business develops utility-scale solar projects and is the largest owner of solar projects in the state of Missouri. “People are emotionally and intellectually abandoning old ways of power,” says Mark Gardner, president of Gardner Capital. “What you’re seeing is a revolution of thought.” Jennifer Gardner’s initial legal goal was to become a prosecutor. After earning her law degree at UMKC, she worked in the Missouri Attorney General’s Office. She enjoyed litigation, but was not passionate about the cases. So, Gardner decided to work for her family’s company, Gardner Capital. Most of her work at that time involved historic preservation, converting old buildings into low-income or senior housing. During this time, she became interested in renewable energy. She quickly discovered that in refurbishing historic buildings, there were limitations on using beneficial equipment such as solar panels. This interested her so much she decided to obtain a master of laws in natural resources and environmental law and policy from the University of Denver’s Sturm College of Law. “It was an exciting time to be back in academia because the momentum for renewable energy was growing while I was getting this degree,” she says. In 2009, President Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act that led to many clean-energy initiatives, supporting state and local energy efforts. It also extended the investment tax credit for solar energy and production tax credit for wind energy. A job aligned after graduation, and opportunities arose leading to her current position. “We both love using our legal brains and we also enjoy a good challenge. Being a lawyer in the field of renewable energy offers us both. Perhaps most importantly, I think at heart, we are both passionate about serving the public interest.” Jennifer Gardner (J.D. '07) A lot of Western utilities are interested in joining regional energy markets. These markets are so desirable because they are incredibly effective at integrating large amounts of renewable energy at the least cost. And utilities in the West are flush with renewable resources. Gardner works closely with utilities, their state regulators and others in the industry to ensure that these markets are not only cost-effective vehicles for reliably integrating renewable energy, but also that the governance structures of these markets are independent and that their stakeholder processes are open and transparent. While her law degree certainly comes in handy with the work, there are some days she finds herself wishing she also had an engineering degree. Most recently, this advocacy has included the filing of comments in investigatory dockets at the Nevada, New Mexico and Colorado regulatory commissions. It also has included presentations to state utility regulators in regional forums throughout the western U.S. “One of the things I love about being an attorney working with renewable energy is that I get to wear lots of hats,” she says. Gardner is still a litigator. She’s also part lobbyist, educating legislators. She’s also part policy advocate, promoting the benefits of renewable energy in a variety of regional forums. Yet one of the most valuable skills a lawyer in renewable energy requires is negotiating. “Being successful in the field of renewable energy requires a lot of effective advocacy to get people to play in the same sandbox,” she says. “To see that at the end of the day, we really have the same goal – we want affordable, clean and reliable energy for customers.” Gardner is always meeting people who enjoy the practice of law, but feel their passion is lacking. They really want to make a difference and want to know how they can still practice law, but focus specifically on environmental and clean energy issues. Gardner recently helped an attorney make a transition from Goldman Sachs to another environmental nonprofit in Salt Lake City. He worked full time at Goldman Sachs and interned for her on the weekends before he made the switch. More serendipitously, she and her father, both UMKC School of Law alums, got into renewable energy at about the same time. “We’re really a lot alike,” Gardner says. “We both love using our legal brains and we also enjoy a good challenge. Being a lawyer in the field of renewable energy offers us both. Perhaps most importantly, I think at heart, we are both passionate about serving the public interest. In hindsight, I’m not surprised at all that we ended up in the same field.” Based in Springfield, Missouri, Mark Gardner’s (J.D. ’77) business develops utility-scale solar projects and is the largest owner of solar projects in the state of Missouri. The Future Is Here Mark Gardner grew up reading about renewable energy, including solar power, in the 1960s and 1970s. It seemed so out of reach, so futuristic, yet so necessary. “The air was dirtier when I was growing up,” he says. He remembers reading about the effects of pollution on health. A runner, he’d avoid exercising in some cities because of the dirty air. The Environmental Protection Agency was formed in 1970, while Gardner was in high school. He watched it make great strides in air quality. After he graduated law school, he eventually formed Gardner Capital, pursuing tax credits to develop affordable housing developments. Solar tax credits became available and his interest surged. The panels themselves initially were too expensive, but they became more affordable. Gardner started working with cities throughout Missouri to retire coal-burning power plants. One of the surprising — and refreshing — aspects of renewable energy he discovered is that it is not a political subject. “It’s not a liberal vs. conservative thing,” Gardner says. “Missouri is a pretty conservative state, yet cities and small towns want solar power. They want to be progressive and part of the solution. They realize you can’t continue burning fossil fuels forever.” These transactions with cities have involved lots of legal work, typically three to four legal teams and 300 to 400 pages of legal documents. Gardner sees the legal opportunities in renewable energy continuing — and growing. “Look at corporate America and the hundreds of businesses that want to go green,” he says. For example, General Motors will manufacture hundreds of thousands of all-electric cars by 2025. Also, wind and solar power is expected to more than quadruple in the next decade, bringing with it more legal work. “Being a lawyer has been invaluable to me as a business person and someone in the renewables industry,” Gardner says. “I love it. It’s exciting. It’s fun to look at a solar field and think we’re making clean energy. Once you pay for the hardware, it’s free.” This article is from Res Ipsa, the UMKC School of Law magazine. Aug 06, 2018

  • Clean Water Solutions

    Civil engineering professor works to increase access to clean water in Africa
    Access to consistent and safe drinking water is arguably the biggest challenge facing humanity. That’s especially true in Africa where the clean water shortage in many of the countries is getting worse. In Cape Town, South Africa, the crisis is called “Day Zero,” the day the taps run dry. John Kevern, University of Missouri-Kansas City associate professor of civil engineering, has been working alongside graduate students from the University of the Western Cape to help find a feasible solution for the crisis. For more than 30 years, the University of Missouri South African Education Program has delivered on the goal of aiding South Africans disadvantaged by their government’s former apartheid policies. Since 1986, the University of Missouri System has partnered with the University of the Western Cape in Cape Town, South Africa to advance mutual understanding between the institutions’ faculties and foster cooperative teaching, research and service projects. Water scarcity, or lack of safe drinking water, in South Africa is the result of multiple factors including climate change, growing population, and heavy metal contamination from abandoned mines. Kevern said the South African Department of Mineral Resources holds a list of 6,000 neglected mines filling with water and causing acid-mine drainage: the outflow of acidic water from metal or coal mines. “Throughout its lifetime a mine can generate 2.5 million pounds of gold, silver uranium or other minerals, but South African mines are now a volatile wasteland.”– Kevern Kevern, a renowned expert in all things concrete, has worked with several other countries on the African continent, including Kenya and Ghana, to help solve waste issues. His passion for making a difference through resource and information sharing drives much of his willingness to work with disadvantaged communities. Kevern and his team discovered that by using waste fly ash, a byproduct of coal combustion, from two regional power plants, they can neutralize the acid mine drainage and help generate more clean water for the country. The chemical composition of fly ash makes it a common—and cost effective—ingredient in treating acid mine water.   “In the Johannesburg area, with 10 million residents, at least 15 percent of the population lives in informal settlements, with many placed by former apartheid government near or even on top of these dumps. At Blyvooruitzicht, about 11,000 people live around the abandoned mine, many of them unemployed miners unable to afford housing elsewhere. Fundamentally, social justice comes down to access to safe drinking water.”– Kevern When fly ash is inserted into the mine and mixes with acid water it creates a hard, non-porous material. That helps prevent any additional oxygen and water from getting into the mine and causing further pollution. Kevern spent much of the summer working at coal mines on the east side of the country, but UWC is on the west side so he and graduate student Rosicky Kalombe embarked on a cross-country road trip to collect coal to create fly ash. Traveling across South Africa was a new experience for both Kevern and Kalombe, who migrated to South Africa as a Congolese refugee. They got to see the wealth of the country and made a pit stop along the way to see one of the world’s largest hand-dug excavations – The Big Hole in Kimberley, South Africa. Since Kevern has been back in the states, he has been working remotely with Western Cape students who are continuing to conduct full-scale filter testing in the lab. The neutralization process, Kevern said, is fairly mature. The team’s next steps are to figure out what to do with the excess waste. Their idea is to use the waste to make a cost-effective geopolymer to fill the mine and prevent drainage from reoccurring. The team will pilot the project this winter. If the project goes as planned, they hope to implement this solution across the continent. That means two things for Africa: more jobs for students and increased access to clean water. Hear more about Kevern’s summer in South Africa on KCUR’s Central Standard. This story originally appeared in Vanguard, the UMKC School of Computing and Engineering magazine. Jul 31, 2018

  • 10 KC Top Spots

    Students and alums pick their favorites
    Summer got us thinking about exploring the best parts of our city. We asked students and alums from Kansas City’s university for their top spots to visit—not including UMKC. (Favorite campus hangouts deserve their own list, so be on the lookout for it soon!)  Here they are in alphabetical order: 1. City Market Visiting the City Market on Saturday morning is the top pick for alum Troy Norris, MBA '11. 2. Country Club Plaza "I love the architecture, and you can easily walk to the Plaza from campus," says Tin Ho, Entrepreneurship '17. 3. Crossroads Arts District "Nothing is more fun than eating from food trucks and meeting all kinds of artists, with music blasting through the streets during First Fridays in the Crossroads," says Salem Habte, Entrepreneurship '20 4. Crown Center "LEGOLAND plus Union Station plus Fritz's all within walking distance equals perfection at Crown Center," says Negar Khalandi, Mechanical Engineering '11. 5. Loose Park "I've never really seen anyone not having a good day at Loose Park. I love to go play tennis over there. The fountain area and the gardens are beautiful," says Tomas Patino Civil Engineering '15, Educational Administration. 6. National World War I Museum and Memorial "Liberty Memorial has such an amazing view of the city," says Jorge Perez, Music Education '19. Check out that view in No. 9 Union Station. 7. Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art "The Nelson is a very calming place to go when you need a break, and it's right by UMKC," says Alexandria Brant, Dance '18. 8. Union Station "Because of the history, Pierpont's, architectural details and exhibits, Union Station is a magical place," says Klassie Alcine, Political Science and Criminal Justice and Criminology '09, MPA '11.  9. West Bottoms "I'm a big fan of the red-brick architecture in the West Bottoms," says Alvin Liow, MBA '15. 10. Betty Rae’s Ice Cream Last but not least, Alexandra Alpough, B.A. '12, J.D. '15, insists Betty Rae's Ice Cream in Waldo has moved into Kansas City must-haves. "You have to try the cinnamon ice cream in a waffle cone," she says. Jun 14, 2018