January 19, 2012
University geographer recognized as one of the state's top scientists
A geographer who turns to the past to determine what is happening in the present has earned a top spot among Kansas' scientific history.
Kendra McLauchlan, assistant professor of geography at Kansas State University and director of the university's Paleoenvironmental Laboratory, was named by the Ad Astra Kansas Initiative as one of the top 150 scientists ever to work in Kansas throughout its 150 years of statehood.
For her research McLauchlan reconstructs ecosystems of the past and their functions in order to provide context for the modern changes to Earth's environments. Additionally, she also looks at human-environment interactions.
One of her largest studies looks at the nitrogen availability in forest and grassland ecosystems from 10,000 years ago. By reconstructing and evaluating past changes in nitrogen cycles, McLauchlan can see how vegetation, climate and other disturbances affect biochemical changes over time. Doing so can also formalize techniques for scientists to determine whether humans are increasing or decreasing nitrogen availability.
In 2010, McLauchlan received a National Science Foundation CAREER Award. It is one of the nation's most prestigious awards, and recognizes young faculty who have high potential of becoming future leaders in their field.
"This question about changes to nutrient cycling seems simple, but it has been surprisingly hard to answer," McLauchlan said. "It is exciting to know that we now have the tools to answer it. Pieces of the puzzle are already coming together."
Throughout 2011, Ad Astra spotlighted 150 Kansas researchers, scientists, inventors and engineers from the past to the present who have advanced the scientific field in Kansas' 150 years of statehood. The initiative's project, "Science in Kansas: 150 Years and Counting," celebrates the state's sesquicentennial and emphasizes the importance of science and the career possibilities in research and innovation to K-12 students.
McLauchlan is the one of the 21 active faculty researchers at K-State to be named among Kansas' top 150 scientists. She joins other historically noted state researchers on the list like George Washington Carver, Charles H. Sternberg, Clyde Cessna and Hall Livingstone Hibbard.