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Ferns and Fridges
Three pioneering studies on the model fern Ceratopteris made up the SIU Alumni Association's Outstanding Thesis. Plant biology student Gabriel Johnson focused on the fern's embryo development and evolution, using advanced laboratory and microscopy techniques and a review of the scientific literature that went back to the 1800s.
As his advisor, plant biology professor Karen Renzaglia, explains, Johnson first described the patterns of embryonic cell division that will set the stage for the tissues and organs of the juvenile fern. He then described developmental changes in cell well constituents in the placenta, which are responsible for cell differentiation. This research was the first of its kind in a non-seed-producing plant and has implications for the seeds of crop plants.
Finally, Johnson evaluated the evolution of key embryonic characteristics across green plants, providing information on how plants have adapted to different environments. Studying ferns is key to this because they were among the earliest land plants to have evolved.
The Journal of Plant Research has already published the first section of Johnson's thesis.
The Outstanding Dissertation Award went to Mahmud Khan, a physics student now working as a postdoctoral fellow at Ames National Laboratory.
Khan worked on so-called magnetocaloric materials that are capable of magnetic cooling at or near room temperature and could lead to energy-efficient, environmentally friendly magnetic refrigeration. His advisor, physics professor Naushad Ali, says that Khan designed a material, for which a patent has been filed, "extremely well suited for a realistic magnetic refrigerant...and the material is relatively cheap and easy to prepare."
Khan also discovered related materials with a high magnetocaloric effect that could be applicable in spintronics, magnetic actuators, and sensors of various kinds. He has co-published more than 20 papers in top-ranked journals and his work has been cited by the top researchers in his field.
Ali credits Khan's work with helping to attract a four-year, $700,000 Department of Energy grant and a five-year, $50,000 Research Corporation grant to his group. Khan's papers and his 17 conference presentations, Ali says, have "sprung various research groups into action" in this field.
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