Park University Biology Professor Awarded National Science Foundation Grant

Thursday, June 5, 2014


Dr. Patricia RybergJune 5, 2014 — Patty Ryberg, Ph.D., assistant professor of biology at Park University, has been awarded a $168,091 research grant from the National Science Foundation for work on her “Antarctic Paleobotany: Permian Floral Characteristics in a Sedimentary Setting” project.

The NSF grant, the first received by a Park University faculty member since 1993, will establish a paleobotanical research program at Park with a focus on Antarctic fossil plants. Students will study the critical role plants play in the Earth’s environment and changing ecosystem.

The grant will also fund new microscopes with high-resolution magnification, and it will enable up to 12 Park undergraduate students to participate in stipend research. The students will have access to thousands of Antarctic fossil plants housed at the University of Kansas in Lawrence where Ryberg, a resident of Kansas City, Mo., maintains a research partnership following her post-doctoral fellowship.

In addition, a public outreach segment of the grant funds will involving middle school and high school students through Expanding Your Horizons programs in Missouri and Kansas, as well as interactive presentations at schools in the Kansas City region. (For specific information related to Ryberg’s grant, visit www.nsf.gov/awardsearch/showAward?AWD_ID=1341500.)

Ryberg specializes in researching Glossopteris, a 260-million-year-old extinct plant group. She studies their reproductive structures to identify which leaves were attached to which plants. In 2012, Ryberg joined other researchers to pursue the mystery of plants growing at the South Pole, camping in Antarctica’s frozen terrain for six weeks to conduct plant fossil research.

“We know there were forests and river beds there millions of years ago,” Ryberg said. “It’s dark in Antarctica for half the year and the plants are anatomically preserved. This enables us to research plant fossils at the cellular level to identify and compare their reproductive structures.”

Park’s June 1993 NSF grant of $22,500 was awarded for “Introduction to GCMS into Laboratory Instruction Pedagogy.” That grant provided the University to purchase gas chromatography/mass spectrometry instrumentation to enhance upper division laboratory course requirements. The grant was awarded to William Pivonka, professor emeritus of chemistry; Dorothy May, Ph.D., professor emeritus of biology; Raymond Stevens, Ph.D., former associate professor of chemistry; and Tim Schoof, Ed.D., former assistant professor of chemistry and current adjunct professor of chemistry.

The National Science Foundation is an independent federal agency created by Congress in 1950 “to promote the progress of science; to advance the national health, prosperity and welfare; to secure the national defense…” The NSF is the funding source for approximately 24 percent of all federally supported basic research conducted by America’s colleges and universities. The organization fulfills its our mission chiefly by issuing limited-term grants to fund specific research proposals that have been judged the most promising by a rigorous and objective merit review system. For more information, visit www.nsf.gov.