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Feb. 3, 2006
Contact: Joy Ward, assistant professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, (785) 864-5218.

Ward first recipient of Wohlgemuth Faculty Scholar Award for new professors

LAWRENCE — Joy Ward, assistant professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, has been named the first recipient of the Thelma and Edward Wohlgemuth Faculty Scholar Award at the University of Kansas.

The award provides research and salary assistance to nontenured faculty members who are recognized as some of KU’s brightest young professors.

Dorothy Wohlgemuth Lynch of Olathe contributed $300,000 to the KU Endowment Association in honor of her parents, Thelma and Edward, in 2000. The grant is intended to help retain promising young faculty members.

“Attracting talented faculty members early in their careers is essential if KU is to maintain and expand its already excellent teaching base,” Chancellor Robert Hemenway said when the award was founded.

Ward’s research seeks to understand how global change factors impact plant growth, physiology and development. She analyzes factors ranging from molecular levels to evolutionary levels, and her main focus is on the effects of atmospheric carbon dioxide on plants.

In 2005, she published the paper “Carbon Starvation in Glacial Trees Recovered From the LaBrea Tar Pits” in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science. For the paper, she studied trees that were recovered from the southern California tar pits. Trees that were located in the tar pits were from the last ice age, about 18,000 to 60,000 years ago. During that period, atmospheric carbon dioxide levels were at an all-time low in the Earth’s atmosphere.

“We’ve found that tree growth can be reduced by about 50 percent if you grow them at carbon dioxide concentrations of the last ice age,” Ward said.

A lack of carbon dioxide impedes the ability of plants to perform photosynthesis. The effects of carbon dioxide deprivation are similar to depriving a plant of water or sunlight, she said.

Like the ice age, the current state of Earth is stressful for some plants because of rapid changes in the environment, many caused by the burning of fossil fuels, which leads to elevated carbon dioxide levels and climate changes.

Ward has also received grant funding from the National Science Foundation and the United States Department of Agriculture to study elevated carbon dioxide levels and plant growth.
She said the Wohlgemuth Faculty Scholar Award will aid her future work at KU.

“I am very grateful to Dorothy Lynch for providing this generous award in honor of her parents,” Ward said. “This award has reaffirmed my strong commitment to KU, and I look forward to many productive years here at the University of Kansas.”

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