Kansas chemist Kristin Bowman-James wins award honoring decades of commitment to science statewide

LAWRENCE — University of Kansas Distinguished Professor of Chemistry Kristin Bowman-James has earned many honors during her nearly 50-year career. But her enduring commitment to Kansas has not been spotlighted until now.

Kristin Bowman-James
Kristin Bowman-James

On Feb. 26, Bowman-James will receive the Joseph G. Danek Award in Washington, D.C. The $5,000 prize recognizes her long-term commitment to enhancing the research infrastructure in Kansas by forging collaborations across institutions and disciplines, which is a goal of the Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research, or EPSCoR.

Danek, the award’s namesake, is considered the “father of EPSCoR” for his vision and role in developing the federal program, which is designed to address research funding disparity across the United States. It continues to thrive today with bipartisan support to build research capacity in traditionally underfunded regions of the country, including Kansas. 

For 18 years, Bowman-James served as the statewide project director for the Kansas NSF EPSCoR, overseeing projects from 2005 to 2023.  These efforts leveraged nearly $58 million National Science Foundation dollars to facilitate research and build research talent in Kansas, leading to researchers garnering more than $150 million in additional federal funding.  

Bowman-James first became involved with EPSCoR initiatives in 1995 as part of a research grant involving chemists, chemical engineers and physicists from KU, Kansas State University and Wichita State University working on the design of novel materials. A few years later, as chair of the KU’s chemistry department, she received funds for three cluster hires across the chemistry/biology interface.

“I am surprised and thrilled to be receiving the Danek Award for doing something that I have greatly enjoyed for almost three decades,” Bowman-James said. “It has been an honor to work together with scientists and leaders across Kansas. It is because of their hard work and commitment that we realize the benefits of collaborative multidisciplinary research across our institutions.”

From nanostructures to microbiomes, lipidomics to bioinformatics, ecological genomics to forecasting — the list of projects conducted under Bowman-James’ leadership is long. All have one thing in common: an eye to tackling the state’s highest priorities, such as clean energy and sustainable agriculture.

“These efforts enabled a wide array of multi-university partnerships that have led to an impressive breadth of scientific discoveries and workforce development for the state,” said Belinda Sturm, KU interim vice chancellor for research, professor of civil, environmental & architectural engineering and Bowman-James’ successor as the Kansas NSF EPSCoR director.

In fall 2023, Bowman-James stepped down as the EPSCoR leader at the conclusion of the six-year project called MAPS, or Microbiomes of Aquatic, Plant & Soil Systems.

“MAPS was a fantastic group to work with,” said Walter Dodds, University Distinguished Professor of biology at Kansas State University and theme leader for the MAPS project. “The EPSCoR support for this project and others in the past has been much appreciated.”

Presented by the EPSCoR/IDeA Coalition and Foundation Board, the Danek Award adds another honor to Bowman-James’ career, which includes serving as the first woman to chair the KU Department of Chemistry from 1995 to 2001. In 2021, she was awarded the American Chemical Society’s Award in Inorganic Chemistry for her contributions to inorganic chemistry, and she was also named a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences.