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Photo of Ryan Clark
May 8, 2017

Graduate student Ryan Clark wins WARF’s Discovery Challenge Award

Written By: Silke Schmidt

In April 2017, Ryan Clark, a chemical and biological engineering doctoral student mentored by Jay and Cynthia Ihlenfeld Professor Brian Pfleger and Professor Thatcher Root, won one of three Discovery Challenge Awards from the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF).

Held for the sixth consecutive year to promote cross-disciplinary collaboration, this research competition was open to University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate students and postdoctoral researchers from all departments and attracted almost 60 presenters. Cash prizes were awarded to the most creative, impactful and collaborative projects.

Clark presented his research on cyanobacteria, which are some of the oldest and most important organisms on Earth. They were the first microbes capable of using the sun’s energy to convert atmospheric carbon dioxide to oxygen and organic material.

In Pfleger’s lab, Clark used genetically tweaked cyanobacteria to create biofuels and other desirable chemicals through photosynthesis, without the need for agricultural land or potable water. Since light is often the only growth-limiting factor for cyanobacteria grown in industrial conditions, Clark studied how their productivity can be maximized under this particular constraint.