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Junior Kurtis Malecha conducting research in Germany

Chemistry major, Honors Program student

Kurtis Malecha doing nuclear research in Germany.

Minnesota State University, Mankato Media Relations Office news release [6/28/2011]

Minnesota State Mankato junior chemistry major Kurtis Malecha didn’t always aspire to study chemistry.

He wanted to become a mechanical engineer. But while taking advanced chemistry courses in high school and college, he discovered that he enjoys the hands-on experience offered by a lab.

Now Malecha, of Lonsdale, is studying at Minnesota State Mankato to be a chemist, and this summer he’s in Germany, testing aquifer samples as the recipient of a prestigious international science fellowship.

An Honors Program student, he recently was awarded a Research Internships in Science & Engineering (RISE) fellowship to Johannes Gutenberg Universität in Mainz, Germany. He’s one of 305 undergraduates to receive the award, out of 1,670 U.S., Canadian and UK students who applied.

This summer Malecha is assisting with the doctoral research of German chemist Nils Stöbener, testing aquifer samples for traces of Neptunium, a highly radioactive by-product of plutonium production. If his research shows low concentrations of Neptunium, it will indicate that German plutonium plants are successfully containing nuclear waste.

Malecha departed for Germany May 12 and will return home in late July. Students from Cornell University, University of California-San Diego, University of California-Berkeley and Pomona College also are conducting research with him at Johannes Gutenberg Universität.

“I applied for the fellowship before the events in Japan (the tsunami and subsequent nuclear power plant failure),” Malecha said. “But as soon as I heard what happened, I knew this research would be applicable” to other situations.

His research could become part of renewed political debates in Germany about the future of nuclear energy there.

Malecha has “exceptional potential,” according to his academic advisors in the chemistry program, Marie Pomije and John Thoemke. And Malecha says that the support he receives from Minnesota State Mankato chemistry faculty members has been instrumental in fueling interest in his studies.

“I know I can always go to Dr. Pomije and Dr. Thoemke and pick their brains,” he said. “They’ve always been receptive to my ideas and happy to help.”

The university’s Honors Program also is an important link to his student research success. Malecha is one of dozens of Minnesota State Mankato science and engineering students enrolled in the program, which asks high-ability students to study a second language while developing their leadership, research and global citizenship skills.

“Second-language acquisition opens doors for these future scientists,” said Chris Corley, Honors Program director. “The Honors Program faculty help these students develop the skills they need to work effectively across cultures in team-based project environments.”

Malecha is minoring in mathematics and German. He plans to someday teach and research at the university level, and his experience in Germany allows him to learn how research is conducted in other parts of the world, and to further his language skills.

The fellowship’s stipend covers Malecha’s living expenses in Germany, and Minnesota State Mankato’s Honors Program, Chemistry Department and College of Science, Engineering & Technology also support the summer research experience.

His RISE fellowship is sponsored by Deutscher Akademischer Austausch Dienst, the German Academic Exchange Service which offers undergraduate students the chance to work with research groups at universities and institutions across Germany.

Those who want more information about the Minnesota State Mankato Honors Program may click on

Minnesota State Mankato, a comprehensive university with 15,393 students, is part of the Minnesota State Colleges & Universities system, which comprises 32 state institutions.

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