PITTSBURG — In a unique first-time workshop planned for Feb. 26 to 28 at Block22 in downtown Pittsburg, scientists, farmers, and ranchers from across the region will meet in the hopes they can be of mutual help to each other and to their respective industries.

The workshop, called Farmers Accelerating Research in Materials Science, or FARM, is a joint venture by Pittsburg State University’s Kansas Polymer Research Center (KPRC) and Virginia Tech’s Macromolecules Innovation Institute (MII). Farmers and ranchers may register at pittstate.edu/FARMS.

Scientists working at the KPRC have in recent years discovered how to create batteries from coffee grounds, rigid foams from chicken fat, and flexible foam from soybean oil — a technology now used by Ford Motor Company, among others.

“What we’re looking for is to uncover more opportunities like that,” said Tim Dawsey, executive director for the advancement of applied science and technology at the KPRC. A former colleague of his from industry, Tim Long, now heads up Virginia Tech’s MII.

“We’re bringing a group of their researchers and grad students in to collaborate with ours, and that's a pretty big deal,” Dawsey said. “They’re a powerhouse in the area of polymer research.”

But they can’t collaborate without farmers and ranchers.

“They are the key,” Dawsey said. “We don’t know what we don’t know.”

The workshop is designed to put them all in the same room to uncover the details of every challenge, large and small, that farmers and ranchers face.

“We want to know what they deal with from the time they lace their boots in the morning to the time they turn their tractors off,” Dawsey said.

Dawsey and Long hope that their scientists gain valuable agribusiness insights that can be solved through advances in plastics and polymers.

“You look at areas like western Kansas and Oklahoma where they are irrigating because of extreme drought, and you can watch water just evaporate almost immediately. Hypothetically speaking, imagine if I could take a corn or soybean oil produced in the area and I could do some chemistry to make it water soluble so that it would thicken the water,” Dawsey said. “You take that thickened water, so to speak, and all of a sudden you’re able to hold it to the ground, to the plants, a bit longer. That means job creation in a manufacturing operation, and it means using agricultural products to benefit the agricultural industry.”

The scientists also want to know what agricultural byproducts and agricultural waste the farmers and ranchers generate that could, through research and innovation, be of value.

The workshop agenda will include an evening reception with a keynote speaker, a full day of workshops involving the ranchers and farmers, with breakout sessions facilitated by county extension agents, and a day of proposal writing and planning for scientists.

“We want the walls covered with problems and opportunities that we then put into buckets and use to generate ideas,” Dawsey said. “It’s going to be a time of discovery that we hope will lead to some direction to say ‘OK, here’s where we need to be focusing our innovation efforts’.”

For more information, call the KPRC at 620-235-4112. The event is sponsored by Girard National Bank and Kansas Farm Bureau.