The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Crime & Courts

August 12, 2012

Pittsburg State professor killed in two-vehicle crash

PITTSBURG, Kan. — Alexander Konopelko, an assistant professor in the department of physics at Pittsburg State University, was killed in a traffic accident at 5:21 p.m. Friday at the intersection of Kansas Highway 126 and 260th Avenue, east of Pittsburg, according to the Crawford County Sheriff’s Department.

Konopelko, 50, was pronounced dead at the scene, the department said.

His wife, Tatiana Konopelko, 47, and daughter, Nicole Konopelko, 11, were passengers in the vehicle. His wife was taken to Freeman Hospital West in Joplin, Mo. His daughter was taken to Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, Mo., the department said.

The driver of the other vehicle, Tyler H. Lukachick, 25, of Springfield, Mo., was taken to Via Christi Hospital in Pittsburg with apparent minor injuries.

The sheriff’s department said Konopelko’s vehicle attempted to make a U-turn at the intersection and pulled into the path of Lukachick’s westbound vehicle, which struck Konopelko’s vehicle on the driver’s side.

The Konopelko vehicle traveled off the road into a cornfield and came to rest in a hedgerow, according to the department.

Konopelko arrived at Pittsburg State in 2008 after three years as a research associate at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind., according to the university. He earned his doctorate degree in physics from Tomsk State University of Technology in Tomsk, Russia, in 1990.

Konopelko and his research team recently received a $140,000 grant from NASA.

“My research is trying to understand black holes — just the fundamentals,” he told the Globe in 2009. “They’re very powerful and can generate a lot of energy. You can capture that energy from a million miles away. Maybe we can use it someday.”

He was the principal researcher for the NASA project. Collaborating with him were about 100 scientists from institutions across the United States and two of his students at PSU.

Konopelko, predicting that Earth’s inhabitants will one day exhaust fossil fuels, told the Globe that a black hole’s energy in the form of gamma radiation could provide an alternative source of energy once scientists better understand it.

Konopelko also was a research scientist in Germany, working at the University of Berlin and at the Max Planck Institute of Nuclear Physics in Heidelberg.

PSU President Steve Scott issued a statement about Konopelko’s death on Saturday: “Alex had an incredible passion for research and for instructing students. My thoughts and prayers go out to his family and to all those involved in this tragic accident. Our Gorilla family is in mourning today, and we pray for a speedy recovery for his wife, Tatiana, and his daughter, Nicole.’’

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