Montana State University

Research Roundup at Montana State University (#251)

August 4, 2005 -- From MSU News Service

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Scientific temptation

Scientists who study dinosaurs face their own brand of temptation, says Ewan Wolff, a Montana State University graduate student who studied dinosaur jaws in Montana, South Dakota and Alberta. When paleontologists find a punctured jaw, for example, they might want to attribute it to something dramatic rather than mundane. It's more exciting to imagine that a dinosaur injured itself in an ancient battle instead of something ordinary like running into a tree limb. Some findings are truly sensational, Wolff said. But he prefers to talk about findings that might not be particularly spectacular by themselves but signify a wider-spread phenomenon. Wolff found abnormalities in one-fourth of the dinosaur jaws he studied and said disease may have been common in Tyrannosaurids.

Clean ice, frosty ties

Mars is a long way to go, only to bring back contaminated samples. To help researchers make sure their samples are worth studying, MSU students and others in John Priscu's lab explained what they're doing with Antarctic ice samples. They've started painting the outside of ice cores with a solution so they can monitor the decontamination process. They want to know which bacteria are natural to the sample and which came with drilling or handling. The solution they're using is made of fluorescent dye, DNA and a tracer microorganism. The issue of sample quality came up again after spacecraft detected ice at both poles on Mars and the possibility of a large reservoir below the surface at lower latitudes. MSU's Antarctic experience was explained in the journal Icarus.

Wild oats and beer

Wild oats can threaten yields and reduce the prices that Montana farmers receive for their malt barley, said Steve King, a weed researcher at MSU. To remove wild oats from malt barley fields, King is experimenting with two herbicides that work differently than the other herbicides commonly used in Montana. Some of Montana's wild oats are resistant to the available herbicides, and King wants to have a back-up plan if the resistant population spreads. King planted malt barley at MSU's Southern Ag Experiment Station in March and applied Osprey and Silverado. Their control of wild oats was excellent, but their effect on malt barley yield still needs to be determined. King will repeat the experiment next summer. Two major buyers of Montana's malt barley are Coors and Budweiser, he said.

Harlowton launch

Four college students and a high school student launched a balloon from the Harlowton airport this summer to see how altitude affects the speed of sound. The balloon reached 97,000 feet before returning to Earth, said Dave Klumpar of MSU's Space Science and Engineering Lab. Klumpar said he sometimes moves launches from Big Timber to Harlowton to keep balloons from landing in Billings or the Beartooth Mountains. Students on the Harlowton launch came from MSU, Rocky Mountain College, Carroll College and Stone Child College. Three were interns in a program sponsored by the SSEL and Montana Space Grant Consortium. One came through MSU's Bridges program. Nicole Lerner of Bozeman joined the group as an interested high school student.

Evelyn Boswell, (406) 994-5135 or evelynb@montana.edu