Montana State University

Research Roundup at Montana State University (#258)

April 20, 2006 -- From MSU News Service

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Rocket science in Montana

Montana State University students launched a rocket in April and hope to send up another one in May, said David Klumpar of MSU's Space Science and Engineering Laboratory. The first rocket weighed about six pounds, stood 4 1/2 feet tall and reached about 4,000 feet. The second rocket could soar ten times higher, reaching the same rarified air as a commercial jet. The rocket will weigh about 40 pounds and stand eight feet tall. The students will head to a ranch near Malta for the second launch because they need wide, open spaces away from airports, Klumpar said. They think the rocket could land four to six miles from the launch site. Rockets give undergraduate students a chance to use their training in design, fabrication and electronics, Klumpar added.

Satellite, heal thyself

Christopher Jenkins, head of MSU's mechanical and industrial engineering department, is working with the U.S. Air Force to create satellites that could repair themselves when damaged by stress, heat or micro-meteor collisions. Current models use resin sacs throughout a structure. If the structure cracks, the sacs break open and resin fills the crack. Once the resin cures, the crack is sealed. Jenkins is researching acoustic energy. Using sound waves, sensors would detect and then locate small cracks before they get too large. Sound energy would activate a surrounding polymer, blunting the crack tip and keeping it from spreading and causing serious damage. "This is more versatile, allowing detection of the exact location of an incipient crack for subsequent diagnosis and possible design corrections," Jenkins said.

Hot time in Bozeman

Bozeman and the world have gotten hotter over the past 100 years, said Lisa Graumlich, director of MSU's Big Sky Institute. Not only is Bozeman warming up earlier in the year, but its residents are seeing more days above 90 degrees and fewer days when the high is below zero. After 1960, Bozeman has always had summer days when the temperature passed 90. Looking at the world as a whole, Graumlich said 2005 was the warmest year in the past century according to instruments that record climate conditions. The greatest warming took place over the Arctic. Graumlich said temperatures could continue to rise in the next century, but decisions made now about fossil fuels will affect future conditions.

HAA busters?

Anne Camper with MSU's Center for Biofilm Engineering and collaborator Ray Hozalski from the University of Minnesota received a grant from the American Water Works Association Research Foundation to examine how biofilms might reduce concentrations of a substance known as HAAs. Haloacetic acids, or HAAs, form when chlorine -- used worldwide to combat harmful microorganisms in drinking water -- reacts with naturally occurring organic matter. In high enough concentrations, HAAs are believed to be carcinogenic. "We know that distribution systems contain populations of harmless bacteria in the water and in biofilms on the interior surfaces of pipes," Camper said. "It is also known that some bacteria can degrade HAAs." Camper and Hozalski will research methods for detecting these bacteria, for determining what kinds of HAAs they degrade, and how fast it happens.

Evelyn Boswell, (406) 994-5135 or