Montana State University

Research Roundup at Montana State University (#259)

May 4, 2006 -- From MSU News Service

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Trouble in Paradise?

Cattle ranchers in the Paradise Valley say shipping weights have declined since wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park in 1995. They say their cattle stay close to gates instead of grazing entire pastures. Wary animals tend to eat less than relaxed animals. To see if there's a correlation between wolves and lower shipping weights, Jim Knight will examine shipping records and a variety of factors that may be responsible for reduced weights. He'll look at rainfall records, for example. He may obtain satellite images that show vegetation cover. Knight, a professor of animal and range sciences at Montana State University and an MSU Extension Wildlife Specialist, expects to finish his study by the end of the summer.

Better than Tang

Space exploration has done a lot more than produce Tang, Teflon and Velcro, says MSU astrophysicist Neil Cornish. The best spin-off in his opinion has been in education. Cornish said human space flights and robotic satellite missions got him excited about science as a kid, and space programs are doing the same thing today. He sees space-inspired students at MSU where he trains the next generation of scientists and is involved in a variety of space missions. Some of those missions measure gravitational waves, map the universe and deal with giant antennas. A conversation with Cornish can get into black holes, dark energy, the Big Bang, or a souped-up version of the Hubble telescope.

A farrier's life

Why would anyone shoe horses for a living? That's what Cindy Stillwell, an award-winning filmmaker at MSU, wants to know. Stillwell will research the lifestyle of Montana farriers while on sabbatical during the 2006-07 school year. She'll start with a farrier in the Shields Valley and intends to turn her findings into an hour-long documentary that will incorporate film, video, color, and black-and-white images. The project continues her exploration of lifestyles associated with rural America, particularly in the West, Stillwell said. Stillwell's films have been shown three times at the Slamdance Film Festival and most recently at the Sundance Film Festival. She hopes the farrier film will be accepted for Sundance, too.

More than robots

Robots are great, but students can do other things with electrical and computer engineering, says Jim Becker, assistant professor at MSU. They can use high-frequency electronics, for example, to steer an antenna beam without physically moving an antenna. That doesn't mean students can sit on the couch and control the TV antenna on the roof, but it refers to high band width communication, Becker said. Becker teaches upper-level students about high-frequency electronics, but he wants to spread the word to college freshmen and sophomores, too. A new project will allow MSU instructors to sprinkle the basic concepts into their introductory courses. As students advance, they'll learn more about high-frequency electronics and may get into optical controls, as well.

Tiny technology, big news

Scientists and doctors dream of the day when they can send medicine only to the cells that need it. MSU scientists have been working toward that goal, and the word is spreading. The journal Science recently announced plans to publish an article on Trevor Douglas' and Mark Young's work at MSU's Center for Bio-Inspired Nanomaterials. Douglas and Young make tiny protein cages from viruses. One potential use is carrying drugs to specific targets. Viruses are found in an array of environments, including the thermal hot pools of Yellowstone National Park. In other developments, MSU now has an exclusive license agreement with SpeciGen for intellectual property involving protein cages. SpeciGen has offices in Corvallis, Mont., and Palo Alto, Calif., and plans to start manufacturing in Bozeman.

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