Montana State University

Research Roundup at Montana State University (#264)

October 17, 2006 -- From MSU News Service

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Tel: (406) 994-4571
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Antarctic namesakes

John Priscu, a polar ecologist at Montana State University, recently learned that an Antarctic valley and stream were named after him. Priscu Stream is located in the Taylor Valley. Priscu Valley is an ice-free valley in the Olympus Mountain Range. The two are about 40 miles apart by helicopter. Priscu is internationally known for his work in Antarctica and will soon leave for his 23rd field season there. He does most of his research during Antarctic summers, but during the 1990s, he led two teams that wanted to study Antarctica during the winter. They arrived in the McMurdo Dry Valleys around Aug. 21 and stayed for a month in minus-50 degree temperatures and no sunlight. They were studying the effect of the rising sun on plankton.

Math, science and girls

MSU computer science professors Rafal Angryk and Anne DeFrance received a $75,000 National Science Foundation grant for a project that might lead to a more gender-balanced workforce in computer science and related fields. The pair plan to encourage 14- and 15-year-old girls to study more science and math through two, week-long, summer workshops. The first workshop will be in June 2007. Students who attend will program robots, among other fun activities. Local professional women who work in computer science or related fields will mentor the girls during the workshops and the following two school years. The project could lead to identifying effective methods for increasing the number of women who pursue computer science or closely related fields.

Triple Jordan

While MSU paleontologists were planning trips to Jordan, Mont., last spring, MSU anthropologist and archaeologist Mike Neeley was digging in the country of Jordan. Instead of looking for dinosaurs, though, he was looking for signs of Natufians. Known for their tiny stone tools, Natufian people lived about 12,500 to 10,200 years ago and represented the transition between hunter-gatherers and farmer-villagers. Natufian sites have several distinguishing characteristics, Neeley said in a recent talk at MSU. They are larger than hunter-gatherer sites, which indicates Natufians stayed longer in one spot than hunter-gatherers did. Their sites contain architecture, lots of trash, deliberate burials, groundstones, bone tools, and bone and shell ornaments. Among those digging with Neeley was Jordan Knudsen, a Culbertson native who graduated from MSU last spring.

Big questions, snowy roads

The open road isn't the best laboratory for researching large-scale questions related to cold weather and rural transportation, said Eli Cuelho, research engineer with MSU's Western Transportation Institute. For a safer, more controlled environment, the institute will build an outdoor laboratory at the Lewistown airport. The Lewistown Cold Region Rural Transportation Research Facility will provide four miles of track that will allow scientists to test various aspects of one problem. Researchers might test a salt brine mixture, for example, to see how it melts ice. Then they could examine the pavement, look at effects on the environment and see what happens with snow plows. Researchers might use snow makers to simulate blizzards or snowy roads. The lab is a partnership among local, state and federal agencies.

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