Montana State University

Research Roundup at Montana State University (#267)

January 16, 2007 -- From MSU News Service

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Tel: (406) 994-4571
Early bird catches Mercury

An x-ray telescope involving Montana State University scientists and graduates has already produced some surprises, says astrophysicist David McKenzie. The telescope started operating earlier than expected, so the researchers were able to see Mercury passing in front of the sun. The last time the planet took that path was in May 2003. The next time will be May 2016. The scientists were also surprised at the amount of activity they saw halfway through the 11-year solar cycle. They saw huge solar flares and sun spots. Northern lights were visible all the way to Arizona. The x-ray telescope is one of three telescopes on a satellite launched Sept. 22 from Japan. Images from it can be seen at

Cattle and creeks

Cattle need water, but they can pollute the streams that provide it and trample their banks. Looking for a solution, Adam Sigler will conduct a research project along two spring-fed creeks near Belgrade this year. He wants to see what will happen when he strengthens the banks and only allows access through stanchions. Sigler, a master's degree student at MSU, will stabilize the banks with rock, gravel, fabric and lumber. Then he'll install stanchions so the cattle can drink, but won't be able to fully enter the water. Fences will keep the cattle from walking around the stanchions to reach the streams another way. Sigler will use 100 to 150 animals in his experiment, some Scottish highlanders and others Angus. He'll collect data from March through July and report his findings after that.

Tiny bubbles

Imagine a tiny soap bubble with miniature passengers clinging to it. Traveling together through the body, they head straight for the lymph nodes where the passengers jump off and get to work making sure the body is protected from the black plague. That's the idea behind an MSU project, and another example of how MSU researchers are involved with nanotechnology and nanomaterials. Ben Lei, assistant professor in veterinary molecular biology, is collaborating with Jon Nagy of NanoValent Pharmaceuticals in Bozeman. Their project uses a nano-particle that Nagy developed from lipid molecules. The particle's structure is similar to that of a soap bubble and allows protective agents to be attached to its surface. The goal is to boost immunity by making vaccines more effective.

Wildlife collisions

Researchers at MSU's Western Transportation Institute helped test and develop an animal-detection system on U.S. Highway 191 in Yellowstone National Park. They are trying now to reduce wildlife collisions near Ketchum and the Sun Valley Ski Area in Idaho. A 26-mile stretch of Idaho Highway 75 is busy with skiers, construction workers and newcomers and dangerous for elk and mule deer, says Marcel Huijser who is leading the project. One solution might be an animal-detection system like the one tested in Montana. Other solutions might involve fencing and underpasses. The researchers will analyze existing data to pinpoint the worst sections of the road. They will also collect information from a Web site they are preparing. Travelers will use the site to report details about collisions with animals.

Evelyn Boswell, (406) 994-5135 or