Montana State University

Research Roundup at Montana State University (#275)

March 24, 2008 -- From MSU News Service

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Alligator lessons

Scientists can learn a lot about dinosaurs by studying their closest living relatives. That's why Holly Woodward, a Montana State University graduate student, plans to bring alligators to Montana, said MSU paleontologist Jack Horner. Woodward will fly to Louisiana in early August, pick up 20 eggs from an alligator farm and drive them back to MSU. The eggs should hatch by mid-August, and then she'll divide the alligators into two groups, Woodward said. She wants to see how the alligators grow to learn more about the growth of Maiasaura dinosaurs that lived around Choteau. Even though alligators are cold-blooded and dinosaurs are believed to have been warm-blooded, their bones seem to grow in similar ways, Woodward said. She chose alligators instead of birds, because alligators grow slower than birds.

Success in space

How does MSU get so many experiments into space? It's a combination of experience, contacts and good fortune, said three MSU researchers who recently launched experiments on the Space Shuttle Endeavour. Dave Klumpar, director of MSU's Space Science and Engineering Laboratory, said he consistently works with colleagues in the aerospace industry to find opportunities for students and faculty. Microbiologist Barry Pyle said experience made it possible for his team of researchers to reconstruct an experiment with only a few weeks notice. Pyle learned in January that they could refly an experiment lost five years ago on the Space Shuttle Columbia. The experiment looked at the effect of space on bacteria. Chemistry professor Tim Minton said relatively few universities study the effect of space on materials, which is his specialty.

Curious students

The effect of steroids on athletes has been well-documented. But what happens to small aquatic animals on steroids? Do they have extra power to overcome their enemies? More than 200 freshmen and sophomores are investigating such questions in Dave Willey's biology 101 lab class at MSU. The students form small groups, choose one of four general areas to investigate, then design and conduct experiments to answer specific questions. Some students chose to participate in Willey's research on the Mexican spotted owl. Willey has approximately 2,000 droppings from the threatened bird. Students who dissect the droppings learn what the birds eat, what habitat could be protected for the birds, and more. Willey said the class is part of MSU's core curriculum and teaches students how to conduct independent research.

Spouses to teachers

"Troops to Teachers," a federally-funded program involving MSU students and faculty, helps military personnel who want to become teachers. A related program focuses on military spouses who already teach or are close to becoming teachers, said program manager LeRoy (Le) Gaub. Called "Spouses to Teachers," the program is designed to recruit and retain troops by assisting their spouses. It pays up to $600, for example, for certification tests that the teaching spouse might have to take when the family moves to another state. The program started out as an experimental program, with 14 states involved last year and six the year before. It is now available all over the United States, Gaub said. Gaub is director of a six-state region that includes Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota, South Dakota, Idaho and Oregon.

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