Montana State University

Research Roundup at Montana State University (#279)

July 18, 2008 -- From MSU News Service

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Ancient cave

Ranchers near the southeast Montana town of Birney have known about Horseshoe Cave for several years. The mini-cave, or rock shelter, could be 9,000 or 10,000 years old, said Montana State University archaeologist Jack Fisher. To learn more, Fisher, U.S. Forest Service archaeologists and four MSU students spent two weeks at the cave in July. They looked for signs of prehistoric Native Americans, like fire pits and stone artifacts. They examined sediments to see what they revealed about the ancient environment. Students on the team were Seth Alt of Bozeman, Eryka Thorley of Michigan, Dallas Timms of New Mexico and Clint Garrett of Texas. The project is funded by the August and Mary Sobotka Trust Fund, which is administered by the Montana State Historic Preservation Office.

Dinosaur babies

Scientists interested in dinosaur eggs and babies will gather in Montana next summer for their fourth international symposium. Drawn here by Jack Horner's work with dinosaur eggs, nests and embryos, the paleontologists will attend the Aug. 8-14, 2009 conference at MSU. The symposium will be hosted by MSU paleontologists David Varricchio, Horner and Frankie Jackson with Darla Zelenitsky from the University of Calgary. This will be the group's first meeting in the United States, said Varricchio, chairman of the host committee. Previous meetings were held in Spain, Argentina and France. The symposium will include a keynote lecture by Horner, scientific talks, poster sessions, a banquet and field trips. Participants can travel to Egg Mountain near Choteau or take a combined trip to Egg Mountain and southern Alberta.

Jittery eyes

Jittery retinas make it hard to follow signals from a specific spot on the retina to a certain part of the brain, said MSU mathematician Curt Vogel. He and other MSU researchers are part of a team that has come up with a way to compensate for eye movement, however. With an instrument developed at the University of California, Berkeley and calculations developed at MSU, researchers can stimulate a spot on a freely-moving retina and take highly accurate measurements. Surgeons and researchers alike will benefit, Vogel said. Details have been published in the journal "Optics Express." Lead author was David Arathorn, a research professor in MSU's Center for Computational Biology. MSU co-authors were Vogel and post-doctoral researcher Qiang Yang. Understanding the human visual system is the Holy Grail for optical scientists, Vogel said.

Gateway monuments

Do the signs that welcome visitors to town make them feel so welcome that they spend money in the community? Do they give residents a feeling of place? Are they hazardous to drivers? David Veneziano, a research scientist in MSU's Western Transportation Institute, is investigating those types of questions in five California communities that installed "gateway monuments" as part of a federal demonstration program. To achieve permanent status, the signs must be evaluated and show no adverse effects. Veneziano received funding from the California Department of Transportation to evaluate the signs. He will focus on questions of safety. Researchers at California State University-Chico, through a subcontract, will investigate economic impacts of the signs. The signs could contain slogans, but they mostly welcome visitors.

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