University of Montana faculty members expended nearly $62 million in external grants and contracts to support the University’s research enterprise in fiscal year 2012. David Forbes, UM’s interim vice president for research and creative scholarship, notes that UM researchers continued to bring in substantial funding at a time when competition for such funding has grown much more intense.
The five individuals with the highest expenditures for 2012 were:
-- Andrij Holian, Center for Environmental Health Sciences, $2.4 million.
-- Ric Hauer, Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research, $2.4 million.
-- Terry Weidner, Maureen and Mike Mansfield Center, $1.7 million.
-- Stephen Sprang, Center for Biomolecular Structure and Dynamics, $1.7 million.
-- Charles Thompson, Department of Biomedical and Pharmaceutical Sciences, $1.6 million.
Officials gathered Oct. 26 to celebrate the completion of a $3.5 million renovation and expansion of the Montana Technology Enterprise Center (MonTEC), a business and technology incubator operated by UM.
The project updated 15,000 square feet of labs and office space to facilitate expansion of Rivertop Renewables, a renewable-chemical company resulting from the work of UM Professor Emeritus Don Kiely. A new 2,000-square-foot addition will be outfitted as a semi-works facility, which will help Rivertop research, develop and produce cost-competitive, biodegradable chemicals.
“Rivertop is a great example of how the University’s research enterprise can impact our local economy,” says Joe Fanguy, UM director of technology transfer and MonTEC president. “This project will allow Rivertop to move its renewable chemicals more quickly to market and grow the company’s employee base here in Missoula.”
The project was made possible by a $1.75 million expansion and renovation grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration, and that amount was matched by UM. Rivertop will invest an additional $2.5 million in private capital to fully equip the facility. U.S. Sen. Max Baucus helped secure the federal funding for the MonTEC improvements.
Rivertop now employs 20 workers and plans to hire 15 to 20 more during the coming year.
Rivertop has developed proprietary technology that can produce sustainable, high-performing, renewable chemicals from natural sugars. The company currently develops products for the detergent and petroleum industries — $2 billion markets seeking replacement chemicals that fulfill price, performance and sustainability mandates. The facility also will expand development of Rivertop’s bio-based corrosion inhibitors for use in road deicers — a product already purchased by the Montana Department of Transportation.
Multiple longer-term opportunities exist in the company’s research with advanced biodegradable polymers, adhesives and other functional materials.
Rivertop Renewables was incorporated in 2008. It then licensed patented technology developed by Kiely while he was at the University. Glucaric acid, one of the company’s chemicals, can be made from corn and has been recognized by the U.S. Department of Energy as one of the top-12 chemicals of the future made from renewable resources.
In a shift of business model, Fanguy says, Rivertop now gives MonTEC an anchor tenant, providing an opportunity for enhanced focus on company assistance through joint programs with UM’s Office of Research and Creative Scholarship and School of Business Administration, as well as the Missoula Economic Partnership.
“MonTEC also has expanded common areas to stimulate networking opportunities, as well as added an additional conference room and library space,” Fanguy says. “Several new support programs also have been launched to support incubator companies and entrepreneurs across Missoula and western Montana.”
In the animal kingdom, huge weapons such as elk antlers or ornaments like peacock feathers are sexy. Their extreme size attracts potential mates and warns away lesser rivals.
UM scientists and their partners have discovered a developmental mechanism they think may be responsible for the excessive growth of threatening horns or come-hither tail feathers. Published July 25 in the online edition of Science, the research reveals a mechanism to explain both the size of these traits and the incredible variation among males of the same species — why some beetles, for instance, grow massive horns while their fellows grow nothing but nubbins.
“Our research explains how these enormous traits get to be so enormous,” says Doug Emlen, a professor and evolutionary biologist in UM’s Division of Biological Sciences. “People have known for 100 years that the best males produce the biggest structures, but nobody has really understood how. Our work looks under the hood to explain why so many sexually selected structures get so massive.”
The researchers discovered when they disturbed the insulin-signaling pathway in Japanese rhinoceros beetles — big insects that can grow horns two-thirds the length of their bodies — the horns were far less likely to grow. In fact, horn growth was stunted eight times as much as growth of the wings, or the rest of the body. They interpret this to mean that the exaggerated structures — the horns — are more sensitive to signaling through this physiological pathway than are other traits.
During the experiment, Emlen and his team injected a cocktail of double-stranded RNA into the beetle larvae to shut down the desired insulin pathway gene. Within 72 hours normal insulin signaling had resumed, but by then horn growth was stunted. Researchers found the genitalia grew normally despite the shutdown, and the wings and bodies were slightly affected. The horns, however, experienced major changes.
“We found an intuitive candidate mechanism — the insulin-signaling pathway — and when we perturbed it with our genetic experiment, we confirmed what we think the pathway should be doing to these beetles,” Emlen says. “There is a hormone signal secreted by the brain that circulates through the whole animal. It communicates to the different cells and tissues and essentially tells them how much to grow.”
Hormone levels reflect the physiological condition of each animal, with high circulating levels in well-fed, dominant individuals and lower levels in poorly fed or less-fit individuals. When tissues are sensitive to these signals, as most tissues are, then their final sizes scale with the overall quality and size of the animal. Because of this mechanism, big beetles have larger eyes, legs and wings than smaller beetles.
Emlen says the horns are exquisitely sensitive to these insulin signals — more sensitive than other structures. Developing horns in big, fit, well-fed males are drenched with the hormone, spurring exaggerated horn growth. On the flip side, a small, less-fit male receives less of the horn-boosting hormone, stunting growth of its weapon.
Emlen says this process explains how horns can range from massive to nonexistent among male beetles of the same species and why the size of such exaggerated, showy traits accurately reflects the overall quality of the males who wield them. He says the results likely are applicable to other species beyond rhinoceros beetles, since additional studies have tied this same physiological pathway to growth of red deer antlers and crab pincer claws.
“Horns and antlers matter,” Emlen says. “Animals pay attention to them when they size each other up for battle. And females pay attention to horns or are attracted to males with really big tails. Why? Because only the best of the best can have really big horns or tails.”
Emlen is the lead author of the Science article, titled “A mechanism of extreme growth and reliable signaling in sexually selected ornaments and weapons.” His co-authors are UM’s Annika Johns, Ian Warren and Laura Corley Lavine of Washington State University, and Ian Dworkin of Michigan State University. Their work was funded by the National Science Foundation.
It’s only fitting that an evolutionary biologist is helping create the next evolution of the textbook. UM’s Doug Emlen helped create a first-of-its-kind textbook coupled with an iPad app to provide images, audio, video clips, and interactive graphics and exercises so college students taking courses in evolutionary biology have multiple ways to learn and — more important to Emlen — to retain the subject matter.
According to Emlen’s publisher, recent studies have found as many as 90 percent of college students don’t read their textbooks because the material tends to be dense and dull. So Emlen and co-author Carl Zimmer, a renowned science writer and regular contributor to The New York Times, set out to change that.
With the backing of progressive publishing company Roberts & Company, Emlen and Zimmer were able to rethink the very nature of the textbook. Their goal was to create a tool that would not look or feel like the traditional desk-reference textbook. Instead, they went to work filling the pages of “Evolution: Making Sense of Life” with compelling narrative, conveying science through stories and illustrating the pages with commissioned, original artwork and colorful photographs.
The iPad application is where the real evolution happened because students can interact with the material. They still can read all of the same text found in the print version, but after reading about, for example, the way mating male frogs attract females, they can pull up an island window audio player and hear the difference between what a female frog interprets as an attractive call and what she hears as a non-attractive call.
Like a traditional textbook, students can highlight information and take notes in the margins. However, the app can take that information and create custom study sheets where even the professors’ notes and supplemental information can be integrated.
The textbooks hit the bookshelves in August, and the interactive iPad app followed in September. The first chapters now are available in the Apple app store for free.
Results from a five-year study involving UM plant ecologist John Maron suggest plants can evolve quickly to lose anti-insect defenses when those defensive traits are no longer needed.
Maron collaborated on a study of evening primrose wildflowers in experimental plots growing in New York. The study found that primroses lost defensive traits that protected them from plant-eating moths in only three or four generations when the insects were experimentally suppressed.
“The research demonstrates that evolution can occur quite rapidly in a field setting,” Maron says. “It also shows that in the absence of herbivorous insects the frequency of plants possessing traits associated with herbivore resistance can change rapidly.”
The National Science Foundation funded the research, and results were published in the Oct. 5 issue of Science. Anurag Agrawal of Cornell University was the principal investigator, and he worked with researchers at UM, the University of Toronto and the University of Turku, Finland.
Through natural selection, the wildflowers evolved away from having high concentrations of insect-deterring chemicals and later flowering, which protects against plant-eating larvae that peak early in growing seasons. The primroses also evolved traits making them better able to compete against dandelions, which unexpectedly thrived in the experimental insect-suppression plots.
“When dandelions were liberated from their own herbivores, they became more abundant in the plots,” Maron says. “This altered the competitive environment and selected for primrose genotypes that could handle this increased competition.
“This rapid change in primrose competitive ability was unexpected,” he says. “It shows how interactions influencing one species in an assemblage can in turn affect the evolution of other community members.”
UM Professor Richard Bridges joined an elite group last year when the state Board of Regents unanimously voted to name him Regents Professor of Pharmacology and Toxicology.
Regents Professor is the top rank awarded to faculty members in the Montana University System. Bridges is only the ninth UM professor to earn the title since the policy of naming Regents Professors started in 1991.
“Professor Bridges joins the ranks of individuals who exemplify the spirit of the faculty at UM,” President Royce C. Engstrom says. “We are proud to recognize him not just for his outstanding accomplishments, but his distinction as a University citizen.”
Regents Professors must demonstrate unusual excellence in instruction, scholarship and service, as well as distinctive impact through their work. The rank is awarded by the Board of Regents upon the recommendation of the University president.
Bridges has chaired UM’s Department of Biomedical and Pharmaceutical Sciences since 2008. He also founded and for eight years directed UM’s Center for Structural and Functional Neuroscience, which is a National Institutes of Health Center for Biomedical Research Excellence. He now chairs the Montana Neuroscience Institute and was a founding member of the Montana BioScience Alliance and the Montana Neuroscience Institute.
Research in the Bridges group focuses on the neurochemistry of membrane transport proteins that regulate the movement of the signaling molecules into and out of cells within the nervous system.
Small things just got bigger at UM with the installation of a VEGA-3 Variable Pressure Scanning Electron Microscope on Sept. 12 in the Clapp Building.
The $425,000 microscope was funded primarily by the National Science Foundation’s Major Research Instrumentation program and will allow UM researchers to look at objects at the micron and nanometer scale. The microscope uses electrons instead of light to magnify objects tens of thousands of times, magnifying one-millionth to one-billionth of a meter.
The instrument also features several special detectors that can capture other types of images. For example, researchers can spatially map the individual chemical elements in a sample, obtain precise information about the chemical composition of materials at a particular spot, spatially map mineral distribution in a rock or look at the orientation of crystal lattices of individual minerals in geological samples. It essentially integrates surface imaging, chemistry and crystallography into a single tool.
“The tool will allow UM faculty to expand into new research, particularly with respect to environmental, energy resources and materials-based archaeology research that previously couldn’t be done on UM’s campus,” says Julia Baldwin, associate professor of geosciences and the driving force behind getting the SEM to UM.
Researchers in geosciences, anthropology, chemistry and biochemistry, physics and astronomy and the College of Forestry and Conservation will use the instrument. Applications include analyzing porosity and mineralogical composition of rocks and minerals, materials-based archaeology research on the sources of lithic materials and transport strategies, imaging mineralogical and morphology changes in fire ash and the effects on runoff and documenting the nature and compositions of metal contamination in fluvial sediments.
The instrument temporarily will be housed in UM’s Clapp Building but will move to a new state-of-the-art electron microscopy suite in UM’s Interdisciplinary Sciences Building in the coming year, along with existing campus instruments that currently are housed with the Division of Biological Sciences.
Because UM is one of the few western universities with a scanning electron microscope that offers such a wide versatility in imaging capabilities, it will be made available for use by faculty from other universities and colleges. Other agencies such as the Fire Sciences Lab and the Montana Bureau of Mines & Geology also have expressed interest in its applications.
Development of a new partnership between the UM Department of Physics and Astronomy, the California Institute of Technology and Pennsylvania State University will place UM on the cutting edge of the search for new planets and help address the age-old question, “Are we alone?”
UM is working with the astronomy departments of Caltech and Penn State to build a new array of telescopes called MINERVA, which all three universities will use to search for planets orbiting nearby stars. The ultimate goal, according to UM Assistant Professor of Astrophysics Nate McCrady, is to locate earthlike, rocky planets capable of supporting liquid water, the most basic building block of life as we know it.
“We’re in a position to be on the cutting edge,” McCrady says. “No one’s doing exactly what we’re doing with this.”
By partnering with other universities, UM has the capability to purchase one of four telescopes that, when used in conjunction with the others, will allow astronomers to search the skies with extreme power and precision. Looking to the stars with the combined light collected by all four telescopes will bring the cost of this powerful array down from the $6 million ballpark to about $1 million. UM’s stake would be about $250,000 for one telescope and the imaging camera within it.
Penn State already has purchased their telescope, which was installed for testing at Caltech in Pasadena, Calif. Caltech currently is raising funds to purchase possibly two of their own, and UM has started its fundraising efforts.
After the initial investment for the telescope, the project has the potential to generate much more funding for research at UM.
“It really elevates UM’s profile and makes us very competitive for NASA and National Science Foundation funding,” says McCrady.
For more information call McCrady at 406-243-2041 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. You can learn more about MINERVA or donate funds to purchase the telescope at http://www.physics.umt.edu/minerva.
Tom Martin believes his upcoming research on two superfamilies of birds in southeast Asia will have a major impact on science’s understanding of how species form, how physiology may influence longevity and the implications of climate change on their development and survival.
The National Science Foundation obviously sees potential in the research, too, because the Montana Wildlife Cooperative Research Unit senior scientist and UM professor, together with four other scientists, received a $2 million grant from the organization to pursue the study.
Martin leads the study titled “Dimensions: Collaborative Research — Historical and contemporary influences on elevational distributions and biodiversity tested in tropic Asia” with partners from the Smithsonian Institution, the University of Kansas and Louisiana State University. A large sum of the NSF grant, $1.3 million, will come to UM for the study, and Martin will lead a group of student researchers to the tropical island Borneo to study birds in the Sylvoidea and Muscicapidae families.
The study will examine the effects of elevation and temperature change on the tropical birds, who are ideal test subjects due to their narrow tolerance for environmental shifts. Martin says that in the wild, species in the same genus are stacked on each other elevationally and latitudinally. As you move higher up a mountain or to higher latitudes, you will see species change with little to no bleed-over. Martin and the team of researchers on the project hypothesize that these species’ ranges aren’t based solely on competition or physiology, but rather a result of an interaction of competition and physiology with fecundity and survival strategies.
“One of the things that’s becoming increasingly recognized, especially in the tropics, is that as things warm up, some species don’t have the physiological tolerance to deal with global warming,” Martin says. “So they’re being pushed up the mountain, and the species that are at the top of the mountain are then being pushed off. There’s no habitat that’s suitable for them.”
Martin will use a team of three doctoral students and about 10 postgraduate students to perform an on-the-ground study of the birds in their tropical habitat.
Identifying the hottest place on Earth has long been a contentious issue, but UM recently analyzed satellite data of land surfaces temperatures to do just that.
For the past century, scientists typically have determined the Earth’s hot spots using air temperature readings taken at weather stations. The World Meteorological Organization has more than 11,000 weather stations collecting surface air temperatures, but the stations are not located in the remote areas that are likely to be the hottest places on Earth.
UM researchers David Mildrexler, Maosheng Zhao and Steve Running decided to try a different approach to locating the hottest place on Earth: They looked at satellite data.
The scientists analyzed data on land surface temperatures collected from 2003 to 2009 by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer aboard NASA’s Aqua satellite. The satellite passes over the Earth every afternoon and collects data on the amount of infrared energy emitted by the land surface. Extreme surface temperature is what a person would feel if they walked across a blacktop parking lot barefoot on a hot summer day.
They found that the hottest spot on Earth varies a degree or two from year to year, but the Lut Desert in Iran, the Turpan Basin in China and the badlands in Queensland, Australia, have the highest land surface temperatures on Earth, all at around 70 degrees Celsius or 160 degrees Fahrenheit.
Using a hand-held device this past summer, Running measured the surface temperature of the artificial turf in UM’s Washington-Grizzly Stadium in mid-afternoon to be almost as hot, around 150 degrees Fahrenheit, far above the 90-degree- Fahrenheit air temperature reported at the National Weather Service for Missoula that day.
Two researchers at the University’s Flathead Lake Biological Station have received one of the state’s highest honors for their work in conservation.
The Montana Environmental Information Center honored research Professor Jack Stanford and research Assistant Professor Bonnie Ellis with its 2012 Conservationist of the Year award at a spring ceremony.
Jim Jensen, MEIC executive director, says the award is the highest recognition of lifetime achievement in environmental conservation in Montana.
“Jack and Bonnie fit the description as perfectly as any recipient ever has,” Jensen says. “Their world-renowned research has been translated to ordinary citizens to understand the complexities of the Flathead Basin, in ways that are extremely rare in science. … We cannot hope for sound policies to guide our actions without the scientific basis, and it is only possible for policymakers to make informed decisions if they can understand the implications of scientific research, and that is what Jack and Bonnie do best.”
Stanford, who also serves as the station’s director, has studied the ecology of the Crown of the Continent ecosystem for more than 30 years, and has directed research at FLBS since 1973. He has received nearly a dozen state and national awards for his research and contributions to river ecology.
Ellis specializes in limnology, the study of inland waters, and her Flathead Lake research has ranged from the physiological ecology of the lake’s phytoplankton to its food-web dynamics.
“We are very pleased and proud to receive this award,” Stanford says. “It underscores the importance of the work at the biological station to the people of Montana.”
The National Native Children’s Trauma Center based at UM has received a $2.4 million grant to continue work with Native American youth who experience symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.
The grant is a competitive refunding of the center from the Substance Abuse and Mental Services Health Administration. The center is based in the UM College of Education’s Institute for Educational Research and Service and provides trainings nationwide on mental health services that are particularly effective in rural settings and schools. The new award will expand these trainings to include Indian Health Services clinicians, tribal health departments, child welfare agencies and reservation schools.
IERS Director Rick van den Pol says the grant will provide training for professionals who serve Native youth through the center’s outreach programs and through partnerships with tribes.
IERS analyzes program evaluation data related to the participating children’s wellbeing before and after therapy and most show reduced PTSD symptoms. Students with depression also exhibited reduced symptoms.
The Mathematical Association of America selected UM Professor Mark Kayll as one of two winners of the 2012 Carl B. Allendoerfer Award in September.
The Allendoerfer Awards are given for articles of expository excellence published in Mathematics Magazine. Kayll earned the award for his article “Integrals Don’t Have Anything to Do With Discrete Math, Do They?”
“The college is thrilled for Mark,” says Chris Comer, dean of UM’s College of Arts and Sciences. “He joins a distinguished list of well-respected professionals in the field of mathematics, including former plenary speakers at some of our own UM conferences.”
At the Aug. 3 award ceremony in Madison, Wis., the MathFest 2012 prizes and awards booklet lauded his work.
“Kayll’s well-written article provides us with engaging examples in which discrete and continuous mathematics come together,” the booklet read. “It reminds us that elements such as the gamma function are interesting in their own right, and it elegantly illustrates some of the ways in which continuous mathematics can be used to study discrete concepts.”
Kayll grew up in North Vancouver, British Columbia. After earning his bachelor’s degree in mathematics from Simon Fraser University and his doctorate in mathematics from Rutgers University, he joined the faculty at UM. Along with UM College of Arts and Sciences Associate Dean Jenny McNulty, he was a co-organizer for the Big Sky Conference on Discrete Mathematics for 10 years.
UM’s Catherine Off discusses her research during the first-ever “UM Research Spotlight” on Nov. 1. The event highlighted some of the great science being conducted here in western Montana. Ten talented researchers talked about their projects during two panels, “Select UM Mind and Body Research” and “Developing Technologies for Monitoring Humans, Animals and the Global Environment.” About 75 people attended the inaugural event, which is designed to help the public learn about the ongoing efforts of UM’s research enterprise.
Message from the
Interim Vice President
Campus works hard to share news of research success.
UM science highlights from the past year
The Business of Biomimicry
Professor studies companies using nature to create better products.
Mastering the Microbe
UM lab engages tiny organisms to study aging and multicellularity.
Fire and Risk
Researcher studies incidence of ADHD among wildland firefighters.
Missoula College student honored for study of sustainable computers.