Quick Looks

Phase 3 Science Funding a First for Montana

Andrij HolianFor the first time ever, a Center for Biomedical Research Excellence (COBRE) at a Montana university has been granted a Phase 3 award from the National Institutes of Health.

The $5 million, five-year, Institutional Development Award went to the Center for Environmental Health Sciences at the University of Montana. Part of UM’s College of Health Professions and Biomedical Sciences, CEHS employs about 50 people who study environmental impacts on human health.

“It’s gratifying to be the first COBRE center in Montana to earn a Phase 3 award,” Director Andrij Holian says. “At each stage these awards get more competitive and harder to get. This outcome is a direct result of the high level of science being conducted by our investigators.”

The COBRE program was established to support multidisciplinary biomedical research centers and science infrastructure in states that historically have had low levels of NIH funding. UM has two COBRE centers, and Montana State University has two as well.

Holian says most investigators at his center study inflammation in some way. The 17 faculty researchers associated with CEHS examine everything from pulmonary and cardiovascular diseases to autoimmune diseases and developmental defects. Libby asbestos and the effects of wood smoke on human health are just two examples of center research topics.

The center launched in 2000 when Holian was recruited to UM from the University of Texas, Houston. U.S. Sen. Max Baucus helped support CEHS with an initial federal appropriation, and the center landed its first $10 million COBRE award in 2002. Phase 2, also $10 million, followed in 2007. Phase 3 was awarded this past summer.

“I think the important thing here is how much this effort has enriched the scientific infrastructure for the entire campus,” Holian says. “We have purchased equipment and provided resources that no one investigator alone could afford. Now more than half of the investigators using our equipment are from outside the center.”

UM Science Rakes in Research Funds

Times remain tough for the nation’s research universities, with a general reduction in federal research funding coupled with a loss of stimulus funding and sequestration.

“Here at UM we saw a decline of 3.6 percent in research expenditures, from $61.5 million in 2012 to $59.3 million in 2013,” says Scott Whittenburg, UM vice president for research and creative scholarship. “But our decline was considerably less than most research universities nationwide. Our people did excellent work competing for the available research dollars.”

The five individuals with the highest expenditures for fiscal year 2013 were:

• Stephen Sprang, Center for Biomedical Structure and Dynamics, $2.2 million.

• Donald Loranger, Defense Critical Language and Culture Program, $2 million.

• Ric Hauer, Montana Institute on Ecosystems, $1.9 million.

• Richard van den Pol, Institute for Educational Research and Service, $1.7 million.

• Kathleen Laurin, Rural Institute Community Services and Supports, $1.4 million.

Scientist Earns Army Grant to Develop Drug for Traumatic Brain Injuries

The U.S. Army has awarded UM researcher Dave Poulsen a $1 million grant to further develop a drug that limits damage caused by traumatic brain injuries.

Researchers in his lab have shown that low doses of methamphetamine given to rodents within 12 hours after a traumatic brain injury or stroke significantly reduce brain damage and impairment. The Army grant will advance preclinical development studies of the drug in preparation for Phase I/II human clinical trials.

“The military eventually wants a drug that can be administered to soldiers exposed to blast-force energy waves from explosions such as those experienced by soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan,” says Poulsen, a research professor in UM’s Department of Biomedical and Pharmaceutical Sciences. “Such therapies would be applied within hours of exposure to a significant blast.”

Poulsen already had earned a $1.5 million Army grant in 2011 to determine the lowest effective dose and therapeutic window that the drug can be administered following a severe traumatic brain injury. The award also examined the potential for low-dose methamphetamine to prevent or reduce post-traumatic epilepsy.

UM Science Leader Grund Retires

Vernon GrundVernon Grund, a key figure in the sustained growth and success of UM’s College of Health Professions and Biomedical Sciences, retired in December after 21 years at the University.

Grund earned his pharmacology doctorate from the University of Minnesota Medical School in 1974, worked at two universities and then in 1992 was hired to chair UM’s Department of Biomedical and Pharmaceutical Sciences. Combining his talents with Dean David Forbes, Grund helped grow the number of research-active faculty and research funding to the point where the Skaggs School of Pharmacy ranked fifth in the nation among more than 100 pharmacy schools in NIH funding in 2004, with more than $10 million in annual research funding. When Grund stepped down as chairman in 2008, the school continued to rank in the top 10.

Grund retires as assistant to the vice president for research and development/health sciences and associate dean for research and graduate education. He wore many hats at the college over the years, including interim dean.

“I feel I’ve remained committed to the evolution of basic as well as clinical and translational research at UM, despite the lack of a medical school or research hospital in Montana,” Grund says. “One of the highlights for me was the completion of the 60,000-square-foot Skaggs Building Biomedical Research Facility and Science Learning Complex addition in 2007 — a project I worked on for over five years.”

Among his many accomplishments, Grund served on three research institute boards: the International Heart Institute (1999-2006), the Montana Neuroscience Institute (2003-13) and the Montana Cancer Institute (2005-13). He remains on the MCI board, which recently recognized him for “vision, leadership and commitment as cofounder and board chair.”

Grund recently worked with Reed Humphrey, chair of the School of Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation Science, to develop UM’s new Neural Injury Center. He also helped found spectrUM Discovery Area, which makes science fun for kids, and helped facilitate the opening of a new spectrUM site in downtown Missoula this summer.

University Plans New Cyber Lab

The University plans to create a new Cyber Innovation Laboratory in collaboration with state technology companies. The new facility will train students in cybersecurity and using so-called “big data” to search for patterns that solve real-world problems using massive datasets.

The lab initially will be outfitted using donations from Montana technology companies. The state’s entire U.S. congressional delegation has voiced support for the UM initiative.

Curricula will be designed for use with the lab, and UM officials envision new certificate and degree offerings involving cybersecurity, big data and assurance, which involves safety, security and compliance.

“The Cyber Innovation Laboratory at UM will be a place where students are given real-world experience and learn the technical skills that employees require in this dynamic and growing industry,” UM President Royce Engstrom says.

The lab will train students in vulnerability assessment, in which they are taught how to identify weaknesses in information systems. In an isolated, secure laboratory, students will learn how hackers penetrate computer systems in order to help companies better protect themselves from hostile data breaches. Students also will study digital forensic analysis, studying evidence from data breaches to better track down hackers.

UM Provost Perry Brown says the four major components of big data are analytics, infrastructure, cybersecurity and mobility. He says UM researchers such as Regents Professor Steve Running already use massive datasets from environmental satellites to study ecological and climate changes across the globe, and big data are used frequently in political and business analyses.

“The Cyber Lab at UM is an exciting example of how we can build a world-class cyber and big data educational program right here in Montana,” says U.S. Rep. Steve Daines, who serves on the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Cybersecurity. “This program at UM will help ensure that we produce a top-notch labor pool to serve those businesses and help Montana’s technology sector grow.”

Brown says this new effort represents a logical outgrowth of UM’s commitment to technology educational and research programs. Working in collaboration with the IBM’s Academic Initiative, the University already boasts a national, first-of-its-kind undergraduate course in stream computing, allowing students to learn real-time analytical skills in mathematics, computer science and business process optimization. UM also recently received a National Science Foundation grant of nearly $500,000 to improve the University’s cyberinfrastructure.

In addition, UM’s Department of Mathematical Sciences offered a big data analytics course this semester, and Missoula College faculty members are developing a proposal for a cybersecurity certificate.

UM in Top 25 Percent of Universities Worldwide for Scholarly Citations

UM recently was ranked in the top 300 universities worldwide, but one factor of that ranking stands out: UM is in the top 25 percent of universities for the scholarly accomplishments of its faculty.

In the Times Higher Education World University Rankings, UM scored a 74.6 for citations of research and creative scholarship. Last year, UM scored a 72.1 in that area and was ranked in the top 28 percent of universities worldwide.

“A high ranking of the number of citations of UM faculty research and creative scholarship — and that the ranking is improving — is particularly noteworthy,” says Scott Whittenburg, UM vice president for research and creative scholarship. “The citation index confirms that our faculty members and researchers present results of the highest quality on topics of vital interest to the scientific and broader community.”

UM’s overall ranking in the report falls in the 276-300 section. The university’s score is determined by data on teaching, international outlook, industry income, research and citations.

UM Professor Honored with Prestigious 2013 Aldo Leopold Award

Joel BergerThe American Society of Mammalogists this year awarded UM Wildlife Biology Professor and Craighead Chair Joel Berger the 2013 Aldo Leopold Conservation Award. 

The award honors well-established individuals who have made lasting contributions to the conservation of mammals and their habitats. 

Berger has addressed research questions about mammalian ecology and conservation in natural systems at wide-ranging geographic scales in Asia, Africa and North America. This award recognizes his broad scope of work, which includes social behavior and ecology of wild horses; behavioral and demographic consequences of horn removal in African rhinos; effects of predator reintroduction on the ecology of prey species and on the structure of vertebrate communities; long-distance migration by mammals and conservation of their migration corridors; effects of climate change in the Arctic on demography and persistence of musk oxen; and conservation of large mammals in Bhutan, Tibet and Mongolia.

“In each of these systems, our recipient and his collaborators have combined traditional approaches and novel field manipulations that facilitate stronger inferences about both fundamental and applied ecological topics,” stated the American Society of Mammalogists in their award announcement. “Dr. Berger also has engaged in capacity building in these projects through efforts with local conservation organizations, education and training for local scientists and students and advising for governmental agencies.”

In 2002, ASM created the award, which is named after Aldo Leopold, the “father” of wildlife ecology and management, who is well-known for his famous land ethic philosophy and his influence on wildlife conservation, including his active membership on ASM Conservation Committees in the 1930s.

“I am motivated by conservation and finding ways to protect our planet’s spectacular diversity,” Berger says. “This means understanding systems and species, their challenges and proffering solutions.”

New Study Reveals High CO2 Uptake Capacity of Tropical Forests

Plants take in and store carbon dioxide as they grow. As the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere increases, leading to rising temperatures and other climatic changes, researchers want to know if plant growth can keep pace with and take up more of this new CO2.

To grow faster, plants also need nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorous in balance with the amount of new CO2. New research led by Cory Cleveland, a UM professor of terrestrial biogeochemistry, examines where plants might be expected to grow more based on access to nutrients.

The study found that new sources of nitrogen are most available for plants in tropical rain forests but that phosphorus availability is low across the globe. Cleveland and his co-authors used satellite data to track plant production and the balance of carbon, nitrogen and phosphorous.

“Our global, satellite-based calculation allowed us to examine patterns of nutrient demand and cycling over a large scale,” Cleveland says. “This helped us pinpoint tropical forest ecosystems as those with the ability to increase plant productivity in response to other changes in the environment, at least from a nutrient-cycling perspective. We also saw that forests outside the tropics have much more limited ability to grow more due to low inputs of new nitrogen and phosphorous relative to plant demands.” 

Cleveland and co-authors from five institutions worked on the paper “Patterns of New Versus Recycled Primary Production in the Terrestrial Biosphere,” which was published July 15 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Woman Leaves Legacy for Osprey Research

Osprey photo by Erick GreeneLast summer, UM osprey researchers honored a member of the osprey-cam community by naming two chicks reared in the Hellgate nest near campus in memory of cyber-community Friends of the Osprey founder Peggy Taylor Miles. The chicks were named Taylor and Miles.

Internet sensations Iris and Stanley, adult osprey mates, captured the attention of thousands of viewers from around the world thanks to a high-resolution camera installed by UM researchers. UM’s Department of Geosciences hosts the camera, and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology hosts the feed so viewers worldwide can watch these iconic birds. 

Taylor Miles was one of those viewers, and she helped start the Facebook group Friends of the Osprey. After a battle with ovarian cancer, Taylor Miles died in March. 

“Peggy was a remarkable woman,” UM principal investigators for Project Osprey Erick Greene and Heiko Langner wrote on the Osprey Cam Facebook page. “She was dedicated to conservation and caring for our world.” 

After she passed, her family asked that donations be made in her honor to the Montana Osprey Project — the UM-based research project in which the nest cams help researchers observe the birds to learn more about their habits and also study the way mercury moves through the food chain in the Clark Fork River basin.

“We were flooded with donations, many from the tight-knit cyber-community that began with a Facebook page,” Greene says.

Taylor Miles’ legacy will live on with the Peggy Taylor Miles Memorial Fund, which was established with the UM Foundation to help sustain research and education on ospreys and aquatic systems. To learn more, visit here.

UM Departments Collaborate to Create Artistic River Sounds Experience

A scene from the May “Dance in Concert” productionUM students and faculty collaborated across disciplines last spring to create a multimedia piece featuring narration, computer music, dance and animation that artistically translates how the sounds of the rivers influence waterway ecosystems.

“Sounds of Rivers: Stone Drum,” showcased in the annual UM “Dance in Concert” production, illustrates how science and fine arts can come together to document valuable research and tell a compelling story.

UM Flathead Lake Biological Station Associate Professor Mark Lorang records the sounds of rivers in Montana as part of his geomorphology research. The natural symphony of sounds, which serve as a guide and map for the ecosystems surrounding waterways, appeals to a greater human desire to understand rivers in a personal way.

“I think everybody wants to relate to rivers,” Lorang says. “What they sound like, what they look like, what’s underneath. There’s been poetry written about babbling brooks for thousands of years. There’s more interest in a river than the physics of the sediment transport or the flow hydraulics.”

Lorang and Stephen Kalm, dean of the UM College of Visual and Performing Arts, started a dialogue about the artistic potential for his research. When composer and former UM School of Music Associate Professor Charles Nichols got involved, the project really took off.

The final product was a breathtaking multimedia show featuring computer music composed by Nichols; poetry written by renowned local poet Mark Gibbons and narrated by Kalm; digital animation by UM School of Media Arts master’s candidate and adjunct instructor Amber Bushnell; and dance choreographed by UM School of Theatre & Dance Associate Professor Nicole Bradley Browning and performed by student Allison Herther.

The piece featured a complex interconnectedness of the different media. Nichols’ composition combined processing of the poetry’s text and different aspects of the river’s sound to control the pitch, speed and pressure of a digital violin performance. During the show, he performed live electric violin to correspond with music mentioned in Gibbon’s poem. While the sound swirled around the audience, it also connected to Bushnell’s computer animation, influencing the color and movement of the images that played across a large screen and on Herther’s flowing white gown, which spanned the entire stage.

The grand scale of the production speaks to the passion across campus for research and artistic expression.

Entrepreneurship Program Launched in Montana by Blackstone Foundation

The Blackstone Charitable Foundation has expanded its campus entrepreneurship program, Blackstone LaunchPad, to Montana. A $2 million grant announced last summer will establish a partnership between UM, Montana State University and Headwaters RC&D to introduce entrepreneurship as a viable career option and provide students with a network of venture coaches and entrepreneurial support to transform new ideas into sustainable companies.

With a physical presence at UM and MSU, Blackstone LaunchPad has the potential to generate 150 new ventures in Montana over the next five years. The program is modeled after a successful program developed at the University of Miami in 2008, which has generated 1,413 business proposals, created 210 new jobs and drawn nearly 2,600 participants. Each new regional program will be linked together, drawing ideas and best practices from the existing programs, while giving student entrepreneurs at UM and MSU access to a national community of more than 200,000 of their peers across affiliated campuses, as well as expert advisers.

The program will foster connections between the campus, business community and local entrepreneurs to create an environment that nurtures young entrepreneurs and provides them the skills and network necessary to succeed. Unlike traditional college curricular programs available to limited school populations, Blackstone LaunchPad is open to all students at UM and MSU regardless of major.

Montana is the fifth Blackstone LaunchPad region, following Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida.

Grant to Forge Ties Between Researchers, Private Firms

The Montana Board of Research and Commercialization Technology was awarded a $149,000 grant last summer to support the collaborative biomedical research and commercial development between the UM and private Montana companies.

The project, “Enhancement of Applied/Translational Research in Biomedicine,” involves four UM departments and leverages federal grant support for basic neuroscience research at UM’s Center of Structural and Functional Neuroscience. 

The grant will support seed projects to develop, refine and commercialize intellectual property in the private sector; the development of incubator space for small business innovation research projects; the maintenance of high-tech, high-cost shared instrumentation as a statewide resource; student training; and the continued promotion of collaborative projects between CSFN researchers and the biotech/biomedical companies in Montana.

Scientists participating in the project include those affiliated with CSFN, emerging biotech companies in Montana and other private-sector research entities, such as the Montana Neuroscience Institute at St. Patrick Hospital. 

The UM Department of Biomedical and Pharmaceutical Sciences and CSFN collaborated on the grant with the UM Office of Technology Transfer and the School of Business Administration.

UM Shares Grant to Convert Beetle-Killed Trees into Biofuel

The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced Nov. 6 that it has awarded nearly $10 million to an academic, industry and government consortium to study the major challenges in using insect-killed trees as a sustainable feedstock for bioenergy. The award was made by USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

UM will receive more than $1 million over five years to help study the issues related to using forest residue, including beetle-killed trees, as a feedstock in biofuel production.

Woodam Chung, UM College of Forestry and Conservation associate professor of forest operations, will lead the group of scientists studying the logistics of harvesting, collecting and transporting underused forest biomass to a biofuel production facility. He and his research team, which includes UM graduate students, will look at cost, machine productivity, infrastructure needs, pretreatment requirements and other factors in getting biomass from the forests to a facility. 

He’ll develop research sites in Montana, Idaho and Colorado to look closely at the specifics of biomass removal as part of timber management and forest restoration activities.

“We’ll test a range of feedstocks for their quality of biofuels output, perform field studies on feedstock logistics and then develop economic models to estimate the cost of using those feedstocks,” Chung says, noting that they’re looking mainly at feedstock not destined for another timber market and want to complement existing forest product industry.

Beth Covitt, research assistant professor in UM’s Environmental Studies Program and a project co-principal investigator, will collaborate with the education team. Education activities derived from the project will reach K-12 students and teachers and university students. The education team will develop middle- and high school-level science units related to biomass, carbon cycling and human energy systems.

Mansfield Library Acquires High-End Chaucer Reproduction

The Ellesmere Manuscript facsimileUM students and faculty conducting research on Chaucer’s “The Canterbury Tales” have an exceptional new resource available through the Maureen and Mike Mansfield Library. The library recently acquired a detailed facsimile of the Ellesmere Manuscript, a beautiful, illuminated edition produced in the early 15th century.

The manuscript, originally commissioned by an unknown artistic patron between 1400 and 1405, now resides at the Huntington Library in San Marino, Calif. The Mansfield Library purchased the limited-edition, deluxe facsimile for $8,000, supported by donations to the library’s Archives & Special Collections Department in memory of Mabelle Hardy, the library’s Lucia B. Mirrielees Fund and the Friends of the Davidson Honors College Opportunity Fund.

The facsimile allows students and researchers to engage with the most important manuscript of “The Canterbury Tales” in a form that reflects the original as closely as possible. Combining the best of the old and the new, the facsimile features high-resolution photographic reproduction supplemented by authentic 24-karat-gold letter gilding to emulate the look and feel of the medieval manuscript.

UM English Professor Ashby Kinch, who teaches British literature and the Chaucer seminars, says the original manuscript was produced by 10 to 12 people.

“One scribe, speculatively identified as Adam Pynkhurst, wrote the entire manuscript,” Kinch says. “But all of the other major design components would have been executed by other people. Three different limners — or border artists — worked on the Ellesmere, and at least three portrait artists; but somebody also had to supervise the work, including preparing the parchment from calfskin, ruling the pages and designing the page.”

Students taking an honors seminar in Chaucer autumn semester already have viewed the manuscript, which is the newest addition to the library’s surprisingly robust collection of Chauceriana.

UM Named a Top-50 College for Advancing Women in Science, Technology, Math Careers

The Online College Database recently ranked UM 43rd on its “50 Colleges Advancing Women in STEM” list. UM offers 66 science, technology and math programs, and the 450 women enrolled in them make up 56 percent of STEM students.

The list identifies public, fully accredited higher education institutions that graduate a high number of women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields and successfully encourage female students’ participation in a variety of STEM programs. UM is the only Montana university on the list.

“This listing in the top 50 colleges nationwide is a testament to the high quality of our science, mathematics and technology programs at UM, and it is extra special since we do not have undergraduate engineering programs, which are a major factor for many of the other universities on the list,” says UM Provost Perry Brown. “We are proud of the many female students who have chosen to pursue degrees in the STEM fields, and to do it in the challenging programs we have at UM.” 

View the full list online here. The Online College Database uses demographic information from the Integrated Post-Secondary Education Data System when compiling its rankings. Data includes college majors, enrollment status, financial aid awarded, race, ethnicity, gender and more.

For more information call Brown at 406-243-4689 or email perry.brown@mso.umt.edu.

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