April 17th, 2014

UM Grants from Noxious Weed Trust Fund

University of Montana researchers received two grants from the Noxious Weed Trust Fund grant program this week. We received $10,000 for “Supporting Weed Management with Biological Information” and $27,284 for “Biocontrol Agents for Flowering Rush - Year 2”.

April 11th, 2014

Rivertop Renewables Raises $26M

Rivertop Renewables, a Montana-based producer of novel chemicals derived from natural plant sugars, today announced that it has raised $26 million from Cargill, First Green Partners and existing investors. Rivertop was formed in 2008 from the research done by University of Montana scientist Donald Kiely. Now it is the anchor tenant at the Montana Technology Enterprise Center (MonTEC) a UM business incubator.

Rivertop will leverage these funds and an existing manufacturing relationship to produce market development quantities of salts of glucaric acid for select customers. In addition, it will complete construction and begin operations at a semi-works facility at its headquarters in Missoula, where it will optimize its process for world-scale deployment. Rivertop plans to hire more than 20 employees in the next 12 months to support commercial development, effectively doubling the size of its workforce.

April 10th, 2014

New NSF Award to UM Mathematics Professor

Congratulations to Dr. Jennifer Halfpap on her recent National Science Foundation (NSF) award made to University of Montana with an intended total amount of $610,296.00. This project, entitled “Increasing Diversity in Mathematics,” is effective Jul. 01, 2014. The abstract and other information regarding this award will soon be publicly available via the NSF Award Abstracts database.

April 8th, 2014

Missoula and UM are part of Big Data Week

Missoula and the University of Montana are participants in Big Data Week. Other confirmed cities are: Atlanta, Barcelona, Basel, Belfast, Berlin, Bern, Birmingham, Chicago, Dubai, Hull, Istanbul, Lagos, Madrid, Kuala Lumpur, London, Oxford, Perth, Sao Paulo, Toronto, Wallonia, Warsaw and Zurich. Big Data Week brings together a global community of data scientists, data technologies, data visualisers and data businesses spanning six major commercial, financial, social and technological sectors. The festival connects a number of global cities through locally hosted meetups, events, networking functions, data visualisation demo’s, debates, discussion and hackathons. Events are designed to provide a platform to educate, inform and inspire. When our website is up I’ll post a follow-up.

April 7th, 2014

National Geographic Editor to Lecture at UM

Chris Johns, editor-in-chief of National Geographic, will deliver the UM School of Journalism’s 57th annual Dean Stone Lecture at 7 p.m. Thursday, April 24, in the University Center Theater.

Johns’ lecture is titled “Looking Beyond 125 Years.” The event is free and open to the public.

Johns was named executive vice president and group editorial director of the National Geographic Society in June 2013. He has been editor-in-chief of National Geographic magazine since January 2005, serving as the ninth editor of the magazine since its founding in 1888.

March 28th, 2014

UM Blackstone LaunchPad Project

Here’s a quick update on the UM Blackstone LaunchPad project. As you may know, UM and MSU are partnering with Headwaters RC&D and the University of Miami to establish a LaunchPad program in Montana that is funded by the state and the Blackstone Charitable Foundation. The goal of the LaunchPad program is to encourage and support company creation by our students and alumni.

At UM we are currently tracking two metrics: (1) the number of students and alumni who register in the system and (2) the number of ventures, or business ideas, that are submitted. As participants progress through the system we will also track the number of business mentors and, the ultimate goal, the number of new start-up companies. For the first six weeks of the UM Blackstone LaunchPad project we have 54 registered participants – 38 students, 16 alumni and 23 ventures submitted.

For more information please contact the Director of the Blackstone LaunchPad, Paul Gladen or visit their website.

March 25th, 2014

Flathead Lake Biological Station Halfway to Goal

The UM Flathead Lake Biological Station is halfway to meeting the $1 Million Challenge. In late 2011, an anonymous local donor pledged $1 million toward the program if FLBS and the community match the grant before the end of 2014. Since then, hundreds of families, foundations and business have stepped up to the plate to help the Flathead Lake Biological Station meet a $1 million fundraising challenge. With more than $560,000 in donations in the past two years, FLBS is more than halfway to its goal of matching a grant for the Flathead Lake Monitoring Program. “The people who have contributed know this lake is a very special place and worthy of their investment in its future,” FLBS Director Jack Stanford said. “We are very grateful for the outpouring of support.” Government budget cuts hit the Flathead Lake Monitoring Program hard.

As the deadline nears, a push to match the remainder of the Lake Monitoring Challenge Grant is in full swing. More than 300 families responded to a letter sent this past fall to the local community, including all shoreline homeowners. This brought in $55,000 for the monitoring program. Jack Hanna, world-renowned animal expert, is one of the Flathead Lake residents who supports the Bio Station’s efforts. “I have been all around the world, and there is no finer lake than Flathead,” Hanna said. “The Bio Station’s monitoring work is very important to keep it that way.” FLBS scientists specialize in ecological research and education with an emphasis on freshwater, particularly Flathead Lake and its watershed. “Monitoring is the most important tool to keep Flathead Lake vibrant and healthy, because it reveals threats before they become problems,” said Bonnie Ellis, FLBS research assistant professor. University of Montana economists estimate that the lake increases shoreline property values by $6 billion to $8 billion. Nature-based tourism accounts for more than 20 percent of the economy of Flathead and Lake Counties.

For more information or to make a donation, call Tom Bansak, FLBS research scientist and development coordinator, at 406-982-3301 ext. 229 or email tom.bansak@umontana.edu. Give online.

March 21st, 2014

Montana Six-plumed Moth (Alucita montana) Flies Using Rackets not Paddles

This micromoth (wingspan around 12mm) is found throughout temperate North America and is positively adorable. Like other plume moths, this tiny lepidopteran has a wing composed of small, hairy, feather-like appendages (6 on each wing, 24 total, to be precise) that interlock, flapping as a single unit. Of course, when we think of “normal” butterfly and moth wings, we think of their wings acting like a single, very solid, paddle-like structure. Plume moths, on the other hand, have a wing that more closely resembles a tennis racket than a ping-pong paddle. But if we replaced bird’s wings with wire tennis rackets, they certainly wouldn’t be able to fly anymore, right? So how do these tiny moths do it? What is it about their tennis rackets that make them act more like ping-pong paddles?

Well, plume moths are tiny. And when you’re tiny, you interact with fluids in a much different way than you would if you were gigantic. For example, imagine you are a giant, 30-meter whale. You wave your tail once and it sends you coasting for hundreds of meters through the ocean. Now imagine you are a bacterium and we apply the exact same force to your tiny body. How far do you think you would coast before coming to a stop? 100 meters? 10 meters? Less than a meter?image

As a matter of fact, you would coast to a stop before you had even traveled the width of a single water molecule. That’s less than one ten-billionth of a meter! Crazy, right?

If we think about the size of a bacterium relative to the size of water molecules, this analogy begins to make some more sense. As a whale, even the smallest movements can push a huge volume of molecules. Whereas a bacterium swimming through those same molecules feels more like a child trying to swim through a ball-pit at McDonald’s.

This idea that large things interact with fluids in different ways than small things was summarized into a single number by the British fluid mechanist, Osborne Reynolds in the 19th century. This number, known as the Reynolds number, is a ratio that describes the size of the swimmer, its speed, and the density of the fluid in relation to the viscosity of that fluid. So, a whale moving through a swimming pool full of water has a higher Reynolds number than if it was swimming through molasses, and humans have a higher Reynolds number when we’re jogging than when we’re swimming.

We can also think of the Reynolds number as an object’s susceptibility to the inertial forces of a fluid. A gust of wind does not have the same effect on a stone as it does on a leaf, while a “gust” of water, moving at the same speed, is likely to move the stone much farther than the gust of wind ever could.

So how does this affect the wings of plume moths? Well, Alucita's wings are so small, and the gaps between the barbs on their plumes are so minuscule that they affect air molecules in a way very similar to the solid wings of butterflies. So, in a bird with tennis-racket-wings, although its rackets are much larger and could potentially push more air than the plume-moth-wings, the gaps between the wires on the bird’s rackets are much larger in relation to air molecules than the gaps in the plumes, allowing air to pass right through with little resistance.

So how tiny would those gaps have to be to give the bird’s racket-wings the ability to move air molecules sufficiently for flight? Well, they’d have to be about as tiny as the space between barbules in a feather. As a matter of fact, thinking about a bird wing as a racket rather than a paddle really isn’t that farfetched. Bird’s wings, like plume-moth wings, are made up of feathers (duh; analogous to the moth’s plumes), which are made up of thousands of tiny barbs (analogous the hairs on the moth’s plumes) that branch into millions of interconnecting barbules (see SEM image and diagrams above). The gaps between these barbules are around 20 millionths of a meter (μm). It’s no surprise then, that the gaps between the hairs on Alucita's plumes are also 20μm apart. So, although a bird’s wing most certainly acts like a solid paddle, its structure is much more similar to that of the moth’s tiny plumes than a butterfly’s sheet-like wings.

[Now, this analogy superficially appears quite solid, but if we take a closer look, we’d quickly realize that it’s actually full of holes. Differences in the body-mass-to-wing-size ratio of birds and plume moths, as well as minute structural characteristics of barbules, make the ways in which each organism interacts with air very, very different in spite of the similarities in the gap-sizes of their wings.]

If you’re still curious, check out my list of references below. If you’d like to learn more about Reynolds numbers and the differences between sperm and sperm whales, check out this excellent TEDed Video.

And if your desire for fluid dynamics has not dissipated, you can always follow me as I continue learning more about the mechanics of flight at the University of Montana’s Flight Lab, or check out the blog F*ck Yeah Fluid Dynamics.

Links and References:

by Robert Niese, PhD student in the College of Humanities and Sciences Division of Biological Sciences Flight Lab at the University of Montana. Reprinted with permission from the blog So Much Science. Image of plume moth wings by Robert Niese.

March 20th, 2014

UM Criminology Research Group Receives Award

On March 14, 2014 members of the Criminology Research Group of the Social Science Research Laboratory in the College of Humanities and Arts at the University of Montana were presented a Certificate of Outstanding Program Award. The Award was presented by Laura Olbert, Chair of the Board of Directors, at the Montana Board of Crime Control (MBCC) and is given to recognize contributions to public safety, crime prevention, and victim assistance to the State of Montana. The MBCC program typically honors two programs per year: criminal justice programs and community-based programs that merit recognition for providing effective services to address public safety-related issues.

This year, the CRG was recognized along with one of its collaborating community partners, Alliance for Youth, in Great Falls. Alliance for Youth and members of the CRG have been collaborating with MBCC on a project that is examining explanations for minority overrepresentation at the arrest point of contact in Cascade County. This work is being funded by a $100,000 grant award for the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP). The Montana-based collaboration received one of only four awards that were funded nationally through the Community and Strategic Planning Initiative at OJJDP.

The CRG is lead by Sociology Professors Dusten Hollist, James Burfeind, Daniel Doyle, and Jackson Bunch and SSRL Administrator Chuck Harris. From the inception, the CRG has involved graduate and undergraduate students in grant funded research. The CRG is founded upon the belief that student learning through research is an essential component of the learning experience at the University of Montana. The current membership of the CRG includes Patrick McKay (Research Associate-Sociology), Aislinn HeavyRunner-Rioux (PhD Candidate-Education Leadership); Department of Sociology graduate students Daniel Acton, Nicole Camp, and Gabe Downy, and sociology undergraduates Luke Stenslie, Murphy Moran, and Kenneth Westphal.

March 19th, 2014

Murdock Trust Partners in Science Award

Dr. Lisa Eby and a co-PI from Corvallis High School, Brett Andrew-Eugene Shelagowski, received a $15,000 Partners in Science Award from the M. J. Murdock Charitable Trust for a project titled “Evaluating Native Inland Trout Resilience to Wildfire in the Rocky Mountain Region”. The Partners in Science Program is designed to help high school science teachers work with a mentor doing cutting-edge research over the course of two summers. The purpose of this grant is to bring the knowledge from the research lab back into the high school science classroom, promoting hands-on science education. For more information about the program, please contact the UM Office of Research and Creative Scholarship.

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Research and creative scholarship from the University of Montana