OF THE MIND
TECH INSTRUMENT CENTER
TO BLACK MOUNTAIN
MAY UNLOCK MAD COW DISEASE
SPEECH WASN'T FREE
Students launch near-space balloon
Missoula middle school students and University of Montana scientists teamed to launch a research balloon to the edge of space last summer. Ten students from Rattlesnake and Washington middle schools worked on the project with UM’s Department of Physics and Astronomy. Students helped outfit the balloon, as well as the capsules and instruments it carried aloft.
The balloon rose to about 60,000 feet before popping, allowing onboard instruments to parachute back to the ground. The students and researchers then tracked the parachute using GPS. The balloon carried temperature and pressure sensors and a digital camera to snap photographs of its flight. Images from the flight revealed black skies and the curvature of the Earth.
The balloon project is called BOREALIS – the Balloon Outreach, Research, Exploration and Land Imaging System. Funding for the project comes from NASA’s Montana Space Grant Consortium and the National Science Foundation. Past flights have originated from Montana State University-Bozeman, and this was the first launch from UM.
Future flights are planned, hopefully with experiments designed by junior high students. Some possibilities include studies of cosmic rays and forest fire particles. For more information, call Jennifer Fowler, physics department outreach coordinator, at (406) 243-5273 or John Belz, physics assistant professor, at (406) 243-5179.
to build a better economy
The discussions were led by Sheila Stearns, commissioner of higher education, and Dave Gibson, the governor’s chief business officer. They focused on a series of proposals collectively referred to as a Program for Shared Leadership to Improve the Montana Economy. These proposals represent the University System’s initiatives for the 2005 Legislative session.
address better workforce training, improved distance learning, stronger
higher education-business partnerships, greater access to post-secondary
education for all Montanans, more significant collaboration between
the Montana University System and government leaders, and increased
promotion of the state as a tourist and
For more information about the initiatives visit http://www.montana.edu/wwwbor/SharedLeadInfo.htm.
Montana Climate Office
But Big Sky Country was one of only three states without an office of climatology. To fill this void, UM stepped forward to start a new Montana Climate Office, which provides detailed information on weather, climate, snow, fire, agriculture and much more.
“Climate data is amazingly important,” says Don Potts, the center’s director and a UM water resources professor. “Much of our economy is driven by weather.”
The Montana Climate Office is operated by UM’s College of Forestry and Conservation — specifically the Numerical Terradynamic Simulation Group. NTSG designs software for NASA environmental satellites, and Roger Pielke, past-president of the American Association of State Climatologists, calls NTSG the best climatology research group in Montana.
The new office is online at http://climate.ntsg.umt.edu. The site provides a gateway to a vast array of information, including weather alerts, current satellite snapshots of Montana skies and instant links to weather conditions in communities across the state. The site also includes links to Montana Department of Transportation Web cameras that offer images of mountain-pass roads.
Scientist’s Genesis work may not be in vain
When a parachute failed to deploy on the Genesis space capsule Sept 8, allowing the spacecraft to slam into the Utah desert at 200 mph, that collision felt like a punch in the gut to UM physics Assistant Professor Dan Reisenfeld.
Reisenfeld started at UM fall semester, but before that he spent six years working on the Genesis project at Los Alamos National Lab in New Mexico. The project is a NASA effort to collect particles of solar wind and return them safely to Earth. The three-year mission was designed to reveal the composition of the sun and how our solar system formed from stellar dust.
The UM researcher was one of three people to build the probe’s concentrator – an instrument that passively gathered solar material. He says the concentrator is similar in design to a reflecting telescope, but instead of gathering and concentrating light it concentrates solar ions.
The probe collected solar material on fragile tiles and returned them to Earth, where a helicopter stunt pilot was supposed to snatch the parachuting probe out of midair. Though the rough landing shattered many of the tiles, the scientists who conducted the preliminary assessment of the surprisingly hardy Genesis capsule believe it still may be possible to achieve the most important science objectives. So Reisenfeld’s hard work on the concentrator may not have been in vain.
lead international fusion conference
About 150 leading researchers trying to unlock the secrets of fusion were in Missoula last spring during the 2004 International Sherwood Fusion Theory Conference.
Organized this year by UM’s Department of Physics and Astronomy, the conference is named for the early days of fusion studies when the U.S. government used “Sherwood” as the code name for its classified fusion research.
The Sun’s energy is generated through fusion, and a major goal of fusion research is to find ways to harness that energy here on Earth. To achieve that goal, many theoretical and experimental problems still must be solved.
Conference participants from around the world discussed results and future initiatives in the fields of high-temperature plasma physics, magnetic confinement of plasmas and fusion-energy production.
Plasmas are gases of ionized particles that can reach temperatures in excess of 100 million degrees centigrade. Hydrogen nuclei collide in these plasmas and combine to produce helium and give off energy in the process.
hosts international nanotech symposium
The symposium, “Macro- and Supra-molecular Architecture and Materials (MAM-04): Functional- and Nano-systems,” was held in June. The event included about 80 physicists, chemists, engineers and biochemists from 25 countries around the world.
The event was the second International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry symposium on this topic. The first was held in 2001 in South Korea, and organizers intend to continue holding the symposium every three years. Chemistry Professor Ed Rosenberg, an organizer of the event, says UM garnered international exposure for its research.
University adds more lab space
To help alleviate a shortage of laboratory space for UM’s surging research efforts, the University opened a new science building in August.
The BioResearch Building, located on the south end of campus near the Health Sciences Building, gives UM an additional 10,200 square feet of lab space. The building houses biological sciences and forestry researchers.
The annex includes a basement and main floor and costs about $2 million. The building was designed with expansion in mind, and administrators and faculty members hope to garner National Institutes of Health funding to build a second and third floor.
attract record funding
Research funding continues to increase each year at UM. In 1994, researchers brought in slightly more than $20 million. President George Dennison has challenged the faculty to push the new grant award total to more than $70 million for fiscal year 2005.
researchers promote ‘economic literacy’
Individuals who have a solid grasp of economic principles better understand the forces that significantly affect the quality of their lives.
During the 29th Annual Montana Economic Outlook Seminars, researchers discussed economic education and the important role Montana businesses play in fulfilling this mission. In addition, the seminar featured national, state and local economic outlooks, as well as forecasts for specific Montana industries. The seminar, presented by UM’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research and First Interstate Bank, toured seven Montana cities.
brings brain science to junior high students
Two technicians working at UM neuroscience labs, Alicia Awes and Erin O’Brien, as well as undergraduate student Lisa Woods, visited Theresa Toller’s eighth-grade science classes. The UM representatives discussed brain anatomy and function and led a hands-on activity to build a model brain cell. They also had sheep brains for interested students to handle and examine.
The visits were sponsored by UM’s Center for Structural and Functional Neuroscience, which is part of the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Biomedical Research Excellence. Thanks to a federal NIH grant, UM researchers are working to understand brain damage that can lead to disability and mental illness. This knowledge will allow scientists to develop better treatments.
joins northern states in bid for Internet2 connection
Since the Internet’s beginnings as a computer network between educational and governmental organizations, it has evolved into a very busy public and commercial enterprise with subsequent bandwidth strains. In recent years, a nonprofit consortium called Internet2 has been developing the next generation of networking between universities and research institutions. Data on Internet2 runs via high-tech fiber-optic cables — what the geeks call “big pipes” — connecting major cities much like interstate highways.
The only problem is, looking at a map of Internet2 reveals a conspicuous lack of “pipes” in the northwestern and northcentral United States. To remedy that, Montana has joined seven other states in forming the Northern Tier Network Consortium.
The NTNC is seeking funding to build an Internet2 connection along the I-90/I-94 corridor between Seattle, Minneapolis and Madison, Wis.
“We’re hoping to get a big grant,” says Ray Ford, UM associate vice president for information technology and secretary of the NTNC executive committee. “It would support a wide range of new opportunities in research and instruction, as well as spur economic development across a region that needs it.”
Ford explains that a northern Internet2 connection would allow organizations to more easily share large amounts of information and even expensive, specialized research equipment with Web interfaces -- for example, mass spectrometers or DNA sequencing devices. With universities functioning as “anchor tenants” along the route, other businesses would be attracted by the greater bandwidth availability.
“This fiber goes through Wibaux,” Ford says. “It’s a snowball effect. Clean, high-tech industries — the kind people want — require bandwidth.”
— Patia Stephens
Oops – better give credit where it’s due
This painting of Glacial Lake Missoula, which shows an ancient view of the Mission Valley looking east toward the Mission Mountains, was used in last year’s Vision magazine, but we failed to credit Oregon artist Byron Pickering. Our apologies, Byron, and we hope our readers will view more of your stunning seascape paintings at http://www.pickeringstudio.com.