makes science cool for kids
Every other Saturday morning before she is even awake, Katie George’s
voice is broadcast on radios all over Montana.
or Dr. Katie as she is known over the airwaves, hosts the morning kids’
program “Science is Cool,” a project she dreamed up herself
that is funded by a National Science Foundation Experimental Program to
Stimulate Competitive Research grant.
started because I really like KUFM and I wanted to be a deejay,”
says George, a research assistant professor in UM’s Department of
Biomedical and Pharmaceutical Sciences. She was especially impressed by
the amount of kid-friendly programming on Saturday mornings and decided
to pitch an idea of her own.
once every six weeks or so, George goes to the KUFM studio with a handful
of kids from local elementary and middle schools and becomes Dr. Katie
to record the next three editions of “Science is Cool.”
Katie leads the kids in the studio and at home in simple experiments they
can do with adults to illustrate otherwise complicated-sounding scientific
principles like inertia, surface tension and crystallization.
distributed the first 43 shows in a four-CD set to every public elementary
school and public library in the state. That’s 497 schools and 81
EPSCoR spokesman Justin Lee said in the next year they hope to have mp3s
of the best programs available on the Web or through a podcast, allowing
the programs to be heard anywhere in the world.
kids don’t like science that much,” Dr. Katie says. “They
see it as lots of memorization. We talk about how these scientific concepts
relate to life.”
illustrate inertia she points out to her young assistant how difficult
it is to get out of a warm bed on a winter morning, but once you’re
up and showered, you’re up.
they agree, is inertia.
eight Great Falls kids about DNA is Dr. Katie’s favorite experiment
so far. The kids and the host drank some orange juice to taste how sweet
it was then simultaneously brushed their teeth for 60 seconds.
lauryl sulfate in toothpaste inhibits sweet tasting sensors and stimulates
the bitter tasting sensors of the tongues in most people, George says,
but a small portion of the population, including herself, are unaffected
by the chemical and experience no difference.
group took another swig of juice, this time to a resounding chorus of
“ewws” and “yucks” at the bitter taste.
say DNA to kids and it’s scary,” George says. “But it
explains how we
interact with our world.”
By Alex Strickland
rake in external funding
University of Montana scientists pulled in just under $63 million in external
grants and contracts for fiscal year 2006. The top grant recipients were
Brent Ruby, the Department of Health and Human Performance, $2.3 million;
Andrij Holian, Center for Environmental Health Sciences, $2.2 million;
Dave Forbes, College of Health Professions and Biomedical Sciences, $1.8
million; and Rick van den Pol, Division of Educational Research and Service,
$1.1 million. UM President George Dennison said the funds attracted by
the researchers contribute significantly to economic development in Montana,
support graduate students working on the projects and keep our faculty
researchers on the cutting edge of research and development.
builds rural science infrastructure
A leading engine for science at UM is the National Science Foundation’s
Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research. EPSCoR is a grant-funded
program that improves science and technology in states that historically
haven’t had high research funding levels. About $4.5 million was
distributed at UM during the past year. The top areas that received funding
were new faculty hires and salary enhancements, graduate student stipends,
and internships for undergraduate researchers.
boosts biological science education
The nation’s largest private supporter of science education, the
Howard Hughes Medical Institute, awarded a $1.5 million grant to UM to
significantly boost the University’s science education in several
ways. First, the undergraduate curriculum in the Division of Biological
Sciences will be revamped. The revised curriculum will be injected with
more math and computer science, as well as more hands-on experiential
learning and components of communication studies and ethics. Then the
grant will provide resources to enable faculty members to design and participate
in this new, innovative curriculum. It also will allow undergraduates
with little or no research experience to work alongside doctoral students,
post-docs and faculty members to learn how scientific research works in
the real world. The grant proposal was written by UM biology professors
Bill Holben and Carol Brewer.
used to track big cats
University researcher Mary Poss and her colleagues have shown that species-specific
viruses can act as “genetic tags” to track the history and
distribution of animal populations. The researchers tracked feline immunodeficiency
virus in cougar populations in Montana, Wyoming, British Columbia and
Alberta. FIV, which is similar to human HIV, can be carried by infected
cougars without major health problems. FIV also evolves measurably every
few years, and by studying the distribution of distinct viral lineages,
UM researchers were able to infer how the big cats spread and repopulated
portions of the Northern Rockies in recent decades — especially
after they were nearly eradicated in the 1920s. This work was published
in a January 2006 issue of Science.
maintains top-10 ranking
The University continues to be a national leader for earning pharmacy
research dollars. In fact, the Skaggs School of Pharmacy tallied $9.3
million from federal grants and other sources in 2005. That’s good
enough to rank UM No. 4 out of 92 pharmacy schools nationally for garnering
research funding when the number of faculty members is considered. UM
moved up one place in this category from the year before. The pharmacy
school has the equivalent of 26 full-time Ph.D. faculty members who successfully
competed for an average of $360,000 each in 2005. When total NIH research
dollars are considered without regard for faculty numbers, UM ranks No.
addition rises on campus
University is building a new addition to the Skaggs Building — home
to UM’s College of Health Professions and Biomedical Sciences —
which should be ready for scientists and students in March 2007. The Biomedical
Research Facility and Science Learning Complex will add 42,000 square
feet of labs, conference rooms, offices and student-support areas for
the Skaggs School of Pharmacy. It also will include a 135-seat auditorium
and a K-12 science discovery complex for outreach to young people. Vernon
Grund, Department of Biomedical and Pharmaceutical Sciences chair, says
the building addition is vital. The UM pharmacy school currently has only
17,000 square feet of assignable research space, while other top pharmacy
schools average about 44,000. He said half the funding for the $14 million
building addition came from the National Institutes of Health, ALSAM Foundation
and Jack Poe Family, and the rest came from the sale of revenue bonds.
earned for environmental education
Students in the wildest corners of Western Montana may soon receive cutting-edge
environmental health-science education thanks to a new $1.25 million grant
awarded to UM. The five-year Science Education Partnership was presented
by the National Institutes of Health to increase public understanding
of science and encourage student interest in research careers. The grant
went to UM’s Center for Environmental Health Sciences, which studies
human disease and how environmental contaminants adversely affect people.
The center will use the award to promote environmental health education
among the state’s rural youth. New curricula will be developed in
partnership with Salish Kootenai College in Pablo to ensure it is culturally
appropriate for American Indian students. Plans also call for the creation
of a mobile science lab in a bus that can visit Montana’s smaller
we handle an outbreak?
Bird flu. Anthrax. If the region was hit by an epidemic or bioterrorism,
would health-care and emergency workers be up to the challenge? UM and
St. Vincent Healthcare Foundation in Billings have been awarded $4.3 million
from the Health Resources and Services Administration to make that answer
positive. The award continued a 2003-04 program that trained first responders,
physicians, pharmacies and others about basic incident-command structure
and what to do in a major health-care crisis. Vince Colucci, an assistant
professor in UM’s health professions college, says this grant will
increase recognition and response coordination among health-care providers
in Montana and surrounding states. It also will support workshops on identifying
bioterrorism events, infectious outbreaks and public-health emergencies.
targets pollution and immune systems
Dendritic cells look like something that escaped from a 1950s horror movie
— gooey monsters with grasping tentacles that spout in every direction.
They may look creepy, but UM researcher David Shepherd says these specialized
white blood cells protect us from foreign invaders. And he has landed
a $1.6 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to determine
whether these beneficial little monsters are harmed by environmental pollutants
that suppress immune systems and compromise human health. Shepherd, who
works for UM’s Department of Biomedical and Pharmaceutical Sciences,
says the research could lead to ways to bolster weak immune systems or
contain overactive immune systems.
center trains science debaters
The University’s Center for Ethics has been awarded a three-year,
$270,000 grant to help graduate research scientists participate more actively
and effectively in public debates about science and emerging technologies.
The National Science Foundation grant will fund a program titled “Debating
Science: A New Model for Ethics Education for Science and Engineering
Students.” The grant will focus on biotechnology, nanotechnology
and global climate change, bringing 36 science and engineering graduate
students from across the nation to UM next summer for a five-day workshop,
where they will hear from experts in each area. The students then will
return to their home institutions and take online courses examining these
issues. Student feedback will be used to further develop and perfect these
online courses for a second group of students the following year.
surprised by salamanders
Idaho giant salamanders have invaded Montana.
be alarmed. Despite their monstrous name, the amphibians only get 7.5
inches long. It’s also likely they’ve always lived here undetected,
but Idaho got all the credit. Researchers at the Montana Natural Heritage
Program in Helena and UM organized and conducted an extensive survey of
the salamanders in 2006 to better document their habitat and distribution
in Western Montana.
result: The secretive, night-loving creatures — which have distinctive
marbling on their backs — were found in 15 streams south of Interstate
90 near the communities of Saltese and De Borgia.
study came about after Lolo National Forest employee Jennifer Copenhaver
confirmed the existence of the salamanders in the West Fork of Big Creek
in summer 2005. Before that there had been only one undocumented report
of the creatures living in Montana at a Bitterroot Mountain stream near
the Idaho border. Survey efforts by scientists and fisheries workers were
unsuccessful in confirming these sightings, even though the creatures
were known to exist in nearby Idaho on west slopes of the Bitterroots.
2006 salamander survey was organized by Bryce Maxell, Montana Natural
Heritage Program senior zoologist. He was assisted by UM student Eric
Dallalio, who led volunteers on field surveys as part of his senior thesis.
The work was funded by U.S. Forest Service Region 1 and the Department
of Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.
said the salamanders’ primary habitat seems to be moss-covered boulders
at the headwaters of streams, where the boulders form small pools with
plenty of overhangs and spaces for the adults and larvae to hide in. “Many
of these headwater streams have not been systematically surveyed in the
past, and this is probably the reason the species went undetected for
so long,” he says.
addition to this core habitat, Maxell says, surveyors also found the elusive
salamanders in old-growth tree stands, as well as areas that have been
completely logged in the past. The animals either survived the cuts or
recolonized afterwards. They also were found in roadside streams with
the proper habitat.
tests smoking-cessation programs
What would happen if pharmacists took a more active role in helping people
quit smoking? That’s the question posed by Larry Dent, a faculty
member in UM’s Department of Pharmacy Practice. Dent and fellow
researchers Kari Harris and Curtis Noonan received a two-year, $70,000
grant from the National Cancer Research and Prevention Foundation to study
the issue. Two groups are being studied. The first group receives a standard
10-minute talk about smoking risks, while the other group receives pharmacist-delivered
programs that include three group sessions over five weeks. Results will
be out soon.
manages Natural Heritage Program
University administrators took over management of the Montana Natural
Heritage Program on July 1. The program had been administered by The Nature
Conservancy. Based at Montana State Library in Helena, the Natural Heritage
Program is the state’s source for information on the status and
distribution of native animals and plants — especially species of
concern and high-quality habitats such as wetlands. The program’s
18-member staff collects, validates and distributes information while
helping natural resource managers and others use this knowledge effectively.
getting hot out there
Forestry Professor Steve Running landed an article in the Aug. 18 edition
of Science titled “Is Global Warming Causing More, Larger Wildfires?”
The article examines how higher spring and summer temperatures and earlier
snowmelt are extending the wildfire season and increasing the intensity
of wildfires. Running directs UM’s Numerical Terradynamic Simulation
Group, which designs software for NASA environmental satellites.
of Science ...
Paleontologist George Stanley (see cover photo and story) published an
article in the May 12 issue of Science titled “Photosymbiosis and
the Evolution of Modern Coral Reefs.” It describes how mutually
beneficial relationships between one-celled algae called zooxanthellae
and corals stimulated reef growth and led to successful reef building
across the eons and into modern times. The article illustrates how the
algae evolved a successful existence by living within coral tissues symbiotically.
In return for shelter, the algae took up their host’s carbon dioxide
and rid their hosts of waste products, which allowed reefs worldwide to