When most people think of Michigan State University this time of year, it is about the Spartans playing Alabama’s Crimson Tide in the Cotton Bowl on New Year’s Day with the possibility of playing for the national championship afterwards. But MSU has more to be proud of this year than football. Michigan’s Land Grant University produces a lot of research that yields practical results for residents of the Great Lakes State, the nation, and the world.
Following are the top ten science stores from MSU as chosen by Layne Cameron, Spartan Science Storyteller. They comprise a diverse list ranging from human and animal medicine and materials science to biodiversity, physics, and science education.
In addition to spanning a wide range of disciplines, the stories display the range of scales at which MSU research helps to improve the world. The studies and results listed range from the global down to the local, even to the level of the individual student.
MSU displayed its global aspirations when it announced that the university would hire 100 new faculty to tackle world’s “Grand Challenges” as part of its Global Impact Initiative. The The Global Impact Initiative will bolster areas in which MSU already has a strong foundation, such as plant science, engineering, physical science and STEM education, while expanding research in genomics, cybersecurity, computational science and precision medicine.
“This bold investment by the Board of Trustees will pay huge dividends by growing MSU’s capacity for cutting-edge research,” said MSU President Lou Anna K. Simon in a press release. “Targeting emerging areas of scholarship will leverage Michigan State’s considerable strengths and enhance our reputation as a top-100 world research university.”
Going from the global to the individual, the only Rhodes Scholar named from the state of Michigan last year was an MSU student-athlete. The honor went to senior Sarah Kovan of Okemos. A member of the Honors College majoring in comparative cultures and politics in James Madison College and human biology in the College of Natural Science, Kovan is MSU’s 17th Rhodes Scholar since the awards began in 1904. MSU’s first Rhodes Scholar was named in 1919. She is also the captain of the MSU women’s soccer team.
“Being named a Rhodes Scholar is an incredibly amazing and humbling experience, and I couldn’t have gained this recognition without the unending support from the MSU community,” Kovan said in a press release. “As a scholar-athlete, I’m most proud of the accomplishments I have achieved in collaboration with my teammates, like our most exciting wins. It is in these successes, and in the camaraderie created in those moments, that make me proud to be a Spartan athlete.”
MSU played a key part in federal efforts to improve the nation’s capabilities in science and technology. The construction of the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams (FRIB) will play a key part in those efforts.
FRIB is a new scientific user facility for nuclear science, funded by the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science and operated by MSU. FRIB will enable scientists to make discoveries about the properties of rare isotopes in order to better understand the physics of nuclei, nuclear astrophysics, fundamental interactions, and applications for society, including medicine, homeland security, and industry.
FRIB earned $100 million in federal funding this year, which was reconfirmed in the latest federal spending bill. Michigan’s U.S. Senators Gary Peters and Debbie Stabenow worked hard to ensure that the project got the needed funding.
“This new funding will bring MSU one step closer to creating thousands of jobs in our state,” Stabenow said to the Lansing State Journal.
The project has been allocated $218 million in federal funding since 2009. The full cost will be $730 million by the time the facility is completed in 2022.
Another example of MSU improving the country’s capabilities in science in technology is MSU’s lead role in a national composite materials venture. The university was tapped by President Barack Obama to be a core partner in a national consortium designed to advance research and development in this all-important field.
MSU will lead the light-and-heavy-duty vehicle component of the Institute for Advanced Composites Manufacturing Innovation, or IACMI, a 122-member consortium funded by a more than $70 million commitment over five years from the U.S. Department of Energy.
“These two world-class facilities will serve as the foundation for future work in this program,” said Lawrence Drzal, director of the MSU Composite Materials and Structures Center, who will serve as director of the Michigan Center of Excellence for the newly formed institute. “We’re confident the IACMI will create new jobs, support the expansion of companies and educate technicians and engineers for these industries.”
The institute will focus on advanced fiber-reinforced polymer composites, materials that combine strong fibers with strong plastics that are lighter and stronger than even steel.
MSU’s strength in materials science also played a role in expanding its diamond lab. The laboratory literally grows diamonds, gems that are not used for jewelry but rather for industrial purposes. The facility will add about 15,000 square feet of space and new diamond synthesis equipment to accommodate an increase in personnel and research projects in the center thanks to a $5 million investment by MSU and corporate partner Fraunhofer USA.
“MSU and our long-term research partner, Fraunhofer USA, will triple the existing laboratory space and increase personnel and research resources to integrate and advance this mutually beneficial collaboration,” said Leo Kempel, dean of the MSU College of Engineering.
The MSU-based center – which opened for business in 2003 – focuses on two operations: Thin-film coating and the manufacture of diamonds. The coatings are used in areas such as manufacturing and automobiles to help reduce friction in moving parts. With a combination of basic and applied research, the new center is expected to generate $7 million in research revenues annually.
Medicine played a major role in MSU’s research last year. MSU demonstrated the synergy between its human and animal medicine programs when doctors in Michigan State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine and College of Human Medicine teamed up to perform an uncommon cleft palate surgery on a dog, using a technique that will benefit both humans and man’s best friend. Surgeons will be able to take advatage of the dog’s more rapid aging to determine the outcomes for human patients much sooner. Watch the video: Helping dogs (and humans) heal from MSU.
Another piece of medical research that showed MSU’s ability to transfer knowledge from one use to another came when scientists found they could use glaucoma medication to pioneer TB treatments. Robert Abramovitch, an MSU microbiologist, along with graduate student Benjamin Johnson who helped lead the study, have discovered that ethoxzolamide, a sulfa-based compound found in many prescription glaucoma drugs, actually turns off the bacterium’s ability to invade the immune system.
“Basically, ethoxzolamide stops TB from deploying its weapons…shutting down its ability to grow inside certain white blood cells in the immune system,” Abramovitch said in a press release. “We found the compound reduces disease symptoms in mice.”
MSU employed its strength in biomedical research by helping Detroit solve its untested rape kit problem. A diverse team of scientists, prosecutors, police, victim advocates, and others has solved the problem of untested rape kits in Detroit, creating a model that can be used in other communities, according to a report from the National Institute of Justice (NIJ).
“Rape kit testing reform is possible, and we showed how to do it,” said Rebecca Campbell, MSU professor of psychology and lead researcher of the high-profile project, in a press release. “Our work in Detroit can serve as a model for other communities in how to form multidisciplinary partnerships, develop evidence-based solutions for rape kit testing and help survivors heal from the trauma of rape.”
MSU’s medical expertise also went global. With the recent restoration of diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba, MSU was the first to solidify an agreement with the Cuban government and develop a new, for-credit clinical course for students. Beginning in April 2016, 16 osteopathic and human medicine students will take part in the new elective that will expose these future physicians to a health care system that has been a leader in identifying the social factors around disease and prevention when it comes to its public health.
“MSU has always been good neighbors with Cuba and has offered cultural-type courses to students for the last 14 years,” said William Cunningham, assistant dean for the College of Osteopathic Medicine in West Michigan and one of the thought leaders behind the new elective in a press release. “This is a first, though, for American medical students to be able to walk the halls of three of Cuba’s main hospitals in Havana and receive credit for the experience.”
MSU’s experience in biodiversity research also went global, as the world’s third-best discoverer confirmed new bird in China. The new bird, the Sichuan bush warbler, resides in five mountainous provinces in central China. The discovery, shared in Avian Research, notes that the bird shunned the limelight by hiding in grassy, scrubby vegetation over the years. However, its distinctive song eventually gave it away, said Pamela Rasmussen, MSU integrative biologist, assistant curator at the MSU Museum and co-author on the paper.
“The Sichuan bush warbler is exceedingly secretive and difficult to spot as its preferred habitat is dense brush and tea plantations,” said Rasmussen, who has helped document and scientifically describe 10 new species of birds. “However, it distinguishes itself thanks to its distinctive song that consists of a low-pitched drawn-out buzz, followed by a shorter click, repeated in series.”
While the bird may be elusive, it is common in central China and doesn’t appear to be under any imminent threat, she added.
So when MSU’s football team takes the field in Dallas, remember the scientists and students who are making the world a better place. Who will? Spartans will!