Seth Donahue and graduate student Kristin Harvey examine bear bones while investigating osteoporosis.
Seth Donahue and graduate student Kristin Harvey examine bear bones while investigating osteoporosis.
Purple loosestrife takes over ponds.
Purple loosestrife takes over ponds.
A loon on Isle Royale National Park.
A loon on Isle Royale National Park.
A test plot at the Aspen FACE (Free Air Carbon dioxide Enrichment) facility near Rhinelander, Wisconsin.
A test plot at the Aspen FACE (Free Air Carbon dioxide Enrichment) facility near Rhinelander, Wisconsin.
Nancy Auer now uses hydroacoustic equipment to count sturgeon, a noninvasive technique.
Nancy Auer now uses hydroacoustic equipment to count sturgeon, a noninvasive technique.
David, Nitz, associate professor of physics (left), is a key player in the Pierre Auger Observatory project, which collects and examines cosmic rays.
David, Nitz, associate professor of physics (left), is a key player in the Pierre Auger Observatory project, which collects and examines cosmic rays.
“They don’t have a way of getting rid of excess calcium, so the logical place to put it is back into bone.”

Research Briefs

The Bear Facts

Inactivity is a prime cause of osteoporosis in most animals, including humans. A notable exception is the black bear. Seth Donahue, an assistant professor of biomedical engineering, has been studying bears to discover why their skeletons retain their strength, despite spending months every year curled up in a den, hibernating the winter away. Using blood samples, Donahue and his research colleagues monitored metabolic markers of bone metabolism throughout the bears’ annual cycle. They discovered that, while bone breakdown increases during hibernation, bone production remains constant and may even peak as the bear emerges from hibernation. It turns out that bears are recycling. “They don’t have a way of getting rid of excess calcium, so the logical place to put it is back into bone,” he says.

Beetles Bash Purple Pest

A team of Michigan Tech faculty have defeated an unlikely invader: a pretty purple flower. Rolf Peterson, a professor in the School of Forest Resources and Environmental Science (SFRES), identified a stand of purple loosestrife taking over a pond—driving out the cattails native to the wetland. Exotic species, because they are out of their natural habitat, often have no natural competitors or predators. But a specific beetle, Galerucella calmariensis, whose natural predator is the ladybug, has been found to have great success in controlling purple loosestrife invasions. “We released the beetles in the summer of 1998, and by 2002 only one purple loosestrife plant could be found near the pond,” said Leah Vucetich, research assistant professor in the SFRES.

Canoes May Disrupt Loons

Loons may be at serious risk from recreation. “We are finding that recreation, especially canoeing, on Isle Royale’s inland lakes seems to be having an impact on [loon] productivity,” says Joseph Kaplan, who is completing his master’s degree in forestry at Michigan Tech.

Kaplan studied the nesting behavior of loons at Isle Royale National Park. Located in Lake Superior, the 850-square-mile island is America’s least-visited national park and has a number of inland lakes with nonmotorized use only. “Use levels aren’t high. But the loons may not get used to people’s patterns, so when people do show up, the loons overreact,” Kaplan explains.When people are kept away, the loons seem to rebound quickly.

NSF Funds Long-Running Forest Study

Researchers at Michigan Tech have received an $810,000 grant to continue one of the longest-running forestry field studies in the world. The three-year award from the National Science Foundation also includes funding for programs involving high school teachers.

Kurt Pregitzer, professor of forest ecology at Michigan Tech, leads the project, which studies how trees cope with increasing amounts of the greenhouse gases nitrous oxide and carbon dioxide. Tree roots play a key role in processing the nitrogen and carbon for use as food.

NSF Funds Long-Running Forest Study

Researchers at Michigan Tech have received an $810,000 grant to continue one of the longest-running forestry field studies in the world. The three-year award from the National Science Foundation also includes funding for programs involving high school teachers.

Kurt Pregitzer, professor of forest ecology at Michigan Tech, leads the project, which studies how trees cope with increasing amounts of the greenhouse gases nitrous oxide and carbon dioxide. Tree roots play a key role in processing the nitrogen and carbon for use as food.

Sturgeon General Automates Counting

Nancy Auer, a research assistant professor in biological sciences, has been tracking lake sturgeon on the Sturgeon River for 15 years. Figuring out how many sturgeon make it up the river to spawn is critical for fisheries management. Traditionally, Auer’s team has donned waders and hauled nets out into river, catching, counting and tagging sturgeon as they swim by. For the past two years she has used hydroacoustic equipment installed on the riverbank. The equipment sends out a sound wave that bounces off the air bladders on passing fish.“This is the first time this method has been used on a non-game species,” Auer said. “And it’s noninvasive; you don’t have to clobber the fish.”

Undergrads Study Nanotechnology

A $100,000 grant from the National Science Foundation is helping Michigan Tech faculty from 11 departments provide classes, seminars and research experience in nanotechnology.

A special topics course, “Fundamentals of Nanoscience and Engineering,” will provide first- and second-year students with information from faculty and researchers from outside the university, and will cover topics as diverse as biotechnology, ethics and medicine.

“Visionaries, researchers and agencies that fund research think that nanotechnology will be the next revolution in society, similar to the information revolution we’re in now,” said John Jaszczak, associate professor of physics, a principal investigator on the NSF grant.

Cosmic Ray Site Adds Collectors

Michigan Tech is one of the institutions involved in the Pierre Auger Observatory, a collaboration involving 215 scientists and 14 countries devoted to examining highest energy cosmic rays. These rays are space particles— usually protons or heavier ions—that hit the atmosphere and create showers of secondary particles.

The observatory, located in Argentina, can detect these particles through surface detectors, which are large water tanks, and fluorescence telescopes, which can see the ultraviolet glow emitted by the showers in mid-air. David Nitz, associate professor of physics, provides and certifies the electronic components that collect this data. Michigan Tech is also supplying a specialized telescope system that helps to calibrate the fluorescence telescopes used to observe the showers of particles on moonless nights. The project covers 70 square miles of ground. Ultimately the array will have 1,600 detectors and cover an area the size of Rhode Island.