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Around Circle Drive

  • Author:
    Robert Bao
  • Published:
    Winter 2014


A new MSU drone is helping farmers maximize yields.

MSU researchers are using its first unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) to help farmers improve nitrogen and water management and reduce nitrate leaching or nitrous oxide emissions.

MSU’s UAV measures how crops react to stress, such as drought, nutrients deficiency or pests. The drone flies over the field documenting the field’s status, down to centimeters. The portrait gives farmers details on the current health of their crops.

Armed with this knowledge, farmers can quickly pinpoint problem areas and address them with a precise rifle, as opposed to a shotgun approach, says Bruno Basso, MSU ecosystem scientist.

“When you have a cut and need disinfectant, you don’t dive into a pool of medicine; you apply it only where you need it and in the quantity that is strictly necessary,” says Bruno, a professor at MSU’s Kellogg Biological Station. “Rather than covering the entire field with fertilizer, it can be applied exactly where it’s needed. We basically try to do the right thing, at the right place, at the right time.”

The UAV has three sensors: a high-resolution camera; a thermal camera, used to monitor plant temperature and hydration; and a laser scanner, which measures individual plant height in centimeters. The drone can fly at low altitudes and in most nonwindy conditions. It covers a pre-programmed pattern on autopilot and provides data in a cost-effective manner.


TOP 20

MSU is one of the top 20 public universities in the nation, according to an annual ranking of higher education institutions by Washington Monthly magazine.

The 2013 rankings place MSU 20th on the list of public universities and 30th among national universities, which includes both public and private schools. MSU moved up four places on the national list from 2012.

In the Big Ten, four schools ranked higher than MSU (Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois and Ohio State).

The University of California- San Diego was the top-ranked school, followed by the University of California-Riverside and Texas A&M University.

Washington Monthly rates schools based on their contribution to the public good in three broad categories: social mobility (recruiting and graduating low-income students); research (producing cutting-edge scholarship and doctorate degrees); and service (encouraging students to give something back to their country).



The MSU College of Music is launching its new jazz studies artist in residence program this month thanks to a $1 million gift from the MSU Federal Credit Union, the largest-ever investment in the college’s curriculum.

October 14-19, saxophonist Antonio Hart, the first jazz artist of three scheduled for residencies this academic year, will take his place in the classroom and on the stage. Hart is an internationally acclaimed performer, composer and educator.

Hart will be teaching College of Music students and performing for the public while he is in residence. He will also work with high school and middle school jazz students in Lansing and in two West Michigan schools. Jazz Orchestra I, the college’s premier student jazz ensemble, will tour with Hart around the state.

Trumpeter Jon Faddis and drummer Jeff Hamilton are the other international jazz artists slated to hold residencies at MSU in December and April, respectively. Says Rodney Whitaker, director of jazz studies, “It is so exciting and satisfying to get this program started.”

Founded in 2001, the Jazz Studies Program leads the college’s outreach efforts, teaching and mentoring youth at Community Music School-Detroit.


MSU research has put the possibility of bomb-detecting lasers at security checkpoints within reach.

Marcos Dantus, MSU chemistry professor and founder of BioPhotonic Solutions, has developed a laser that can detect micro traces of explosive chemicals on clothing and luggage, as reported by Applied Physics Letters.

“Since this method uses a single beam and requires no bulky spectrometers, it is quite practical and could scan many people and their belongings quickly,” Dantus says. “Not only does it detect the explosive material, but it also provides an image of the chemical’s exact location, even if it’s merely a minute trace on a zipper.”

The low-energy laser is safe to use on luggage as well as passengers, he adds. It would likely be in a conveyor belt, like the X-ray scanners already used for airport security.

For decades, scientists have been working to develop lasers that are powerful enough for detection, but safe enough to use on people. Dantus’ initial spark for this breakthrough came from collaboration with Harvard University that developed a laser that could be used to detect cancer, but has the beam output of a simple presentation pointer.

Funding for this research was provided by the Department of Homeland Security, Science and Technology Directorate. BioPhotonic Solutions is a high-tech company Dantus launched in 2003 to commercialize technology invented by his research group at MSU.


Alec Hathaway, an architect with projects in New York and California, has been named associate curator of architecture and design of the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University. Hathaway was a project manager with EHDD Architecture in San Francisco, CA.

David Wheeler, a cutting-edge creative director in the digital media entertainment industry, has been named Media Sandbox Director of MSU’s College of Communication Arts & Sciences. Wheeler served as content director in the video game industry and founded four companies, including Here and Now Transmedia in Los Angeles.


This winter season, patrons of MSU’s Wharton Center for Performing Arts will find the usual diversity of choices. Disney’s Beauty and the Beast (Feb. 18-23), a smash hit Broadway musical that has won the hearts of over 35 million fans worldwide, returns to East Lansing with its classic characters, lavish sets and dazzling production numbers. Then Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess (Mar. 18-23), winner of the 2012 Tony Award for Best Revival, brings such iconic songs as “Summertime.”

Fans of classical music will want to see the St. Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra’s debut at Wharton Center (Feb. 24). Led for two decades by the legendary Yuri Temirkanov, the performance will include Rachmaninoff ’s Symphony No. 2 and Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto featuring star violinist Vilde Frang. Lovers of dance will have the Eisenhower Dance: Red, Hot and Blue! (Feb. 12) while jazz lovers can look forward to the grandfather of all jazz festivals, the Newport Jazz Festival: Now 60! (Mar. 27).


MSU and the Boeing Company have been awarded a contract worth about $4 million from the U. S. Air Force to develop sensors that can better detect cracks in airframes.

Lalita Udpa, professor of electrical and computer engineering in MSU’s College of Engineering, leads the effort to create sensors that will identify frame structures weakened by subsurface cracks and corrosion.

“Cracks can develop at the fastener sites in areas of high stress,” says Udpa, whose goal is to design a sensor that can “reliably detect cracks that are deep into the third layers in the presence of other complex edges and magnetic materials.”

Udpa said MSU was the Air Force Research Laboratory’s first choice as a research partner to work with Boeing. Electromagnetic sensor systems that incorporate magnetoresistive, or MR, detectors have been shown To have better capabilities than conventional current sensors for detecting cracks in thick and/or complex metallic airframes.


MSU researchers have created a model that can help understand adenomyosis, a common gynecological disease that contributes to women having to undergo hysterectomies.

In a two-step process, a team led by MSU’s Jae-Wook Jeong identified a protein known as beta-catenin that may play a key role in the disease. When activated, beta-catenin causes cellular changes in a woman’s uterus, leading to adenomyosis.

Jeong, an associate professor in the College of Human Medicine’s Dept. of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Biology, created a mouse model that may reveal useful targets for new treatments.

“These findings provide great insights into our understanding of the beta-catenin protein and will lead to the translation of animal models for the development of new therapeutic approaches,” says Jeong of a disease that is associated with 66 percent of hysterectomies.

The research was recently published in the Journal of Pathology. The work was supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health, the American Cancer Society and the World Class University Program at Seoul National University in South Korea.


Writing instruction in U.S. classrooms is “abysmal” and the Common Core State Standards don’t go far enough to address gaps for students and teachers, says an MSU education scholar.

In a new study, Gary Troia calls for a fresh approach to professional development for teachers who help students meet the new writing standards. His research, funded by the U.S. Dept of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences, appears in School Psychology Review. Natalie Olinghouse, of the University of Connecticut, is co-author.

“We need to re-orient the way we think about teacher professional development,” said Troia, associate professor in MSU’s College of Education. “We need to be smarter about professional development and make sure it’s comprehensive, sustained and focused on the needs in the classroom.”

The Common Core standards, already adopted by 45 states, aim to improve U.S. student performance in mathematics and English language arts, which include writing.

The standards are weak in some areas of writing instruction, Troia notes. For example, spelling and handwriting are not addressed comprehensively in early grades.

The stakes are high, Troia says, as only about a quarter of U.S. students are performing at a proficient level in writing.



Scientists have believed that birds eschew scent-based communications.

An MSU researcher has shown, however, that birds do communicate via scents and that odor reliably predicts their reproductive success. The study appears in Animal Behaviour.

Danielle Whittaker, managing director of MSU’s BEACON Center for the Study of Evolution in Action, and her research team, have shown that smell plays a key Role in signaling reproductive health.

“This study shows a strong connection between the way birds smell near the beginning of the breeding season—when birds are choosing mates—and their reproductive success for the entire season,” she says. “Simply put, males that smell more ‘male-like’ and females that smell more ‘female-like’ have higher genetic reproductive success.”

The long-held assumption was that birds’ preferred methods of Communication and mate selection were visual and acoustic cues. Studying dark-eyed juncos, Whittaker’s team found that chemical signals correlated more with reproduction success than plumage size and attractiveness. The study also revealed that females were making multiple decisions based on how their potential mates smelled.



As Michigan looks to improve its infrastructure—roads and bridges—MSU researchers think they may have a “smart” alternative.

Nizar Lajnef, an assistant professor of civil and environment engineering, and Shantanu Chakrabartty, an associate professor of electrical and computer Engineering, are creating smart sensors powered by the very pavement and bridges they monitor.

“We are working on sensors that extract their power from the vibration and strain of their environment,” Lajnef says. “There is no external source of power— no batteries. They are completely self-powered.”

Lajnef’s doctoral research in 2008 at MSU, dealing with sensors that can self-diagnose failures in pavement and bridges, has evolved into a national project with the U.S. Dept. of Transportation that has generated one patent, three patent applications and three USDOT grants totaling $1.7 million. He notes that the prototype sonsor uses less than 800 nanowatts of power, significantly less than the norm.

Every semester, MSU faculty, staff and students earn kudos too numerous to list exhaustively here.

Some examples:

Bruno Basso, associate professor in the Dept. of Geological Sciences, has been named a 2013 American Society of Agronomy Fellow. He was recognized for his research on crop modeling systems and land use sustainability.

MSU HealthTeam physicians Ved Gossain and Michael Zaroukian have been named Masters of the American College of Physicians for 2014, a very selective honor bestowed on internal medicine specialists.

Dean Mary Mundt and Professor Gwen Wyatt of MSU’s College of Nursing have been inducted as Fellows by the American Academy of Nursing. They were recognized among 172 nurse leaders during the Academy’s 40th annual meeting on October 19, 2013, in Washington, DC.

The MSU Debate Team placed three two-person teams in the top 25 at the Harvard University tournament in October. There were 77 teams from 36 schools in the competition. Head Coach Will Repko says MSU’s finish “was a strong statement to the rest of the competition.”



Michigan motorists will be able to buy new Spartan helmet plates on Feb. 1, 2014. The Michigan Dept. of State is offering a new MSU fundraiser license plate that features the university’s Spartan helmet logo. The new plate may be ordered online or at a Secretary Of State office. Revenue from the new plates supports MSU students and student activities. Those who want to continue displaying the MSU block S heritage logo on a license plate may do so. After Feb. 1, 2014 only the helmet logo plate will be sold, since an organization can only have one specialty plate. For complete details about replacing or purchasing an MSU fundraiser license plate, visit and click on the “Owning a Vehicle” link.



A voting joystick created at MSU could eventually enable people with dexterity impairments, senior citizens and others to cast ballots independently.

Some voters may skip voting because of the nature of casting ballots on the current accessible voting machines, which require users with dexterity challenges to press small buttons or switches repeatedly, often requiring the help of a volunteer.

The “Smart Voting Joystick,” similar to the joystick used to control Motorized wheelchairs, represents a vast improvement, says Sarah Swierenga, director of MSU Usability/Accessibility Research and Consulting in University Outreach and Engagement. The joystick development was funded by a grant from the U.S. Election Assistance Commission.

“The expectation among the next generation is that they’re not going to put up with this the way prior generations might have,” says Swierenga. “The pendulum is swinging toward inclusion on many issues, voting being one of them.”

“MSU, since the 1930s, has demonstrated to the world the reward, for all of us, of including people with disabilities in all activities,” says Stephen Blosser, an engineer with MSU’s Resource Center for Persons with Disabilities.



Last year an MSU-led astronomy team discovered two black holes in a globular cluster. Now, after finding another black hole, the team is thinking it may be a more Common occurrence than thought.

As published in a recent Astrophysical Journal, the team has found a new black hole in a globular cluster known as M62.

“This implies that the discovery of the other black hole, in the globular cluster called M22, was not just a fluke,” says Laura Chomiuk, team member and MSU assistant professor of physics and astronomy.

Black holes are stars that have died, collapsed into themselves and now have such a strong gravitational field that not even light can escape from them. The M62 is located in the constellation Ophiuchus, about 22,000 light years from Earth. Until recently, astronomers had assumed that the black holes did not occur in globular clusters.

“I think it’s safe to say that we have discovered a whole new hunting ground for black holes,” says Chomiuk.

This latest discovery was made by using the National Science Foundation’s Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array telescope in New Mexico.


This capsule of MSU history was written by Portia Vescio, assistant director of MSU’s University Archives and Historical Collections.

What’s in a name? In the early 1950s when Michigan State College of Agriculture and Applied Science sought “university” status, significant discussion ensued. MSC argued that considering all its diverse schools and programs it was really a university and should be named appropriately. The University of Michigan opposed this, arguing that it “viewed with deep concern any action that would give MSC a name similar to that of the University of Michigan.”

That battle lasted several years. At first there was public indifference toward MSU’s efforts. By early 1955, however, most people around Michigan State were firmly behind the campaign. It was the college’s centennial year and they thought the name change would help celebrate the anniversary. In February 1955 the student government voted to spend $500 to support a letter-writing campaign supporting the name change proposed in the state legislature.

The state house was to vote in April 1955. A week before the vote, the University of Michigan filed a 26-page brief demanding a statewide vote on the name change. It did not work. As Gwen Andrew, former dean of MSU’s College of Social Science, noted in MSU’s Oral History Project, “. . . Every time they started to move something up at Michigan State, they’d look up a hill and it’s like a sand dune, and (the University of) Michigan’s up there throwing a bucket of sand down.”

On April 13, 1955 the Michigan Senate voted 23-2 to change the name to Michigan State University of Agriculture and Applied Science effective July 1.

If that name seems a little long, it is. The last appendage was dropped on January 1, 1964. Happy 50th anniversary to the name Michigan State University!