Sunday, June 19, 2011

Sustainability news from midwestern research universities for the week ending June 18, 2011

In part one, I said I'd post part two tomorrow. Strictly speaking, it's not tomorrow, as I posted the previous installment after midnight. It's still time.

Unlike the previous post, I'm including commentary with all the items. Playing Rift and then getting a full night's sleep helped clear my mind.

Again, nearly all of these articles were first posted in Overnight News Digest: Science Saturday on Daily Kos.

General Sustainability

Indiana University: Agreement links IU School of Public and Environmental Affairs, Swedish university
June 14, 2011
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- An agreement between the Indiana University School of Public and Environmental Affairs and a leading international business school in Sweden will bring about increased collaboration in faculty and graduate research and more study-abroad opportunities for students.

The agreement for scholarly cooperation joins SPEA with Jönköping International Business School (JIBS), a leading European international business school that is highly regarded for scholarship of entrepreneurship and small business. The agreement calls for:

Faculty exchanges for purposes of teaching, research, lectures and seminars
Joint research projects on topics of mutual interest
Student exchanges, with opportunities for IU students to study at JIBS and vice versa
I had to stretch to place this here, but the story is about a international agreement between an environmental school and a business school, so it has society, environment, and economics content. Besides, I didn't have any other good candidates.

I'll make up for the weak selection of general sustainability articles in the first two parts of this linkspam with part three. There will be lots of solid general sustainability articles there.

Enjoy the rest of the linkspam and watch for the progression from science through society to economics and back again to science. The first article in environment sets up the connection with the last article in economics. The first shows money flowing into science as an investment while the last shows the return from investment in science.

Environment, including science and technology

Indiana University: IU biologist Pikaard one of 15 in nation to benefit from $75 million plant science initiative
IU Bloomington to receive an estimated $5 million for researcher to advance work
June 16, 2011
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Indiana University Bloomington biologist Craig Pikaard has been selected by Howard Hughes Medical Institute and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation as one of the nation's most innovative plant scientists. He will take part in a new initiative that boosts much needed funding for fundamental plant science research.

Pikaard, the Carlos O. Miller Professor of Plant Growth and Development in the IU College of Arts and Science's Department of Biology and Department of Molecular and Cellular Biochemistry, will join 14 other scientists as HHMI-GBMF Investigators and in turn will receive the flexible support necessary to move research in creative new directions. The two organizations are investing $75 million in the new plant science research program over the length of the initial five-year research appointments that begin in September.

"GBMF and HHMI believe the research will generate high-impact discoveries with implications for a range of intertwined concerns facing society: food production, human health, protection of the environment and identification of renewable energy resources," said Vicki L. Chandler, Chief Program Officer for Science at GBMF, in making the announcement today (June 16).
June 13, 2011
COLUMBUS, Ohio – Scientists using new mathematical and computational techniques have identified six influenza A viruses that have particularly close genetic relationships to the H1N1 “swine” flu virus that swept through the United States beginning in the spring of 2009. That virus eventually killed almost 18,000 people worldwide.

Biological studies focused on these strains of influenza virus could shed light on how the 2009 pandemic strain of influenza emerged, aiding in efforts to forestall another pandemic, the researchers say.

Five of these viruses were isolated from pigs, and the sixth had infected a human who worked with hogs.

The researchers arrived at these strains by using powerful computers to analyze the relationships between the genomes of more than 5,000 strains of influenza A that have been isolated over several decades and recently sequenced. Rather than using the conventional approach of constructing phylogenetic trees that illustrate organisms’ hypothetical ancestors, these scientists set up a network that captured paths leading from previously observed viruses to contemporary viruses.
I definitely consider public health to be a sustainability issue on the border between science and society, with a touch of economics as well. This particular story, however, is almost pure science, which is why it fits best here.

Purdue University: Salivating over wheat plants may net Hessian flies big meal or death
June 14, 2011
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - The interaction between a Hessian fly's saliva and the wheat plant it is attacking may be the key to whether the pest eats like a king or dies like a starving pauper, according to a study done at Purdue University.

"The insect induces or suppresses susceptibility in the plant," said Christie Williams, a research scientist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service and a Purdue associate professor of entomology. "It's not that the fly larva is making holes and retrieving nutrients as once thought. The larva is doing something chemically to change the plant."

Williams and a team of entomologists found that Hessian flies, which cause millions of dollars in damage to U.S. wheat crops each year, trigger one of two responses in plants: the plants either put up strong defenses to essentially starve the fly or succumb, releasing essential nutrients to the fly. Their findings were published in the early online release of the Journal of Experimental Botany.
This article and the next are about food pests. I'm a sucker for the science of food, which is why the next three articles are all in a row. Food also makes for a good transition from science to society. "We are what we eat" is true in more ways than one.

Purdue University: Genome offers clue to functions of destructive wheat fungus
June 13, 2011
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - One of the world's most destructive wheat pathogens is genetically built to evade detection before infecting its host, according to a study that mapped the genome of the fungus.

Stephen Goodwin, a Purdue and U.S. Department of Agriculture research plant pathologist, was the principal author on the effort to sequence the genome of the fungus Mycosphaerella graminicola, which causes septoria tritici blotch, a disease that greatly reduces yield and quality in wheat. Surprisingly, Goodwin said, the fungus had fewer genes related to production of enzymes that many other fungi use to penetrate and digest surfaces of plants while infecting them.

"We're guessing that the low number of enzymes is to avoid detection by plant defenses," said Goodwin, whose findings were published in the early online edition of the journal PLoS Genetics.
University of Wisconsin: UW-Madison students’ fruit drink mix wins first prize in food development contest
by Bob Mitchell
June 15, 2011

Pixie Dust was magic for a team of University of Wisconsin-Madison food science graduate students in New Orleans last weekend. That's the name of the drink mix that earned them first place in a Disney-sponsored food product development contest at the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) annual meeting in New Orleans.

The contest invited entries of products that were healthy for kids and Disney themed. Pixie Dust is made from freeze-dried fruit and can be mixed with either milk or water. It supplies the equivalent of a full serving of fruit.

It was a good year overall for UW-Madison students at the IFT conference. Another UW-Madison team earned third place in another IFT food product competition with a shelf-stable yogurt truffle called Blissful Bites. A third team won an honorable mention in the Disney competition with a product called Tangerine Dreams, a carbonated beverage the provides a full serving of low-fat dairy.
If this story looks familiar, it's because I blogged about it last week. It's a follow-up to Three UW-Madison teams will compete in national food product contests this weekend. As a part-time journalist, I love it when sources make it easy for writers to complete the story.

Society, including culture and politics

There is a very heavy bleed-through of science at the beginning of this section and economics at the end. I find this to be the perfect demonstration of how all three parts of sustainability can usually be found in any sustainbility story and how all of them have to be considered in a sustainability decision.

University of Wisconsin: UW-Madison starts new dual-degree program in neuroscience and law
by Jill Sakai
June 15, 2011
The University of Wisconsin-Madison has established an integrated dual-degree program in neuroscience and law that offers students the opportunity to earn a Ph.D. in neuroscience and a J.D. in law.

It plans to enroll its first class in fall 2012.

"The Program in Neuroscience and Law will train neuroscientists who also are competent in the law and prepare them to address the many important legal, scientific and public policy issues at the intersection of neuroscience and law," says Ronald Kalil, director of the UW-Madison Neuroscience and Public Policy Program, which will administer the new dual-degree option.
I applaud this attempt to create scientists who are competent in the relevant sections of the law, as well as lawyers who understand science. The two fields use very different methods to get at the truth. As a consequence, I think that the adversarial system often gets facts and concepts derived from the scientific method wrong. Better understanding of science among lawyers and law by scientists would reduce the legal system's errors.

Now, three stories about the political regulation of science-based activities.

Purdue University: Purdue praises Indiana doctors for use of medical records technology
June 14, 2011
INDIANAPOLIS – For more than 40 Indiana physicians and hospitals, compliance with new federal electronic recordkeeping standards could net more than $10 million in incentives as they adopt information technology systems geared to improve their operations and the level of patient care.

During an event Tuesday (June 14), the Indiana Health Information Technology Extension Center at Purdue University announced the federal incentives. Those funds will go to those organizations that have or will have met a June 30 deadline for meeting the eligibility requirements to receive Medicare or Medicaid Electronic Health Record (EHR) initial incentive payments.

The announcement comes just weeks after the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) began the "meaningful use" (MU) attestation process, which is based on a set of national priorities identified to help focus performance improvement efforts. Among these priorities are patient engagement, reduction of racial disparities, improved safety, increased efficiency, coordination of care and improved population health. An additional area related to privacy and security was included to emphasize the importance of protecting patient health information and ensuring patient trust in the use of electronic health records.
The emphasis is mine and highlights the values used in the formulation of the regulations. The very first point I make in my first lecture in environmental science, which is on the topic of sustainability, is about the importance of values. People who have different values can look at the same set of facts and react very differently to them, including formulating different policies. I at least have some respect for policy-makers that account for all the facts. Those who completely discount facts are another matter altogether.

Purdue University: Meetings prepare farmers for agricultural fertilizer regulation
June 15, 2011
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - Purdue Extension is teaming up with the Office of Indiana State Chemist and Indiana Farm Bureau to help farmers beat the Jan. 1 deadline for complying with a state fertilizer regulation.

Extension specialists and educators will conduct training sessions about, and OISC representatives will administer certification exams for, Category 14 fertilizer material applicators and distributors at locations throughout Indiana this summer, said Fred Whitford, coordinator of Purdue Pesticide Programs and a training instructor.

"We're going out into the state to provide these training and exam opportunities for growers to make it easier for them to come into compliance," Whitford said. "There's no fee to register. We're trying to make it as painless as possible."

Category 14 was created by legislation passed by the Indiana General Assembly in 2009. The law requires farmers handling manure from confined feeding operations to be certified through the state chemist's office. CFOs are livestock facilities that house at least 300 cattle or 600 swine or sheep, or 30,000 fowl, such as chickens, turkeys or other poultry.
Regulations like this could have a disproportionate effect on small farmers. This one at least targets the larger operations who are more likely to afford it and who have the greater impact on the environment.

University of Wisconsin: Agreement reached on UW role in state cooperative network
by Brian Rust
June 17, 2011
UW-Madison will be able to continue all current networking affiliations, including membership in WiscNet, under an agreement included in Wisconsin’s proposed state budget.

“We believe this agreement protects our service to students, our $1 Billion research enterprise and the 3500 high-tech jobs in Research Park,” says John Krogman, chief operating officer of the Division of Information Technology (DoIT). “Legislators also understand the importance of letting UW institutions join new collaborative research networks that boost Wisconsin’s economy and support our missions.”
The UW, through DoIT, helped found WiscNet in 1990. From the beginning, UW has paid WiscNet for its share of internet service, and WiscNet has paid DoIT for expertise from several of its network staff. The arrangement is legal, affordable and desired by WiscNet’s 450 members.
There was some fear that the Republicans in the legislature would try to dismantle WiscNet and replace it with private ISPs, which would have increased the cost to WiscNet's member institutions.

University of Wisconsin: Chancellor Martin leaving UW-Madison for presidency at Amherst College
June 14, 2011
University of Wisconsin-Madison Chancellor Biddy Martin, who built a reputation as a visionary thinker and defender of the university’s role as global public research institution, announced today (Tuesday, June 14) that she’s leaving the university to become president of Amherst College.

Martin, who came full circle at UW-Madison when she became chancellor after earlier earning her doctoral degree here, made the announcement in an email to UW-Madison faculty, staff and students earlier today.

“The decision to leave UW-Madison is one of the most difficult decisions I have ever made,” Martin said in the statement. “I have thoroughly enjoyed my time here, and am honored to have served as chancellor of this great institution.”

Martin’s term as UW-Madison chancellor will end in the coming weeks. She plans to assume her new position at Amherst, in Amherst, Mass., at the end of August.
I'll miss Biddy. Her press releases were fun to read and made her look like a warm and intelligent person.

University of Wisconsin: Recent UW-Madison graduates win award for strategic media plan
by Stacy Forster
June 13, 2011
As recent University of Wisconsin-Madison graduates hoping to land jobs in political and strategic communications, Dana Vielmetti and Paige Helling this week found themselves in an enviable position.

The pair was in Washington, D.C., networking with influential political and media industry players after winning a major national award for strategic political communication.

Vielmetti, who graduated in May with degrees in political science and psychology, and Helling, who earned degrees in journalism and political science, won the 2011 Washington Media Scholars Media Plan Case Competition and National Excellence in Media Award for the strategic media plan they created for a hypothetical special election referendum.

The award is given by the Washington Media Scholars Foundation, which gives college students first-hand experience in public policy advertising and offers them the chance to meet leaders in the industry. The pair comprised one of six teams chosen as finalists from across the country to be part of a Media Scholars Week and compete for the national award.
Vielmetti is not a common name. I know an Edward Vielmetti on Facebook, who is a journalist. Another Vielmetti who is also a journalist? It can't be a coincidence.

Now, time for the money.

University of Wisconsin: Budget passed by state Legislature includes flexibility, preserves broadband
by Stacy Forster
June 17, 2011
The $66 billion spending plan passed Thursday by the state Legislature for the next two years includes important administrative flexibilities for UW System institutions and preserves a critical state broadband network.

The spending plan approved by both the Senate and Assembly maintained provisions added by the Joint Committee on Finance to provide UW-Madison and other UW institutions greater leeway in areas of human resources, purchasing, travel, tuition and budget management.

Chancellor Biddy Martin has said the new flexibilities are an important first step in reforming the financial business model under which Wisconsin public higher education has operated for 40 years.

“I am delighted that UW-Madison and other campuses will have greater flexibility and decision-making authority,” Martin says.

The budget also requires UW-Madison to cut about $94 million from its budget over the next two years, part of a $250 million cut being absorbed by the entire UW System.
Welcome to a period of creatively dealing with austerity. As I've written before, the interplay between austerity and sustainability will mark this decade, if not longer.

Purdue University: $1 million more shared with higher ed institutions to aid student veterans
June 15, 2011
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - The Military Family Research Institute (MFRI) at Purdue University on Wednesday (June 15) awarded more than $1 million to 25 Indiana institutions of higher education that proposed ways to enhance services for the state's student service members, veterans and their families.

The grants were made through Operation Diploma, MFRI's higher education initiative. Since 2009 Operation Diploma has awarded more than $2.4 million to Indiana colleges and universities, which have used the funds to produce more effective and supportive services for these students. Institutions submitted competitive proposals for grants of up $100,000.

"This year's proposals demonstrate that we are entering a new phase of campus recognition and support," said MFRI director Shelley MacDermid Wadsworth. "Schools are building on their successes to reach for even higher goals and attracting the attention of their neighbor and peer institutions in the process."
Despite austerity, public universities are doing their best to keep education affordable.


Purdue University: Report estimates Purdue Research Park annual economic impact for Indiana is $1.3 billion
June 13, 2011
INDIANAPOLIS; WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind.; MERRILLVILLE, Ind.; and NEW ALBANY, Ind. - An independent study reports that the Purdue Research Park network provides an annual economic impact of $1.3 billion to Indiana's economy, officials announced Tuesday (June 14).

The report, compiled by Thomas P. Miller and Associates of Indianapolis, states that the Purdue Research Park network is one of the largest private employers in the state, has invested more than $584 million in infrastructure, provides $48 million in annual tax revenue for the state and employees in a park-based company earn an average annual wage of $63,000.

The Purdue Research Park, which is managed by the nonprofit Purdue Research Foundation, is the largest business incubator in Indiana and the largest university-affiliated incubator complex in the country. The park has four locations across the state with more than 200 companies and 4,000 employees.
With this story, I've closed the loop that I described at the beginning of this entry, connecting the return on investment on science with investing in science.

Part three later today.

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