Monday, July 11, 2011

Sustainability news from Michigan's research universities for the week ending July 9, 2011

In the weekly roundup, I foreshadowed that this week's linkspam would be different.
I posted this week's part three, Sustainability news from national commercial sources for the week ending July 2, 2011, last. In fact, I didn't get around to doing it until Friday. Don't worry, that won't happen this week, for no other reason that I won't have that kind of part three this week.
Right now, I have only two parts to this week's linkspam: Part one from Michigan's research universities and part two from the public research universities of Wisconsin, Indiana, and Ohio. There just weren't any sustainablity articles in this past weekend's Overnight News Digest: Science Saturday for me to reuse and recycle. If I change my mind, part three will be news from local sources, as I was having way too much fun last week doing other things on this blog to actually post about them--for example, I've already posted two "Swim" entries, Oak Park's "War on Veggies" goes viral and Impaling Vlad, or With friends like this, Kunstler hardly needs enemies, this week, and I have another one queued up to post in the morning as I type this.

So far, unlike my previous months blogging here using a NaBloPoMo theme, I'm having a lot of fun with "Swim." In a way, it actually helps me fulfil what I said I'd do in my very first post.
I'll also post reviews of other blogs about societal collapse and what to do about it. There are plenty of them out there, and they all deserve a good meta look.
I've broadened this to examining all kinds of sustainability bloggers, as this blog has become as much about "sustainability with a science fiction slant" and "sustainability in Detroit" as it has about collapse. Cue the Robocop references in five, four, three...

As usual, I attempt to arrange all the topics so that they form a metaphorical circle, with each section leading to the next and the last leading back to the beginning. I told you, I take that metaphor seriously. After all, I'm an environmentalist; I recycle!

General Sustainability

Norm Lownds, associate professor in the Department of Horticulture, talks about his role as curator of the Michigan 4-H Children's Garden.
Michigan State University: Faculty conversations: Norm Lownds
July 8, 2011
In the Michigan 4-H Children’s Garden, there is a pizza made of plants.

"You can see we have chives, we have basil, we have tomatoes, we have garlic, we have peppers, oregano," said Norm Lownds, curator of the garden located on the Michigan State University campus. In the kid-sized, pizza-shaped garden — with a single slice taken out — there’s even a pineapple growing this year.

There are about 85 different theme gardens in the Children’s Garden, including the PB&J, herb, food plate and music gardens. There is also Monet’s bridge, dance chimes, a water-squirting frog sculpture and even a tame "Whomping Willow," just like the one in the Harry Potter books and movies, Lownds said. (It’s really just a weeping willow, he said.)

"One of the things we want people to do is we want them to take away the idea that, 'Oh, this is something that I can do at home,'" he said.
"This is something I can do at home." Just for that, I'll tell Julie Bass about this article and video.

Michigan State University: Field days showcase latest in ag research
July 6, 2011
EAST LANSING, Mich. - Leading-edge research and demonstration projects ranging from advances in fruit, vegetable and grain production to cattle-breeding techniques, high-yield forage testing, robotic milking and biofuels research will be featured throughout the summer at a number of Michigan State University AgBioResearch center field days and open houses.

MSU AgBioResearch is the new name of the former Michigan Agricultural Experiment Station.

"Field days are excellent opportunities to provide exposure to the novel research taking place at the research centers," said AgBioResearch director Steve Pueppke. "These facilities supply Michigan growers and commodity groups with the latest information, enabling them to provide Michigan residents with more efficient production strategies, improved foods and plants and a better quality of life."
This builds on 32nd annual Ag Expo to take place July 19-21 from last week and Agricultural events to take place this summer from the week before. I'm a big fan of Barry Commoner's Four Laws of Ecology, including "everything is connected to everything else." Just ask my students.

Michigan State University: Program to focus on natural resources and resource management
July 6, 2011
People interested in the outdoors, natural resources, conservation and local environmental issues are invited to attend the Michigan Conservation Stewards Program Aug. 25-Oct. 13 at the Kalamazoo Nature Center.

Lectures and field experiences offer hands-on learning opportunities focused on ecological foundations, making decisions for natural resources, forests, grasslands, stream ecosystems and management, wetlands, agriculture and land use. There will also be a volunteer expo highlighting conservation opportunities available in southwest Michigan.

The 40-hour course includes Thursday evening lectures and three Saturday field experiences 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Aug. 27, Sept. 10 and Sept. 24. The field experiences will travel to unique locations to explore different habitats, including the Kalamazoo Nature Center, Pierce Cedar Creek Institute and Michigan State University's Kellogg Forest, Kellogg Bird Sanctuary and Lux Arbor Reserve.

"Conservation Stewards gives people the chance to learn from local and statewide experts about local natural resources and efforts to protect them," said Shari Dann, MSU Extension conservation specialist. "Participants don’t need to have a background in conservation, just an interest in our great Michigan natural resources and in having fun learning more about the environment with others who share that interest."
As you can see, Michigan State wins the general sustainability trophy this week. Their school colors aren't the only thing that's green about the university!

Environment, including science and technology

University of Michigan: Using imprint processing to mass-produce tiny antennas could improve wireless electronics
July 5, 2011
ANN ARBOR, Mich.—Engineering researchers at the University of Michigan have found a way to mass-produce antennas so small that they approach the fundamental minimum size limit for their bandwidth, or data rate, of operation.

This could lead to new generations of wireless consumer electronics and mobile devices that are either smaller or can perform more functions. The antenna is typically the largest wireless component in mobile devices. Shrinking it could leave more room for other gadgets and features, said Anthony Grbic, an associate professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.

Grbic and Stephen Forrest, a professor in the departments of Materials Science and Engineering and Physics, led the development of the hemisphere-shaped antennas, which can be manufactured with innovative imprint processing techniques that are rapid and low cost. The finished product is 1.8 times the fundamental antenna size limit established in 1948 by L.J. Chu. The dimensions of this limit vary based on an antenna's bandwidth.
I'm quite serious about closing the circle, which reflects the "everyting is connected to everything else. In this case, I placed the scientific discovery that had the greatest economic potential at the beginning of the section so that it could connect to the end.

Wayne State University: Wayne State University researcher argues that sex reduces genetic variation
July 5, 2011
DETROIT - Biology textbooks maintain that the main function of sex is to promote genetic diversity. But Henry Heng, Ph.D., associate professor in WSU's Center for Molecular Medicine and Genetics, says that's not the case.

Heng and fellow researcher Root Gorelick, Ph.D., associate professor at Carleton University in Canada, propose that although diversity may result from a combination of genes, the primary function of sex is not about promoting diversity. Rather, it's about keeping the genome context - an organism's complete collection of genes arranged by chromosome composition and topology - as unchanged as possible, thereby maintaining a species' identity. This surprising analysis has been published as a cover article in the journal Evolution.

"If sex was merely for increasing genetic diversity, it would not have evolved in the first place," said Heng. This is because asexual reproduction - in which only one parent is needed to procreate - leads to higher rates of genetic diversity than sex.

For nearly 130 years, traditional perceptions hold that asexual reproduction generates clone-like offspring and sexual reproduction leads to more diverse offspring. "In reality, however, the relationship is quite the opposite," said Heng in a 2007 issue of the journal Genome.
My Ph.D. dissertation used self-fertilization in snails as an example of evolution of sex. I'd have to completely re-examine my research in light of these findings.

As for why this article is in a sustainability linkspam, one of the things one does to maintain a healthy environment is to conserve/preserve biodiversity. Biodiversity results from evolution acting over time. Therefore, to understand biodiversity, one has to understand evolution.

Finally, this article doesn't connect all that strongly with anything in this post, but it will connect with an article in part two. Watch for it.

University of Michigan: Children who seldom smile, laugh or hug a parent might be at risk for depression
July 7, 2011
ANN ARBOR, Mich.—A new study from the University of Michigan and the University of Pittsburgh shows that even if a child isn't crying, frowning or displaying other negative emotions on a consistent basis, another warning sign is when a child shows fewer positive displays, like hugging a parent or smiling and laughing.

"Surprisingly, it seems that it is low levels of happiness, as opposed to high levels of sadness, what may help explain why these kids too often develop depressive disorders," said Nestor Lopez-Duran, an assistant professor of psychology at U-M and one of the study's authors.
In the study, children whose mothers had a history of depression and therefore were at high risk for the disorder did not differ from their low-risk peers in the amount of negative emotions they experienced, said Nestor Lopez-Duran. However, compared to their peers, children at high risk for depression had lower frequencies of positive emotions.
Mental health is just as much of a sustainability issue as other kinds of health. For example, mental health parity is both an economic and social issue, and ableism is going to be the next frontier in social justice. You think I'm kidding? Just watch.

Michigan State University: Researchers closing in on safe treatment for parasitic diseases
July 8, 2011
EAST LANSING, Mich. — With the help of another $2 million in funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, researchers are moving closer to setting up human clinical trials for a reformulated drug that could be the linchpin of treatment efforts against two debilitating tropical diseases.

Charles Mackenzie, a professor of veterinary pathology in Michigan State University's College of Veterinary Medicine, and his colleagues are looking to flubendazole, a drug tested first in the 1980s to treat the filarial disease river blindness (onchocerciasis).

The disease, in which the skin and eyes are infected with parasitic worms, afflicts about 40 million people worldwide, much of its damage in equatorial Africa. River blindness is spread by black flies, and after the parasitic worms die in a person's eye, it can cause blindness and debilitating skin disease.
This is the first of two stories in science that lead directly into stories in society. Now the second.

University of Michigan: U-M's new Eco-Driving Index: Environmental impact of new vehicles improving
July 6, 2011
ANN ARBOR, Mich.—A new national index by the University of Michigan shows that emissions of greenhouse gases per driver of newly purchased vehicles are down 14 percent since late 2007.

The U-M Eco-Driving Index estimates the average monthly amount of greenhouse gases produced by an individual U.S. driver who purchased a new vehicle that month.

The EDI for April 2011, which is the latest month for which data is available, stands at 0.86, compared to the baseline 1.0 in October 2007, the nominal start of the 2008 model year and the first for which the Environmental Protection Agency started using the current fuel-economy rating system.
Check out that graph. Other than the business as usual people who will point out, correctly from their perspective, that the failure of miles driven to recover is bad for the economy, this graph is good news. Both gas consumption and pollution have dropped overall and per miles driven.

Society, including culture and politics

University of Michigan: Poll: Michigan citizens, officials agree local government should tackle global warming
July 6, 2011
ANN ARBOR, Mich.—A large majority of Michigan citizens and local government leaders agree that local governments have a responsibility to help reduce global warming, a new University of Michigan survey says.

The view was shared by 70 percent of the citizens and 68 percent of the local officials, although the officials’ opinions were divided about the seriousness of global warming, says the poll by U-M's Center for Local, State, and Urban Policy (CLOSUP).

The study is unique because it combined findings from two different partnering surveys: one focused on Michigan's citizens and another focused on Michigan's local government leaders. The findings are significant because global warming is a relatively new issue. It has been unclear whether citizens and their leaders believe they should help fight the problem at the local level or leave it up to the state and federal governments.

"This study firmly establishes that most Michiganians and their local leaders share a common view that reducing global warming is a public responsibility to be addressed at all levels of government, including the local level," said Brian Jacob, professor of public policy and director of CLOSUP.
At least the local officials are on board with doing something about carbon dioxide emissions and climate change, even if the politicians at the national level are balking.

University of Michigan: U-M researchers helping to reduce maternal mortality in Liberia
July 6, 2011
ANN ARBOR, Mich.—Two University of Michigan School of Nursing researchers are part of a new project that aims to improve the prospects for expectant mothers and children in the West African nation of Liberia, which has one of the world’s highest maternal mortality rates.

Six new maternity waiting homes are under construction in rural Liberia. The goal is to improve mother and child health by increasing access to safe delivery services at rural health clinics staffed by skilled birth attendants, often a nurse and a nurse midwife. The maternity waiting homes are being built near the clinics to reduce the distance expectant mothers need to travel when delivery time is near.

"The idea of these maternity waiting homes is to provide a home-like environment for women to go in the last few days—or even a couple of weeks—before their due date," said Jody Lori, a clinical assistant professor at the School of Nursing. "That way, when they go into labor, the clinic is right there."
As I keep saying, public health is a sustainablity issue, whether it is in the United States or sub-Saharan Africa.

Michigan State University: College of Human Medicine expanding Upper Peninsula campus
July 8, 2011
MARQUETTE, Mich. — Michigan State University's College of Human Medicine, in conjunction with Marquette General Health System, is expanding the college's Rural Physician Program, increasing the number of medical students training each year in the Upper Peninsula.

Since 1974, the college has been training medical students in the U.P. Eight to 10 students are accepted annually into the program, spending their third and fourth years of medical school at CHM's Marquette campus. The program now seeks to place up to 16 students per class year at the campus and expand training sites across the region.

"We extend an invitation to the physicians of our Upper Peninsula to join us in teaching the next generation of physicians," said Marsha D. Rappley, dean of the College of Human Medicine. "We also are pleased to strengthen our relationship with Marquette General Health System and Superior Health Partners as we work together to address the physician work force issues of the Upper Peninsula and all of rural America through a quality-driven health care system."
People pay a lot of attention to lack of service in the cities. Rural areas are just as underserved--and I'm saying that as someone who lived in rural Michigan for more than a decade.

University of Michigan: Black men place family and community above their own health
July 8, 2011
ANN ARBOR, Mich.—Black men place a higher priority on fulfilling social roles such as family provider, father, husband and community member than they do on physical activity—and their health suffers because they don't often find time for both.

A new study from the University of Michigan School of Public Health looks at why many African-American men aren't more physically active.

"This is our most important paper to date, because the findings underpin all of our other research on African American men's health behaviors. It also flies in the face of the way African American men are often portrayed in health literature," said Derek Griffith, assistant professor in the U-M SPH and study author. "The men in our study are interested in being healthy, but they put their job and family responsibilities before their own health."
What did I write in the previous section about mental health being a public health and sustainability issue? This article clearly shows the social aspects of it, as well.

Michigan State University: CVM uncovers history behind bronze horse statue
July 7, 2011
The Michigan State University College of Veterinary Medicine has recently learned one of its statues on display is more than just a bronze horse— it’s a rare piece of art.

Since 2010, a blue-green bronze statue of Obusier - a champion stallion imported from France in 1938 - has been on display in the reception area of the Large Animal Clinic of the Veterinary Teaching Hospital. Standing at 29 inches high and 28 inches long, it's one-fourth the size of the horse that inspired its creation.
As I've pointed out in Sustainability in unexpected places: archeology 1, preservation of cultural heritage is also a sustainability issue. It's also nice to see a sustainability story with a happy ending.

Michigan State University: MSU researcher helps Detroit tackle problem of untested rape kits
July 8, 2011
EAST LANSING, Mich. — A noted researcher from Michigan State University is helping Detroit authorities to determine why more than 10,000 sexual assault kits spanning two decades went untested and to develop practices to prevent the problem in the future.

Rebecca Campbell, a psychology professor and veteran sexual assault researcher, is the independent evaluator for the three-year project funded by the U.S. Department of Justice. Campbell has been given unprecedented access by the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office, Detroit Police Department and Michigan State Police to interview staff at all levels and review policies and procedures related to the 10,559 untested sexual assault kits in Detroit.

“If everything goes the way it is supposed to, Detroit will be positioned to be a national leader in being able to help other communities deal with this,” said Campbell, who started her work in April. “It means that the research we do will assist police and prosecutors in bringing criminals to justice."

The untested sexual assault kits, also known as rape kits, were discovered in a Detroit police property storage facility in August 2009. The kits date back to the 1980s.
A clear case of society failing to use the science available to solve social problems. It's also an economic problem.

Speaking of issues at the intersection of economy and society...


University of Michigan: Asset gaps by socioeconomic class reduced when low-income families create savings program for children
July 5, 2011
ANN ARBOR, Mich.—Opening a bank account for a young child in a low-income family could someday lead to a society with a reduction in asset gaps by socioeconomic class, a new study says.

The research by the University of Michigan, University of Georgia and University of Kansas was designed to test the efficacy of and inform policy for a national system of savings and asset-building accounts for children. In particular, their research found that lower-income families with children may benefit from holding assets such as savings for future developmental goals like college education or business start-ups.

Using data from an initiative called Saving for Education, Entrepreneurship, and Downpayment (SEED), researchers used responses from 381 lower-income parents of children enrolled in Head Start, a federal program that promotes school readiness for three- to five-year-olds in low-income families.

The research indicates that families who opened accounts were so excited about the possibility of saving money for their children's future that very few withdrew money from the accounts even during the tough economic times in Michigan, said Trina Shanks, an assistant professor in the U-M School of Social Work.
This article shows the benefits of Head Start, even to people with a bean counter's mentality.

Wayne State University: Business school alumni give Wayne State students a swinging chance
July 6, 2011
The Wayne State University School of Business Administration Alumni Association will host its fifth annual golf outing on July 25. The event, called Swing for the Students, will help grow an endowed scholarship fund for Detroit high school graduates who pursue higher education at Wayne State's business school.

The alumni association, with the help of sponsors and participants in the golf event, has raised $180,000 in just four years to fund the program.
This year's outing is Monday, July 25, at the Detroit Golf Club, 17911 Hamilton. The fee of $250 per player, or $1,000 for a foursome, includes golf, meals and prizes. Advance registration is required. Register online at
What's green about this story? The golf course, the money, and the school colors. *Rimshot*

Michigan State University: Supply chain pioneer Donald Bowersox dies
July 8, 2011
Donald J. Bowersox, one of the most well-known and influential supply chain management academics in the world, died July 4 after a reoccurring battle with cancer. He was 79.

Bowersox was professor emeritus of marketing and supply chain management and served as dean of the Broad College of Business and the Broad Graduate School of Management from 2001-02

He dedicated more than 40 years to Michigan State University, and is largely responsible for the stature that the Broad College has in the field of supply chain management. U.S. News and World Report currently ranks MSU’s supply chain management program No. 2 behind only the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s program.
I'm not an economist or a manufacturing specialist, and even I've heard of Bowersox. Hey, that's Michigan for you.

Michigan State University: Jobless in journalism: Grads create own online news service
July 8, 2011
EAST LANSING, Mich. — After graduating from journalism school and unable to find jobs in their chosen fields, two Michigan State University alumni did the next best thing: Founded their own news website.

Developing the Michigan River News website allowed Andrew McGlashen and Jeff Brooks Gillies to bring together their love of the outdoors and journalism.

“Mostly we just like doing journalism and don’t have jobs in journalism,” said McGlashen, a 2009 graduate of a master’s program at MSU’s Knight Center for Environmental Journalism. “We have the training and needed a place to use it, and if we learned anything at the Knight Center, it’s that nowadays journalists need to create their own opportunities.”
With this story about environmental journalists solving an economic problem by starting their own business, this linkspam has now come full circle. Part two tomorrow, but not before another Swim post. If you want a preview, click here.


  1. I love the one about the 4-H garden! It really makes me feel good. And I also love the poll that residents agree tackling climate change should be done on a local level..of course it should! It's a no=brainer fer christs sake!

    So many of your items in this post give me hope dude..thank you for that. ;-)

  2. Thanks and you're welcome, Dusty. That's one thing about my science news--I usually find material to make people feel hopeful.