News Article | May 10, 2017
EAST LANSING, Mich. - If you show up at work tired, you may want to focus strictly on your own tasks. New research suggests helping coworkers in the morning can lead to mental exhaustion and self-serving behavior in the afternoon that ultimately can create a toxic work environment. The study builds on the previous work of Michigan State University's Russell Johnson and colleagues that found helping others at work can be mentally fatiguing for employees. Turns out, that helping behavior can be particularly harmful when it's done in the morning hours. "The increase in mental fatigue from helping coworkers in the morning led employees to reduce their helping behaviors in the afternoon and, perhaps more interestingly, they engaged in more self-serving political behaviors in the afternoon as well," said Johnson, associate professor of management in MSU's Broad College of Business. "They switched from being other-oriented in the morning to being selfish in the afternoon." Johnson and colleagues studied 91 full-time employees over 10 consecutive workdays (participants completed two surveys a day - morning and afternoon - on their workplace experiences). While previous research has noted the "dark side" of helping others on an individual's well-being and performance implications, Johnson said, this study is the first to explore the downstream effect on political behavior. Helping others may not only harm the well-being of the individual, but through the subsequent increase in political behavior may harm others in the office as well, the study says. "Although we did not identify the consequences of these political behaviors, research has established that political acts from employees can culminate into a toxic work environment with negative well-being and performance consequences." The authors aren't suggesting workers never help their colleagues in the morning, of course, but that they show discretion, particularly when they start the day already tired or mentally fatigued. When they do help coworkers in such circumstances, employers can make sure they get work breaks and lunch periods to help them recover. If breaks aren't possible, managers should make sure they encourage proper separation from work once employees return home. The study appears online in the journal Personnel Psychology. Johnson's co-authors are Allison Gabriel from the University of Arizona, Joel Koopman from Texas A&M University and Christopher Rosen from the University of Arkansas.
News Article | May 10, 2017
As nearly 75 percent of the nation's largest dams approach the high maintenance years, safety and economics figure large in decisions to fix or replace. A recent study by Michigan State University (MSU) researchers makes a case to consider how those dams affect the streams and fish that live in them. Big dams -- many approaching 50 years old -- span the United States. In some areas, like the northeast, there are many and close together. In other areas like the southwest, dams are sparser and further apart. It's not just the presence of a single dam that can affect streams by increasing or decreasing flows or fragmenting streams and creating dead ends for fish. The group showed that multiple dams throughout watersheds can have cumulative effects on a stream and its fishes. This underscores the fact that effects of dams could affect habitats and fish miles away from a single dam. The report, published in the May edition of the journal Science of the Total Environment, also shows how several aspects of streams and dams must be examined and considered to understand a dam's role in an ecosystem, said Arthur Cooper, the paper's primary author and a research assistant in the Aquatic Landscape Ecology Lab. "This study advances our ability to understand the effects of dams as a landscape-scale disturbance, providing information vitally needed to prioritize dam removal and management, informing policy and decision-making to improve and conserve the nation's stream resources," Cooper said.Barton Dam in the Huron River in Ann Arbor, Michigan The group scrutinized 49,468 of the nation's dams - those considered the largest and used for a wide variety of purposes, like hydropower, flood control, water supply and irrigation. By looking at how those dams affect different groups of fishes, it became clear dams benefit certain types of fishes while negatively influencing others. In particular, some trout and darter species that prefer fast-flowing streams and streams lined with gravel, or that are considered generally intolerant to human disturbances, decline in numbers with dams. But the widespread changes in stream flow and the creation of lake-like environments formed by reservoirs above dams are associated with more sunfish in some regions of the U.S. And Cooper said this isn't just about streams closest to the dams. Dams and their reservoirs deliver a cumulative effect, leaving their mark on streams further upstream. "Dams have not only fragmented large rivers themselves, but their main tributaries are also truncated by dams," Cooper said. "This is analogous to a tree having its trunk cut in half and many of its main branches removed." Cooper said this information has been used in a national assessment of stream fish habitats conducted in support of the National Fish Habitat Partnership. Along with other disturbances to stream habitats such as urban and agricultural land use, mines, and point-source pollution, the group is working to identify the condition of and threats to streams nationally. Besides Cooper, "Assessment of dam effects on streams and fish assemblages of the conterminous USA" was written by associate professor Dana Infante, the leader of the aquatic lab and a member of MSU's Center for Systems Integration and Sustainability; Wesley Daniel, Kevin Wehrly, Lizhu Wang and Travis Brenden. "This study offers new insights into the variable effects that dams can have on stream fishes," Infante said. "This information is important for stakeholders who may be working to conserve stream habitats, considering dam removals, or planning development of new dams. So that others can benefit from the tremendous amount of information assembled for this project, all dam metrics that we calculated are publically available through this publication." Partners are using this information to prioritize where and how to protect or restore streams. Managers involved in dam removal decisions throughout large regions could also use this information to compare locations for dam removal that would have the greatest ecological benefits. The work was funded by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and U.S. Geological Survey Aquatic GAP Program with support from MSU and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.
News Article | May 10, 2017
The MSU Foundation's ongoing economic development initiatives focus on taking Michigan State University's faculty and researcher technologies to market, investing in MSU student entrepreneurs, and working with area partners to build and grow the region's robust, thriving culture of innovation. "Our mission at Renaissance is to serve as a bridge between researchers, entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, and major corporations in Michigan," said Chris Rizik, chief executive officer of Renaissance Venture Capital Fund. "We are impressed with the growth of innovation efforts at Michigan State University and are excited to extend our presence and network in the region." The TIC, managed and operated by the MSU Foundation, offers its tech-based members office space, programmatic support, and resources aimed at helping startups and early-stage companies flourish. The TIC is adjacent to the MSU Innovation Center. About the Renaissance Venture Capital Fund The Renaissance Venture Capital Fund is a fund of funds that supports the growth of venture capital in Michigan while serving as a bridge between Michigan's emerging innovation company community and its strong industrial and commercial base. Formed by Business Leaders for Michigan, the Renaissance Venture Capital Fund boasts as its members many of Michigan's most important organizations. It has become a national model for strategic, financially successful regional investing. Through its investment in top tier venture firms that are active in Michigan, as well as its own co-investments in emerging Michigan companies, the Renaissance Venture Capital Fund is helping to drive forward both innovation and growth of emerging companies in the region. And it is again proving that Michigan, with its unique combination of scientific, engineering and business talent, is a great place in which to invest. For more information, please visit: www.renvcf.com. About the Michigan State University Foundation Established in 1973 as an independent, non-profit corporation, the Michigan State University Foundation fuels economic development initiatives through the commercialization of cutting-edge technologies invented by Michigan State University faculty, staff, and students. At its core is an extensive program, focusing on the support of research, invention, and entrepreneurship. The Michigan State University Foundation operates Michigan Biotechnology Institute, Red Cedar Ventures, Spartan Innovations, and the University Corporate Research Park. Further, the Foundation manages and operates the East Lansing Technology Innovation Center. More information on the Foundation's notable achievements, provided services, key leadership, and history are available at www.msufoundation.org About the East Lansing Technology Innovation Center Founded in 2008, right in the heart of downtown East Lansing, the East Lansing Technology Innovation Center, also known as the TIC, became the first business incubator in the region. Today, the space continues to be home to technology startup companies, offering them support and space to grow their ideas. Members have direct access to resources within the MSU Innovation Center, as well as Michigan State University's campus. Connecting members with a vast network of area professionals, community resources, and venture capitalists, the TIC offers the space for tech entrepreneurs to explore their ideas, take creative risks, and grow their networks. For more about the East Lansing Technology Innovation Center, please visit: www.eastlansingtic.org. To view the original version on PR Newswire, visit:http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/renaissance-venture-capital-fund-expands-to-east-lansing-technology-innovation-center-300454760.html
News Article | May 9, 2017
It’s a Friday afternoon, and Andrew Hull, the founder and president of marketing consulting firm Elixiter, is still hard at work in his Bozeman, Montana, office. But soon–insanely soon–he’ll be setting up camp with a troop of local Boy Scouts. When he finally ducks out of the office at 4 p.m., he, the scouts, and four other chaperones are at a trailhead within the hour, ready to backpack three miles. Camp is set before nightfall. “You can get anywhere in Bozeman in 15 minutes,” says Hull, whose 40-employee company’s clients include Fitbit and Aetna. “Where Elixiter is, we have access to trailheads within 15 minutes. Skiing is 25 minutes.” Bozeman (pop. 43,405) has long been a magnet for outdoor enthusiasts; count Hull, an avid cyclist, among those ranks. But the small city has also earned another reputation as a boomtown for entrepreneurs, many in high technology. Thanks in part to its natural amenities, the presence of a university, and an embrace of the digital economy, Bozeman is turning into a startup hub in the middle of nowhere. The place is incomprehensibly scenic, even by Montana standards, situated in a spot where four mountain ranges decide enough is enough and relax into a fertile valley. Yellowstone National Park is a 90-minute drive. A River Runs Through It was filmed on the nearby Gallatin River, so trout fishing is a given. Like many places in the state, the local economies were driven for years by tourism and agriculture. But unlike many, this city in the southwestern corner of Montana started to diversify its economy in the 1980s when photonics companies started to build lasers, and manufacturing and outdoor-gear firms also settled in. A conservationist might bump into a think-tank economist at one of the local breweries. Montana State University (MSU) provides both thousands of jobs and an annual batch of new employees. The real major transformation in the town’s economy began in 1997, when Greg Gianforte founded RightNow Technologies, a customer relationship management firm. Gianforte had previously started a company in New Jersey, and after selling that one to McAfee, he set his sights toward Bozeman to raise a family. “We had this idea that the internet removed geography as a constraint,” Gianforte says. “When we started, that was a theory; it wasn’t a fact.” RightNow eventually grew to 1,100 employees, and Oracle bought it for $1.5 billion. Some 500 RightNow employees worked in Bozeman, and the Oracle acquisition seeded a new class of entrepreneurs. Gianforte founded a startup incubator and entered politics; the Republican is following an unsuccessful 2016 run for governor with a bid for the House of Representatives seat vacated by Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke. Sixteen other RightNow alumni have since started companies in Montana, many in Bozeman. In the five years since the Oracle deal closed, this wave of founders is reshaping the state economy. According to a University of Montana survey, the state’s high-tech sector in 2016 paid 14,500 employees a median wage of around $60,000. Both are sums a single West Coast company could top, but those are significant totals in a state with barely more than 1 million people where the median household income is about $50,000. “One problem we’ve had is that, historically, graduates from Montana colleges have been told to leave the state,” says Christina Quick Henderson, executive director of the Montana High Tech Business Alliance. “With the growth of the industry, that’s no longer true.” Among the 25 least-populated states, Montana has topped the Kauffman Foundation’s rankings of startup activity for four years running. Indeed, the 138 members of Quick Henderson’s trade organization added more than 900 jobs in 2016, and nearly 1,000 are expected to be added to payrolls in 2017. Odds are that those employees will remain in those jobs, too. Montana employers enjoy preposterously high retention rates compared with their counterparts in larger metros. “They don’t want to leave,” says Hull. “We have a 75% lifetime retention rate. That’s pretty crazy in the tech and marketing industry.” It’s not a phenomenon exclusive to Elixiter. The Kauffman Foundation recently studied the startup scenes in Bozeman and Missoula, home of the University of Montana, and found a similar result. “It’s a big contrast: People in Silicon Valley are always looking for better job opportunities . . . [but] people in Montana are a lot more laid back,” says Yasuyuki Motoyama, the Kauffman Foundation’s former director of research, now incoming assistant professor at the University of Kansas. “They don’t constantly seek other opportunities or counteroffers. They are happy with the company where they are working.” One reason for the high retention rates is that work-life balance, the subject of many a Silicon Valley manifesto, is manifest in Bozeman. Single-minded careerism isn’t really a thing in Bozeman–folks come to work and participate in the area’s copious outdoor activities. That notion is baked into company cultures. “When we do our team-building activities, if we can incorporate river rafting or hiking or doing something outside, that’s one of our big goals,” says Daren Nordhagen, president of Foundant Technologies. Keeping employees in Bozeman may be easy, but finding them is a challenge. Instead of competing with other companies amid a large talent pool, Montana firms for years had to fill the pool themselves. Gianforte’s bait of choice was home-state pride. Twice a year, RightNow would send postcards to MSU computer science grads who had left the state, and the company erected billboards on highways leading to Big Sky ski resort and Yellowstone. He says 80% of his employees in Bozeman were born in Montana, and the rest were “hunting and fishing fools” who wanted the Montana lifestyle and a good wage. Subsequent entrepreneurs have followed suit, though they aren’t having to work quite as hard as RightNow did to lure folks to Bozeman. MSU is churning out more graduates–it is now the largest college in the state–and Bozeman’s growth has made it more palatable for many incoming residents. The downtown is densifying and adding amenities. Some remain astonished that the town is now home to a wine bar. “Most of [our employees] had already made the choice to live in Bozeman,” Nordhagen says. “There are people that move here because they want the outdoor lifestyle, or they want to get out of the big city and have a more rural area to raise their families, yet still have access to decent jobs, decent restaurants, and an airport. There are tons of people who are moving to Montana, and then figuring out the rest once they get here.” That’s not to say workforce development isn’t a critical element of business. MSU is not MIT, and the Bozeman metro area holds 100,000 people, not 1 million. Thus, extensive employee training programs are in order. Elixiter, for its part, runs one akin to a vocational apprenticeship. All new employees undergo three months of classroom-style training–homework included–taught by fellow employees, followed by three more months of shadowing a coworker. The pace of training fits with the overall growth model of most Bozeman companies. This is a population of founders comfortable with 20% growth and the addition of just a handful of staffers each year. (Not that there aren’t fast growers–five Bozeman firms, including Elixiter and Foundant, made the Inc. 5000 list in 2016.) One reason for this is a lack of venture capital. Aside from Next Frontier Capital, a local VC firm with a $21.5 million fund, substantial funding is virtually nonexistent in Montana. Most company founders bootstrap, so growth is curtailed by the available resources. Entrepreneurs in town feel the fiscal reality suits the rancher-and-miner culture of the state and helps yield resilient companies. “There’s this attitude of, ‘We’re going to figure this out.’ If you grow up on a farm or ranch, if something breaks, you have to fix it. There’s nobody else to do it for you,” says Hull. “So, there’s this spirit of ingenuity, of figuring things out, and that translates well to the tech world.” A reliance on hiring and training locals has its drawbacks. An obvious one is a lack of diversity. Hiring from the state workforce essentially means hiring white–87% of Montanans are Caucasian–and few founders are actively broadening their recruiting pipelines. Multiple executives labeled their applicants a “self-selecting” group, meaning folks turned off by the Montana lifestyle don’t bother applying. There are perks to this approach. A lifelong New Yorker would find Bozeman severely lacking in cultural amenities, while someone already living in Bozeman likely values fly fishing more than access to, say, international eateries. The latter person is more likely to fit in with these companies. It’s also more likely that person is white. It’s not just racial diversity that’s affected. Montana lacks statewide nondiscrimination policies based on sexual orientation or gender. When Bozeman passed its own nondiscrimination policy in 2014, a major opponent was the town’s tech figurehead–Gianforte. Buzzfeed reported in 2016 that Gianforte lobbied against an LGBT nondiscrimination ordinance, and his family trust has given $1.1 million to groups that fight against reproductive rights and LGBT equality. The lack of diversity could affect the bottom line as companies’ ambitions shift. “Some companies want to hire dozens of people a year, and that means you have to recruit people from the outside,” says Motoyama. “In IT-related jobs, you may need to find people from India, people from China. You don’t find those kinds of software engineers in Montana.” The job-hoppers some Montana entrepreneurs dread often are some of the most talented employees, are diverse, and sometimes come from far-off places. Matt Fulton would like some of those folks to find their way to Montana. During a five-year stint with Palo Alto-based Medallia, Fulton worked remotely from Bozeman for an 18-month period. After briefly returning to Palo Alto, he and wife Abby Schlatter moved back to Bozeman and started a company called commonFont in 2013. Fulton enjoys the familiar Bozeman perk: His employees love the town, and they want to stick around. But if he interviews a candidate whose primary motivation is to live in or move to Bozeman, rather than work at commonFont, he won’t extend an offer. “That’s one of the things that I like least about Bozeman. I wish there was more moving around, more competition for top talent,” Fulton says. “Retention is high because there’s not enough choice, and not enough competition. . . . If there was more of a culture of people looking around and evaluating other opportunities, I think that would be helpful and healthy. It would help us attract and retain a higher caliber of workforce.” If that lack of competition is simply a volume problem, then it could be solved by a continued surge in startup activity. Marty Ostermiller was RightNow’s director of finance until he left town in 2012, after the Oracle acquisition; he now works in Salt Lake City. “That’s the peril in Bozeman–your options are limited, and they were especially limited then,” he says. “But I think that’s part of why Bozeman became an entrepreneurial place. People wanted to stay there, and it wasn’t completely obvious where to work.” Founders who have stuck around share a considerable collective accomplishment: Few Western towns as small as Bozeman provide so many middle-class jobs for locals. Professionals from Idaho or Wyoming or New Mexico often face dichotomous choices: Either flee your home state for better-paying jobs in a coastal metro, or stick around and weather the boom-bust cycles of extraction-based economies and commodity agriculture. Someone entering the Bozeman job market today won’t face such polarizing choices. Intelligent planning and a bit of luck have stoked the boom. Proximity to Yellowstone is the reason its airport exists, but adding direct flights to spots such as Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, and Dallas gave entrepreneurs and a contingent of remote workers better access to coastal markets; Bozeman’s is now the busiest airport in the state. The city has zoned areas of downtown for multistory, mixed-use development–a rarity in many scenic Western towns–and it laid the first phase of a fiber-optic network last October. Chris Mehl is a Bozeman city commissioner and works for Headwaters Economics, which researches the economies of the rural West. His firm has documented a trend in Western urbanization that exacerbates the economic gap between small cities–think Bozeman and Bend, Oregon–and the truly rural places surrounding them. A major determinant is infrastructure. If a town has access to transportation and high-speed internet, then it is easier for new companies to locate there. Remote employees, of which there are many in Bozeman, typically command high wages and can settle in any burg with internet access. “Why rural communities aren’t demanding broadband, I don’t know,” Mehl says. Bozeman’s growth has its downfalls. A robust startup scene, well-paid remote workers, and scenic beauty are a recipe for swelling housing costs. According to Zillow, the median list price of a house in Bozeman is north of $420,000 compared with $250,000 in Billings, the state’s largest city. But if wages and job numbers continue to flourish, it’s a problem numerous Western towns envy.
News Article | May 22, 2017
With the state of Montana being known for its “Big Sky” you can assume that sky also puts out a big sun and big glare. While the trend of daylighting continues to grow, the major problems that come with it are heat and glare. Suntuitive Dynamic Glass was invented to be the product that would allow the best of both worlds and in a beautiful setting on an idyllic college campus in Montana, the opportunity to show its value came to fruition. Suntuitive Dynamic Glass was installed in the Chemistry and Biochemistry Building at Montana State University (MSU) in Bozeman, Montana. Before the solution of Suntuitive Glass was implemented the student body working there to become future stars of the science world would have to either battle the sun and glare or retreat to rooms within the structure. The head of the Chemistry and Biochemistry Department at MSU, Dr. Mary Cloninger immediately noticed a difference. “We knew there had to be technology out there to make the rooms feel better. The Suntuitive Glass immediately provided that. Students were more comfortable immediately and they now could study in our atrium area without sunglasses on. The students actually had to wear them indoors in the past because the glare was so bad. So aside from their comfort, we also gained back a very usable space that was being underutilized because of the sunlight streaming in.” Suntuitive Dynamic Glass uses heat from direct sunlight to tint when necessary. As the sun moves across the sky, Suntuitive cools and returns to clear. At night or in cloudy conditions, when direct sun is not present, Suntuitive remains clear and allows as much daylighting as possible. The need for daylighting is not going away. Various studies continue to show that more daylight equals more occupant comfort. More occupant comfort brings higher efficiency and performance of those experiencing it. In this case, it’s the up and coming generation receiving their education at Montana State. In addition to being more comfortable, these specific students of Chemistry and Biochemistry are seeing science in action as Chuck Kuchinick, VP of Sales at Suntuitive Dynamic Glass explains. “Suntuitive consists of an extruded polyvinyl butyryl (PVB) interlayer with thermochromic properties. The thermochromic glass lightens and darkens by itself – with absolutely no mechanical or electrical intervention – based on heat from direct sunlight, so the scholars at MSU can monitor the transition and see it happening right in front of their eyes.” Suntuitive Dynamic Glass is designed to balance solar heat gain and visible light transmittance for the majority of climates and provide as much daylighting as possible while blocking out solar heat gain at the same time. Even though the product is activated in response to direct sunlight, it is slightly affected by exterior temperatures, wind and sun angle. On cooler days like many in a climate similar to Bozeman’s, Suntuitive Glass will not tint down as much to allow for passive solar heat. Dr. Cloninger also has found some other advantages the Suntuitive Dynamic Glass brings. “The new windows will need less maintenance over time, we don’t need blinds or wall coverings that need constant attention and the energy savings aspect is important too. Over the long term, we truly see a much better deal than what we previously had.” Energy is a major key as Suntuitive Glass can lower costs associated with air conditioning, artificial lighting, and heating, which is up to 50% of a building’s total energy consumption, as well as enable a building’s heating and cooling systems to be significantly downsized. In addition, always a desire on a college campus is sustainability and the off grid/no wires/no electricity needed nature of Suntuitive Glass truly delivers for the environment. Montana is nature’s paradise with amazing mountain ranges, parks, lakes, and monuments. Suntuitive Dynamic Glass is doing its part to ensure the students at Montana State are getting the best study atmosphere possible without taking away any of the amazing charm and views that make the area stand out.
News Article | May 17, 2017
Using a ferroelectret nanogenerator (FENG), the researchers turned the flag on the right into a speaker (Credit: G.L. Kohuth) Back in December, researchers from Michigan State University (MSU) demonstrated their ferroelectret nanogenerator (FENG), a paper-thin device that can generate energy from motion. Now they've added a new trick to FENG's repertoire, turning it into a thin, flexible microphone and loudspeaker. The core function of the MSU team's device is that it uses layers of charged ions to convert mechanical energy into electrical energy, and vice versa. In previous tests, that meant it could turn a swipe or tap of a finger into electrical signals to power a keyboard, touchscreen or LED lights, but the researchers soon realized the system was sensitive enough to pick up the vibrations caused by sound, making it a pretty effective microphone. To test its mettle, the team turned it into a "security patch." The FENG material was hooked up to a computer and used as a voice recognition lock, which the researchers found was precise enough to distinguish between users. Since it can also convert electrical energy into mechanical energy, the system can operate as a speaker, too. Embedding the material into a flag and hooking it up to an iPad and amplifier, FENG could effectively belt out the tunes. "The flag itself became the loudspeaker," says Nelson Sepulveda, lead researcher on the project. "So we could use it in the future by taking traditional speakers, which are big, bulky and use a lot of power, and replacing them with this very flexible, thin, small device. Or imagine a newspaper where the sheets are microphones and loudspeakers. You could essentially have a voice-activated newspaper that talks back to you." While we're not sure newspapers are the way of the future, the researchers also claim the device could find use in portable lightweight speakers, noise-cancelling sheets, and voice-protected wearables. The research was published in the journal Nature Communications and the team demonstrates the system in the video below.
News Article | May 17, 2017
A paper-thin, flexible device created at Michigan State University not only can generate energy from human motion, it can act as a loudspeaker and microphone as well, nanotechnology researchers report today in Nature Communications. The audio breakthrough could eventually lead to such consumer products as a foldable loudspeaker, a voice-activated security patch for computers and even a talking newspaper. “Every technology starts with a breakthrough and this is a breakthrough for this particular technology,” said Nelson Sepulveda, MSU associate professor of electrical and computer engineering and primary investigator of the federally funded project. “This is the first transducer that is ultrathin, flexible, scalable and bidirectional, meaning it can convert mechanical energy to electrical energy and electrical energy to mechanical energy.” In late 2016, Sepulveda and his team successfully demonstrated their sheet-like device – known as a ferroelectret nanogenerator, or FENG – by using it to power a keyboard, LED lights and an LCD touch-screen. That process worked with a finger swipe or a light pressing motion to activate the devices – converting mechanical energy to electrical energy. The current breakthrough extends the FENG’s usability. The researchers discovered the high-tech material can act as a microphone (by capturing the vibrations from sound, or mechanical energy, and converting it to electrical energy) as well as a loudspeaker (by operating the opposite way: converting electrical energy to mechanical energy). To demonstrate the microphone effect, the researchers developed a FENG security patch that uses voice recognition to access a computer. The patch was successful in protecting an individual’s computer from outside users. “The device is so sensitive to the vibrations that it catches the frequency components of your voice,” Sepulveda said. To demonstrate the loudspeaker effect, the FENG fabric was embedded into an MSU Spartan flag. Music was piped from an iPad through an amplifier and into the flag, which then reproduced the sound flawlessly. “The flag itself became the loudspeaker,” Sepulveda said. “So we could use it in the future by taking traditional speakers, which are big, bulky and use a lot of power, and replacing them with this very flexible, thin, small device.” Imagine a day when someone could pull a lightweight loudspeaker out of their pocket, slap it against the wall and transmit their speech to a roomful of people, Sepulveda said. “Or imagine a newspaper,” he added, “where the sheets are microphones and loudspeakers. You could essentially have a voice-activated newspaper that talks back to you" Wei Li, an MSU engineering researcher and lead author of the paper in Nature Communications, said other potential applications of the FENG include noise-cancelling sheeting and a health-monitoring wristband that is voice-protected. “Many people are focusing on the sight and touch aspects of flexible electronics,” Li said, “but we’re also focusing on the speaking and listening aspects of the technology.” The innovative process of creating the FENG starts with a silicone wafer, which is then fabricated with several layers, or thin sheets, of environmentally friendly substances including silver, polyimide and polypropylene ferroelectret. Ions are added so that each layer in the device contains charged particles. Electrical energy is created when the device is compressed by human motion, or mechanical energy.
News Article | May 17, 2017
Every winter, trees on high mountains in a small area northwest of Mexico City turn orange. Close inspection reveals branches filled with brilliantly colorful monarch butterflies, rather than fiery leaves, as the eastern North American population of monarchs winters there. Their numbers, however, are shrinking. New research at Michigan State University, published in the current issue of the journal Ecography, makes a strong case that the reasons for this decline go far beyond what's happening on the wintering grounds and addresses a current controversy about the primary causes of the specie's decline. "We need to think of migratory species at regional scales to truly understand how changes in climate and land use affect population trends," said Elise Zipkin, MSU integrative biologist and co-author. "Global declines in migratory species, including monarchs, suggest that broad-scale conservation action may be necessary to prevent the loss of migratory populations." In that vein, the research team incorporated features from the butterflies' complex continental movements to study the factors influencing summer populations in Illinois using data from a long-term citizen science monitoring program. Unlike other migratory species, which have distinct summer and winter grounds, monarchs take multiple generations to travel from Mexico to Texas, from Texas to the Midwest, from the Midwest and into Canada, and finally, back from the upper Midwest and Canada to Mexico. Thus, the numbers of butterflies in small fields in the Midwest are linked to events that happen across the continent, said Sarah Saunders, MSU integrative biologist and lead author. "The connection between population dynamics from winter to spring to summer is more complex than in other species," she said. "Our study provides the first empirical evidence of a negative association between glyphosate application and local abundance of adult monarch butterflies during 1994-2003, the initial phase of large-scale herbicide adoption in the Midwest." Glyphosate, a key ingredient found in Roundup and other herbicides, may be a contributing cause of population decline due to its ability to reduce milkweed plants. While milkweed serves as the host plant for monarch eggs, the extent in which milkweed loss affects monarch trends is still controversial, she added. Along with the impacts of herbicides, the study examined the effect of surrounding crop cover in summer habitat as well as cross-seasonal effects of spring weather fluctuations in Texas and population changes on the wintering grounds in Mexico. "Butterflies face myriad challenges, and habitat loss and climate change are clearly important pieces of it," Zipkin said. "Our long-term goal is to examine the many stressors on monarchs across all seasons and identify which ones are the most critical. Future research could then offer solutions on how to develop effective conservation strategies." The team's research could generate answers that eventually help reverse the nearly 20-year decline of monarch butterflies observed in Mexico. It gives hope to anyone, scientists and the public alike, who has ever witnessed the mass of overwintering butterflies in Mexico or cheered a flitting monarch as it traverses vast distances across the United States. "Migration -- whether it's undertaken by the smallest insects or the largest mammals -- is a captivating phenomenon," Saunders said. "We hope that our study sheds light on how events and conditions during different stages affect the monarch butterfly's annual cycle as well as provides findings that can inform future conservation efforts."
News Article | May 15, 2017
Some people travel to northern California for wine. However, Maren Friesen, Michigan State University plant biologist, treks to the Golden State for clover. The lessons of plant diversity and competition learned from a clover patch, which are featured in a special issue of the Journal of Ecology, can potentially unlock secrets on plant interactions around the globe. "There's something quite special in how clover assemble such diverse communities. They compete, yet they have many traits in common due to shared ancestry," Friesen said. "Native Californian Trifolium represents a special system for understanding competitive interactions among close relatives. We'd like to understand their processes of diversity before they're all gone." These special patches of clover are located on a handful of hills in Northern California. Friesen's patch was in the Bodega Marine Lab reserve, run by the University of California, Davis, which harbors a diverse community of clovers. Friesen has been working with Sharon Strauss at UC Davis since 2014 to unlock the secret to their sociability. Friesen admits that the experiment began as a bit of a genome-wide "fishing trip." The team, whose lead author was Alan Bowsher, MSU postdoctoral researcher, collected samples from Trifolium fucatum growing with different competitors and sifted through thousands of genes -- 26,000 of them, to be precise. The trip, though, yielded a trophy catch. A single gene, UDP-glucose flavonoid 3-O-glucosyltransferase, made the expedition worthwhile. And just like all trophy fish, the catch was documented with a photo -- actually a graph. "It's a very intriguing 'fish,' part of a very important signaling pathway," Friesen said. "It's also a flavonoid, which is involved in many plant interactions, including those involved with nitrogen fixing bacteria. The gene's levels rise when the plants compete with other species of plants and decrease when surrounded by members of the same plants." It plays a key role in the relationship plants form with bacteria that fix nitrogen, grabbing the critical element from the air and soil and accumulating it in root nodules -- essentially, fertilizing themselves. If scientists could identify the genes and mechanisms involved in this process, they could potentially find ways to reduce the amounts of manmade fertilizer used to grow crops. "Past studies have focused on individual plants, but few have focused on plant competition and studying the entirety of all the genes being expressed, the transcriptomic response, during these interactions," Friesen said. "Yet scientists and farmers are aware of these interactions; that's reflected in knowing that it's beneficial to rotate crops, in determining the distance between rows of plants and the proximity of growing crops near other plants." This, however, was one of the first studies to tackle the transcriptomic response during specific plant interactions. It's akin to listening to plants, but doing so on the genetic level. The team listened and noted the pathways being used, observed plants' body language in terms to how they reacted with their friends versus with competitors. Another novel result involved the correlation of the genes. What made the "big fish" gene standout so prominently is that all of the other genes responding to different types of competitors stayed grouped together. The team initially thought the genes would be scattered everywhere. Basically, though, they reacted the same way. "In a sense, we saw this gene respond differently to the neighbor's identity: increased expression during competition with a different species and lower expression when among the same species," Friesen said. "Competition is operating in a comparable way. The increased expression also correlated with increased growth, although it's much too early to begin to find out why." An additional finding involved two competing plants. Each has a preferred level of iron in the soil in which they live. However, one plant turned on its iron transport genes solely because it sensed its competitor was nearby. "It's like it's saying, 'If you're here, you must be in better soil, and I must be in a low-iron area,'" Friesen said. "There must be something cool over there."
News Article | May 16, 2017
EAST LANSING, Mich. - Electric fish have been a model biology system since the 18th century. Their potential, though, has been mostly isolated to neurological studies. Thanks to the recent availability of electric fish genome sequences, Michigan State University researchers hope to harness the power of CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing in electric fish to make a new type of model for biology. MSU has landed a $1.5 million National Science Foundation grant to develop this cutting-edge technique in electric fish and afford more researchers easy access to this versatile model. Electric fish have already provided deep insights into the very nature of bioelectrogenesis - the ability to produce electric fields outside the body - as well as the molecular structure of the synapse, and granted unprecedented insights into the brain circuitry underlying complex behavior. Jason Gallant, MSU integrative biologist who's leading the grant, believes they could be the model organisms for a new generation of studies that help decode the function of their genomes. He hopes to kick-start research programs that are trying to investigate the connection between genes encoded in the DNA electric fish, and phenotypes, the physical expression of traits encoded by those genes. "Making this connection is an important goal across disciplines of biology, and we want to develop a robust, accessible and easily transferable gene manipulation toolbox to allow the electric fish model to help achieve that goal," Gallant said. "These all-purpose tools then can be applied to a full range of questions under investigation, regardless of a researcher's background." It doesn't matter if scientists are focusing on molecules, cells, organ systems, behaviors or macroevolutionary processes like speciation, Gallant and his team believes these high-tech tools could be used to accelerate their research. A critical step for genetic and medicinal advances is having lines of mutant models, such as mice, zebrafish or fruit flies. Using CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing technologies, Gallant's team will be able to generate mutant lines of transgenic electric fish as well. Gallant's team is composed of researchers from the University of Oklahoma, the University of Texas, Columbia University and the Genome Institute at Washington University in St. Louis. They will work to create large colonies of electric fish at MSU and the University of Oklahoma, and develop new techniques for "knocking down" gene function using morpholinos and introducing foreign genetic material using retroviruses. Gallant's team will rapidly share these new research tools by coordinating workshops and websites to broaden participation in the field and train the next generation of electric fish biologists to harness these powerful new techniques. Gallant's lab and others around the U.S. have already provided a proof-of-concept of the model's strength. Now they're hoping to scale up their efforts, no pun intended. "Currently, our lab is leading efforts in acquiring new genomic data, but there are no techniques to rigorously test hypotheses about the functions of genes that could potentially yield insights in developmental biology, neuroscience, behavior and evolution, just to name a few," Gallant said. "Developing genetic tools for monitoring and manipulating gene activity in electric fish would revolutionize the field and enable a wave of new studies that exploit the unique features of these organisms for addressing central questions in biology at a level of resolution not possible in other vertebrate systems." Michigan State University has been working to advance the common good in uncommon ways for more than 150 years. One of the top research universities in the world, MSU focuses its vast resources on creating solutions to some of the world's most pressing challenges, while providing life-changing opportunities to a diverse and inclusive academic community through more than 200 programs of study in 17 degree-granting colleges. For MSU news on the Web, go to MSUToday. Follow MSU News on Twitter at twitter.com/MSUnews.