The Magazine of the University of Minnesota Duluth
Volume 18, No.2, Summer 2001

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Computer Science Assistant Professors Receive Highest Honor

Ted Pederson and Hudson Turner
Two UMD faculty members from the Department of Computer Science have been recognized for their creative research and dedication. Assistant Professors Hudson Turner and Ted Pederson have been awarded the “Early Career Development Award,” the highest honor given to young faculty by the National Science Foundation. This award recognizes faculty members most likely to become academic leaders of the 21st century.

Both professors are breaking new ground in their field by developing computer programs to solve real-life problems. Turner is focusing on the area of artificial intelligence and is creating a computer program that will map out a series of actions in order to reach a set goal. Pederson is leading the way in developing a computer program that can distinguish between the various meanings of words in different contexts.

Aside from adding to the field of computer programming, these two young professors continue to improve research and learning at UMD. Turner’s research is responsible for the addition of a new graduate level mathematics course and the enhancement of the current artificial intelligence course, while Pederson heads a summer internship program that allows students from underrepresented groups to participate in research projects.

Ground Squirrel Sleep Patterns May Hold Secrets

Watching a ground squirrel sleep may not seem like a captivating past time, however UMD biochemist Matt Andrews believes that their sleep patterns may lead to medical advances for humans.

During hibernation, these little guys have the ability to put their bodies into stasis, the slowing or stopping of organ functions, for up to 6 months. During this time, they use only 2% of their total oxygen intake and their heart rate drops from 300 beats per minute to only three.

Discovering the secret behind their ability to do this could lead to better treatment, or even prevention, of strokes and improved organ transplants.
Andrews is studying the genes linked to hibernation, genes that humans have as well. However, humans either don’t use these genes, or use them in a different way.

One positive effect of these genes is that they produce a substance called pancreatic lipase in the squirrels’ hearts. This substance allows them to burn fat at a very low body temperature so that they may preserve their carbohydrate stores. This aids to overall brain health, a discovery that could impact stroke research.

Studying the squirrels’ genetics may also lead to improved preservation of organ transplants. The squirrels’ genes have the ability to produce a protective agent that would extend the life of the organs and allow for them to be distributed to more distant locations. With further research, scientists could someday trigger human genes to produce these positive effects of hibernation as well.

Andrews, along with fellow UMD biochemist Lester Drewes, is scheduled to become co-director of Duluth’s University of Minnesota Biomedical Genomics Center.

New UMD Research Center to Focus of Transportaion

Transportation in the 21st century is developing rapidly, and in order to stay ahead of these advancements, a transportation study center will be established at UMD.

The Northland Advanced Transportation Systems Research Laboratories (NATSRL) has been designed to study winter transportation systems and the transportation needs in cities of small urban areas.

NATSRL is a research and education collaboration of the University of Minnesota Center for Transportation Studies and its Intelligent Transportation Systems Institute, the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) and the UMD College of Science and Engineering. The center will receive $3.7 million over four years from federal transportation funds, MnDOT, and the University of Minnesota to support the studies.

NATSRL will be staffed by UMD faculty. UMD graduate and undergraduate students and students from the Fond du Lac Tribal Community College will be involved in projects at the Center as well. NATSRL will study a variety of topics, including those specific to the Northland. The three main areas of focus will be advanced sensor research, transportation data research, and education and outreach programs in transportation.

Great Lakes Basin to Get Checkup

Natural Resources Research Institute (NRRI) and Minnesota Sea Grant are participating in a $6 million research project that will offer a comprehensive checkup on the health of the U.S. part of the Great Lakes. The research grant, awarded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is the largest ecological grant ever awarded by the EPA’s Science to Achieve Results research program, and the largest ever received by both institutions.

The four-year project, headed by NRRI’s Gerald Niemi, will identify, evaluate, and recommend a portfolio of environmental indicators to measure the condition of the Great Lakes. These assessment tools will help maintain the lakes’ integrity and long-term sustainability. Like medical doctors who start with vital signs and then move on to specific diagnostic tests, the 27 scientists involved will closely examine the health of the Great Lakes.

Just as the human body has many different systems that must work together, so does the environment. The Great Lakes Basin, home to 36 million residents, contains approximately 18 percent of the world’s surface fresh water. What happens in one system, wetlands, for instance, can affect other systems such as the fishery or water chemistry. Environmental indicators are biological, chemical or physical attributes of an ecosystem that can be measured and monitored to provide insight on the study area’s condition. For example, mayflies (Hexagenia) are indicators of good water quality in the Great Lakes. They were abundant before the 1950s, when industrial and urban development negatively impacted mayflies. Recently, mayfly populations have increased due to pollution control efforts, especially in the Lake Erie area where their numbers are actually a nuisance, causing slippery roads and brownouts when they sometimes interfere with power transformers.

In addition to researchers at NRRI and Sea Grant, the project will include experts from seven other universities. Scientists from the EPA’s Mid-Continent Ecology Division in Duluth and research station in Grosse Ile, Michigan, are also major cooperators.


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