Deep bench for research
Through pathbreaking research and scholarship, Michigan State University makes a difference in the world and in the lives of its students and stakeholders.
Just in recent months, we have shed light on health issues including surgical success rates for partial mastectomy patients and the genesis of Parkinson’s disease. We are developing new treatments for cancer, malaria, and a host of other diseases. And researchers gained new insight on how a physics principle that makes skaters spin faster as they draw in their arms can help us understand how molecules move energy following the absorption of light in chemical reactions.
Our research is helping to improve national security through analysis of bombing debris and use of lasers to detect roadside bombs before they explode; through computerized facial features, fingerprints, and body-marking scans; and through on-site and real-time detection of biohazards using handheld devices.
Transferring such technology to the private sector, we are spinning off companies to market such portable detection devices and to market new software to improve writing instruction in the nation’s educational markets. We are redoubling efforts to commercialize the technology we have on hand and expect to generate, for example from our nuclear science program.
Faculty, too, are working to improve the safety of the nation’s food supply chain and processing facilities, as well as developing improved plant genetics for higher yields and resistance to pests and disease. They are training the next generation of scientists in such forward disciplines as evolutionary biology, which promises great outcomes in understanding disease and other biological processes.
MSU science crosses academic discipline boundaries to address complicated problems such as climate change, biofuel production, and public health. They are working to improve education itself through research into how people learn and how best to teach mathematics, science, and writing.
Part of that cross-disciplinary orientation comes from the strength of our social science research and the way our faculty find ways to apply their work. One notable example is BEACON, a National Science Foundation Science and Technology Center.
The Bio/computational Evolution in Action CONsortium means to unite biologists with computational researchers and other scientists and engineers to expand our understanding of fundamental evolutionary dynamics through a combination of theory and experiments on actively evolving systems, whether they are biological or computational systems. It is expected to be a major resource for academics and industry, conducting basic research while helping to create new technologies to solve real-world problems. MSU faculty researchers from the Colleges of Engineering, Natural Science, and Agriculture and Natural Resources as well as Lyman Briggs College are expected to participate with researchers from several other institutions.
Most recently, BEACON scientists showed for the first time how a virus can evolve to find a new way to attack host cells, an innovation that took only four mutations to accomplish.
Hundreds of scientists from around the world, meanwhile, are involved in an initiative at MSU to improve cutting-edge research on the increasingly fragile relationship between humans and the environment. The National Science Foundation (NSF) recognized this research as a priority and selected MSU to lead the effort, called the International Network of Research on Coupled Human and Natural Systems, or CHANS-Net. The NSF is supporting the project with a five-year grant.
Researchers want to help people understand the value of ecosystems to human society, beyond the goal of simply protecting the environment. The concept of such environmental services already is being used in ecology and sustainability studies. The key, participants say, is bringing researchers together and combining their strengths—getting the economists working with the hydrologists, for example, to develop irrigation systems that are both efficient and fair to farmers.