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CST Research

​​​​​​​​Be part of research that is improving and enriching the lives of people throughout Michigan and around the world.

Work closely with faculty members who are top researchers and experts in their field. Whether you’re studying stem cells to unlock the mysteries of Alzheimer’s disease or traveling to the CMU Biological Station on Beaver Island to work on Great Lakes research, College of Science and Technology faculty members are actively engaged in leading and supervising independent student research and collaborative projects.

Research in the news 

Du's research on glucose poly(ortho esters) featured as cover story of Angewandte Chemie

February 13, 2014 - Assistant professor Photo of the cover of Angewandte Chemieof chemistry and Science of Advanced Materials research scientist Wenjun Du recently had his research featured as the cover story on the journal, Angewandte Chemie.

His paper - "Synthesis of Highly pH-Responsive Glucose Poly(orthoester)" - hypothesizes that pH-responsive polymers have great potential in biomedical applications, including targeted drug delivery.

Since tumors and inflammatory tissues tend to have low pH values and existing pH-responsive materials, such as polyketal copolymers, had known limitations and were falling short in terms of treating conditions optimally, Du and his research colleagues synthesized a glucose poly(orthoester) as a highly pH-responsive polymer to address these issues. Their research demonstrates the first, successful creation of a new class of sugar-based polymers, in which the sugar units are connected through orthoester linkages.

Ths new discovery has broad applications and may be useful in the synthesis of highly pH-responsive materials that could selectively and rapidly deliver drugs to diseased tissues with low pH values.

Du and his team plan to continue their study of glucose poly (ortho esters), with additional research studies already underway in his laboratory.

Angewandte Chemie is one of the premier chemistry journals in the world. It is the only journal in the field that delivers a mix of review articles, highlights and communications weekly, and also regularly publishes Nobel lectures in chemistry and related fields.

Fornari invited to provide expert commentary about materials research in Physics' Viewpoint paper

February 13, 2014, 2013 - Physics professor and Science of Advanced Materials research scientist Marco Fornari was recently published in Physics, the online publication of the American Physical Society that spotlights exceptional research. Fornari was invited to write a Viewpoint commentary on the research article, "Comprehensive Search for New Phases and Compounds in Binary Alloy Systems Based on Platinum-Group Metals, Using a Computational First-Principles Approach," explaining the results of recent research conducted at Brigham Young University to physicists in other subfields.

In his invited paper, Fornari notes that being able to use powerful computers to search for new and improved functional materials - particularly new platinum-group-metal-containing alloys that have proven useful for a wide range of industrial applications - yields significant time-saving by allowing researchers to explore potentially useful chemical combinations of elements and structures in a fraction of the time that real experiments would take. Results are organized in a database that researchers then go through to analyze the relationships between multiple materials. Through their analysis, they create what are called "property descriptors" - quantities that link the calculated microscopic and macroscopic properties - and what research scientists use as a compass to navigate these complex, multidimensional materials databases. They hope that this "high-throughput materials modeling" will expedite the discovery and development of new materials, and their applications to real-world issues.

The researchers at Brigham Young University used a supercomputer and software called AFLOW to process 153 binary combinations of platinum group and transition metals, calculating the energies of 250 different possible crystal structures. They were able to identify crystal structures that had already been found, but also discovered 28 new, unexplored alloys that could have potential use.

Fornari indicates in his review that although years might be needed to examine all of the leads yielded by this particular study, it highlights the need for greater standardization in how materials are catalogued in various databases. This would help achieve a long-term goal of high-throughput materials modeling of allowing searches to automatically generate new descriptors for new functionalities, and in turn, enhancing material scientists' research abilities through data mining to expedite the discovery of new materials and their potential uses.

Click here to read Fornari's full Viewpoint paper, "Computational Materials Discovery Goes Platinum.

Uzarski shares wetland expertise in Sustain Our Great Lakes webinar

February 5, 2014 - Sustain Our Great Lakes recently hosted a webinar on January 29 thatCMU Institute for Great Lakes director Don Uzarski participated in, along with Matthew Cooper from the University of Notre Dame and Valerie Brady from the University of Minnesota Duluth.

The webinar discussion centered around the Implementing a Basin-Wide Great Lakes Coastal Wetland Monitoring Program, an ongoing collaborative research effort of monitoring the conditions and trends at over 1,000 coastal wetlands of the Great Lakes Basin.

Available for viewing online here, Uzarski and other experts provided an overview of the monitoring program and examples of how the collected data is being used for wetland protection and monitoring across the region. The accompanying PowerPoint presentation - without the webinar recording - is also available to view online here.

Sustain Our Great Lakes serves to sustain, restore and protect fish, wildlife and habitat in the Great Lakes basin by leveraging funding, building conservation capacity, and focusing partners and resources toward key ecological issues. The organization is a public-private partnership among ArcelorMittal, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Forest Service, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S.D.A. Natural Resources Conservation Service.

CMU advances Great Lakes research with unmanned helicopter, hyperspectral camera

January 30, 2014 - Central MichiganPhoto of Dr. Benjamin Heumann with his unmanned aerial vehicleUniversity has acquired the only unmanned aerial vehicle in Michigan that is equipped with a hyperspectral camera - a six-foot long helicopter - that will significantly advance research imaging of Great Lakes wetlands.

The camera takes extremely high-resolution images in 334 colors compared to typical cameras that capture just three.

Researchers will use the semi-autonomous helicopter, controlled via computer or by radio waves, to capture images of vegetation in wetlands throughout the Great Lakes basin. Their work will continue the fight against invasive species, protect rare plants and ultimately help to preserve and protect the world's largest supply of fresh water.

"This allows us to determine where and when we collect the data instead of relying on archives from the federal government or commercial vendors," said Benjamin Heumann, director of CMU's Center for Geographic Information Science. The center conducts research locally, regionally and internationally on social and environmental issues that require spatial analysis.

"We now have the technology to do more than anyone else in the state in geomapping and analysis of wetland ecosystems," Heumann said. "Using the hyperspectral camera, we have the capability to collect aerial imagery with far greater precision than manned aircraft and satellite."

Now, instead of capturing an image that shows a tree, for example, the hyperspectral camera will show individual plant leaves throughout a wetland.

The helicopter flies at about 10 miles an hour and to the height of a 40-story building. It is flown under Federal Aviation Administration guidelines.

Unmanned aerial vehicles historically have been used in law enforcement and the military, although there are many civilian applications as well.

The technology also has applications in agriculture. Heumann recently spoke at the Michigan Advanced Aerial System Consortium about the potential use of UAVs for mapping disease, detecting weeds and monitoring fertilization and drought in the state's $5.72 billion field crops industry.

"We can help farmers better forecast crop yields," Heumann said. "By mapping disease, we can pinpoint more precisely where to target the spraying of pesticides, reducing costs to farmers and health hazards to humans and the environment."

Heumann and a team of graduate students will use the helicopter for the first time this spring to determine the biodiversity of a wetland area in Washtenaw County.

The unmanned aerial vehicle and the hyperspectral camera were purchased by the College of Science and Technology at a cost of $140,000.

Asian carp DNA found in Wisconsin's Lake Michigan waters for first time

November 5, 2013 - Asian carp DNA has turned up in Wisconsin's Lake Michigan waters for the first time. The single positive water sample for the jumping silver carp was taken May 31 in Sturgeon Bay near Door County's Potawatomi State Park. "Even if the fish are in Lake Michigan, it's not too late to control the population and contain their spread," said CMU assistant professor of biology and Institute for Great Lakes research scientist Andy Mahon, who helped develop the environmental DNA search tool along with research colleagues at The Nature Conservancy and the University of Notre Dame. "The time to be proactive is now."

Click here to read more.

World-class science happening right here at CMU

October 23, 2013 - From studying Michigan's native mussels threatened by invasive species and proving the importance of coastal wetlands, to a $90,000 digital PCR machine - the only one of its kind at an American university - that tests for millions of different kinds of DNA at once out of one water sample, CMU Institute for Great Lakes Research scientists are attacking the problem of threats to the Great Lakes from dozens of different angles. ​

Click here to read more.

Using fish ear bones to help protect coastal wetlands

September 30, 2013 - Don Uzarski, CMU Photo of professor and student viewing computer
professor of biology and director of CMU's Institute for Great Lakes Research and the CMU Biological Station, and his research team are reading information stored in the ear bones (otoliths) of fish to track fish movements. 

The otoliths in fish grow daily in layers, similar to rings in a tree trunk. Biology graduate student Lee Schoen and Jim Student, director of the Center for Elemental and Isotopic Analysis in the CMU College of Science and Technology, are taking thin slices of the otoliths and running them through a laser-equipped mass spectrometer, which picks up trace elements that the ear bones integrate from surrounding water, enabling the researchers to track the fish's pattern of visits to particular coastal wetlands.

Their research aims to provide the hard data necessary for better choices to be made about managing, restoring and protecting the Great Lakes basin's coastal wetlands.

Learn more:

Powerful Research: Using Supercomputers to Simulate Supercell Thunderstorms

September 27, 2013 - What occurs within a Photo of computer simulation of supercell thunderstorm
thunderstorm that leads to the formation of destructive weather events such as tornadoes and downbursts? Associate professor of meteorology Leigh Orf is trying to answer this question, and in the process, is gaining national recognition for his expertise in using supercomputer modeling and simulation to study atmospheric disturbances such as supercell thunderstorms.

Supercells are the most powerful, long-lived thunderstorms. They exhibit a rotating updraft, and they are responsible for nature's mightiest twisters.

The National Institute for Computational Sciences (NICS) recently published "Simulating Supercell Thunderstorms," covering Orf's storm simulation studies and ongoing research, the objective of which is to capture the entire life cycle of a supercell thunderstorm that produces a strong, long-lived tornado.

Along with colleagues Bob Wilhelmson of the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) at the University of Illinois and Matthew Gilmore, associate professor of atmospheric science at the University of North Dakota, Orf recently ran supercell simulations on the Blue Waters supercomputer located at NCSA and rendered them on a system housed at Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

These simulations  still being analyzed  are guiding the research team in designing new simulations to be run at the Texas Advanced Computing Center, all of which are resources of the National Science Foundation's Extreme Science and Discovery Environment (XSEDE)  the most advanced, powerful and robust collection of integrated digital resources and services in the world.

"With enough simulations, we hope to have a spectrum of storms to investigate, from storms that produce the weakest tornadoes, to those that produce the most devastating, in addition to storms that do not produce tornadoes at all," Orf explains.

Recent similar research  published in the latest edition of NCSA's Access magazine  that Orf is conducting along with Wilhelmson and Eric Savory of the University of Western Ontario has them using the Kraken supercomputer at NICS to create storm simulations in environments known to be conducive to creating downbursts.

Downbursts are created by a column of sinking air that, after hitting ground level, spreads out in all directions and are capable of producing damaging straight-line winds in the range of 80-150 mph. Occurring 10 times more often than tornadoes, they produce a debris pattern in parallel straight lines, which distinguishes them from tornadoes, which leave a rotational damage pattern.

Orf and Savory are exploring the specific stresses that downbursts present to structures, such as power transmission lines, and their simulations are producing a more physically realistic wind field not found in simpler models.

They are hoping that advances in supercomputing power will bring them closer to answers that will ultimately help meteorologists issue better short-term forecasts and more accurate, timely, and targeted warnings for these types of storms.

Engineering students using pedestrian traffic to produce electricity

September 24, 2013 - Step by step, CMUPhoto of engineering studnts using pedestrian traffic to produce electricityengineering students are generating electricity.

Last year, in the entrance of the Engineering and Technology Building, students constructed an electrical panel that serves as a vibration energy harvester to create renewable energy for powering a temperature display. 

The project was a success and now this year, assistant professor of engineering Tolga Kaya and four students - Indian River senior Brianna Ohlert, Livonia senior Steven Shapardanis, China senior Fei Pang and Elk Rapids senior Jared Jorgensen - are looking to make further enhancements, adding solar and wind power capabilities. 

The team is hoping to increase the device's current output of 5 watts per hour to 50 watts per hour - enough energy to power a digital display in front of the building.

Click here to read more about this exciting research project.

Physics students work to construct mass spectrometer in Dow

September 18, 2013 - Determining the massPhoto of mass spectrometer of charged particles using a giant superconducting magnet is all happening right here on campus in the Dow Science Complex, where since 2012, graduate and undergraduate students, under the direction of assistant professor of physics Matthew Redshaw, have been working on building a mass spectrometer. 

Read more about their exciting research:

Undergraduate student conducts world-class nuclear physics research in Canada

September 12, 2013 - Physics undergraduate Photo of Caleb Bancroft at TRIUMF laboratory in Vancouver, Canada
student Caleb Bancroft recently spent eight days at TRIUMF laboratory in Vancouver, Canada conducting nuclear physics research. Caleb prepared and performed an experiment that investigated the shape of very exotic atomic nuclei.

TRIUMF is one of the world's leading subatomic physics laboratories. In addition to basic research in nuclear and particle physics, TRIUMF researchers use accelerators to produce medical isotopes which are, for example, used in the diagnostics and treatment of cancer.

The experiment that Caleb participated in involved an international team, led by CMU assistant professor of physics Kathrin Wimmer. Their goal was to explore the phenomenon of shape coexistence in heavy Strontium isotopes. While some nuclei are round like soccer balls, others exhibit a more deformed shape, along the lines of what an American football looks like. In the case of the Strontium isotopes, the transition between spherical and deformed nuclei is very abrupt - only two additional neutrons change the shape of the nucleus completely.

In order to investigate this sudden change, a beam of radioactive 94Sr, consisting of 38 protons and 56 neutrons, was guided to the experiment where it collided with a foil containing Deuterium, a special form of Hydrogen. In some cases, only one neutron was transferred in the collision onto the 94Sr nucleus, making it 95Sr with 57 neutrons. The properties of this newly formed 95Sr were then investigated in great detail to draw conclusions about the rapid shape change in the Strontium nuclei.

The success of the experiment was a major breakthrough for the TRIUMF facility. Before, the heaviest beam that was accelerated and used for experiments at TRIUMF had a mass number of 30. Now, it is possible to do experiments with nuclei that are over three times more massive. This allows researchers to do many more exciting experiments and gives CMU physics majors the opportunity to participate in cutting-edge science.

Chappaz investigates molybdenum as one of the two key trace elements for the development of life

September 11, 2013 - The Goldschmidttriumf-research-300Conference, the world's largest geochemistry conference, recently met in Florence, Italy from August 25-30, where thousands of geoscientists presented their latest research. One of them, Dr. Steven Benner from the Westheimer Institute of Science and Technology in Gainesville, Fla., attracted a lot of attention.  

He presented a new hypothesis that life in the solar system may have begun on Mars billions of years ago. Benner's theory is based upon results that suggest minerals containing the elements boron and molybdenum are key in assembling atoms into life-forming molecules. Molybdenum is a unique trace metal, since it is required for nitrogen assimilation for all life forms on Earth.

Dr. Anthony Chappaz, assistant professor of geochemistry within Central Michigan University's Institute for Great Lakes Research and the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, is a recognized expert on molybdenum geochemistry. Along with colleagues from the University of Copenhagen and Princeton University, he also presented some new research results on how molybdenum can be used to reconstruct the rise of oxygen concentration in the ancient ocean.

This month a new postdoctoral researcher is joining Chappaz's research group in the GEM Labto investigate molybdenum geochemistry under low oxygen conditions. In light of Dr. Benner's recent presentation at the Goldschmidt Conference, this project - funded by the National Science Foundation - could bring new insights into how life may have started.

Biology graduate student conducts shrimp research Down Under

July 18, 2013 - CMU graduate student SamPhoto of graduate student Sam Glaves in Brisbane, AustraliaGlaves from Clovis, Calif. recently spent time conducting research in Brisbane, Australia. From January through April, Sam and his research colleagues studied the germ line development of the Kuruma shrimp, Penaeus japonicas, in an aquaculture setting. They are hoping that their findings will benefit aquaculture breeding practices and help answer prevalent germ line developmental questions for this particular shrimp species, as well as others that follow the same patterns.

Sam said the trip was extraordinarily beneficial for his research progress and "an amazing opportunity not only to experience a different culture, but to experience a different way of thinking, learning and talking about our universal field of biology."

Sam collected Kuruma shrimp samples at Bribie Island, the smallest and most northerly of three major sand islands forming the coastline sheltering the northern part of Moreton Bay, Queensland. He conducted his molecular research on the shrimp at the University of Queensland, a research-intensive institution in the top 1% of universities worldwide.

Sam studies under the guidance of biology professor Phil Hertzler and plans to graduate in December 2013 with a Master of Science in biology.

Physics professor is one of 15 recipients of Department of Defense MURI research award

Photo of Dr. Marco FornariJune 6, 2013 - A team of six scientists, including physics professor Marco Fornari, is receiving $8.5 million from the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) to develop and apply computational methods that will replace expensive and rare chemical elements from critical technologies.

Their award-winning research proposal, "Rare Element Replacement Strategies," is a combined effort between Fornari and his colleagues at Duke University, Brigham Young University, University of North Texas and University of Maryland - College Park. The team is receiving one of 15 awards given by the DoD to academic institutions to perform multidisciplinary basic research. Totaling $105 million, the awards are presented by the Army Research Office and the Office of Naval Research under the DoD Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative (MURI) program.

The MURI program supports research by teams of investigators across traditional science and engineering disciplines to accelerate research progress. Fornari, along with his research colleagues, will investigate topological decompositions and spectral sampling algorithms for elements substitution in critical technologies. In simpler terms, he will develop and apply methods to design advanced materials with improved functionalities for applications that are crucial for the mission of the DoD.

The Army Research Office and the Office of Naval Research solicited proposals in 16 topics important to the DoD and received a total of 193 papers, followed by 43 proposals. The 15 awards handed out are for a five year period, with the research expected to produce significant advances in capabilities for U.S. military forces, and to open up entirely new lines of research. A total of 43 academic institutions are expected to participate in these select 15 research projects.

Pear-shaped atomic nuclei offer clues into nature of matter

May 28, 2013 - An international team of Photo of the May 9 issue of the journal Naturenuclear physicists, including CMU assistant professor of physics Kathrin Wimmer, has found that some atomic nuclei can assume asymmetric 'pear' shapes.

The researchers' findings, published in the May 9 issue of the journal Nature, landed the coveted cover story and could be the key to understanding one of the great mysteries of the universe - the reason for the Big Bang's creation of a massive imbalance between matter and antimatter.

The reason behind the imbalance is one of physics' great mysteries. In particle physics, four basic forces dictate how matter behaves - gravity, electromagnetic forces, "strong" interactions and "weak" interactions. Physicists have been searching for signs of a new type of force or interaction to explain the matter-antimatter imbalance.

Most nuclei that exist naturally are not spherical. Wimmer and her colleagues decided to focus on pear-shaped nuclei because their unusually asymmetrical shape would make the effects of the new force much easier and stronger to detect. These nuclei get their shape from positive protons that are nudged out from the center of the nucleus by asymmetrical nuclear forces, yielding more mass at one end of the nucleus than the other.

Until now, it was difficult to observe pear-shaped nuclei experimentally. However, a technique pioneered in the Isotope Separator Facility (ISOLDE) at CERN, the European laboratory for nuclear physics research in Geneva, has been used successfully.

To determine the shape of the nuclei, the research team accelerated radium and radon atoms and smashed them into tin, nickel and cadmium. However, because the positively charged nuclei repelled each other, nuclear reactions were not possible. The result was the excitation of the nuclei to higher energy levels and the production of gamma rays, with the pattern of gamma radiation revealing the pear shape of the nucleus. 

The experimental observation of nuclear pear shapes is important for understanding the theory of nuclear structure and for helping with experimental searches for electric dipole moments (EDM) in atoms.

The study's results will help direct ongoing research for EDM that are currently being conducted in labs across North America and Europe, helping to advance the search for understanding the nature of the building blocks of the universe.

The research team, which included scientists from the UK, Germany, the USA, Switzerland, France, Belgium, Finland, Sweden, Poland and Spain, was led by professor Peter Butler from the University of Liverpool's Department of Physics.

First published in 1869, Nature is the world's most highly cited interdisciplinary science journal. Most scientific journals are now highly specialized, but Nature is among the few that still publish original research articles across a wide range of scientific fields. Published weekly, papers in this international journal feature the finest peer-reviewed research in all fields of science and technology.

Mahon and research team find that Asian carp DNA is not widespread in the Great Lakes as previously thought

April 5, 2013 - Assistant professor of biology and Institute for Great Lakes Research scientist Andrew Mahon, along with scientists from the University of Notre Dame and The Nature Conservancy, recently published their research on Asian carp DNA throughout the Great Lakes in the Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences. 

Silver and bighead carp - which gorge on plankton that all fish consume - are of particular concern to the Great Lakes ecosystem, since they are large fish that can quickly reproduce and unravel the food chain that supports a $7 billion fishing industry. In their latest study, the research team found that at least some Asian carp have found their way into the Great Lakes, but there is no evidence that they are as widespread in the Great Lakes basin as previously thought. 

Between September 2009 and October 2011, Mahon and his colleagues collected more than 2,800 water samples from parts of the Great Lakes and tributary rivers. Laboratory analysis yielded 58 positive hits for bighead or silver carp in the Chicago Area Waterway System, a network of rivers and canals linked directly to Lake Michigan, and 6 in western Lake Erie. Some of the Chicago eDNA was found in Lake Calumet, where a live bighead carp was caught in 2010 and three others were snagged in 1995 and 2000.

The results of their research contradict earlier government studies that have said many of the positive water samples detecting Asian carp DNA in or near the lakes in recent years could have come from other sources, such as excrement from birds that fed on the carp in distant rivers, or via boats and other pathways. While these previous studies acknowledged the presence of eDNA, government researchers disagreed that the findings signaled the presence of live fish.

Dr. Christopher Jerde, lead investigator on the latest study and a scientist at the University of Notre Dame, said, "Looking at the overall patterns of detections, we remain convinced that the most likely source of Asian carp DNA is live fish." 

Conducted by experts who pioneered the use of genetic data to search for the aggressive fish, Mahon and his colleagues' investigation builds upon a growing area of research to find invasive species when they are at low abundance and when they can be potentially managed.

The paper's co-author, Mahon, said, "When we first discovered DNA from Asian carp at the Calumet Harbor and Port of Chicago, we were concerned that Asian carp may already be widespread in the Great Lakes, but because of our collaborations with state and federal partners, we now have a better picture of the Asian carp distribution. We are optimistic that with continued vigilance, it will be possible to prevent Asian carp becoming established in the Great Lakes."

Click here to read the full research article, "Detection of Asian carp DNA as part of a Great Lakes basin-wide surveillance program."

CMU biology faculty and research team introduce new screening method to detect abundance of invasive species in water

March 6, 2013 - Central Michigan University Photo of Dr. Andrew Mahon and students taking river samplesassistant professor of biology Andrew Mahon and a group of researchers from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), the University of Notre Dame and The Nature Conservancy have identified a genetic method of surveillance to detect the abundance of invasive species in water.

The study is the first to utilize the common genetic technique known as PCR screening to detect the relative abundance of a particular Asian carp species by testing for residual environmental DNA in water samples.

The findings of their recent study have been published in PLOS ONE, the electronic journal of the Public Library of Science, an open-access publisher of research from all areas of science. Access the article here.

"Our study shows the percentage of DNA positive samplings we find is directly related to the number of that particular species of fish in the water," said Mahon, lead scientist on the study. "This validates the use of eDNA surveillance sensitivity for the detection of multiple species of Asian carps in water systems."

Researchers compared genetic material found in water samples to the number of fish found in a 2.6-mile stretch of river in the Chicago canal system after it was treated with retenone and the fish carcasses were collected.

"Our results showed a positive correlation between the number of genetic samples and the abundance of fish after the canal was treated," said Mahon.

This testing provides for another tool for environmental management agencies to use in determining whether invasive species are present in the water.

"This genetic testing method, along with other traditional options currently being used such as netting, electro fishing, and hook and line sampling, offers an additional tool for detecting invasive species and one more option in the battle against these species getting into our waterways," said Mahon.

USGS Southeast Ecological Science Center scientists Margaret Hunter and Leo Nico are co-authors on the study, providing expertise, genetic samples and information on black carp.​