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Move the Heavier Stones First: A Look At Student Research in Nanotechnology l 2/5/2014

February 5, 2014 – Fargo, N.D. – With more than 1,600 products using nanotechnology on the market, a team of undergraduate researchers at North Dakota State University, Fargo, is examining how people perceive such products and how these products might ultimately affect the environment.

The six students from North Dakota and Minnesota form an interdisciplinary group, representing multiple majors. Led by Dr. Achintya Bezbaruah, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering, the Nanoenvirology Research Group (NRG) concentrates on weaving several research areas into a single team that gets results.

“Interdisciplinary research is vital in the area of environmental nanotechnology,” said Bezbaruah. He tells his students to move the heavier stones first when conducting research. “Work hard on the right job. Show your intellect and get published,” said Bezbaruah.

Amanda Grosz, a senior in civil engineering from Bismarck, N.D., works on molecular level interactions of nanoparticles on plants to determine their environmental impact.

“My ability to think critically has improved a lot with my research job,” said Grosz. Nanoparticles are being incorporated into many products. “We need to know what the potential effects of nanoparticles are and see if there are ways to shield any potential negative effects or maximize any positive effects,” said Grosz.

“The project I am working on is figuring out the fate and transport of engineering nanomaterials in plants. I work in allium studies. This involves growing onions in nanoparticles and seeing if there are abnormalities in their root growth,” said Grosz. She also investigates potential abnormalities in the root cell division process.

Her work, along with other undergraduate research students in the group, has been published in conference papers. “I have learned perseverance because experiments don’t always go as expected,” said Grosz, pointing out that often, experiments need to be refined until necessary parameters are tested and controls properly identified.

James Tibbles, a freshman in mechanical engineering from Shoreview, Minn., is being trained to follow up on Grosz’s research after she graduates in May.

“The team and I study how materials less than 100 nanometers in size affect plants. We are looking to see if plant DNA and replication are affected,” said Tibbles. “We try to figure out if there are any long-term effects on the plants and if so, why it is happening.”

The research is important to determine if industrial products and byproducts containing nanoparticles will affect the surrounding environment, according to Tibbles. “The reason we check to see if the nanoparticles are harmful to plants is that we consume plants and depend on them for oxygen. If nanoparticles affect the plants, they could affect us.”

Tibbles enjoys working in the lab with other researchers and has learned that he possesses the tenacity and observation skills needed for such research.

Cody Ritt, a freshman from Hamel, Minn., majoring in civil engineering, works on the mechanism of phosphate removal using novel polymer and nanoparticle-based adsorbents.  He is working to take a current nanopolymer product, changing it to maximize the amount of phosphate that the product can absorb, evaluating its durability, and researching how well the product performs in harsh conditions.

“This research is important because phosphorous is killing our lakes and we are working on our product so that it can remove the phosphorous from our lakes,” said Ritt. “We would like to be able to extract the phosphorous that is ruining lakes and use it for a good purpose, as it is a non-renewable resource.”

Ritt’s involvement in undergraduate research has had unintended consequences. “Using my time to solve problems in the environment has captured my attention and my imagination. I often find myself outside of the lab thinking of different ways to approach my research. It really has been a great experience for me.”

Another member of the interdisciplinary team, Hannah Hood, is a sophomore from North Saint Paul, Minn., majoring in psychology. She works with Neal Dittrich, a senior from Champlin, Minn., majoring in business administration.

The two NDSU students are working to correlate people’s perceptions about nanotechnology-based products with Bezbaruah and Dr. Rajani Pillai from the NDSU School of Business. For example, will certain technologies be accepted by people who have concerns about nanotechnology and its potential impact on the environment? Dittrich thinks the undergraduate research opportunity at NDSU provides him a better perspective on market research. Hood reviews how education, gender, geography and past technologies affect the perception of nanotechnology.

“I am mainly focused on public perception of nanotechnology, which is a combination of research, statistics and psychology,” said Hood. “Through literature and other studies, we have been able to detect trends and bring something new toward our knowledge about nanotechnology and the public,” said Hood, who is writing a scientific paper about their research findings.

The students agree that their goal is to determine potential effects of nanoparticles and find effective ways to mitigate any negative effects, while increasing the positive attributes of nanotechnology.

As the students’ experience illustrates, solving research problems takes more than expertise in one discipline. It takes a cross-section of researchers in varying fields.

Dr. Bezbaruah hopes that his students find that their research experiences provide tools to apply in whatever career path they choose. His current and former undergraduate researchers and high school research interns have published more than 20 papers in scientific journals, conference proceedings and scientific conferences worldwide.

“The students answer research questions for which there are no known answers,” said Bezbaruah. “This group of undergraduates and graduate students is involved in a number of cutting edge research projects and continues to challenge themselves. Such work always brings rewards.”

A former undergraduate research student in Bezbaruah’s group, Mary Pate of Wadena, Minn., received a prestigious National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship, becoming the first NDSU engineering student to win the award, which includes federal funding for her current graduate research with Bezbaruah.

The work doesn’t stop with his own students. A science evangelist, Bezbaruah works to interest kids at all levels in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

He supervised a group of junior high students in West Fargo, N. D., who took first place out of more than 300 teams in the nationwide Waste Limitation Management and Recycling Design Challenge organized by NASA. Their winning project took more than 800 research hours. Bezbaruah and the winning students were awarded a trip to NASA for VIP tours and meetings with NASA experts at the Kennedy Space Center.

Additional junior high students were mentored by Bezbaruah and presented their research findings at an international teleconference on how to re-use water. Organized by NDSU, the global teleconference included teams of middle school and high school students from Bangladesh, India, Saudi Arabia, Uganda, and the United States.

In addition, the indefatigable professor and a team from NDSU organized GlobaKonnect Undergraduate TeleSeminars, where undergraduate researchers from NDSU could exchange ideas with their peers in India, thus providing global exposure to scientific research.

No matter what the age group, Bezbaruah remains committed to inspiring students to pursue science.

“One good student makes you reassured that we have a future to look forward to. What else do I need?  I feel energized by seeing them grow.”

NDSU Research Foundation Licenses Coatings Technology to Elinor Specialty Coatingsl 1/29/2014

Goodbye, Chromium. Novel Coatings Technology Introduced for Aluminum Marine and Automotive Use

Jan. 29, 2014, Fargo, N.D. –– The North Dakota State University Research Foundation (NDSU/RF) announced today that it has concluded a license agreement with Elinor Specialty Coatings, Fargo, N.D., for a breakthrough hexavalent chromium-free coatings technology. The patented coatings technology protects aluminum alloys, such as those found in vehicle and ship parts, or in vehicles made entirely from aluminum.

The licensing agreement gives Elinor Specialty Coatings exclusive rights in marine and automotive markets to further develop and commercialize the patented coatings technology developed at North Dakota State University, Fargo.

The magnesium-rich technology will be used in primers marketed to both the military and civilian auto and shipbuilding industries under the trade names Aluma45-MTMandAluma45-ATM . According to Elinor Specialty Coatings, the coatings will provide viable alternatives in manufacturing and maintenance, without the toxicity of hexavalent chromium Cr(VI). The products are designed to be applied over chromium-free pre-treatments or bare metal, eliminating Cr(VI) entirely from the coating system.

Whether on vehicles or vessels, corrosion is a culprit costing companies substantial dollars. The toxic substance, hexavalent chromium Cr(VI)  prevents corrosion, but can also contaminate the environment and contribute to cancer. People more commonly may be familiar with hexavalent chromium as featured prominently in the movie Erin Brockovich.

Elinor Specialty Coatings is the first and only company offering Mg-rich Aluma45-MTM and Aluma45-ATM in the marine and automotive markets. “The long-lasting protection allows longer periods between maintenance cycles, while eliminating the toxic work conditions and long-term hazmat storage dilemmas of Cr(VI) for companies or command units,” said Dante Battocchi, chief technical officer of Elinor Specialty Coatings.

Battocchi said previous chromate-free primers on the market did not provide the anti-corrosive properties of chromate, which despite its known toxicity, has not been banned in the U.S. because it is highly effective at inhibiting corrosion of high strength aluminum. The magnesium technology formulated for Aluma45-MTM and Aluma45-ATM at NDSU and now licensed by Elinor Specialty Coatings for marine and automotive use, provides the first non-chrome corrosion inhibiting system to perform as well as, or better than chromate in laboratory and field testing, according to Battocchi.

Potential benefits of the new technology include:  reduced costs by eliminating the need for mandatory extra control measures designed to reduce exposure to chromate; and potential lower density than chromate primers, thus reducing weight and resulting in lower fuel consumption. According to Battocchi, many manufacturers currently rely on toxic coatings designed for steel, which aren’t nearly as effective on aluminum as the Aluma45TM primers.

“We are thrilled to see another more environmentally-friendly coating technology reach the market through Elinor Specialty Coatings,” said Dale Zetocha, executive director of the NDSU Research Foundation, which licenses technologies developed at North Dakota State University. “It represents a great opportunity to commercialize this coating technology research for these applications through a North Dakota company.”

North Dakota State University researchers playing a role in years of development of the patented Cr-free Mg-rich technology used in Aluma45-MTM and Aluma45-ATM include Dr. Gordon Bierwagen, Dr. Dante Battocchi, and Dr. Michael E. Nanna. Previous research funding that resulted in the development of these coatings was provided by the U.S. Air Force Office of Scientific Research; the Center for Surface Protection, a state Economic Development Center of Excellence at North Dakota State University; and the Product Design Center at NDSU.

About Elinor Specialty Coatings

Elinor Specialty Coatings solves problems in coatings-related markets through innovative technology transfer and in-house scientific research and development. The company also offers manufacturing supply chain solutions with MagnaShield™ for magnesium components. Elinor is working with manufacturers in the industries of transportation (automotive, shipbuilding) to provide hexavalent chromium-free Mg-rich primers available with Aluma45-M™ and Aluma45-A™. In addition, Elinor is addressing a challenge in maintenance and preservation of historical works of art and decorative metal architecture around the world through a technology from North Dakota State University known as BronzeShield.™

About the NDSU Research Foundation

The NDSU Research Foundation is an independent, not-for-profit organization that supports NDSU in its teaching, research and public service missions. The Foundation manages the intellectual properties developed by faculty, staff and students doing research at NDSU and facilitates commercialization of these technologies. By commercializing intellectual property through licensing of technology, the Foundation is able to create resources that are returned to the individual inventors and to the University to promote continued

About NDSU

NDSU, Fargo, North Dakota, USA, is notably listed among the top 108 U.S. public and private universities in the Carnegie Commission on Higher Education’s category of “Research Universities/Very High Research Activity.” As a student-focused, land grant, research institution, NDSU is listed in the Top 100 research universities in the U.S. for R&D in chemistry, psychology, physical sciences, social sciences and agricultural sciences, based on research expenditures reported to the National Science Foundation.

High Impact Chemistry Journal Includes Work of NDSU Professors l 1/23/2014

Jan. 23, 2014 – Fargo, N.D. – Andriy Voronov, associate professor of coatings and polymeric materials, and Scott Pryor, associate professor of agricultural and biosystems engineering, published recent research in Angewandte ChemieInternational Edition, a leading journal in general chemistry. Article authors included Olena Kudina, a graduate student in Voronov’s research group The paper is featured on the front cover of the January issue at

The article, titled "Highly Efficient Phase Boundary Biocatalysis with Enzymogel Nanoparticles," introduces the principally novel mechanism of phase boundary biocatalysis. The unique research finding can be explored for localized, highly efficient bioconversion processes, as well as opens a new avenue for a variety of applications, including drug delivery and absorbable implants.

With an Impact Factor of 13.734, Angewandte Chemie is the leader among the general chemistry journals. The research project received financial support from a National Science Foundation award, Chemical, Bioengineering, Environmental and Transport Systems Division 0966574.

See What's Inside - NDSU Electron Microscopy Center Holds Open House on Jan. 13 l 1/9/2014

Jan. 9, 2014 – Fargo, N.D. – The North Dakota State University Electron Microscopy Center is holding an Open House on Monday, Jan. 13 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at 1307 18th Street North, just south of NDSU's Wallman Wellness Center and inside the USDA Northern Crop Science Laboratory.

The Electron Microscopy Center’s newest acquisition helps researchers and others see what’s inside an object by assembling 3D image slices, without having to physically cut or damage the item. Learn more about the Electron Microscopy Center’s new GE v|tome|x s 240kV microfocus X-ray computed tomography system, with additional 180kV high performance nanofocus submicron X-ray tube (nanoCT) and high-contrast digital flat panel detector. This and other specialized imaging equipment are available to researchers, students and industrial users.

Benefits for Research and Business
The new versatile state-of-the-art X-ray inspection and computed tomography (microCT) system enables external and internal evaluation of intact objects, not otherwise possible without permanent damage. Like computed tomography (“CAT scanning”), microCT equipment acquires successive X-ray image slices of an object.

Sophisticated software and a powerful computer workstation manipulate images to provide digital 3D reconstruction, exterior and interior measurements, density analysis, defect inspection, and surface rendering for finite element analysis. This type of nondestructive testing has wide-ranging research and commercial applications.
The NDSU Electron Microscopy Center provides comprehensive microscopy services for teaching, research and potential commercial applications, from initial project planning to publishable photographs. The facility houses nearly $5 million worth of equipment, including the following major instruments in addition to the microCT:  field-emission analytical scanning electron microscope, high-resolution analytical transmission electron microscope, variable-pressure analytical scanning electron microscope, and tungsten-filament transmission electron microscope.

Join Us to See What’s Inside
Find the NDSU Electron Microscopy Center at for the Open House on Jan. 13 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

About NDSU
NDSU, Fargo, North Dakota, USA, is notably listed among the top 108 U.S. public and private universities in the Carnegie Commission on Higher Education’s category of “Research Universities/Very High Research Activity.” As a student-focused, land grant, research institution, NDSU is listed in the Top 100 research universities in the U.S. for R&D in chemistry, physical sciences, psychology, social sciences, and agricultural sciences, based on research expenditures reported to the National Science Foundation.

NDSU Research Park Begins Strategic Planning Process; Additional Research Plans Underway l 12/19/2013

Fargo, N.D.-- December 4, 2013 -- The NDSU Research and Technology Park is gathering data over the next two months in the first phase of its strategic planning process. The process is in conjunction with overall efforts by the NDSU Office of Research and Creative Activity for continued development of the University’s research enterprise, adapting to changes in the national research landscape.

“NDSU has achieved significant research growth. We are working at all levels of campus to gather data and plan for future research activities,” said Dr. Kelly A. Rusch, vice president for research and creativity at NDSU.

Statistics from the National Science Foundation (NSF) for fiscal year 2012 show NDSU ranks 94th when non-medical research and development expenditures are compared in a survey of 655 U.S. research universities. NDSU reported $135.5 million in research expenditures for FY2012. In other fiscal year statistics, the NDSU Research Foundation’s licensing revenue from NDSU research discoveries reached a record of more than $2.17 million in fiscal year 2013.

NDSU ranks in the top 100 research universities in the fields of agricultural sciences, chemistry, physical sciences, psychology, and social sciences in the NSF FY2012 survey.

Additional research transitions are occurring on Jan. 1, 2014. Dr. Philip Boudjouk, who most recently served as executive director of corporate research relations, has requested to rejoin faculty in the Department of Chemistry. “I have chosen to focus on continuing my research efforts on several technologies, among them, liquid silicon, that present some significant opportunities in the energy sector. I am also focusing on potential commercialization of these technologies and working closely with students on future research.”

NDSU plans to continue to enhance corporate research partnerships. “NDSU has executed more than 300 research agreements with companies over the past five- to six-years, and will continue to work to enhance collaborations with private sector partners,” said Dr. Kelly A. Rusch, vice president for research and creative activity. A search for a director of corporate research relations will begin in the coming months.

The strategic planning process for NDSU’s research enterprise continues into 2014, to connect research, innovation and economic development strategies, as research universities contribute to a diversified economy and robust workforce in the region, said Rusch.

CEO of Start-Up That Began at NDSU Technology Incubator Featured in Prairie Business Journal's '40 Under 40' l 12/4/2013

Fargo, N.D.-- December 4, 2013 -- Myriad Devices’ CEO Jake Joraanstad was recognized in Prairie Business Journal’s ‘40 Under 40’ in the magazine's December issue. Each year, the Prairie Business Journal’s ‘40 Under 40’ recognizes outstanding professionals under the age of 40 for their contributions to their organizations and to the community. At 24 years old, Joraanstad, a graduate of NDSU, was also the youngest on the list.

“It’s great to be recognized with other leaders in our community,” said Joraanstad. “We’re here to raise the profile of the area and show the nation we’re the best place to do business.”

Jake began his career while he was a student at North Dakota State University, and has since grown his mobile technology company, Myriad Devices, to nearly 25 employees in 3 years. He is also involved in Emerging Prairie, a web publication that reports on regional entrepreneurial activity. Myriad Devices, in its start-up phase, began business as a tenant in the NDSU Technology Incubator, located in the North Dakota State University Research and Technology Park.

Myriad Devices and NDSU Agriculture Communications were honored in September as a White House Champion of Change for Community Preparedness and Resilience for creating two disaster education mobile phone apps. The Winter Survival Kit and Disaster Recovery Log apps won the Innovative Use of Technology class in the Federal Emergency Management Agency Individual and Community Preparedness Awards. FEMA then forwarded the nomination to the White House for consideration, where the work was selected for the additional honor.

Myriad Devices is North Dakota’s largest mobile development company and is recognized as the premier source for mobile technology, design, strategy, and consulting. Located in Fargo, N.D., the company has grown rapidly and is considering expansion to other locations. Myriad Devices client list spans small businesses to Fortune 500 companies.

Jake earned  a bachelor’s degree in computer engineering from North Dakota State University and lives in Fargo, N.D.

NDSU Animal Scientist Studies Early Gestation l 12/2/2013

December 2, 2013 – Fargo, N.D. – The very beginnings of life fascinate NDSU animal scientist Kim Vonnahme. Raised in west central Iowa, where her family ran a feedlot operation, the associate professor of animal sciences has become a recognized expert in understanding how animals grow and develop. Her leading research focuses on the reproductive physiology of beef cattle, dairy cows, sheep and pigs.

“I do a lot of work with nutrition and pregnancy,” Vonnahme explained. “Many faculty members at NDSU’s animal sciences department are very interested in what moms eat and how that impacts the babies. We know an animal’s growth trajectory and their ability to thrive begin very, very early.”

Vonnahme’s most recent research uses Doppler ultrasonography to study the placenta, an organ that connects the developing fetus to the uterine wall of the mother. The technology uses reflected sound waves to measure blood flow and supply.

“The placenta, to me, is the most beautiful organ because it’s a baby’s lungs and stomach. It supplies oxygen and nutrients while it takes away waste. It is the conduit between mom and baby,” said Vonnahme, who is a former co-director of the NDSU Center for Nutrition and Pregnancy. “In sheep and cattle, we’re studying how a mom’s diet affects that blood flow. We want to know how we can set up a healthy placenta earlier.”

According to Vonnahme, researchers know a great deal about nutritional needs for agriculture animals, such as how much amino acid or fat content is necessary in the diet. But, there is always more to learn.

“In the livestock industry, we want the females to be highly reproductive. On the other side of things, are we creating a healthy product? Our livestock animals can spend anywhere from 25 percent to 50 percent of their lives inside the uterus, so it’s really important to feed them well before they hit the ground,” said Vonnahme, who earned her bachelor’s degree at Iowa State University, master’s degree from Oklahoma State University and doctorate in reproductive biology at the University of Wyoming.

Vonnahme joined NDSU in a post-doctoral position during 2003 and became a faculty member one year later. Her vita lists 98 peer-reviewed publications, 191 abstracts, 54 proceedings, two book chapters and one patent. In 2008, she received the Earl and Dorothy Foster Excellence of Teaching Award from the NDSU College of Agriculture, Food Systems and Natural Resources. The American Society of Animal Science recognized Vonnahme in 2011 with the Early Career Achievement Award. She also is a member of Gravida, an international research network of research scientists concentrating on the biology of growth and development.

When Vonnahme was an undergraduate student, taking part in a research project sparked her interest to go on to graduate school. Because of that personal impactful experience, she likes to get undergraduates involved in her research activities.

“There are things I get to see routinely that the undergraduates are just discovering for the first time. That is so special to see — and that is why I don’t think I will ever get tired of teaching,” Vonnahme said. “My graduate students are amazing, too. They come from all walks of life, but have one similar goal — to learn more about reproductive physiology. For those who want to do Extension work, I pair them with one of our Extension agents; and for those who want a career in research, they get opportunities to develop new technologies and design new projects.”

Vonnahme’s research, while technical in nature, has many practical applications and she is a regular speaker at meetings of regional livestock producers, where she often discusses what supplements can help animal pregnancies at risk. Her comments are especially requested in times of drought or when there isn’t much forage on the rangeland.

Another factor suggests her research may have an even broader impact in the years ahead.

“There is a parallel world where a lot of this research can be applied to human health,” Vonnahme said. “Sometimes our animal models, especially research in sheep, are or can be used in human medicine.”

Vonnahme’s research is funded, in part, through Agriculture and Food Research Initiative Competitive Grants numbers 2005-35206-15281, 2009-65203-05812 and 2009-35206-05276 from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, as well as National Science Foundation grant HRD-0811239.

December Science Cafe Looks at Nostalgia l 11/29/2013

November 29, 2013 – Fargo, N.D. – Nostalgia was for centuries considered a psychological disease and an unhealthy fixation that prevented people from living in the present. However, an NDSU psychologist has uncovered evidence that nostalgia can help people live healthier lives.

Clay Routledge, NDSU professor of psychology, will discuss his research at the December Science Café titled “The Power of the Past: How Nostalgia Improves Our Psychological and Social Health.”

The event is scheduled for Tuesday, Dec. 10 at 7 p.m. in Stokers Basement, Hotel Donaldson in Fargo. It’s free and open to the public.

“Nostalgia benefits us is a number of surprising ways,” Routledge said. “Nostalgia is not just a fun distraction, it is an important part of our mental lives.” Routledge’s presentation will highlight the history of nostalgia and describe new studies indicating nostalgia makes people feel happy, loved, meaningful, young at heart, energized, charitable and optimistic about the future.

NDSU is recognized as one of the nation’s top 108 public and private universities by the Carnegie Commission on Higher Education.

Valspar Foundation and NDSU Announce Coatings Scholarships and Student Research Program l 11/20/2013

November 20, 2013 – Fargo, N.D. – The Valspar Corporation, a leading global manufacturer of paints and coatings, and North Dakota State University (NDSU) today announced two new scholarship programs to provide opportunities for students studying coatings and polymeric materials at NDSU. The Valspar Foundation will contribute $20,000 to support up to five graduate student scholarships and a new program for Summer Undergraduate Research Experience (SURE). The scholarship program is administered through the Department of Coatings and Polymeric Materials at NDSU and coordinated through NDSU’s Development Foundation.

A selection committee consisting of NDSU professors and Valspar’s technical leaders is pleased to announce the first Valspar Graduate Scholars Program awards to Olena Kudina, Lviv, Ukraine; Casey Orgon, Bemidji, Minn., USA; Adlina Paramarta, Java, Indonesia; Andriy Popadyuk, Lviv, Ukraine; and Alison Rohly, Lino Lakes, Minn., USA. Each graduate student will receive $3,000 USD, supporting the students’ studies at NDSU’s Department of Coatings and Polymeric Materials for the 2014 academic year. 

 “These scholarships will further our relationship and build our pipeline of talent by supporting students to develop insights into fundamental performance drivers of coatings and polymers and provide them an experience associated with an industrial environment,” said Dr. Cynthia Arnold, senior vice president and chief technology officer of Valspar. “Valspar and NDSU have a long history of technical collaboration. We recognize their deep technical expertise in many disciplines associated with coatings research.”

“We appreciate Valspar’s generous support and commitment to promote applied science and education in the fields of coatings and polymers,” said Dr. Dean Webster, chair of the Department of Coatings and Polymeric Materials at NDSU. “Their contribution and engagement will allow us to provide more academic and career development opportunities for outstanding undergraduate and graduate students. It is planned that the scholars will visit Valspar during the spring semester to discuss their research projects and to find out more about Valspar and the coatings industry.”

About Valspar

The Valspar Corporation (NYSE:VAL) is a global leader in the paint and coatings industry. Since 1806, Valspar has been dedicated to bringing customers the latest innovations, the finest quality and the best customer service in the coatings industry. For more information, visit

About NDSU

NDSU, Fargo, North Dakota, USA, is notably listed among the top 108 U.S. public and private universities in the Carnegie Commission on Higher Education’s category of “Research Universities/Very High Research Activity.” Internationally known for its excellent educational and research programs, the NDSU Department of Coatings and Polymeric Materials has developed research partnerships with industry and government agencies. Established 108 years ago, the Department of Coatings and Polymeric Materials has earned a reputation for quality teaching, research and education and is among a handful of universities worldwide to offer programs in coatings and polymeric materials.

Bats Discover Surround Sound: Nature’s Horn in the Midst of Jungle Helps Bats Communicate l 10/16/2013

October 16, 2013 – Fargo, N.D. –  While homeowners may appreciate a decked-out media room and surround sound in their abodes, one animal may be using a natural amplifier to help it communicate from its roosting home. A new study by researchers at North Dakota State University, Fargo, USA and the Universidad de Costa Rica shows that the furled leaves of Heliconia and Calathea plants where Spix’s disc-winged bats make their home actually help to amplify and transmit the social calls of the bats. The findings of Dr. Erin Gillam of NDSU and Dr. Gloriana Chaverri appear in the latest issue of the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

The disc-winged bats (Thyroptera Tricolor) use the lush leaves as their temporary homes to roost. The leaves naturally curl into a horn-like shape, making a safe place for the bats to live. When bats are separated from their social group, they call to each other, producing what are known as inquiry and response calls.  The leaves act like a megaphone, amplifying the incoming and outgoing calls, which likely helps the animals keep better track of group members.

“Our study provides the first evidence of the potential role that a roost can play in facilitating acoustic communication in bats,” said Gillam. “Essentially, we are trying to understand if bats potentially take advantage of the places they live to maximize the likelihood that their calls get to the desired receiver.  Our study suggests that the structure of the leaf roosts used by these bats may help with this process.”

The disc-winged bats move to a new house daily to avoid predators, as the leaves of their plant homes unfurl. The bats communicate to keep track of each other and keep their constantly mobile neighborhoods intact. Researchers found that when the bats call to each other, the curled leaves act as horns or megaphones to increase the sound by one to two decibels. For bats looking for members of their groups that had already found a new leaf home, the leaves amplified their calls by up to 10 decibels.

Native to Central America, the tiny bats weigh about four grams each. While the leaves appear to help the disc-winged bats communicate, the leaves don’t necessarily provide high-fidelity sound. Study results show that the megaphone-like leaves can also distort the sound, but the effect on the bats is unclear, according to Chaverri and Gillam.

In a previous study, it had been shown that bats within the leaf cannot identify bats flying outside of the group based on their inquiry calls; the distortion of these calls by the shape of the leaf could potentially explain why bats have trouble in making this distinction. But when it came to the bats’ unique response calls, the flying bats could determine enough information to identify whether it came from a member of their group.

“This type of research helps us better understand the evolution of communication systems, which play key roles in many behaviors,” explained Gillam. “For example, finding a mate generally involves males attracting females through a combination of visual, acoustic, and/or olfactory signals.  This type of research helps us understand how natural selection has shaped these systems to their ecological and behavioral environments over evolutionary time.”  

Gillam and Chaverri are planning additional research. They plan to investigate whether the bats choose a prime piece of real estate leaf to roost because it provides maximum sound, or if they adapt their sounds to the shape of the leaf they’ve selected—maybe akin to the way humans choose the perfect place to live, versus a fixer upper they learn to live with.

News of Gillam and Chaverri’s discovery has generated worldwide interest, appearing in National Geographic, Discovery, LiveScience and Nature.

Funding for the research was partially provided by the Committee for Research and Exploration of the National Geographic Society, grant no. 8973-11 issued to Chaverri and by funds from the NDSU College of Science and Mathematics and the Department of Biological Sciences where Gillam serves as an assistant professor.

About NDSU

NDSU, Fargo, North Dakota, USA, is notably listed among the top 108 U.S. public and private universities in the Carnegie Commission on Higher Education’s category of “Research Universities/Very High Research Activity.” As a student-focused, land grant, research institution, NDSU is listed in the Top 100 research universities in the U.S. for R&D in computer science, chemistry, physical sciences, psychology, social sciences, and agricultural sciences, based on research expenditures reported to the National Science Foundation.

About The Royal Society

The Royal Society is a self-governing Fellowship of many of the world’s most distinguished scientists drawn from all areas of science, engineering and medicine. The Royal Society is the national Academy of science in the UK. The Society’s fundamental purpose is to recognise, promote, and support excellence in science and to encourage the development and use of science for the benefit of humanity. Proceedings B is the Royal Society’s flagship biological research journal, dedicated to the rapid publication and broad dissemination of high-quality research papers, reviews and comment and reply papers.

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