LSU Researchers Garner International Attention
This past year was a banner one for LSU researchers as many of them garnered national and international media attention. From the Washington Post to the United Kingdom's Daily Mail and from National Geographic to Discover magazine, LSU research appeared all around the world.
LSU Chancellor Michael Martin praised the researchers for these achievements and said that it's important to remember that research is part of the university's mission.
"Federal law dating back to 1887 compels us to do research," Martin said. "It's in our mission … we're meeting that obligation."
Martin said that LSU's researchers have proven nationally why supporting LSU's research projects are important for funding agencies.
"It shows that at the national level, we are very competitive for external support because what we do pays off," he said. "Federal agencies support programs that return something to them, and we've done it."
There are numerous benefits to having top notch researchers on campus, not only to students but to everyone in the state.
"It allows students to be in contact with, in the classroom and in the laboratory, the faculty at this university who are actually discovering the knowledge that other people are teaching," Martin said. "It gives our students a chance to be involved in research in many instances that both advance their education here and opens doors for them in the future.
"It can contribute to economic development in the state by finding new ways to solve real problems and new products to serve real people, and all of that is an enormously important part of the mission of a 21st century land grant university."
LSU's Chris Austin, curator of herpetology at the Museum of Natural Science, recently discovered two new species of frogs in New Guinea, one of which is now the world's tiniest known vertebrate, averaging only 7.7 millimeters in size – less than one-third of an inch. Austin, leading a team of scientists from the United States including LSU graduate student Eric Rittmeyer, made the discovery during a three-month long expedition to the island of New Guinea, the world's largest and tallest tropical island. The story went viral as soon as the embargo lifted, with more than 200 international media placements occurring within the first hour.
LSU's tiny frog was featured everywhere from Science and National Geographic to NPR and the Washington Post. The story reached 745,849 people through approximately 461 tweets and retweets on Twitter, and both David Letterman and Jay Leno mentioned the discovery on their late night television shows.
LSU Professor of Physics & Astronomy Bradley Schaefer and graduate student Ashley Pagnotta recently discovered that Type Ia supernovae, which are tremendous explosions where the light is often brighter than a whole galaxy, are caused by a pair of white dwarf stars, solving a fundamental problem of astrophysics.
The LSU team's solution represents the culmination of more than 40 years of worldwide study focused on this issue, often referred to as the "progenitor problem." The possible types of precursor system types, called progenitors, were considered to be either a pair of white dwarfs in a close binary orbit that spiral into each other due to gravitational attraction (called the double-degenerate model) or another type of binary where the ordinary companion star in orbit around the white dwarf is feeding material onto the white dwarf until it reaches the critical mass (called the single-degenerate model). For decades the debate has raged, with no decisive evidence, and currently a roughly evenly divided opinion amongst astronomers.
These results were published in Nature and resulted in a significant amount of national media coverage, including the Los Angeles Times, Space.com and Astronomy.com, among others.
In 1961, near the north shore of Monterey Bay, Calif., thousands of birds were found flying erratically, running into things and dying on the streets. After reading about this bizarre incident, Hitchcock called the Santa Cruz Sentinel newspaper to get more information about the strange event before producing the famous film, "The Birds," which was released in 1963. Sibel Bargu of LSU's School of the Coast & Environment, along with her team of researchers from different institutes, recently proved that toxic algae called Pseudo-nitzschia was most likely responsible for the birds' crazed behavior in 1961 and thus spurred a cinematic legend. Her discovery was extensively covered by the media, including ABC News, the Washington Post, the U.K.'s Daily Mail and more.
As part of the USS Monitor 150th Anniversary, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, Office of National Marine Sanctuaries partnered with LSU's Forensic Anthropology and Computer Enhancement Services, or FACES, Lab to have facial reconstructions completed on two of the soldiers found aboard the Monitor. The skeletal remains of both sailors were discovered inside the Monitor's gun turret after it was raised from the ocean floor in 2002.
During a ceremony held in Washington, D.C., NOAA's Office of National Marine Sanctuaries released forensic facial reconstructions of the faces of the two crew members. Mary Manhein, director of the LSU FACES Lab, and Nicole Harris, LSU FACES Lab forensic anthropologist/research associate, attended the ceremony to present the reconstructions with the hope that the public will be able to assist in the ongoing effort to identify the sailors. The facial reconstructions were published in media outlets around the world including Discovery News, NPR, National Geographic, the Washington Post and the U.K.'s Daily Mail, to name a few.
Michael Malisoff, LSU professor of mathematics, partnered with a colleague at Georgia Tech, Fumin Zhang, and Mark Patterson from the College of William and Mary, to develop marine robotic methods for conducting surveys on the weathered crude oil off the coast of Louisiana. Malisoff develops mathematical methods to guide robots in a constantly changing environment such as the ocean, where currents, temperature and weather can change in a flash. Their work was picked up by several national media outlets, perhaps most notably Mashable.com.
Professor of Sociology Troy Blanchard published research showing that counties and parishes with a greater concentration of small, locally-owned businesses have healthier populations – with lower rates of mortality, obesity and diabetes – than do those that rely on large companies with "absentee" owners. This study was featured in national outlets including the Huffington Post and the Atlantic, and was the subject of an infographic in Inc. Magazine. Check it out at http://www.inc.com/magazine/201204/issie-lapowsky/small-business-does-a-body-good.html.
A group of researchers including LSU physicists John Wefel and Gregory Guzik, and biologist Brent Christner, more than 20 undergraduate and graduate students, plus collaborators from Southern University, Louisiana Tech, NASA-Ames and Aarhus University in Denmark, has taken the cover of Discover Magazine, one of the world's leading popular science publications.
The project, called MARSLIFE, or Modes of Adaptation, Resistance and Survival for Life Inhabiting a Freeze-dried-radiation-bathed Environment, essentially studies earthly microorganisms that tolerate conditions similar to those found in extra-terrestrial environments. Discover has a circulation of more than 6.7 million readers, selling more than 100,000 copies of its magazine each month.