Unmanned aircraft program lets students fly now, prepare for careers later

Capital News Service
The U.S. government isn’t expected to open airspace for civilian drone flight until 2015. But Northwestern Michigan College students can fly drones today. The Traverse City college is the only school in the Great Lakes region and one of a handful in the nation with federal approval to teach courses on unmanned aerial vehicles, more commonly known as drones. The college teaches U.S. drone law, drone technology and how to operate the school’s unmanned fixed-wing airplanes and quadcopters – helicopter-like unmanned aircraft with four rotors. It also has a certificate of authorization from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) that permits the college and its students to research and conduct unmanned, outdoor flight with a number of remote control aircraft.

New study questions river sand trap strategy

Capital News Service
LANSING — Researchers based in Marquette have potentially grave news for Michigan anglers: Hundreds of shallow basins dug into riverbeds to collect trout- and salmon-harming sediment might be more like fish coffins than protectors. After two reportedly successful experiments in the 1980s, sand traps were constructed worldwide in an attempt to save fish populations hurt by excessive sand in freshwater streams. Michigan has more than 250. But now, researchers from the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) say they doubt whether these measures have had any benefit. In some cases, sand traps could even harm river ecosystems, experts say. Popular species like salmon and brook trout need coarse riverbeds of gravel or small pebbles.

Lamprey genome may lead to cures for human diseases

Capital News Service
LANSING – Genetic mapping of sea lamprey may lead to ways to control the invader and improve human health, new research suggests. A team of scientists has assembled the sea lamprey genome, providing insight into how to control the invasive species that has terrorized the Great Lakes basin since the late 1800s. That same research could help cure a rare disease in human newborns and further the study of degenerative brain disease. Researchers said that decoding the lamprey’s DNA has revealed genetic factors that enable it to survive and thrive in the Great Lakes. In addition to the invasive species, two types of lamprey are native to the Great Lakes – silver lamprey and American brook lamprey.

State police, universities work to increase safety

Capital News Service
LANSING – The State Police is working with several universities on research and training programs such as criminal identification technology, traffic safety and homicide investigation. For example, through one project, State Police would be able to match a suspect’s name, hometown and criminal history from its database to a sketch provided by a witness or even the position of a suspect’s tattoo. Anil Jain, a professor in Michigan State University’s Department of Computer Science and Engineering, said the recognition system is able to match fingerprints, images and videos from a low-quality camera, DNA and tattoos. “This has not been done before,” he said. “We would not able to design it without cooperating with the State Police.”
Jain said the State Police advises his team and provides records of physical characteristics for the database.

New research helps protect dunes

Capital News Service
LANSING – New research findings about the geological and archaeological aspects of the Lake Michigan coastal dunes will help local governments and organizations protect them. “It’s important to make sure we haven’t damaged or destroyed dunes in an archaeological site,” said state Archaeologist Dean Anderson. He said information about dunes in the past concerns not only cultural but environmental methods. The most recent research collected data on the northern and northeastern shore of Lake Michigan, while former studies focused mostly on the southeastern part of the basin. It gives a full picture of locations for dunes among the state.

Researchers focus attention on Lake Huron

Capital News Service
LANSING — Lake Huron has the most shoreline and is the second largest of the Great Lakes, yet it gets perhaps the least scientific attention. That will soon change now that Lake Huron is the home of a new long-term research program started by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory. From the agency’s base at the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary in Alpena, scientists are studying water quality, invasive and native species, nutrient levels and physical properties of the lake. It’s long overdue, said Henry Vanderploeg, the program’s lead researcher. “Lake Huron is the least studied lake,” Vanderploeg said.

NEMO's new mission: Find toxic algae blooms

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Capital News Service
LANSING—If it looks like a fish and swims like a fish, then it must be a fish. Unless it’s a pseudo-fish named NEMO, designed to monitor water temperature, oxygen levels, invasive algae populations and pollutants. For example, a robofish will be able to navigate independently and transmit information about the location of toxic algae blooms.
“We chose to fit these fish with sensors for toxic algae blooms, but I think other researchers will use this technology in the future to monitor different aspects of water quality,” Michigan State University zoology Professor Elena Litchman said. According to Litchman, excess nutrients and warmer temperatures create an ideal growth environment for algae, which release toxins that are dangerous to other aquatic organisms and humans. “Although it’s hard to remove these blooms, knowing where they are allows us to warn people not to go in those areas,” Litchman said.