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Oct. 30, 2018

MSU named a partner in $5.2M center for socially impactful research

What do potatoes, galaxy clusters and kestrels have in common?

Each is studied by a Michigan State University researcher who made advancements in these areas of expertise. But oftentimes, the general public does not know about their research outcomes – nor why should it care.

Addressing this challenge, MSU was named a foundational partner in the Advancing Research and its Impact on Society Center, or ARIS, made possible by a $5.2 million National Science Foundation grant.

“Researchers want to make a difference in the world,” said Laurie Van Egeren, interim associate provost for University Outreach and Engagement and ARIS Center co-PI. “The ARIS Center was created so that that scientists have the tools and knowledge to make their research as meaningful for the public as it is for academic colleagues. MSU partners with communities to target critical issues and drive change for our state and beyond.”

The ARIS Center, housed at the University of Missouri, will build capacity, advance scholarship, grow partnerships and provide resources to scientists and engagement practitioners so that they can actively demonstrate the impact of research in their communities and society.

The center will benefit researchers responsible for propelling discovery, practitioners who collaborate with researchers, and community stakeholders and to the public who benefit from research, education and workforce advancements. The ARIS Center will emphasize support for serving traditionally underserved populations while providing inclusive public engagement to ensure a diverse science workforce.

“Ventures such as ARIS provide excellent opportunities for MSU academics to connect with resources that can help them identify impactful ways to share their exciting discoveries with the public,” said Beronda Montgomery, ARIS board member, assistant provost of faculty and academic staff development, and MSU foundation professor in the departments of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, and Microbiology and Molecular Genetics. “The consortium of partners across the U.S. also will provide a significant network to facilitate and expand local efforts at MSU.”

ARIS Center’s board of advisors includes members from global higher education, as well as the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Association of American Universities, the Center for the Advancement of Informal Science Education, the Council on Undergraduate Research, NASA and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, among others.

In addition to MSU, national partners and institutions for the ARIS Center include Brown University, Duke University, Iowa State University, Madison Area Technical College, Northeastern University, Northwestern University, Oregon State University, Rutgers University and University of Wisconsin-Madison.

So to answer “why the public should care” about potato, galaxy cluster and kestrel research:

David Douches runs the MSU Potato Breeding and Genetics program. His research has improved potato varieties, reduced pesticide use, and promoted sustainable farming. Some of those improvements mean that potato chips made in a Michigan factory use more state-grown potatoes because they can be stored longer without compromising quality. That, in turn, means more profitability for Michigan potato growers, who produce 1.6 billion pounds of potatoes annually and see 70 percent of the crop turned into potato chips.

Megan Donahue is a professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy. She studies galaxies and galaxy clusters, and focuses on the ecology of those cluster systems — the gas between the galaxies and how it falls into galaxies and makes stars and feeds black holes. She is the current president of the American Astronomical Society, promotes broad interest in astronomy, enhances science literacy, and leads many to careers in science and engineering.

Catherine Lindell, associate professor in the Department of Integrative Biology, has worked with Michigan cherry and blueberry growers to improve their orchards’ yields by researching bird behavior and the role birds play in the ecology of managed ecosystems. By installing American kestrel nesting boxes in orchards, the kestrels became a tool to combat pest birds, voles, and insects that feasted on fruit and affected growers’ crop yields.

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