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April 2003

News about Science, Technology and Engineering at Iowa State University

ISU geologist will monitor a potential landslide
One-hundred years ago a fast moving landslide buried the coal-mining town of Frank, Alberta, Canada, in about 45 feet of debris in a little more than 90 seconds. More than 70 people died in one of Canada's greatest natural disasters. Neal Iverson, an Iowa State University associate professor of geological and atmospheric sciences, will be heading to Turtle Mountain, which rises above where Frank once stood, to see if there are any lessons that can learned in terms of landslide prediction.

Iverson will go up to Turtle Mountain, about 50 miles north of Glacier National Park, to install crack meters in the deep fissures that resulted from the 1903 landslide. The crack meters will help monitor the creep of the rock -- small, almost imperceptible movement of the rock -- as an indicator of a potential landslide. The valley beneath the mountain is a busy tourist destination.

"The Frank Slide is a very famous landslide, and it's thought by some that there might be some potential for another landslide," said Iverson. "We will monitor the rock creep to see if it's accelerating over time, which would provide an indication of a potential landslide. Right now there isn't good evidence that it is accelerating, but there is a rock wedge of about 5 million cubic meters that poses the threat of another major landslide."

Iverson will go to Turtle Mountain in late June to study the mountain and locate the sites of monitoring instruments left from previous Canadian studies of the area. He'll return in August with two other colleagues to install a handful of instruments within the deep fissures on the up-slope side of the rock wedge.

The instruments continuously will record the down-slope creep of the rock mass. Rates of movement will be correlated with weather variables like rainfall and snow melt, and used to test hypotheses for landslide prediction. For more information, contact Iverson, (515) 294-8048, or Skip Derra, ISU News Service, (515) 294-4917.

ISU professor developing on-site specific drug delivery
Iowa State University assistant professor of chemistry Victor Lin is working to lessen the side effects of chemotherapy for individuals with cancer. Lin said many anti-tumor drugs, such as chemotherapy, are very toxic to all cell types -- they kill tumor cells and normal cells. This is what generally causes many of the side effects of chemotherapy. Lin is researching drug delivery systems that could help curb these side effects by delivering drugs to site-specific areas of the body.

"We have designed a new controlled release drug delivery system that will not allow the drug to 'leak' before it arrives at specific cell sites," Lin said. "Therefore, our material can be used as a new carrier system for toxic drugs such as chemotherapy."

The method would kill only cancer cells and release the drugs when and where doctors want them to be released based on some type of stimulus. He added that the system will provide a new possibility to deliver proteins and genes to cells.

"The mesoporous [large porous] silica materials that we synthesized are non-toxic, small in size, and can serve as non-invasive biosensors or controlled release drug delivery carriers," Lin said.

The drug-release carriers can interact with various cell types either in vitro (out of body) or in vivo (in body) to study how the body communicates with itself. Lin's project has been going on for more than a year, but it received a boost in February with a five-year, $470,000 National Science Foundation grant. For more information, contact Lin, (515) 294-3135, or Bridget Bailey, ISU News Service, (515) 294-6881.

ISU researchers tests satellites to monitor corn pollination
Mark Westgate, an Iowa State University associate professor of agronomy, is trying to determine whether satellite images can be used to document when corn tassels emerge in a cornfield. Because pollen is spread easily, knowing the time of pollination can help researchers contain genetically modified corn pollen to certain fields.

"We're testing whether NASA's satellites can help us manage corn pollination by telling us when the corn plants start to shed pollen," Westgate said. "Once we have that information for a specific field, we have tools to predict how much pollen is produced, where the pollen goes, and the probability of our genetically modified field pollinating a traditional field nearby."

Satellite pictures pick up reflections of light coming from the top of cornfields. These pictures show researchers when corn tassels emerge. Tests on the satellite angle and position are being conducted to help Westgate determine which combination of light wavelengths the satellites need to measure, and when to measure them. A second set of tests will be conducted this summer with the help of the Iowa Civil Air Patrol.

"Once tassels emerge, we know that pollen shed will soon follow, so these changes in the spectrum are used to benchmark development," Westgate said.

Iowa State's department of aerospace engineering is collaborating with the USDA-ARS National Soil Tilth Lab and the Iowa Civil Air Patrol on the project. NASA provided $30,000 through a grant from the Iowa Space Grant Consortium. For more information contact Westgate, (515) 294-9654, or Bridget Bailey, ISU News Service, (515) 294-6881.


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