MSU Innovation Road Show

Blake Wiedenheft, an assistant professor with the Department of Microbiology and Immunology, speaks during Montana State University’s Innovation Road Show on Thursday at The Ellen Theatre.

How do you save the lives of more Montana kids when those who suffer traumatic injuries must travel long hours by ambulance to reach the state’s only ICU for children?

How do you make cheaper solar cells so people in poor countries can have a higher standard of living without burning tons of oil?

How do you reduce backcountry avalanche deaths? Or cure diseases with new gene-cutting tools? Or talk to business owners about equal pay for women, without sending them running for the door?

Those are some of the questions that researchers at Montana State University are investigating. On Thursday night, 10 shared their questions and discoveries in 10-minute presentations that MSU calls the 10X10 Innovation Road Show. Nearly 300 people attended the free event at the Ellen Theatre.

“The faculty love having public interaction,” said Renee Reijo Pera, MSU’s vice president for research and the evening’s emcee.

“My goal is to save Montana kids,” said Stacy Stellflug, an assistant professor of nursing. Montana has one of the nation’s top five worst death rates for child and teen patients. A major reason is that, after a car crash in the middle of nowhere, for example, kids have to be transported long distances to the pediatric ICU in Billings, which loses precious hours that could make a difference.

To save more kids, Stellflug is researching the use of realistic-looking, high-tech mannequins to train more health providers in rural areas. She said students love the simulations and learn better than by traditional methods, but tend to forget what they learned after six months.

“I hope to look back on my career as a Bobcat scientist,” Stellflug said, and see fewer child deaths.

Scientist Blake Wiedenheft described the promise of gene editing to cure diseases. A new and controversial technique, it has been used since 2012 on mice, pigs, sheep, vegetables and humans. The Wall Street Journal reports that 90 patients in China have been treated and 15 have died. One challenge, Wiedenheft said, is that we need to be able to not just snip out faulty DNA, but to mend it, too.

Virginia Bratton, an associate professor in business, described her research to find a better way to talk with employers about equal pay, using terms like “pay structure” and “fair pay,” so they don’t bolt. Bratton said she thinks employers are often wary that talking about equal pay will lead to lawsuits, or they’ll have to admit they did something wrong, or they fear it may cost a great deal of money.

Erik Grumstrup described an exciting idea to make cheaper solar cells, using something called perovskites. The only problem is that they break down in 10 minutes, so the research continues.

Solar scientist Loren Acton, Montana’s only scientist to ride in the Space Shuttle, showed dramatic X-ray images of the sun during a quiet phase and during a year of major eruptions. “I’m so tickled I got to do a little part of this (research),” Acton said.

Other speakers included Tomas Gedeon, a mathematician who is working with a team that’s trying to defeat malaria by figuring out, with mathematical models, how the internal clocks of the body and disease interact.

Jim Wilking used a super high-speed camera to see how leafy spurge noxious weed seeds explode out of their pods to disperse across the landscape. Susan Kollin described about the growing popularity of “Cli-Fi,” or climate change fiction.

Jordy Hendrikx explained his research to figure out how to reduce avalanche risks among backcountry enthusiasts, and to understand how their decision-making changes in a group. Andrew Nelson, a film historian, talked about why American audiences love Westerns.

“The future of what we do,” Nelson said, “depends on sharing our research with audiences.”

Gail Schontzler can be reached at gails@dailychronicle.com or 406-582-2633. Follow her on Twitter @gailnews.

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