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Inside Iowa State, a newspaper for faculty and staff, is published by the Office of University Relations.

August 26, 2005

Research briefs

by Mike Krapfl

A better way to prepare statisticians for teamwork

Teams of scientists often work together to solve complex problems. And that has Iowa State statisticians thinking about a new way to prepare doctoral students for professional collaboration. A $1.1 million grant from the National Science Foundation will establish a Research Training Group of students, faculty and scientists. Students in the group would complete two years of coursework on campus and then join multidisciplinary research teams on campus or at partner sites such as the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. They would return to the statistics department with unique research to pursue for their dissertations. The grant will provide support for 10 to 12 students, said Alicia Carriquiry, a professor of statistics. She said the goal is to "show that through experiential learning, these students are better prepared to pursue a research career in the sciences."

A more sophisticated way to test jet parts

Airline mechanics take out a quarter and tap on plane parts made of carbon fiber and reinforced plastic. The parts are lightweight and typically have a honeycomb core. When those parts are damaged, the tapping produces a thud instead of a crisp tap. A few years ago the Federal Aviation Administration asked the Center for Nondestructive Evaluation to develop a better test, so researchers came up with a device that taps the parts and sends out a shot of voltage. The device measures the voltage to determine how long the tapper is in contact with a part. If a part is damaged, it's typically more flexible and the tapper doesn't bounce back as quickly. The testing system also makes images that show where parts have been damaged. The university tried to license the technology, but no companies stepped forward. So scientists David Hsu, Dan Barnard and Brian Larson, all from the center, started a company, Advanced Structural Imaging (, to produce and sell the Computer-Aided Tap Tester. Hsu said each unit costs about $6,000 and about a dozen have been sold so far. Customers include aircraft manufacturers, the military, universities and a boat inspector in France.

Ames, Iowa State work together on water quality

Iowa State undergraduates in Biology 486 (aquatic ecology), will be out in canoes most Tuesdays to collect samples, take measurements and map the lake bottoms at Ames' Ada Hayden Heritage Park. Last February, the Ames City Council approved spending $49,833 to keep the monitoring going into 2006. John Downing, a professor of ecology, evolution and organismal biology, has been leading water quality tests in the park's two small lakes since late 2001. He said the testing has found good water quality at the surface but the quality deteriorates below the surface. Downing said the testing will measure the effectiveness of constructed wetlands and other strategies to improve water quality in the lakes.


ISU statisticians explore a new way to prepare doctoral students for professional collaboration, center workers toss the quarter in favor of a better way to test jet parts and ISU undergraduate students take to canoes to test Ames water quality.