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Spirit is published three times per year by the Texas A&M Foundation, which manages major gifts and endowments for the benefit of academic programs, scholarships and student activities at Texas A&M University.

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Also In This Issue

Lab Work: Research Developments

Lost in Flight

What happened to Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 remains unanswered, but a research team led by a Texas A&M University at Qatar mathematician unveiled new clues about the plane’s ill-fated March 2014 flight using computer simulations.

“Until its black box is recovered and decoded,” said applied mathematician Dr. Goong Chen, “the true final moments of MH370 are likely to remain a mystery, but forensics strongly support that the plane plunged into the ocean in a 90-degree nosedive.”

Researchers used applied mathematics and computational fluid dynamics to conduct numerical simulations of five scenarios of water entry of a Boeing 777 plunging into the ocean to mimic what they believe happened to MH370. Simulations indicated that a nosedive offers a plausible explanation for the lack of debris or spilled oil in the South Indian Ocean where the plane is presumed to have crashed.

As vertical water-entry is the smoothest possible, an aircraft is unlikely to endure a bending movement to cause the breakup of its fuselage upon impact with the ocean surface. In a nosedive situation, the wings would have broken off almost immediately and sunk to the bottom of the ocean with other heavy debris, leaving little or no trace.

In August, a piece of a wing that washed up on an Indian Ocean island beach was confirmed part of the wreckage of flight MH370.

Trotting Toward Physical Fitness

Horseback riding may be one answer to fighting obesity. Graduate student Colleen O’Reilly ’14 and Dennis Sigler ’81, a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service horse specialist and a professor in the Department of Animal Science, studied the amount of energy expended during high-intensity horseback activity and found that riding for 45 minutes at a walk, trot and canter can burn up to 200 calories.

Even more significant, riders engaged in higher energy expenditure activities like cutting and reining experience faster heart rates in short duration, burning up to seven calories per minute.

“For people with joints that just can’t stand a jog, horseback riding may be the solution,” said Sigler. “It’s a great alternative for those who can’t endure other physical activities and could be an excellent way to fight obesity in children and adults.”

Sigler’s study included 20 individuals who completed three riding tests: a 45-minute walk-trot-canter ride, a reining pattern and a cutting pattern. O’Reilly and Sigler measured heart rate, respiratory frequency, pulmonary ventilation, oxygen consumption and carbon dioxide production to calculate the energy the riders expended.

Going Batty for Wildlife

Texas A&M University Biology Professor Michael Smotherman is going to bat for bats. He and members of his laboratory will test the effectiveness of ultrasonic, whistle-like pulse generators intended to steer bats and other wildlife clear of wind turbines.

Designed by engineers at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, these tiny 3-D printed devices mimic the natural ultrasonic pulses of bat calls and can be mounted on blades without impeding turbine function. Powered by air pressure generated from the blades, the whistle pulses grow louder and faster as the speed of the blades increases.

Between 600,000 and 900,000 bats each year are accidentally killed by spinning blades.

“The intention is to create a warning sound that can alert bats to the movements of the blades and alter their flight paths,” said Smotherman, an expert in bat behavior.

Smotherman’s team will evaluate the whistles in a series of behavioral tests with Mexican free-tailed bats to see if the whistles reliably deter bats from flying toward or landing on a target destination.

“This technology highlights the positive interface between biology and engineering," he said. “We can promote the development of sustainable wind energy while mitigating the negative impacts on North American bat populations.”

Gender Taxes

Women looking to get away with bargain deals won’t find them at U.S. Customs. Associate Professor Lori Taylor and graduate student Jawad Dar ’12 conducted a study that found large differences in the tariffs on men’s and women’s clothing goods.

“The average tariff rate for women’s apparel is systematically higher than the average tariff rate for men’s apparel,” said Taylor, a faculty member at The Bush School of Government and Public Service.

On average, the tax on imported clothing for men is 11.9 percent while the tax on imported clothing for women is 15.1 percent. Buyers of imported clothing and footwear paid at least $330 million more in taxes in 2014 than they would have paid had there been no gender-based tariffs.

“Even if eliminating apparel tariffs altogether is unrealistic, the gender bias inherent in the tariff code must be addressed,” Taylor said. “Congress could give importers the option of paying either the men’s or women’s tariff rate, whichever is lower.”

Test Results

  • Squeaky Clean

    Germ-zapping robots may be the future of cleaning. Research from the College of Medicine found that robots equipped with a xenon ultraviolet light system killed more than 90 percent of bacteria in hospital rooms.
  • Standing for Success

    Scientists in the School of Public Health have proven that you actually do think better on your feet. Research shows that standing desks in classrooms increase academic performance and decrease childhood obesity.
  • Under the Sea

    Scientists with the International Ocean Discovery Program discovered oxygen-breathing microbes more than 200 feet below the sea floor, reversing a widely held belief that life only exists within the top few meters of sediment below the ocean floor.
  • Model Hospital

    Environmental design students in the College of Architecture created blueprints for a new public hospital on the Honduran island of Roatán.
  • Seaweed Surge

    With the help of NASA researchers, marine scientists at Texas A&M University at Galveston unveiled a first-of-its kind seaweed-tracking app for mobile phones that shows the location of seaweed as it approaches the Texas coast.
  • Cloud Creator

    Do April showers bring May flowers? Maybe it’s the other way around. Scientists from Texas A&M University and the University of Michigan found that pollen plays a leading role in cloud formation.