Mary Musgrave Named Associate Dean of Natural Sciences and Mathematics at UMass Amherst

AMHERST, Mass. - Mary E. Musgrave has been named associate dean of the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics at the University of Massachusetts. Linda Slakey, dean of the college, announced Musgrave''s appointment.

Musgrave is a plant stress physiologist who plans to maintain an active research program while spearheading the college''s outreach efforts. Prior to assuming the associate dean position at UMass, Musgrave was a professor of environmental plant physiology at the Agricultural Center of Louisiana State University. After receiving her bachelor''s degree from Cornell University, she earned her Ph.D. in botany and molecular biology at Duke University. She was first introduced to space biology as a NASA post-doctoral research fellow at the Duke Phytotron. Prior to joining UMass, Musgrave had performed research and teaching projects at Woods Hole Marine Biological Laboratory and Wellesley College. Musgrave is an adjunct professor in the biology department, and her research program is housed in Morrill Science Center.

"We are very pleased to have attracted Mary Musgrave to UMass," said Slakey. "Her experience in integration of her research program with K-12 outreach is a wonderful example of what the University can do in this area. She also brings substantial administrative skills honed in planning and carrying out big projects."

Musgrave''s primary research area is plant development under microgravity conditions. Four shuttle missions have carried her experiments, and a long-duration flight experiment was on board the Russian Mir space station. During the early shuttle flights, Musgrave explained, crew members had little interaction with the experiments, which resided in suitcase-sized containers. "Everything had to be velcroed down," she recalled. In later flights, the crew took a more active role, including hand-pollination of the plants. This proved to be a challenge in microgravity. "Pollen grains are really small, and have a small electrical charge. There was a chance they would be electrically repelled (from the instruments) and float away."

During the Mir flight, the collision of the Progress vehicle with Mir threatened to destroy the life-science experiments onboard. Musgrave''s efforts in training the mission specialists paid off: through the careful attention of astronaut Mike Foale, the experiments were saved, and Musgrave became the first investigator to successfully grow a second generation of plants from seeds produced by space-grown plants. This work demonstrated the feasibility of continuous plant culture in space.

Musgrave''s work has always had a strong emphasis on teaching. To develop hardware and methods that would be used in later spaceflights, she taught four LSU undergraduates to conduct experiments on NASA''s KC-135, affectionately known as the "vomit comet." This astronaut-training aircraft flies a series of steep parabolas, with 20 seconds of weightlessness occurring at the top of each parabola.

In discussing her outreach efforts, Musgrave said, "I realized that space biology was a good way to start students talking about biology. They really learn how the scientific method works." Musgrave has been involved in programs to train teachers from the kindergarten to college level how to more effectively teach biology, in addition to hosting numerous workshops where both students and teachers were encouraged to take a "hands-on" approach to science education.

In one of Musgrave''s more ambitious endeavors, she participated in the Collaborative Ukrainian Experiment (CUE) in 1997. CUE involved scientists from three U.S. universities and research institutes in Ukraine as well as more than 200,000 high-school students in the U.S. and 20,000 in Ukraine. During a 16-day shuttle mission, the students replicated the experiments that were being carried out in space. In addition to being able to compare notes across the seas via email, the young researchers were able to follow the daily progress of the space plants via live satellite downlinks.