Most everyone has used a GPS at some point in their life, or they’ve at least seen a Global Positioning System in action. I’m willing to bet that there will be someone reading this blog who has in the back of their mind the sound of a semi-soothing, quasi annoying women’s voice calling out soon to be made turns and upcoming destinations. The GPS was no doubt a very cool invention, using satellites and mathematics to triangulate a signal’s position anywhere on the globe is an impressive feat. What I find just as impressive is when someone sees a technological advance and comes up with alternative applications.
That’s exactly what a pair of Umass Amherst researchers recently did with GPS technology. Betsy Dumont and Sharlene Santana were definitely thinking outside of the box when they decided to use a GPS technology, originally designed to assess mountain tops, to instead examine the 3-D physical characteristics of bat teeth. Teeth can often be used in scientific study to determine an animal’s diet. The size, shape and contours of a tooth and the variation of those characteristics within a set of teeth can help researchers piece together the story of how an animal comes to fit with its environment. Sanchez and Dumont used the GPS technology to map the dips and valleys of different bat species’ teeth, that data was then coupled with studies of how well certain teeth ground up particular types of food like fruits or insects. Together those studies were used to help infer how each species evolved their teeth in response to different sources of food. By taking a technological advance and applying their own innovative ideas to that technology these researchers have paved the way for future studies of animal feeding systems.
You don’t need to be a scientist to think outside of the box but when someone with a solid background in a STEM related field begins spinning the wheels of creative thinking good things are likely to follow. If you’d like to know more about the research happening here at Umass or if you have an interest in STEM education please contact us at http://massacademysciences.org/.
Written by: Matthew Panechelli