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MSU Alumni Magazine Fall 2011 : Page 7

Courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections What can a college do when student behavior is out of control? In Animal House (1978), the off ending Deltas were put on “double secret probation.” But in 1909, MAC did one better. President Jonathon Snyder hired a Pinkerton undercover agent to investigate. At a time when most of the country was in favor of temperance, some students, Snyder felt, were spending too much time and money drinking in Lansing saloons, gambling and causing mischief on campus. MAC was gaining a reputation for being rowdy and Snyder wanted to identify the biggest trouble makers. Th e Pinkerton Detective Agency provided an agent—J.E. Spencer, who enrolled as a special forestry student and took up residence in Wells Hall. Spencer pretended to be a regular student, attending classes and hanging around the dorm. Within a week, Spencer was invited to card games in the dormitory (against the rules at that time), shown how to sneak alcohol onto campus and told all about Lansing saloons. Spencer uncovered excessive drinking and gambling by a few students, and also a series of harmful pranks on campus— such as shooting out all the lights in College Hall and stealing food. Spencer asked his boss for more than his $10 per diem. Jonathon Snyder received daily reports from Spencer. In three weeks, Snyder had enough information to expel 11 students, including Spencer. Some of the students wanted to fi ght the expulsions, some were impressed with how much Snyder knew about their shenanigans, and others were surprised they lasted as long as they had. A few students headed off to the saloons for one last drink before going home. In fl agrante delicto: Students impudently show off their stealing (top), drinking, smoking and gambling, prohibited activities in the residence halls. Th is capsule of MSU history was assembled by Portia Vescio, public services archivist at MSU Archives & Historical Collections. microscopic level and it’s hard A NEW, WEB-BASED GENETICS CURRICULUM for students to visualize,” Wil-liams says. “Th e goal is to get the Why do middle schoolers struggle with the study of genetics? students excited about science and keep that excitement going.” In Science Education , Michelle In the published study, a group Williams, MSU assistant professor of education, suggests genetics and of seventh-grade students com-pleted a web-based unit on genet-heredity lessons should be taught ics and were given assessments. in a visually stimulating manner Although improvement was via computer technologies. shown, the students Williams has still struggled to un-received a $2.3 mil-derstand cell func-lion, fi ve-year grant tion and genetic from the National inheritance. But Science Founda-state and national tion to develop academic standards web-based genet-indicate students ics curricula for should comprehend students starting in genetic-related fi ft h grade. concepts as early as “A lot of genet-elementary school. ics happens at the Williams EFFICIENCY IN PHOTOSYNTHESIS In a head-to-head battle of harvesting the sun’s energy, solar cells beat plants, according to a new paper in Sci-ence . But scientists think they can even up the playing fi eld, says MSU researcher David Kramer. Plants are less effi cient at capturing the energy in sunlight than solar cells mostly because they have too much evolutionary baggage. “Th is is critical since it’s the process that powers all of life in our ecosystem,” says Kramer, a Hannah Distinguished Professor of photosynthesis and bioenerget-ics. “Th e effi ciency of photosyn-thesis, and our ability to improve it, is critical to whether the entire biofuels industry is viable.” Th e comparison is useful because it’s leading the explora-tion of why plants are so ineffi cient and what can be done to improve their effi ciency. Genetic engineering and the more aggressive techniques of synthetic biology—the marriage of biology and engineering to design and construct systems and metabolic pathways not found in nature—could speed things up considerably. Kramer, who works in the MSU-Dept. of Energy Plant Research Laboratory, was part of a team of researchers led by Wash-ington University in St. Louis. MSU Alumni Magazine | 7

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