Here's your roundup for the past few weeks of research-related happenings at the University of Minnesota, compiled by the Minnesota Daily science and technology reporter.


U study evaluates water as a commodity

Journal: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

Published: Nov. 6

Lead Author: Bonnie Keeler, Institute on the Environment PhD

CollaboratorsStephen Polasky, ecological and environmental economics professor; Kate Brauman, Institute on the Environment researcher; Kris Johnson, researcher at The Nature ConservancyJacques Finlay, ecology evolution and behavior professor; Ann O’Neill, natural resources science and management graduate student; Kent Kovacs, agricultural economics and agribusiness professor; Brent Dalzell, department of soil, water and climate research associate

Research assessing the value of water as a commodity was published in PNAS this month that could help lawmakers make better policy decisions, according to a University press release

The study, led by Keeler from The Institute on the Environment, stemmed from "repeated requests" for water quality assessments. It developed an interactive path to follow based on the water quality issues of an area. Based on that assessment, they also designed a five-step action plan for lawmakers to follow in order to make more informed policy decisions.

“We realized that there was a huge gap between the demand for economic values of water quality and our ability to provide tools to estimate those values,” Keeler said. “…We provide a framework that describes the numerous pathways in which changes in water quality affect our health, recreation and livelihoods and the economic value of those changes.”

The full text of the paper is available online.


U research first to track grade repetition by state

Journal: Educational Researcher

Published: November 2012

Authors: John Robert Warren, sociology professor and Jim Saliba, sociology graduate student

On average across the U.S., one student in every first-grade classroom is held back, according to a University study published in Educational Researcher this month.

The study's use of the U.S. Department of Education’s Common Core of Data was the first of its kind, according to a University press release. Warren and Saliba reported retention rates in all 50 states from fall 2002 to spring 2009.

"There's never been a way to compare states one to another with respect to how often kids are repeating grades," Warren told MPR News

Minnesota had a first-grade retention rate -- the grade when most students are held back -- of less than one percent, which is one of the lowest in the country.

“The fact that so many students are retained - at some expense to their school districts and to the students themselves - should motivate additional research on this topic," Warren said in the press release. 

The full text of the paper is available online.


$527,000 NSF grant for social network improvement

Announced: Nov. 12

Timeframe: Three years

Principal Investigators: Susan Walker, family social science professor and Loren Terveen, computer science professor

         Collaborative research at the University received just over $527,000 from the National Science Foundation to study how social science can inform computer algorithms to develop better social networks, according to a University press release.

Their study will try to design better social networks for people interested in bicycling and in parenting as pilot examples, according to the NSF abstract. Walker and Terveen argue that social networks like Wikipedia and PatientsLikeMe aggregate the same types of people so well that they polarize opinions and leave expert advice scant.

The two have chosen bicycling because a tighter social network will help encourage people to bike more, improving their health and benefiting the environment. They chose to create a better social network for parenting because studies show that parents with bigger, better networks are better parents.