From Minnesota Alumni Magazine Fall 2017

A “significant and meaningful relationship” exists between a community’s rate of military sacrifice and its support for President Donald Trump, according to a recent study by U law professor Francis Shen.

After analyzing election data at the county and state levels, Shen and Boston University political scientist Douglas Kriner found that support for Trump was significantly higher in parts of the country that suffered disproportionately high casualty rates in Iraq and Afghanistan. Those same regions also tended to have populations that were less educated and lower income. “If just three states—Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan—had experienced moderately lower casualty rates, each might have switched from red to blue and sent Hillary Clinton to the White House,” the authors wrote.

In addition to helping construct an understanding of the past, the study’s findings may also be an indicator of what is to come. “Trump’s electoral fate in 2020 may well rest on the administration’s approach to the human costs of war,” Shen says. “Politicians from both parties would do well to more directly recognize and address the needs of those communities whose young women and men are making the ultimate sacrifice for the country.”

The Social Science Research Network published the study in June.

What people believe about free will helps determine their attitudes toward unethical behavior, crime, and punishment, according to a study coauthored by Kathleen Vohs of the Carlson School of Management.

Researchers used data from the World Values Survey to analyze more than 65,000 residents in 46 countries. They found that the way a country is governed makes a difference in how people’s beliefs about free will apply to their views of unethical behavior.

For example, in countries with transparent governments and low levels of corruption, people believed more strongly that destiny is tied to choices and personal responsibility; they were less tolerant of unethical behavior. They also had a greater desire to see criminals punished. In countries with weak governments or corrupt leaders, beliefs about free will were not predictive of people’s views on unethical behavior but they still predicted a desire for criminals to be punished. “Your country’s governance makes a difference in whether your beliefs about free will get applied to your views of unethical behavior,” Vohs explains.

The study was published in the June issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Studying cancer cells with an engineer’s perspective has provided new insight into how the cells move, potentially impacting current therapies aimed at preventing cancer’s spread.

David Odde (B.S. ’88), a U biomedical engineer and Masonic Cancer Center researcher, led the study, which found that cells are able to sense the stiffness of the environment they are in— bone is stiff, for example, while muscle has medium stiffness and fatty tissue is soft. Cells are a little like the storybook character Goldilocks: They don’t like their environment too hard or too soft—it needs to be just right or they won’t move, explains Odde. “If we can trick cancer cells into believing it is not a good environment for migration, we can prevent the cancer cells from spreading.”

Odde and his colleagues conducted five different experiments using environments with six varying degrees of stiffness for the study, which compared cells from human brain cancer to mobile, but normal, cells from embryonic chick brains. The cancer cells preferred medium stiffness and the scientists reasoned that this was because, like cars using a clutch, brain cancer cells generate traction force to grip and move along tissue.

The study was published in the May issue of Nature Communications.

Robots could one day possess a sense of touch, thanks to stretchable electronic fabric developed at the University of Minnesota.

The discovery could also be a major step forward in printing electronics on human skin that would be capable of monitoring health conditions or helping soldiers detect dangerous chemicals or explosives while out in the field.

The study’s lead author, Michael McAlpine of the U’s Department of Mechanical Engineering, is known for combining electronics and 3-D-printed nano materials to create a bionic ear in 2013. He and his team created the bionic skin using a one-of-akind 3-D printer they built in the lab. The multifunctional printer can print several layers to make the flexible sensory devices. McAlpine says the next step is to move toward semiconductor inks and printing on a real body.

The study was published in the May issue of Advanced Materials.


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