Posts filed under ‘Faculty research’

Listening to the “Greatest Generation”

I caught this a few days late, but I thought this op-ed by Penn State College of Comm instructor Boaz Dvir was very much worth sharing. His piece, published last week in the Las Vegas Sun on the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, highlights the lessons he learned from veterans while working on the PBS documentary A Wing and a Prayer. The full, hour-long documentary is available on YouTube, and you can check out a short trailer for the film below:

Dvir notes that every WWII anniversary now serves as “a reminder that that our days of gleaning wisdom directly from the Greatest Generation are numbered.” It’s a harsh truth that I know many of us can appreciate: My grandfather, who served as an Army Air Force ball turret gunner in B-17s over Germany, turns 90 this year. I try to treasure the chances I’ve had to talk to him about the war, and about life, and I’m glad for any reminder to do so.

Ryan Jones, senior editor


September 9, 2015 at 6:42 pm Leave a comment

“New” Bees Are all the Buzz

Photo via

Photo via

Maryann Frazier has done research on the declining honeybee population in America for years—we actually wrote about her work in our May/June 2007 issue. Frazier ’80, ’83g, a senior extension associate in the College of Ag, is still trying to figure out why these tiny-but-vital members of our ecosystem are dying off. It’s been a difficult process, but recently, members of her research team have stumbled across something hopeful: bees that could be more productive pollinators than honeybees.

According to NPR, Dave Biddinger ’93g is studying Japanese orchard bees, a type of “osmia” bee, and he claims that one of these “all-star bees” can do the work of “roughly 80 honeybees.”

“The honeybee is a little bit lazy,” Biddinger says. “It will only maybe visit one or two flowers per minute. An osmia will do up to 15 flowers per minute … We’ve seen with osmia that they can carry up to 100 times more pollen than what a honeybee can.”

These aren’t the only bees making an impact on Penn State researchers: Grad student Carley Miller is giddy over squash bees she’s observed, calling them “Wall Street bees” because of how quickly they fly around from one place to the next. There’s still a long way to go before either of these little workers can replace honeybees, but they’ve got these Penn State scientists feeling optimistic.

Bill DiFilippo, online editor

August 13, 2015 at 12:33 pm 2 comments

A Beginner’s Guide to World War I


The so-called “Great War” is in the spotlight this year, as the world marks the centennial of the start of World War I. For the cover story of our July-August 2014 issue, I talked to Penn State historian Sophie De Schaepdrijver, who has spent much of her career studying the war—its origins, its effects on civilian life, and the changing attitudes people have about its role in history. (That’s the opening spread of our July-August story, above.)

I also asked De Schaeprijver what resources she’d recommend for someone interested in learning more about World War I. We shared five of her suggestions in the magazine; below is a longer, more detailed list.

1. Rites of Spring, a book by Modris Eksteins.“It’s such a great cultural history of the war and what kind of thinking made the war possible. What made people think it was worthwhile? What made them stick it out in the face of so much loss? Those guys on the front came from all walks of life—chicken farmers and teachers, conservatives and socialists, Catholics and Jews—and what is absolutely baffling is how little there was in terms of protest. There’s a saying that behind every soldier is someone holding a gun to his head, but you can’t really say that here—there’s a lot of self-mobilization, people convincing themselves that they should be there.

“Eksteins teases it out, unravels the different strands. It’s a pretty complex book, but accessible and extremely well written. It is the book that sparked my interest in World War I as a societal event, and I return to it quite often.”

2. A Son at the Front, a novel by Edith Wharton. “Probably her least well-known book. It’s written from the perspective of divorced parents whose son is in the war. What I like is that it was pretty much rejected and not seen as an important book, written by a woman, and yet it shows this dual point of view: The parents share this anguish over their son at the front, but they don’t reject the war—they feel it is worth fighting.”

3. Absolute Destruction: Military Culture and the Practices of War in Imperial Germany, a book by Isabel Hull. “This one is pretty academic [Hull is on the faculty at Cornell University], but I like it a lot. It talks about the German military as an organization that develops a culture of its own, and why that tells us a great deal about the violence of the first World War. It allows you to grasp why the violence could get out of hand like this without having to resort to explanations like racism, or describing World War I as merely a prologue to World War II. It’s a ‘think book.’ It brings in the notion of the army as its own organization that’s going to develop its own logic—a nice bit of organizational culture, which is interesting well beyond military history.”

The ruins of Ypres, Belgium, after the war. Image courtesy Great War Primary Document Archive:

The ruins of Ypres, Belgium, after the war. Image courtesy Great War Primary Document Archive:

4. The Regeneration Trilogy, three novels by Pat Parker. “This is fantastic, a contemporary trilogy; one of the three books won the Booker Prize in 1995. The trilogy is about British soldiers, and you see them not at the front but at the home front, being patched up and treated for posttraumatic stress. The author offers a very intelligent reflection on the damage the war does, and she goes into the soldiers’ heads to understand why they want to return to the front. She wrote war books after this, but none as good as this; these are masterpieces.”

5.  World War I Museum, Kansas City. “It’s a great collection, extremely intelligently exhibited. They revamped it a short while ago, and they have a great crew there; it’s just a great educational experience. The building is tremendous; it’s from the 1920s—it was built to be a World War I museum from the start, and the architecture is overwhelming. There’s a lavish circular room on the top floor that houses a panoramic French painting made at the end of World War I, called Panthéon de la Guerre. They made this room just for it. So visiting the museum is an aesthetic as well as educational experience.”

6. War Requiem, an oratorio by Benjamin Britten. “I think it’s brilliant. It was actually composed after World War II, but the text refers to both world wars. It includes the Latin ‘Mass for the Dead’ and poems by Wilfred Owen, who died at the end of World War I and who is for many people—including myself—the greatest poet to come out of that war. There are moments where it’s very jarring, and then there are the soothing notes of the Latin mass. It’s a masterpiece, and I would love to see many performances of it in this centennial year.”

7. A visit to Ypres, Belgium. “Its Flanders Field Museum is in a medieval building that was bombed to complete rubble in the war—as was all of Ypres [pronounced ‘EE-per’]—and rebuilt after the war. Typically after the second world war, things were rebuilt in a boxy modern way, but after World War I, people said, ‘We’re not going to use this as an opportunity to modernize; we are going to recapture what we had. We had gables and canals and cul-de-sacs before, and we’re going to have them again.’ So it’s really quite gorgeous. A stone’s throw away is the Menin Gate, where, every single evening at 8, they stop traffic and buglers sound the ‘Last Post.’ And around the city are major British cemeteries that you can visit on a bicycle or bus tour.”

8. Historial de Grande Guerre, a museum in Péronne, France. “In many ways it’s a completely different experience from the Flanders Field Museum. Péronne is a tiny town, much less lavish than Ypres, and all around it you have the battlefields of the Somme. The museum is a modern one, and it’s my favorite museum. It’s moving, it’s intelligent, and for me it is the exemplary war museum.

“It makes a couple of extremely intelligent choices—for example, the uniforms are not upright on mannequins; they’re down on the floor, spread out, and you walk around them. It shows a kind of helplessness without imposing it upon you. It doesn’t tug at the emotions; it basically asks you to take a step back and contemplate and decide for yourself what you feel. It’s a form of respect—for those who died, for those who grieved for them, and for that generation—that is very admirable.

“There’s a mystery to World War I—what made these people go on—and the more we learn, the more we know we’ll never get to the bottom of it; we can only show bits and pieces. The museum conveys that very well.”

Tina Hay, editor

July 1, 2014 at 10:47 am 3 comments

The Penn Stater Daily — March 25, 2014


Hooray for Hollywood: In the March/April issue of the magazine, we told you about Lights. Camera. Cure., a THON-inspired dance marathon held in Hollywood and spearheaded by a group of Penn State alums. This year’s event was Sunday, and today’s Collegian reports that LCC raised a whopping $80,820.59 for the Four Diamonds Fund and the Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles. Check out LCC’s Facebook page to see the celebs who stopped by.

Party starters: You might remember our feature on political science prof Pete Hatemi from last fall. Hatemi’s research explores the surprising links between genetics and political views. He’ll be discussing his findings at the Schlow Library in State College on Thursday, as part of the Research Unplugged series. Admission is free, as are the fantastic Irving’s bagels.

State of SPD: More good news on the decline of dangerous drinking holiday State Patty’s Day — and proof that some campus and downtown initiatives are making a difference. A graph posted over at Onward State shows that both crime and alcohol-related hospital visits hit all-time lows this year—and the community service event, State Day of Service, is more popular than ever.

Mary Murphy, associate editor

March 25, 2014 at 2:33 pm Leave a comment

The Football Coach Doesn’t Need Much Sleep. Here’s Why.

James Franklin, on the job at 5:07 a.m.

James Franklin, on the job at 5:07 a.m.

For most people, it seems, the takeaway from James Franklin’s introductory news conference on Saturday was his cute daughters, his enthusiasm for college football, and/or his pledge to “dominate the state” in recruiting. But this is what stood out to me:

Someone asked Franklin about what his message to Penn State players would be, and that caused Franklin to launch into a tale about how hard he’ll be working—and when. He said, “We’ve got a lot of work to do in a very, very short period of time, and it’s time sensitive because of the recruiting process as well. Basically when we leave here probably until 2 in the morning, and we’ll be back up at 3 or 4 in the morning getting going again. Luckily, I’m fortunate I’m not a guy that needs a whole lot of sleep. My wife does. We always have those discussions. She’s amazed that I can get by on five hours sleep. That’s just kind of who I am.”

This caused me to listen closer because I had just put the finishing touches on a feature for our March/April issue—a Q&A with Alan Derickson, professor of labor and employment relations and history, about his new book: Dangerously Sleepy: Overworked Americans and the Cult of Manly Wakefulness. I love the title, and better than that, the topic is really interesting. Derickson traces hundreds of years of American history, looking to explain how sleep deprivation came to be seen as a virtue. Among the culprits: Thomas Edison, Ben Franklin, Charles Lindbergh … and football coaches.

Derickson focuses on steelworkers, Pulllman porters, and long-haul truckers to explain, in real terms, the problems of insufficient sleep. Stay tuned for the upcoming Q&A. In the meantime, you can check out this Harvard Business Review piece to get a sense of Derickson’s research.

Lori Shontz, senior editor

January 14, 2014 at 6:24 pm 1 comment

The Penn Stater Daily — Jan. 14, 2014

@jasonncorneliuss, via Onward State

@jasonncorneliuss, via Onward State

Snap happy: Just days after James Franklin arrived in State College, the student body seems to have already embraced Penn State’s new head football coach — and the proof is in the selfies. When Franklin made an appearance at last night’s men’s hockey game, which including some mingling in the student section, the camera phones were out in full force. Franklin was more than happy to strike a pose. Onward State ranked the 10 best photos here.

Moving on: In more serious football news, long-time defensive line coach Larry Johnson has announced he won’t return to Penn State. ESPN reported Monday that Johnson declined a position on Coach James Franklin’s staff. “Getting promoted isn’t the issue to me,” Johnson told “At the end of the day, it’s giving Coach Franklin the chance to move forward.” reports that Johnson in in talks with Ohio State, where he’s expected to join Urban Meyer’s coaching staff.

To good health: Back in 2011, we covered some interesting research from IST faculty member Erika Poole. Then, Poole was studying the impact of new video gaming systems (like Wii Fit and Kinect) on the rising rate of childhood obesity. Today, Poole is still helping people make healthier choices. In this story from today’s Penn State News, Poole talks about the personal inspiration behind her latest research, which is focused on the new crop of health-related mobile apps and devices. She’s working with other experts to design technologies that “fit into consumers’ daily lives,” she says, to create sustainable, healthy changes.

Suit yourself: In case you haven’t heard, Jan. 14 is officially National Dress Up Your Pet Day. The Penn State Bookstore’s (@PSUBookstore) tweeted a photo earlier this morning, of this disgruntled (yet dapper!) feline. Dogs and cats of the world, please accept our sincerest apologies.

Mary Murphy, associate editor

January 14, 2014 at 1:15 pm Leave a comment

The Penn Stater Daily — Jan. 9, 2014

World’s Best: Some cool news for Penn State’s World Campus, whose programs were just ranked among the best in country by U.S. News & World Report. Penn State’s online bachelor’s program came in at No.3; the online graduate engineering program ranked No. 5; and the graduate computer information technology program made the No. 6 spot. Way to go, World!

Moving On: Eva Pell, former Penn State VP for research turned head of science research at the Smithsonian Institute, is stepping down. After four years as the Smithsonian’s undersecretary for science, Pell announced plans to retire in March. Her 35-year tenure at Penn State began as assistant professor of plant pathology in 1973.

Sleeping Beauty: We all know that skimping on sleep isn’t great for overall health. But thanks to this graphic from Huffington Post, the negative effects suddenly look even worse—literally. Among lots of other pro-sleep findings, the article cites a Penn State study linking insufficient sleep with out-of-whack hormone levels, which stimulate appetite and can lead to obesity. (P.S. look out for an interesting piece on sleep — and why Americans can’t seem to get enough of it — in our upcoming March/April issue.)

In Plane Sight: Still no official announcements regarding Penn State’s next football coach, though various outlets are reporting that Vanderbilt University’s James Franklin has been offered the job. Hoping to catch Franklin exiting a private plane returning from Destin, Fla. (where Franklin reportedly has a home), a handful of reporters braved the  bitter cold last night at the University Park airport — to no avail. Check out Onward State‘s coverage here.

Mary Murphy, associate editor

January 9, 2014 at 11:43 am Leave a comment

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