Posts filed under ‘Faculty research’

The Penn Stater Daily — Nov. 12, 2013

Best for vets: In case you missed it, Penn State earned a timely honor yesterday afternoon, when U.S. News & World Report announced its rankings of “Best Colleges for Veterans.” Penn State, which has more than 900 veterans at University Park alone, topped the list at No. 1. Learn more here.

News you can snooze: The average American gets fewer than six hours of sleep each night—and according to Alan Derickson, a Penn State professor of labor and employment relations and history, that’s not nearly enough. In a blog post in yesterday’s Harvard Business Review, Derickson explains how “manly wakefulness,” the idea that “real men”  forgo sleep to log more hours at work, is outdated—and dangerous. It’s also the subject of his new book, Dangerously Sleepy: Overworked Americans and the Cult of Manly Wakefulness.

Have dreidel, will travel: OK, it’s offical: there’s a Guinness World Record for everything. Apparently, the current record for number of dreidels spinning simulatenously is a whopping 734. But members of Penn State Hillel are hoping to hit 1,000 on Dec. 3, when they’re inviting anyone with a dreidel and a thirst for victory to come to Alumni Hall and get spinning. According to Onward State, the event is BYOD—though a few extra dreidels will be available. Check out the event page on Facebook for more info.

The scent of State (image from

The scent of State (image from

Making scents: The Wall Street Journal reports that fragrance company Masik has created a line of Collegiate Fragrances, a collection of colognes and perfumes designed to capture “a University’s essence.” The first few ingredients in Penn State’s fragrance sound pleasant enough—vanilla, lilac, blue cypress, and juniper berries—though some other “notes” are questionable: What exactly does “the elegance of Old Main” smell like? And is it really something you want to dab on your wrists every morning?

Mary Murphy, associate editor

November 12, 2013 at 12:57 pm Leave a comment

The Penn Stater Daily — Nov. 5, 2013

Photo by Christopher Weddle, CDT

Photo by Christopher Weddle, CDT

“Be Your Best”: Former Arizona congresswoman Gabby Giffords and her husband, retired U.S. Navy captain Mark Kelly, delivered an inspirational message last night at Penn State’s Eisenhower Auditorium. Kelly spoke about his career with NASA and lessons learned after tragedy. Giffords, who was the victim of that devastating shooting in Tucson in early 2011, didn’t appear until the end of the talk, when her words brought the crowd to its feet. “I’m still fighting to make the world a better place, and you can too,” Giffords said. “Be bold, be courageous, be your best.”

Journalism legend: Another big name is coming to campus: Bob Woodward, the famed journalist who reported the Watergate scandal, will speak on Feb. 27 at Eisenhower Auditorum. Woodward, who’s nabbed two Pulitzer Prizes and countless journalism awards, is currently the executive editor for The Washington Post. Do yourself a favor and prep for the event by watching All the President’s Men, which seems to be on TV all the time — yet never gets old.

More Morrell: In our July/August 2013 issue, we featured a profile of bestselling author David Morrell ’67g, ’70 PhD, just before the release of his latest thriller, Murder as a Fine Art. In the piece, he talked about how his personal life inspires his work. He goes into more detail in this Q&A with author Mark Rubinstein for The Huffington Post. “My books are very personal,” Morrell says. “Someone once said that if you read them in chronological order, you would have what amounts to an autobiography of my soul.”

Tomatill-old: Well, this is weird: A team of geologists, including Penn State geosciences prof Peter Wilf, discovered a fossilized tomatillo in Argentina. The 52.2 million year old tomatillo is a pretty big deal — it’s the oldest fruit from the tomato family ever found in South America, and it changes the way scientists view the tomato’s evolution. Read more here, and then celebrate with some salsa.

Mary Murphy, associate editor

November 5, 2013 at 11:48 am Leave a comment

Discovery-U: A Day to Think about Science

As challenges go, this isn’t a bad one to have. As Mike Zeman met with Penn State researchers in the sciences, technology, engineering, and math to help the prepare for the short talks they are giving Friday at Discovery-U, he had to impress upon them how important the time frame is—only 15 to 18 minutes.

That’s not easy for these researchers to hit. “They’re so passionate about what they do,” Zeman ’98, ’01g says. (You might remember Zeman from our Jan./Feb. 2013 issue — he was featured in the “Everyday People” section.)

That passion should be evident Friday at Discovery-U, a day-long event at the HUB Auditorium in which Penn State faculty and researchers—and two students—will explain and tell stories about their research. The event has TED Talk overtones—the lectures are 15 to 18 minutes long, and the researchers are being encouraged to abide by the “TED commandments,” among them “Thou shalt tell a story” and “Thou shalt not read thy speech.”

Says Zeman, who’s also the director of Science-U summer science camps: “The real bottom line is expressing why this stuff is important in the future. What are the greater, bigger picture questions that are still out there?”

The lineup—suggested by students—is terrific. It starts with Tom Mallouk, Evan Pugh professor of chemistry, talking about micro-robots and ends with Richard Alley, Evan Pugh professor of geology, who shared a Nobel Prize in science for his research on climate change, discussing “environmental science for people.”

Click here to view a PDF of the entire schedule.

This is the second such event; the first, suggested last year by the Graduate Women in Science organization, was targeted more toward “getting the Penn State name out there in a good way,” Zeman says. This year’s is also geared toward engaging students who might have an interest in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and math) and helping upperclassmen to consider research proposals. And still, Zeman says, getting the word out about Penn State faculty and research. The sponsors show the broad reach: Dow, the Eberly College of Science Alumni Council, and the Graduate Student Association.

They’re serious about reaching out broadly.

There are three sessions Friday in the HUB Auditorium—the first from 10:05 to 11:34, the second from 11:45 to 1:23, the third from 2 to 3:41 p.m. Each has five speakers. (Ideally, the organizers would like to have people stay for a full session, but they understand that classes and other commitments may interfere, so you’re welcome for any portion.) Plus, you can watch online at, although the website isn’t active yet. (They’re hoping some alumni tune in, as well.) And within several days of the event, they’ll post the lectures to YouTube, making them available to anyone.

They would like you to RSVP, if possible: click here to do so.

Lori Shontz, senior editor

November 4, 2013 at 3:17 pm Leave a comment

Consider the Stink Bug

Up close and personal: a brown marmorated stink bug.

Up close and personal: a brown marmorated stink bug.

Last winter, you probably had some unwelcome houseguests. No, not your in-laws. Stink bugs.

Maybe it was your basement, garage, or a dark corner of the living room. But chances are, stink bugs made their way into your house sometime during mid-September to October, and cozied up (in a dormant state, called diapause) until spring, when they headed back into the wild with nary a thank you for your hospitality.

Now, as the smelly critters are finding homes for the winter, we figured it was a good time to check in with Greg Krawczyk, an entomologist at the Penn State Fruit Research and Extension Center, to learn more about the plight of the humble stink bug.

First thing’s first: What’s with the stink?

Brown marmorated stink bugs, the ones we commonly see, release a smelly substance when they are disturbed or feel threatened. Most people will smell it, and a very small portion of population can actually develop a rash if they come into contact with it. But for most people, it doesn’t create problems. If you don’t disturb stink bugs, they won’t release a smell. Obviously if you smash them, they smell. But it’s not a persistent odor.

Why are people talking about stink bugs now?

This is the time of year they come into houses. In the spring and summer, farmers are dealing with them; they are feeding on crops and doing damage. But then in mid-September, the change in the daylight triggers an overwintering mechanism, and stink bugs start looking for a safe place to survive winter. They love attics, basements, piles of old papers or clothes, dark spaces behind books on a shelf. When they are in houses, they are not there to feed or fly; they’re there to nap for the winter. They will wake up in the spring, when it’s warm enough, usually in April or May.

Now that it’s late October, have most stink bugs already secured their winter accommodations?

Yes. If people have seen few of them outside their houses in the past month or so, then chances are very good that there are diapausing stink bugs somewhere in their house right now. But if we don’t disturb those areas, we’ll see them again in the spring—those same exact insects.

They spend the winter with you? How creepy.

Why is that creepy? You don’t have to feed them, and they don’t multiply or spread disease. They just want to find a cozy place to nap for a few months. That’s how they survive.

Can you prevent them from getting cozy in your home?

Well, you have to realize that they’re not usually drawn to our living areas. There’s too much motion, and the lights go on and off. They like dark, undisturbed places, where most people won’t ever realize they are there.

So stink bugs probably won’t want to spend the winter under your bed or in your underwear drawer?

No, they’d be disturbed too easily. Not good environments for them.

Mary Murphy, associate editor

October 30, 2013 at 11:26 am 2 comments

The Penn Stater Daily — Oct. 29, 2013

Settlements reached: It was announced yesterday that Penn State will pay $59.7 million to settle lawsuits filed by 26 victims of Jerry Sandusky. The settlements will not be funded by student tuition or taxpayer funds, according to officials. (See this news release for more details on how the settlements will be paid.) Said President Rodney Erickson: “We hope this is another step forward in the healing process for those hurt by Mr. Sandusky, and another step forward for Penn State.”

An interesting comparison: On the heels of the announcement, Bloomberg Businessweek posted this piece, comparing Penn State’s settlements to the deals struck by the Catholic Church with four men abused by a former priest. The takeaway: Victims in both settlements received about $2.3 million each.

Get a room: On a lighter note, new research from SAS and Breffni Noone, a faculty member in the School of Hospitality Management, shows how bad online reviews can affect a hotel’s bottom line. According to the study, “consumers simply will not choose a hotel with negative reviews.” Which means I’m not the only one who won’t book a room until I’ve skimmed at least 50 reviews for the word “bedbug.”


Muppets! The next Muppets movie isn’t due in theaters until March 2014, but this fun new poster, featuring Ty Burrell ’97g, was released yesterday. According to, Burrell plays Jean Pierre Napoleon, who—judging by this pic and that creepy mustache—appears to be a bad guy.

Mary Murphy, associate editor

October 29, 2013 at 11:55 am Leave a comment

Research Unplugged: Movie Music 101

Watch the opening scene of The Shining and try not feel a little uneasy.

Seriously, it’s impossible. The windy roads, the yellow Beetle inching farther and farther from civilization, unknowingly headed toward Heeeere’s Johnny!, those creepy twins, and impending doom.

Now imagine the same scene set to John Denver’s “Country Roads” (or see it for real by turning off the sound on the above clip while playing this one in a separate window). The windy roads become tranquil and welcoming; it could be the opening to a nature documentary or a coming-of-age tale set in a peaceful country cabin.

The impact of music in film was the topic of Thursday’s Research Unplugged, a series of talks open to the public and held each Thursday this fall in the Schlow Memorial Library. This week, the presenter was Penn State musicology professor and music historian Charles Youmans, who used video clips—from the earliest “talkies” to more modern flicks—to demonstrate just how crucial music is to the way movies are perceived. “Composers are aware of how music pushes our buttons,” he says. Here’s a breakdown of some of his most powerful examples:

Frankenstein, 1931: Incorporating music into early film “troubled filmmakers,” explained Youmans. “They thought viewers would wonder, ‘Where’s that music coming from?’” There’s no music in Frankenstein; we watched a scene where the monster comes upon a little girl in the woods, and without musical cues to set the tone, it’s hard to tell if he’s planning to harm or befriend her. (Spoiler alert: Frankenstein makes nice at first, then tosses her into a pond.) Almost subconsciously, says Youmans, we rely on music to “tell us how to feel.”

King Kong, 1933: Director Merion C. Cooper was convinced music was necessary in film, and King Kong was the first movie with a full-length score. We watched the scene when the ship first closes in on Kong’s island, and the foreboding music makes it very clear that something bad is about to happen.

The Searchers, 1956: Youmans used clips from this classic western to explain leitmotifs, when certain chords or rhythms represent characters or themes. Because it’s unclear whether John Wayne’s character is a hero or a villian, his leitmotif is in the mysterious-sounding key of D flat major, and it plays every time he enters a scene. Youmans says you’ll notice more subtle leitmotifs in Star Wars and the Harry Potter movies.

There Will Be Blood, 2007: With today’s technology, explained Youmans, sound effects are becoming just as important as a film’s score. There’s a really cool scene in There Will Be Blood when the metallic creak of an oil rig blends perfectly with the orchestral score. And because the movie is about a man’s singular focus on oil, a cluster of tones “coalesces into a single note” during the opening credits, he says, representing obsession.

Interesting stuff, huh? Youmans’ talk made me want to re-watch all my favorite movies and pay closer attention to the music — and how it manipulates my emotions.

This fall’s Research Unplugged series is only half over. Check out the schedule of upcoming talks here.

Mary Murphy, associate editor

October 25, 2013 at 3:38 pm Leave a comment

The Penn Stater Daily — Oct. 14, 2013

The Daily Collegian's front page from Monday, Oct. 14.

The Daily Collegian’s front page from Monday, Oct. 14.

Yeah, I spent part of my Sunday night rewatching the four-overtime victory over Michigan. You could argue that it was my first time really seeing what happened—I was standing at the back of the opposite end zone when Bill Belton scored the winning touchdown, so I didn’t have the best view. And given how tall the lettermen standing around me were, even though I was on the same side of the field as Allen Robinson’s catch, I didn’t have a great view of that, either.

Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to relive that game:

“Epic:” That’s the adjective Belton used when he tweeted this video of his touchdown run, filmed by Tim Owen ’11 of Blue White Illustrated, who was standing in exactly the right place. The post-touchdown celebration footage is entertaining, too.

Over and over: Can’t get enough of Allen Robinson’s catch? Or Belton’s run? That’s why someone invented GIFs. Click here to watch Robinson, and you’ll see why his catch was the No. 1 play on SportsCenter on Saturday night. And click here to watch Belton from a cool, overhead angle.

Unbridled emotions: Tony Mancuso of GoPSUSports gets to hang out in the locker room for exclusive interviews, and this footage from Saturday night is some of his best work yet. Calm, cool, and collected offensive lineman John Urschel is practically giddy. It’s hard to tell who’s smiling more widely, Christian Hackenberg or Allen Robinson. And then there’s Bill O’Brien’s postgame speech: “You never quit. Don’t ever forget that the rest of your lives.”

“I don’t think I’ve ever been more excited to hug a large, sweaty man:” That’s Onward State’s Kevin Horne, recounting his evening in the student section. Lots of fun observations in this piece.

Joe Hermitt tweeted this photo with this intro: You think the win over Michigan meant a lot to #PennState coach Bill O'Brien? I'd say so.

Joe Hermitt tweeted this photo with this intro: You think the win over Michigan meant a lot to #PennState coach Bill O’Brien? I’d say so.

How loud is a Whiteout? Patriot-News photographer Joe Hermitt pulled out his Decibel 10 app to see exactly how loud it was Saturday on the field. Among his comparisons: a chainsaw, a pneumatic drill, being 300 yards away from a jet engine. Check out his video here. And of course his photo above.

Best Beaver Stadium game ever? Mike Poorman ’82 of State (and the College of Communications) thinks it was. But he consulted with a couple of experts—Fran Fisher and Lou Prato ’59, and they’re holding out for the 1982 Nebraska game. What do you think? Check out Poorman’s list of the 10 top Beaver Stadium games and let us know your vote in the comments.

If you still didn’t get enough: The game will be rebroadcast at 8 p.m. Eastern time tonight; it’s ESPNU’s College Football Game of the Week. Of course.

Lori Shontz, senior editor

P.S. A lot of other stuff happened over the weekend. The Pegula Ice Arena was christened, and the first game there was a resounding success (more coming later from our Tina Hay, who was there with her camera). THON revealed its 2014 theme: Redefine the Possibilities. And Science World Report published a story that will be of particular interest if your weekend was anything like mine: Penn State researchers looking into whether you can “make up” for lost sleep.

October 14, 2013 at 2:03 pm 1 comment

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