Headshots—of Birds


I’ve long been a fan of the bird-banding program offered by the Arboretum at Penn State. (I’ve written about it here, here, and here.) Under the direction of volunteer Nick Kerlin ’71, who has both a state and federal license to do this sort of thing, students put up “mist nets” to catch wild birds, then fit each bird with a tiny metal ID band. They record data on the bird’s weight, age, sex, etc., and then set it free.

Nick sends the data to the U.S. Geological Survey’s Bird Banding Laboratory in Patuxent, Md., where scientists can use the information to monitor the health and migration patterns of bird populations.

I like the research aspect of bird-banding, of course, but I also like how it offers Penn State wildlife science students—and anyone else who’s interested in stopping by—a chance to learn about birds in a very up-close way. It’s also a great chance to photograph the birds. This morning I took a macro lens along, to try some close-up portraits, and I thought I’d share a few of the images I got. Above is a female cardinal, and below is a more extreme close-up of the same image:


The group this morning also banded several white-throated sparrows, a handsome bird that, around here, shows up in the fall and stays until spring. Here’s one:


And here’s a tufted titmouse. Note the leg band he’s just acquired:


There are two more banding sessions remaining in the fall season; you can see more information about them here.

Tina Hay, editor

October 19, 2016 at 1:12 pm Leave a comment

It’s Virtually Like Being There

Seeing a picture or video of the football team running out into the field is one thing. Standing in the middle of it and dodging the players as they race over to the sideline is something else. That’s the idea behind LionVisionVR, a new virtual reality app being introduced by the athletic department.

“It’s bringing the viewer somewhere they just couldn’t go,” says assistant athletic director Jim Nachtman ’90, who previewed the tech on Thursday at Penn State’s Applied Research Lab. “We can remind people how cool it is to be back in Beaver Stadium, how phenomenal it is to be in Pegula Ice Arena, or how great it is to be in Rec Hall when the lights go out and there’s a wrestling match.

“I think fans, at times, get tired of hearing you say how great the event is. Let’s show them how great the event is. We’re hopeful this technology can help us do it.”


October 14, 2016 at 12:47 pm Leave a comment

What I Learned About Earthquakes on My Lunch Hour


Eliza Richardson

Today I went to a lunchtime lecture at Schlow Library downtown, to hear Penn State geoscientist Eliza Richardson talk about earthquakes. No special reason, really, except that we just finished the November/December issue of the magazine, so suddenly I have a little more time for such things. Lectures like these are a good way for us to scout possible stories for the magazine. And, besides, I know pretty much nothing about earthquakes.

In an hour’s time, I learned a lot. Here’s a sampling:

—Scientists would love to be able to predict earthquakes: when they’ll strike, where they’ll strike, and how big they’ll be. Richardson calls it the “holy grail” in her field.

—”The biggest earthquakes aren’t always the worst,” Richardson says. She showed three lists—the 10 biggest earthquakes in history, the 10 deadliest, and the 10 costliest—and pointed out that only two earthquakes appear on all three lists. (Those were the 2004 quake and tsunami near Sumatra and the 2011 quake and tsunami off the Japanese coast.)

—The so-called “World Series Earthquake” of 1989 in San Francisco was not quite as strong as the devastating 2010 earthquake in Haiti—the San Francisco quake was a magnitude 7.0, vs. 7.2 in Haiti—yet only 68 people died in San Francisco, vs. 159,000 in Haiti. “That’s all about infrastructure,” Richardson says: San Francisco has many buildings that are seismically retrofitted, while Haiti, an impoverished country, does not.

—Earthquakes happen along fault lines where two tectonic plates bump into each other, and “stress overcomes friction” along that fault line. “If the plate boundaries could all be lubricated with the scientific equivalent of WD-40, earthquakes would never happen,” Richardson says.

—Earthquakes happen far more often than people realize. Her title slide included a USGS-generated world map very similar to this one…

USGS world earthquake map

…which shows all earthquakes of magnitude 2.5 or greater just in the past 30 days.

You can click on the map to see it bigger. Obviously the fault lines along the West Coast of the Americas are pretty impressive, along with poor Italy, which is practically obliterated by all the dots.

—Speaking of Italy: Scientists often are hesitant (“cagey,” Richardson called it) about saying they’re working on earthquake prediction. She cited the 2009 L’Aquila earthquake in Italy as one reason: The city had been experiencing tremors for months, so a special meeting of seismologists was convened, and many people interpreted the scientists’ comments at that meeting as suggesting there was nothing to fear. A week later, a magnitude-6.3 quake hit the city, and more than 300 people died. Five scientists ended up standing trial for manslaughter—and were convicted. A higher court eventually overturned the convictions, but the events surely had a chilling effect on seismologists worldwide.

(You can read an interesting account of the L’Aquila quake and subsequent criminal trial at Smithsonianmag.com.)

—While seismologists can’t yet predict earthquakes, there’s been a lot of progress in the field in the past 10 years. Scientists are starting to pay more attention to silent earthquakes called “slow slip earthquakes,” which can be measured by GPS devices. These slow slips may turn out to be harbingers of a larger, far more damaging quake.

—There’s a fairly prominent fault line in the U.S. midwest, called the New Madrid (pronounced MAD rid) Fault, which in 1811 and 1812 spawned the largest earthquakes in U.S. history. If they happened today, says Richardson, they would level Memphis and several other cities. They reportedly shook the White House, hundreds of miles away, and caused church bells to ring in Boston.

(You can read more about the New Madrid earthquakes here.)

OK, there’s lots more, but I’ve probably babbled enough. Suffice it to say I think Richardson’s research is really interesting and would make for a great story in the magazine sometime.

The lecture was sponsored by Schlow Library as part of its Research Unplugged series; the fall schedule continues through Nov. 10.

Tina Hay, editor

October 13, 2016 at 4:10 pm Leave a comment

Ambassador Amaechi, Reporting for Duty


John Amaechi ’94 will add a new job to his already impressive resume: European Ambassador for the NBA. The new initiative will try to help expand the league’s youth development across the continent, and unsurprisingly, Amaechi was selected to be the ambassador to the United Kingdom.

Amaechi (seated, above, in glasses) will be involved with two of the NBA’s most notable programs: NBA Jr. and NBA Cares. The former is the league’s global youth participation program, while the latter is its global program that looks to address social issues.

In a press release, Amaechi said “I am delighted to work with the NBA to grow the game of basketball. The NBA is dedicated to creating engaging programs for young people, providing them with a deeper understanding of the game through fun, interactive experiences with the sport. I am honored to work alongside my fellow ambassadors in this exciting program.”

Bill DiFilippo, online editor


October 11, 2016 at 1:40 pm Leave a comment

Mark Parker’s Dream Sneakers Become a Reality

Photo via Nike

Photo via Nike

Nike CEO Mark Parker ’77 is featured in the cover story for this month’s edition of Wired. It looks at one of Nike’s most innovative shoes ever: the self-lacing HyperAdapt 1.0, which loosen and tighten by pressing a button and will come out later this year. This concept stems from Marty McFly’s iconic sneakers in Back to the Future II.

Wired tells the backstory of Parker and his role as one of the designers of the shoe, an idea sparked in 1988 after a meeting with the film’s director. The creation of a self-lacing sneaker for the movie led to nearly 30 years of work to turn it a real shoe, which will be released on November 28. In that time, Parker has risen from a Nike designer to the company’s president and CEO; in June, he was announced as the successor to Phil Knight as Nike board chair.

You can take a look at those shoes right here. This issue of Wired has another cool tie to Penn State, as the cover, pictured below, was photographed by Dan Saelinger ’01.

Bill DiFilippo, online editor

October 6, 2016 at 1:47 pm Leave a comment

A Rough Night for Kelly Ayotte

For Kelly Ayotte ’90, the home stretch seems to be an uphill climb.

Ayotte, the Republican U.S. Senator from New Hampshire featured in our Sept./Oct. issue, remains in a virtual dead heat with Gov. Maggie Hassan as she attempts to hold on to her seat. The candidates faced off Monday night in a televised debate, and Ayotte appeared to fumble her response to a question about whether she thought Donald Trump should be seen as a role model to children. On a relatively quiet day in the national campaign, it quickly became an unwanted headline:

The reaction was swift and overwhelmingly harsh for Ayotte, who has attempted to balance her party loyalty with concerns over her party’s nominee, and continues to maintain a stance of supporting but not endorsing Trump. With Hillary Clinton polling ahead of Trump in New Hampshire, and Election Day just five weeks away, it remains to be seen if Ayotte’s debate gaffe is one she can overcome, or one that might cost her the election.

Ryan Jones, deputy editor

October 4, 2016 at 2:23 pm 1 comment

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