Posts tagged ‘Research Unplugged’

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 Penn Stater Daily — Oct. 31, 2013

On second thought: The buzz around here yesterday morning was the news that Friday would bring the naming of a new president. But by afternoon, the Board of Trustees meeting scheduled for Friday morning had been cancelled. According to a university announcement, the meeting was “delayed indefinitely to allow for further consideration on the matter.” An executive session will be held Friday, but it will not be open to the public. Read more of the Centre Daily Times’ coverage here, and, as always, stay tuned for more updates.

Ahead of the game: This bodes well for the Lady Lions’ upcoming season: Senior guard Maggie Lucas was selected as the Big Ten Preseason Player of the Year, and Penn State was picked to finish second in the conference. The season kicks off on Friday, Nov. 8, when the Lady Lions take on St. Francis at home

Up to bat: Last week, I told you about the cool Research Unplugged talk I attended, all about movie music. Today’s RU event is Halloween-themed—and sounds pretty interesting, too. The talk is called “The Secret Lives of Bats: Why Bats Matter and How We Can Help Them,” and Michael Gannon, a biology prof, and Doug Wentzel ’89, program director for the Shaver’s Creek Environmental Center, will talk about the disease endangering Pennsylvania’s bat population. Head over to the Schlow Library at 12:30 p.m. if you’re interested. (Pro tip: Get there early for free Irving’s bagels!)

creepychambersbuildingIt was a dark and stormy day: Mother Nature sure is feeling festive this Halloween. The weather in State College could not be more Halloween-appropriate. It’s dark, dreary, windy, stormy, and [insert any adjective commonly used in ghost stories here]. I have a feeling Instagram and Twitter will be exploding with spooky pics of campus all day today. Check out this pic from outside the Chambers Building, tweeted by the College of Education earlier this morning. Yikes.

Mary Murphy, associate editor

October 31, 2013 at 10:58 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

In Good Taste

Nadia Byrnes, graduate student in nutrition and food science. Photo by Patrick Mansell.

During grad school, I had a gig as a restaurant reviewer for a local paper. While I loved every second of it (hello, free food), I sometimes felt a bit like a fraud. Why should my personal taste be the standard bearer? I happen to like slightly overcooked pasta, and I think anything hotter than mild salsa should come with a warning label. So who am I to judge?

Our food preferences, and the science behind them, was the subject of a Research Unplugged talk I attended Thursday afternoon. The series of discussions is sponsored by the Office of the Vice President for Research and the Office of University Relations and Schlow Centre Region Library. Yesterday’s presentation featured the research of Nadia Byrnes, a Penn State graduate student in nutrition and food science. Her faculty advisor, food science professor John Hayes, joined her.

In the hour-long talk, I learned a lot that would have helped me back in my food-writing days. Some highlights:

—It’s a myth that parts of your tongue detect different tastes. Recent research shows that you can sense all tastes on your entire tongue.

—MSG, or monosodium glutamate, isn’t bad for you at all. It’s a naturally occurring amino acid that adds an earthy, savory flavor to foods. There’s no medical evidence that people can be hypersensitive to MSG, or that it causes headaches.

—Ever heard that taste is 80 percent smell? Smell does play a huge role in how we taste food, but most people don’t realize that touch is an important third component. The thermal sensations we get from things like mint or black pepper, or the distinct burn from alcohol, affect the way we perceive a food’s taste.

—A person’s sense of taste is hugely affected by his or her—ready for this one?— saliva flow. “High-flow” individuals tend to favor drier wines, for example, because the extra saliva’s lubrication offers more protection from that astringent mouthfeel.

One of the coolest revelations was the result of Nadia’s research on personality and food preferences. As part of her study, Nadia quizzed test subjects about their habits and personalities, then asked the participants to rate their enjoyment of increasingly spicy dishes. People who are more “sensation seeking”— they enjoy things like loud music and performing in front of crowds—favor spicy food far more than their calmer, more introverted counterparts. Novelty seekers, people who like to try new things, are especially fond of the hot stuff.

One of the personality quiz questions, explained Professor Hayes, turned out to be an incredibly accurate predictor of a person’s taste for spice: Subjects who said they “loved to drive fast on twisty roads” got the most enjoyment from fiery foods. Go figure.

Research Unplugged continues every Thursday until Nov. 15 at the Schlow Centre Region Library and is open to the public. Check out the schedule of upcoming talks here.

Mary Murphy, associate editor

October 26, 2012 at 2:01 pm Leave a comment

Beth Shapiro: Why Megafauna Went Extinct

Let’s get this out of the way first. Woolly mammoths are not going to roam the earth again, said Beth Shapiro, Penn State assistant biology professor and recipient of a 2009 MacArthur Fellowship, despite the fact that researchers have isolated the DNA of the extinct animals.

That’s because even if we could recreate the animals, we couldn’t recreate their environment. Mammoths need the extremely cold temperatures and abundant grasslands of the steppe tundra, she said, “which doesn’t exist today.”

I can hear my husband now: “Bummer.”

But there are still plenty of fascinating ideas in Shapiro’s research into ancient DNA, which she discussed earlier this week in a talk at the always entertaining and informative Research Unplugged program.

Shapiro’s research is centered in Beringia, the land mass between Russia and Alaska. (Or, as she put it: “the part of the world Sarah Palin can see from her backyard.”) By studying the DNA extracted from the bones of herbivores such as musk ox, mammoth, horses, and bison, she is gaining insight into how evolution happens.

In a talk titled “Where Have All the Dodos Gone? The Role of Climate and Humans in Mass Extinctions,” she explained how it’s impossible to pin the blame for the extinction of megafauna on the Ice Age or on the appearance of humans.

The Last Glacial Maximum—the farthest extent of the ice sheets in the Ice Age—has been cited as the cause of some extinctions. But Shapiro said (more…)

April 22, 2011 at 3:15 pm 2 comments

The Marcellus Shale and Penn State

For some time now we’ve been watching the emergence of the Marcellus Shale as a major energy, economic, and environmental topic for Pennsylvania—and, indeed, the whole nation.

Back in March-April 2008 we ran a short Q&A with Terry Engelder ’68, the geosciences professor who (along with a colleague at SUNY Fredonia) is credited with discovering the enormous potential of the shale field for natural-gas production. But since then, we haven’t carried much in the magazine on the topic. We’ve probably been remiss in that regard, and lately we’ve been talking a lot about how best to tackle the subject in our pages. It’s a huge, complicated, and controversial topic, with big implications for (more…)

October 5, 2010 at 8:43 am Leave a comment

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