Story Time with a Side of Science
Every semester, the School of Science offers several interactive outreach programs for preschoolers called Science Story Time. Caregivers bring their 4- and 5-year-olds to Behrend for a one-hour session that includes a storybook reading by Tracy Halmi, associate teaching professor of chemistry, and science-related hands-on experimenting fun with the help of student volunteers. The series is a hit with the community; classes fill quickly after registration opens. For more information or to learn about upcoming story times, visit behrend.psu.edu/storytime.
Students spend spring break in the Bahamas
To truly understand an ecosystem, it helps to immerse yourself in it. That’s why students in Coastal Biology BIOL 482 spent their spring break in San Salvador Island in the Bahamas, where they learned about tropical wildlife first-hand. The course blends classroom learning with a week-long field research experience. Past classes have traveled to Costa Rica. This year, students and three faculty members traveled to San Salvador and stayed at the University of the Bahamas’ Gerace Research Centre, which offered access to state-of-the-art facilities. “The research island of San Salvador enabled Behrend students to focus on the marine environments of a desert isle,” said Dr. Mike Naber, associate teaching professor of geosciences. “From snails and surf to sharks and squid, it’s a marine biology paradise.”
A Fruitful Partnership
The Lake Erie Concord Grape Belt, which stretches from Erie County, Pennsylvania, to Chautauqua County, New York, has an estimated economic impact of about $340 million a year, according to The Concord Grape Belt Heritage Association. So, if an invasive insect or leaf fungus appears in a vineyard, it could be economically catastrophic.
That’s why Penn State researchers have been helping growers for more than sixty-five years through the University’s College of Agricultural Sciences’ Lake Erie Regional Grape Research and Extension Center (LERGREC), a 40-acre research facility located in North East, Pennsylvania.
LERGREC brings together College of Agricultural Sciences and Behrend School of Science faculty members and students to collaborate. In 2017, Dr. Mike Campbell, professor of biology at Behrend, was appointed director of the LERGREC. He has since been dividing his time between the center and his teaching and research work at Behrend. This summer, LERGREC welcomed Dr. Flor Acevedo, assistant professor of entomology, from the College of Agricultural Sciences. Acevedo will lead entomology research at LERGREC and, like Campbell, she will also teach classes and maintain a research lab at Behrend.
Campbell, Acevedo, and Bryan Hed, plant pathologist at LERGREC, work on ten to twenty research projects each year, most of which test vineyard disease and insect control. They are assisted by Behrend science students who gain valuable hands-on research experience.
The Art of Science
Science and the arts might seem to be very different disciplines, but the scientific method and the creative process have a lot in common; inquiry is at the heart of each. “People sometimes think science is about memorizing facts, but it’s really about making discoveries and wringing answers out of nature,” said Dr. Pam Silver, associate dean for academic affairs and distinguished professor of biology. “When you have a scientific question, it takes a lot of creativity to find the answer to it.” Scientists are, by nature, creative individuals, and the School of Science recently added two works of art that illustrate that.
Ties that bind
A colorful quilt, titled “A Way of Knowing,” was created by Silver and hangs in Hammermill Hall. Each color in the quilt represents a scientific discipline taught at Behrend—biology, chemistry, environmental science, nursing, physics, mathematics, and mathematics education. A spiral in the quilt represents the net movement of scientific discovery from observation to hypothesis to testing to understanding.
Fractal in flight
High overhead at the entrance to Roche Hall is another work of art—a stage-5 Sierpinski tetrahedron that models a fractal with infinite triangles—created by student members of the School of Science Math Club under the direction of club president Thomas Galvin and Dr. Joe Previte, associate professor of mathematics. “A fractal is a self-similar structure with recurring patterns at progressively smaller scales,” Previte said. “Fractals are useful in modeling natural structures such as plants, coastlines, or snowflakes.” Some natural objects appear to be completely random in shape, but there is an underlying pattern that determines how these shapes are formed and what they will look like, according to Previte. Mathematics can help us to better understand the shapes of natural objects, which has applications in medicine, biology, geology, and meteorology. Students built the fractal using Zometool construction parts. It consists of 2,050 white balls and 6,144 red and blue struts. Learn more about fractals at mathigon.org/world/fractals.
Student's research helps jump-start career
Kerry Stith, a senior Biology major, hopes one day to work in animal behavior research, and he is already making a name for himself in the field. His research work at Penn State Behrend recently helped him win a travel award to participate in the Charles Turner Program at the Annual Meeting of the Animal Behavior Society, which was held in Chicago this summer. Stith was one of just twelve undergraduates nationwide to be selected.
At Behrend, Stith has been working with Dr. Sam Nutile and Dr. Lynne Beaty, assistant professors of biology, on a study comparing different salamander populations on Behrend’s campus.
“We know that there are physical and genetic differences between the salamander populations on campus because of earlier research work done at Behrend,” Stith said. “Since genetics can influence behavior, we felt it worth examining if there are behavioral differences as well. If there are behavioral differences that affect how these salamanders respond to predators, it can have implications for their survival.”
Salamanders are a challenging subject to study as they are nocturnal and spend the majority of their time underground. That’s why Stith sampled them during their breeding season in the spring, when many of them emerge at once.
While the group is still analyzing data collected, Stith said he has already learned plenty from the process.
The school welcomed new faculty members Dr. Flor Acevedo, assistant professor of entomology; Dr. Mohamed Abdelmoula, assistant teaching professor of physics; Dr. Pye Aung, assistant teaching professor of mathematics; Dr. Aaron Bardall, assistant teaching professor of mathematics; and Ashley Daughenbaugh, lecturer in nursing.
Jodie Styers, assistant teaching professor of mathematics education, was awarded the college’s Guy W. Wilson Award for Excellence in Academic Advising.
Dr. Jay Amicangelo to professor of chemistry; Andy George to assistant teaching professor of mathematics; Lisa Mangel to assistant teaching professor of biology; Jodie Styers to associate teaching professor of secondary mathematics education, and Jen Ulrich to assistant teaching professor of mathematics.
Support from donors helps our students succeed. Scholarship recipients featured in this publication are: Noel Moore - Merwin Family Scholarship, Pearl Patterson - PNC Leadership Scholarship.