PSU Logo

Spotlight Stories in Research

TED, Penn State and a makerspace in Ghana
There is a scrapyard in Accra, Ghana, known as "Agbogbloshie," where e-waste goes to die — at least, that is the way it has been misrepresented and misunderstood by those on the outside.
NSF funds $3 million graduate training program focused on Food-Energy-Water
The National Science Foundation has awarded a $3 million grant to an interdisciplinary team of Penn State researchers to create a new graduate program that will train students to find solutions to real-world problems facing Food-Energy-Water (FEW) systems.
Coral bleaching increases disease risk in threatened species
Bleaching events caused by rising water temperatures could increase mortality among a coral species already threatened by disease, says new research by Mote Marine Laboratory and Penn State, published in eLife.
Study sheds new light on forests' response to atmospheric pollution
How forests respond to elevated nitrogen levels from atmospheric pollution is not always the same. While a forest is filtering nitrogen as expected, a higher percentage than previously seen is leaving the system again as the potent greenhouse gas nitrous oxide, say researchers.
Buried Treasure
The bay of Cartagena might be the last place you’d expect to find a coral reef. The skyscrapers and hotels of resort-heavy Bocagrande hug the nearby beach. Cruise ships and freighters ply the busy harbor. The vibrant, historic city itself is both Colombia’s leading tourist destination and one of its major ports.
'Nuru' becomes African farmers' newest ally against fall armyworm
Penn State researchers have joined forces with the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) to release the first app, called Nuru, to help African farmers recognize fall armyworm — a new and fast-spreading crop pest in sub-Saharan Africa — so that they can take immediate steps to destroy it and curb its spread.
Scientists find evidence of 27 new viruses in bees
An international team of researchers has discovered evidence of 27 previously unknown viruses in bees. The finding could help scientists design strategies to prevent the spread of viral pathogens among these important pollinators.
Penn State Extension, ag officials look to slow spread of spotted lanternfly
With spring and the accompanying emergence of insects upon us, grape growers, orchardists, nursery operators, homeowners and others in southeastern Pennsylvania are bracing for infestations of spotted lanternfly, an invasive pest from Asia that appeared for the first time in the United States in
Microengineered slippery rough surface for water harvesting from air
A slippery rough surface (SRS) inspired by both pitcher plants and rice leaves outperforms state-of-the-art liquid-repellent surfaces in water harvesting applications, according to a team of researchers at Penn State and the University of Texas at Dallas.
Spring is springing earlier in polar regions than across the rest of Earth
For every 10 degrees north from the equator you move, spring arrives about four days earlier than it did a decade ago, according to researchers from Penn State, U.C. Davis and the University of Minnesota Duluth.
Water showcase to connect researchers across University
A showcase and networking event for researchers focused on water will be held at 3 p.m. on Thursday, March 29, in 110 Henderson Building. The event will also be available through Zoom.
Wood fuels key to easing food insecurity situation in sub-Saharan Africa
Access to wood fuels for cooking must be considered when formulating policy to deal with food insecurity in sub-Saharan Africa, according to researchers who advocate expanding the effort to improve wood-fuel systems and make them more sustainable.
Root discovery may lead to crops that need less fertilizer
Bean plants that suppress secondary root growth in favor of boosting primary root growth forage greater soil volume to acquire phosphorus, according to Penn State researchers, who say their recent findings have implications for plant breeders and improving crop productivity in nutrient-poor soils
Century of data shows sea-level rise shifting tides in Delaware, Chesapeake bays
The warming climate is expected to affect coastal regions worldwide as glaciers and ice sheets melt, raising sea level globally.
Health, environment seed grant program available to Penn State researchers
 A collection of Penn State research institutes and the College of Medicine have announced seed grant funding for innovative and collaborative research projects in the area of health and the environment.
Some like it cold
As graduate student Kiya Riverman plants her crampons into solid ice, she inspects the surrounding walls. No cracks, so she knows she is safe here. She unhooks her carabiner from the rope used to rappel fifty feet down into the ice cave where she now stands, inside a glacier on the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard. She pulls out a scratch pad and pen and begins sketching the shape of the tunnels before her, tunnels carved by water melting at the glacier's surface and cutting its way down, forming deep canyons whose walls later closed in above them.
'Virtual farm' website provides a plethora of dairy sustainability information
Changing weather patterns pose significant challenges for modern dairy farmers — excessive hot or cold temperatures, drought and humidity can have a detrimental effect on cows' health, which ultimately can lead to decreased milk production.
Sea-level rise, not stronger storm surge, will cause future NYC flooding
Rising sea levels caused by a warming climate threaten greater future storm damage to New York City, but the paths of stronger future storms may shift offshore, changing the coastal risk for the city, according to a team of climate scientists.
Organic/inorganic sulfur may be key for safe rechargeable lithium batteries
We have come a long way from leaky sulfur-acid automobile batteries, but modern lithium batteries still have some down sides. Now a team of Penn State engineers have a different type of lithium sulfur battery that could be more efficient, less expensive and safer.
Potato waste processing may be the road to enhanced food waste conversion
With more than two dozen companies in Pennsylvania manufacturing potato chips, it is no wonder that researchers in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences have developed a novel approach to more efficiently convert potato waste into ethanol.
Penn State establishes international ties for sustainable building education
Representatives from Penn State at the Navy Yard recently traveled to Europe to meet with United Nations ambassadors, Irish government officials, and representatives from École Polytechnique Fédéraler De Lausanne (EPFL) to discuss sustainable building principles and related research and educational opportunities.
Allowable 'carbon budget' most likely overestimated
While most climate scientists, including the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, implicitly define "pre-industrial" to be in the late 1800's, a true non-industrially influenced baseline is probably further in the past, according to an international team of researchers who are concerned because it affects the available carbon budget for meeting the 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) warming limit agreed to in the Paris Conference of 2015.
Workshop provides practical science communications training for researchers
Penn State faculty members are often world-class experts in their research fields. However, clearly communicating that research and its importance to those who are less familiar with the subject matter can be challenging.
Newly described algae species toughens up corals to endure warming oceans
Global climate change has increased water temperatures in the world’s oceans, often causing mass coral bleaching and mortality, which harms not only corals, but also the vast ecosystems they support. Using innovative methods, researchers at Penn State University have identified a new species of stress-tolerant Symbiodinium, a genus of algae that occurs mutualistically with corals in a partnership that promotes the health and growth of coral reef ecosystems.
Genes, ozone, and autism
A new analysis shows that individuals with high levels of genetic variation and elevated exposure to ozone in the environment are at an even higher risk for developing autism than would be expected by adding the two risk factors together. The study is the first to look at the combined effects of genome-wide genetic change and environmental risk factors for autism, and the first to identify an interaction between genes and environment that leads to an emergent increase in risk that would not be found by studying these factors independently.
Scientists to study how soil health is influenced by pest-management tactics
An entomologist in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences has received a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to study and compare how various pest-management regimes affect the health of soils.
Molecular models representing a 2D heterostructure made of graphene (gray background hexagonal lattice), and islands on top of hexagonal WS2 and MoS, as well as an alloy of the two. Water (H2O) molecules in red (oxygen) and gray (hydrogen) come from the bottom left hand side and get transformed catalytically after interacting with the heterostructures into H2 bubbles (top right hand side). Image: Terrones Group/Penn State
Low cost, scalable water-splitting fuels the future hydrogen economy
The "clean-energy economy" always seems a few steps away but never quite here.
Pennsylvanians consider parks an essential part of the health care system
Pennsylvanians overwhelmingly consider parks, trails and open space to be an essential component of the health care system, according to a Penn State study.
Where the rivers meet the sea
Harnessing the energy generated when freshwater meets saltwater Penn State researchers have created a new hybrid technology that produces unprecedented amounts of electrical power where seawater and freshwater combine at the coast.
Researchers recruiting citizen-scientists for 'Great Pumpkin Project'
A researcher in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences is reaching out to Master Gardeners, teachers, students and other interested parties to participate in a citizen-science project that ultimately could benefit growers, crops, pollinators and the environment.
Widely accepted vision for agriculture may be inaccurate, misleading
"Food production must double by 2050 to feed the world's growing population." This truism has been repeated so often in recent years that it has become widely accepted among academics, policymakers and farmers, but now researchers are challenging this assertion and suggesting a new vision for the
Penn State forest economist helping to propel African croton biofuel effort
Africa and agroforestry — defined as agriculture that incorporates the cultivation and conservation of trees — are in Penn State professor Michael Jacobson's blood, and the combination has helped shape his career.
Method to predict surface ozone pollution levels provides 48-hour heads-up
A novel air quality model will help air quality forecasters predict surface ozone levels up to 48-hours in advance and with fewer resources, according to a team of meteorologists. The method, called regression in self-organizing map (REGiS), weighs and combines statistical air quality models by pairing them with predicted weather patterns to create probabilistic ozone forecasts. Unlike current chemical transport models, REGiS can predict ozone levels up to 48 hours in advance without requiring significant computational power.
The effects of melting glaciers on tropical communities
A Penn State professor is researching the trickle-down effects that melting tropical glaciers have on food security and biodiversity, and what regional communities, like Cusco and Huaraz in Peru, can do about it.
Fungus-infecting virus could help track spread of white-nose syndrome in bats
A newly discovered virus infecting the fungus that causes white-nose syndrome in bats could help scientists and wildlife agencies track the spread of the disease that is decimating bat populations in the United States, a new study suggests. Regional variations in this virus could provide clues that would help researchers better understand the epidemiology of white-nose syndrome, according to Marilyn Roossinck, professor of plant pathology and environmental microbiology, College of Agricultural Sciences, Penn State.
Research suggests climate change affecting plants above ground more than below
It's a long way between central Pennsylvania and Greenland — at least 2,000 miles — but Laura Radville came to Penn State so she could study climate change in the "Iceberg capital of the world." However, the research conducted in Greenland by the Boston native did not deal with ice at all, but rather plants — arctic shrubs to be specific. Her work focused on how rising air temperatures are affecting the growth of leaves and stems much more than the growth of roots, perhaps "uncoupling" aboveground and belowground plant development, or phenology.
New approach captures the energy of slow motion
A new concept in energy harvesting could capture energy currently wasted due to its characteristic low frequency and use it to power next-generation electronic devices, according to a team of Penn State materials scientists and electrical engineers.
Devastating wildfires in Eastern forests likely to be repeated, expert warns
The intense wildfires that swept through the Smokey Mountains in Tennessee late last month were a tragic melding of the past and the future, according to a researcher in Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences.
Climate change driving population shifts to urban areas
Climate change is causing glaciers to shrink, temperatures to rise, and shifts in human migration in parts of the world, according to a Penn State researcher.
Corals much older than previously thought, study finds
Coral genotypes can survive for thousands of years, possibly making them the longest-lived animals in the world, according to researchers at Penn State, the National Marine Fisheries Service and Dial Cordy & Associates.
Birds maintain rare plant species, study finds
Outside of human influences, why do rare plant species persist instead of dwindling away to extinction? It's a question that has plagued ecologists for centuries. Now, for the first time, scientists at Penn State and Universidad Nacional del Comahue, Argentina, demonstrate that fruit-eating birds play an important role in maintaining rare plant species.
Powerful Materials
Originally from Paris, France, Ismaila Dabo has family roots in Guinea, a West African nation blessed with abundant sunshine to match the sunny optimism of its people. But despite these powerful sources of energy, there is a lack of electricity to power the country. “Many students, for example, can’t study at home at night. You will see them studying at the airport, one of the few places equipped with electric lights,” says Dabo, an assistant professor of materials science and engineering. He hopes his research may play a role in the discovery of materials that can economically and efficiently create solar panels, batteries, capacitors and fuel cells.
Penn State research has helped shape apple industry
Horticulture professor Rob Crassweller has been helping apple growers boost production for more than 30 years.
How land use affects the spread of disease
Protecting the landscape may also help protect people from some infectious diseases, according to Erica Smithwick, associate professor of geography. Smithwick and her colleagues have been investigating how land use has affected the spread of two diseases in sub-Saharan Africa.
Coral conservation efforts aided by computer simulations
New research shows that endangered corals in the eastern Pacific Ocean are isolated from healthy coral populations in the west
Lord of the Gnats
Drive up to a mushroom farm, open the car door, and you’ll understand why facilities like this one operate in rural areas. An overwhelming odor of manure emanates from compost piles scattered around the farm and from inside mushroom houses — the long, squat, wood and concrete structures where mushrooms are grown.
Global climate models do not easily downscale for regional predictions
One size does not always fit all, especially when it comes to global climate models, according to Penn State climate researchers.
Students and faculty learn valuable lessons from research trip to Rwanda
Penn State engineering students and faculty recently traveled to Rwanda to explore whether or not a readily available plant seed could be used as a viable alternative to clean wastewater.
Self-healing textiles not only repair themselves, but can neutralize chemicals
Someday, chemically protective suits made of fabric coated in self-healing, thin films may prevent farmers from exposure to organophosphate pesticides, soldiers from chemical or biological attacks in the field and factory workers from accidental releases of toxic materials, according to a team of
Penn State bee research pollinates next generation of scientists
Elina Lastro Niño's curiosity about honey bees dates back to her childhood in Bosnia, where her father kept bees for a time. After perhaps one bee sting too many, her father gave up his bees, and Niño's interest in honey bees waned — but not her fascination with insect biology.
Penn State Behrend supermileage team exceeds 2,500 MPG
While building a vehicle for this year’s Society of Automotive Engineers’ International Supermileage Challenge, Penn State Behrend senior Tyler Dorsch came to a startling realization.
Scientific knowledge has increased economic security for cocoa farmers, chocolate industry
When trade organizations representing the chocolate industry created an endowment in 1986 to support Penn State research on Theobroma cacao -- the cocoa tree -- the use of biotechnology to improve plants was still in its infancy.
Student Stories: Environmental major studies in Iceland, prepares for career
 In a remote Icelandic village, Sara Prizzi hiked with her classmates on a glacial outcropping. All around her, hundreds of tiny waterfalls cascaded down the sheep-dotted mountains, headed for the central river that led to the ocean.
Penn State Advanced Vehicle Team places sixth in EcoCAR 3 competition
The Penn State Advanced Vehicle Team finished in sixth place in Year Two of the EcoCAR 3 competition, it was announced Thursday night, May 26, at the contest's concluding dinner at the Hotel Del Coronado in San Diego.
Penn State Advanced Vehicle Team powers students on the road to success
Penn State’s Advanced Vehicle Team is much like a car company in miniature. In lieu of sales and profits, however, success is instead measured in trophies, teamwork and the experience won from hours of toil and trial and error.
Symposium to focus on big data related to weather, climate and Earth systems
Penn State will host the symposium, “Advanced Assimilation and Uncertainty Quantification in Big Data Research for Weather, Climate and Earth System Monitoring and Prediction,” on May 23-24, 2016 at the Toftrees Golf Resort and Conference Center in State College, Pennsylvania.
Fulbright Award will support professor's water trajectory project in Brazil
Water flows in rivers, lakes, streams — and underground. Ann Tarantino will reveal the previously unseen trajectory of water through soil and vegetation growth at a Brazilian nature preserve, thanks to a Fulbright grant that will allow her to spend three months in Brumadinho in spring 2017.
Penn State researchers collaborate to combat bee declines around the world
Spring is a season of new growth, with buds on the trees, green grass and flowers beginning to bloom. It’s also a prime time for pollinators such as honey bees, as they begin to feed off of the pollen from the newly blooming flora. 
Fruits, vegetables, 'farm-to-fork continuum' vital to cancer prevention
After decades of research aimed at improving the yield, appearance and safety of fruits, vegetables and grains, it's time to focus science on the health benefits those foods can provide, according to a cancer researcher in Penn State's College of Agricultural Scien
Self-heating lithium-ion battery could beat the winter woes
A lithium-ion battery that self heats if the temperature is below 32 degrees Fahrenheit has multiple applications, but may have the most impact on relieving winter "range anxiety" for electric vehicle owners, according to a team of researchers from Penn State and EC Power, State College.
Oh, deer: Study uses GPS to explore animals' relationship with forest
White-tailed deer, though cute and wide-eyed like Bambi, can wreak havoc on the land around them. And no one knows this better than Jack Ray.
Searching for aquatic insects is one step in the First Investigation of Stream Health (FISH) protocol. The number, type and diversity of bugs found helps determine the health of the stream habitat. Image: Courtesy of Kristen Kyler, Penn State
New app could turn outdoor enthusiasts into citizen-scientists
If you enjoy wildlife, fishing, nature walks, paddle sports and other streamside activities, Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences now is giving you a chance to parlay those interests into becoming a citizen-scientist by observing and recording environm
Transparent metal films for smartphone, tablet and TV displays
A new material that is both highly transparent and electrically conductive could make large screen displays, smart windows and even touch screens and solar cells more affordable and efficient, according to the Penn State materials scientists and engineers who discovered it.
Antarctica’s next top numerical model
Penn State scientist creates numerical models to predict the future of ice sheets David Pollard spends his days with numbers. Lots and lots of numbers.
Optics of the Poles Art Exhibit call for entries
The Polar Center at Penn State announces a call for entries for "Optics of the Poles: A Visual Expression of Polar Research at Penn State" that will be displayed at the Art Alley in the Hub on the University Park campus.
Emergency bat signals
Once plentiful, northeastern bats now threatened by mysterious white-nose syndrome  For summer visitors at Shaver’s Creek Environmental Center, the show started at dusk.
Researchers hunting for Pennsylvania's orphaned and abandoned wells
Penn State researchers estimate there are as many as 200,000 orphaned and abandoned wells scattered across the state — hidden everywhere from the wilderness to neighborhoods. Nooreen Meghani, a research assistant in Penn State’s Earth and Environmental Systems Institute, is working with volunteers, or “citizen scientists,” who are being trained to research where wells might be, find them and monitor for potential environmental impacts.
Cell phones could be a lifeline for honey bees and beekeepers in Africa
A new Penn State project aimed at improving the food system in East Africa by enhancing pollination services and promoting bee-derived products has received a Food Systems Innovation Grant from the Global Center for Food Systems Innovation, based at Michigan State University.
Orange surprise in avocados may be future product
Gregory Ziegler is exploring the commercial potential of a brilliant orange found in avocado pits as a natural food coloring. For a few months, a jar of orange liquid has sat on the windowsill of the food science professor's office in the College of Agricultural Sciences, and the color is still just as vibrant as the day he made it, using the flesh of an avocado pit.
Ecology on the wing
Drones have been flying over the Ugalla Forest in Western Tanzania. Far from being part of a military operation, these drones are being used to map chimpanzee habitat as part of an international research collaboration. Aerial photography is increasingly being integrated into conservation efforts worldwide, and ecologist Jeff Kerby is helping make it happen. Kerby, who recently finished his doctoral program at Penn State, used drones in his own research, and also shares his knowledge of the new technology to improve international conservation management. Last April, Kerby trained conservation officers in South America in the use of drones, and recently began working on projects in Africa, with the aims of streamlining management practices and expanding ecological research into new domains.
Water heals a bioplastic
A drop of water self-heals a multiphase polymer derived from the genetic code of squid ring teeth, which may someday extend the life of medical implants, fiber-optic cables and other hard to repair in place objects, according to an international team of researchers. "What's unique about this plastic is the ability to stick itself back together with a drop of water," said Melik Demirel, professor of engineering science and mechanics, Penn State. "There are other materials that are self healing, but not with water."
Real answers to real-world challenges
Farmers may soon have the ability to attach a sensor to their plants to gauge when they should irrigate, saving crops and livelihoods. There could be mobile devices that, in real time, help stop disease outbreaks. Bananas could be saved from extinction, and new innovations made in affordable energy efficiency. These ideas are the hard work of future leaders at Penn State.
Flexible dielectric polymer can stand the heat
Easily manufactured, low cost, lightweight, flexible dielectric polymers that can operate at high temperatures may be the solution to energy storage and power conversion in electric vehicles and other high temperature applications, according to a team of Penn State engineers.
Self-assembling, biomimetic membranes may aid water filtration
A synthetic membrane that self assembles and is easily produced may lead to better gas separation, water purification, drug delivery and DNA recognition, according to an international team of researchers.
Holstein cows in a Penn State pasture
Feed supplement greatly reduces dairy cow methane emissions
A supplement added to the feed of high-producing dairy cows reduced methane emissions by 30 percent and could have ramifications for global climate change, according to an international team of researchers.
Yosemite forest fire example of possible things to come
Forest composition, ground cover and topography are the best predictors of forest fire severity in the Western U.S., according to Penn State physical geographers who also see that the long history of fire exclusion on federal lands leads to uncharacteristically severe burns and potentially changes the dynamics of forests and their recovery.
Hershey doctor reports artificial tanning can lead to melanoma
Young women may be up on the latest fashions and trends as they prepare for prom season. But what many don’t know is that the tan that looks oh-so-good with their dress may be the first step toward skin cancer. And cancer is not glamorous.
Study finds that maize roots have evolved to be more nitrogen efficient
Selective breeding of maize over the last century to create hybrids with desirable shoot characteristics and increased yield may have contributed indirectly to the evolution of root systems that are more efficient in acquiring nutrients, such as nitrogen, from the soil, according to researchers.
Honey bees use multiple genetic pathways to fight infections
Honey bees use different sets of genes, regulated by two distinct mechanisms, to fight off viruses, bacteria and gut parasites, according to researchers at Penn State and the Georgia Institute of Technology. The findings may help scientists develop honey bee treatments that are tailored to specific types of infections.
Wildfire critical in calculating carbon-payback time for biomass energy projects
Accounting for wildfire is essential in achieving an accurate and realistic calculation of the carbon payback period associated with converting forest biomass into energy, according to a new study. Researchers said their analysis of carbon-accounting methods is expected to inform the scientific debate about the sustainability of such conversion projects.
World crop diversity survives from peri-urban to remote rural locations
As much as 75 percent of global seed diversity in staple food crops is held and actively used by a wide range of small farmholders -- workers of less than three to seven acres -- with the rest in gene banks, according to a Penn State geographer.
Interaction of ocean oscillations caused 'false pause' in global warming
The recent slowdown in climate warming is due, at least in part, to natural oscillations in the climate, according to a team of climate scientists, who add that these oscillations represent variability internal to the climate system.
Iconic graph at center of climate debate
The "Hockey Stick" graph, a simple plot representing temperature over time, led to the center of the larger debate on climate change, and skewed the trajectory of at least one researcher, according toMichael Mann, Distinguished Professor of 
Insecticides foster 'toxic' slugs, reduce crop yields
Insecticides aimed at controlling early-season crop pests, such as soil-dwelling grubs and maggots, can increase slug populations, thus reducing crop yields, according to researchers at Penn State and the University of South Florida.
image of a laternfly
Entomologists hope vigilance, research stop newly discovered spotted lanternfly
People seeing the spotted lanternfly for the first time are struck by its sometimes-flashy appearance. But don't let its colorful, butterfly-like veneer fool you, caution entomologists in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences. This exotic, invasive insect -- found for the first time in the United States in Berks County in September -- poses a potential threat to several important agricultural commodities in Pennsylvania, including the grape, hardwood, tree fruit, landscape and nursery industries.
Turbine components
Testing turbines to save energy
They say a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. But a little knowledge can also be comforting. For anyone who has sat on a jet airplane at takeoff, tense and sweaty-palmed, wondering how in the world this gigantic assemblage will manage to climb into the sky and stay up, here is a little knowledge: That plane is propelled by a gas turbine engine, which is ideal for jet aircraft because of its excellent power-to-weight ratio -- it's a relatively small turbine engine that produces a lot of power for its light weight.
honeybee in a flower
Diet affects pesticide resistance in honey bees
Feeding honey bees a natural diet of pollen makes them significantly more resistant to pesticides than feeding them an artificial diet, according to a team of researchers, who also found that pesticide exposure causes changes in expression of genes that are sensitive to diet and nutrition.
A model of the intercalation of Brønsted acid molecules between single-atomic layers of graphene.  Image: Mallouk Lab, Penn State University
Rethinking the basic science of graphene synthesis
A new route to making graphene has been discovered that could make the 21st century's wonder material easier to ramp up to industrial scale. Graphene -- a tightly bound single layer of carbon atoms with super strength and the ability to conduct heat and electricity better than any other known material -- has potential industrial uses that include flexible electronic displays, high-speed computing, stronger wind-turbine blades, and more-efficient solar cells, to name just a few under development.
SISCA logo
Innovative sustainability challenge open to graduate students
For the third year, Penn State will participate in the 2014 Dow Sustainability Innovation Student Challenge Awards (SISCA). SISCA is designed to promote forward thinking in social and environmental responsibility; while also acknowledging the energy, commitment and enthusiasm of students and their professors who support their innovations. Graduate students and faculty from Penn State are encouraged to join an international field of universities that are involved in the program.
Old Main and a bicyclist
More reasons to move: Active Lions campaign encourages biking, walking
A new campaign is coming to town, and it wants Nittany Lions to move a little more. Active Lions is a two-pronged research and outreach initiative that includes a social marketing campaign and accompanying smartphone application to encourage active travel – such as walking and cycling – for Penn State students, faculty and staff. Active Lions is a Penn State's Sustainability Institute Reinvention Fund project. Additional partnerships include the Centre Region Bike Coalition and Penn State Transportation Services.
 four-week-old plants (Brachypodium)
Research team sets sights on fighting hunger by strengthening plants
A group of Penn State students led by Assistant Professor of Biology Charles Anderson is exploring ways to make plants hardier, boosting world food supplies in the process. The project, called Fast Farming: Feeding a Hot, Dry World, uses a genetic screening technique known as activation tagging to identify genes that improve a plant's ability to tolerate environmental stresses.
Yufan Zhang sprays a glycerol treatment on the leaves of a Theobroma cacao tree as Siela Maximova and Mark Guiltinan look on.
World's cocoa crop could get a big boost from a simple, non-toxic spray
Cocoa farmers this year will lose an estimated 30 to 40 percent of their crop to pests and disease, and with chocolate prices having risen globally by roughly two-thirds in the past decade, concern is growing about sustainability in cocoa production. Of particular concern are the environmental impact and human health risks of toxic agrichemicals – organochloride insecticides and heavy-metal-based fungicides – used in cocoa production to fight pests and disease.
Shallow reef waters were once dominated by extensive thickets of the Caribbean Elkhorn Coral, Acropora palmata, a species that is now endangered. This impressive stand, photographed in Curacao, provides habitat for numerous fish and invertebrate species.   Image: Iliana B. Baums, Penn State University
Scientists at Penn State study endangered coral species' relationship with algae
New research reveals that Caribbean corals and the algae that inhabit them form a remarkably stable relationship -- new knowledge that can serve as an important tool in preserving and restoring vital reef-building corals. Coral reefs are important for protecting shorelines, providing seafood, and generating millions of dollars in recreation revenue each year, but rising water temperatures due to climate change are stressing many corals to the point of extinction. The Penn State researchers -- Iliana Baums and Todd LaJeunesse, both associate professors of biology, and research technologist Meghann Durante -- conducted a large-scale genetic study of Caribbean elkhorn coral, Acropora palmata. Once the primary reef-building coral species throughout the Caribbean, A. palmata now is listed as endangered under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. The biologists worked on the sub-species level using high-resolution genetic markers that allowed them to examine individual coral colonies and their symbiotic partnerships with single-celled algae.
3-D glasses help turn design reviews into an immersive, interactive experience at the ICon Lab. Image: Kat Hinkel
ICon Lab essential to sustainable building design
The Immersive Construction Lab (ICon Lab for short) at Penn State’s University Park campus looks deceptively simple. A three-paneled screen faces a room of lined-up tables. The lights dim and a computer whirs to life, projecting an image of an avatar onto the screen — a girl with dark hair standing on grass in front of a two-story brick building. With a click of the mouse, she starts to walk and explores the building room by room — and she’s taking everyone in the ICon Lab with her. “Here, put these on,” said John Messner, professor of architectural engineering and manager of the ICon Lab. “They let the tracking system follow whoever’s wearing them.”
Petra Tscharkert
Faculty member contributes to intergovernmental report on climate change
A Penn State faculty member is one of the coordinating lead authors of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, which was approved in Yokohama, Japan, March 31 and concludes that while climate change is already having substantial impacts, steps can be taken to manage and reduce associated risks. Associate professor Petra Tschakert, who was present during the five long days of negotiating the final text in Japan, was a coordinating lead author of Chapter 13: Livelihoods and Poverty in the IPCC “Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability.” She was also an author of the summary for policymakers and the technical summary, two key parts of the two-volume report from Working Group II.
Coral reef biologist stars in comic
Coral reef biologist stars in comic
He may not be able to scale tall buildings or launch bolts of energy, but Todd LaJeunesse is a defender of wildlife with an above-average ability to decipher the complexities of nature.That's why cartoonist Adrian Pijoan chose the Penn State associate professor of biology to be the subject of his comic, titled "Reef." Published in the current issue of The Cartoon Picayune, the sixteen-page graphic treatment tells the story of LaJeunesse's research on coral reefs, and particularly of the relationships among coral animals and their symbiotic algae. The cartoon -- which also features LaJeunesse's graduate students -- describes the work lab members are doing to understand the often-damaging effects of climate change on coral-algae partnerships.
From a helicopter, Richard Alley viewed the front of the moraine of the Franz Josef glacier in New Zealand. Image: Geoff Haines-Stiles
Penn State MOOC strives for sustainability
Whether people admit it or not, the way the world uses energy is unsustainable: Energy demand keeps going up as fossil fuel reserves go down, and science is racing to find an answer. Penn State’s latest MOOC — Energy, the Environment and Our Future — is exploring some of the proposed solutions by delving into the science behind energy alternatives such as solar and wind power.
The Amborella female flower. Image: Sangtae Kim
DNA study gives insight into the evolution of food crops, other flowering plants
Publication of the newly sequenced genome of the Amborella plant has shed new light on a major event in the history of life on Earth -- the origin of all major food crops and all other flowering plants. The research addresses the question of why flowers suddenly proliferated on Earth millions of years ago. A paper by the Amborella Genome Sequencing Project, which includes Penn State scientists and students, was published by the journal Science in the Dec. 20 issue.
Marine Biologists Unmask Species Diversity in Coral Reefs
Marine biologists unmask species diversity in coral reefs
Rising water temperatures due to climate change are putting coral reefs in jeopardy, but a surprising discovery by a team of marine biologists suggests that very similar looking coral species differ in how they survive in harsh environments. "We've found that previously unrecognized species diversity was hiding some corals' ability to respond to climate change," said Iliana Baums, associate professor of biology at Penn State University. A scientific paper describing the team's discovery will be published in the print edition of the Proceedings of the Royal Society B on 7 February 2014.
Award created for Undergraduate Research in Sustainability and the Environment
Award created for Undergraduate Research in Sustainability and the Environment
Penn State’s University Libraries announced that the Award for Undergraduate Research in Sustainability and the Environment is open to Penn State students at all campus locations, including the World Campus. Penn State’s Social Sciences Library, Cengage Learning and the Penn State’s Sustainability Institute have partnered to award a total of $4,000 to Penn State undergraduates to be presented on Earth Day, Tuesday, April 22.
Once and for all: Is buying a real Christmas tree a good thing?
Is buying a real Christmas tree a good thing?
The question of whether it is environmentally correct to buy a real Christmas tree has been asked repeatedly in recent years, and an expert in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences wants to lay it to rest permanently. The answer, according to Ricky Bates, associate professor of ornamental horticulture, is an emphatic...
Daniel Frechen monitored the health of a bush bean plant on Aug. 14 in an experimental growth chamber in Tyson building on Penn State's University Park campus.
Research moves LEDs from the theatre stage to the greenhouse
It’s a rare event when one technological breakthrough can have far-reaching effects in fields as diverse as stage lighting, horticulture, entomology, energy management, and potentially, space colonization. Penn State researchers from theatre arts and horticulture have collaborated with the Office of Physical Plant (OPP) to fine-tune lighting for improved plant growth and energy conservation in greenhouses.
Workshop facilitates cross-college connections in sustainability research
The Penn State Smeal College of Business held a Sustainability Research Workshop earlier this month, encouraging faculty in all business disciplines to share their current sustainability-related research. Several faculty members from other colleges, including the College of Communications, the College of Engineering and the College of Agricultural Sciences, also attended.
Penn State opens Smart Grid Experience Center at The Navy Yard in Philadelphia
Penn State opens Smart Grid Experience Center at The Navy Yard in Philadelphia
A new facility for exploring smart energy solutions was officially opened on Oct. 30 at The Navy Yard in Philadelphia. The GridSTAR Smart Grid Experience Center features a variety of energy technologies that demonstrate methods for building homes, commercial buildings and campuses that are friendlier to the electric grid.The project site in The Navy Yard includes a smart grid modular home, a flexible indoor-outdoor training facility, electric vehicle charging stations, and a large battery that helps improve the operation of the electrical grid. The site also features a sustainable storm-water management and native plant landscaping.
A group of pinned butterflies are part of the Frost Entomological Museum's collection of nearly 2 million insect specimens. Image: Tom Klimek
Entomologist uses ScholarSphere repository to preserve rare insect collection
"My goal is to bring Penn State into the larger fold of the academic insect community. There’s a big network out there of scientists who exchange specimens and collaborate on collections. ScholarSphere will help showcase the talented researchers and unique materials that Penn State has to offer."
Ill-fated: Tech-savvy biologist makes an ideal host of epidemics MOOC
Marcel Salathé is an assistant professor of biology, but you won’t find him in a laboratory. And he’s got some news for you: “You are most likely illiterate.” Salathé believes that it is important to teach students — particularly science majors — computer programing skills, something he uses in his research at Penn State’s University Park campus.
Energy Storage System Launched at Philadelphia Navy Yard
Energy Storage System Launched at Philadelphia Navy Yard
A battery that helps improve the quality and reliability of the electric grid was officially brought online this week at the Philadelphia Navy Yard. The battery uses a special control system to inject or draw energy from the grid based on a signal from a utility.
Penn State research led by Eric Post has linked an increasingly earlier plant growing season to the melting of arctic sea ice, a relationship that has consequences for offspring production by caribou in the area. Image: Jeff Kerby, Eric Post lab, Penn State University
Caribou May Be Indirectly Affected by Sea-Ice Loss in the Arctic
Melting sea ice in the Arctic may be leading, indirectly, to fewer caribou calf births and higher calf mortality in Greenland, according to scientists at Penn State University. Eric Post, a Penn State University professor A yearling caribou near Kangerlussuaq, Greenland in May. Penn State's Eric Post has studied how ecological communities living near sea ice are affected by climate change. Image: Jeff Kerby, Eric Post lab, Penn State Universityof biology, and Jeffrey Kerby, a Penn State graduate student, have linked the melting of Arctic sea ice with changes in the timing of plant growth on land, which in turn is associated with lower production of calves by caribou in the area.
Researcher's remote field camp on Pine Island Glacier Image: Flo Schoebel
Underlying ocean melts ice shelf, speeds up glacier movement
Warm ocean water, not warm air, is melting the Pine Island Glacier's floating ice shelf in Antarctica and may be the culprit for increased melting of other ice shelves, according to an international team of researchers. "We've been dumping heat into the atmosphere for years and the oceans have been doing their job, taking it out of the air and into the ocean," said Sridhar Anandakrishnan, professor of geosciences, Penn State.
Sustainability Institute seeks proposals for graduate research contest
Sustainability Institute seeks proposals for graduate research contest
For the second year, Penn State will participate in the 2013 Dow Sustainability Innovation Student Challenge Awards. SISCA is designed to promote forward thinking in social and environmental responsibility; while also acknowledging the energy, commitment, and enthusiasm of students and their professors who support their innovations.
Chemical engineers' research may lead to inexpensive, flexible solar cells
Work by a team of chemical engineers at Penn State and Rice University may lead to a new class of inexpensive organic solar cells. "Imagine if you could make solar cells as easily as you can print posters or newspapers -- you could make sheets of this," said Enrique Gomez, assistant professor of chemical engineering. "It represents a fundamental shift in the way in which we make solar cells."
Meteorology professor Ken Davis is part of Chemical Heritage Foundation project
'Sensing Change' in the climate brings together science and art
When Ken Davis, Penn State professor of meteorology, used to think about climate change he looked at it as a scientific problem, with an economic dimension. Now, though, he sees the issue as an ethical challenge too. “The people who are mostly causing the change are those who perhaps will suffer the least,” Ken Davis.
Jonathan Lynch and his colleagues use computer modeling to simulate the roots of two of the world’s most important staple crops: beans and corn. Computer modeling helps to pinpoint critical factors that are difficult to measure on real roots as they are growing in soil. Image: Penn State
Ground-Breaking Roots
The team working in Penn State's Root Lab, led by Jonathan Lynch, professor of plant nutrition, is studying what the rest of us don't see--the work going on underneath the ground that enables the growth of healthier crops. Jonathan Lynch is a professor of plant nutrition in the Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences.
A membrane electrode assembly being inserted into a fuel cell testing stand. By creating several variations of membranes and studying them under similar conditions, the research team can predict the most optimal structure in an active and stable fuel cell. Image: Patrick Mansell
Synthetic polymers enable cheap, efficient, durable alkaline fuel cells
A new cost-effective polymer membrane can decrease the cost of alkaline batteries and fuel cells by allowing the replacement of expensive platinum catalysts without sacrificing important aspects of performance, according to Penn State researchers.
Penn State team wins Department of Energy poster competition
Penn State team wins Department of Energy poster competition
A group of Penn State scientists from the Center for Lignocellulose Structure and Formation took first prize in a U.S. Department of Energy “Ten-Hundred and One Word Challenge” contest, in which scientists were challenged to explain their research using only images, cartoons, photos and the 1,000 most commonly used words in the English language.
This photo, taken as part of a major research project led by Penn State Professor of Biology Charles Fisher, shows a reef formed by the coral species Lophelia pertusa at 450m below the surface of the Gulf of Mexico with an orange brisingid starfish in the foreground and a school of fish overhead. Image: Image courtesy of Lophelia II 2010 Expedition, NOAA OER BOEM
Deepwater trouble for deep-water coral?
Billions of dollars. That's what's at stake for BP as a result of the damage caused to ecosystems in the Gulf of Mexico from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
Hurteau rappelling down a sugar pine
Professor brings the classroom to the natural world
Matt Hurteau spends a lot of time climbing trees. He also leads the Earth Systems Ecology Lab with two main undertakings: forest-based climate change mitigation and adaptation.
Hydrogen gas bubbling off of the surface of a nickel phosphide crystal. A team led by Raymond Schaak of Penn State is studying nanoparticles made from nickel phosphide as a means to create cleaner energy technologies. Credit: Eric Popczun
Nanoparticle opens the door to clean-energy alternatives
Cheaper clean-energy technologies could be made possible thanks to a new discovery. Research team members have found that an important chemical reaction that generates hydrogen from water is effectively triggered by a nanoparticle made of nickel and phosphorus, two inexpensive elements that are abundant on Earth.
Honey bee colonies are collapsing in record numbers, and Penn State entomologists are leading the pack of researchers scrambling to figure out why.
Rescuing the honey bee
Entomologists are exploring the causes of a massive die-off of the honey bee population, from viruses and mites to the role of pesticides on bee health and behavior. “To the bee, a flower is a fountain of life, and to the flower, a bee is a messenger of love,” wrote poet Kahlil Gibran.
Dairy farms rely on good quality water to ensure maximum milk production and herd health.
Got Milk? Get more with clean water
A recently completed study of water supplies on Pennsylvania dairy farms found that about a quarter of those tested had at least one water-quality issue.
GridSTAR Net Zero Energy Demonstration Project underway at The Navy Yard
A powerful collaboration of researchers, manufacturers and economic development officials are embarking on a groundbreaking demonstration project for smart-grid, net zero energy buildings called the GridSTAR Center.
Bruce Logan, Evan Pugh Professor and Kappe Professor of Environmental Engineering, named deputy editor of new environmental journal.
Logan named deputy editor of new environmental journal
Bruce Logan, Evan Pugh Professor and the Stand and Flora Kappe Professor of Environmental Engineering, has been named the inaugural deputy editor of the newly launched Environmental Science and Technology (ES&T) Letters journal.
Penn State's Energy Efficient Building Hub drives economic development in Philadelphia
New Presidential video spotlights the Energy Efficient Buildings Hub at Philadelphia's Navy Yard
A new video from President Erickson celebrates the achievements of Penn State students, faculty and staff from across the Commonwealth. The video spotlights progress at the Energy Efficient Buildings Hub (EEB Hub) at Philadelphia's Navy Yard.
Steady Thermal Aero Research Turbine (START)
Penn State is home to the most advanced turbine testing lab in the United States
Penn State and Pratt & Whitney, a United Technologies Corp. company, officially unveiled the Steady Thermal Aero Research Turbine (START) facility, the country’s most advanced turbine testing laboratory.
Are we running out of helium?
Penn State Answers: Are we running out of helium?
Party planners, take note: the atmosphere may become a little deflated at gala events in the future. Some scientists are sounding the alarm about the wastefulness of using helium -- a rare, non-renewable gas -- to fill party balloons.
Penn State helps Philadelphia lead in energy innovation
The Philadelphia region is poised to become one of the nation’s leaders in energy-efficient building stock, thanks to a partnership among city leaders, utility companies, private businesses and Penn State — to name just a few of the key players.
Award-Winning Students Find Sustainable Solution for Water Sanitation
Worldwide, more than 780 million people lack access to potable drinking water and 2.5 billion live without proper sanitation. A team of Penn State graduate students are addressing this global health crisis with interdisciplinary solutions and innovative technologies.