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Inside Director’s Message___________________________ 2 Alumnus Works to Save Purple Martins________ 3 Alumna Named 2013 Woman of Impact________ 4 Making Solar Energy Affordable______________ 5 Nursing Moves to Four-Year Program__________ 6 Erie Planetarium Moving to College___________ 8 Arboretum Map Updated_____________________ 8

School of science 2013

Science News Penn State Erie, The Behrend College

3+4=1 less year of school Accelerated pre-health programs put students on fast track to careers in medical fields

Chelsea Monroe is one of the first students to enroll in the 3+4 optometry program. She completed her coursework at Penn State Behrend and is now enrolled at The Ohio State University.

Chelsea Monroe, a Williamsport native, has always been good at math. She also knew she wanted to work in the medical field. When she learned that Penn State Behrend’s accelerated optometry program would allow her to spend one less year in school, she knew it added up to a smart career choice. Here’s how it works: Interested students begin their studies in the School of Science, enrolled in the Biology program’s accelerated health programs option. After completing three years of coursework and other requirements, students who are accepted into The Ohio State University College of Optometry transfer to Ohio State to finish their degrees. The arrangement is an opportunity to begin pursuing a Doctor of Optometry (O.D.) degree one year early. A student who completes the program will earn a Bachelor of Science degree in Biology from Penn State Behrend and a Doctor of Optometry degree from Ohio State. The 3+4 Accelerated Program in Optometry is one of several professional affiliation agreements the School of Science has with other institutions. (Accelerated programs are

also offered in Primary Care, Dentistry and Pharmacy.) Monroe is one of the first students to enroll in the 3+4 optometry program. She completed her coursework at Behrend in May and is enrolled at Ohio State this fall. “The accelerated program was challenging, but my adviser, Dr. Voss (Margaret Voss, associate professor of biology), and Dr. Justik (Michael Justik, associate professor of chemistry and coordinator of the 3+4 programs) were really helpful,” she said. “They kept me on track and made sure I had the classes I needed to finish on schedule.”


Director’s Message

Internal Sensor Quest

Penn State Behrend has become my home during the last fourteen years, and I’m proud to have the opportunity to guide the School of Science through the next two years as director. As the college moves through a period of change, I am eager to Martin Kociolek, Ph.D. begin the task of ushering the school through this exciting time. I’ve spent the last few months asking myself, “How do we move forward?” In the coming years, I hope we can make progress in a number of areas to achieve this goal. Ongoing curricular changes in several disciplines, designed to meet the everchanging needs of our students, will serve to strengthen our current academic programs. Faced with an increasingly interdisciplinary scientific landscape, we need to implement programs that connect at the boundaries between disciplines, building on the strong Penn State Behrend science foundation. Revamping our pre-health program is necessary to create an environment that will draw talented students who want to use a Behrend science degree as a springboard to a health career. Lastly, we would be remiss if we ignored the ever-growing health science fields, the optimal word being science. We need to strategically pick programs that fit our mission and complement our existing strengths. Of course, the School of Science is more than simply a collection of programs. As you read Science News, you will see examples of what truly makes the school strong—our dedicated faculty, ambitious alumni, and generous benefactors. I look forward to an exciting year and want to thank you for your support as we move forward.


Matt Moesta, right, a senior majoring in chemistry, has been working with Dr. Jason Bennett, assistant professor of chemistry, on his NSF-funded research project.

Dr. Jason Bennett, assistant professor of chemistry, has received a grant for up to $243,462 from the National Science Foundation to fund research that may eventually lead to new methods for monitoring brain and heart health. The grant for Bennett’s proposal, “Advancing Electrodeposited Dicyano-ferriprotoporphyrin as an Electrocatalytic Material Capable of Selectively Oxidizing Hydrogen Sulfide Over Interfering Gasotransmitters,” will further his efforts to develop a material that can selectively oxidize physiological levels of hydrogen sulfide in the presence of carbon monoxide and nitric oxide. All three gases are produced naturally in mammals and serve important roles within the cardiovascular and central nervous systems. The long-term goal is to develop an internal sensor that can detect hydrogen sulfide levels within the body. “The ability to selectively detect hydrogen sulfide in the body will allow us to fully understand its physiological roles, specifically with regards to various cardiovascular and neurological

disorders,” Bennett said. “This will help lead to better treatments. Additionally, this project will enhance the training of future chemists, which will make them more successful in their chosen careers.” Matt Moesta, a senior chemistry major, has been assisting Bennett with his research since January. “Working on real research projects definitely teaches you to be more independent,” Moesta said. Funding was made through NSF’s Research at Undergraduate Institutions program, which approved $176,588 in funds and recommended an additional $66,874 contingent on research production and available funds. Over the three years, Bennett expects to involve seven student researchers in the project. The students’ contributions will be substantial enough to result in their own research publications and presentations.

Saving the Purple Martin Alumnus manages national conservation efforts When it comes to entertaining aerial acrobatics, the Navy’s Blue Angels have nothing on purple martins, which are known to dive from the sky at great speeds directly into the tiny hole of their nest box. The purple-plumed birds, a member of the swallow family, are social, chatty, intelligent, and endlessly entertaining. They like people, which is good because purple martins are entirely dependent on humans to provide housing—typically a group of hanging gourds or a large birdhouse with multiple nesting boxes. Despite growing up next door to what he called a “monstrous purple martin colony” in New Wilmington, biology alumnus Bob Aeppli ’10 didn’t know much about the birds until Dr. Margaret Voss, associate professor of biology, suggested he apply for an internship at the Purple Martin Conservation Association (PMCA), an international non-profit organization headquartered in Erie. The internship led to a job offer and, today, Aeppli, a field biologist for the PMCA, can identify a purple martin from a mile away. He’s spent three years studying the birds. He knows their calls, habits, behaviors and, with a good pair of binoculars, he can even tell you which brood the bird belongs to. He’s banded thousands of them.

Bob Aeppli ’10, field biologist for the Purple Martin Conservation Association.

“Basically, I do everything I can to support the purple martin conservation effort—banding, education, and research,” he said. Sometimes he even works with his former professors. He recently helped Dr. Beth Potter, assistant professor of microbiology, collect bacteria found on Purple Martin eggs. Potter and Voss have researched the bacteria found on house wren eggs. Now, they are comparing it to the bacteria on purple martin eggs. “Nobody was really studying bacteria on bird eggs,” Potter said. “And there are so many questions to answer. For example: Are the bacteria different in purple martin eggs? How does temperature in incubation affect the bacteria growth? And does colony living affect it?” Learning the answers to those ques-

tions can lead to a better understanding of the purple martin and, ultimately, help Aeppli and the PMCA in their conservation efforts. To save a species, you have to really know it. That’s why Aeppli and his research partners outfitted dozens of birds with geolocators before they migrated to the Amazon basin of Brazil in late August. When the birds returned to Erie in April, the data loggers revealed the purple martins’ migration pattern. The birds had made a pit stop. “We found out that the purple martins are hanging out in the Yucatan during migration, to rest and fatten up before flying on to Brazil,” Aeppli said. See, we told you they were smart birds. Who wouldn’t love to kick back in Mexico for a few weeks? 3

Meet Dr. Danielle Duchini 2013 Woman of Impact Award winner Dr. Danielle Duchini ’94, an Erie breast surgical oncologist, received the 2013 Behrend Woman of Impact Award, an annual honor bestowed by the Penn State Behrend Commission for Women on an alumna who has made a meaningful contribution to society in her professional life. It is an appropriate honor for a woman whose life and career has, in turn, benefited from the impact of a series of women. Following her high school graduation, Duchini had planned to work in her family’s Erie hardware store. Her mother and aunt had other plans. “Two weeks before fall classes were set to start, they drove me to Penn State Behrend and said, ‘Surprise, you’re registering for college,’” Duchini said. With an aptitude for math and science and a desire to help others, Duchini set her sights on being a doctor. She majored in biology and then attended Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine and completed her surgical residency at The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Horizon. While on the thoracic surgery rotation in residency, she met two women with metastatic breast cancer who altered her career path once again. “They were patients. One was 36 and one was 78,” she said. “They both had cancer that had spread to the lung, and they were scared. In each case, with a room full of doctors, the patient looked to me and wanted to know what I would do in her situation because I was a woman with medical knowledge.” Duchini answered their questions with compassionate honesty. “Breast surgery is traumatic for women. It’s not like a gall bladder, where you never see it. Removing a breast is like an amputation, and it causes significant stress to the patient. I wanted to ease that pain for them.” Duchini chose to go into breast surgical oncology. She completed a prestigious 4

“ Cancer doesn’t play by the rules. You can do what’s recommended and still have a bad outcome. But, there are great rewards in breast oncology, too. We can, and do, save a lot of lives.” —Dr. Danielle Duchini ’94 breast fellowship at The Washington Cancer Institute at Washington Hospital Center in Washington, D.C., before moving home to Erie and opening her own practice—The Center for Breast Health. She’s the only fellowship-trained breast surgical oncologist in the tri-state area and one

of only a few hundred in the country. While she is passionate about her practice, she wishes there were no need for her services. “I would love for someone to find a cure for cancer and put me out of a job,” she said. “My worst days are directly related to the number of patients I have to tell they have cancer.”

She helps animals, too Packets of medical supplies that are opened but unused during surgery cannot be used on humans again. The waste bothered Dr. Danielle Duchini ’94. “We were throwing away boxes and boxes of supplies, and I thought, ‘This is ridiculous. There has to be some place we can donate this.’” Inspired by her beloved white boxer, Blizzard, Duchini started Cause for Paws and began collecting unused medical supplies for donation to Erie-area animal facilities, including the Humane Society of Northwestern Pennsylvania, the A.N.N.A. Shelter, and the Erie Zoo.

Bright Idea! The problem with solar energy is that it’s expensive. Sunlight is free, of course, but the technology and mechanics required to turn that power source into useable energy are costly investments that few consumers are willing to make, even if it’s better for the environment. But what if researchers could find a way to reduce the cost of solar energy by taking advantage of laws of physics, such as total internal reflection, and simple common sense, such as putting the expensive stuff on only the edges, where the maximum amount of light is emitted? That’s exactly what Dr. Bruce Wittmershaus, associate professor of physics, has been working on for the past sixteen years with the help of $330,000 in National Science Foundation grants and three dozen physics students along the way. “We’re not trying to make solar energy more efficient,” he said. “In fact, the surface of these panels might be four times the size of a regular solar panel, but they’d be cheaper to manufacture because the solar circuitry is only on the edges.” The edge is where the most power lies. Wittmershaus holds up a transparent orange clipboard and asks: “Where is the light coming out of this clipboard the brightest? Seventy percent of the light emitted is concentrated on the edge. So why not collect energy on the top of the panel and harness it on the side, where it is most abundant?” So Wittmershaus has designed compact panels that adhere to the edge of the light-collection panel. Andy Peterson, a senior physics major, has been working with Wittmershaus on his luminescent solar concentrator research project for two years. With plans to earn a Ph.D. in atomic physics and spend his years doing research work in the field of macroscopic quantum systems, Peterson says his undergraduate research experience is invaluable. “Not only have I learned about fluorescence, molecular excitation states, non-radiative energy transfer, surface chemistry, nanoplamonics, and labora-

tory equipment, but I’ve learned about things like time management, planning ahead, the scientific research method, and how to write grant proposals.” Wittmershaus says use of luminescent concentrators to collect solar energy on

a large scale is not likely for at least a decade. There are problems to be solved. The concentrators must be improved to withstand decades of outdoor exposure. Fluorescent organic dyes degrade in the sun, usually not lasting more than a year or two. Currently, Wittmershaus is experimenting with coating gold nanoparticles in a layer of silica molecules that can be injected into the florescent panel as a way to maximize the photostability of the dyes. He was recently awarded a third NSF grant for $226,000 to continue his work.

Dr. Bruce Wittmershaus, associate professor of physics, holds a small luminescent solar concentrator.


Briefly Noted International Mathematics Conference Held at College Twenty academic mathematicians from around the globe gathered at Penn State Behrend this summer for the sixteenth annual Conference on Ordered Algebraic Structures. Dr. Papiya Bhattacharjee, assistant professor of mathematics, coordinated the international event, which had never before been held at the college. She also presented her research on p-extensions—one mathematical lattice set within another. “This is a ‘pure math’ area,” she said of the conference, which focused on ordered structures. “In terms of numbers, we say, ‘This number is less than this number.’ The ‘less than’ is an order. It’s very abstract, but once we make the foundation, you can apply it to many other fields.”

Nursing Moving to Four-Year Program In 2014, Penn State Behrend will begin offering a four-year Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree to replace the two-year associate degree program. “Our health care system is complex and changing in ways that expand the role for nurses in a multitude of care settings,” said Dr. Jo Anne Carrick, assistant director for academic planning and campus coordinator of the nursing program. “Nurses will need additional education and skills to address these changes.” The college will continue to offer its popular R.N.-to-B.S. degree completion program, which uses a blend of in-class, web-enhanced, and online courses to advance diploma and associate-degree nurses to a bachelor’s degree in just three semesters. Enrollment in that program has doubled in the past year, reflecting employers’ interest in baccalaureateprepared nurses.


Sustainability Leadership Minor Introduced

Math Education Lab, Partnership Established

Socially and environmentally responsible business practices can reduce an organization’s operating expenses, improve stakeholder relations, increase profitability, and provide a competitive edge. It’s no wonder graduates educated in sustainability practices are highly sought after. It’s also why the School of Science now offers a Sustainability Leadership minor. Combined with any undergraduate degree, the minor integrates the social, economic, and environmental concepts of sustainability into coursework.

Mathematics faculty members Dr. Courtney Nagle, Dr. Joseph Previte, and Jodie Styers received a $159,000 National Science Foundation grant to establish a secondary math education training program. Some of the funds were used to create an authentic test-teaching space that will allow Behrend students to assess strategies and technologies learned in the classroom. The grant also supports visits from secondary students from the Erie School District, who will participate in lessons prepared and taught by Penn State Behrend students. The space also will be used to host workshops for local secondary teachers.

Biology Award Established Aaron Meehl ’12 spoke so highly of his education at Penn State Behrend that his family decided to give back to the School of Science. The Meehl family contributed $30,000 to create the Aaron Meehl Biology Award, which will recognize outstanding academic achievement by undergraduate students majoring in Biology at Penn State Behrend. The first award winner is expected to be recognized at the Honors and Awards Convocation in April. If you’d like to help students by contributing to the fund, contact Kathryn Buesink at 814-8986345 or

College Receives Grant to Plan a Sustainable Trail No one put much thought into the Wintergreen Gorge trail when horses tramped down the first-known path in the early 1900s. People weren’t as educated about sustainability or erosion back then and stormwater runoff wasn’t a problem. It was private property anyway; few had access to the trail. But that changed in the summer of 1948 when Mary Behrend donated her 400-acre Glenhill property, including the gorge tract, to Penn State. It didn’t take long for students to discover the trail and the gurgling waters, swimming holes, and waterfalls alongside it. The gorge is a popular destination for hikers, birders, naturalists, fossil-hunters, and waders who want to cool off in the creek. But the trail, which was never intended for heavy public use, is eroding in several spots. Trees are being stressed by the loss of soil at their roots, stormwater has created gullies, and clumps of earth are falling into the creek. Drainage pipes, gravel, and topsoil are temporary fixes. “The college has been more than progressive in its efforts to maintain the trail,” said Ann Quinn, lecturer in biology,

“but, as it currently exists, the trail is unsustainable.” What the gorge trail needs is an ecologically-minded overhaul and realignment. It will get one, thanks to a $47,660 grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources secured by Quinn and Dr. Mike Naber, lecturer in geosciences. Pashek Associates, a landscape architectural firm based in Pittsburgh, is now developing a master plan for a better and more sustainable trail using switchbacks, rain gardens, and other techniques to stabilize the trail system. “We don’t want to restrict use or access,” Naber said. “We want to preserve the trail and the gorge so that more people can use it for a longer time. Once we have a plan and make the suggested changes, the trail will preserve itself.”

Faculty and Staff News New Faculty and Staff


Dr. Susan Baker has been appointed lecturer in chemistry. Marian (Kiki) Borst and Elaine Hlopick have been appointed lecturers in nursing. Tina Meckley was hired as staff assistant in nursing.

Dr. Mike Campbell, professor of biology, has been named assistant director of the School of Science. Dr. Mike Rutter, associate professor of statistics, has been named program coordinator of Mathematics. Dr. Jo Anne Carrick, campus coordinator for nursing programs, has also been named assistant director of academic planning.

Grants Dr. Mary Grace I. Galinato, assistant professor of chemistry, received a $3,000 Monique Braude Fellowship from Sigma Delta Epsilon/Graduate Women in Science for her research on the nitrite reductase activity of myoglobin. Galinato also received a $3,435 College Equipment Grant from the Spectroscopy Society of Pittsburgh for her proposal “Monitoring Chemical Reactions in the UV-visible Region using Absorption Spectroscopy: Enhancing the Undergraduate Learning Experience.” For the second year, Ann Quinn, lecturer in biology, received a $15,000 Tree Vitalize grant from EnvironmentErie to plant fifty trees across campus.

Awards Dr. Blair Tuttle, associate professor of physics, was awarded the Council of Fellows Faculty Research Award.

A Pre-Health Professions Advisory Committee has been created to assist students and increase the presence of the pre-health community at the school. The committee includes: Dr. Mike Justik, (chair) associate professor of chemistry and coordinator of the 3+4 programs, Dr. Beth Potter, assistant professor of microbiology, Dr. Matt Gruwell, assistant professor of biology, Dr. Tia Deas-Young, lecturer in biology, and Dr. Vicki Kazmerski, associate professor of psychology.

Promotions Dr. Mike Campbell has been promoted to professor of biology. Dr. Darren Williams has been promoted to professor of physics and astronomy. 7

School of Science 1 Prischak Building 4205 College Drive Erie, PA 16563-0203

Jim Gavio, director of the Erie Planetarium, has joined the Penn State Behrend staff.

Non-Profit Org. U.S. POSTAGE PAID Erie, PA Permit No. 282

OH, MY STARS! Penn State Behrend will operate the Erie Planetarium when the facility moves to the School of Science complex next year. The system will be relocated from the Watson-Curtze Mansion in downtown Erie, where it has operated since 1959. “The planetarium is a great addition,” said Dr. Martin Kociolek, director of the School of Science. “It will further expand our science outreach and complement our already-strong astronomy courses and events.”

A Map to the Trees Long recognized by area environmentalists as a haven for some of Erie’s most diverse and interesting trees, Penn State Behrend was recognized by the American Association of Botanical Gardens and Arboreta in 2003. There are more than 200 species of native and exotic trees on campus and now, thanks to an updated arboretum map and brochure, it’s easy to find them. Arboretum maps are located on signs near the Health and Wellness Center, Reed Union Building, and Erie Hall. Brianne Campbell, who graduated in May with a degree in Science, helped map the trees on campus using ArcGIS global information system software.

Brianne Campbell ’13

Science News is published annually and provided free to alumni and friends of the Penn State Behrend School of Science by the Office of Marketing Communication, William V. Gonda,, director. Editor: Heather Cass, Designer: Martha Ansley Campbell, This publication is available in alternative media upon request. Penn State is committed to affirmative action, equal opportunity, and the diversity of its workforce. U.Ed. EBO 14-41


Science News - 2013  

News from Penn State Behrend's School of Science.

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