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You’re Invited to the Science Café


Student Tests Quantum Computations


Trapping Temporary Chemical Species for Study 6 Preschool Outreach Program Is a Hit




S C I E N C E   |   2 0 1 7


In Brief

“ Scientists give back to society.”



n my position as director of the School of Science, I find myself thinking a lot about the role of science, not just in higher education, but in society as a whole. The Society for Science and the Public is an organization dedicated to expanding scientific literacy, STEM education, and science research. In just a few words, its mission statement captures the essence of what science should do for society—“inform, educate, and inspire.” As I look around the School of Science, these three simple words are exemplified in many of the things we do. Events such as Science Café inform the public on current science topics that affect society. Research on best practices for teaching mathematics informs our education colleagues. The Lake Erie Regional Grape Research and Extension Center educates the community on agricultural issues. Outreach events educate our neighbors on science phenomena like the solar eclipse. Students like Dylan Langharst are inspired by a summer internship at Sandia National Laboratories, and groups of 4- and 5-year olds are inspired, without even realizing it, through a clever mix of stories and science. As you read this issue of Science News, I ask you to think about the ways that science is intertwined with society. Examples like these are what makes us so much more than a collection of science educators, but a group of scientists giving back to society.



ll eyes were on the sun on August 21, when the Great American Eclipse passed over Penn State Behrend. While it was only a partial eclipse in the Erie area, it was still a major astronomical event, and the college invited the community to join in viewing it. Hundreds of students of all ages, as well as faculty, staff, and community members, peered through the college’s telescopes, cardboard solar eclipse glasses, and paperand-tin-foil pinhole viewers to see the moon steal the sun’s spotlight. They’ll get an even better look on April 8, 2024, when Erie will be in the path of totality of the next solar eclipse, leaving the area in complete darkness for a brief period of time. P.S. Alumni: Might be a great time to plan a homecoming to your alma mater! ON THE COVER: From left, Jody Timer, entomologist; Dr. Mike Campbell, professor of biology at Penn State Behrend and director of the Lake Erie Regional Grape Research and Extension Center; and Bryan Hed, plant pathologist, examine grape leaves at the center in North East. Read the story on page 8.


FACULTY NEWS New Faculty The school welcomed eight new faculty members: Dr. Sam Nutile, assistant professor of biology; Dr. Adam Simpson and Dr. Nicole Spahich, assistant teaching professors of biology; Thomas Flanagan, Richard Gosnell, and Janice Wittmershaus, lecturers in physics; Brittany Kramer, lecturer in mathematics; and Dr. Carolynn Masters, associate teaching professor of nursing.

Awards Jodie Styers, lecturer in math education, was awarded the Council of Fellows Faculty Excellence in Outreach Award.



Leadership Dr. Mike Rutter, associate professor of statistics,

enn State Behrend has earned Tree Campus USA recognition for the fourth consecutive year. It is one of just sixteen colleges and universities in Pennsylvania to be recognized. Tree Campus USA, a national program launched in 2008 by the Arbor Day Foundation and Toyota, honors colleges and universities, and their leaders for promoting a healthy environment for trees and engaging students and staff in the spirit of conservation. To obtain Tree Campus recognition, the college met the program’s five core standards for sustainable campus forestry. “Because of our Tree Campus designation, many trees have been obtained through the state’s TreeVitalize grants received over the past five years,” said Ann Quinn, researcher and director of Greener Behrend, an outreach effort of the college’s School of Science. “Trees are aesthetically beautiful and also important to air, soil, and water quality. The Penn State Behrend Arboretum and the Tree Campus designation are good examples of the living lab concept in practice at Behrend.”

has been named associate director of the School of Science. Dr. Paul Becker, associate professor of mathematics, has been named department chair of mathematics. Dr. Matt Gruwell, associate professor of biology, has been named department chair of biology. Dr. Todd Cook, assistant professor of biology, has been named prehealth committee chair.



ach year, the local chapter of Sigma Xi, a scientific research society to which several School of Science faculty members belong, hosts a series of informal get-togethers designed to “bring scientists and community members together to explore scientific topics in a public, accessible, and relaxed venue.” “Dubbed the Science Café, our catch phrase is ‘Food. Beer. Science,’” said Dr. Jay Amicangelo, associate professor of chemistry. Each Science Café features a short, informal presentation by a local scientist followed by conversation on scientific topics of broad interest. Presentations are open to the public and geared to a general audience. Presentations begin at 6:30 p.m., but many attendees arrive at 6:00 p.m. to order food prior to the talk. This year’s remaining events: November 29, Science Ignite! Cohosted with TEDxErie, Calamari’s Squid Row, Erie; January 25, Bullying: Prevention and Resilience, Calamari’s Squid Row, Erie; March 29, Insect Pollinators of Northwest Pennsylvania, Roff School Tavern, Meadville.

Dave Falvo, assistant teaching professor of


Promotions Dr. Grace Galinato has been promoted to associate professor of chemistry. Luciana Aronne has been promoted to assistant teaching professor of chemistry. Dr. Mike Naber has been promoted to associate teaching professor of geoscience.

mathematics and a member of the School of Science faculty since 1989, passed away in September following a long battle with rheumatoid arthritis. Falvo’s enthusiasm and dedication to teaching was inspirational: He received the Distinguished Teacher award from the Allegheny Mountain Dave Falvo Section of the Mathematical Association of America in 2000 and was nominated five times for the Penn State Behrend Council of Fellows Excellence in Teaching Award. He also co-authored several mathematics textbooks with colleagues at Larson Texts. His impact at Penn State Behrend was immeasurable. He will be missed. 3

A Summer at Sandia Some students spend their summer break relaxing at the beach, while others work part-time jobs or take an extra class. Then there are students like Dylan Langharst, a senior majoring in both Physics and Math, who spent his summer testing quantum computations at Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, New Mexico.


andia National Labs is a major national government research lab with over 10,000 employees and is one of only three national nuclear security labs in the country,” said Dr. Chuck Yeung, professor of physics. “The labs’ motto, which one ends up knowing by heart after working for them, is ‘Exceptional service in the national interest,’” Langharst said. “Everything they work on, directly or indirectly, at Sandia is connected to national security. I didn’t necessarily see my research in that light; I just wanted to do physics.” Langharst worked in the Quantum Computing department at Sandia, which is operated by the United States Department of Energy. “In essence, my internship involved 4

experimenting on a quantum computer to see if it acted in an unexpected or unanticipated way.” A little background: Quantum computers use the power of atoms to perform memory and processing tasks. In areas of computing in which the traditional laws of physics no longer apply, scientists will be able to create processors that use quantum mechanics to solve problems a million or more times faster than the ones we use today. However, quantum computing is incredibly complex. “IBM has a publicly accessible quantum computer with five quantum bits, or qubits,” Langharst said. “The Sandia labs have a partnership with IBM, and my job was to run a bunch of quantum gates on the electrons to get back results. Based on the results I received and the quantum gate I requested, I could use quantum mechanics and statistics to calculate the gates I actually used. Then, I could tell IBM, ‘Hey, I told your computer to use this quantum gate, but it didn’t do it. Instead, it used this gate.’ IBM would then use this information to improve the quantum computer.” Langharst said he enjoyed the work and learned much from the experience. “I spent the first two weeks learning how to code in Python (a programming language) and graduate-level quantum physics,” he said. “By the end of the summer, I learned that I really enjoy theoretical math and physics, but am not a big fan of experimental physics.” When he wasn’t working, Langharst could be found tackling other huge obstacles. “The Sandia Mountains are amazing,” he said. “On cloudy days, they reminded me of the Misty Mountains from Lord of the Rings. It was a fun experience to be able to hike whenever I wanted to.” Langharst, who will graduate in May, plans to attend graduate school and study either quantum field theory or general relativity. “I’m really interested in the gravitational wave detections made over the past year and would like to work in that area,” he said. “There’s a large-scale gravitational wave detector located in Washington state, so I would ideally like to attend the University of Washington.”

Solving Math’s Transition-toCollege Problem Students who excel in algebra and calculus while in high school often struggle with the same concepts in college. It is an equation that doesn’t seem to add up and an opportunity for School of Science faculty members who love nothing more than solving complicated math problems.

Jodie Styers



n 2016, Dr. Courtney Nagle, assistant professor of secondary mathematics education, and Jodie Styers, lecturer in mathematics education, received nearly $50,000 in funding from the National Science Foundation for a two-year study to help mathematics instructors better manage their students’ academic transition from high school to college. “So much of math is sequential,” said Nagle, coordinator of the research study, which has paired six high school math teachers with instructors at area universities. “At every stage, you’re building on what you already know. If you fall behind, or if a different instructor presents the material in a way you aren’t accustomed to, it can be difficult to catch up again.” In addition to establishing the teaching partnerships, the study included an immersive research component: Nagle and Styers attended high school and collegiate math classes to take notes on the materials taught and the manner in which they were presented. They also took the tests. Currently, all the data has been collected and Nagle and Styers are analyzing it to identify specific challenges and offer best practice suggestions. “Our goal is not to tell the high school teachers to do things differently,” Nagle said. “We have to be open at the college level as well to what the expectations are. We all have to make adjustments if we want to bring more students through that knowledge gap.”



he old adage that two heads are better than one is certainly true at universities, where faculty members often collaborate with colleagues on research projects. Sometimes, like Nagle and Styers, the partners sit just doors away. Occasionally, they are on another continent. Such is the case for Peter Olszewski, lecturer in mathematics, whose research partner, Dickson Owiti, is 7,600 miles away in Kenya. The two met at a math conference in San Francisco in 2013 and realized they had similar research interests.

Dr. Courtney Nagle

Olszewski, right, and his Kenyan research partner, Dickson Owiti

“So much of math is sequential.” “We are both interested in how math education should be set up at the high school level to adequately prepare students for the transition to college,” Olszewski said. While you might think two different countries would have different problems, Olszewski said math students in Kenya struggle in the same ways students in the United States do, so the two began a joint research project interviewing their first-year students and teaching them effective study skills. In June, Olszewski traveled to Nairobi, Kenya, to join Owiti in presenting their work at the Strathmore International Mathematics Conference. Among their top findings: High school teachers are not using homework effectively and are giving students a lot of the same work, rather than challenging them to problem-solve through critical thinking; students are not being taught how to study; and they are often looking at improper sources, such as YouTube and Wikipedia, for more information. Olszewski and Owiti are polishing their formal research paper now and looking forward to their next collaborative project.


FREEZE FRAME Faculty member traps transient chemical species for study


he more one understands how things work, the better one can control or predict outcomes. This is true in the trajectory of a bouncing soccer ball, the effect of gravity on an apple, or the results of your calculus test. Some processes, like the examples above, are easily observed. Others, such as what happens in a chemical reaction, are nearly impossible to capture and examine. While scientists can easily study the beginning and end of a chemical reaction, what transpires in the middle—when bonds are breaking and free radicals are racing around looking for new mates—is often unknown. Mysteries don’t sit well with scientists. They’re driven to learn the how and why. Shedding light on exactly what happens when two gases meet is something that Dr. Jay Amicangelo, associate professor of chemistry, has been exploring for years. “My overall research interest is studying transient chemical species,” he said. “But it’s not easy because they’re not stable under normal room temperature and atmospheric pressure conditions. So I use a technique known as matrix isolation infrared spectroscopy to obtain spectral evidence of the existence of transient species.” In non-technical terms: He literally freezes chemical reactions in progress, allowing him to study the steps that occur between point A and point B.


Amicangelo built the matrix isolation apparatus when he began working at Behrend in 2002. The lowest temperature it is capable of reaching is 8 kelvin, which is about -445 degrees Fahrenheit. “The basic idea behind this technique is that we produce these transient species in a very low-pressure environment and trap them at a very low temperature in solid material,” Amicangelo said. “This allows us to produce and trap these species before they have a chance to decay and to obtain their infrared spectral signatures, which proves their existence and allows us to determine their three-dimensional molecular structure.” At Behrend, Amicangelo primarily uses argon or nitrogen as the matrix materials, but he recently had a chance to use a special form of hydrogen known as parahydrogen when he did a semester-long sabbatical in Taiwan. He was a guest in the lab of Dr. Yuan-Pern Lee at the National Chiao Tung University. Amicangelo and Lee met at a conference several years ago, and this is the second time Amicangelo has done research work in Lee’s lab. “Para-hydrogen makes the experiment more effective and opens up a whole new area of radicals that are difficult to study with my set-up at Behrend,” he said. “There are only about seven labs in the world where you can work with para-hydrogen.” Amicangelo’s research recently garnered him a $70,000 grant from the

American Chemical Society’s Petroleum Research Fund. “They only support fundamental research projects that have a connection to petroleum,” he said. “I applied to study radicals that are important to combustion, which is vital in the production of petroleum.” The funds, spread out over a three-year period, will be used for materials, supplies, summer salaries for undergraduate student research assistants, and a computer on which they can do quantum chemistry calculations. “The project involves the production of a series of radicals and the formation of weakly interacting complexes,” Amicangelo said. “A complex is a transient system in which two species are not fully chemically bonded together, but are close enough to each other to exert an influence on one another. These kinds of species are also thought of as intermediates in chemical reactions, and evidence of their existence helps support the reaction mechanisms.” Occasionally, Amicangelo finds more than evidence. “There have been a few cases where I was the first person to report that a certain molecule exists,” he said. “That’s a lot of fun because much of what researchers do can be monotonous, so when you find something like that, it’s really very cool,” he said. You might even say, it’s kelvin cool.

Chemical reaction: a process that involves rearrangement of the molecular or ionic structure of a substance, as opposed to a change in physical form or a nuclear reaction.


The Sweet Smell of Applied Science


t harvest, an estimated 800 growers pick 30,000-plus acres of Concord grapes—the dark purple, slip-skin fruits used in jams, jellies, and fruit juice. The total economic impact of the region’s grape industry is about $340 million a year, according to The Concord Grape Belt Heritage Association. So if an invasive fruit fly shows up or a strange leaf fungus appears on a vineyard’s grape leaves, it could be economically catastrophic, not only for individual farmers but for the entire region. That’s why, for more than sixty-five years, Penn State University has been helping growers through the College of Agricultural Science’s Lake Erie Regional Grape Research and Extension Center (LERGREC). The center, located in a cozy white Cape Cod turned laboratory, is nestled on 40 acres of land in North East.

Experts in the house (and vineyards)

to twenty projects, most of which evaluate methods of vineyard disease and insect control. Until recently, the center was run by a University Park entomologist. But this summer, Dr. Mike Campbell, professor of biology at Penn State Behrend, was appointed director of the LERGREC. He’s splitting his time between the center and his teaching and research work at Behrend. It’s a great fit for Campbell, a botanist whose research interests lie in plants such as grapes that experience dormancy. He said he is excited about the possibilities the center provides for collaborative projects with area farmers and applied research opportunities for Behrend students and faculty members. Working with grape growers is not only good business, but helps to fulfill a land-grant mission.

University committed to serving the region “As part of Penn State, our mission encompasses advancement of the region on a variety of fronts,” said Dr. Ivor Knight, associate dean for research and graduate studies. “We not only educate students, but we work to promote the welfare of our region’s people, businesses, and communities through research and outreach.”


There are currently two full-time University researchers at the LERGREC—plant pathologist Bryan Hed, who has been at the center for eighteen years, and entomologist Jody Timer, who has been there for fourteen years. Each year, they work on ten


Take a drive along Routes 5 or 20 in the northwestern corner of Pennsylvania in September and your nose will clearly communicate to you the abundance—and importance—of the grape-farming industry in Erie County. The sweet smell of ripening grapes hangs in the air along the 60-mile Lake Erie Concord grape belt, which stretches from Erie County, Pennsylvania, to Chautauqua County, New York.

Grape leaf fungus.


Grape leaf fungus under study.

Grape berry moth larvae.

“ The same ‘lake effect’ that dumps snow on Behrend keeps the land closer to the water warmer. Lake effect is a good thing for grape farmers in our region.”

Dr. Mike Campbell, professor of biology at Penn State Behrend, was appointed director of the LERGREC. He’s splitting his time between the center and his teaching and research work at Behrend.

Grape growers regularly turn to the LERGREC for help in identifying, treating, and preventing diseases and pests. They also use the center to test new varieties or growing strategies. “It’s a pretty big risk for a farmer to clear six acres of Concords to try a new wine grape that may or may not work well in this area,” Campbell said. “Sometimes they will ask the center to experiment with the new grape first.” In fact, staff at the center and faculty members at the University just completed an eight-year trial in which they examined the growth, production, and fruit quality of eighteen varieties of grapes. “It was part of a multistate effort to provide valuable information about varieties that would be suitable for wine grape production in the Lake Erie region,” Hed said. The Pennsylvania portion of the project was headed by Dr. Michela Centinari and Dr. Rob Crassweller from the College of Agricultural Science.

A working farm The LERGREC doesn’t just study grapes; the center also grows them. “We have twenty-three acres of Concords that are sold to Welch’s in North East,” Campbell said. “The farm work is outsourced to local growers and the profits are used as part of the center’s operating budget.” In addition to Concords, the center grows several acres of wine grapes, including Niagara, Vignoles, Chambourcin,

Riesling, Grüner Veltliner, Vidal, and Chancellor. Wine grapes, as evidenced by all the wineries that have popped up along the New York-Pennsylvania grape belt, represent a growing market. The center also is evaluating nine varieties of table grapes that are expected to produce their first crop next fall. The only non-grape crops grown at the LERGREC are hardy kiwi and haskaps, which are planted to see how these relatively novel fruit crops fare in Erie’s climate. “We’re always looking for other potential crops that would thrive here,” Campbell said. “The southeastern shore of Lake Erie in western New York and northeastern Pennsylvania is a unique microclimate.”

All about the lake Vineyards thrive when they have the correct mix of warmth and cold, sunshine and rain. Erie’s long, hot summers are ideal for growing grapes, and the lake moderates the climate year-round. Extreme cold can kill or damage grapevines, but Lake Erie keeps the lakeshore region 5 to 15 degrees warmer, thereby extending the harvesting season in fall, safeguarding delicate buds in spring, and protecting the vines from bitter cold in the winter. “The same ‘lake effect’ that dumps snow on Behrend keeps the land closer to the water warmer,” Campbell said. “Lake effect is a good thing for grape farmers in our region.”


Science “ The future belongs to the curious. The ones who are not afraid to try it, explore it, poke at it, question it, and turn it inside out.“ — A NO NY M O U S


Story Time

This spring, the School of Science launched a new outreach program for preschoolers called Science Story Time. Parents and other caregivers were invited to bring their 4- to 5-year-olds to Behrend for a one-hour session that included a current children’s story reading by Tracy Halmi, assistant teaching professor of chemistry, and science-related hands-on experimenting fun with the help of undergraduate student volunteers.


n one session, children listened to Diary of a Worm before rotating between activities that included exploring the lifecycle of mealworms and making “worms” from sodium alginate. In another session, they listened to Snowflake Bentley, then made their own synthesized “snow” and used magnifying glasses to examine crystals. The story and experiments were followed by a planetarium show related to the theme, presented by Jim Gavio, Yahn Planetarium director. The series was a hit, with each session filling quickly. More Science Story Times are planned for the future. Check the website listed below for dates and times.

„„ For more information, visit


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

New funding from the Hirtzel Foundation has allowed the college to purchase a $381,000 inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometer (ICP-MS), which can detect trace amounts of elements, including toxic metals, in soil, water, and tissue samples. Dr. Deborah Aruguete, assistant professor of environmental science, will use it for research and with students in her Environmental Chemistry course.

Nursing Students Register to Be the Match


t was a long shot, but Kaylee Boehme swabbed the inside of her cheek anyway, collecting her DNA for Be the Match, the national bone-marrow donation registry. Just one of every 430 volunteers is selected to donate. “I really hope it’s me,” said Boehme, a Penn State Behrend third-year nursing student. The odds are even longer for a person in need of a marrow or stem-cell transplant. Though the procedure can cure more than eighty genetic diseases, including leukemia, 70 percent of all patients in need of a transplant do not have a genetic match in their family. Half never get a transplant. To raise awareness of the issue, Penn State Behrend’s nursing students held a bone-marrow donor registry drive over four days last fall. The average community event adds twenty-five volunteers to the donor database, according to the National Marrow Donor Program. The


Penn State Behrend event added 164. College campuses are an ideal site for registry drives, according to the National Marrow Donor Program, which maintains the Be the Match registry. Donors’ blood type doesn’t matter, but their age does: Most transplant doctors prefer to work with donors between the ages of 18 and 44. To register, volunteers answer a few questions and then use a cheek swab to collect a cell sample. For most, it takes no longer than voting. “It’s a simple process, but it’s superimportant,” said Samantha Stauffer, a senior who is pursuing her bachelor of science in nursing, or B.S.N., degree at Behrend. (The college also offers an R.N. to B.S.N. for associate degree-prepared nurses.) “The more people we can sign up, the higher the chances are that we’ll be able to help somebody.” Having student nurses participate in service-learning opportunities like Be the Match, Relay for Life and a March

“ I really hope it’s me.”


of Dimes walk fosters commitment to public service, says Kimberly Streiff, campus coordinator of Behrend’s nursing program. “The students look forward to these events every year,” she said. “They offer interesting paths for personal and professional exploration, plus give them occasions to practice their skills in communication, collaboration and leadership.”

Science News is published annually and provided free to alumni and friends of the Penn State Behrend School of Science by the Office of Strategic Communications, William V. Gonda,, senior director. Editor: Heather Cass, Designer: Martha Ansley Campbell, This publication is available in alternative media on request. Penn State is an equal opportunity, affirmative action employer, and is committed to providing employment opportunities to all qualified applicants without regard to race, color, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, disability or protected veteran status. U.Ed. EBO 18-149

Science News - 2017  

News from Penn State Behrend's School of Science.

Science News - 2017  

News from Penn State Behrend's School of Science.