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Mind and Matter, Research at Penn State: Fall Leaf Forecast Optimal . . . For Leaf Peeper Ulcers

by on September 29, 2012 6:22 AM

Like the smell of kettle corn sizzling at the arts-and-crafts festivals and the muffled roar of a couple hundred thousand football fans echoing across the valley, Penn State's autumn foliage forecast is one of the great traditions of this full-sensory season.

Millions of "leaf peepers" will hit the roads and bike paths of the northeast hoping to find that one perfect foliage vista, where oranges, reds and yellows blaze away like a landscaping collaboration between Norman Rockwell and Jackson Pollock.

The peepers have learned to rely on research at Penn State to give them some idea of just how perfect the season will -- or will not -- be.

I always look forward to Penn State's autumn leaf prediction each year. Why? Well, because I am, by nature, a chronic worrier and this report gives me one more thing to agonize over.

It seems that there are always factors out of my control that threaten to muffle nature's autumn palette. The summer could be too dry. Or, the autumn could be too wet. The autumn temps might be too warm. It might be too cloudy. Windstorms may threaten to sweep every last leaf off of the trees, leaving only skeletal brown remains scattered on my lawn, good only for monotonous raking.

This year, Marc Abrams, professor of forest ecology and physiology, issued the fall foliage forecast.

He did not disappoint.

For the next few weeks, I will grimly assess the weather maps in much the same way that I believe Dwight D. Eisenhower must have reviewed forecasts for the D-Day invasion.

According to Abrams, the hot summer and wet early autumn have put a potential damper on the autumn leaf colors.

His recommendation: pray for cool nights and sunny days.

"Fall weather is very important," he said. "We need to have cool temperatures falling into the 30s or low 40s at night, as well as bright sunny days with little rain."

You can read more about the forecast -- and then join me in praying and worrying -- here.

Here are a few more examples of research happening at Penn State:

Mange Tough on Newly-Introduced Yellowstone Wolves

Gray wolves that were just recently reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park suffer from mange and viral disease that are hurting the size and health of the packs, said Peter J. Hudson, Willaman Professor of Biology and director of the Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences, Penn State. Hudson and a team of researchers collected blood from the animals to monitor parasite-induced disease and death and tracked the wolves in each pack to gather additional data.

The wolves were reintroduced into the park in 1996

"Many invasive species flourish because they lack their native predators and pathogens, but in Yellowstone we restored a native predator to an ecosystem that had other canids present that were capable of sustaining a lot of infections in their absence," said Emily S. Almberg, graduate student in ecology, Penn State. "It's not terribly surprising that we were able to witness and confirm that there was a relatively short window in which the reintroduced wolves stayed disease-free."

You can read about the study here.

Bone Resurfacing Technique May Help Bone Grafts

Using an inorganic compound found in bones and teeth as a coating may significantly increase the likelihood of a successful implant, according to Penn State researchers.

Before bone grafts are implanted, they need to be sterilized so they don't transmit diseases. However, the sterilization changes the surface that makes bone formation more difficult. The resurfacing technique may change that.

"We created a method for resurfacing bone that had been processed, and resurfacing that bone so that it is now nearly as osteogenic as unprocessed bone -- meaning it works nearly as well as bone that hadn't been processed at all," said Henry J. Donahue, Michael and Myrtle Baker Professor of Orthopaedics and Rehabilitation, Penn State College of Medicine.

You can read more about this study here.

Interested in finding out more about the research? Friend us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, or check out our blog, Penn State Research Matters.

Matt is a Research and Technology Information Officer at Penn State. He also is a Public Relations Manager and Adjunct Journalism Instructor at the university.
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