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Minds and Matters: Ag Research on the Farm — and Beyond

by on September 01, 2012 7:57 AM

I had a chance to visit Ag Progress Days at the College of Agricultural Sciences' Russell E. Larson Agricultural Research Center at Rock Springs in August.

There are a few reasons to go there. Off hand, I would say the fried mushrooms, pizza, steak sandwiches and maple sugar cotton candy are more than reason enough to attend.

But saving the world is another pretty important reason, I guess.

A tour of the research fields and a visit to some of the research-related booths added an entirely different dimension to my visit. Most people think that ag research is primarily concerned with -- what I call -- "corn and cows." But, that's just a small part of what the college's scientists are investigating.

We saw greenhouse tunnels that roll on rails to help farmers extend the growing season. Another project experiments with adjusting the angle of plant roots so that less-developed nations can raise crops to satisfy the needs of their growing populations.

Solving things like world starvation are pretty huge, right? But even that is only one part of the story. Other Ag researchers are working on everything from leukemia treatments to roadside weeds.

You're too late to visit Ag Progress Days this year, but put it on your calendar for 2013. You can read more about the event here.

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

Teenagers Need Time with Parents (No Matter What They Say)

Don't tell your teenager this… But hanging out with you may be good for their self-esteem.

When teens spend time with their parents, especially their fathers, it helps improve their well-being, according to Susan McHale, professor of human development and director of the Social Science Research Institute.

The researchers interviewed teens about their social skills with peers and their self-esteem. They also conducted a series of seven nightly phone interviews, asking the teens about their activities during the day, including who participated in the activities with them.

You can read about the study here.

Tibetan Plateau Much Older Than Previous Estimates

Most researchers thought that the mountain range in the eastern borders of Tibet developed about 10 to 15 million years ago. According to Eric Kirby, professor of geoscience, the topography may have developed as early as 30 million years ago -- or, maybe, even earlier.

Kirby joined a group of researchers who are trying to piece together the geologic evolution of high topography in Asia. They used a variety of methods including the decay rate of uranium and thorium to helium in the minerals apatite and zircon and fission track dating, an analysis of tracks or trails left by decaying uranium in apatite and zircon.

You can read about this story here.

Playfulness May Help Adults Attract Mates

Humans just want to have fun and there’s an evolutionary reason for that. They want to attract mates.

Playfulness helps humans select mates by showing off positive qualities of possible long-term mates, according to Garry Chick, professor and head of the Department of Recreation, Park and Tourism Management.

"Humans and other animals exhibit a variety of signals as to their value as mates," said Chick. "Just as birds display bright plumage or coloration, men may attract women by showing off expensive cars or clothing. In the same vein, playfulness in a male may signal to females that he is nonaggressive and less likely to harm them or their offspring. A woman's playfulness, on the other hand, may signal her youth and fertility."

You can read more about this 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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