Matt Swayne: On Research's Red Carpet
February 23, 2013 9:54 AM
by Matt Swayne
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What if the movie you produced won awards for the Best Actor, the Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Director, and Best Writer and – by the way – the academy also decided to throw in a Lifetime Achievement award?

You'd feel pretty proud, right?

Well, Penn Staters should be proud to be represented by the group of researchers who presented at this year's American Association for the Advancement Science (AAAS) conference. Not one – or two – but six researchers gave eight presentations during the February conference, which was held last weekend in Boston.

It's not just the number of researchers who presented at the conference that was impressive. The quality and the diversity of their sessions were equally inspiring. Topics ranged from plant viruses to skin evolution and from the importance of ground water to the significance of ice sheets have on global climate change.

In addition, Richard Alley washonored for his education and outreach work by the association.

Here are Penn State's researchers who presented at AAAS and the subject of their talks.   

Marilyn Roossinck, professor of plant pathology and environmental microbiology and biology

Microbes team up to boost plants' stress tolerance

While most farmers consider viruses and fungi potential threats to their crops, these microbes can help wild plants adapt to extreme conditions.  Discovering how microbes collaborate to improve the hardiness of plants is a key to sustainable agriculture that can help meet increasing food demands, in addition to avoiding possible conflicts over scare resources.

You can read more here [link= http://news.psu.edu/story/264459/2013/02/17/research/microbes-team-boost-plants-stress-tolerance]

Wild plants are infected with many viruses and still thrive

Researchers have studied viruses as agents of disease in humans, domestic animals and plants, but a study of plant viruses in the wild may point to a more cooperative, benevolent role of themicrobe.

"Most of these wild plants have viruses," said Roossinck, who has examined more than 7,000 individual plants for viruses. "But they don't have any of the symptoms that we usually see in crop plants with viruses.

Read more here: [link= http://news.psu.edu/story/263744/2013/02/13/research/wild-plants-are-infected-many-viruses-and-still-thrive]

Henry Lin, professor of hydropedology and soil hydrology

Key to cleaner environment may be right beneath our feet      

While many people recognize that clean water and air are signs of a healthy ecosystem, most do not realize that a critical part of the environment is right beneath their feet, according to a Penn State hydrologist. The ground plays an important role in maintaining a clean environment by serving as a natural water filtration and purification system, said Lin. Understanding the components that make up this integral part of the ecosystem can lead to better groundwater management and smarter environmental policy.

You can read the rest of the story here. [link: http://news.psu.edu/story/264435/2013/02/17/research/key-cleaner-environment-may-be-right-beneath-our-feet] 

Nina Jablonski, Distinguished Professor of Anthropology

Evolution helped turn hairless skin into a canvas for self-expression

Hairless skin first evolved in humans as a way to keep cool -- and then turned into a canvas to help them look cool. About 1.5 to 2 million years ago, early humans, who were regularly on the move as hunters and scavengers, evolved into nearly hairless creatures to more efficiently sweat away excess body heat, said Jablonski. Later, humans began to decorate skin to increase attractiveness to the opposite sex and to express, among other things, group identity.

You can read more here. [link: http://news.psu.edu/story/264369/2013/02/16/research/evolution-helped-turn-hairless-skin-canvas-self-expression]

Modern life may cause sun exposure, skin pigmentation mismatch

As people move more often and become more urbanized, skin color -- an adaptation that took hundreds of thousands of years to develop in humans -- may lose some of its evolutionary advantage.  About 2 million years ago, permanent dark skin color imparted by the pigment -- melanin -- began to evolve in humans to regulate the body's reaction to ultraviolet rays from the sun, said Jablonski.

You can read more here. [link: http://news.psu.edu/story/264368/2013/02/16/research/modern-life-may-cause-sun-exposure-skin-pigmentation-mismatch

Richard Alley, Evan Pugh Professor of Geosciences

Flow of research on ice sheets helps answer climate questions

Just as ice sheets slide slowly and steadily into the ocean, researchers are returning from each trip to the Arctic and Antarctic with more data about climate change, including information that will help improve current models on how climate change will affect life on the earth.

"It is not just correlation, it is causation," said Alley. "We know that warming is happening and it's causing the sea levels to rise and if we expect more warming, we can expect the sea levels to rise even more."

You can read more about this research here. [link: http://news.psu.edu/story/264366/2013/02/16/research/flow-research-ice-sheets-helps-answer-climate-questions]

Murali Haran, associate professor of statistics

Statistics help clear fog for better climate change picture

Statistics is an important tool in sorting through information on how human activities are affecting the climate system, as well as how climate change affects natural and human systems.

"One key aspect of climate change is risk," said Haran. "Without the language of statistics and probability, you can't talk about risk."

You can read more here.[link: http://news.psu.edu/story/263768/2013/02/13/research/statistics-help-clear-fog-better-climate-change-picture]

Steven J. Schiff, the Brush Chair Professor of Engineering and director of the Penn State Center for Neural Engineering

Engineering control theory helps create dynamic brain models

Models of the human brain, patterned on engineering control theory, may some day help researchers control such neurological diseases as epilepsy, Parkinson's and migraines, according to a Penn State researcher who is using mathematical models of neuron networks from which more complex brain models emerge.

"The dual concepts of observability and controlability have been considered one of the most important developments in mathematics of the 20th century," said Steven J. Schiff, the Brush Chair Professor of Engineering and director of the Penn State Center for Neural Engineering. "Observability and controlability theorems essentially state that if you can observe and reconstruct a system's variables, you may be able to optimally control it. Incredibly, these theoretical concepts have been largely absent in the observation and control of complex biological systems."

Read more here. [link: http://news.psu.edu/story/264984/2013/02/19/research/engineering-control-theory-helps-create-dynamic-brain-models]

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