Currently Active External Awards

Currently Active External Awards

The faculty and staff of Penn State Altoona seek a variety of external awards from foundations, agencies, and other sponsors to support their research, teaching, creative activities, and service responsibilities.

Listed below are those awards that are currently active, the faculty or staff member responsible, and the source of funding.

Externally Funded Projects

Dr. Peter Shull, Associate Professor of Engineering
Dr. Mark Johnson, Professor of Mathematics
Title: Sustainable Summer Bridges from Campus to Campus: Retention Models for Transitioning Underrepresented Engineering Students
Sponsor: National Science Foundation
Award Period: 1/01/16 to 12/31/20

The proposed research seeks to accomplish three goals: (1) Increase retention in Engineering among racially underrepresented engineering students by extending three successful summer bridge models and transition programming to four regional campuses in the Pennsylvania State University system, (2) Develop long-term sustainability plans for these programs, and (3) Compare the efficacy of different bridge models. The primary outcome measure is retention in baccalaureate Engineering majors following the Entrance to Major process at the beginning of Year 3. A secondary measure is retention in STEM majors.

Dr. Jungwoo Ryoo, Division Head of Business, Engineering, and Information Sciences & Technology
Title: Building a Big Data Analytics Workforce in iSchools
Sponsor: National Science Foundation
Award Period: 9/1/15 to 8/31/18

The proposed research seeks There is an increasing demand for skilled personnel in big-data industries, but the existing big-data curricula at the university level focus primarily on students with a strong computational background, ignoring a large segment of students who might otherwise pursue education and training in this vital area. Therefore, this project aims at addressing the national demand for professionals with knowledge in big data and broaden the pool for a potential big-data analytics workforce.

The goal and scope of this project are to develop three innovative learning approaches. These are founded on both group-based and contextualized learning methods, applicable and accessible to students majoring in disciplines outside of computer science but related (i.e., iSchools).

Dr. Carolyn Mahan, Professor of Biology
Title: Plant and Animal Community Response to Long Term Vegetation Management Practices on Right-of-Way
Sponsor: Asplundh Tree Expert Company
Award Period: 7/1/15 to 6/30/18

The Pennsylvania State Game Lands 33 (SGL33) research project in central Pennsylvania SGL33 is the site of the longest continuous study (~60 years) measuring the effects of herbicides and mechanical vegetation management practices on plant diversity, wildlife habitat, and wildlife use within a right-of-way (ROW). Similar studies have been conducted at a companion site, Green Lane Research and Demonstration Area (GLR&D), in southeastern Pennsylvania since 1987. Both projects provide invaluable information for understanding the response of plants and animals to vegetation management on rights-of-way. For example, the study has found that deer, small mammals, birds, reptiles, and even butterflies – considered a true test of environmental impact – were using the early successional habitat created and maintained by vegetation clearing. In particular, early successional communities of native birds—declining throughout the eastern U.S.--- were thriving in the ROWs. Many bird species that reproduce in the ROW (e.g., eastern towhee [Pipilo erythrophthalmus], field sparrow [Spizella pusilla]) are on the Audubon society’s conservation watchlist. The most recently funded project will examine the effects of ROW management on Hymenopteran (ants, bees, wasps) pollinators, song bird fecundity, and native plant diversity. Asplundh, Dow Chemical Company, and First Energy are all funding partners of this long-term ecological research project.

Dr. Ed Levri, Interim Division Head of Mathematics and Natural Sciences
Title: Characterizing the Invasive New Zealand Mud Snail Population in Central Pennsylvania
Sponsor: University of Maryland, Center for Environmental Science (USDI)
Award Period: 10/1/14 to 9/30/16

The invasive New Zealand mud snail (NZMS) (Potamopyrgus antipodarum) was identified in interior waters of the state of Pennsylvania for the first time in the summer of 2013. In North America the populations of this species are entirely asexual (clonal) and consist of at least three distinct clones. One clone (US1) is highly invasive and has spread throughout much of the American west and southwestern Canada in rivers and streams. Another clone (US2 [=Ontario clone]) is mostly relegated to the waters of the Laurentian Great Lakes but is also found in a few streams in upstate New York. A third clone in Idaho does not appear to be invasive. The presence of the NZMS in central Pennsylvania is a cause for concern because of the substantial ecological changes that can occur due to its presence. This proposal outlines work to 1) determine the extent of the invasion in Pennsylvania, 2) determine the identity of the clone in central PA (US1, US2, or a new clone), and 3) conduct experiments to determine if the clone found in central PA possesses characteristics different from other clones of the species that may influence its spread. Among these characteristics are desiccation tolerance and dispersal and predator avoidance behaviors. To accomplish these goals, we will conduct a survey of streams in central PA for the presence of the snail, determine the genotype of the snail from multiple locations, and conduct lab experiments to determine the propensity of the snails to disperse, tolerate drying, and respond behaviorally to light and gravity.

Dr. Carolyn Mahan, Professor of Biology
Title: National Park Natural Resource Assessments: Synthesizing and Interpreting Existing Natural Resource Information and Studies to Better Inform Park Planning in New River Gorge
Sponsor: National Park Service
Award Period: 9/16/14 to 3/31/17

Carolyn will be working with both cultural and natural resource managers to help Fredericksburg National Military Park in their management of natural resources.

These activities may include battlefield landscape restoration and the effect of that restoration on significant natural resources in the park.

Dr. Corien Bakermans, Assistant Professor of Microbiology
Title: STEM Academic Research Training Engaging Underrepresented Pennsylvanians (START-UP)
Sponsor: National Aeronautics and Space Administration
Award Period: 9/11/13 to 9/10/16

This program hopes to increase the retention rate of underrepresented students by providing a prolonged and meaningful research experience during the first two years of the student’s undergraduate education. The program is designed to retain underrepresented students in the STEM disciplines by engaging them directly in hands-on STEM research projects and providing them with mentoring and guidance from faculty and graduate students. Over a two year period, 16 underrepresented students will be supported in STEM labs at Penn State Altoona. Each student will participate in more than 160 hours of hands-on research and will receive a scholarship of $500 per semester. In addition, the program will provide an opportunity for three research scholars each award year to participate in a summer internship at an aerospace company in southeastern Pennsylvania. The program is led by and coordinated through the Pennsylvania Space Grant Consortium, University Park.

Dr. Corien Bakermans will serve as program lead and point of contact for Penn State –Altoona. She is responsible for recruiting STEM labs from Penn State-Altoona into the program, advertising through campus networks, and hosting one or two students in her STEM labs.

Dr. Sandra Harbert Petrulionis, Distinguished Professor of English & American Studies
Title: The Almanacks of Mary Moody Emerson: A Scholarly Digital Edition
Sponsor: National Endowment for the Humanities
Award Period: 10/1/13 to 9/30/16

Born in Concord, Massachusetts on the eve of the American Revolution, Mary Moody Emerson (1774-1863) was a self-educated scholar and author whose intellectual production bridges the 18th and 19th centuries. Most widely known as the brilliant aunt of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Mary Emerson anticipated her nephew’s work and published her own pseudonymous essays; her most significant literary accomplishment is a series of unpublished manuscripts she called “Almanacks” (c. 1804-1855). Spanning over fifty years and one thousand pages, these documents feature characteristics of the spiritual diary, commonplace book, and epistolary essay and demonstrate the ways in which early American women adapted traditionally “masculine” genres and subject matter, demonstrated their literary artistry, and engaged in emerging public spheres. Dr. Petrulionis and her co-editor, Dr. Noelle A. Baker, are collaborating with the director and staff of the University Women Writers Project to publish a scholarly digital edition of the complete Almanacks in its subscription database, Women Writers Online. Ten volumes of this project have been published in Women Writers Online (a subscription to this textbase is required) at Women Writer Project: Women Writers Online. Six of these volumes can also be viewed in a prototype of the eventual digital interface at Women Writers Project: The Manuscript Almanacks of Mary Moody Emerson.

Dr. Darin Zimmerman, Associate Dean for Research, Interim Associate Dean for Academic Affairs
Title: Collaborative Research: Electro-optical Studies of Nanoscale, Geometrically-Asymmetric Tunnel Junctions for Collection and Rectification of Light from Infrared through Visible
Sponsor: National Science Foundation
Award Period: 11/1/12 to 10/31/16

Penn State Altoona is the lead institution in a collaborative research endeavor with the Storrs campus of the University of Connecticut and Scitech Associates Holdings, Inc. of State College, to develop a quantum tunneling device, called a "rectenna," that will simultaneously collect and rectify solar radiation. The approach is to use selective atomic layer deposition, a process developed by the investigators, to fabricate arrays of thousands of nano-sized, geometrically-asymmetric tunnel junctions. An integrated program of device fabrication, electro-optical characterization, and numerical simulation will provide insight into design optimization and help determine the solar-power conversion capabilities of the device. The result of this collaboration of two universities and an industry subcontractor has the potential, not only to understand the physics of rectenna devices, but also to revolutionize green solar power technology.

Dr. Rebecca Strzelec, Professor of Visual Arts
Title: EFRI-ODISSEI: Multi-field Responsive Origami Structures – Advancing the Emerging Frontier of Active Compliant Mechanisms
Sponsor: National Science Foundation
Award Period: 8/1/12 to 7/31/16

Rebecca Strzelec, professor of visual arts, is 1 of 5 co-primary investigators for the grant from the National Science Foundation. The research objective of this Emerging Frontiers in Research and Innovation (EFRI) Origami Design for the Integration of Self-Assembling Systems for Engineering Innovation (ODISSEI) award is to develop methods to design origami structures that actively fold from an initially flat sheet to complex three-dimensional shapes in response to multiple fields (e.g., electric, thermal, magnetic). They will also actively unfold, in contrast to current origami structures that must be manually unfolded. These multi-field responsive origami shapes will be developed through collaboration with a visual artist (Strzelec) and approximated and modeled using geometric modeling and origami mathematics.

Strzelec’s role is to use artistic problem solving to help find the most successful shapes to use in origami math-based systems. She will also lead the outreach efforts in collaboration with the Palmer Museum of Art and the Discovery Center, both in State College. Each summer for four years Strzelec will facilitate workshops at each venue for children based on the research in the grant.

Successful completion of this project will foster novel concepts and design innovation in several application areas. For example, origami-based surgical instruments will benefit minimally invasive surgery, where there is a need for mm-scale devices that can deploy inside the body to manipulate tissue. Similarly, origami-based adaptive aircraft structures, reconfigurable robots, and deployable space structures will help enhance mission versatility. The research will also be leveraged to create interactive artistic pieces and K-12-targeted workshops for the Discovery Space Museum in State College, PA, and Penn State's Palmer Museum of Art.

Dr. Hai Huang, Assistant Professor of Engineering
Title: Geogrid Performance Evaluation by "SmartRock"
Sponsor: Tensar International Cooperation
Award period: 10/1/15 to 6/30/16

In April 2015, multiple ballast box tests were conducted to investigate the effect of geogrid on particle movement inside railroad ballast. A wireless device – "SmartRock" was embedded in the ballast box to monitor individual ballast particle movement. Two types of tests were conducted: one without geogrid reinforcement in the ballast as a control and one with geogrid. During the ballast box testing with geogrid, three replicate tests were conducted and demonstrated that the test procedure and "SmartRock" measurements were repeatable. It was concluded that horizontal translation and rotation are important modes of movement for ballast particles under cyclic loading. Particle translational movement and rotation were found to be higher beneath the edge of the tie than beneath the middle of the tie.

The elastic deformations of the ballast layer with and without the geogrid were similar. However, the stiffness of the ballast layer with the geogrid reached a steady-state value much quicker than the layer without the geogrid. Most importantly, particle translational movement and rotation and the accumulated vertical displacement recorded by "SmartRock" under 500 load cycles were significantly reduced with the inclusion of a layer of TX190L geogrid at 25 cm below the top of the ballast layer.

The objective of this proposed research is to compare the confining effects of Tensar TriAx (TX) and Biaxial (BX) geogrids on railroad ballast and sub-ballast by using "SmartRock".

Research Plan
This research is divided into two phases:

Phase I: A test with large aperture BX geogrid with the same setup from the previous study for ballast stabilization. The original ballast box, limestone ballast and the "SmartRock" used previously with TX geogrid (Figure 1) will be used to evaluate the performance of BX geogrid. A summary of test results will be reported to Tensar.

Phase II: Tests with BX and TX for sub-ballast stabilization. A total of 3 sections will be tested: a control section, a Biaxial geogrid section, and a TriAx geogrid section. Three sections will consist of clay subgrade, sub-ballast, and ballast. The geogrid will be installed at the interface between subgrade and sub-ballast. Either limestone or granite ballast will be used upon the request from Tensar. Overall, 10 smaller size "SmartRocks" will be manufactured and installed. Tensar will provide the TX and BX geogrids for testing.