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2010 Research Press Releases

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Penn State Joins Major Astronomical Survey
Penn State Joins Major Astronomical Survey 14 December 2010Penn State University has become a participant in the Sloan Digital Sky Survey-III (SDSS-III), a six-year project that will expand our knowledge in fields ranging from the planets outside our solar system to the large-scale structure and evolution of the universe. "The SDSS-III is investigating some of the currently most compelling scientific questions," said Lawrence Ramsey, head of Penn State's Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics. "This is a great opportunity for Penn State faculty and students."
New Research Sheds Light on How Contagious Diseases Spread through Communities
New Research Sheds Light on How Contagious Diseases Spread through Communities 13 December 2010Any parent knows that colds spread like wildfire, especially through schools. New research using human-networking theory may give a clearer picture of just how, exactly, infectious diseases such as the common cold, influenza, whooping cough, and SARS can spread through a closed group of people, and even through populations at large. With the help of 788 volunteers at a high school, Marcel Salathé, a faculty member in the Department of Biology at Penn State University, developed a new technique to count the number of possible disease-spreading events that occur in a typical day.
A Key Protein Allows Nerve Cells to Repair Themselves
A Key Protein Allows Nerve Cells to Repair Themselves 09 December 2010A team of scientists led by Melissa Rolls, an assistant professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at Penn State University, has peered inside neurons to discover an unexpected process that is required for regeneration after severe neuron injury. The process was discovered during Rolls's studies aimed at deciphering the inner workings of dendrites -- the part of the neuron that receives information from other cells and from the outside world.
Team Receives Grant for Data-Privacy Research
08 December 2010A team of researchers led by Aleksandra Slavkovic, associate professor of statistics, and Adam Smith and Sofya Raskhodnikova, faculty members in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering, has been awarded a $2 million grant from the National Science Foundation Cyber-Enabled Innovation and Discovery program. The team will use a multidisciplinary approach combining statistics and computer science to study how research data in the social and heath sciences can be made more widely available without compromising privacy.
Research Website Takes Viewers Deep into the Gulf of Mexico
Research Website Takes Viewers Deep into the Gulf of Mexico 07 December 2010Researchers on an expedition in the Gulf of Mexico to view first-hand the possible effects of the oil spill on the sea floor are posting daily reports of their explorations on the web. Charles Fisher, a biological oceanographer from Penn State University, is the Chief Scientist on this research expedition. The research team's daily updates, photos, and videos will be added to the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution's (WHOI) "Dive and Discover" website until 14 December.
Rainforest Conservation Needs a New Direction to Address Climate Change
Rainforest Conservation Needs a New Direction to Address Climate Change 01 December 2010Conservation and international aid groups may be on the wrong course to address the havoc wreaked by climate change on tropical rainforests, according to a commentary appearing in the journal Nature on 2 December 2010.
Rescue Missions Underway to Save Haiti's Species from Mass Extinctions
Rescue Missions Underway to Save Haiti's Species from Mass Extinctions 16 November 2010Haiti is on the brink of an era of mass extinctions similar to the time when dinosaurs and many other species suddenly disappeared from the Earth, reports a biologist at Penn State University, who is announcing today the establishment of a species-rescue program for Haiti's threatened frogs and other species, including captive-breeding and gene-preservation efforts. "During the next few decades, many Haitian species of plants and animals will become extinct because the forests where they live, which originally covered the entire country, are nearly gone," reports Blair Hedges, a professor of biology at Penn State and leader of the rescue missions in Haiti and other countries in the Caribbean.
Scientists Demystify an Enzyme Responsible for Drug and Food Metabolism
Scientists Demystify an Enzyme Responsible for Drug and Food Metabolism 11 November 2010For the first time, scientists have been able to "freeze in time" a mysterious process by which a critical enzyme metabolizes drugs and chemicals in food. By recreating this process in the lab, a team of researchers has solved a 40-year-old puzzle about changes in a family of enzymes produced by the liver that break down common drugs such as Tylenol, caffeine, and opiates, as well as nutrients in many foods. The breakthrough discovery may help future researchers develop a wide range of more efficient and less-expensive drugs, household products, and other chemicals. The scientists' findings are published in the journal Science on 12 November 2010.
Scientists Use Skin Cells to Study Autism in a Petri Dish
Scientists Use Skin Cells to Study Autism in a Petri Dish 11 November 2010A team of researchers has used stem cells taken from the skin of patients with Rett syndrome — the most physically disabling of the autism disorders — to replicate autism in the lab and to study how the disease affects brain cells. The team's findings reveal disease-specific cellular defects, such as fewer functional connections between particular neurons, and demonstrate these defects are reversible. The results raise the hope that, one day, autism maybe become a treatable condition.
Scientists Discover How the Songbird's Brain Controls Timing During Singing
Scientists Discover How the Songbird's Brain Controls Timing During Singing 08 November 2010A team of scientists has observed the activity of nerve cells in a songbird's brain as it is singing a particular song. Dezhe Jin, an assistant professor in the Department of Physics at Penn State University and one of the study's authors, explained that understanding how birds string together sets of syllables -- or notes in a song-- may provide some insight into how the human brain learns language and produces speech. The research will be published in the journal Nature.
Scientists Discover Dying Corals and Creatures Near Deep Water Horizon Oil-Spill Site in the Gulf
Scientists Discover Dying Corals and Creatures Near Deep Water Horizon Oil-Spill Site in the Gulf 05 November 2010On a research ship in the Gulf of Mexico on Election Day this week, seven miles south-west of the site of the Deep Water Horizon oil-spill, a team of scientists discovered a community of corals that includes many recently dead colonies and others that clearly are dying. "We discovered a community of coral that has been impacted fairly recently by something very toxic," said the chief scientist on the cruise, Charles Fisher, who is a professor of biology at Penn State University and a member of the research team that selected the site for study.
Penn State Forensic Scientists to Study Reliability of Fingerprint Identification Techniques
Penn State Forensic Scientists to Study Reliability of Fingerprint Identification Techniques 01 November 2010While most of America’s knowledge of forensic science doesn’t extend much further than the CSI coming from their TV screens, those involved in science know there’s much more to it than that. Forensic science is a major “to die for,” and it is really an area of science in which constant research is being conducted and new discoveries are being made. CSI is actually right on point in their attempt to test fingerprints, but there is never mention of questioning of the tests. Since fingerprint comparison is one of the cornerstones of forensic crime investigation, and is recognized as an efficient means of personal identification, it is critical that the forensic examination of fingerprint retains public confidence.
Flowering Plants Have Evolved Multiple Genes to Prevent Inbreeding
Flowering Plants Have Evolved Multiple Genes to Prevent Inbreeding 28 October 2010A research team led by Teh-hui Kao, professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at Penn State University, in collaboration with a team led by Professor Seiji Takayama at the Nara Institute of Science and Technology in Japan, has discovered a large suite of genes in the petunia plant that acts to prevent it from breeding with itself or with its close relatives, and to promote breeding with unrelated individuals.
Penn State to Lead $7.3-Million Project to Reveal Genes of the Most Ancient Living Lineage of Flowering Plants
Penn State to Lead $7.3-Million Project to Reveal Genes of the Most Ancient Living Lineage of Flowering Plants 28 October 2010Unlocking the genetic secrets of Earth's most ancient living lineage of flowering plants -- the original source of genes for all economically important flowering crops -- is the goal of a new $7.3-million research project led by Claude W. dePamphilis, professor of biology at Penn State University. The 4-year Amborella Genome Project, funded by the National Science Foundation, involves scientists at five universities who will share the complex task of discovering the genetic structure of a rare plant species named Amborella, which has been found only on the island of New Caledonia in the southwest Pacific Ocean.
Japanese and U.S. Space Telescopes Reveal Previously Unknown Brilliant X-Ray Explosion in Our Milky Way Galaxy
Japanese and U.S. Space Telescopes Reveal Previously Unknown Brilliant X-Ray Explosion in Our Milky Way Galaxy 22 October 2010Astronomers in Japan, using an X-ray detector on the International Space Station, and at Penn State University, using NASA's Swift space observatory, are announcing the discovery of an object newly emitting X-rays, which previously had been hidden inside our Milky Way galaxy in the constellation Centaurus.
Video: The Gulf of Mexico--Investigating the Potential for Hidden Threats
22 October 2010Penn State Professor of Biology Charles Fisher and a team of scientist from across the nation are investigating how the unique life forms that dwell deepest in the Gulf of Mexico are adapting and surviving in response to the Deepwater Horizon oil rig disaster. Watch this video to learn more about this research.
$8-Million National Science Foundation Grant for International Dark-Energy Project Includes Penn State Scientists
$8-Million National Science Foundation Grant for International Dark-Energy Project Includes Penn State Scientists 20 October 2010An international program to unveil the nature of Dark Energy, the mysterious force that is causing the expansion of the universe to accelerate, has been awarded a grant of $8 million from the National Science Foundation (NSF). The survey, the Hobby-Eberly Telescope Dark Energy Project (HETDEX), is led by the University of Texas at Austin and includes Penn State University, Texas A&M University, and three institutions in Germany.
First Responder: The Swift Satellite
First Responder: The Swift Satellite 21 September 2010After five remarkable years of discovery, the Swift satellite has rewritten the book on the tremendous deep-space explosions known as gamma-ray bursts.
Probing Question: What is a Near Earth?
21 September 2010It's a planet like our own in size and composition, and one where surface conditions could support life, explains Jason Wright, assistant professor of astronomy and astrophysics. Read more at Research|Penn State.
There's an App for That Too: New App for Genes on Earth is Tool for Scientists and Entertaining for All
There's an App for That Too: New App for Genes on Earth is Tool for Scientists and Entertaining for All 20 September 2010The scientists who put an innovative tree of life online last year now have made that same resource available -- free -- for smartphones. The new "TimeTree" application lets anyone with an Apple iPhone harness a vast Internet storehouse of data about the diversity of life, from bacteria to humans. The intuitive interface is designed to answer a simple question, quickly and authoritatively: how long ago did species A and species B share a common ancestor?

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