The research continues: Architectural engineering

It started with Mrs. O’Leary’s cow. The field of architectural engineering owes its beginning to the Great Chicago Fire when, on Sunday evening, October 8, 1879, a fire swept through the city, burning more than three square miles, leaving approximately 100,000 people homeless and 300 people dead. The estimated property loss was $190,000,000, or approximately $450 billion in 2016 dollars.

Architectural Engineering historical marker
Architectural Engineering historical marker, located at east entrance to Engineering Unit A, University Park campus.

While the fire was never actually traced to a cow kicking over a lantern, a gradual change took place while Chicagoans rebuilt their city. Structural steel was developed, the first skyscraper was built, and structural and civil engineering gave birth to architectural engineering.

Continue reading The research continues: Architectural engineering

How the Shots of Antietam May Have Echoed In Penn State

burnside_bridge_antietam_creek_1862
Rohrbach’s Bridge — or Burnside’s Bridge — was a hotly contested site on the Antietam battlefield. Jacob Gilbert Beaver, younger brother of James A. Beaver, president of Pennsylvania State College from 1906-1908, was shot and killed charging across the bridge on Sept. 17, 1862. (Wikimedia Commons)

The Battle of Antietam, which happened on Sept. 17, 1862, is considered the bloodiest day in American military history. Historians estimate that about 3,650 Union and Confederate soldiers died during the 12-hour engagement. One of those who fell that day was the brother of a Union colonel who would one day lead what is now called Penn State.

If you are going to the football game, the name may be familiar.

Continue reading How the Shots of Antietam May Have Echoed In Penn State

Keeping an ear on the final frontier

Well, is it, or isn’t it?

Sometimes, science is all about not having the foggiest idea about how something happens, but trying really hard to find out the truth. It also means not being afraid to go in potentially weird directions.

Jason Wright, Penn State associate professor of astronomy and astrophysics, is doing just that. He’s one of the astronomers trying to find out if — set the synthesizer on spooky and cue the weird music — a giant alien structure is causing the weird dimming of a star called KIC 8462852, better known as Tabby’s Star.

Located about 1,500 light-years from Earth, Tabby’s Star has undergone rapid and erratic dimming that typical cosmic phenomena — a rotating planet, for example, or comets — may not explain. While not proven or even likely, Wright suggests that an alien megastructure cannot be taken off the table as a possibility.

In this chat at the SETI Institute, (the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence Institute), Wright offers more information about Tabby’s Star and what it might — and might not — mean for the search for extraterrestrial intelligence.

Members of the news media interested in talking to Wright should contact Barbara Kennedy at 814-863-4682 or bkk1@psu.edu.

Focus on research: Poll reveals 3 types of Independents

By Michael Berkman

Political conventions focus attention on strong partisans. But not all Americans call themselves Democrats or Republicans, or for that matter Libertarians or Greens. Many prefer to think of themselves as Independents.

With the McCourtney “Mood of the Nation Poll,” we can look at these Independents in a unique way. The poll is a scientific survey that allows ordinary citizens to tell us what is on their minds, without being restricted to a small number of predetermined answers. It also includes standard polling questions such as party identification, allowing us to see who these independents are and what they are thinking about this campaign. The most recent poll posed a series of open-ended questions to a representative sample of 1,000 Americans between June 15-22.

Determining who is an Independent is not straightforward. CNN, in its post-convention survey, reports that “28 percent described themselves as Democrats, 24 percent described themselves as Republicans, and 48 percent described themselves as independents or members of another party.” This is not far from our survey. Our breakdown shows a greater number of Independents (35 percent) than Republicans or Democrats.

Continue reading Focus on research: Poll reveals 3 types of Independents

Did smoke kill the Neandertals?

Somewhere along our evolutionary path, humans developed the ability to tolerate smoke — which can be full of toxic chemicals.

This genetic mutation may have given early humans a few advantages for survival, says Gary Perdew, the John T. and Paige S. Smith Professor in Agricultural Sciences. Cooking food on a campfire in a cave or heating a shelter with fire could have been fatal without this adaptation, for instance.

On a recent episode of the Naked Scientists (listen to the excerpt above), Perdew discussed this genetic change, as well as how he and his team found that Neandertals didn’t have similar protection. Perdew suggests that this could be one reason that human civilization flourished and the Neandertals, well… went up in smoke.

You can read the transcript of the interview here and listen to the entire episode here, on the Naked Scientists, University of Cambridge website.

Members of the news media interested in talking to Perdew should contact Matt Swayne at 814-865-5774 or mls29@psu.edu.

Featured image: rahul rekapalli, via Flickr CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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