Category Archives: Earth & Environment

Focus on research: Who politicized the environment and climate change?

By Brian C. Black

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared on The Conversation.

An environmental activist friend of mine recently shook her head and marveled at the extraordinary accomplishments of the last several months. “Still lots of work to be done,” she said. “But wow! This has been an epic period for environmentalists!”

From the rejection of the Keystone pipeline to the Paris Agreement on Climate Change (COP21), “epic” may be an apt descriptor for someone who is an environmentalist.

However, nothing galvanizes opposing forces to action better than significant wins by their foes. And 2016 appears to promise that environmental issues – particularly climate change – will be more politicized than ever before.

It wasn’t always this way.  Continue reading Focus on research: Who politicized the environment and climate change?

The research continues: Mushroom science

People walk by every day without giving a second glance to the blue and white historical markers posted at various locations around Penn State’s main campus. The markers give a nod to the University’s past, but some also offer a peek into the University’s future.

Near the west entrance to Buckhout Lab, University Park, is the Mushroom Science marker. In the 1920s Penn State began a comprehensive program in mushroom science. Researchers in this program improved compost and developed practices that were adopted by growers worldwide.

Leon Kneebone, emeritus professor of botany and plant pathology, created the Mushroom Industry Short Course in 1956. The Kneebone Mushroom Reference Collection, housed in the Life Sciences Library, is a working library for today’s researchers.  Continue reading The research continues: Mushroom science

How climate change affects bunnies

Along with rising sea levels, warmer winters, and worsening heat waves, climate change could raise our odds of getting malaria or other parasite-born diseases. One reason for that is because mosquitos and other disease-carriers are able to expand into areas that used to be too cold for them.

Earlier this week, Penn State biologist Isabella Cattadori published a paper about how climate change can impact parasites living in the soil, therefore impacting infection.

Cattadori and colleagues observed Scottish rabbits for nearly two and a half decades and found that the warming climate over that period enabled soil parasites to live longer, putting the rabbits at an increased risk of infection. The extent to which this increased risk affects the severity of an infection, she says, depends on the strength of the host’s (in this case, the rabbit’s) immune response. Cattadori’s findings could eventually help treat and prevent infections in humans from similar parasites.

She tells us more in the video below:

Members of the news media interested in talking to Cattadori should contact Barbara Kennedy at 814-863-4682 or

Mixed messages can create hazy climate change understanding

Ice melt Northwestern Glacier Alaska
Northwestern Glacier. With few exceptions, glaciers around the world have retreated at unprecedented rates over the last century. Left: 1940 photo taken by unknown photographer Right: 2005 photo taken by Bruce F. Molnia. Courtesy of the Glacier Photograph Collection, National Snow and Ice Data Center/World Data Center for Glaciology.

If you gave a weather report on climate change, you would need to issue two forecasts. For climate scientists — at least 97 percent of them — it’s absolutely clear and bright: global climate change is happening and humans are the primary cause. For the general populace, it’s cloudy and unpredictable: while they believe the climate is changing, only half say it’s humans who are at fault, according to Eric Plutzer, professor of political science and academic director of the Survey Research Center, Penn State, and his colleagues.

The researchers report in the current issue of Science that the key to this discrepancy may lie in how climate science is being taught in schools. Science teachers are offering lessons in climate science, it seems, but their own values and knowledge may be causing a mixed message for students.

I caught up with Plutzer for a brief question and answer on this paper, which was published yesterday afternoon.

Keep reading for the Q&A.  Continue reading Mixed messages can create hazy climate change understanding

What happens when LIGO texts you to say it’s detected one of Einstein’s predicted gravitational waves

By Chad Hanna

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared on The Conversation.

The best thing about a day in my life on the lookout for gravitational waves is that I never know when it will begin.

Like many of my colleagues working for the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO), the morning of Monday, September 14, 2015 caught me completely off-guard. For years, we’ve been joking that Advanced LIGO would be so sensitive we might just detect one the very first day it turns on. In retrospect, it’s remarkable how close to reality that joke turned out to be.

LIGO is listening for gravitational waves – one of the last unproven predictions of Einstein’s theory of general relativity. In his view of the universe, space and time are fluid things that depend on an observer’s frame of reference. For example, time passes just a (very) little bit more slowly for those who work on the ground floor of an office building as compared to their peers on the 101st floor. Why? They’re deeper in Earth’s gravitational pull.

Gravitational waves explained.

Continue reading What happens when LIGO texts you to say it’s detected one of Einstein’s predicted gravitational waves