All posts by Matthew Swayne

Lights Out! Penn State Students and Researchers Face the Apocalypse

A lot of people think that scientists and researchers spend all their days and a lot of their nights toiling away in sterile, dimly lit labs, sequestered from students and the rest of the university community. Every once and a while, they may shout “Eureka!” to an unaware, but appreciative group of students and staff as they uncover the cure for a disease or add an extra letter to a really cool-looking math equation.

That’s not how research is done at Penn State. You’ll find research and teaching are tightly woven together in a positive feedback loop here. Research inspires lessons, which inspires students, which, in turn, inspires more research.

That’s especially helpful when you face an apocalypse.

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A Banner Weekend for Penn State Research

At the AAAS annual meeting last weekend I learned a lot, such as:

  • How our preconceptions of viruses as nasty things may have thwarted our knowledge of the long list of positive interactions humans have with these microbes.
  • How evolution changed us from furry creatures into lean, mean, skin-covered, sweating machines.
  • And how we can now take pictures and make movies of atoms. Actual atoms.
Dr. Jablonski addresses media questions at AAAS news briefing.

One thing I did not learn is that I am not a great photographer. I have known that for a long time. In fact, if you couple my lack of photographic skills with my out-of-focus iPhone camera, the pictures of the atom have finer resolutions and were much clearer.

But I tried.

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Zombies, Taxis and Science: Lessons From a Science Writer’s Conference

Brains… Brains… Brains… Photo from the Raleigh Living Dead Festival in downtown Raleigh. Photo by Cindy Honickman –

A bunch of the Penn State Research Communications team attended the National Association of Science Writers annual conference at Raleigh, N.C. last weekend.

Unfortunately, for me, it was an abbreviated conference. With Sandy bearing down on the East Coast and with me terrified of being stuck in the Detroit airport — no offense Motor City! – I decided to bug out early.

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The Lighter Side of Science: My Own Research Questions

Flickr–Creative Commons

Research at Penn State covers just about every field imaginable.

For the university’s researchers, their intellectual pursuit starts with a question–something that stirs their curiosities.

During the past few years, I’ve talked to researchers who are exploring everything from how highway equipment can influence the spread of invasive plant species to possible treatments for deadly diseases.

This is nothing new. The rich legacy of Penn State research is almost as old as the university itself.

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History: Alive and Well in Gettysburg

The North Carolina Memorial on Seminary Ridge in Gettysburg. A few feet from this memorial, park restoration experts are working to make the battlefield look like the way it was in 1863. The work is giving visitors and historians a fresh look at how the battle was fought. (Image: Flickr Creative Commons, Ron Cogswell)

One of the highlights of covering research at Penn State is meeting with some of the nation’s — and, often, the world’s — leading experts in their fields.

It’s a little intimidating, too.

OK. A lot intimidating.

Recently, I had a chance to travel to chat with noted Civil War historian Carol Reardon, Winfree Professor of American History, in Gettysburg. Reardon wrote Pickett’s Charge in History and Memory and is wrapping up her year as visiting professor at the Army War College in Carlisle. We talked about her new book, With a Sword in One Hand and Jomini in the Other, about the strategic challenges that the North faced during the Civil War and how those challenges may have caused the war to be longer and more deadly.

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