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nuggetWednesday, Dec 14 2005

Forest Diversity Patterns

Patterns of tree diversity in tropical forests across the world can be explained using a simple set of theories, according to a new mathematical analysis of data on the relative abundance of different species. The study identifies two simple theories that can explain why all tropical forests seem to show similar patterns of relative species abundance. Jayanth Banavar, his student Igor Volkov, and colleagues studied data on the relative abundance of different tree species in six Old and New World tropical forests. Such forests show remarkably consistent patterns in the commonness and rarity of different species. For example, forests tend to contain a handful of very abundant species, many species of medium abundance, and relatively few species of very low abundance. As the group reports in Nature, two different mechanisms can each explain why low-abundance species are rarer than medium-abundance ones. One theory states that low-abundance species are rarer because they mostly consist of immigrants of the rare species from the surrounding communities. Once such a species becomes extinct it takes a long time for its reintroduction. Conversely, low-abundance species may be rare because once a new species colonizes a forest, it multiplies rapidly due to the absence of within-species competition for the resources and quickly graduates into a higher abundance category. The authors add that simply looking at data on relative species abundance for a given forest is insufficient to distinguish between these two competing explanations. More...
nuggetTuesday, Dec 6 2005

Muller in C&E News

The 50th anniversary of Erwin Muller's field ion microscope, the first instrument to resolve atoms, was celebrated in a recent issue of Chemical and Engineering News. More...
nuggetSunday, Dec 4 2005

Marshall Scholar Adam Morgan

Adam Morgan, a senior Penn State Schreyer Honors College scholar, has been selected to receive a highly coveted Marshall Scholarship, which will afford him the opportunity to study at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom next year. The Dallas, Pa., native will graduate from Penn State in May with a dual major in astronomy/astrophysics and physics and a minor in mathematics. While at Cambridge, Morgan plans to pursue a Ph.D. in astrophysics with a focus on cosmology. The Marshall Scholarship program finances at least 40 select American college students each year to study for any degree in the United Kingdom, usually at the graduate level. Each scholarship is held for two years with the possibility of renewing for a third year. More...
nuggetTuesday, Oct 25 2005

Habits are Hard to Break

Dezhe Jin and his collaborators at MIT have used laboratory rats in a maze to study what happens when the brain forms a useful habit. Rats learned to associate the tone of a sound with the location of a food reward in a T-maze. The researchers then changed the environment by removing the reward, in effect breaking the habit. When the reward was restored, however, the neural pathways created by the habit immediately re-formed within the brains of the rats. Analysis of the neural activity in the basal ganglia, a critical brain structure for procedural learning, shows that neurons spike randomly at the initial stages of learning of the tone-reward location association, more regularly after the learning, and again randomly when the association is removed. When the association is restored, the randomness quickly goes down. The anti-correlation between the spiking randomness and the learning indicates that the basal ganglia might be a site of neural exploration for forming beneficial habits in new environments. (Barnes et al, Nature. 437, 1158 (2005). More...
nuggetTuesday, Oct 11 2005

NOVA and Stephon Alexander

Penn State physicist Stephon Alexander appeared in the October 11, 2005 edition of NOVA, on PBS, talking about the legacy of Einstein's famous equation E=mc2. This is the centennial of Einstein's epochal 1905 contributions to the modern view of space and time. More...
nuggetSaturday, Oct 8 2005

Top cited articles in Nanoletters

A paper from Professor Peter Eklund's research group on the confinement of phonons in silicon nanowires is one of the top-downloaded articles in the journal Nanoletters from January to June 2005. Peter's group made the first observation of phonon frequency shifts due to quantum confinement in single-crystalline semiconducting nanowires. Two articles from Penn State appear in the top twenty such articles. More...
nuggetSaturday, Oct 8 2005


In October 2005, the department was delighted to receive a bust of Nikola Tesla, a gift made possible through the generous efforts of John Wagner, a retired teacher from Ann Arbor, Michigan. The picture shows John and his wife Lois, along with two of the strong young graduate students (David Stucke and Cristiano Nisoli) who helped install the bust in its current location outside of the main Osmond lecture halls. Tesla, a pioneer in the application of the new science of electricity & magnetism, was the primary inventor of both radio and the alternating current system of electricity distribution.
nuggetWednesday, Sep 14 2005

Taylor Lecture for 2005

This Friday, the current president of the American Physical Society, Marvin L. Cohen, will be visiting Penn State to give the Taylor Lecture. Marvin's talk is at 11:00 AM on September 16, in 117 Hetzel Union Building. The title of his talk is “Quantum Alchemy and Reflections on the World Year of Physics 2005 and Einstein.” Professor Cohen's talk is the highlight of a short lecture series that morning on computational materials science. The series begins at 9:00 AM with a talk by Long-Qing Chen, (Professor of Materials Science and Engineering at PSU), followed by Kristen Fichthorn (Professor of Chemical Engineering and Physics) at 9:35, and Vincent Crespi (Professor of Physics and Materials Science and Engineering) at 10:10. There will be short breaks between talks to accommodate the diverse schedules of audience members. Professor Cohen is a University Professor in the physics department at the University of California at Berkeley. He is also a member of the National Academy of Science and a 2002 recipient of the National Medal of Science. More...
nuggetThursday, Sep 8 2005

Reka Albert featured in Physics Today

Professor Reka Albert's research on biological networks is featured in the September 2005 Reference Frame column of Physics Today, written by Leo Kadanoff. More...
nuggetTuesday, Aug 23 2005

Microdisplacement Printing

A new patterning technique, which extends the library of molecules that can be used for patterning, is described in the Sept. 14 issue of the journal Nano Letters by a team led by Paul S. Weiss, professor of chemistry and physics at Penn State (also featured in Science Editor's Choice and on NSF Radio). The new microdisplacement technique is based on a widely used patterning method known as microcontact printing -- a simple way of fabricating chemical patterns that does not require clean rooms and other kinds of special and expensive environments. Both methods involve "inking" a patterned rubber-like stamp with a solution of molecules, then applying the inked stamp to a surface. "Microdisplacement gives us more control over the precision with which the patterns are placed and retained and also allows us to use a wider range of molecules," Weiss said. More...
Monday, Aug 22 2005

Faculty Position Available

The Department of Physics at The Pennsylvania State University invites applications for faculty appointments effective the Fall semester of 2006. Applicants should have a Ph.D. and an outstanding research record. Rank will be commensurate with qualifications and experience. We seek to recruit in the area of AMO physics. However, exceptional candidates in any of the department's current areas of research will be considered. These areas are AMO physics, biological physics, condensed matter physics, gravitational physics, particle physics and particle astrophysics. Candidates at the junior level should submit a letter of application, a curriculum vitae, a brief description of research plans, and arrange for four letters of recommendation to be sent to: Jayanth Banavar, Box 262, Department of Physics, 104 Davey Laboratory, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA 16802. Nominations and applications for senior positions should be sent to the address above together with a list of at least six references. Applications completed by December 1, 2005 will be assured of consideration. However, applications will be considered until the positions are filled. Job application assistance is available for dual career situations. Penn State is committed to affirmative action, equal opportunity, and the diversity of its workforce.
nuggetSunday, Aug 21 2005

Wizard Camps

The College of Science "Wizards World" camp, part of the Action Potential Summer Science Camps, has been featured in Chemical and Engineering News. The Physics and Chemistry Departments and the Penn State MRSEC (plus other Penn State departments and Lockheed Martin) have contributed both people and ideas to these camps. More...
nuggetThursday, Aug 18 2005

Swift Discovery

An article recently published in Nature (vol 436, p. 985, 2005 Aug. 18) by a consortium including Peter Meszaros and colleagues from Penn State and several international institutions reports on a new result on cosmic gamma-ray bursts. This was obtained with the Swift scientific satellite, which is operated from Penn State. It shows that, following the prompt gamma-ray emission, the burst luminosity suffers a previously unsuspected, very steep decline, visible in the X-ray afterglow, which after an hour or so changes to a more gradual decline lasting for days. More... (Image: NASA)
nuggetThursday, Aug 18 2005

Quantum Gravity and the Big Bang

Martin Bojowald, a new faculty member in the department, is featured in a recent article in Nature magazine that discusses his ideas about the relations between quantum gravity and big bang cosmology. More... (Image: Q. Schiermeier; LISA/JPL/NASA)
nuggetWednesday, Aug 17 2005

Workshop on Biologically Inspired Nanomaterials

A cross-disciplinary ICAM workshop, November 12-15, The Penn Stater Conference Hotel

The scope of the workshop includes theory, simulation, and experiments involving nanoscale materials inspired by biological systems. Specifically, the workshop will address the following questions:

  1. What has been learned about the molecular interactions between biomolecules and nanomaterials in natural, synthetic and semi-synthetic systems?
  2. What theoretical and experimental tools are needed to better understand the interface between natural and synthetic nanomaterials?
  3. How can we better mimic nature's solutions in designing the electronic, optical, and architectural components of nanomaterials?
  4. How does confinement affect the dynamics of biomolecules in nano-environments?
  5. Can changes in the structure and function of biomolecules upon binding to nanomaterials be understood? predicted?
  6. Can we design biologically compatible nanomaterials using inspiration from the natural systems that routinely survive extreme environments?
  7. How can evolutionary approaches be used in nanomaterial design? How can biologically-inspired adaptive processes be incorporated into nanomaterials design?
Wednesday, Jun 22 2005

Funeral for Professor Santiago R. Polo

Santiago R. Polo, December 15, 1922 - June 20, 2005. Santiago R. Polo, 82, of State College, died Monday, June 20, 2005, at home peacefully. Born December 15, 1922 in Salamanca, Spain. He was the son of the late Hermenegildo and Maria Exaltacion Polo. On November 24, 1962 he married Elizabeth F. Mercer, who survives at home. In 1982 he became a naturalized citizen of the USA. He received a BS in chemistry from the University of Salamanca. He received his Master's in 1945 and his PhD in 1949, both in Physics and from the University of Madrid. He was a research associate in physical chemistry at the Higher Council on Scientific Research in Spain from 1949 - 1950, at the Illinois Institute of Technology from 1950 - 1951, at Harvard University from 1951 - 1955, and a research associate in Physics at the Natural Research Council of Canada from 1955 - 1958, a member of the technical staff at RCA Labs from 1958 -1965. He was a Professor of Physics at Penn State University from 1965 until his retirement in 1990. He was a member of the American Physics Society. He received the Spanish Royal Academy of Science Award. He was a member Of Our Lady of Victory Catholic Church. In addition to his wife, he is survived by his four children, Michael S. Polo and his wife Betzabe, of Cupertino, Calif., Elizabeth M. Flynn and her husband Thomas G., of Etters, John L. Polo and his wife Marcella J., of State College, James M. Polo and his fiance Stephanie Gush, of State College; five grandchildren, E. Marlyn Flynn, Brendan C. Flynn, Angela Polo, Nathan V. Polo and Noah C. Polo; and a brother, Luis Polo of Madrid Spain. Visitation will be held from 7 to 9 p.m. on Thursday, June 23, at Koch Funeral Home, 2401. S. Atherton St., State College. The Funeral Mass will be at 10:30 a.m. on Friday, June 24, at Our Lady of Victory Catholic Church, 820 Westerly Parkway, State College. Burial will be in Pine Hall Cemetery.
Wednesday, Apr 13 2005

Former PSU Physics major wins Intel's top award

A former undergraduate Physics major from Penn State (BS PHYS 1998), Tim McWilliams, who went on to receive an MS from Stanford 2000 (in materials science and engineering) was recently awarded the 2004 Intel Achievement Award for his research/development work done at that famous company. Often referred to as "Intel's Nobel Prize," the Intel Achievement Awards (IAA) are presented annually to individuals and small teams whose exemplary performance resulted in significant improvement to Intel's corporate operations. Fewer than one percent of their employees ever receive an IAA. The award goes to Intel employees who played key roles in exciting new products, significant product improvement, manufacturing innovation, profit and market share improvements, global marketing inroads, and legal victories. Details of the work done by his research team are still confidential and considered proprietary information. Congratulations to Tim on his achievement in winning this award which is considered one of the highest accolades given by his company.
nuggetTuesday, Apr 12 2005

Signs of a Supersolid

Tony Clark and Moses Chan have described preliminary torsional-oscillator results that suggest that solid hydrogen, like solid helium-4, may exhibit a super-solid state at very low temperature. They emphasize that further work is necessary to confirm the phenomenon. This work, as reported at the recent APS March Meeting in Los Angeles, is featured in a recent issue of Science magazine. More... (Image: John Passaneau)
Friday, Apr 1 2005

Memorial Service for Professor Stan Sheperd

There will be a memorial service for Prof. Stan Sheperd, one of our former Physics colleagues in the department, Wednesday, April 6th from 12:00 - 1:00 at the Eisenhower Chapel on campus. Stan passed away last year in Florida where he had retired with his wife, Mary Gage. Mary will be returning to State College, as will Stan's son and family, to participate in the ceremony. A reception will be held immediately following the service as well, at the same location.
nuggetThursday, Mar 31 2005

Goldwater Scholarships

Two PSU undergraduate majors in Physics, Tina Lin and Josh Albert, have been awarded Goldwater Scholarships for 2005. Ms. Lin (sophomore) has worked with Prof. Sam Finn since her first year here at Penn State and Mr. Albert (junior) works in the lab of Prof. David Weiss. Both students are in Penn State's Schreyer Honors College. PSU can only nominate four students for this award, and all four PSU nominees received the award this year. This Scholarship Program, which honors Senator Barry M. Goldwater, was designed to foster and encourage outstanding students to pursue careers in the fields of mathematics, the natural sciences, and engineering. The Goldwater Scholarship is acknowledged to be the premier undergraduate award of its type in these fields and Penn State Physics majors have won four such awards in the last five years.
Friday, Mar 25 2005

Coop Student of the Year

David Atlee, a Physics major from King of Prussia, has been selected as the recipient of a national award. The Cooperative Education and Internship Association (CEIA), has honored Atlee with the 2004 Cooperative Education Student Achievement Award. The award is given annually in recognition of a student's academic achievements and contributions to their employers, the University, the community, and the field of cooperative education. Atlee was nominated by Dr. Christian Spiering, Group Leader AMANDA/IceCube, DESY in Zeuthen, Germany. During his January through August 2004 co-op assignment, he installed data acquisition and test software needed for the production and testing of digital optical modules for the IceCube experiment, searching for high energy neutrinos from cosmic sources. Dr. Spiering states that "David very effectively made the first tests of optical modules in Germany running. He is in the top 5% of the students in our group over the last ten years." Dave completed his first rotation during the summer of 2003 with Dr. Douglas Cowen, Associate Professor at Penn State University. During this co-op rotation, David conducted research in neutrino astrophysics, developing software to read out and analyze data from devices which ultimately will be inserted deep into the ice cap at the South Pole. He will receive a plaque and a $500 award, which will be presented to him on April 5 at the CEIA national conference in Anaheim, California.
nuggetTuesday, Mar 15 2005

Rick receives Undergrad PRogram Leadership Award

Rick Robinett has been selected to receive Penn State's Undergraduate Program Leadership Award for 2005. The Undergraduate Program Leadership Award recognizes a faculty member who has demonstrated exemplary leadership benefiting an existing Penn State undergraduate degree program. The goal of the award is to recognize those individuals who have major responsibilities for the delivery of undergraduate education within a unit and who are providing leadership that has transformed or revitalized the undergraduate program within the unit in some way. Congratulations, Rick!
nuggetMonday, Feb 21 2005

Catalytic Nanomotors: Autonomous Movement of Striped Nanorods

A team of researchers in Chemistry and Physics at Penn State has created a new class of nanomotors, bimetallic platinum/gold nanorods that move autonomously when placed in a hydrogen peroxide solution. This work has been featured recently in Chemical and Engineering News. More...
Wednesday, Feb 2 2005

APS Forum on Graduate Student Affairs

Amber Stuver was elected to the APS Forum on Graduate Student Affairs (FSGA) as a member at large. She will be the first Penn State student to serve on this Forum in more than a decade.
Wednesday, Feb 2 2005

Der Herr Der Quanten

Abhay Ashtekar's profile was featured in the special issue of the GEO magazine on 100 Years of Relativity. The issue was published on January 1, 2005 and the profile is entitled "Der Herr Der Quanten".
nuggetTuesday, Feb 1 2005

Quasiperiodic copper

A thin film of copper having a quasiperiodic structure has been discovered by a collaborative team of Penn State and University of Liverpool researchers. A quasicrystal alloy was used as a substrate, and the Cu film, unlike any other film observed thus far, retains the quasiperiodicity of the substrate to thicknesses of at least 20 atomic layers. The Cu films were first observed using scanning tunneling microscopy by Julian Ledieu and Rónán McGrath, a postdoctoral researcher and professor, respectively at University of Liverpool. The structure of the film was then determined using low-energy electron diffraction by Dennis Reid and Renee Diehl in the Physics Department at Penn State. Until now, all known quasicrystals were alloys. This novel film of pure Cu creates new opportunities to study the effects of aperiodicity on solid materials. More... (Image: 700 x 700 Å STM image and 170 eV LEED pattern of a 6-layer Cu film.)
nuggetMonday, Jan 17 2005

Record Balloon Endurance in Antartica

The CREAM payload launched in Antarctica on December 15 has beaten the long-duration unmanned balloon endurance record. It has been flying for 32 days, has gone around Antarctica 2.75 times, and should be flying for several more days still before being cut down. (The old record was 31 days).The instrument has been performing very well throughout, and Professor Stephane Coutu and his team should have the world's best cosmic-ray composition and primary-to-secondary ratio measurements.
nuggetSunday, Jan 16 2005


A new chemical state, designated a "protopolymer," has been observed by Penn State researchers in chains of phenylene molecules on a crystalline copper surface at low temperature. Protopolymers form when monomers, small molecules that link together chemically to form long chains, align and interact without forming chemical bonds. The novel structures were discovered by Paul S. Weiss, professor of physics and chemistry at Penn State and Gregory S. McCarty, a graduate student at time of discovery and now a research assistant professor of engineering science and mechanics. While surface-mediated pairing and other interactions have previously been seen on metal surfaces, this is the first observation of extended chains of molecules that exhibit a strong interaction without forming chemical bonds.
nuggetFriday, Jan 14 2005

Tuning Superatom Chemistry

Chemical reactivity can often be understood in terms of the stability of bonding arrangements that give each atom with a closed shell of electrons. The "jellium" model predicts that stable small atomic clusters can form with certain numbers of valence electrons, such as a cluster superatom with 40 valence electrons. Will Castleman's group has recently shown that Al13Ix shows a halogen-like stability when it contains an even number of iodine atoms, whereas Al14 clusters with an odd number of iodine atoms show an alkaline earth-like stability. These well-defined families of superatomic clusters suggests that additional such superatom systems may also be possible. Note added: This work has also recently been featured in the New Scientist. (Image: Science Magazine)
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