UD Cooperative Extension holds flash mob to raise healthy eating awareness

4-H Delaware State Fair Flash MobSurprising then entertaining visitors at the Delaware State Fair, a University of Delaware Cooperative Extension 4-H flash mob burst onto the scene Tuesday, July 22, to raise awareness about the Food Smart Families healthy eating program.

The flash mob, featuring people of all ages, performed its dance routine to the song Veggie Believer by Carl Winter, a parody based on the Monkees’ 1966 hit I’m a Believer

The dance routine was created by Laura Sahd, a senior in UD’s College of Health Sciences who majors in dietetics and nutrition, minors in dance and is an Extension Scholar. She said that being able to combine her undergraduate interests while working with children was a great experience.

“It’s been really exciting because I teach dance, as well. It’s really fun to apply that knowledge and apply my nutrition knowledge and work with kids,” said Sahd.

While working as a dance instructor, Sahd has choreographed ballet and tap dance routines for 3-7 year olds but said she had never planned a routine this big before.

She said it took about two weeks to plan the routine and that two practice sessions were held in Kent and New Castle counties, with the routine video recorded and emailed to those who were unable to attend the rehearsals.

In addition to planning the dance routine, Sahd has also been spending the summer teaching the Food Smart Families curriculum to youth attending summer camps throughout the state. She said she enjoys the educational aspects that the Food Smart Families program provides to participants.

“It’s great to get them started learning about healthy eating and how to make healthy choices, whether they’re choosing fast food or what they should drink,” said Sahd. “Food Smart Families is a way to start to get people thinking about what they’re choosing to eat, and to start good habits early in life.”

Food Smart Families

The Food Smart Families grant was awarded to the National 4-H Council by ConAgra Foods, and Delaware 4-H was one of five state programs selected to receive funds to undertake nutrition education.

The nutrition education is delivered to children ages 8-12 in five two-hour lessons taught by one teenager and one adult. The goal is to reach 2,500 children in the state with 10 hours of nutrition, physical activity and “shopping savvy” education by Oct. 31.

Michelle Rodgers, associate dean for Cooperative Extension in UD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, explained, “One of the objectives of the Food Smart Families grant is to increase fruit and vegetable consumption, along with increasing physical activity and a number of other goals.”

Rodgers said the flash mob “was really just a fun way for the youth to be involved in the program, to get engaged with the concept, to showcase what they’re learning and to help them think about it in a different way. We’re pretty excited about the flash mob and about what we’ll able to do with this grant in terms of outreach.”

Kathleen Splane, extension agent and state program leader for family and consumer sciences, said that in addition to offering the curriculum at summer camps, “We’re doing a lot of community events at different community centers where we’ve done the education. That is designed to bring the parents and the families in to learn more about the program.”

Sue Snider, nutrition and food safety specialist with Cooperative Extension, adapted curriculum from Cornell Cooperative Extension to create Delaware’s 10-hour program.

The five sessions taught are focused on getting participants to drink low fat milk and water instead of sweetened drinks, to eat more fruits and vegetables, to eat more whole grains, and to eat fewer high fat and high sugar foods. Sessions also teach the importance of eating a healthy breakfast.

Every week, the Food Smart Families curriculum is taught at about a dozen sites throughout the state and judging by the pre- and post-tests given by the program leaders, the message has really resonated with the Delaware youth.

“We’ve had some really positive feedback from the kids. Kids are saying, ‘I’ll never drink soda again.’ We’ve had kids that have been in camps and they’re reading the labels of what’s in their lunch,” said Splane. “And parents are responding like ‘How are you getting my kid to eat zucchini? They never ate zucchini before.’ It’s due in part to the fact that every lesson has food preparation as a component, so the kids get to sample a healthy recipe that’s associated with the lesson that day.”

Article by Adam Thomas

Photos by Doug Baker

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UD to co-host 2014 Mid-Atlantic Regional Water Conference

Gerald "Jerry" Kauffman from the Institute for Public Administration, works with how climate change effects the water supplyThe Delaware Water Resources Center (DWRC) at the University of Delaware will be one of several National Institutes for Water Resources (NIWR) that will co-host the 2014 Mid-Atlantic Regional Water Conference.

The conference will take place Sept. 24-25 at the National Conservation Training Center in Shepherdstown, West Virginia.

Tom Sims, director of DWRC and deputy dean of UD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, said of the center and the conference, “The Delaware Water Resources Center has been committed for more than 40 years to the core missions of the Water Resources Research Act: training future water resource scientists and professionals, contemporary research on water resource issues of high importance to Delaware and the Mid-Atlantic region, and outreach and education programs on water resources science, management, and policy. The DWRC is pleased to support this regional conference.”

The theme of the conference is “The Future of Mid-Atlantic Water Infrastructure: Challenges and Solutions,” and it will combine exceptional educational programs with opportunities for researchers, policy makers, regulators, agencies and the public to share in the latest information, technologies and research relating to the region’s water resources.

Gerald J. Kauffman, director of UD’s Water Resources Agency, which is a unit of the Institute for Public Administration within the School of Public Policy and Administration, will give the keynote address at the conference focused on the value of water resources in the Mid-Atlantic, specifically the Chesapeake Bay and the Delaware River Basin.

Kauffman explained that because of those two major basins, the water resources in the region provide incredible ecological value. “The combined basins provide drinking water to over 10 percent of the entire United States and occupy about 1 percent of the entire landmass of the continental United States, so these watersheds in the Mid-Atlantic are really valuable to the nation and the region and the nearby cities,” he said.

The cities in question — New York City, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington, D.C. — rely on the watersheds for their drinking water.

Furthermore, Kauffman explained that the watersheds provide additional ecological resources in the form of blue crab and reviving oyster populations. The Chesapeake “is the center of a trillion dollar recreation, tourism and agricultural based economy, but the Delaware River has really nice ecosystems, as well,” said Kauffman, who has completed economic studies of both basins.

Kauffman said UD is particularly well positioned to study and talk about the issues surrounding the watersheds because the University is in the middle of the Delaware river and bay and the Chesapeake.

“Where we are here in Newark, we’re about a dozen miles to the Delaware River and if we go west, we can get to the Chesapeake Bay. So if you’re studying this issue of water science and policy, there’s going to be a lot to talk about,” said Kauffman.

“We’re uniquely poised to talk about and conduct research in the value of these water systems, so UD is a special place where students and the faculty and the staff can get involved in doing this kind of work,” he said. “I’ll be excited to talk about that at the Mid-Atlantic conference in September.”

For more information about the 2014 Mid-Atlantic Regional Water Conference, visit the website. The registration deadline is Aug. 30.

About the Delaware Water Resources Center

As a member of the National Institutes for Water Resources, the Delaware Water Resources Center has two key missions related to Delaware’s water resources, such as the state’s ground water aquifers and its streams, ponds, lakes and coastal waters.

The first is to support research, education, and public outreach programs that focus on water supply, water management, and water quality — issues of considerable importance to Delaware citizens who are concerned about the future of our water resources. DWRC is specifically charged with the exploration of new ideas that address water problems or expand understanding of water-related phenomena.

The second mission is to foster and support training and education programs for the future water scientists, engineers, managers and policy-makers who will lead the water resources research, planning and management efforts in the state in the future.

About the Water Resources Agency

The mission of the Water Resources Agency is to provide water science and policy assistance to governments in Delaware, the Delaware Valley, and along the Atlantic seaboard through the land grant public service, education and research role of the University of Delaware.

The WRA is a unit of the Institute for Public Administration within the School of Public Policy and Administration in UD’s College of Arts and Sciences.

Photo by Kathy F. Atkinson

Article by Adam Thomas

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UD Cooperative Extension heads to Delaware State Fair

UD Cooperative Extension heads to the Delaware State FairUniversity of Delaware Cooperative Extension will once again have a strong presence at this year’s Delaware State Fair, which runs Thursday, July 17, through Saturday, July 26, at the fairgrounds in Harrington, Delaware.

4-H youth, in particular, have a strong stake in the Delaware State Fair as it serves as the culmination of planning that begins at the start of the 4-H year the previous September.

As they move through the year, 4-H youth reserve the best of their work to display at the fair, with exhibits that span several diverse project areas including canning, entomology, beekeeping, clothing and textiles, horticulture, crops, food products, woodworking, computer graphics and photography, to name just a few.

Extension staff, Master Food Educators, Master Gardeners and 4-H alumni serve as exhibit judges. In 2013, 4-H checked-in 10,362 exhibits.

The 4-H general demonstrations, also known as illustrated talks, will take place from 10 a.m.-noon, Monday, July 21.

In addition, there will be 4-H floats on display during fair’s nightly parades.

The Delaware State Fair is the capstone event for 4-H contest winners at the county level, who will vie for overall state honors in Harrington. There will be competition in livestock, poultry, horticulture, vegetable, clothing and textiles, and photography. Other featured contests include tractor driving, photography, archery, Avian Bowl, Consumer Bowl, the 4-H Horse Show and a talent show.

The awards celebration for these contests will be held on Saturday, July 26, from 5-7 p.m.

In addition to the 4-H presence, Cooperative Extension will be represented by members of the Master Gardeners, who will answer gardening questions at their gazebo across from the plaza.

At the Delaware Department of Agriculture (DDA) Commodities Building, the Cooperative Extension exhibit will feature an online Ask an Expert station, which debuted at the state fair last year. At the station, members of the public are invited to query on topics that include lawn and garden, food safety, consumer sciences and questions about 4-H. Live Extension experts will also be on hand to answer questions.

Directly across from the Extension exhibit, DDA’s demonstration kitchen will serve as a stage for a variety of interesting and delicious “how to” presentations, many taught by UD Extension staff members.

In celebration of Cooperative Extension’s 100th anniversary, there will be chances to win one of four gift baskets from each of Extension’s program areas — 4-H, lawn and garden, agriculture and natural resources, and family consumer sciences — with the drawing taking place on Saturday, July 26, at noon.

The Cooperative Extension centennial celebration ceremony will take place from 2:30 p.m.-4 p.m., Thursday, July 24, in the Grove Picnic Area. The public is invited to hear brief remarks by Gov. Jack Markell and others, and enjoy cake and the unveiling of the Centennial ice cream flavor created by the University’s UDairy Creamery especially for the occasion.

Article by Adam Thomas and Michele Walfred

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UD doctoral student conducts research on tick-borne diseases

Solny Adalsteinsson conducts study on Lyme DiseaseDelaware has one of the nation’s highest rates of Lyme disease per capita and the University of Delaware’s Solny Adalsteinsson is conducting a study that seeks to identify important ecological factors that contribute to the large number of infections.

Adalsteinsson, a doctoral student in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources’ Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology, is conducting her research as part of the Forest Fragments in Managed Ecosystems (FRAME) study. 

Looking at a group of forest fragments around New Castle County, Adalsteinsson is sampling ticks, mice and birds to determine factors in the forest fragments that influence tick-borne disease transmission and human disease risk.

Adalsteinsson said that ticks have three life stages beyond the egg: larvae, nymphs and adults. They only feed once during each life stage so the ecological processes that influence which host they feed upon ultimately impact how many ticks are infected.

“If a larval tick hatches out and feeds on a mouse — and mice are really good reservoirs for several tick-borne diseases — and if the larval tick acquires an infection during that blood meal, then it goes back into the leaf litter and molts and becomes a nymph and emerges the following year. When it feeds on its next host, that’s when it can transmit the disease or pick up a new one,” said Adalsteinsson.

Invasive plants and mice

When it comes to mice and the rate at which they transmit tick-borne diseases, Adalsteinsson said that a culprit might be an invasive plant, multiflora rose.

“Multiflora rose may be facilitating that interaction and thus amplifying the number of infected ticks on the landscape. So I’m trying to get at that by first seeing if we find more ticks under multiflora rose than in areas without it, and I think that might be possible,” said Adalsteinsson.

Multiflora rose is a highly invasive plant that takes over an area and covers it in a dense thicket. Ticks are sensitive to drying out and the dense thicket provides them a high humidity environment and stable temperatures, which explains why there may be more ticks living under the multiflora rose.

It is an attractive environment for mice, as well.

“I think mice also probably really like living in multiflora rose and that’s because it provides good cover from predators, and maybe even provides food in the fall when there are rose hips on it,” said Adalsteinsson. “I think mice in general would prefer any kind of thicker understory structure.”

As a result, Adalsteinsson has set up nest boxes around local forest fragments as a way to look at “mouse occupancy.”

“We measure the vegetation around each nest box and then we can see if those vegetation characteristics are influencing whether there’s a mouse occupying that immediate area or not,” she said.

Air tick travel

Birds have been identified as helping to expand the range of certain species of ticks and associated pathogens and because of this Adalsteinsson is also looking at how breeding season, when there is an influx in migratory birds in the area, impacts the disease transmission cycle.

To do this, she is netting birds across the forest fragments and seeing if certain sections contain birds that have higher tick loads than others. She will also pull the ticks off and test them for pathogens.

“We’re also tracking fledglings that spend a lot of time on the ground, catbirds and wood thrush in particular, and seeing if we can identify movement patterns that might explain how ticks are being moved across this type of landscape,” said Adalsteinsson.

Tick species

Adalsteinsson said that for the area in which she studies, which stretches from Mt. Cuba Center in the north to Glasgow Park in the south, there are two main species of ticks: blacklegged ticks, which also are known as deer ticks, and Lone Star ticks.

The deer ticks are the ones that spread Lyme disease and are found in all of the study sites, though they are mostly found in the piedmont sites, which include UD’s Ecology Woods and the areas to the north, while the Lone Star ticks are only found in the southern forest fragments.

“In our southern sites, we’ve found a lot of Lone Star ticks with really high population densities and we’re trying to continue that monitoring to see if they’re expanding their range or if they’re limited by some environmental factor,” said Adalsteinsson.

In addition to UD associate professor Greg Shriver and assistant professor Jeff Buler, who serve as her co-advisers, and professor Jacob Bowman and supplemental faculty member Vince D’Amico, who serve on her dissertation committee, Adalsteinsson is assisted on the study by a large team of undergraduates, recent UD graduates and students from Pennsylvania State University, Denison University and the University of Vermont.

Dustin Brisson, associate professor of biology at the University of Pennsylvania, serves on Adalsteinsson’s committee, as well, and she said that he has provided her with much guidance during the course of the project.

As to how she became interested in the study, Adalsteinsson explained, “I just think it’s a really fascinating area because it’s such a complex system that in order to understand it, you have to know the whole ecosystem and all these moving parts. That really drew me to it. And, like a lot of other people around here, I’ve had Lyme disease a few times myself.”

Article by Adam Thomas

Photos courtesy of Solny Adalsteinsson

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

Delaware 4-H hosts Sicilian students as part of Youth Ambassadors Program

4-H hosts students from SicilyThe University of Delaware Cooperative Extension 4-H Program recently hosted 14 students from Sicily, the largest of the Italian islands, as part of the 2014 Youth Ambassadors Program.

The program is funded by the U.S. Department of State through its Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA).

The participants spent time in the United States from May 17 through June 7 and did everything from exploring Washington, D.C., to spending a night in New York’s American Museum of Natural History.

They also learned how to solve problems facing their communities, important information that they can take with them as they return home.

“They’ve had a pretty broad experience with the idea that they go back to Sicily and maybe do some projects in their community that engage people,” said Mark Manno, Delaware 4-H program leader. “We’ve been trying to teach them how to identify who the stakeholders are in their community and then how to proceed with a project, looking at what steps they need to take so that it’s successful. I think learning those skills will really help them in the end because you could have a great idea for a project but if you don’t know how to implement it, it won’t get off the ground.”

Many of the students identified pollution as a major problem in their community and so they spent time at the Peninsula Composting Group facility learning about commercial composting. They also took an ecological kayak tour at Sedge Island in New Jersey and helped plant beach grass to replenish the dunes.

In addition, the students learned about working in groups, doing team-building exercises to learn about each other’s personalities and how they meshed when trying to solve a problem.

“They’ve gone through what we call the True Colors personality IQ so they all understand their particular styles,” said Manno. “We always do that with kids and it’s really an exercise in diversity. They learn ‘why is this person this way and why am I that way,’ and it helps them understand that some people are very organized and some are just completely different. So they’ve done a lot of skill building and team building exercises.”

Chiara Maggiore, one of the students participating in the program, said that the program “is really teaching us something about ourselves in particular; about our capacities and how we can do something better for our community. I like the fact that we are having so much fun. We are enjoying the trip and we are experiencing things for the first time. At the same time, we came from different parts of the same region and we have such different personalities but we’ve come together and created a great group.”

Gaetano Pardo, another student on the trip, said that he had visited Australia before and was expecting America to be similar to that country. “I was expecting it to be like Australia but it’s not,” said Pardo. “There are a lot of trees and the houses are very different.”

Extending across states

The students spent a large portion of their time in the United States in New Jersey, staying with 4-H host families in the state and being led by Rutgers University Cooperative Extension. Manno pointed out that Alayne Torretta, a New Jersey 4-H agent, was great to work with and that this program — as well as the last program that had students from Colombia and Ecuador — shows the possibilities of Extension partnerships among different states.

“Last fall Delaware 4-H teamed with Maryland’s Cecil County 4-H. This is a great example of cross-state partnerships in Extension. When I first got this grant, I knew we couldn’t do two cycles a year, so I put out a call to my colleagues in the northeast region and I got a lot of interest from that. And I’ve known Alayne Toretta a long time and it’s worked out very well so far,” said Manno.

Manno added that Delaware 4-H is waiting to hear from the State Department about round two of the program. “Teens from almost anywhere in the world may be coming to Delaware and Maryland soon,” he said. “Wherever they come from, they’re guaranteed a great experience in learning about democracy and problem solving.”

Article by Adam Thomas

Photos by Danielle Quigley

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

Three UD scientists among Thomson Reuters’ 2014 Highly Cited Researchers

highlycitedThree University of Delaware professors — Pamela Green, Blake Meyers and Cathy Wu — are among the world’s top scientists, according to the recently launched Thomson Reuters Highly Cited Researchers list.

According to Thomson Reuters, Highly Cited Researchers is a compilation of influential names in science that spotlights some of the “standout researchers of the last decade.”

Deriving from InCites Essential Science Indicators, a subset of the Web of Science, Highly Cited Researchers presents more than 3,000 authors in 21 main fields of science and the social sciences.

The researchers on the list earned the distinction by writing the greatest numbers of reports officially designated by Essential Science Indicators as Highly Cited Papers — those ranking among the top 1 percent most cited for their subject field and year of publication — between 2002 and 2012.

Thus, the listings of Highly Cited Researchers feature authors whose published work in their specialty areas has consistently been judged by peers to be of particular significance and utility, according to Thomson Reuters.

This new compilation of Highly Cited Researchers updates a previous site, originally known as ISIHighlyCited, first launched in 2001. The older collection identified researchers according to total citations to their work.

This time, Thomson Reuters analysts decided on a different approach, relying on the Highly Cited Papers compiled by Essential Science Indicators.

Pamela Green

Green is a professor and holds the Crawford H. Greenewalt Chair in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. She is also a professor in the School of Marine Science and Policy in the College of Earth, Ocean, and Environment with joint appointments in the departments of Biological Sciences and Chemistry and Biochemistry.

She leads a laboratory at the Delaware Biotechnology Institute (DBI) where her research is focused on post-transcriptional mechanisms that regulate the expression of genes, primarily in plants, but also in marine organisms and human cells. She is particularly interested in the fate of mRNA molecules because of their pivotal role as intermediates in the gene expression process.

Her work investigates the regulatory roles of microRNAs, RNA degradation, ribonucleases, and environmental stress responses.

Blake Meyers

Meyers is the chair of the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences in UD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, and he is the Edward F. and Elizabeth Goodman Rosenberg Professor of Plant and Soil Sciences. He also leads a laboratory at DBI.

The research of the Meyers lab is focused on plant genomics, studying and characterizing small RNAs and their regulatory roles. The lab’s research utilizes novel approaches and applications of bioinformatics and next-generation sequencing, with an emphasis on understanding the biological functions, evolution, and genomic impact of small RNAs, plus their interconnected functions in DNA methylation and as modulators of gene expression. These studies take place in rice, Arabidopsis, maize, Medicago, soybean and other species.

Cathy Wu

Wu is the Edward G. Jefferson Chair of Bioinformatics and Computational Biology, the director for the Center for Bioinformatics and Computational Biology (CBCB), the director of the Protein Information Resource (PIR) and a professor of computer and information sciences and also of biological sciences.

Her research interests include bioinformatics and computational biology, biological text mining, biological ontology, systems biology, and bioinformatics cyberinfrastructure. She is the principal investigator or co-principal investigator on a number of consortium projects, including the UniProt Consortium that provides an international protein sequences and functional resource with over 4 million page views per month from over 400,000 unique sites worldwide.


The three researchers have had a number of collaborations with one another over the years.

Meyers and Green just completed their 34th co-authored paper together, in addition to having had numerous grants funded together. Their collaborative work is facilitated by the intermingling of lab members in shared office space.

The two also serve as advisers on the graduate committees of each other’s students and are currently wrapping up a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) project with joint funding.

Together with Wu, all three researchers are involved in the National Science Foundation (NSF) Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship (IGERT) Program at UD.

Wu and Meyers are involved in a $2.2 million grant provided to UD from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to look at the production of biofuels in which they focus on aspects of analysis of gene expression and systems biology. Wu and Meyers also work together on the bioinformatics graduate program, which Wu leads, and Wu is on the thesis committee for several of Meyers’ bioinformatics graduate students. Green is on the admissions committee for the bioinformatics graduate program.

Meyers explained that a common theme for all of them is large-scale biology. “While we each have our own areas of specialization and this ‘theme’ of large-scale biology plays a role of varying importance to our labs, we have many approaches in common. These are mainly related to bioinformatics and computational analyses, but are also connected to data generation, and laboratory methods and biological systems in the case of Pam and me,” he said.

UD, Mt. Cuba Center research how native plants contribute to healthy ecosystems

The University of Delaware and Mt. Cuba Center have entered into a new research collaboration to assess the ecological value of native plants, and determine if insects are more attracted to “store bought” native plants or plants that grow in the wild.

The project involves two separate studies led by UD’s Doug Tallamy and Deborah Delaney who seek to add ecological value to the list of attributes gardeners should consider when making choices for their gardens and landscapes. 

Tallamy, professor in the Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology (ENWC), and Delaney, assistant professor in the department, are both assisted in their research by Mt. Cuba Center Fellows Emily Baisden and Owen Cass, who are graduate students in UD’s entomology and wildlife ecology program.

The research projects will last for two years and are taking place at two trial gardens at Mt. Cuba Center, located on Barley Mill Road near Hockessin, Delaware, at apiaries at both Mt. Cuba Center and UD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR), and at laboratory space at CANR.

The partnership will be formally announced on Wednesday, July 9, from 4-7 p.m., at Mt. Cuba Center’s third annual Trial Garden Open House.

Jeff Downing, executive director of Mt. Cuba Center, explained that with Mt. Cuba Center seeking to get involved with more academic research involving horticultural plants with an ecological angle, the partnership with UD was a logical one.

“The University of Delaware is a natural partner for Mt. Cuba Center,” said Downing. “With Doug Tallamy and Deborah Delaney, we are studying that nebulous area where horticulture and ecology intersect. Mt. Cuba Center is interested in improving understanding of how native plants contribute to healthy ecosystems, and our Trial Garden and renowned native plant gardens are the perfect laboratory for this research. Being able to execute these interesting and relevant research projects and subsidize fellowships for the graduate students — the next generation of researchers — seemed like a double win.”

Downing said he believes the partnership is “a great way to be able to actualize our research objectives in a way that is economical but impactful and at the same time, we get some really good research out of it and subsidize the future of botanical, horticultural, ecological research.”

“The health of the earth’s inhabitants will ultimately be determined by how well we align the study of plants, animals, humans and ecosystems,” said Mark Rieger, dean and professor at UD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. “Our partnership with the Mt. Cuba Center is critical to the University’s ability to explore this ‘One Health’ phenomenon further. We are particularly honored to collaborate with the center on this relevant research and look forward to our continued partnership.”

Doug Tallamy and Emily Baisden conduct research at Mt. Cuba CenterCultivar research

To determine if cultivars of native plants — plants that have been bred to have a certain trait such as color, shape or size — support food webs as well as their parent species, Tallamy and Baisden are collecting insects from a garden at Mt. Cuba Center and raising them to see what types of species are feeding on the plants and if they are feeding on certain plants more than others.

Tallamy explained that cultivars often are selected because of how they look. “It’s all about aesthetics. So if you find a red maple in the fall that’s really red, you clone that genotype and call it October Glory red maple. Then you’ve got a cultivar,” he said. “So it’s a slice of the genome of that population. A lot of cultivars are just variants found in nature but a lot of them are actively selected by breeding programs. That’s what this garden is. All of these plants are genotypes of a single species and we are seeing which ones do best under different circumstances.”

A large part of the work involves rearing the insects, such as caterpillars, at labs at UD to determine their species in those cases in which the researchers cannot identify them in the field.

“We wouldn’t want to take anything we didn’t need to,” said Baisden.

Baisden’s work includes maintaining the garden and its 160 plants, weeding and watering them when necessary, and collecting insects from the garden with Tallamy three times during the summer.

Tallamy explained that when they collect insects, it’s a two-day event. One day they collect the caterpillars and the next they take leaf blowers converted to vacuum machines and collect the rest of the insects. He also noted that Baisden’s job of keeping the insects alive through winter is a big undertaking.

“Come August, the ones we collect are not going to come out as adults until next spring. We have to keep them alive all winter long, which is very hard. All of the insects we suck up with our machine, Emily has to identify,” said Tallamy.

Tallamy also noted that even though this study isn’t looking at every type of cultivar in the world — there are multiple thousands — they will be able to extrapolate the results to cover most types of cultivars.

“What we’re looking at is different types of genetic changes and then we can extrapolate because there’s no way we’re going to look at all tens of thousands of cultivars. Fortunately, there are only a few types of genetic changes that create a cultivar. We are looking for patterns that emerge from these few changes,” said Tallamy.

Deborah Delaney and Owen Cass conduct research at Mt. Cuba CenterEcological role of flowering plants

Delaney and Cass will look at how well various plants attract insects in order to determine which plants provide the most nutritional pollen and nectar for pollinators. The nutritional quality of pollen and nectar collected will also be analyzed to determine differences in nutritional value.

Delaney explained that they will look at cultivars within two Genera: Coreopsis andMonarda.

“We are really going to be assessing floral traits like color, nectar and pollen quantities, and the nutritional quality of nectar and pollen of the different cultivars to see if there’s any differences,” said Delaney. “Ultimately, we want to understand the ecological role that these different cultivars serve in a landscape so that people are not only making a choice on the beauty of a cultivar but of the actual practical purpose of that plant in the ecosystem or in their garden or lawn — what the plant is going to attract and if it will be able to provide nutritious forage for whatever it attracts.”

In addition to collecting pollinators from the plants with a leaf vacuum, Cass explained that they will also be observing the pollinators and how they interact with the plants.

“We’ll be making observations of the pollinators by just sitting there with a checklist and noting them as they come. It will be done in a methodical way so we can show statistical significance between the cultivars for their attractiveness,” said Cass.

Cass also said that they have set up five beehives at Mt. Cuba Center, as well as hives at UD’s CANR facilities in Newark, and placed pollen traps on the hives.

Once a week, they turn the traps on for eight hours during the peak pollen collecting and foraging hours, and the pollen loads are knocked off the honey bees into traps where the pollen collects in discrete pellets.

“We take that pollen load to the lab and study the pellets under a microscope and identify them to the lowest taxonomic rank possible,” said Cass, who explained that they do this in order to track the bees’ foraging resources and preferences within 2-5 miles of their respective colony, which is their foraging distance. This will provide a temporal forage calendar for the honey bees at Mt. Cuba Center and on UD’s Newark farm.

“Week by week we can see how much they brought in and if they are feeding on only one plant or multiple plants, and which is the dominant plant that week,” said Cass.

With the hives at both Mt. Cuba Center and Newark, the researchers can see how this works in two completely different landscapes.

“We can see the different pollen that is brought in when it’s primarily forest cover, fragmented fields and more rural versus UD, which is more urban,” said Cass.

With this research, they are hoping to be able to inform local beekeepers of how colony growth and strength is linked to specific resources that are available to the local bees.

“A common question that beekeepers have is ‘What are my bee’s bringing in?’ This question came to my mind four years ago when I first started beekeeping and it’s a difficult question to answer. It takes a lot of leg work to collect them, identify them, and look through all the different resources,” said Cass.

Article by Adam Thomas

Photos by Danielle Quigley

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Five UD students receive NSF Graduate Research Fellowships

DENIN-Fischel_Matt-Plant_Root_ResearchMatthew Fischel, a doctoral student at the University of Delaware, is busy this summer researching the ability of wetland plants to sequester heavy metal contaminants in the face of sea level rise at a community near Wilmington.

Fischel, whose hometown is Hockessin, Delaware, aspires to become a professor in the natural sciences, following in the footsteps of his adviser, Donald Sparks, S. Hallock du Pont Chair in Plant and Soil Sciences and director of the Delaware Environmental Institute.

“I want to be able to shape the future in environmental research and help train the next generation of scientists,” Fischel says.

He’s well on his way, as one of five UD students who have won prestigious Graduate Research Fellowship Program awards from the National Science Foundation (NSF).

The oldest graduate fellowship of its kind, now in its 62nd year, the program has a strong track record of selecting recipients who achieve high levels of success in their future academic and professional careers, with past fellows including numerous Nobel Prize winners and other leading innovators and educators.

NSF Fellows benefit from a three-year annual stipend of $32,000 along with a $12,000 cost of education allowance for tuition and fees (paid to the institution), opportunities for international research and professional development, and the freedom to conduct their own research at any accredited U.S. institution of graduate education they choose.

Fischel, both honored and excited to be selected for the national award, says the fellowship provides the flexibility he needs to conduct research he’s interested in and which will help improve the natural world.

“The University of Delaware is proud of our NSF Graduate Research Fellows and looks forward to their continuing accomplishments,” says James Richards, vice provost for graduate and professional education. “These exceptional students are on a trajectory to become tomorrow’s leaders.”

UD’s 2014 NSF Graduate Research Fellows

The following UD students and alumni were named fellows and plan to pursue research in the following fields and graduate schools, according to information provided by NSF:

  • Peter Attia, engineering (materials), University of Delaware
  • Austin Bart (Honors), software systems and software engineering, Virginia Tech
  • Matthew Fischel, geosciences and geochemistry, University of Delaware
  • Michael Orella, chemical engineering, University of Delaware
  • Jeffrey Smith, life sciences – ecology, Yale University
  • Additionally, Diana Haidar, who received her bachelor’s degree at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, was named a fellow and is pursuing her graduate work in mechanical engineering at the University of Delaware.

Five UD alumni received honorable mention. They included Christine Gregg (Honors), currently a graduate student in mechanical engineering at the University of California-Berkeley; Douglas Kenny, a graduate student in chemistry at UD; Kelsey Lucca (Honors), a graduate student in developmental psychology at Duke University; Joshua Martin, a graduate student in materials science and engineering at Northeastern University; and Sarah Solomon (Honors), whose field of study is psychology-cognitive neuroscience.

Article by Tracey Bryant

Photo by Evan Krape

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4-H Palindrome Robotics Club impresses in inaugural year

4-H Palindrome Robotics team impresses in first yearDuring its inaugural year, Delaware’s 4-H Palindrome Robotics Club had a strong showing, competing in a regional championship and finishing with a top 40 ranking in the Mid-Atlantic.

Club members competed in three competitions, making it all the way to the Mid-Atlantic For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST) Region Championships at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.

Palindrome Robotics finished the season ranked 36th out of 110 teams in the region, which is no small feat for a team that started in August 2013.

The club made it to the regional championship by competing in two district events, finishing as a semifinalist at the first district event and as a quarterfinalist in the second event.

At the competitions, the club competed with its robot, named Aibohphobia — meaning the fear of palindrome — in a group competition that saw alliances of three teams working together with their robots to compete in a game created by FIRST called “Aerial Assist.”

The game was played by two competing “alliances” of three robots, each of which had to work together to score as many goals as possible in a two minute and 30 second time period. One goal was suspended seven feet high, with two lower goals located on each corner of the field. Teams were awarded 10 points for the high goals and one point for the low goals. Robots were allowed to play the role of goalies in order to keep the balls out of their goals.

There was also a five-foot truss in the middle of the field that teams scored points for getting the ball over, and teams were awarded bonuses if their robots assisted their alliance members in the scoring of goals and moving the ball together through the field’s three zones.

The balls that the alliances had to move were exercise balls approximately two feet in diameter, and one human player stood on the side to load the balls onto their robots.

The first 10 seconds of each match was an “autonomous period” in which the robots operated independently of their drivers and each robot was allowed to begin with a ball and have a chance to score a goal. For the rest of the match, drivers remotely controlled the robots from behind a protective wall, known as an “alliance station.”

Santesh Shah, the mentor for the club, explained that it took the club six weeks to design, build and program the robot.

Shah said that his favorite part of being involved with the program is that he can “teach kids things in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields and then see them build a robot that can accomplish the task it was built for.”

Club’s formation

The 4-H Palindrome Robotics Club was formed when a group of young people approached Mark Manno, Delaware 4-H program leader, and Mallory Vogl, Cooperative Extension agent, about partnering with 4-H so they could compete in the FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC), which is a high school age competition that requires participants to be associated with a non-profit organization.

“A few of them had participated in another group before but they were trying to start their own group and it just seemed from the beginning like a wonderful partnership,” said Vogl. “We obviously are a non-profit organization and so that worked out for them. For us, 4-H has three national mission mandates, one of them being STEM, and science is our biggest push right now, so any time we have the opportunity to do some different science programs, we are all about that. It just seemed like a match made in heaven.”

The 4-H club has 18 members, and 16 of them attended competitions. The club usually meets once or twice a week, either Tuesday or Thursday, with meeting reminders sent out through email and posted on the club’s website.

Shah said that the club is now actively participating in community events and recruiting for its next season in 2015.

Article by Adam Thomas

Photos by Danielle Quigley

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Landscape ecology class flies in hot air balloon to learn about habitat complexities

http://www.udel.edu/udaily/2014/jun/ecology-balloon-062414.htmlTo get his landscape ecology students to appreciate the full scope of the complexities of landscapes in the real world and not just through images on their computer screens, the University of Delaware’s Jeff Buler ended the year on a high note, taking his students up in a hot air balloon.

The trip was partially an homage to the Frenchman Felix Tournachon, also known as Nadar, who took the first aerial photograph from a hot air balloon in 1858 that helped inspire the field of landscape ecology.

The goal of the trip was to see firsthand landscape elements, such as habitat patches and corridors, and to be able to delineate how energy flows through ecosystems, such as water through a watershed.

Students were also able to see natural disturbances, geologic features, how humans shape a landscape and the lineages between habitats and ecosystems.

“Nowadays we have all this satellite imagery and things that we work with to quantify the landscape, and we sort of break it down into these simple elements and simple land cover types — things which don’t really capture all the complexity of the real world,” said Buler, assistant professor in the Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology.

Buler said that he doesn’t know of any other landscape ecology class that has used a hot air balloon to study landscape ecology and that it might be something unique to UD.

The group included six students total – four graduate students and two undergraduates – and took off at dawn, flying out of Pottstown, Pennsylvania, and landing in Royersford after an hour-long ride.

Buler said that by taking that route, the students got to see the spectrum, from open country to urban development to state game land.

“These are wildlife conservation majors and graduate students and our interest is in landscape ecology from the perspective of wildlife management. We flew over some state game lands and they could actually see how they were managing the forest and the open areas for wildlife,” said Buler.

Once aloft in the balloon, Buler explained that he was able to point out the various features of the landscape that the class had been learning about all semester long.

Will Macaluso, a master’s student in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, said the ride turned out to be a lot more informative than he had imagined. “Before going up in the balloon, I didn’t expect to gain much information from the balloon that I couldn’t gain from looking at satellite imagery,” said Macaluso. “However, aerial imagery doesn’t capture the depth of the landscape that you can see from a hot air balloon.”

Macaluso said that from the balloon, he was able to see multiple layers of canopy in forested areas that can be hard to differentiate in satellite images, as well as assess the age, species and general health of the diverse tree species in the landscape.

Kevin Archibald, a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences, said that from his vantage point in the hot air balloon, “it was quite easy to identify elements of the landscape such as landscape patches, corridors and agricultural matrix.”

Archibald said he was “struck by was the complexity of real landscapes when compared to their digital representations” and added that while it is easy to assume that digital maps are perfect representations of real landscapes, “the truth is that real landscapes have near infinite levels of complexity at finer and finer scales. Being able to see this actual complexity gives new meaning to elements of the landscape.”

Both students said that in addition to being informative, the hot air balloon ride was a fun experience and one that they hope is carried on in future classes.

Article by Adam Thomas

Photos by Evan Krape

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