Seventh Annual STEM Awards Dinner

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The Seventh Annual STEM Awards Dinner was held Thursday, February 19, with over 200 people in attendance. Those in attendance include previous winners, as well as faculty, staff, students and community partners — all who work together to make YSU STEM the best it can be.

Interim Dean Gregg Sturrus introduced President Jim Tressel, who gave the opening remarks. YSU STEM is proud to honor the following people:

Stephanie McCann - Outstanding Young Alumna
Wesley Vins - Outstanding Young Alumnus
Roy J. Pratt III - Outstanding Alumnus
Tom Slavens - Outstanding Educational Partner
Steve Duca/Delphi Packard E/EA - Outstanding Community Partner
Ashley Martof - STEM Intern of the Year Award
America Makes - Intern Employer of the Year Award

You can read the full bios of the honorees here.

Physics Recent Publications

Michael Crescimanno, Tom Oder, and Jim Andrews, Professors, and Chuanhong Zhou, Research Associate, Physics & Astronomy, co-authored a recent peer-reviewed paper with five YSU undergraduates and two faculty from Case Western Reserve University, titled, “Chromatic control in coextruded layered polymer microlenses.” The student co-authors and their majors are Josh Petrus and Conner Hetzel, physics, Camron Bagheri and Jimmy Tancabel, mechanical engineering, and Cory Merlo, electrical engineering. Josh Petrus is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in physics at The Ohio State University. The paper appeared in December in the online open-access high-impact journal, Optics Express. The work was funded through YSU’s Affiliation with the National Science Foundation funded Center for Layered Polymeric Systems. You can read the full paper here.
Crescimanno and Andrews, Professors, Zhou, Research Associate, and Michael Baker, senior physics major, co-authored the paper,“Structure and Symmetry in Coherent Perfect Polarization Rotation,”  appearing in the January 29 issue of Physical Review A. This paper explores new phenomena in coherent magneto-optics, with applications to optical switching and sensors.  The work was funded through an EAGER grant from the National Science Foundation for which Drs. Crescimanno and Andrews are lead and co- principal investigators, respectively. You can read the abstract here.

Eye tracking in Software Engineering and Computing Education

What do developers look at when they are fixing a bug or adding new features into a software system? What if we could help developers while they work solely based on their eye movements? How do novices differ from experts while they read and understand source code? Can we use these differences to inform our curriculum to help novices learn better?

Bonita Sharif, an assistant professor in the Computer Science and Information Systems department, is collaborating with CSIS students and professionals in Germany and Switzerland to address many of these issues.

Dr. Sharif and her team are collecting data by using eye tracking devices in hopes of improving software developers’ experience while they are work on their daily tasks such as bug fixing or adding new functionality to a software system.

“Imagine a scenario where the eye tracker will be tracking the person’s eye movements while they are developing certain features or they are trying to figure out a bug. We can leverage that fine-grained eye-tracking data and use it to recommend solutions based on the task” Dr. Sharif said.

The team is using a hands-off system to track participant’s eye movements. There is no need to wear any gear. While eye movement can be tracked by wearing a tracking device on the head, in this research a device that sits at the bottom of the computer monitor is being used instead.

“[The device] shines infrared light into your eyes and the reflection actually tells you where you’re looking at on the screen, and it’s pretty accurate,” Dr. Sharif said. “You just sit in front of the eye tracker like you usually would while working and the data is collected silently.”

This research benefits not just practitioners in the field but also pedagogy. For example, little is known as to how novices become expert programmers. How do we train our students to learn and eventually become an expert programmer? This is another long term goal that Dr. Sharif and her team are working on. They are conducting several studies in entry-level programming classes to understand how novices read source code. These results will help modify the curriculum to employ more evidence-based practices in teaching computer programming.

“[For example,] when you take for instance an entry level class in computer programming…we look at eye movements in maybe the third week and then we look at eye movements in maybe the tenth week, and we try to see if the student has learned enough that they actually solve the problem more accurately and with greater speed,” Dr. Sharif said. “Novices tend to read in a linear fashion as if they were reading natural language, whereas experts jump to the place that is most important in the program. It’s still not known how novices become experts and when that switch happens.”

Dr. Sharif and her collaborators published the following article recently in the highly selective conference on computing education:

Busjahn, T., Schulte, C., Sharif, B., Simon, Begel, A., Hansen, M., Bednarik, R., Orlov, P., Ihantola, P. (2014) “Eye Tracking in Computing Education”, International Computing Education Research (ICER 2014), Glasgow, Scotland, August 11-13 2014, pp.3-10 (25% acceptance rate)


The 13th Annual Penguin Bowl!

From left to right: Coach Penny Manfredi, Matthew Stuve, Captain Abhijeet Mulgund, Angela Kaissieh, Rosie Ries, and Captain Nicholas Brockman.

From left to right: Coach Penny Manfredi, Matthew Stuve, Captain Abhijeet Mulgund, Angela Kaissieh, Rosie Ries, and Captain Nicholas Brockman.

Centerville High School beat North Allegheny Senior High with a victory of 95 to 57, making this their third win at the Penguin Bowl since they began competing in 2007. Eleven schools and sixteen teams competed in the thirteenth annual Penguin Bowl on Saturday in Kilcawley Center.

“We’re excited [we won], and we’ve been working really hard for this,” said Beth Cahill, one of Centerville’s two coaches. “I am so proud of these kids, and they deserve it for how much effort they put into it.”

Centerville’s team consisted of coaches Cahill and Penny Manfredi, captains Nicholas Brockman and Abhijeet Mulgund, and team members Matthew Stuve, Angela Kaissieh and Rosie Ries.

“We’ve been looking forward to this for a very long time,” Brockman said. “We’ve been preparing for the past six months, reading up on oceanography, and for the past two weeks we really buckled down. We did buzzer practices for hours and hours.”

The Penguin Bowl is part of the larger National Ocean Sciences Bowl (NOSB), which was originally started in 1998. The NOSB offers participating students scholarship opportunities, experience working with other students in various competitive settings, and, this year, a sleepover at the OH! Wow Science Center.

The two teams were neck and neck after the first round of multiple choice questions, tied at 24 points. After the essay question portion of the competition, Centerville gained their lead, the score sitting at 47 to 57.

“[Being tied] was intense. I didn’t know if we were going to be able to pull it off,” Brockman said. “We played [North Allegheny] earlier in the day, and we actually lost that round. It was the same situation where we were very, very close at the half. I was really hoping the same thing wouldn’t happen twice, and it didn’t.”

Centerville High School will travel to Ocean Springs, Mississippi for the NOSB National Finals Competition in April.

This year’s Penguin Bowl was dedicated to Zach Doherty from Lake High School who was killed while hiking at Hocking Hills State Park in August. Zach competed in the Penguin Bowl for three years.

Travel Abroad to China with Dr. Ray

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If you’ve ever wanted to travel abroad to study, now is your chance. Dr. Ray Beiersdorfer is taking YSU students to China for the sixth time, and there are still some spots open for students to join.

“The emphasis is to learn about the geology and the environment, but you can’t avoid the culture and human history, as well,” Dr. Ray said.
Students will be traveling all over China — including Beijing, Xi’an, Tibet, Sichuan, and Shanghai — this summer. A few of the stops on the trip include the Great Wall of China and the Forbidden City in Beijing, the Terracotta Warriors in Xi’an, and they will hike to the Mount Everest Base Camp in Tingri.

“We’re going to visit this large lake called Qinghai Lake, and we’re also going to go to the boyhood monastery of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama,” Dr. Ray said. “That’s where he was a monk and they went and discovered him and named him the new Dalai Lama.”

Then, the students will travel to Tibet where they will be engulfed in the Tibetan Buddhism culture. After Tibet, they will visit a village destroyed by the 2008 Wenchuan earthquake and volunteer for a day at the Ya’an Panda preserve.
The cost of the trip is around $4,800 for 23 days in China and the international airfare. This expense includes all meals, activities, transportation and lodging.
For more information, including a full schedule, cost information and FAQs, please visit If you are interested in securing a spot on the trip, contact Dr. Ray Beiersdorfer at or at 330.941.1753

Students create “nanoflowers” using aluminum foil

The College in High School Program started in 2007 as a teacher-led initiative to provide an extended science education to students in high schools who might not have access to advanced placement classes or to students who might prefer a more active learning style in advanced science classes.

“If you don’t expose students to science, then they’re not going to be motivated to study it,” said Dr. Matt Zeller, who is involved in some of the projects that bring high school students to YSU.

So how do you interest students in sciences if they’re never exposed to them?

“You have to come up with something that is interesting right from the start, something that looks interesting,” Dr. Zeller said.

Dr. Zeller has been working with several YSU students and with Drs. Allen Hunter and Tim Wagner to create experiments for the College in High School Program that give the students a chance to do actual science research rather than just mix chemicals and look for color changes. In the most recent project, the students were able to grow microscopically small “flowers,” too tiny to see with the naked eye.

Dr. Zeller said that this experiment was adapted from an experiment Harvard University researchers were investigating using gold plated slides.

“The original paper described how to induce the growth of micrometer sized carbonate crystallites with intricate flower like shapes. With the right mix of salt solutions, and by adjusting the experimental conditions (temperature, pH, size of the holes to let air diffuse in, etc.) the size and shape of the “flowers” can be influenced, and one can get all kinds of different shapes,” Dr. Zeller said. “The shapes are too small to see well even with an optical microscope, so we use one of our scanning electron microscopes for the visualization.”

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Dr. Zeller noted that the original parameters of the Harvard experiment required equipment and materials that were too expensive for a high school setting. After several months working at YSU, an intern from Hubbard High School worked out the kinks in the experiment to make it less costly and more appropriate for modest budgets and beginning researchers. For example, they decided that it would be best to conduct the experiment with aluminum foil instead of gold-plated slides.

Dr. Hunter said a big appeal of the nanoflowers experiment was that it was visually stimulating.

“The products look like art glass. It’s easy for some geeky person like a chemistry professor to appeal to other geeky people, but because these are beautiful things that anybody can appreciate just as art, let alone as science, people get interested without them having to have years of background,” Dr. Hunter said. “You basically take aluminum foil and add a couple chemicals to a beaker of water and these flowers grow on it. They’re amazingly pretty. They look like seashells or something.”

Students grow the nanoflowers at their high schools and then bring their flower gardens on the aluminum foil to YSU’s Electron Microscopy Laboratory. There, Dr. Dingqiang Li helps them to visualize their flowers on YSU’s scanning electron microscope.

Mary Janek, a Campbell high school teacher whose students had been among four high school classes that tried out the nanoflowers project last year, said that this program has helped her students immensely.

“This is really a great experience for our HS students,” Ms. Janek said. “They are getting to work with advanced instrumentation and have access to those specialists who can relate to the high school students and yet help to push them into exploring chemistry concepts that the high school budget could not begin to afford.”


Congratulations to those who were granted sabbaticals!

Mike Crescimanno: Dr. Crescimanno was granted a full-year sabbatical to develop more on the theory of Coherent Perfect Rotation — primarily to non-linear optics and some special device applications — and to finish some ongoing work in quantum optics and mathematical physics. Dr. Crescimanno said he is blessed to have active research collaborators at Case Western Reserve U. with whom he will be spending the year working. He said he feels an enormous debt of gratitude for the privilege and is eagerly looking forward to it.
Thomas Diggins: Dr. Diggins was granted a one-semester sabbatical, which he will be taking during the fall 2015 semester. He will be working on stream, river and riparian ecology in western New York. Specifically, he is going to be looking at how hydrological and geological factors such as the flow regime and channel type of the river, and the nature of the sediments and riverside landforms, influence the development of forests along the riverbanks. Dr. Diggins is collaborating with a student, Dr. Robin Mattheus in Geology and Environmental Studies, and with Dr. Dawna Cerney in Geography.

Carl Johnston: Dr. Johnston was granted a one-semester sabbatical, which he will take during the spring 2016 semester. Dr. Johnston will develop a research collaboration between YSU and Istituto Nacional de Salud in Peru. The focus will be on applying microbial, chemical, and next generation DNA sequencing technologies with emphasis in ecological distribution of bacterial pathogens including Vibrio species that travel through continental waters and have become pandemic in western South America.