Faculty Faction: Tony Vercellino

Dr. Tony Vercellino, assistant professor of Civil Engineering, didn’t originally want to teach.

“Ten years ago if you asked me if I would be teaching at a university, I would have said you’re out of your mind,” he said.

But luckily for us STEMians, he changed his mind.

“I [thought I] was just going to be an engineer working with construction, and then I did the consulting stuff, found out it wasn’t my cup of tea, went back to school, got the opportunity to teach and found out I really liked it,” Vercellino said. “I guess you could say I kind of fell into it. I like being able to teach and being able to interact with the students and watch the ideas click whenever you explain something well in the classroom.”

He said he likes the small-school feel of the university, and that’s what made YSU appealing to him.

“I came from a big research university and that atmosphere was too research focused compared to what I want to do. It’s easy to lose touch with students at such a big university,” Vercellino said.

One of his main goals is to build a successful research program and further the name of the university. He said he wants to help build the program to be well-rounded so the students that do want to come here can get a broad environmental background as a part of their civil engineering degree.

He hasn’t started research yet, but Vercellino said he is looking to get into oil and gas research as well as broaden his research background in water and wastewater treatment. He is currently putting together a research article about the uptake of micropollutants in agriculture due to wastewater reuse, and will be serving as a professional mentor to the YSU chapter of Engineers Without Borders.

When he’s not in the classroom, you can find him refereeing ice hockey in his spare time or rooting for his favorite teams, the St. Louis Cardinals and the St. Louis Blues.

Transforming the Future: Professors Look to Harness the Power of Light

It’s pretty commonplace for each of us to have cell phones, a computer, and an internet connection. In order to get information to these devices at the user end, much of the information has to be sent through wires or wirelessly. But many people don’t realize that, even with wifi, most digital information is moved as light in fiber optics. Drs. Jim Andrews and Mike Crescimanno, both professors in the Department of Physics & Astronomy, are looking at new ways of manipulating that light.

“Transmitting information via light is more effective than transmitting it via electricity, but processing it as light has always been a challenge,” said Andrews.

Essentially, Andrews and Crescimanno are looking to control light with light, instead of another means of energy.

Crescimmano_Andrews story POEM 2014 zoom“It was one of those things that we came up with, and I really wanted to push it a bit further,” said Crescimanno. “When you pick up an old-fashioned telephone, there’s a wire that goes to the wall, and guess what happens? When the signal in the wire goes into the wall and goes to the bottom of the building, it gets converted to light and sent into fiber optics.”

Currently, information being transferred via light has to be converted into electricity and then converted back to light at every branch point along its path. Andrews and Crescimanno are working toward not having to convert the light to electricity, but instead having the light control other light directly by changing its polarization, that is, the direction of the light’s electric field, transverse to its propagation direction.

“So what we’ve done,” Crescimanno explained, “is thought very critically about how to change the polarization of light in a device more completely and efficiently. We’ve been looking rather critically at combining the existing methods of rotating the polarization of light by using wave interference in a process we call ‘coherent perfect rotation’.”

By harnessing the power of light and cutting out the middle step of converting the light to electricity, this makes for a more efficient and more cost effective way to transfer information.

Andrews and Crescimanno are working on this research with Dr. Chuanhong Zhou of the physics department and several students. They received support for this work from the National Science Foundation through a $129,750 Early concept Grant for Exploratory Research, or EAGER.

Recent Publications: Dr. Rodabaugh

Stephen E. Rodabaugh, Associate Dean of the College of STEM, has just published or is publishing in the near future the following four papers: first, Enriched categories and many-valued preorders: categorical, semantical, and topological perspectives (with Denniston, Melton), Fuzzy Sets and Systems 256(2014) 4–56; second, Formal contexts, Formal Concept Analysis, and Galois connections (with Denniston, Melton), Theoretical Computer Science (electronic): Festschrift in Honor of David Schmidt’s 60th Birthday, to appear; third, Lattice-valued preordered sets as lattice-valued topological systems (with Denniston, Melton, Solovjovs), Fuzzy Sets and Systems, to appear; fourth, Function spaces and L-preordered sets(with Denniston, Melton), Topology Proceedings, to appear.  In addition, Dr. Rodabaugh recently presented a four session, NSF supported series Many-Valued Topology: A Tutorial at an international conference on topology and its applications hosted by the City University of New York on its Staten Island campus.

Dr. Rodabaugh is coming to town!

You better watch out
You better not cry
You better not pout
I’m telling you why!
Dr. Rodabuagh is coming to town!

During the holidays, the advertisements start rolling and without a doubt you see a picture of Santa and his never ending bag of gifts. You may have also seen Dr. Rodabaugh whisking himself down the hallways of Moser with his belt pack and wonder, “Is he Santa?” YSU STEM Social Media investigated to find out what exactly he keeps in that thing.

While Dr. Rodabaugh doesn’t have any reindeer to take him places, he does have a fancy outfit, just like St. Nick. With his Tony Soprano jacket and his beat-up, worn-out belt pack, Dr. Rodabaugh has some stories to tell. Just like Santa, that belt pack has been around for a long time and has visited many different countries, but no matter how many places it has been, it still calls the halls of Moser home.

So what’s in Dr. Rodabaugh’s belt pack? Well it’s not the same gifts and goodies that Santa delivers to good STEMians, but there is still a lot of laughs! Take a look at the wonders that have travelled the world below!

Whether you are mesmerized by the tinsel staples holding the belt pack together or amazed by the fact that it can carry all that stuff YSU STEM Social Media would like to wish you and your families a Happy Holiday Season!

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Faculty Faction: Jason Zapka

zapka1Jason Zapka is a lifelong Penguin. He began his journey as a Penguin in his undergraduate career, where he was in the University Scholars Program. Then, he came back as a grad student. Now he’s a full-time faculty member, using the knowledge he learned as a Penguin to teach first year engineering students and serving as an adviser for Tau Beta Pi.

“The material is pretty much the same [as when I was an undergrad,]” Zapka said. “But once you work [in the field] you learn a totally different way to learn and analyze things.”

After he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering, Zapka went on earn his master’s degree and to gain 15 years of experience working in heavy industry steel mills working on process automation and project management. In 2006, he started his own consulting company, but was asked to help out with a few classes at YSU. In 2007, Zapka became a part-time faculty member.

“I liked interacting with the kids, and I think I add something to them because I had practical experience, and I have been out in the field,” he said. “They have questions like, ‘Well, what was the job really like? What did you do? What did you learn?’ I kind of enjoy that aspect of it.”

Zapka wants to use his years of experience as a tool to aid his teaching. He referred to gaining experience in the field as an evolution process.

“[It’s] unlike the university environment where you have this book that you’re following, and you’re stuck to a curriculum of one thing that is a layer on a layer that is building this foundation of knowledge,” he said. “[In the work world,] you have to take the way that you were taught to understand things and then turn that into some way of making good decisions. … Once you have to work, you realize the world is bigger than just the material you’re training with.”

Zapka said that he hopes he helps other students realize the big picture, saying that engineering is not just “that one problem in your area,” but that the problem is something that everyone is experiencing.

As for his goals, Zapka said that he hopes he just helps students learn.

“I look forward to those days five or six years from now when a student comes back to me and says, ‘You know, you really helped me make a good decision,’ or ‘I think you’ve made a positive impact.’ That would be the best thing to have.”

Faculty Faction: Dr. Thomas Madsen

madsenDr. Thomas Madsen does more than just teach mathematics, he lives it. That same passion he has for math is the same passion he brings to teaching our STEMians.

“I love math, and it’s nice to have a job where all you have to do is talk about math,” Dr. Madsen joked.

From an early age, Dr. Madsen had always wanted to involve math in his life. He recollected the first time he realized that he loved mathematics. Around the third or fourth grade his teachers started to teach the class about square roots. Dr. Madsen did not decide that math was what he wanted to do for the rest of his life until early high school. Becoming a mathematics professor, though, is a little different.

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Astronomy professors receive Hubble time

hs-2009-07-h-large_webDrs. Pat Durrell and John Feldmeier, both astronomy professors at YSU, have received time to use the Hubble Space Telescope for their research. Drs. Durrell and Feldmeier will be working with three other astronomers from Case Western Reserve University, including Dr. Chris Mihos,  who is leading the project.

The astronomers will be focusing on the outer disk of the popular galaxy M101, which is a spiral galaxy located roughly 22.5 million light years away.

“It sounds like a lot, but for galaxies, it’s just down the block,” Durrell said. “So because it’s really near by, we can get a really good look at it. Some galaxies are so far away they look like just two pixels on an image. M101 is close enough that we can do a detailed study of it.”

The project will center around researching the individual stars on the outskirts of the galaxy, where the galaxy has an asymmetrical shape. The goal is to figure out why the galaxy doesn’t hold the classic spiral disk shape.

“The thing is, when we look at [the galaxy], it’s not nice and round. Spiral galaxies are shaped like a plate; they’re flat and often round,” Durrell said. “Well, we’re looking at this one straight down on it, and it’s not round. It’s actually very bowed out on one side.”

They will be able to study the galaxy for a total of 26 orbits of the telescope, which equates to roughly 20 hours.

In order to receive time to use the telescope, a proposal had to be written explaining what they would do with the time requested. Only about one in eight proposals get accepted.

“I know students work hard on writing their term papers and their final exams and stuff; well, we’re still doing that now. This is when we write our final papers. The only problem is that only one in eight passes,” Durrell said.

The project is slated to start September 2015, but the research team is still waiting to see if funding has been granted for the project.

After the data is taken and analyzed, the group plans on publishing a pair of research papers, and creating a new fulldome show for the Ward Beecher Planetarium based on the findings.

Dr. Feldmeier said that this a huge opportunity for YSU, and that he was extremely happy when they were informed they received the Hubble time.

“For YSU, this means three things: 1) Access to one of the most advanced and powerful telescopes in the world, 2) Being able to do world-class research, 3) Creating opportunities for students who want to do real astronomical research,” Feldmeier said in an email. “I was thrilled and grateful. Competition for the Hubble Space Telescope is very keen - less than 10% of the proposals receive time on the telescope, and many excellent proposals do not get time. In astronomy, getting Hubble time is like scoring a touchdown in football.”

Faculty Faction: Doug Genna

For Doug Genna, a new assistant professor of organic chemistry, the love of chemistry ???????????????????????????????didn’t come early on.

“When I went to college, I actually didn’t want to be a chemist. I did not like chemistry in high school, and I did not like general chemistry,” he said.

Doug started out as a biology major, but quickly realized that that wasn’t where he wanted to be. In order to fulfill the requirements for his major, he had to take a year of general chemistry and a year of organic chemistry before entering his biology classes.

“When I was taking organic [chemistry], I really started to enjoy it,” Doug said. “When you actually get into [organic chemistry], it’s actually a lot of reasoning and logic problems, and once you understand a certain set of rules you can reason through anything, even if you haven’t seen it before, and that’s really what I like about the most: the problem solving.”

­One of the things he said he loves about YSU the most is the mixture of teaching and research.

“It’s not like a big research university where there’s so much stress on doing research — although I love doing it — the pressure to produce is so ridiculous. Here, it’s much more low pressure and [you get to] research what you want and engage the students,” Doug said.

For his research, Doug is working on making metal organic frameworks, which he described as a hybrid of an inorganic metal and organic materials that polymerize to make three-dimensional, cage-like structures. The focus point of his research is to figure out how those structures are made, since the structure’s synthesis is not understood. Along with the creation of the structures, Doug is also attempting to do different chemical reactions inside the cages.

Another thing Doug said he loved about YSU is that the chemistry program is comparable to larger research institutions.

“We have a very good chemistry program. Not even just for a small school. We have really state-of-the-art instrumentation. For students who are doing student research they get a lot of hands-on experience with using state-of-the-art equipment that some big schools don’t even have,” he said.

Doug said he has good relationships with his students, which is something that was difficult to achieve when he was at larger institutions.

“That’s been the fun thing about teaching this semester. I have scheduled office hours, but students come in all the time, and working with students has really been fun,” he said.

Sturrus Named Interim Dean

SturrusThe College of STEM would like to extend congratulations to Dr. W. Gregg Sturrus, who was named interim dean of the college on Wednesday! Dr. Sturrus is currently serving as chair of the Department of Physics and Astronomy and will assume the position of interim dean on October 8. Everyone is excited to have Dr. Sturrus as the interim dean, including our STEM students, who have often referred to him as a funny and great professor.

Sturrus joined YSU in 1991 as an assistant professor and became the chair of the Department of Physics and Astronomy in 2004. During his time at YSU, Sturrus has received eight grants, totaling over $1.75 million.

“I am pleased that Interim Provost [Martin] Abraham asked me to step in as the interim dean of STEM. I am optimistic about the challenges facing the current leadership of the university and believe the new president and provost will make changes that will make YSU increasingly attractive to a broad student base and a stronger urban research university. I am happy to be called to lead the STEM College in these exciting times,” Sturrus said.

Dr. James Andrews will be serving as interim chair of the Department of Physics and Astronomy, replacing Sturrus.

The decision to appoint Sturrus as interim dean came after Dean Abraham was appointed as interim provost and vice president for academic affairs for the university on September 17. The appointment is still pending official approval by the Board of Trustees, who will meet on October 7.

“I’m saddened to be leaving the day-to-day operations, but I won’t be far away and am looking forward to participating in their activities in my new role as provost,” Dean Abraham said.

Smith Receives Grant

Congratulations to Debbie Smith, a part-time faculty member in the YSU Physics & Astronomy Department, who was awarded an American Chemical Society Grant for $1,487. Ms. Smith, who is from Poland, was the sole principle investigator on the proposal. The grant is to purchase Vernier equipment for the Chemistry and Physics labs at Poland High School participating in the College-in-High-School Program at YSU in the STEM College. The equipment to be purchased includes Vernier interfaces, temperature probes, pH probes, conductivity probes, Colorimeter, Drop Counter, Light Sensors and Logger Pro3. With the new equipment, students will be able to perform experiments using extensive computer data collection techniques to help them interpret, analyze and draw conclusions in their laboratory classes.

Publications from Dr. Diggins, Biology

1) Diggins TP, and RG Catterlin. 2014 (in press). Topographic patterns in forest composition and diversity on slopes of Zoar Valley Canyon, western New York State, USA. Northeastern Naturalist, Volume 21.

2) Diggins TP. 2013. A 300-year successional sequence in an eastern United States riparian hardwood forest. Journal of the Torrey Botanical Society 140: 65-88

Publications from Dr. Sharif and her students!

Some new publications from Dr. Sharif!

The first paper by Busjahn et al. was a collaboration with several international researchers.  It was recently published in August 2014. The premise of the paper is that eye tracking technology holds great promise in the realm of computing education. A coding scheme was developed and expert gaze on source code was analyzed. This work is ongoing and in the near future novice gaze will also be analyzed. Continue reading

Faculty Faction: Dr. Nguyet “Moon” Nguyen

With the start of a new academic year comes new faces. Nguyet Nguyen is one of those new faces, but she isn’t a freshman. Dr. Nguyen is a new assistant professor in the Mathematics Department and is excited to see new students who are eager to learn.

Dr. Nguyen graduated this past summer with her Ph.D. from Florida State University where she helped as a teaching assistant. Her love for mathematics didn’t start with her bachelor’s degree from Hanoi National University of Education in Hanoi, Vietnam; it started much earlier than that.

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YSU Receives First Patent

Pict-Oder2014Dr. Tom Oder, a professor of Physics and Astronomy, has received a patent for a silicon carbine barrier diode. While this isn’t Oder’s first patent, it is the first for YSU.

A silicon carbine barrier diode is an electronic device made using silicon carbide semiconductor material that Oder said has been an idea of his since he was a graduate student, but it wasn’t until he was hired at YSU in 2003 that he began his research.

“What you have in your cell phone and most of your electronics is made of silicon. The problem of silicon is that it cannot withstand high temperature. So if your device is working at a high temperature, it has got to be cooled otherwise it is going to fail,” Oder said. Silicon carbide, however, is a great alternative material. Continue reading

Publications: Dr. Butcher and Students

In conjunction with Dr. Rick Blob at Clemson University and a few other researchers, Dr. Butcher has presented work in a symposium on locomotion at the annual meeting for the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology in Austin, Texas this past January. This paper was the amalgamation of 8 years of bone biomechanics research with Dr. Blob, who was Dr. Butcher’s chief collaborator. The article is currently published online in the journal Integrative and Comparative Biology.

The Rupert et al. paper is the published data from a masters thesis for, Joe Rupert, a former graduate student. A good portion of this work was done in the rainforest of Costa Rica in collaboration with the Tirimbina Biological Reserve, as well as the faculty and students from the University of Costa Rica. We report novel data on tail muscle structure and function in an exotic arboreal opossum that inhabits the rainforest canopy and compare it with a habitually terrestrial opossum to understand how tail prehensility has evolved in the lineage of Didelphid opossums. It is currently published online (ahead of print) for the journal The Anatomical Record.

The third paper, by Rose et al., is a project that explores the level of modification for digging observed in the forelimb bones of badgers. Data for this study was collected between Dr. Butcher’s lab (by dissection) and the National Museum of Natural History in Washington D.C (measurements from the skeletal collections). It is slated to be published in the Journal of Mammalogy.


Blob RW, Espinoza NR, Butcher MT, Lee A, D’Amico A, Baig F, Sheffield M. 2014. Diversity of Limb Bone Safety Factors for Locomotion in Terrestrial Vertebrates: Evolution and Mixed Chains. Integr Comp Biol  doi:10.1093/icb/icu032

Rose, JA*, Moore AL*, Russell AP, Butcher MT. Functional osteology of the forelimb digging apparatus in badgers. J Mammal (article is in press; scheduled to be published in the June issue of the journal)

Rupert JE*, Moriera A, Cordero Schmidt E, VandeBerg JL, Rodriguez Herrera B, Butcher MT. Myosin isoform expression in the prehensile tails of didelphid marsupials: functional differences between arboreal and terrestrial opossums. Anat Rec doi: 10.1002/ar.22948

*Current or former graduate student.