Meadville, PA, United States
Meadville, PA, United States

Allegheny College is a private, coeducational liberal arts college in northwestern Pennsylvania in the town of Meadville, approximately 35 miles south of Erie. Founded in 1815, Allegheny is the oldest college in continuous existence under the same name west of the Allegheny Mountains. Allegheny is a member of the Great Lakes Colleges Association and the North Coast Athletic Conference, and is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education . In Spring 2012, U.S. News ranked Allegheny as the #1 up-and-coming national liberal arts college. Wikipedia.

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Agency: NSF | Branch: Standard Grant | Program: | Phase: S-STEM:SCHLR SCI TECH ENG&MATH | Award Amount: 243.24K | Year: 2013

This project is taking advantage of the previously-untapped synergy between extremely rapid microwave-assisted organic synthesis (MAOS) techniques and new pedagogical approaches to develop and evaluate a student-centered instructional approach for the sophomore-level organic laboratory. With the laboratory time gained through the use of MAOS, students now use a laboratory period for experimental design, analysis, debriefing, troubleshooting, and optimization, allowing for inquiry cycles that are both reflective of typical scientific practice and effective in promoting desirable cognitive outcomes. This approach has transformed organic laboratory instruction at Allegheny College, St. Marys College, and Queensborough Community College, shifting the focus from verification to experimental design and collaborative construction of knowledge. Laboratory modules being developed and refined include an array of content designed for easy adoption and implementation, including student lab companion materials, pre-lab activities, and case studies; reagent and instrument prep sheets; instructors guides; spectra of relevant compounds; and assessment rubrics. The project team is evaluating student thinking during lab, content learning, and attitudes toward science associated with the new instructional approach via analyses of pre- and post-treatment survey responses, classroom observations, student and faculty interviews, and student laboratory reports.

Agency: NSF | Branch: Standard Grant | Program: | Phase: | Award Amount: 629.21K | Year: 2015

This National Science Foundation Scholarships in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (S-STEM) project at the Community College of Allegheny County, Allegheny Campus, will provide scholarships, academic support, and wraparound services to talented associates degree students majoring in Biotechnology, Bioremediation, and Math & Science (BioMaS) who demonstrate financial need. The project will address the need for biotechnology workers, as well as science and mathematics teachers, in the ten-county Pittsburgh region by training scholarship recipients for employment in these high-growth sectors, and providing the support scholars need to excel and become highly-qualified graduates in their fields.

BioMaS project goals will include (1) providing scholarships and critical wraparound services, including an onsite clinical social worker to assist students with barriers, internship opportunities, and the job search; learning community experiences; and tutoring to improve retention, persistence, graduation and employment rates; (2) strengthening pathways to employment; (3) connecting degree programs to regional industry by linking potential employers and college training to solidify and build sustainability through an employment pipeline; and (4) providing information on STEM training and jobs for high-school and college students, including veterans and underrepresented minorities. The BioMaS project will create pathways to biotechnology and bioremediation employment opportunities, or to further education for graduates, by leveraging well-established business and higher education partnerships. In addition, a partnership with Indiana University of Pennsylvania will provide a pathway for BioMaS Math & Sciences graduates to obtain bachelors degrees in middle-level education in math and science. Project goals will be evaluated via both qualitative and quantitative analyses of data such as scholar demographics, enrollment and completion patterns, background preparation, and course and program performance; scholar participation rates and feedback regarding optional program elements; and rates of employment. The project is ultimately expected to serve as a model for community colleges, particularly in terms of understanding of how to develop wraparound services for students that will support them as they prepare to contribute to a highly-skilled STEM workforce.

Agency: NSF | Branch: Standard Grant | Program: | Phase: Molecular Biophysics | Award Amount: 229.14K | Year: 2014

In this research project computational methods will be developed and applied to predict the structure of Ribonucleic Acid (RNA) molecules from their sequence. Undergraduate students will perform all of the investigations, including the selection of sequences to be investigated, providing them with excellent training and valuable research experience. Students from PIs laboratory have an excellent track record for attending graduate and professional schools after obtaining their BS degrees. Since 2005, 11 of these students are attending graduate school in either chemistry or biochemistry; and, 12 are attending professional school. The graduate programs attended by the students include Yale University, University of Rochester, Penn State University, Duke University, Carnegie Mellon University, Ohio State University, Arizona State University, and University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. This work will be disseminated as published manuscripts in peer-reviewed journals and at scientific meetings including regional and national meetings. Since 2006, 29 of the PIs students have been co-authors on papers. In the past eight years, 20 students have given presentations at either national or regional meetings. The improvements in secondary structure prediction will be incorporated into RNA structure, a secondary structure prediction program distributed by the Mathews lab (University of Rochester). In addition, a high school science teacher will be recruited to join the research group during the summer. The high school teacher will have the opportunity to engage in authentic research using state-of-the-art techniques, methodology and instrumentation. This, in turn, enhances the teachers abilities and experience base and makes for a richer teaching and learning experience in high school science classes.

The objective of this project is to develop models to predict the structure of Ribonucleic Acid (RNA) molecules from their sequence. RNAs are intimately involved in a wide variety of biological activities. During the process of gene expression (protein synthesis), they serve as informational molecules and part of the synthesis machinery. Biological molecules, including RNA, must fold into the correct three-dimensional shape to acquire their active-functional form. The ability to predict RNA structure from sequence will improve our understanding of RNA and its biological role. This project will develop models for the prediction of RNA structure from sequence. These studies will combine both stability and structural characterization of RNA to achieve a better understanding of the nature of RNA.

Agency: NSF | Branch: Standard Grant | Program: | Phase: Molecular Biophysics | Award Amount: 174.04K | Year: 2015

Title: RUI: Catalytic regulation of ribosome processing factors: Investigation of peripheral domain effects on the enzymatic capabilities of the DEAD-box protein Rok1p.

Ribonucleic acids, RNAs, play a critical role in a variety of cellular processes. In order for RNAS to perform their specific functions in cells they often need to be processed by protein factors. Protein processing is generally associated with structural changes that are very important to the processing protein function. This research project will develop chemical-based methodologies to identify and characterize the protein structural elements that can regulate the activity and initial structural state of essential RNA processing proteins. The second objective of this research is to provide an effective training environment for students interested in RNA-protein research. Undergraduate students will perform all investigations, including the synthesis and purification of all RNAs and proteins utilized in this study. To cultivate a rich learning environment, comprehensive multi-approach mentoring and Just-in-Time teaching of experimental research will be used. This mentoring infrastructure is designed to advance problem solving and critical thinking skills in experimental design and analysis, and it has been successful in the past. Thus, this project will not only further the understanding of protein regulation, but also provide a strong foundation for students in the sciences.

DEAD-box proteins constitute a large sub-class of putative unwindases essential in many RNA metabolic pathways. For example, Ribosomal RNA (rRNA) processing and assembly are highly regulated pathways requiring several DEAD-box proteins. This family of proteins couples cellular function to protein structural changes. In a subset of DEAD-box proteins, activity is mediated through additional peripheral elements/domains. The goal of this research is to understand the structural and thermodynamic nature of peripheral domain effects on the activity and conformational state of a model protein. Specifically, a DEAD-box protein model will be biochemically characterized and comparatively analyzed to evaluate the catalytic consequence of domain deletion variants. Equilibrium and kinetic methodologies will be developed to study the effects of initial conformations on nucleotide binding. Lastly, solvent-accessible and dynamic regions will be identified for the model system. Since the deregulation of the model protein and its human homolog has critical cellular consequences, the proposed research will further the understanding of (1) how DEAD-box proteins can bind early during processing and function in later events, and (2) how DEAD-box proteins and other RNA folding and processing accessory factors can utilize various conformations to regulate activity. Thus, the characterization of these states is important for any protein that utilizes ATP hydrolysis within a dynamic multi-factor complex.

Agency: NSF | Branch: Standard Grant | Program: | Phase: GeoPRISMS | Award Amount: 107.25K | Year: 2015

Alaska contains the largest number of active volcanoes in the United States and is one of the most volcanically active regions in the world. Most of the volcanoes in Alaska form a belt that includes the Aleutian Islands and extends landward onto the Alaska Peninsula, ending across the Cook Inlet from Anchorage. The Alaska Peninsula hosts more than 20 volcanoes with historic activity, five with major eruptions in the past 25 years, and includes the worlds largest eruption of the 20th century. This project will investigate the growth of the volcanic system on the Alaska Peninsula and evaluate the factors that influence the composition and behavior of volcanoes in this region. The results of this project will contribute to ongoing work of the U.S. Geological Survey and Alaska Volcano Observatory for understanding volcanic behavior in a region where there are roughly 30,000 people per day transported in commercial aircraft over the volcanoes and where eruptions can have severe impact on Anchorage (Alaskas largest population center) and along the Kenai Peninsula. The Alaska Peninsula is also one of the nations most important mineral resource regions; this project will provide an improved regional framework that will be useful for future detailed studies to delineate economic mineral deposits. Scientific advances made through this project will also contribute to the public-outreach mission of Lake Clark and Katmai National Parks, where several of the volcanoes of this study are located. This project will additionally provide high-level STEM training for undergraduate students. The project is highly cost-effective because it uses publically-available sample collections of the U.S. Geological Survey, building on past investments in federal funding.

Southern Alaska is one of the best places in the world to investigate long-term magmatism and crustal growth along a convergent margin, as recognized by the GeoPRISMS community who selected the Alaska/Aleutian subduction zone as the highest priority site for the Subduction Cycles and Deformation (SCD) initiative. This two-year project will benefit the GeoPRISMS community with an unprecedented synoptic study to evaluate temporal and along-strike geochemical trends for Eocene through Quaternary igneous rocks on the Alaska Peninsula. Data will include major and trace element, whole rock Nd-Sr-Hf and zircon Hf-isotopes, and 40Ar/39Ar and zircon U/Pb dating on volcanic and plutonic rocks. The results of this research will provide new constraints on the continental portion of Aleutian arc including: i) along-arc trends in magma chemistry and relationships with sediment flux and regional tectonics, ii) geochemical products of subduction over time and how these influence the composition of new continental crust, and iii) the timing of subduction initiation and relationship to Pacific-wide versus local tectonic processes. This work is in concert with the GeoPRISMS SCD initiatives to focus on long-term margin evolution and material transfer and the growth and evolution of volcanic arcs and continents and can be integrated with other projects (i.e., geophysical studies of the southern Alaska margin) to yield advances in understanding the regional controls on convergent margin magmatism.

Agency: NSF | Branch: Continuing grant | Program: | Phase: POLYMERS | Award Amount: 113.59K | Year: 2016


Materials used in the biomedical industry find utility based on the relationship between their structure and the properties needed. Among polymer materials (plastics) the relevant properties often include strength, flexibility, the ability to break down in the body, etc. Two such polymer materials, PEO and PCL, already find a variety of uses in the biomedical field, e.g. in implant coatings and medication-delivery systems. The range of applications increases when these two materials are combined. To engineer a specific product, one must know how to develop specific structures in this combined material (PEO-PCL). This research aims to understand how these structures develop and how to control the variability of the resultant properties. By varying the temperature and characteristics of the solution from which these materials are processed, one is able to obtain desired properties including, but not limited to, strength, flexibility, and breakdown rate. Polymers are uniquely suited for a variety of applications because their properties may span a large range depending on their chemistry and structure. For example, plastics can be rigid and brittle or flexible and soft depending on their structure. Understanding the development of PEO-PCL structures should lead to an increase in possible uses for this inexpensive, widely prevalent, and robust material. Moreover, the results of this study could be applied to the study of the structures and properties of other biomedical, commodity, or sustainable plastics. A second, but no less important, goal of this work is to train students in the broad disciplines of polymer and materials sciences and prepare them for careers in technology-related areas.


Structural characterization is a critical component in predicting or tailoring the macroscopic properties of a material. In diblock copolymers, the structure involves phase separation between the two components and possible crystallization of one or both of the components. Poly(ethylene oxide)-block-poly(caprolactone) (PEO-b-PCL) copolymers are unique in several ways. First, they are both crystallizable with similar transition temperatures. Second, they are both prevalent in the biomedical field since they are biocompatible and since PCL is biodegradable. Lastly, by combining hydrophilic PEO and hydrophobic PCL into a block copolymer, the material is amphiphilic allowing for transport of hydrophobic drugs into the body. It is all of these traits that make these materials attractive for use in implant coatings and drug delivery systems. For these applications, the ability to manipulate the strength, elasticity, and degradation rate, amongst other properties, is important. These properties depend on how the material phase-separates and crystallizes from solution. Since phase separation is driven by crystallization, the focus of this research is to understand the crystallization mechanism and then control the crystallinity of the material by changing processing conditions such as temperature, casting solvent, and molecular weight. Using FTIR and DSC analyses, the crystallization of PEO and PCL blocks in samples with similar weight fractions or largely different weight fractions, cast from different solvents and/or annealed at different isothermal temperatures, will be monitored. Because the transition temperatures are similar, thermodynamic and kinetic considerations can be manipulated more easily by changes in these parameters. The goal is to pinpoint how each condition influences the crystallization mechanism, the overall crystallinity, and subsequent properties of interest in the biomedical field.

Agency: NSF | Branch: Standard Grant | Program: | Phase: | Award Amount: 642.10K | Year: 2014

The Technicians in Energy, Advanced Manufacturing, and Supply Chain Technology (TEAMS) Project at the Community College of Allegheny County in Oakdale, Pennsylvania aims to bridge the gap between employers and workers in the energy, advanced manufacturing, and supply chain technology fields in Western Pennsylvania. Through this project faculty will collaborate with industry to create industry-relevant mechatronics specializations, and develop applied capstone projects focusing on the design, operation, installation, troubleshooting and maintenance skills essential to energy and manufacturing, and supply chain processes. Oil and gas operations in the Marcellus Shale of Western Pennsylvania have resulted in increased workforce demand not only for jobs directly in the energy industry, but also jobs in ancillary and logistics industries such as advanced manufacturing and supply chain technology. Mechatronics educated-technicians are needed for many of these jobs: from the midstream Marcellus Shale gas being produced and processed through the pipeline, to the energy-efficient operations and maintenance of equipment in the cracker plant, to the supply chain technologies used to distribute the petrochemicals, to the manufacturing plants that receive and utilize the chemicals. This ATE TEAMS Project will help to close the gap between employers and workers in these industries by building mechatronics career pathways through the community college and into the workforce. This project ensures that workers have the right combination of academic and industry-endorsed skill-sets to meet regional, state and national demands.

The TEAMS Project utilizes a student-centered approach to develop the occupational skills needed to prepare a growing influx of nontraditional adult students to succeed in the workplace. Career strategies and foundational core courses within the Associate of Science (A.S.) degree at the Community College of Allegheny County in mechatronics integrate national certifications. This creates a focus at the college on the skills needed to link higher education with workforce needs. Faculty development with equal emphasis on technology and pedagogy balances workforce and academic education and assessment. Through the TEAMS Project, the Community College of Allegheny County is establishing a transportable curriculum model which can increase access to higher education by rural, veteran, and other non-traditional populations. The project provides access to postsecondary STEM education and personalized supportive services to these groups. In addition, the project is also increasing the number of teachers and students that are nationally certified in mechatronics-related competencies. The TEAMS project adds to the number of faculty who are able to integrate career readiness with academic rigor in the curriculum. The TEAMS Mechatronics degree aligns well with the current workplace needs but also includes the flexibility needed to adapt to the evolving requirements of industry. The TEAMS project includes efforts to disseminate the methods and results of this effort to a national audience.

Evaluation of the TEAMS Project will examine whether project objectives are being reached. Summative evaluations will include information regarding the effectiveness of methods to build the capacity of faculty to respond to technical education needs across the industries of energy, advanced manufacturing, and supply chain technology. The project evaluation will also inform efforts of educators who implement a mechatronics curriculum to support a workforce pipeline that directly responds to regional economic development in the energy, advanced manufacturing, and supply chain industries.

Agency: NSF | Branch: Standard Grant | Program: | Phase: STELLAR ASTRONOMY & ASTROPHYSC | Award Amount: 231.31K | Year: 2013

A large variety of interesting astrophysical objects and systems are thought to pass through a contact or semidetached binary stage. The ultimate outcomes of such evolution include exotica such as binary neutron stars, planetary nebulae with double degenerate cores, ultracompact X-ray binaries, and blue stragglers. In a contact binary system, the two components orbit within a larger common envelope and maintain physical contact, while in a semidetached binary, one star gradually accretes mass from a companion overflowing its Roche lobe. In either case, one or both binary components can expand on a stellar evolution timescale, often causing the binary to become unstable and merge. If the binary components have degenerate cores, the cores can separately survive the merger to form systems with binary compact objects. Regardless of the parent stars, the merger of a binary can result in so-called mergebursts, characterized by a sudden and drastic observed increase in luminosity and by ejecta streaming away from the merger product. Making use of a smoothed particle hydrodynamics (SPH) code, Starsmasher, we will perform a parameter sweep covering such scenarios, varying both the evolutionary state of the parent stars and the mass ratio. We will determine the conditions under which a binary merges, and we will study carefully the dynamics and observable characteristics of the merger and merger product, including its light curve, continuum spectrum, and outflow velocity. Our results will complement binary stellar evolution and population synthesis calculations, they will assist in the interpretation of observations, and they will help explain the formation channels of numerous exotic objects, including specific examples such as V1309 Sco.

This project represents an opportunity to foster a connection between researchers at Allegheny College and RIT. The proposed project will provide a valuable research focus for undergraduates at Allegheny. Undergraduates, often grappling with career plans, certainly will benefit from early exposure to intercollegiate collaboration and from building a solid foundation in computational methods, an area with broad applications. Based on his experience with Allegheny College students and their career trajectories, the PI expects that this project will equip them well for success in graduate school and in technically oriented careers. In addition, through the PIs teaching and outreach efforts, the project proposed here has the potential to reach a wide range of people and raise the scientific literacy of both local and national audiences.

Agency: NSF | Branch: Standard Grant | Program: | Phase: S-STEM:SCHLR SCI TECH ENG&MATH | Award Amount: 613.69K | Year: 2014

This S-STEM project at Allegheny College is providing scholarships for fourteen undergraduates in the Natural Sciences for four years. Through its support for the education and training of academically talented, financially needy students, the project is helping to meet local and regional employment needs in research and technical fields, as well as serving as a source of lessons learned for other institutions facing similar challenges.

Several features of the projects implementation stand out. Eligible students are being selected from a pool of high school applicants based on their interest in STEM fields, academic potential, and financial need. Scholarship students receive academic and cohort support, which builds on the Colleges existing support structure. Academic support includes a co-advising component by which each student has one of the principal investigators as an academic advisor in addition to one of the full-time professional staff from the academic support office serving as a co-advisor. Scholarship recipients are also participating in a one-week academic enrichment program prior to the start of classes. Cohort support is being structured around a Living and Learning Community (LLC), which includes housing on the same floor of a designated residence hall, regular lunches (biweekly during the first year and monthly thereafter) along with presentations from support offices, career services, science faculty and students, and other personnel. Each student is also having regular contact with the Director and the Assistant Director of Allegheny Colleges diversity office. These individuals also serve as members of the management team along with the two principal investigators, the director of the academic support center, and the director of financial aid.

Agency: NSF | Branch: Standard Grant | Program: | Phase: ECOSYSTEM STUDIES | Award Amount: 388.02K | Year: 2016

The healthy functioning of natural ecosystems depends on the interactive roles of the various species that coexist in them. Different but closely related species replace each other along environmental gradients (e.g., from dry to wet). In some cases the new species function similarly, but in others species replacements have major impacts on the ecosystem and the goods and services provided to humans. Around the planet, species distributions are shifting in response to a changing climate, yet little is known about how the shifts will affect ecosystems. One continuous study over the past 25 years of the animals that live in high elevation ponds in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado shows that species are shifting to higher elevations. And at the same elevation animals are moving to different types of ponds (permanent vs. temporary) as the water regime varies. The goal of this new project is to determine how such shifts impact ecosystem function. Training of undergraduate students is a key component of the project and undergraduates will be involved with all aspects of the research. A cross-institutional research experiment will be developed for them, where they can work together to study the impacts of species range shifts from North Carolina to Maine. One graduate student and a postdoctoral associate will also be trained. Finally, the team will continue public outreach at each home institution, as well as at the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory in Colorado where most of the research will be conducted.

This project will test how range shifts along environmental gradients in the dominant group of detritivores (caddisfly larvae) will affect multiple ecosystem processes, including the transfer of detrital energy to detritivore secondary production, release of detritus-bound nutrients for algal uptake, bottom-up effects of algae on herbivores, and ecosystem metabolism. Researchers will use models, experiments, and comparative data from whole ponds to investigate the degree to which 1) species replacements along permanence and elevational gradients are functional replacements in terms of detritus processing rates and cascading effects on brown (detrital) and green (algal) trophic paths, 2) the interactive effects of species shifts across the permanence gradient within an elevation and those associated with range shifts across elevations, and 3) how changes in ecosystem processes with community rearrangements scale up to natural ponds. Impacts will be assessed on three components: 1) the amounts of nutrients and energy from dead plant parts that are eaten by animals (detritivory), 2) how much of the consumption is released back into the environment and stimulates the growth of algae, which can then also be eaten, and 3) how new combinations of species affect the overall productivity of the ponds.

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