EMS announces 2013 undergraduate paper competition winners

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Six undergraduates from the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences (EMS) earned top awards in the annual Grundy Haven paper competition. The aim of the paper competition is to foster excellence in communicating science to the public.

Theodore Edwards, an energy, business and finance major, won first place for his paper, "Externality, PA: Using Economics to Protect Pennsylvania’s Environment." His paper explores the disincentives of current laws governing bonding in the natural gas industry for firms to perform adequate site reclamation. His paper suggests ways incentives can be realigned to encourage firms to internalize reclamation costs that would result in proper site reclamation.

“Because it’s a local issue, I thought it would be interesting to my audience, but it was challenging to write about a technical topic in a non-technical way. I tried to not oversimplify the issue or the related facts. It was a constant balancing act between providing information, while at the same time not writing in an overly stuffy, academic way,” he said.

Three students tied for second place: Sarah Hanson (geography), Neal Lewis (materials science and engineering) and Everleigh Stokes (geography). The idea for Hanson’s paper, “The Weedy Facts,” came from research she completed on invasive plant species in South Africa while participating in a Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program. “As I began to think of potential topics for my paper I thought to myself, ‘What better way to rephrase my research into something my parents might like to read?’”

Lewis was also thinking of his family when he wrote, “Thermoelectric Generators (TEG): Recovering Your Lost Heat.” “My friends and family are always asking me to explain what I do in the research lab. It’s pretty hard to explain how TEGs can convert waste heat into usable electrical energy. I used this competition to practice how to avoid jargon and use metaphors to relate the heavier, more technical parts of what I do in a way that could be understood by a general audience. I ended up writing six drafts, and even though I discovered it isn’t easy to write like this, when you pull it off, it’s very rewarding.”

Stokes also wrote multiple drafts for her paper, “Predicting the Unpredictable: Monitoring Meningitis Using GIS.” In the summer of 2012, she visited the University of Wurzburg in Germany as part of the Center for Advancement of Undergraduate Studies and Experience (CAUSE). Through lectures, lab tours, and personal interviews with developers and designers of a medical Geographic Information Systems (GIS) software tool, she learned more about disease tracking.

“I saw how GIS could be used to visualize, synthesize and spatially analyze disease data in an effort to prevent an outbreak of meningitis, and I wanted to write about it. The hardest part for me in writing this paper was to come up with an interesting introduction and incorporate the factual statements correctly, but I overcame it by writing draft after draft.”

Andrew Dzambo (meteorology) was one of two honorable mention winners for his paper, “Storm Surge: A Rising Danger.” He is graduating in May and is going to the University of Oklahoma for his graduate work. “I will be writing a lot in graduate school, and this competition helped me try a different writing style.” Andrea Karelitz (meteorology) also received an honorable mention for a paper titled Solar Energy Particles: A Relay Race to Earth; it was inspired by a summer internship with NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. Her advice to EMS students contemplating entering the competition next year: “Enter if you want to improve your writing skills and learn even more about a scientific topic that interests you!”

Last Updated April 29, 2013