'BTN LiveBIG' show Jan. 13 spotlights ability athletes, rain forest ecologist

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Penn State students, coaches and faculty researchers making a difference in the world are featured in the next episode of "BTN LiveBIG," which debuts at 11 p.m. Eastern time Monday, Jan. 13, on the Big Ten Network (BTN).

According to the network, the Penn State episode takes viewers into the world of parasites and the creation of "zombie ants," a phenomenon that has wreaked havoc on the ant population. Biologist and entomologist David Hughes' research includes the study of parasites, particularly the spread of plant diseases by insect populations, a scenario that often results in devastating effects to crop yields. Hughes also examines disease proliferation among the insects themselves. One ant parasite attacks the ant and ends up controlling its behavior, causing the ant to bite a plant leaf to infect it with a fungus.

Studying groups of these so-called zombie ants has taken him to research sites around the world, but now Hughes and students in his lab have discovered ways to replicate the zombie ant phenomenon in the lab. They are finding ways to eliminate the parasites — and considering how these patterns of group dynamics might also apply to human populations.

The episode also will showcase the success of the University’s Ability Athletics program, which encourages students with physical challenges, including Wounded Warriors, to participate in recreational and competitive athletics. For 15 years, Penn State Ability Athletics coordinator Teri Jordan coached the women's track program. Nearly 15 years ago she retired from that position and embraced a new coaching role as programming coordinator of Penn State Ability Athletics. In 2004 she coached the U.S. Paralympics team in Athens.

"BTN LiveBIG" interviews Jordan and Penn State students with physical challenges who participate in recreational fitness, such as wheelchair basketball games, as well as future Paralympics hopefuls who train at the University's world-class facilities.

During the show, Penn State men’s basketball coach Pat Chambers shares with viewers what makes Penn State such a special place. Also featured in the episode is Penn State’s world renowned turf science program that researches ways to make fields softer and safer for athletes.

"BTN LiveBIG" caps an evening of Penn State programming on the network. At 7 p.m. Nittany Lion men's ice hockey faces off against No. 1-ranked Minnesota. The game is followed by a replay at 9:30 p.m. of BTN's special on the hiring of new Penn State football coach James Franklin. The one-hour documentary "Hockey Valley: The Opening of Pegula Ice Arena," is scheduled to air at 10 p.m.

In its second season, "BTN LiveBIG" is the second BTN collaborative campus program series produced in conjunction with the Big Ten Conference and its 12 universities, following 2012's "Impact the World." BTN has expanded the online hub for the show, http://www.BTNLiveBIG.com, to feature additional daily content from each Big Ten school as well as curate conversations surrounding these motivating people and programs from the "BTN LiveBIG" Facebook and Twitter pages.

The Penn State "BTN LiveBIG" show is scheduled to re-air at 8 p.m. Eastern time Thursday, Feb. 6, on the Big Ten Network. Check local listings for air times.

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Last Updated January 13, 2014