Five students receive awards for earth and mineral sciences paper competition

Five undergraduates -- Abraham Duplaa, Kahindo Kamau, Ethan Lucas, Rachel Passmore and Olivia Price --  from the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences (EMS) earned top awards in the 2014 Grundy Haven paper competition.The goal of the competition is to foster excellence in communicating science to the public. Students choose a topic related to the programs within the college and write an informative article directed at a nonspecialist audience.

First place winner, Ethan Lucas, a material science and engineering major, wrote about preventing nuclear meltdowns, such as the one at the Fukushima power plant in western Japan in 2011. At the Applied Research Laboratory, he participates in research to find improved corrosive resistant coatings for fuel tubes that house nuclear material. The objective of the research is to avert similar disasters.

“I’ve been participating in this research for close to a year, and I wanted to explain that if this team of scientists is successful, it will help revolutionize the energy industry and make nuclear energy safer and more viable,” said Lucas.

Taking a course on global health issues and traveling to Ghana gave second place winner, Rachel Passmore, a geography major, the inspiration to write her paper on malaria prevention methods in endemic African countries.

“It’s an extremely complex public health issue. Not everyone has access to insecticide-treated sprays and netting. International aid is also always complicated,” said Passmore, “but knowing more about the pros and cons of various options helps us to become better global citizens.”

The global public health issue of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in Indian agriculture, specifically with respect to Bt Cotton was the topic geography major Olivia Price explored in her second place entry. (This year, there was a tie for second place.) Price entered the competition “because of the sense of passion” she has for her subject, and because she believes that she should put her “passion to good use and help spread the word by writing from the perspective of a social scientist.”

She wrote multiple drafts and met with her faculty sponsor and writing tutors to tweak her paper. In her earlier drafts, she noted that her tone was not sufficiently objective.

“I think the most difficult part of writing this paper was remaining unbiased. I chose a controversial topic that many people get heated over. I wanted to take a side, and in my earlier papers you can definitely observe a bias in my tone. I overcame the challenge by realizing that when communicating science, it’s not personal opinion that counts. I had to rely on strong scientific evidence.”

Kahindo Kamau and Abraham Duplaa, two petroleum and natural gas engineering majors, won honorable mention for their collaborative entry on the promise of methane hydrates as a viable energy source for the future. As Kamau explained, the primary challenge they faced was adjusting their usual solitary methods for writing and editing to a team approach.

“Because we were two writers working on one paper we initially each took the job of writing half of the essay. When we put it together into one document we had theses that did not quite match, and our word counts were too high. We also had a lot of repetition. As writers, we learned the importance of not only communicating with our audience but also with each other.”

Plans for how each of the winners will use the cash prizes that range from $250 to $1,000 are as varied as the topics: to purchase a passport, for a month’s rent, to buy soccer cleats — and to go to Chipotle and eat vegetarian burritos!

The William Grundy Haven Awards were established in 1950 in memory of a Penn State geology student who was killed in action during World War II.

For more information on the Grundy Haven Student Paper Competition, contact Kimberly Del Bright, Giles writer-in-residence, Ryan Family Student Center, College of Earth and Mineral Sciences, 14F Deike Building, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA 16802, Telephone: 814-863-6077, Fax: 814-863-3349, email: kdb9@psu.edu, blog: http://www.personal.psu.edu/kdb9/blogs/giles_writer-in-residence/

Last Updated July 10, 2014