WUN teams pool knowledge, ideas in projects

October 30, 2008

University Park, Pa. -- Svalbard, a chain of islands between Norway and the North Pole, has served as a base for whaling, coal mining and Arctic expeditions since the 17th century. And, it is the base for a team of Penn State and European scientists who are conducting an intensive study of Arctic climate changes through the auspices of the Worldwide Universities Network (WUN).

WUN is a leading global research and education partnership with more than 3,000 faculty and student researchers at 18 universities on four continents. Penn State has been a founding partner since its inception in 2001. There are more than 20 WUN communities of scientists from member universities, discussing their current studies and sharing ideas at a conference or via videoconference for future joint projects and potential funding or student and faculty exchanges.

“WUN offers an international network of contacts and support resources such as access grid technology, web sites and videoconferencing for researchers,” says Louise Heery, acting CEO of WUN. “The Research Mobility Programme has given awards for more than 400 visits by faculty or students at member universities in Europe, Asia or North America. A partnership between the Fulbright Commission and WUN offers opportunities for postgraduate scholar exchange under the Fulbright Program."

The pACE (paleoArctic Climates Environment) initiative came together after researchers attended a 2005 meeting at the University of Bristol to identify fundable collaborations in Arctic Climate Change research, in response to the International Polar Year, which highlights the need for research on the Arctic climate.

Tim White, senior research associate at EMS Earth and Environmental Institute, and Lee Kump, professor of geosciences, lead the Penn State team activities. After several planning meetings, an expedition was made to Svalbard in summer 2007 by 19 faculty and graduate students from Penn State and the Universities of Leeds, Sheffield, Southampton (all U.K.), Oslo (Norway) and Utrecht (Netherlands). The scientists sampled rocks and fossils in search of clues about ancient Arctic climates going back 45 to 60 million years. A Norwegian coal mining company has provided access to its drill cores, which have been greatly beneficial.

In early 2008, the researchers met at the University of Leeds in England to review preliminary results and this past summer, several scientists including White presented a series of lectures on the early results of the work in Svalbard at the International Geological Congress in Oslo, Norway.

“The pACE team developed a clear science plan and agenda drawing on the complementary research strengths, expertise and equipment available through the WUN collaborators,” said White.“The Svalbard region contains strata that offer a superb record of key phases of climate change including an ancient greenhouse episode considered by many to be analog for Earth’s not-too-distant future”.

WUN academic communities are diversified across the arts and humanities, health and life sciences, social sciences, information technology and leadership in entrepreneurship. Two other areas of research which have benefitted recently from WUN interactions, are nanomanufacturing and helicopter rotor design.

In the nanomanufacturing area, Penn State researcher Susan Trolier-McKinstry, director of Penn State's W.M. Keck Smart Materials Integration Laboratory, will be working with researchers from Argonne National Laboratory and the University of Sheffield, U.K., to study the impact of elastic boundary conditions and thickness on tilt transitions (crystalline-structure movements) within perovskites, which are ceramic compounds used in thin films and nano-applications.

This type of research will lead to a new generation of smart integrated components that combine electrical, mechanical and optical functions. "Smart" materials sense a change in the environment and respond to that change in a useful way. In particular, the work will elucidate the behavior of materials used in cell phones and other microwave devices, as well as miniaturized sensors and actuators.

In the rotorcraft area, Farhan Gandhi, professor of aerospace engineering and deputy director of Penn State's Vertical Lift Research Center of Excellence, is setting up joint research activities with Professor Nick Lieven of the University of Bristol. Their collaborative research is focused on the area of helicopter vibration reduction using Coriolis absorbers embedded in the blade.

In addition to reducing rotor vibration, they plan to extend the concept to harvest energy associated with the vibration of the rotor. Reducing rotor vibration has vast implications on maintenance requirements and ride quality. The harvested energy can be used to power sensory systems for health monitoring as well as small actuators on the rotor blades.

“The value of WUN is its core strengths: trans-national research, innovation, collaborations, education and the sharing of resources, all of which enable the network to adapt quickly to changing global challenges that require assistance from higher education,” said Peter Schiffer, associate vice president for research at Penn State, who serves as a liaison to WUN. “Community building is not limited to WUN institutions alone. The network is continually encouraging non-WUN partners in industry and external organizations to participate.”

More information about WUN and the academic communities are at www.wun.ac.uk. Penn State faculty interested in participating in the WUN should contact Schiffer at 814-863-9658 or at pes12@psu.edu





  • Penn State and European scientists are working together on Arctic climate research.

    IMAGE: T. White
Last Updated November 18, 2010