Erickson Discovery Grant applications sought for summer 2016

January 11, 2016

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- If you were given $3,500 to learn anything this summer, what would it be?

For one undergraduate student, it was studying how musical culture was suppressed during The Third Reich. For another, designing and developing a flapping-wing ornithopter that both swims and flys. Another, the development of an electrospun biodegradable mesh for hernia repair.

These students, fifty-seven in total from across Penn State, applied and were accepted into the Erickson Discovery Grant program for summer 2015, and received funds to immerse themselves in student-initiated original research, scholarship, and creative work under the direct supervision of a faculty member.

Chelsea Eyer, a senior geoscience major, used her grant funding to travel to southern Iceland for two weeks to collect hyaloclastite samples, a type of altered igneous rock. “When I got accepted I was ecstatic and started planning my trip and reading up on my topic even more,” said Chelsea.

Working alongside a graduate student in Iceland, Chelsea gained the ability to properly gather a rock sample, including labeling it in a way that links it to notes and GPS coordinates—an important skill for a field petrologist, a geologist that studies the origin, composition, and structure of rocks.

Back at University Park, Chelsea is performing X-ray diffraction on the rocks to determine their mineral composition. She hopes to find out if they are a source of harmful gas that erupts from some Icelandic volcanoes. “This grant has made my undergrad career more exciting and has given me a feeling of success already. Not many undergrads get to use X-Ray diffraction instruments, so I feel as though I am ahead of many of my peers,” Chelsea said of the experience.

Aside from the strides made in her working field knowledge, Chelsea felt fortunate for the opportunity to learn more about the Icelandic people. “Getting to see a new environment and culture was exhilarating. People are very nice there in a different way than I had experienced. It made me want to travel to other Scandinavian countries.”

Senior horticulture major Benjamin Nason had what he described as a fantastic, but challenging, summer trying to better understand how Manganese interacts with plants to cause disease.

“I made my own hours and had the flexibility to work in State College with access to professors, labs, and a fantastic library. That being said, nothing is perfect and I experienced challenging days and days of frustration, but that is part of the experience.”

His initial frustration stemmed from his seeds taking three weeks longer than anticipated to arrive, putting him far behind schedule. Once the seeds arrived, it took multiple attempts, and a great deal of time spent refining his methods, for a batch of plants to grow and germinate. It wasn’t until then that he could move ahead with his research.

Yet, it was the setbacks themselves that made his summer research experience transformative.

“The independence of the summer shaped me in ways I wouldn’t have imagined. In our current educational system, we have people to walk us through pretty much everything… I made tons of mistakes that taught me valuable lessons. Had I been told what to do I most likely would not have learned those lessons.“

When summer came to a close, Benjamin felt a new found confidence and eagerness to take on new challenges. “I am a capable scientist, despite the failures, and that is something I have been wanting to know for a long time. I feel that now I have a skillset and a confidence that I never had and will take with me for life.”

Undergraduates who are interested in tackling their own research question this summer are encouraged to apply for a 2016 Erickson Discovery Grant. Applications are being accepted through Feb. 12. Interested students are also encouraged to attend an information session on Jan. 14 from noon-1 p.m. in 106 HUB-Robeson Center. RSVP to by 5 p.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 13.

Visit for details and to submit an application.


  • Senior geoscience major Chelsea Eyer stands next to a rock formation in Iceland

    Senior geoscience major Chelsea Eyer traveled to Iceland with funds from her 2015 Erickson Discovery Grant where she studied hyaloclastite, a type of altered igneous rock.

    IMAGE: Penn State
  • Cross flow lines in fine grained hyaloclastite

    Cross flow lines in fine grained hyaloclastite

    IMAGE: Chelsea Eyer
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Last Updated May 12, 2016