Five Earth and Mineral Sciences students awarded at Graduate Research Exhibition

Matthew Carroll
April 29, 2021

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Amy Farley grew up in a small Texas town around a farming family, and she’s seen the increasing presence of technology in the agriculture industry yield a new crop — data.

“They have drones they fly over their crops and rigs that have GPS sensors, but they don’t always have the knowledge to bring all it together and visualize it and find the useful story,” said Farley, a Penn State World Campus master’s student in geographic information systems. “They are generating tons of geographic information through their businesses that they don’t necessarily know how to use.”

Farley, a software developer in Austin, Texas, combined her professional experience and the knowledge she’s learned at Penn State to build an open-source, serverless web-mapping tool that could have implications for agriculture and beyond.

Farley recently presented her work on the project at the 36th annual Graduate Exhibition and received first place in the engineering category. She is one of five students in the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences who placed in the awards, including two who won their categories.

Her project involves using cloud computing platforms and open-source libraries and code frameworks to develop affordable, simple-to-use tools that allow users to manage large amounts of geographic data and visualize it on maps.

“The research exhibition itself actually made me rethink how to communicate what it is I’m trying to do,” said Farley, whose adviser is Ryan Baxter, associate teaching professor of geography. “It was an incredible experience that made me rethink the audience and forced me to figure out how to simplify what it is I’m trying to convey to reach a broader audience.”

A complete list of EMS winners is available below.

Prakash Purswani: Second place in engineering

 
Prakash Purswani

Prakash Purswani, graduate student in energy and mineral engineering 

IMAGE: Penn State

Purswani’s project focused on wettability, or the properties of rock that can affect how different phases — oil, water and gas – distribute in the pore space and consequently affect trapping of these phases. Understanding trapping is critical for processes like carbon sequestration, which is proposed as a method to remove excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, he said.

Purswani presented pore-level, network-based simulations to analyze trapping trends and proposed simple functions of modeling phase trapping for different wettability conditions, work that was part of his doctoral research.

“Even though it was remote, I was very glad and thankful that the graduate exhibition was held this year,” said Purswani, who is advised by Zuleima Karpyn and Russell Johns, professors in the John and Willie Leone Family Department of Energy and Mineral Engineering. “It provides a great opportunity for researchers to showcase their research and reach a broader audience for feedback.”

Sierra Melton: First place in physical sciences and mathematics

Sierra Melton

Sierra Melton, graduate student in geosciences 

IMAGE: Penn State

Melton’s project involved the relationships between iceberg calving and meltwater runoff at Helheim Glacier in Greenland.

Helheim is a marine-terminating glacier that drains ice from the Greenland Ice Sheet into the Atlantic Ocean. Melton was part of the team that observed links between these mass-loss processes using satellite and time-lapse imagery capture from 2011-19.

Melton began her doctoral work this spring, and she plans to build on her master’s research at Penn State by modeling iceberg calving processes at a Helheim-like glacier.

“I was honored that my hard work on this research and on the presentation paid off,” said Melton, whose advisers are Richard Alley and Sridhar Anandakrishnan, professors of geosciences. “All of the other presentations were wonderful as well, so It was a bit surprising and definitely an honor to receive first place.”

Julia Carr: Second place in physical sciences and mathematics

Julia Carr

Julia Carr, graduate student in geosciences 

IMAGE: Roman Dibiase

Carr’s presentation focused on her field surveys across Taiwan using drones and handheld photogrammetry, a process that uses a series of overlapping photos to create high-resolution, 3D models.

“In the project I presented, I took advantage of a series of repeat photogrammetry surveys that we’ve collected over the last five years to quantify sediment transport,” said Carr, a doctoral student whose adviser is Roman DiBiase, assistant professor of geosciences. “This is important because in steep landscapes like Taiwan, landslides and rockfalls frequently deposit bounders into channels, and the current frameworks for understanding how these boulders affect sediment transport are very limited due to a lack of observations.”

These high-resolution, data-dense methods will allow researchers to bridge observations of sediment transport from grain scale processes to the scale of modern rivers, she said.

Carr also received the Data Visualization Award offered by the University Libraries’ Data Learning Center.

Si Athena Chen: Third place in video option

Si Athena Chen

Si Athena Chen, a doctoral student in geosciences 

IMAGE: Penn State

Chen presented research on the transformation of iron oxides, the most common mineral on Earth, with an eye on searching for the presence of life elsewhere in the solar system.

Chen, a doctoral student in geosciences who studies the formation of minerals, was part of a team that studied natural specimens and discovered the occurrence of super-hydrous iron oxides. Later, she successfully synthesized them in the laboratory.

She said the team’s work may someday contribute to the discovery of life on apparently dry planets, such as Mars. 

“I learned how to better explain my work in plain language to a general audience,” said Chen, who is advised by Peter Heaney, professor of geosciences. “It’s never easy to demonstrate doctoral work in few sentences, but it’s an important ability for anyone. Attending the graduate exhibition is absolutely a great opportunity to expose our work to the public as well.”

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Last Updated April 30, 2021