Intercom Online......February 4, 1999


Although research is continuing, early indications are that groundhogs may not hibernate as long as was once thought. The research may help farmers, whose crops can be plagued by the hungry rodents.

Research hints at new information
about groundhog hibernation

Punxsutawney Phil and his fellow groundhogs may not have been as groggy as once thought when roused from their hutches earlier this week for their annual Groundhog Day weather predictions. That's because preliminary results from recent research have shown that groundhogs -- also known as woodchucks -- may not hibernate as long as originally thought.

Stam Zervanos, Penn State Berks campus associate professor of biology and an expert on groundhogs, is currently conducting a study on the adaptive biology of woodchuck populations on Penn State Berks campus.

According to Zervanos, one of the objectives is to study the bioenergetics of this animal, and the energy conserving value of hibernation is part of this question. Another part of the study involves collecting data on the social structure and behavior of a population of woodchucks inhabiting Berks campus. Since this is a labor-intensive study, undergraduate students are involved in the collection and analysis of data. Carmen Salsbury from Albright College also is involved.

This study should reveal much-needed information on the hibernation and energy dynamics of this species. In some areas, these rodents are a major problem to farmers. By knowing their energy requirements, an assessment of the degree of crop damage can be made.

The animals are observed to determine the degree of interaction (both social and non-social) which may have adaptive advantages, such as alarm signaling, mate selection, territorial defense and kin support systems. Since bioenergetics may play a role in explaining this animal's adaptations, data are collected on food resources and use in terms of energy efficiency, energy flow and competition.

In addition, small radio telemetry transmitters are being used on 12 of the woodchucks. These serve to keep track of their location and to monitor body temperature, heart rate and heat flux. This is done by a new state-of-the-art system that automatically collects data every hour and stores the information in a computer for later analysis.

This information is especially important during winter hibernation to estimate energy budgets. This study has never been done before on any hibernator.

Team of scientists discover
most distant known quasar

The discovery of the most distant quasar ever observed was announced by the scientists of the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, including Penn State's Donald Schneider.

Schneider is associate professor of astronomy and astrophysics and the organizer of the Sky Survey's quasar group since its inception in the early 1990s. Quasars are starlike objects that emit powerful light and often radio waves; they are the most luminous objects in the universe.

"This is an exciting discovery on its own -- plus it heralds a tremendously productive decade of discoveries about our universe with the new Sloan Digital Sky Survey Telescope," Schneider said.

"We are viewing this new quasar as it was when the universe was only about 7 percent of its current age, and we expect to find many more quasars even farther back in time and space with this new telescope."

The quasar previously ranked as the most distant was discovered in 1991 by Schneider and his colleagues Maarten Schmidt of the California Institute of Technology and James Gunn of Princeton University, who is the project scientist for the Sloan Survey. Only about 15,000 quasars have been identified since 1963, when Schmidt first measured a quasar's distance from Earth. But the Sloan Survey is expected to discover more than 100,000 new quasars during the next decade.

"What we have found is not totally unexpected but it is extraordinary at this early stage," Schneider said. "Looking at only 1 percent of the data and using prototype software and only a preliminary calibration to evaluate it, we have achieved a 70 percent success rate in identifying bright, high-redshift quasars. At the current rate of discovery, by the end of the survey we should find more than 500 quasars with redshift greater than 4.75."

Redshift is the amount by which light is shifted toward the red end of an object's spectrum by the expansion of the universe. Astronomers use redshift as a measure of the distance of celestial objects: the higher the redshift, the greater the distance and the younger the universe when the light was emitted.

For more information, point your Web browser to the Eberly College of Science Web site at

There's more than one way to meet
calcium requirements

The National Institute of Medicine has increased its recommended daily calcium requirements for all age groups older than age 8. And that means most consumers should be drinking a lot more milk, or at least seeking dietary alternatives containing calcium, said J. Lynne Brown, associate professor of food science.

Brown suggests several calcium-laden alternatives to milk for those who are lactose intolerant or just don't like drinking milk.

Cheese: One ounce of Swiss cheese contains about 270 mg of calcium. An ounce of cheddar has about 200 mg.

Yogurt: One cup of any kind contains about 400 mg of calcium.

Calcium-fortified orange juice: Many have about 300 mg per serving and the citric acid in the juice allows the body to absorb the calcium more easily.

Tofu: Some types are made with calcium sulfate, which provides about 300 mg in a half-cup.

Dark green leafy vegetables: The best are kale, chard, mustard and other greens. Spinach is not a good calcium source, because its calcium is tied up in an organic complex that can't be digested.

Fish: Tinned sardines and mackerel contain calcium. Canned salmon is a good source of calcium if you mash and eat the bones.

Cereals: Some ready-to-eat cereals are fortified with calcium.

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