Focus on Research
Penn State Intercom......February 21, 2002

DuBois students band owls
as part of national project

Field data collected by some Penn State DuBois wildlife technology students will help researchers develop a better understanding of a little-known owl species.

This fall, second-year students in the campus Wildlife Technology associate-degree program conducted an owl-banding project in the Brockway watershed.

Over a three-week period in late October-early November, students netted and banded Northern saw-whet owls in the forest near Brockway as part of a growing nationwide operation called Project Owlnet.

"The purpose of Project Owlnet is to expand the general knowledge of these owls through the creation of a network of banding stations across North America where researchers can collect data on the species and their migration patterns," explained Charles Schaadt, assistant professor of wildlife technology at the campus.

Established by David Brinker, an ecologist with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, Project Owlnet has grown from a series of five cooperating saw-whet owl banding stations across Maryland to sites in New Jersey, Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, West Virginia, North Carolina, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Ontario, Canada.

The Penn State DuBois site has the distinction of being the only banding station in the Allegheny Highlands. It was launched after Schaadt met Scott Weidensaul, a Pennsylvania wildlife author who has been actively recruiting new banders to cover the state.

"Scott and I believed the time was right to expand the project into northcentral Pennsylvania, where vast amounts of forests provide the right habitat for the saw-whet," he said.

With assistance from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Pennsylvania Game Commission and the Brockway Water Authority, the campus acquired the necessary permits and the stage was set to begin.

During the project, students worked side-by-side with Schaadt and faculty members Joseph Hummer and Keely Tolley Roen as they prepared the site and then collected the research material.

Together, they followed a complex protocol established by Project Owlnet that outlined everything from the proper nets to use, to how to place an audio lure and the necessary data to record.

Each night over the three weeks, small groups of students entered the woods at dusk and remained until nearly midnight, checking the nets each hour to see if their taped recordings of saw-whet calls had lured any into the area. Captured owls were carefully removed and taken to a banding station, set up in a tent, where students took various measurements, checked molt patterns to determine age and sex, and recorded field conditions. Faculty members then banded each bird and supervised the release.

Nearly 40 owls were banded this year, reported Schaadt, who said the program was such a success with students he hopes to conduct it for a longer period next year.

Computer program
could prevent
truck rollovers

By Barbara Hale
Public Information

University researchers say a computer program they developed and have tested in simulation could automatically adjust the brake forces on the right and left sides of a heavy truck cab and prevent rollover accidents during cornering maneuvers.

A 1988 report from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration showed rollover occurred in 52 percent of the heavy vehicle accidents in which the driver was killed. Another earlier report concluded that heavy vehicle rollover was responsible for 95 percent of the bulk spillage of hazardous materials.

Moustafa El-Gindy, director of the Vehicle Simulation Research Center at the University's Transportation Institute and leader of the study, said, "The computer-based controller we've developed will adjust the brake forces on the right and left sides of the cab independently to stabilize the vehicle by reducing the spin which causes rollover. We expect to have a prototype to test on a vehicle in about a year."

El-Gindy said the biggest problem the team had to overcome was developing a computer program that could adjust to the continuous changes that take place in a tractor-trailer as it maneuvers around a corner, such as shifts in the load in the trailer, changes in tire characteristics due to wear or varying inflation pressures or differences in the truck suspension.

However, the simulation tests have shown that the controller they developed can prevent rollover without significantly changing the direction of the vehicle. El-Gindy said that in the application he envisions the controller would engage differential braking automatically only if the lateral acceleration of the vehicle or its spin at its center of gravity exceeded a danger threshold.

A car manufacturer is currently trying to add a differential-braking concept to passenger cars, said the researcher. He thinks the new controller for heavy trucks is the first of its type to offer a workable solution to the rollover problem.

A. Scott Lewis, research associate at the Applied Research Laboratory, collaborated in the research.  

Barbara Hale can be reached at

$320,000 foundation grant awarded
to professor for recreation study

A University leisure studies professor and two of his colleagues have received a two-year, $320,000 grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to explore the role that local recreation and park programs play in the well-being of older adults.

Geoffrey C. Godbey, professor of leisure studies in the School of Hotel, Restaurant and Recreation Management in the College of Health and Human Development, will serve as the principal investigator for the two-year study. Beth Orsega-Smith, assistant professor of health and exercise sciences at the University of Delaware, and Laura Payne, assistant professor of leisure studies at the University of Illinois, will serve as co-principal investigators.

The purpose of the study is to examine the relationship between use of local government recreation and park services and individual health among adults age 50 and over.

The study also will enable the investigators to better understand the knowledge and attitudes that exist in order to develop a collaborative, integrative approach to program design and delivery among local groups identified as stakeholders in the promotion of physical activity.