February 2012 Archives

Glenn De Angelis, a senior energy engineering student, put on his lucky SpongeBob arm bands that he wore last year when he successfully danced for the Penn State  IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon and headed to the Bryce Jordan Center (BJC).

As the EMS THON overall chair this year, he was ready. Although EMS students who participated in THON are quick to point out it's a team effort, under the leadership of DeAngelis, the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences (EMS) raised a record $87, 601.82. This was the second year in a row EMS was first among general organizations.

The doors of the BJC opened at 1 p.m. on Friday, February 17, 2012.  "As we went through the human tunnel of hundreds of THON committee members lining the hallways, the excitement was unbelievable. I was holding my clip board and waving my sky blue bandana high in the air trying to keep us all together," said DeAngelis.

DeAngelis acknowledges this was a very different year than last year. Students grieved for the loss of Coach Paterno and for the young freshman, Courtney O'Bryan, killed in a car accident en route to a THON canning trip. One of the four canning trips had to be cancelled because of inclement weather, and although DeAngelis and the EMS THON students supported the difficult decision, they worried about the effect it would have on the final fundraising total. The students also fought hard not to let the negativity of the events of the past year dampen their belief in the positive power of people working together for a common goal. The money raised supports the Four Diamonds Fund to help pediatric cancer patients, families and researchers.

On Sunday, when the overall THON total was revealed and was 12 percent higher than last year's $9.6 million, it felt like a rainbow. Brian Bastian, who served as the EMS donor and alumni relations chair, credits the strength of the EMS executive committee (Marla Korpar, canning chair; Caitlyn McCloy, fundraising chair; and Annie Tamalavage, family relations chair) for much of the success of EMS.

EMS students commented that the close knit feeling of family among EMS students, EMS alumni, and the THON families provide a lot of motivation. Many alumni visit throughout the weekend and support the students throughout the year-long fundraising.

"The families' strength inspires us too," said Marla Korpar. This year the Michael Woods and Troy Brewer families were paired with EMS through the Adopt-A-Family program. Michael is in fifth grade, and his cancer is in remission; however, Troy passed away in 2006. Throughout the year, EMS students interact with the families.

"The 'why we THON' is different for every person, but ultimately it's for those we love and those we lost--For the Kids. Their stories, both tragic and triumphant, inspire me to be a better person," said Katie Lukens (meteorology) who danced this year along with Brian Bastian (meteorology), Annie Tamalavage (geosciences), Caitlyn McCloy (energy, business and finance), Greg Smith (geobiology), and Marla Korpar (environmental systems engineering).

Marla Korpar, a junior, got involved in THON as a freshman and found the last four hours of THON as a dancer this year were especially memorable.

"I should have been exhausted. 'What a Wonderful World' was playing and the BJC was filled to capacity. I looked out on the floor and up to the stands and saw so many people--it was a sea of bright colors--all standing arms around each other swaying back and forth. I felt love radiating from the BJC. I could see it with my eyes, but I could also feel it in my soul."

As DeAngelis left the BJC at the end of THON weekend, the sky in Happy Valley was Penn State blue. "It's important to remember that when people come together for good, something miraculous can happen," he said.  

hatlee 5 poster.jpg

A quick look at this award winning poster created by Tim Hatlee, a graduate student in meteorology, shows the importance of using graphics, color, and visual hierarchy of text and images to draw in your viewer.


A scientific poster relies on the pictorial or visual representations to communicate. Think of them as the centerpiece of your poster--make them big and colorful. Make sure they communicate the relationships key to your discussion section quickly and easily. You want your audience to grasp large amounts of information while they are likely to be standing, and possibly walking, eating, and talking!

A common error in pictorial representations on posters is to ignore audience adaptation. The graph used in a printed report may be too detailed for a poster, so it may need revisions for a poster audience. General rules for visuals are as follows:

Keep it simple (Don't cram!)
Design with the audience in mind
Number each figure and table independently and include informative captions
Provide the context, integrate in the text, and place appropriately
Include all necessary information, but include no excess (Visuals should be able to stand alone and be meaningful)
Put independent variables on the x-axis and dependent variables on the y-axis
Label each axis carefully and specify the units of measurement
Use consistent size, format, visual codes (captions, symbols, scale, etc.)

Your purpose should guide you when deciding between using a table or a figure (includes graphs, photographs, charts, diagrams and illustrations). When you need to provide large amounts of exact data, use a table. When you need to show patterns and trends, use figures.   Bar graphs (including frequency histograms), xy-line graphs, xy-scatter plot, and pie charts are used the most in posters.


Use color for emphasis too, but think strategically about how you use it. Arbitrarily adding color is distracting. Generally stick with three or four colors and use them consistently for the same elements. For example, if one sub-heading is in dark blue, use the same dark blue for all the additional sub-headings. Color engages your viewers, but it also allows for easier skimming because it provides predictability. Be careful of the selection of the background color too. There's a reason we usually read dark print on white paper; it's easier on our eyes. Use dark type on a light background. Avoid busy backgrounds that add nothing to the communication.

Visual Hierarchy

Use visual hierarchy (using size and proportion) for emphasis. For areas of major importance, provide more space. Giving the results section the entire middle column of your poster is a good example of using visual hierarchy to bring attention to this important section. One of the best ways to plan the arrangement is to tentatively sketch your layout and critique it. If it isn't easily seen, understood, and interesting within ten feet, consider redesigning it.

White space (the absence of text or images) is important too. Densely packed posters are like parks with no benches; there's no place to rest. Give your reader's eyes a place to rest between segments.

Hats off to Tim Hatlee for creating a powerful poster with glitz and style! And thank you, Tim, for sharing it with us to use as an example.

Here's an article I wrote for the State College Magazine in January 2012.

Even if you enjoy technical writing, it's good practice to mix it up a bit and write for different audiences. You'll see the tone and voice for this piece are very different from ones used for a peer-reviewed journal.

Tone in writing comes from the choice of words (usage) and the way the sentences are structured (syntax). Voice in writing comes from your unique personality and the way you communicate. Have you ever read a text from your mom and you could tell it was her even if you didn't see her name associated with it on your phone? That's because as a reader, there's a sound to the language, and you recognized the sound of your mother's communication style.

Tone and voice together create style. Style is used to engage your readers and give you credibility as the writer. As you read this piece, look for specific ways the style fits the audience.

Modern Mod

         It's a new year, but the hot trend isn't about the future--it's about the past. The buzzword is "vintage" and all things old are new again. 

            In lots of ways, vintage is American. Making a sow's ear into a silk purse reflects good, old-fashioned American ingenuity. The economic downturn has given us a renewed interest in making do, even if our greater resourcefulness is born out of necessity. And who doesn't feel like a champion of individualism and self-expression when scoring a one-of-a-kind item?

            Vintage is also modern. It's a form of recycling and a way of being green.

            And, it connects us to our past and to those we loved who may not be with us anymore. We feel comfort in the nostalgia.

            Our TV-centric culture reflects this trend too. Flip on the remote and you're likely to find dapper Don Draper, the quintessential '60's man of "Mad Men," or a buxom beauty as a stewardess on the new Pan Am period drama. Even old shows are new again--with the remake of "Hawaii Five-O," "book 'em, Danno," is back.

            Our local experts agree the vintage fever Hollywood contrived is happening in Happy Valley too, particularly with the decades of the '50s, '60s, and '70s. From fashion, to home décor, and the gamut of all things old that are new again, we'll give you the Centre County scoop.

            Shelley Banker, owner of The Rag and Bone, a vintage clothing store in State College, shares her insight on the historical influences on fashions of the '50s, '60s, and '70s. Patricia Gordon, owner of Riley on Main, a home décor and design service business, provides advice for incorporating period pieces into your home. And Rog Snyder, owner of Apple Hill Antiques, gives his perspective on the art of the deal.

            We begin the new year with a fresh look at old-fashioned food, events, etiquette, fashion, home décor, and all that's old is new again. Get ready to connect to your past and celebrate your groovy future.

Old Fashioned

         "I don't really have to explain the concept of vintage so much anymore," says Shelley Banker, the owner of The Rag and Bone, a vintage clothing boutique in State College. "When I started, I did. Now most people know."

            In 1993, fresh out of Penn State with a degree in advertising, Shelley Banker took a road trip to Atlanta looking for employment. "Along the way I was hitting thrift stores for clothing because I liked the creative process of finding unique clothing with a past. I also liked the romance and the thrill of the search," Banker recalls.

            She ended up with a car full of inventory, and a significant stride toward a workable business plan. "I   noticed many southern college towns had successful vintage clothing stores, so I decided if I didn't like the job in Atlanta, I'd use my purchases to open a vintage clothing store in State College."

            This was the beginning of The Rag and Bone, currently on Calder Way. According to Banker, "vintage clothing is anything from the 1920s to 1980s that is still wearable. Clothing older than this is considered antique, and may be collected, but it's not wearable." She laughs. "And, although I sometimes get requests for '90s clothing, it's not far enough away from today to be 'seasoned' yet." She tells these customers to give it time.

            She also has noticed a particular interest in clothing from the '50s, '60s, and '70s. "I think there are many reasons, but partly because of economic necessity. With vintage, you can have quality and a good price." 

            Banker views fashion as a walking history of our country. She points out that in the '50s the restrictions from World War II were gone, and women were leaving their factory jobs as the men returned from the war and took back the positions. Femininity returned and womanly shapes were accentuated with nipped waists. Fabric was more plentiful than it had been during the war when rationing was in effect, so women wore fuller skirts and men strutted proudly in their fat ties and wide-legged suit pants. In comparison to today's clothing, most fashion was uber-formal, as casual Fridays didn't exist yet.

            The '60s, from Banker's perspective, are the most fascinating fashion decade because they came in one way and exited in another. In the early '60s, Jackie Kennedy's classic style with its two-piece suits, pill box hats, and gloves, was emulated by American women. By the end of the '60s, with social turmoil from the civil rights and feminist movements and the Vietnam War, fashion was about breaking conventions: shocking hot pants, white go-go boots, super mini-skirts, fishnet stockings, bold patterns and psychedelic colors. For men, clothing items became narrower: ties, suit lapels, and pant legs went skinny. Options for less formal wear coincided with the rise in denim. The clean shaven man and the well-coiffed woman gave way to purposeful slovenliness with the introduction of the hippie culture.

            By the '70s, fashion was a slave to convenience as more women entered the work force. Clothing was marketed based on how easy the fabric was to care for. Synthetics, such as Dacron polyester and permanent press promised carefree living to the working woman.

            More options for women opened up with the acceptance of the pantsuit for work attire too. The big fashion story of the '70s was for men, reports Banker. "Men, longing for a comfortable suit for after-hours, discovered the leisure suit. Some were made in non-traditional colors too; I think I have some in my store in powder blue and bright yellow."

            The appeal to vintage clothing is the connection to the past, but it's also about making sure valuable pieces of history don't get tossed out. One of Banker's favorite stories is about the time she purchased two garbage bags full of "the most exquisite, handmade gowns from the '30s and '40s with beads and lace and incredible workmanship."   

            A man stopped in on a whim because he had cleaned out his deceased aunt's closet. "I bought everything in both bags," Banker says. "The man went away happy, but I was happier because I not only got money for them, I made sure one-by-one each of the gowns were adopted and went to loving homes."

Old Home 

       "Everything recycles, especially styles," says Patricia Gordon, owner of Riley on Main, a home décor store on the historic diamond in Boalsburg. In addition to operating her store, Patricia and her design team offer interior design services for commercial and residential projects. She's been buying and selling vintage and antique furnishings since 1988.

            "Right now, there's a tremendous interest in the '50s, '60s, and '70s, in home décor. People who are between 20 to 40 years old didn't grow up with these looks and are intrigued by them. Those who are older than 40 tell me, 'I remember my family or my parents had that, so there's nostalgia about these time periods too."

            According to Gordon, home decor in the '80s was opulent with bows and lots of fringe. The trend today is completely against this look, which also corresponds particularly well with these decades. "Today's look in home décor is much less fussy, with simple lines and an interest in 'green' design." She noticed this trend at last year's High Point Market, a large furniture exhibition in North Carolina she attends regularly.

            "Furniture makers are offering lines that reflect and revive earlier styles from influential designers such as Charles and Ray Eames and Milo Baughman," Gordon says. Thayer Coggin, a leading contemporary furniture manufacturer, who was associated with Baughman, is still producing many Baughman lines through his company, despite his death in 2003.

            Baughman pieces are so popular that earlier this year when Gordon learned there was an authentic upholstered piece available at a Centre County auction, she sent one of her design assistants to bid up to $1,000 on it. Little did she know that a dealer from Philadelphia would show up prepared to bid $8,000. He took the piece home.

            Even if you can't afford an original, Gordon recommends using some of the new remakes sold by many modern furniture manufacturers. The remakes use the same lines as the originals and are usually more affordable. They're often more comfortable because improvements have been made in fill and framing materials.

            Another obstacle to overcome when incorporating decade pieces into your home is not to overdo the look. She suggests avoiding doing a whole room with pieces from any one period. "This just makes a home look like Epcot or a Hollywood set. It's too contrived. Instead, try pulling in, say a remake of an egg chair or Saarinen table to give a room vividness and character." She also recommends grouping items "to tell a story, but don't tell the same story a hundred times throughout your house. Be mindful of scale to give balance and drama too."

            To recognize the decades in furnishings, Gordon suggests thinking about the '50s as a time of bold curves and playful fabrics. "It was the fruits, flowers and animals decade. Mohair and leather were popular too, especially in high-end furnishings. Gold, chrome, plastic, glass and other metals were combined in ways previously not used."

            By the '60s, there was an interest in more natural, earth-friendly fabrics and the lines were more geometric. "It was a period of rebelliousness," and according to Gordon, "This is reflected in home décor with large contrasts. On one hand, there's the classic look of Pierre Cardin and on the other, there's the whole drug culture with bubble lamps and lava stones."

            With the '70s, international influence dominated home decor. Globalization gave middle America Pier 1 and access to exotic furnishings from faraway places previously available to only those who traveled widely. The Bohemian look, with cotton Indian prints, bamboo shades, and hand carved wood pieces, was in vogue. "Repurposing was born too," says Patricia. "Large cable spools were turned into tables, used wine bottles became candlesticks, and milk crates were all purpose."

            Many combinations from each of the decades can be mixed together. "It can be great self-expression of your personal history and taste," she says as she pauses thoughtfully, and then adds with emphasis, "but remember even eclectic has harmony when it's done well."

Treasure Hunter

          "After all these spoofy university-types go home, I'll teach you how to properly evaluate an antique," Rog Snyder, owner of Apple Hill Antiques, recalls being told by his mentor, Lester Zettle.

            In the early '60s, Lester Zettle was a well-known antiques dealer in Spring Mills who converted the corncrib and chicken coop on the family farm into his "showroom." At the time, Rog Snyder was a recent Penn State graduate living with his wife, Jan, in a modest apartment on East Nittany Avenue for $55 a month.

            The Snyders had already received their first antique, as a wedding present. "My grandfather was an antique dealer back when antique dealers were strange people," Snyder says. "[He] told me he was 'thinking about getting me a cupboard for a present.' He said he'd pay half, $75, and I could pay half. We drove his behemoth 1949 Lincoln to go pick it up, and as we were in the car returning with the high-back dry sink, he told Jan to lean over and give him a kiss. She did, and he said, 'Now we're even. That kiss was worth $75.'"

            Over the years, as the Snyders furbished their home, they took lots of trips to Spring Mills, where they befriended Zettle. "He liked us," Snyder recalls. "That day when the spoofy people left, he got me down on all fours, and we looked underneath a piece to understand the hand workmanship. Over time, he taught me how to feel the technique of manufacturing with my hands, and to examine the hardware--nails, and screws--which were all made by hand back then. I learned that the top of anything isn't where the proof of age is. The real proof is underneath."

            Although Snyder's day job was as an engineer at the Materials Research Laboratory on campus, he continued to learn about antiques through books and travels. "Jan and I liked to upgrade, so I'd buy a walnut drop leaf table for $10, refurbish it, and sell it for a hundred."

            He also found himself addicted to "the quest of the treasure." If you listen to those in the antique and vintage business for any time, it's easy to see this common thread to their stories. It may start out innocently. A good find--and then a spectacular find--and then they're hooked, forever searching for the next amazing find.

            One of Snyder's most memorable finds was by happenstance. He and Jan were early for a wedding, so they headed into an antique shop. Jan was milling about in another aisle, when Rog spotted a treasure. He reached down to a shelf and carefully pulled toward him a cobalt blue salt dip, a tiny glass bowl--about 2 ½ inches in diameter--used prior to salt shakers on dinner tables. Turning the dip over, he saw Boston and Pittsburgh stamped in the middle, an indication it was authentic Boston and Sandwich Glass. He ran his schooled fingers over the mold, and tinged it to hear the characteristic sound of lead crystal. He paid $8.10 and sold it for $400.

        These days you'll find Snyder retired from the university and giving appraisals, lectures, and sometimes even impromptu lessons to visitors of Apple Hill Antiques. "It's the teacher in me," he confesses. His avuncular manner and depth of knowledge about antiques helps him oversee over 50 antique dealers all in business at Apple Hill. He's happy to report greater interest in antiques and vintage these days, particularly with respect to the '50s, '60s, and '70s. "Those chrome and Formica tables from the '50s," he says, "can't get them fast enough!

       "The popularity of antiques and vintage is partly because there's a comfort level for customers with having things they remember their grandmothers or mothers had. There's an interest in recycling and not wasting because of economic necessity. It's made this business grow."


cheese and crackers1.jpg
Picture your poster audience. Cheese cubes and crackers in one hand and a drink in the other as they casually stroll past your poster. What will make them want to stop in front of yours?

White space is one answer. If your poster is chock-full of nothing but text, your potential viewer will feel a headache coming on and move to the next poster. To make sure you have white space, you're going to need to be concise. A general rule is that the whole poster should be able to be read from beginning to end in less than ten minutes.

To eliminate unnecessary words, concentrate on how each word works to contribute to the meaning of the sentence, and how each sentence contributes to the effectiveness of the paragraph, and finally, how each paragraph contributes to the overall purpose. As you edit, have the guts to cut.

The text not only has to be as concise as possible, but it also has to be attractive. Keep the look simple by using plain fonts. Although much debate has focused on whether serif or sans serif fonts improve readability, there is no conclusive evidence to suggest one is better than the other. We do know for certain that ALL CAPITAL LETTERS ARE MORE DIFFICULT TO READ. So use them sparingly (if at all).

The size of the text is important  for good visibility. All text should be able to be read within four feet. Here are some standard text sizes for each of the sections that work well.

85 point
56 point
36 point
Body Text
24 point
18 point

Think of text as coming in three sizes: big, medium, and small. Use these size variations to direct the viewer to the title, headings, and body text. By paying attention to the conciseness and visual attractiveness of your text, you may be able to get your viewers to put down the cheese and discover your research story.

A poster must be visually interesting, aesthetically pleasing, concise, easy to follow, accurate, convey the main points, and establish your credibility as a scientist! And the first step toward accomplishing these goals is to write an effective title.

The title must be carefully written because it's the element that's most likely to be read. Conciseness is key; include only essential words. The title should be prominently placed on the poster, either centered or left justified at the top. Don't underline or italicize it. Don't capitalize all the letters of the title because it makes it more difficult to read; capitalize only the first letter of all words that are four or more letters and short verb forms (e.g., is and be). Another style of capitalization used for posters is to capitalize only the first letter of the title and use lowercase for all other words. You may want to review the conventions of your field to determine what capitalization style to follow.

Underneath the title, place your name and affiliation, and include all additional researchers' names and affiliations. Poster titles are listed in the program, and if they're concise, intriguing, and accurate, you're likely to pull in some viewers.

Which among these titles is likely to engage an audience?

Bad:  Changes in raccoon predation behavior affects turtle nest census                   Bad:  Changes in Procyon lotor predation behavior affects Malaclemys terrapin nest census
Better:  Changes in raccoon (Procyon lotor) predation behavior affects turtle (Malaclemys terrapin) nest census                                                                                                  Better yet:  Turtle (Malaclemys terrapin) nest census underestimated: predation behavior of raccoons (Procyon lotor) examined by calcium measurements

Issue:  Using only the scientific names may decrease comprehension of the title and negatively affect interest in poster. Using the common names and placing the scientific names in parentheses is a good choice. The colon also helps add a secondary explanation.

Bad:  The relationship of sponge interior canal size and individual sponge volume to identity and diversity of Synalpheus inhabitants
Bad:  Body size is related to host use in a diverse clade of closely related snapping shrimp species (Synalpheus)
Better:  Sponge host characteristics shape the community structure of their shrimp associates

Issue:  Avoid vague terms such as relationships, involvement, effects or affects. Be precise. It may be necessary to develop a list of possible titles and select the best one for the specific audience. Notice the term, Synalpheus, is unlikely to be understood by many.  Aim for expressing the poster's key message in a short phrase that your audience will find easy to understand.

Bad:  How to develop sustainable tourism in Jamaica?
Better:  Developing sustainable tourism: managers' assessment of Jamaica's ten-year master plan
Issue:  Use a question mark at the end of a title only if no single answer is presented, and the thrust of the poster is generating possible likely answers.

Titles hold the key to whether your viewer will be curious enough to keep reading your poster. We all have experienced the power of a title. In fact, right now one of the movies I want to see is Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close because I like the parallelism of the title. The title makes me want to know more. Make sure your poster title makes your viewers want to know more.

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