Two Norwich Student Projects Showcase Research, Start-up Savvy

Norwich student-led research projects and start-ups showcase their ideas at competitions in Washington, DC, and Texas this weekend
Daphne Larkin
Norwich University Office of Communications

April 9, 2015

As the final weeks of the 2014-2015 academic year wind down, Norwich students are packing in as much experiential learning and service as humanly possible.

This Friday six students plus faculty mentor Tara Kulkarni, PhD, will travel to a national research competition in Washington, DC.

A civil and environmental engineering professor, Kulkarni received an EPA pilot grant in September that funds her collaboration on a student research project led by senior civil engineering student Susan Limberg.

Serving as faculty advisor, Kulkarni wrote a proposal based on Limberg’s idea of developing pervious concrete filters to control stormwater runoff. One compelling component of their project is a filtration process aimed at transforming rainwater into drinkable water.

They received a Phase I, $14,957 grant from the P3: People, Prosperity and the Planet Student Design Competition for Sustainability, a national-level competition organized by the US Environmental Protection Agency.

On April 11-12 the team will participate in Phase II at the National Sustainable Design Expo (NSDE) in Washington to compete for the P3 Award and a grant of up to $75,000 to take their design to real world application.

Business Start-up Competition

At the same time, Norwich student entrepreneurs are heading to Texas to showcase their idea for a business startup aimed at the maker movement. Team YETi designed a project board to simplify the electronics of maker applications and will pitch their business start-up at a Texas Christian University competition.

James Whitlock and Josh Coleman, electrical and computer engineering juniors at Norwich, and Joe Poulima, a former Norwich undergrad and current electrical engineering technology major at Vermont Technical College, designed a device to “bridge the gap between conceptual model design and finished product” for the ever-growing maker market.

Norwich faculty helped the team hone their pitch, which won the recent NU Launch! entrepreneurial business competition. Team YETi will now pitch their idea at the 5th Annual TCU Richards Barrentine Values and Ventures student business plan competition to be held at Texas Christian University’s Neeley Entrepreneurship Center on April 10 – 11.

This marks the first time Norwich University will participate in the annual competition in which undergraduate students around the world pitch plans for for-profit values-centered enterprises that impact society in meaningful ways.

 Media Contact:
Daphne Larkin
Assistant Director of Communications
(802) 485-2886, (m) 595-3613

Vermont State Science and Math Fair Reaches Critical Mass at Norwich

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Co-directed by Norwich University professor emeritus of biology Carlos Pinkham, the statewide event showcased creative, rigorous science projects by Vermont middle and high school students
Norwich University Office of Communications

March 30, 2015

Middle and high school Vermont science students converged on Norwich University on Saturday to compete in the 2015 Vermont State Science and Math Fair, now in its 56th year. Judges represented over 50 STEM partners from academia, industry and professional organizations.

The event is co-directed by Norwich University professor emeritus of biology Carlos Pinkham. “We are so passionate about fostering a love of the STEM fields from as early an age as possible,” he said. “Norwich University is the perfect setting for it.”

The all-volunteer organization awarded more than $9,000 in cash prizes and $300,000 in college scholarships on Saturday and provided nearly $15,500 to Vermont students and teachers to cover travel expenses to competitions outside the state this year.

In the biggest award of the day, three finalists were chosen to attend the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in Pittsburgh May 10-15 to compete for $4 million in prizes and scholarships. The Vermont winners were Nathan Kakalec and Sajani Sivakumar, both from South Burlington High School and the team of Ben Beagher and Vincent Moeykens from Windsor High School. Kakalec’s project used computer modeling to predict the outbreak of emerald ash borer in New Hampshire. Sivakumar’s project studied the effects of vitamin D on pancreatic cells under diabetic stress. Meagher and Moeykens studied whether a home computer server could compete with cloud-based services in terms of speed, cost and ease of use.

All three finalists were awarded Next Generation Scholarships to Norwich University.

Prof. Narain Batra Visits Bhutan to Research Tech Transformation

December 26, 2014–Dr. Narain Batra, professor of communications and diplomacy at Norwich University, recently completed a two-week research trip to Bhutan, where he laid the groundwork for his new book on how communications technology is transforming a country that has constitutionally mandated protection of the environment.

During his stay in Bhutan, he interviewed more than a dozen sources, including the Vice Chancellor (President) and Academic Manager (Vice President) of Royal University of Bhutan; an editor of Kuensel, a daily newspaper; and a group of doctors at the National Referral Hospital. He also spoke to telecommunications experts, students, and Buddhist monks at various monasteries.

Bhutan, a Switzerland-sized country of 740,000 inhabitants nestled in the eastern Himalayan Mountains, is known for its emphasis on “Gross National Happiness,” instead of Gross Domestic Product and is the only country in the world where environment protection is constitutionally mandated.

Bhutan is a member of South Asian Association For Regional Cooperation (SAARC), a group of countries that are practicing democracies aiming to form an economic union despite all of their political problems, civil wars, internal insurgencies, and struggles with terrorism.

Geologist Rick Dunn, Unearthed

Norwich’s newest Dana Professor of Geology sees ancient worlds with fresh eyes
By Sean Markey | 2015 Annual Academic Research Report

December 18, 2014

Early one morning in late August, Richard Dunn prowled the grassy expanse of Groningen Garden, a large public park in downtown Tel Aviv. Part of an international research team, the geologist was in Israel to look for a pre-Roman harbor in the ancient city of Jaffa, the storied Biblical port of Solomon. With a coring rig due later that morning, Dunn and his colleagues opted to canvass the site with ground-penetrating radar in the predawn light. Less than an hour into their survey, air raid sirens wailed to life. Dunn, who played semipro baseball in college with an eye on the majors, scrambled for the nearest air raid shelter, hitting the dirt with his colleagues when they found the door padlocked. Overhead, Israeli Defense Force missiles intercepted a Palestinian rocket. As the team dusted themselves off after the attack, they decided it might be a good time to retreat to a local café.

That day in Tel-Aviv stands out in Dunn’s memory as a dramatic moment in the midst of a busy, semester-long, research sabbatical. Earlier that summer, Dunn had visited several sites in Greece, where he is currently involved in four distinct projects with colleagues from UCLA, Vanderbilt, the Field Museum of Chicago, and other institutions.

Deep Geologic Time

An expert at reconstructing ancient landscapes and environments, Dunn chairs the Earth and Environmental Sciences Department at Norwich University. In 2014 he was named the University’s 21st Charles A. Dana Professor. The author of more than a dozen papers (with a half-dozen more in press), several book chapters, and scores of conference presentations, Dunn majored in geology and anthropology at the University of Minnesota Duluth, which housed a leading archaeometry lab at the time. It was an era, begun in the 1970s and continued in the 80s, when geology and archaeology began to overlap, converging into a dedicated field known as geological archaeology.

Hooked, Dunn earned a master’s in geology from Wichita State University in Kansas and a Ph.D. in geology from the University of Delaware. Fieldwork in Florida, Belize, Cyprus, and Greece helped him hone his expertise at reconstructing ancient coasts. Combing geologic fieldwork and mapping with lab analysis of ancient pollen and marine organism microfossils from core samples, he teased out clues about previous landscapes and environmental conditions.

Today, his research follows a transect of deep geologic time, informing the work of archaeological projects throughout the Mediterranean and, more recently, Easter Island. His recent and current projects include a Neolithic cave site and archaeological sites of the Phoenicians, Egyptians, Romans, and ancient Greeks. Providing geologic insight, Dunn seeks answers to important questions, such as the best place to dig for Roman tombs in a dynamic coastal zone, or where the former inhabitants of a long-ago vanished city may have found a plentiful source of freshwater.

Solving Puzzles

The city in question is Korphos-Kalamianos, a 3,500-year-old Bronze Age site on the Aegean coast of Greece. “According to archaeologists, this was one of the sites named by Homer as having sent ships to Mycenae that then went to Troy to get back Helen,” Dunn says. The site was unusual because the walls of its many buildings were exposed, as if archaeologists had abandoned it after 25 years of digging. Dunn was enlisted, in part, to explain why. “It had been covered in this really thick bramble,” Dunn says. “There had been a fire, and it burned off, revealing the ancient port city.”

Korphos-Kalamianos clings to a rocky coast backed by hills and mountains. There is no stream, river, or other obvious source of freshwater. Archaeologists had assumed residents stored rainwater in large underground cisterns, but had yet to unearth any of note.

“That was kind of problematic,” Dunn recalls. He had mapped the site’s basic geology with Norwich undergraduates Devin Collins ’09, Greg Miller ’10, and Ethan Thomas ’11. “We realized that the bedrock had this pattern of fractures in it.” A chat between Dunn and a Greek fisherman hinted at places where freshwater flowed from the seafloor. “Springs, right? Aha!” Dunn hypothesized that groundwater was moving underground from the hills down through the fracture system to upwell at Korphos-Kalamianos. The archaeologists were skeptical, believing that the site’s rocky fissures carried salt water from the Aegean Sea, whose waves crashed ashore just 10 yards away.

A quick taste test proved he was right. Once the team mapped the site, they saw a pattern to the buildings: two rows separated by a blank zone. “Those lines of buildings were situated right on top of these two big fractures. Basically people didn’t want to walk very far to get their freshwater,” Dunn explains, “so they built their homes along this sort of artesian well system.”

Challenging Conventional Wisdom

More recently, Dunn has upended the conventional wisdom at an archaeological site on Easter Island, where a team co-led by Jo Anne Van Tilburg from UCLA is investigating Rano Raraku, the ancient quarry that supplied the stone for the islanders’ iconic moai statues. The team is the first to investigate the site since a 1955 Norwegian archaeological dig.

“His work is fundamental in establishing the probable location of those quarries and helping us to pinpoint the location of the next phase of our investigations,” Van Tilburg says, from Easter Island.

One task Dunn undertook was to produce the first-ever geologic map of the quarry, steep slopes that flank a freshwater lake in what was believed to be a collapsed volcanic cone. Yet Dunn’s fieldwork pointed to a different geologic story altogether—namely, that the site occupies the collapsed basin on the flank of a much larger, older volcano, now nearly completely eroded away. Dunn presented his findings at the Geologic Society of America conference to wide acclaim.

“Things like Easter Island, we think we understand—or the Grand Canyon, or something. It turns out that often not as much work has been done as we think, and we’re still trying to figure these things out,” Dunn says.

“[Easter Island] was a classic example of falling back on literally the things I learned as an undergraduate. The most basic tools, you know… Taking the puzzle pieces from that and putting together the right story. Rather than starting out with what I thought the picture already looked like, [asking] does that make sense?”