"It was like discovering the botanical equivalent of dinosaur footprints," said William Stein, associate professor of biological sciences at Binghamton University. "But the most exciting part was finding out just how many different types of footprints there were. The newly uncovered area was preserved in such a way that we were literally able to walk among the trees, noting what kind they were, where they had stood and how big they had grown."
The Gilboa area has been a known tree fossil location since the late 1800s, but during the 1920s when construction of the Schoharie Dam revealed a dense stand of trees, paleontologists began to investigate the site in earnest. Named Eospermatopteris, or "ancient seed fern," by Winifred Goldring of the New York State Museum in 1924, these earliest trees had survived only as broken standing bases and trunks, all around 1-3 feet high. But more detailed glimpses of the past emerged in 2004 and 2005, when Linda VanAller Hernick, paleontology collection manager, and Frank Mannolini, paleontology collection technician from the NYS Museum, uncovered more intact specimens, complete with crowns.
After thorough investigation by Stein and Christopher M. Berry, a paleobotany lecturer at Cardiff University in Wales, the team was able to determine that these trees actually resembled modern-day cycads or tree ferns, but interestingly enough, not related to either one. Working in conjunction with Stein, Mannolini also developed a sketch of the ancient forest.
The research team got a huge break in spring 2010, when repairs of the Gilboa Dam reopened the site for another look. What they found this time was a large, substantially intact portion of the ancient forest horizon, complete with root systems. As they had expected, Eospermatopteris root systems of different sizes were the most abundant. But what they didn't expect to find was the level of detail of the overall composition of the forest.
The first glimpse of the unexpected complexity of this ancient forest came when Stein, Hernick and Mannolini found the remains of large scrambling tree-sized plants, identified as aneurophytaleans. These plants were likely close ecological associates to the original trees, living among them on the forest floor like modern ferns, possibly scrambling into the forest canopy much as tropical vines do today. The aneurophytes are the first in the fossil record to show true "wood" and the oldest known group in the lineage that lead to modern seed plants.
The team also came across a tree belonging to the class Lycopsida, or club mosses, which predates an earlier discovery made in Naples, N.Y., and an ecologically important group in the history of land plants. The lycopsids are an ancient group of non-seed plants represented today by low growing forms such as the "running pines" of the northern hardwood forests of New York. They also inhabited swamps and ended up being much of the Pennsylvanian coal we burn today.
So what exactly did this complex ancient forest in Gilboa look like? Stein and the team figure that the area probably enjoyed a wetland environment in a tropical climate. It was filled with large Eospermatopteris trees that resembled weedy, hollow, bamboo-like plants, with roots spreading out in all directions, allowing other plants to gain a foothold. Scrambling among these roots on the forest floor were aneurophytaleans, acting much like ferns do today, and possibly climbing into the forest canopy as vines. The lycopsids, although seemingly rare, may also have been very important in certain places although perhaps not yet as specialized inhabitants of swamps.
But what the research team believes is most important about this particular site is what it was doing to impact the rest of the planet. At the time the Gilboa forest began to emerge − around the Middle Devonian period, about 386 million years ago − Earth experienced a dramatic drop in global atmospheric carbon dioxide levels and the associated cooling led ultimately to a period of glaciation.
"Trees probably changed everything," Stein said. "Not only did these emerging forests likely cause important changes in global patterns of sedimentation, but they may have triggered a major extinction in fossil records."
For Stein, it all comes down to one thing – how much we don't know but need to understand about our ancient past.
"The complexity of the Gilboa site can teach us a lot about the original assembly of our modern-day ecosystems," he said. "As we continue to understand the role of forests in modern global systems, and face potential climate change and deforestation on a global scale, these clues from the past may offer valuable lessons for managing our planet's future."
SOM to honor faculty excellence in research, teaching
From staff reports
The School of Management will present its 2010-11 faculty awards in a ceremony on April 13. Yan Zhang will receive the Corning Award for Excellence in Research, and Sabatino "Dino" Silveri will receive the SOM Award for Excellence in Teaching.
Zhang, an associate professor of accounting, focuses her primary research on accounting information and capital markets. She is interested in the impact of corporate liquidity, transparency, governance, short selling, internal control disclosure and the role of audit committees. Her research has been published in top journals such as Accounting Review, Contemporary Accounting Research and the Journal of Business. She has recently been awarded the American Accounting Association Steve Berlin/Citgo research grant and the Pricewaterhouse Coopers INQuries research grant.
Silveri, an assistant professor of finance, is being honored for his dedication to providing students with a collegial and stimulating learning environment. He endeavors to strike a balance between academic rigor and real-world practicality and believes it's imperative for students to challenge the depths of their own understanding.
Presentation looks at innovative research and engineering projects
From staff reports
A new presentation developed by the Thomas J. Watson School of Engineering and Applied Science is offering glimpses of the cutting-edge research and engineering discoveries taking place in the University’s Innovative Technologies Complex (ITC). The intent is to make the presentation available to various community groups in the coming months.
The presentation made its Southern Tier debut at the Endicott Rotary luncheon on Feb. 16, delivered by James Pitaressi, distinguished teaching professor and chair of the Department of Mechanical Engineering.
Developed in a slide format, the presentation, titled "Engineered for Discovery," focuses on the research being done in the buildings that make up the ITC. From the versatile laboratories in the brand-new Engineering and Science building which encourage researchers to share ideas, resources and techniques, to the multitude of high-level partners that access the Analytical and Diagnostics Laboratory (ADL) in the Small Scale Systems Integration and Packaging (S³IP) Center, the presentation offers an insider’s look at how local and regional businesses are being assisted through Binghamton’s research and development capabilities.
The "Engineered for Discovery" presentation also includes the most current information about the new Center of Excellence building, which is expected to help support collaborative partnerships in energy-efficient electronic systems, systems integration and packaging, flexible electronics, autonomous solar power, advanced materials and sensors, and healthcare/life sciences.
"Researchers in the Watson School and throughout Binghamton University are working on cutting-edge research that is helping move innovation from the laboratory to the marketplace," Pitaressi said. "And, the ITC plays a key role in consolidating our expertise and resources in a way that fosters even more discovery and innovation. This presentation allows us to showcase some of those efforts and the potential that these ideas and innovation bring to the University and our community."
An initiative spearheaded by Assemblywoman Donna Lupardo (D-Endwell), the presentation not only showcases some of Binghamton’s current projects but also serves to demonstrate how the University’s innovative and entrepreneurial spirit impacts the Southern Tier.
"Binghamton University is one of the finest research institutions in the state. I asked them to develop this presentation so the community could better understand the exciting research being done at the Innovative Technologies Complex," said Lupardo, chair of the Legislative Commission on Science and Technology. "This is a great way to strengthen the relationship between the campus and the community. I also hope the presentation will be used by educators to inspire students and encourage them to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM)."
Earlier this year, Lupardo talked about the presentation at the White House during a national meeting with prominent educators and policy makers as they discussed how colleges and universities can build and strengthen their community partnerships.
Elder Services Center reaches out to community
By Christine McKeown
Since opening a second location for its Memory Clinic two years ago, the Elder Services Center of Binghamton University has continued to succeed in assisting the local elderly population, and also in educating nursing students in geriatric care.
The memory clinics, which like the Elder Services Center are managed through the Decker School of Nursing, aim to help elderly community members who exhibit symptoms of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. The expansion of services has made it possible to aid more clients, with additional evening consultations held bi-weekly at the second clinic. Elder Services now assists about six to seven clients every month by providing them with a free-of-charge geriatric consultation.
“What we’re looking at is what impairs their ability to live,” said Rene Conklin, the clinic coordinator for the Elder Services Program. “Our goal is to work with the clients to keep them as independent as possible, for as long as possible.”
Clients receive a comprehensive, two-part, geriatric evaluation and long-term case management if their eventual diagnosis requires it. The first part of the assessment entails an in-home visit with Conklin in which she collects information on the client’s background, medical history, environmental status and memory function.
"I can get an idea of how the client is functioning in their familiar surroundings and look for safety hazards that people may not be aware of," Conklin said. "It's a more in-depth interview, and it gives the physicians a lot of background information that they wouldn’t normally get."
The second part of the evaluation involves a clinical visit with Dr. Jerome Mikloucich, a volunteer geriatrician from Lourdes Hospital. Clients are seen for a full two hours, as opposed to the 15-minute sessions they are likely to receive at many other offices. The Elder Services staff uses this block of time, in combination with the detailed client history obtained by Conklin, to determine if the client’s cognitive impairment is caused by factors besides dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.
Conklin believes this unique, in-depth process is critical in properly diagnosing patients, because cognitive impairment can be triggered by many physical causes that are often overlooked in the elderly.
"There are many issues that cause cognitive impairment," she said. "Drug interactions, hormone problems, vitamin deficiencies, an underlying infection or, most commonly, depression, are all things that we look at very carefully so we can rule them out. We often find that once those things are treated, the client is functioning better and doesn’t always need to come back."
When the evaluation is complete, clients receive a detailed report to give to their primary-care physicians which contains specific recommendations on the best course of treatment for their cognitive impairment.
"To get that information, sometimes you go to five or six different doctors and still it’s not complete," Conklin said. "When we consolidate all of their vital information, they’re able to get the best care possible in the future."
If a client is ultimately diagnosed with dementia or Alzheimer's disease, Elder Services offers further support in managing the illness.
"We work with both the client and the caregivers," said Conklin. "We help the caregivers with referrals as far as getting medical assistance, education and counseling."
Elder Services has encouraged increased involvement from Decker students in recent years. With the newest clinic located on the Binghamton University campus, students are more easily able to participate in its operations.
"The clinic on campus makes it much more available for the students on campus to come and observe," Conklin said. "We're trying to involve the students more and more so that they get hands-on experience with the clients and the families. They get more insight into what these people are dealing with."
Decker has also come up with some innovative projects for the future to further education in geriatrics. The hope is that the projects will give students, caregivers and healthcare professionals a more personal experience with ailments of the elderly, and allow them to better understand issues they deal with.
"We're looking at a virtual dementia tour program, which is a computer program that gives users an idea of what it's like to live with dementia," Conklin said. "We're also looking into creating an aging suit, so the students can have an idea of what it's like to live with arthritis and to have restricted movement."
Conklin believes it's important for the community to be informed of the services offered by the Memory Clinic, considering the elderly make up such a large portion of the local population - 17 percent, which is significantly higher than the national average of 11 percent.
"Elder Services seems to be one of the best kept secrets of Binghamton University," Conklin said. "Not many people know we’re here, but we would like to get the information out that we are available."
Social work licensing exam course to be offered
From staff reports
CCPA will once again offer a Social Work Licensure Examination Prep Course to students, alumni and community practitioners. This course will be offered through the Department of Social Work, and will utilize the Social Work Examination Services Curriculum. This two-day intensive program includes comprehensive reviews of practice, policy and theory, two review books with 1,600 practice questions and four full examinations, practice examinations to sharpen test-taking skills and lecture outlines to reinforce learning. Nationally, students who have taken this course in the past have had a 92 percent pass rate on the licensure exam; however, if a participant should not pass the exam, he or she may retake the course at no additional cost, although there is a charge if a new set of books is requested. The cost of the two-day course is $295, which includes the content of the course and the two review books.
The course will be offered from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Thursday, May 17, and from 9 a.m.-2 p.m. Friday, May 18, on the main campus, Engineering Building, Room 110.
If you wish to register for the Licensure Exam Course, mail a check in the amount of $295 to Amy Edwards at the Department of Social Work, PO Box 6000, Binghamton, NY 13902. Checks should be made out to "Binghamton Foundation Account #50353". Registration is limited, and will be on a first-come, first-served basis; the deadline is Tuesday, May 1. If you have questions, contact Edwards at firstname.lastname@example.org or 607-777-5999.
GSE offers master's program in New Orleans
From staff reports
Classes will meet at sites in New Orleans, by videoconference and online, but always on a schedule aligned with school calendars and teachers' busy lives.
Binghamton's Master of Education program features small cohorts of 20-24 students each and separate paths for elementary and secondary teachers. Secondary teachers will matriculate in core subject areas — English, mathematics, science or social studies.Find out more about this program on the Graduate School of Education website, and download a flyer. The application deadline is Monday, April 30.