Cool Beams

Hello all, I am Jonathan, and I, along with Edith, are doing research for Dr. Stephenson in the Physics department this summer. Professor Stephenson is part of the MoNA Collaboration, a group of faculty and students from primarily undergraduate institutions, as well as Michigan State where NSCL is located.   The Collaboration built the Modular Neutron Array (MoNA) to study neutron-rich nuclear reactions.

Our research area is nuclear prefragmentation, so looking at the way in which nuclei break apart when they hit each other. When two nuclei hit each other, they go through a two-step process.  First, the two nuclei tear each other apart.  Protons and neutrons are knocked out of both nuclei. These nuclei are, for a brief time, deformed and often have highly unbalanced ratios of neutrons and protons.  Since these new isotopes are unstable and deformed, they quickly decay by throwing out neutrons and gamma rays. How both steps really happen is not well understood since the time scale is so short (less than 0.0000000000000000000001s).  However, understanding this process, called nuclear prefragmentation, is important to creating rare isotope beams used at nuclear research facilities, like the National Superconducting Cyclotron Laboratory (NSCL), where we were last week.

The experiment was to create 9He nuclei in order to study how such a neutron-rich nuclei is put together.  We left for the experiment on Saturday July 8th, and a flight, an incredibly long wait for a rental car, and a drive later, we arrived at the NSCL 18273965954_7a5f463fc2_k

The NSCL is a huge facility that creates beams of rare isotopes for experiments. The NSCL does this by using two cyclotrons to accelerate nuclei to high speeds. This primary beam is then directed onto a target, which produces many different elements and isotopes. It then passes through a series of magnets and wedges of metal which select the correct secondary beam for the experiment. In our experiment, two different secondary beams were used, one of 11Be and one of 12B. The secondary beam is brought into the experimental vault, which is a huge room with tons of really fancy equipment, like the stuff below.file1-1The beam comes in, and strikes the target, and creates lots of new particles, including 9He. After this happens, the charged particles pass through a magnet which directs them into the charged particle detectors. The neutrons that are released are unaffected by the magnet, and continue on to the neutron detectors called MoNA and LISA (Large multi-Institution Scintillator Array). While we were there, we learned a lot, and survived our first overnight experimental shift, but none of it would have been possible without the incredible people. So many people took the time to explain to us what they were doing, why it needed to be done, and let us help them in whatever way possible. Our last day at NSCL, we had the opportunity to go on a tour of the new facility, FRIB (Facility for Rare Isotope Beams) which is being built. We met in the FRIB office trailer, and donned our stylish hard hats, protective eyewear, and safety vests, and went with the rest of the MoNA collaborators into the new facility.  file6

The FRIB facility is the new accelerator which is being built at MSU. The accelerator will be located in a gigantic underground room, which is surrounded on all sides by between four and fourteen feet of solid concrete. The room is more than three hundred feet long, fifty feet wide, and fifteen feet high, and will have between 350 and 400 miles of cables in it. We got to tour the entire facility, except the target room, which is currently closed to the public. The FRIB facility, scheduled to be finished in 2022, will be amazing, and I left with a renewed excitement for physics.


Salmonella: Beyond chickens and eggs….



Salmonella is the number one foodborne bacterial pathogen in the US.  The Shariat lab(aka the CRISPR Crew) is developing a new technique that allows us to survey the diversity of this bacterium within a single sample.  While we always think of chickens and eggs, it is known that Salmonella can also be found in water.  For the last several months, we have been working on a project to investigate Salmonella diversity in our local rivers and creeks.  What better place to start this investigation than in our very own watershed!  Since all Gettysburgians know that campus is drastically different during        each season,our team co


Map of the creeks where we sampled

llected water samples in November and April so we could compare how those seasonal changes affected bacterial diversity.  We selected 60 different sites across three different creeks – Marsh Creek, Willoughby Run, and Rock Creek.



While the rest of campus was enjoying SpringFest festivities, we headed out into the community sporting our thigh high waders, ready for a day of sample collection.  Some of our locations were easy access, but we had a few exciting encounters, including meeting some snakes as they seemingly fell from the sky (or maybe just a low hanging branch) into the river next to us, plus getting stuck in some nasty mud on one river bank!  We also got drenched in a mid-day deluge.  All in the name of science!


Sunrise water collection in Marsh Creek; definitely warmer than the November collection!

In lab this summer, our main focus was processing these samples we collected to determine whether we could find any Salmonella (spoiler: don’t go swimming in our creeks, Salmonella is everywhere!). After we collected water, we had to extract DNA from the bacteria and do PCR to replicate the isolated DNA (we need a lot of DNA to do our experiments). PCR uses a lot of enzymes and other stuff that shouldn’t be in our final samples, so we had to remove these things using a REALLY POWERFUL MAGNET that is super cool and makes DNA stick to it, so you can remove everything else quickly and easily without losing the DNA.  We’re currently sequencing our samples to identify exactly which types of Salmonella are present.



CRISPR Crew Cares Day

During our water collection, we noticed that the banks of some of our local creeks have a LOT of trash, so we decided to do a river clean up for our second annual CRISPR Crew Cares day.  On a drizzly morning, we headed out to the historic Sachs Covered Bridge (if you haven’t visited this yet, you totally should!) that spans Marsh Creek. We spent the morning collecting trash on the bridge (which may or may not be inhabited by ghosts) and along the creek. Notable finds include computer parts, travel size liquor bottles, yards of fishing wire, and a handful of batteries.


The CRISPR-Crew loves science and service!

Bacteria and a famous battle…

We recently had the opportunity to meet with Dr. Eric Brown, Director of the Division of Microbiology in the Office of Regulatory Sciences at the United States Food and Drug Administration, and members of his awesome research team.  Their research program is focused on food safety – keeping pathogenic bacteria such as Salmonella out of our food chain.  The research we do in the Shariat Lab focuses on effectively subtyping and identifying different kinds of Salmonella from different sources, such as the creeks surrounding campus. We had the


These are just some ‘surprising’ foods responsible for Salmonella outbreaks in recent years


opportunity to share our findings with the FDA research team through student presentations and to also listen to some of their exciting research programs and discoveries they’ve made.  We loved the opportunity to have such advanced conversations with experts in the field and it was cool to learn about federal research programs.

To top off an awesome day, it turns out that Dr. Brown is not only a scientist, but apparently knows more about Civil War history than the majority of Gettysburg College students!  After a morning of science, the whole group headed over to the battlefield where he gave us an incredible tour of two major sites of the Battle of Gettysburg (Little Round Top and Pickett’s Charge). Other tourists even joined our group thinking that Dr. Brown was a professional tour guide!  All in all, we had a lot of fun and it was an amazing opportunity.


A bunch of Salmonella experts learning about the civil war


The Effects of Treadmill Training on Solid Meal Gastric Emptying

My name is Theresa Blickenstaff (’20), and this summer I have been privileged to work one-on-one with Dr. Emily Besecker in the Health Sciences department here at Gettysburg College. Our research is essentially looking at whether a long-term, moderate-intensity exercise program causes food to move from the stomach and into the small intestine at a different rate as compared to a control group that is not exercised. That is, when you exercise chronically at a moderate-intensity, is your body able to more efficiently move ingested materials through the digestive system? Current scientific literature is divided on this subject, and there is not a definitive answer to this question because of the variables present with exercise (for example, type, duration, and intensity of exercise) and the foodstuffs (for example, solid as opposed to liquid meals, and the nutritional composition of the food). With the results of our study, we hope to reach a more conclusive and satisfying answer to this question.

Pic 1Now, you may be asking yourselves how we are going to collect our data. Have we bribed some poor souls into coming with us each day to the Jaeger fitness center and jogging on the treadmills while we stand by with our pens and clipboards, encouraging the runners with the promise of a nice meal afterwards? Well, no. What we are doing is much more complicated.


Our experimental model is actually the rat—the male Wistar rat, to be more precise. These rats are albino and are widely used for scientific and biological research. On account of the generous funding provided by Gettysburg College, we were able to obtain sixteen rats for use in this study, meaning that we have a large enough sample size to reach statistical significance in our results, should there be differences between the exercise and the control groups. Based on their compliance to the exercise, the rats were divided into the exercise and control groups at the beginning of the study, with eight rats in each group. Now, how exactly are we getting these cute, energetic little guys to exercise, you might ask? Well, we are using a treadmill set up in one of our labs. Just like the treadmills you are used to, this treadmill has a belt that moves at a speed that you can program. Unlike the treadmills you are probably used to, however, this treadmill has multiple lanes allowing 3-4 rats to run simultaneously (even rats enjoy a little friendly competition!).

The reason we are using a treadmill and not, say, bicycles, is that treadmills cause the rats to run or jog. This type of movement is somewhat jarring to the body, and it can cause the internal organs—including the stomach—to jostle around a bit more than any other type of exercise. As we want to see how exercise can influence the functional properties of the stomach, this type of exercise is ideal for our research.

One of my primary jobs over the course of this summer has been to exercise the rats. This is easier said than done, as I learned very quickly. See, male rats are tricky. When they are not on the treadmill, they are energetic and feisty and a general joy to be around. When they are placed on the unmoving treadmill even, they are still happy and curious. Once the treadmill belt starts moving, however, many of the rats take on whole new personalities, some of them even aging before my eyes into elderly men who just cannot—that is, will not—move forward. At times like these it is necessary for me to encourage the rats, as our study will essentially be pointless if our exercise group rats do not exercise. The tools that I have used to encourage the rats include soft brushes, flimsy cardboard, pressurized air, and delicious pancake treats. Sometimes what works for one rat will not work for another, so some creativity is definitely involved. In addition, the rats do tend to become used to certain kinds of stimulation if exposed to them for long periods of time, so I do rotate the encouragement-tools that I use. Sometimes it even just depends on the day—what works on one day may not work the next day. Generally, however, I have been able to train the rats to the point where many of them will exercise with minimal encouragement.

Pic 2Each day of the week the rats are exercised for one hour at a moderate pace akin to a jog/light run. They are allowed to take short breaks on the non-moving grid at the back of the treadmill as needed. On Saturday and Sunday, the rats rest. This rest is optimal for muscle recovery but sub-optimal for compliance when working with male rats. Nevertheless, the exercise training is an eight-week period consistent with non-acute exercise programs described in the scientific literature.



Enough about running, let’s discuss breathalyzers…To collect the data on the rate at which food is passed from the stomach into the small intestine, a process known as gastric emptying, we are using the 13carbon-octanoic acid breath test. This test is used three times over the course of the eight weeks of treadmill training: once at the beginning to obtain a baseline reading for each rat, once in the middle of the eight weeks, and once at the end of the eight weeks. For this experiment, the rats ingest a small portion of pancake labeled with 13C-octanoic acid. The pancake is used because we are trying to simulate a standard solid meal; that is, one that is not too fatty and does not introduce unnecessary difficulties to the stomach’s natural process of digestion.

Once ingested, the carbon-13-octanoic acid is broken down in the stomach and passed into the small intestine. It is absorbed into the bloodstream and then travels to the liver. Here, it is oxidized and metabolized to carbon-13 CO2, which then is taken to the lungs by the bloodstream and exhaled from the lungs. The rats are placed into individual chambers for approximately 7 hours as the infrared isotope analyzer measures the ratio of 13CO2:12CO2 of the rat’s exhaled breath; therefore, the breathalyzer test is a measure of gastric emptying rate. The faster the 13CO2 is detected, the faster the stomach is digesting and emptying its contents.

Pic 3In addition to these gastric emptying data points, I have also been measuring the body weights and food intake weights of all sixteen rats each day. These data are being used to calculate the mean energy intake (MEI) for each of the rats. This data collection will provide insights into how the body weights of the rats are changing over time, how the amount of food they are eating is changing, and how the average number of calories they are taking in relative to their body mass is changing over time. This information is of interest specifically in regards to the differences between the exercise and control groups and in ensuring that nutritional demands are being met properly.

Now that you know the basics of our summer research project, one question that is likely still on your mind is how this research is relevant. Why does the speed at which food moves through the stomach matter? It actually matters a great deal. The speed of movement influences the rate at which nutrients can be absorbed into the body and used as an energy source. For individuals living with gastric dysmotility and other disorders that cause their stomach or gastrointestinal tract to not function efficiently, the rate at which their body can access the nutrients they ingest is slowed, causing a whole host of problems of its own. The results of this study are likely to provide insight into creating treatments for senior citizens and other individuals living with gastrointestinal disorders. Rather than having to take medicine for their condition, individuals with delayed gastric emptying could potentially partake in a moderate-intensity exercise program to help treat their condition. In a world where exercise is continuing to be shown as immensely important and beneficial to the body, such a positive result to our study would be yet another jewel in exercise’s crown as the natural medicine of the body.

What Fish Do in Shadows?

Collective behavior and self-organization are very common in living systems and exhibited across many different scales including cells, colonies of insects, schools of fish, and crowds of people. These systems, while familiar, are not well understood. Collective systems contain a large number of interacting components that exhibit complex dynamics. In nature, individuals benefit from the advantages of group living. It is expected that group behavior in animals often arises from evolutionary necessity. However, not much is known about the mechanics of these systems in nature due to their complexity. How do groups of animals work together to navigate complex environments? How does information travel throughout a group? We use computers and schools of fish to gain a more in depth knowledge of how and why collective groups organize themselves in such interesting ways.

Collecting Quantitative Data (Julia Giannini ‘18, Aawaz Pokhrel ‘19, Nicole Linard ‘20)


To investigate how individual interactions give rise to collective states, we use the apparatus above to observe the response of experimental schools to visual stimuli. This summer, we worked with two different species of schooling fish: Rummy-nose Tetra (left) and Golden Shiners (right). Both of these fish exhibit negative phototaxia, that is, they avoid bright regions in their environment. Therefore, we can project light gradients onto the tank and examine how they respond to both social and environmental cues.  Using infrared lighting and high speed cameras, we record videos and use lots of machine vision techniques to extract individual trajectories. This information gives us insight into the state of the group over time and how it relates to individual movement. By using both Tetras and Shiners, we compare the behaviors of different species under the same stimuli.

Here is a video of Golden Shiners tracking a noisy dark blob – we compare experimental results such as these with those in simulations to test theoretical models for collective behavior.


Simulation of Collective Behavior (Aawaz Pokhrel ‘19)

So, how do fish find the darkest (safest) spot in their environment?  Can they see the gradient (slope) of light and follow it to the safest place?  Or do they use emergent sensing (group level sense)?  We explore the answer to this with both simulations and experiments.

In the simulation, we use the Couzin model which has three different zones which dictates the movement of the fish on basis of the positions of neighbour fish in these zones. These three zones are zones of repulsion, orientation and attraction. One of the assumption of that we have in this model simulation  is that fish are not able to sense the gradient or the change of light field in any direction.

Here is a short  video of our simulation fish trying to follow the dark spot.

We amend this model by adding in a gradient sensing term which competes with the social-only Couzin model.  By turning the “knob” of this weight (how well the fish can sense the gradient), we investigate how it affects the performance of the fish in finding the darkest spot.
We see that the more amount of information they have about the gradient, the less they are able to track the dark spot. Following graph shows that for a given number of fish, their ability to track the dark spot decreases Ψ as the amount of information about the gradient increases.


Use of neural network in Collective Behavior (Nicole Wang ‘19)

Another difficulty with understanding and predicting collective behavior is that the interactions are not known.  And of course, it’s not possible to ask the fish how they are interacting.  So we must build models and compare with experimental data.  However, each model we build has assumptions about how the fish are interacting.  A widely used model the Couzin model uses zones (repulsion, alignment, attraction) to predict the behavior of individuals.  We are using neural networks to train a computer to learn how the fish are interacting.


As shown in above figure, the neural network uses an input layer which in our case is the visual field of nearby fish.  This input layer is connected with several hidden layers and finally a single output neuron telling the fish which direction to turn.  In our neural network, we use both convolutional and fully connected layers, which of course means — lots of linear algebra.  We test this approach on a simulation of a fish school (using the Couzin model) so that we can directly compare the output generated by the Neural Network with the known model.  Finally, we apply the NN-approach to our experimental data.  We’re still working out some of the details, but the NN seems to be working very well !!!





Snail Lab ~Exposed~

Snail Lab Exposed

The Life and Times of the Snail Lab and its Friends

Follow @snails_and_friends on Instagram for daily updates on

your favorite invert lab!


A Day in the Life of the Infamous Snail Lab:

Every morning the Snail Lab comes in, iced coffee in hand, and filled with hope for today’s snail experiments- no matter how disheartening yesterday’s were… In an aquatic toxicology lab, one must be prepared for failure, or perhaps put more positively, for an experimental revision, on the daily.

The lab’s main focus is on the effects of pharmaceuticals, personal care products, and industrial chemicals on freshwater and marine benthic invertebrate communities, particularly on the freshwater snails Physella gyrina, the marine mud snail, Ilyanassa obsoleta, tropical snail Nassarius vibex and several species of tadpole–including Wood Frogs and American Toads.


If at First You Don’t Succeed, Try and Try Again: Snail Assays

Beginning with a well-founded plan and literary references to boot, the Snail Lab came into the summer with dreams of interrupting a predator induced escape response with the tropical snails Nassarius vipex (prey) and Fasciolaria tulipa (predator) with SSRI type drugs. Nassarius has been recorded to produce a very distinctive flipping response in order to escape the predatory clutches of the Fasciolaria, unfortunately, the Snail Lab never saw it… Without an escape response to begin with, there was nothing to interrupt with the drugs- the experiment was a bust.

Without disappointment however, the snail lab pressed on, beginning a new assay involving a host of different freshwater snails and looking for the time the snails would reach the air-water interface (the point where water meets the air in any given body of water or lab controlled finger-bowl in this case). The snails were tested before and after treatment with Prozac, but to no avail. The drug did not seem to be having a true effect on this aspect of Snail Labs favorite critters.

Next up, the marine mud snail Ilyanassa obsoleta, freshly collected from the vibrant shores of Lewes, Delaware, were brought onto the scene. Testing for the time it took these snails to reach a deliciously aromatic muscle on the half-shell placed in a specifically designed contraption (see left), the Snail Lab hoped to be able to quantify the effect of antidepressants on the snails’ ability to locate food sources. But again, it was a no go.

Ever the optimists, the Snail Lab continued forward, redesigning the food-find experiment to involve a symmetrical, large finger bowl with a muscle delectably placed in the center and a host of tropical marine snails, Nassarius, as the stars of the moment. When drugged with Prozac at 10-6 concentration, there finally seemed to be some significant effects on the animals in question.


The Other Side of Snail Lab: Tadpoles!!

Despite common belief, the Snail Lab does not only work with snails – tadpoles are their friends too! This summer, the lab has supervised the growing of Wood Frogs and American Toads, tested their willingness to be startled, and measured their growth, all in the name of determining any potential effects of an anti-fouling chemical by the name of medetomidine.

This summer being the second round of experiments on Wood Frogs, and the Am

erican Toads being a welcome addition to past experiments, the Snail Lab gang has been having a hoppining’ time working with these critters. Being highly sensitive to chemical pollutants in their infantile stages, these tadpoles are the perfect model organisms for testing this newer, and potentially environmentally harmful chemical.  Continuing with a similar setup as last summer, there are over 300set up in individual bowls for this summer’s experiments! Over 300! The tadpoles are separated into different concentrations of medetomidine and for different durations of time to test how the chemical will affect their development!

The Snail Lab recorded the tadpoles’ growth weekly using a common marker of tadpole development known as Gosner Stages. These allow the lab to quantify the differences in growth between the various sub-groups with different medetomidine concentrations. After metamorphosis is reached, however, the game changes – the tadpoles are now froglets. The Snail Lab then has to weigh the froglets and subsequently anesthetize them before preserving them, a process the lab refers to as “processing”. Following their processing, the froglets are removed from their preserving fluid and placed in an oven to evaporate any excess fluid. The remaining skin, bones, and tissue are what the Snail Lab weighs to get a dry mass of each of the fully metamorphosed tadpoles.


The Many Faces of the Snail Lab:

Mar-gotta-go-run Hoaglund

The Snail Lab’s resident Health Science major, Margot is the first person to ask if you ever need a recap on your anatomy lessons or need someone to type your blood. Margot can be found running laps around the competition as she races ahead of the pack at her Cross Country and Track meets or sipping her $4 bottle of kombucha (check your coupons folks!) out on Muss Beach with an Adirondack chair and the wind blowing through her perfectly curled hair. Margot has brought her love of exercise, the heartiness of any true New Englander, and a passion for her coffee to be as cold and black as her heart is not. Known for her killer playlists (peep her on Spotify @margotxoxo) and 20 minute 5k, Margot’s talents as a student, runner, and up-and-coming festival DJ are all but limitless.


Emily “MVP” Kurtz

Despite being a cat person, Emily loves working with the snails, almost as much as the tadpoles she views as her very own after changing the water in their containers so many times. Emily is the Snail Lab’s resident STEM scholar and food connoisseur – talk about getting a girl that can do both. Ask her about any restaurant within a fifty-mile radius of her hometown of Taneytown, MD, and she’ll be able togive you her honest opinion (except if it’s seafood). A rising sophomore and Biology and Environmental Science double major, you’ll never find someone as enthusiastic as Emily when they find an animal on the side of the road, whether it be a turtle or a kitten. Take a gander at her Apple Music and you’ll find a mix of old and new, rap and country, with an emphasis on Luke Bryan. Catch Emily feeding the animals in the Bio lounge fish tank, sporting her brand new Birkenstocks and contemplating if she should take a well-deserved nap before her shift at The Carriage House. And while you’re at it, make sure to check out her     nature-inspired photography instagram @naturescopek. This girl truly does it all, folks.


Olivia “Livin the Dream” Lambert

After being a member of the Snail Lab for almost three years running, Olivia is an expert on all things invertebrate. She even knows how to fully disembowel a tadpole while keeping it alive! As a rising junior with a Biology and French double major, Olivia adds an exciting splash of culture to Professor Fong’s lab. She is truly an exemplary cross-disciplinary student. In her free time, Olivia likes to go online shopping for ankle length skirts that she will be able to wear in her upcoming study abroad trip to Senegal! However, at any given time, you can also find this trendy New Hampshire girl sampling the large selection of breakfast items at Ug Mug. If you ever need some singing lessons or even advice on managing seven different Instagram accounts at a time, Olivia is your girl. There is no doubt that Olivia’s well-rounded personality will help her thrive even after summer in the Snail Lab has concluded.

Dr. Peter Fong

A pioneer in aquatic toxicology and dog enthusiast, Dr. Fong and his trusty golden retriever sidekick, Messi, enjoy frequenting small local Mexican restaurants (shout out to Tanya’s), casting a line at his top-secret fishing hot-spots, and avoiding mowing the lawn. Check out his some of his most recent work here.




Sounds of the Snail Lab: A Story Through Song

(all songs are property of the artist- not the Snail Lab)

Historical Map Comparator

Hi everyone! My name is Jannie Liu and I’m a rising senior, major in Computer Science. This summer I’m working with Professor Kann and Patrick Fu’18 on a historical map comparator web application. Professor Kann from Computer Science department always fascinated in world’s historical map. He and several formal CS students have already came out with some interesting web applications for comparing historical maps to the up-to-date GIS map (e.g. Google map, but here we are using Openlayers, since it’s open source.) But of course, there is no perfect software in the world, there is always things can be improved. So this summer, me and Patrick are focusing on 1)A standard UI(user interface) for all Professor Kann’s previous and future web applications. 2)Add more functionality to this program.

A typical day in CS lab is very different from other natural science labs I guess. The most frequent sound would definitely be pressing the keyboard and clicking mouse. Programmers need be alone:) There was not a lot communication going on. We all have different tasks and our code is quite independent from each other. We talk to each other because there is a bug that we don’t know how to fix or we want the other person to play the user role, asking “Hey, do you think this function is necessary?”, or “Which is the most expectable way to navigate a website?” We uploads our updated code on daily basis to make sure everyone is working on the newest version. I am very grateful to work with professor Kann this summer. First of all, he is very easy-going person, taking us to his home for Korean BBQ. Also, he never forced us to do anything that we are not interested in. I want pursing a master degree in HCI(human computer interaction) or UI/UX design. But our CS department didn’t offer a lot relevant courses. Professor Kann gave me hundred percent of freedom to design a standard layout for his series of web application. Although it involves a lot of self-learning process, since he is not an expert on UI(user interface) either. I’m very passionate and motivated about my job because that’s the stuff that I’d love to do in my future. Patrick on the other hand, loves coding and problem solving. He would love to be a hardcore programmer in the future. So his mission is to add more functions to our application.

The most exciting part of our research is having a great opportunity collaborating with Professor Allison Feeney from geography department in Shippensburg University. She wanted a software that is able to compare ancient Bermuda map to current GIS map in order to see how coast lines have changed through time. Thus, we customized our application and added some functions that she might need. Now, our application allows her to compare a historical map to a GIS map, or two historical maps. She can change the opacity of each historical map, since maps overlay on each other. We also add a slider, so she can draw lines between two maps and we are able to calculate the angle, the distance, and each points’ longitude and latitude. Of course, she can delete any unwanted lines. After she finish draws those lines, we are able to provide a integrated table with all useful data on it. We also gave her the ability to export these data to a csv (comma separate value) file that can be opened with Excel for her further calculation. We may write a paper about this program with her and we will attend to Pennsylvania Geographic Society conference that is held in Shippensburg this year. I really love this kind of cross-discipline collaboration because it shows how computer science can help other fields to achieve more.

Both of us would love to continue working on this project next spring. At that time we will be more interested in creating a more ‘general’ web application called “mapping stories” allow user to upload any kind of image maps and able to add some markers in order to share some thoughts about the associated points. Our goal is to let user share their personal reviews/ stories about some places.

This is a great summer, although doing research is so much tougher than laying on sofa or playing games(what I used to do in summer…), I guess it’s fun and quite meaningful. Hope all of you enjoy the rest of summer!

Ice Ice Baby

Drumlin Roll Please…

Hi everyone! My name is Marion McKenzie, I’m a rising junior pursuing a double major in Environmental Studies and Mathematics, and I’ve had the privilege of studying in Professor Sarah Principato’s lab for the last 8 weeks.

This summer has turned out to be an adventure of a lifetime for both my lab mate, Brittany Bondi ’19, and me. After spending the last 7 weeks analyzing our study areas with a bird’s eye view, we were finally able to observe the topography of our summer work in person by flying to Iceland.

Although streamlined landforms can be found in many valleys across Iceland due to its very active glacial history, the valley of Bárđardalur, my specialized research area, has a very large number of these landforms: 159 to be exact (or so I thought).

Screen Shot 2017-07-11 at 2.53.08 PM.png

My project focuses specifically on drumlins, streamlined sediment deposits left behind by glaciers, and for me, that glacier is the one that covered all of Iceland during the Last Glacial Maximum. These landforms are extremely beneficial to study, not only because they indicate the orientation and velocity of ice flows, but because they also allow us to know where else the glacier has been based on the types of till found. The sediments are deposited while the glacier is still over the land, and as the ice moves, these sediments are elongated to create the shapes we study.

Screen Shot 2017-07-11 at 1.39.08 PMScreen Shot 2017-07-11 at 1.38.49 PM.png


Using Google Earth, I found landforms like the ones to the left and traced them using the polygon tool (shown to the right).


I then imported these shapes into ArcGIS and added long axes and short axes. These parameters were then used to analyze elongation ratios, density, packing, orientation, and a parallel conformity within the drumlin field.

The Tuesday of our stay in Iceland, we travelled to Bárđardalur to ground truth my findings and gather outcrop samples from some of my larger drumlins (also called mega-scale glacial lineations, or MSGL). We also anticipated the possibility of measuring the height, length, and width of the landforms using tape measures and altimeters, as well as leaving GPS place marks and recording latitude and longitude coordinates.

On the way to the site, we saw some of the landforms I had included in my landform data set. Without even leaving the car, we determined that many of the ones north of the main drumlin field were actually composed of bedrock and not sediment as we had originally thought. This discovery allowed me to adjust my data to become more accurate once we returned to Gettysburg.

After precariously parking the car on the side of a desolate gravel road, we began the long 2km hike up to the top of the MSGL visible from the road. The terrain was rocky at first and quickly became heavily vegetated as we reached a small stream.


After finding a way to cross the stream and climb our way through some thick moss, we reached the start of the rocky MSGL formation. While looking for striated rocks and boulders along the way, we conquered the many false peaks and finally reached the flat top of the land formation to see the drumlin valley below us.



Spending countless hours imagining what the view was going to look like still hadn’t prepared me for the sheer vastness of it all. Although I could only see two or three drumlins and a glimmer of the lake I’d used as a reference point, it was such a surreal experience to feel so small next to something I had been analyzing from a distance for so long.

The rest of our week was filled with completing the ring road around Iceland and learning all about the geologic history of the beautiful landforms we saw. This trip was absolutely incredible, and I look forward to the next opportunity I will have to return to Iceland to answer even more questions we formulated about landforms present there.

Cirque and Ye Shall Find

Hello, my name is Brittany Bondi and this summer I had the pleasure of working with Dr. Sarah Principato on a project involving a type of glacial landform called cirques. I focused specifically on a peninsula in northern Iceland, Flateyjarskagi, known for its high mountains and intertwining valleys. 


A 20-meter Digital Elevation Model (DEM) of Iceland with Flateyjarskagi highlighted in red.

Cirques are amphitheater or bowl-shaped depressions in the earth typically found in high-elevation areas. They are formed when glaciers occupy and erode small hollows, slowly making them deeper and more bowl-shaped. Glaciers are constantly moving through a process, called rotational flow, that is vital to cirque development. As snow accumulates on a glacier, the snow is pressed and becomes glacial ice. Because of its increased density, it slowly transitions to the bottom of the cirque. The ice in the glacier as a whole moves through this process.

Cirques are defined by three characteristics: their headwall, toewall, and cirque floor. The headwall is the steepest and typically highest point of the cirque, while the toewall is the steepest point at the end of the cirque. The cirque floor is the flattest area and is usually located in the middle of the cirque. Using these three characteristics, one of my main goals was to determine the paleo-ELAs of my cirques. The equilibrium line altitude (ELA) is the approximate place where ablation (area where the glacier is melting) meets accumulation (area where the glacier is growing). To define this, I used three methods: the cirque floor method, toewall-to-headwall altitude ratio (THAR), and minimum point technique. 


A profile graph of a cirque, showing the headwall, cirque floor, and toewall.

For my project, I utilized a combination of Google Earth and ArcGIS to map and analyze glacier-free cirques. After using Google Earth to map the locations of cirques, I used the 20m Digital Elevation Model (DEM) for the analysis within ArcGIS. A digital elevation model is a type of map that allows one to extract elevation data of a given area. I had to ignore glacier-occupied cirques because ArcGIS is unable to look at the bedrock below the glacier. If I were to extract the elevation of the cirque-floor of a glacier-occupied cirque, for example, I would merely get the elevation of the glacier, not the cirque formation itself.  After drawing three profile lines on each cirque, I identified their headwall, toewall, and cirque floor. For the cirque floor method, the paleo-ELA is assumed to be equal to the cirque floor. For the THAR method, I used the headwall and toewall to calculate an approximate paleo-ELA. Finally, I also drew polygons around each cirque, which allowed me to extract the “minimum point” in each cirque, a.k.a. the cirque floor/ paleo-ELA.  


Three profile lines on a cirque. The red dot represents the headwall, blue the cirque floor, and red the toewall.

After looking at other factors, such as aspect (or direction), distance to coastline, and length and width, I will statistically analyze these factors to determine what may play a role in why the cirques formed where they did. It will be interesting to compare these results to previous studies about other cirque-regions in Iceland (including those done by Gettysburg alumni!) and throughout the world. 

On July 1st, my lab partner, Marion, and I joined Dr. Principato in a week-long excursion to Iceland to ground truth some of our data. Although we could not visit any of my cirques due to their extreme elevations and steep topography, while on the boat to Grimsey, the island 40 km north of the mainland, we had magnificent views of my region. It was breathtaking to see the area I had been studying for the past 6 weeks! It was equally as inspiring to see the many other landforms/marks made by glaciers both past and present throughout the country that have yet to be studied.


On a boat to Grimsey, passing some of the cirques I studied!


The two of us with our professor, Sarah Principato! We’d like to give a big thank you to the Gettysburg X-SIG program for this opportunity, and to Sarah for all of her hard work and guidance this summer. Thanks for reading, everyone!