• Summer research a SURE thing for students

Summer research a SURE thing for students

August 1, 2016

After a long scholastic year, most students look forward to the summer months as a time to recharge from the rigors of academia. But on Rowan’s campuses, a select group of high school, college and medical school students have decided, instead, to plunge into the depths of academic biomedical research.

From bench to bedside

Improving the health of individuals and communities begins with research and, this summer, 85 medical students from the Cooper Medical School of Rowan University (CMSRU), in Camden, and the School of Osteopathic Medicine (SOM), in Stratford, are paired with faculty mentors from both medical schools and from the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences (GSBS) on research projects in laboratory and clinical settings.

First-year SOM student Rahil Kheirkhah is working alongside faculty mentor Robert Nagele, PhD, of the New Jersey Institute for Successful Aging, searching for biomarkers for neurodegenerative diseases. One of 38 students in SOM’s Summer Medical Research Fellowship Program, Kheirkhah first learned of Nagele’s research during a lecture he presented to medical students.

“His lecture was the first time someone gave a talk about bench research and I thought, ‘I really want to do this’,” she said.

Reflecting on the first few weeks of the program, she says the day-to-day experience of working in the lab hasn’t disappointed.

“The potential to do ground-breaking research is very exciting,” she said. “This program isn’t just been a great opportunity for research. It’s also a great opportunity to bridge the gap between researchers and physicians.”

At CMSRU, 47 students participating in the Summer Research Program have been matched with mentors from the medical school, Cooper University Hospital and Rowan’s Glassboro campus. Research projects are as varied as the locations and include studying the use of cyberknife radiosurgery in cancer patients, determining gene variants that can cause epilepsy, fabricating vascularized scaffolds for central nervous system repair and studying the connection between B cell lymphocytes and inflammation.

While students in both medical school programs will have the opportunity to present their findings at research symposiums during the coming academic year, CMSRU student Ian Gleaner’s summer research from last year yielded another benefit besides the educational experience. The paper he authored on his research involving bone cancer and the use of a specific form of radiation therapy was recently accepted for publication in the journal Insight Cancer Research.

A SURE thing

The Summer Undergraduate Research Experience (SURE) is a 10-week, tuition-free, paid internship at GSBS. Designed to be a hands-on research experience for undergraduate students considering graduate education in the biomedical sciences, SURE research opportunities are available in such areas as developmental biology, inflammatory mediators, aging, gene expression, stem cells and cancer biology. Students accepted into the program also receive an exclusive invitation to present their work at the annual GSBS Fall Research Retreat.

This year, the eight students who successfully applied to the SURE program include two current Rowan undergraduate students.

Ana Carlton will graduate from Rowan this fall. This past academic year, she did research in the lab of Dr. Dimitri Pestov, an associate professor of Cell Biology at GSBS, and wanted to continue her research this summer as she prepared for graduate school.

“I learned so much from Dr. Pestov, as well as from the other students here,” Carlton said. “Following graduation, I want to go for my PhD in cell biology, so this has been the best experience that I can receive to prepare for that.”

Psychology major Claire Corbett is participating in the SURE program, working with faculty mentor Michael Anikin, PhD, an assistant professor of Cell Biology at GSBS. Anikin’s research focuses on RNA polymerase structure and on mitochondrial transcription.

Corbett, who will pair her Psychology degree with a minor in Biology, expects to pursue a graduate degree in research, a plan that is being helped by her experience this summer.

“I’m really interested in behavioral neuroscience, which is the biology behind behavior,” she explained. “The SURE program is giving me the background on research techniques and what it’s like to work in a biochemistry lab.” Previously, she had assisted with research in an avian cognition lab on the Glassboro campus.

Like many of the other students who have opted for a summer in one of Rowan’s research labs, Corbett pointed to the positive, collaborative learning environment she found in the summer program.

“It’s been fun and everyone is really willing to teach me,” she said.

Five for five for five

In its second year, the High School Biomedical Science Research Program at GSBS has been drawing strong interest from area high school students who are eager to gain the kind of research experience that is only available in an academic laboratory. The program accepts five area students who spend five hours per day over a five-week period, working in GSBS laboratories on the Stratford campus.

The program was developed by acclaimed researcher Katrina Cooper, PhD, an associate professor of Molecular Biology at GSBS and SOM, who wanted to develop the same sort of mentoring program that helped launch her own career as a research scientist.

Under the program the students – who this year represent Lenape, Cherokee, Eastern, Holmdel and Seneca high schools – worked with research faculty and graduate students. In addition, they have attend weekly lectures presented by GSBS faculty and, at the end of the program, presented their research findings at a symposium attended by family, friends, faculty and GSBS graduate students.

Sam Beluch participated in the initial program last summer. Recently graduated from Eastern High School, he’s returned this summer, working as an intern in Cooper’s lab.

“As I was applying for college, my research experience in the lab here at Rowan helped me to focus exactly on what I was looking for in my undergraduate program,” he said. “To someone who is still in high school, this program is definitely a great opportunity. The people here do a great job working with you to develop your skills and to help you succeed.”

Unearthing an ancient croc

Team brings remains of 65-million-year-old marine animal to the surface at Rowan Fossil Park 

August 15, 2016

It is one of the best specimens found at the Rowan University Fossil Park in some time.

And it took some hardware store plaster, some dollar store tin foil—and a whole lot of precision and muscle—to move it from its resting place of 65 million years to a laboratory in Rowan Hall.

“This is probably the third most complete crocodile we’ve found,” Paul Ullmann, postdoctoral researcher in the University’s School of Earth & Environment, says of the remains of an ancient crocodile unearthed at the fossil park this summer.

Rowan University Fossil Park video

The specimen includes portions of the crocodile’s skull and lower jaw, plus 19 teeth.

“There’s nothing from below the head. But it’s a much bigger find than we usually make,” says Ullmann.

Transporting the specimen, found in the fossil park in Mantua Township, to a Rowan laboratory in Glassboro, where it will be painstakingly researched by University paleontologists, was a significant undertaking.

The Fossil Park, located on a 65-acre tract that was a former sea floor, contains thousands of fossils and provides researchers with the best window, east of the Mississippi, into the Cretaceous Period—the heyday of the dinosaurs.

Fossils found at the site, include, among others, marine snails, brachiopods, bryozoan colonies, shark teeth, boney fish, sea turtles, marine crocodiles and mosasaurs.

Because the floor of the fossil quarry itself sits below the water table, areas unearthed for study fill up with groundwater. In the case of the crocodile specimen, researchers pumped water out of the area every 15 minutes as they worked, according to Ullmann.

The specimen was relatively intact, which means each fossil bone was not taken from the site one by one. Instead, using dollar store tin foil and plaster from a nearby Lowe’s home improvement store, the team wrapped the skull in foil, burlap and plaster, using greensand as an additional cushion, so that it could be unearthed altogether.

“Everything came out in one giant block of plaster, sand and burlap,” says Ullmann. “We call that a jacket. It’s the largest jacket we’ve ever had to deal with here.”

Once the plaster was in place, it took a group of seven to slide the fossil on an old road sign and move it to a waiting Rowan Facilities vehicle for transportation to the Glassboro campus.

“It was a 500-pound block, over three feet long,” Ullmann says.

The process of stabilizing the fossil was akin to setting a broken bone in a cast, he notes, chuckling about the use of bargain basement materials to unearth such a significant find.

The specimen has been housed for a month in a lab in Rowan Hall. Now that the entombing sediment in the jacket is completely dry, researchers will begin examining the fossil closely. One of the things they’ll look to determine is its genus—whether it is a Thoracosaurus or a Hyposaurus, two similar looking, fish-eating crocodiles that were distantly related.

It’s unlikely, Ullmann says, that the team will find more pieces of the crocodile’s skeleton. After the specimen’s death, the skull likely sank to the bottom of the sea floor, where it has remained for 65 million years, Ullmann says.

“Right now, it’s hard to predict how much we can put back together. But it certainly will be one of our showpieces,” he says.

Southern New Jersey has been a hotbed of vertebrate paleontology since 1858, when the world’s first dinosaur skeleton was discovered in Haddonfield, says Kenneth Lacovara, lead paleontologist and director of the Rowan Fossil Park.

“Our site has produced amazing specimens since the 1920s. This new fossil is one of five extinct species of marine crocodiles that have been found in these deposits,” says Lacovara, who also is founding dean of Rowan’s new School of Earth & Environment.

In addition to using the site for research, Lacovara and his team host school groups and an annual community dig day at the site.

“When people make a personal connection with the place where they live and the earth’s ancient past, it’s a transformational experience for them,” Lacovara says. “We’re using the amazing history preserved here to teach kids about the scientific method and to help them see science as a possible pathway for their future selves.”

Rowan purchased the Fossil Park in January from the Inversand Company, which mined manganese greensand at the site for nearly a century. The University is working to develop the site into a world class center for science education and exploration.

Lacovara is world renowned for his discovery of Dreadnoughtus schrani, a massive, plant-eating dinosaur that is the best example found of any of the largest creatures ever to walk the planet.

Researchers at the park are looking to determine if the fossils found there represent a mass die off of the animals that once lived there during the Cretaceous Period. The team is analyzing the fossils, sediments and geochemistry of the site to gain a clearer picture of the period when dinosaurs roamed the earth.


  • Studying Bennu: Rowan geologist to lead scientific study of asteroid samples from NASA mission

Studying Bennu: Rowan geologist to lead scientific study of asteroid samples from NASA mission

Geologist and petrologist Harold C. Connolly, Jr., who joined Rowan University on Sept. 6, is the mission sample scientist on NASA’s OSIRIS-REx project.

September 6, 2016

The first-ever NASA mission to collect an asteroid sample and return it to Earth for analysis launches on Thursday, Sept. 8, at 7:05 p.m. from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla.

Geologist and petrologist Harold C. Connolly, Jr., the mission sample scientist, can hardly contain his excitement.

“I have one of the best jobs in the whole mission,” Connolly says of OSIRIS-REx, the $1 billion mission designed to help scientists understand the early solar system by taking samples from the asteroid Bennu. “There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think about that asteroid a dozen times.”

Connolly joined Rowan University on Sept. 6 as the founding chair and professor of the Department of Geology in the new School of Earth & Environment.  Involved with OSIRIS-REx (Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer) since 2008, the self-described “explorer of space and time” will lead scientists in the study of up to two kilograms (4.4 pounds) of a “pristine, carbon-rich” sample from the asteroid.

Asteroids are the “leftover debris” from the Solar System’s formation formed more than 4.5 billion years ago. Analyzing the Bennu sample—“We’re collecting pebbles down to sand grains,” Connolly says— “will revolutionize our understanding of the early Solar System and teach us much about the planetary history and the origin of life,” according to NASA.  It also will help scientists understand the “hazards and resources of near-Earth space,” NASA officials note.

“One of the missions of OSIRIS-REx is to look for pre-biotic compounds—compounds which could have led to the origin of life on earth and, also, potentially how water was delivered on Earth,” Connolly says.

“To me, the ultimate question is: How did the planet form?’” continues Connolly.

He adds that OSIRIS-REx also will help scientists better understand the movement of asteroids, which can fall to Earth.

“One of the goals of OSIRIS-REx is to look at security of the planet,” he says. “Asteroids have a tendency to hit Earth. Part of the problem with that is predicting their movement. In order to do that accurately, we need to know the composition of asteroids.”

In addition to his work with OSIRIS-REx, Connolly also is co-investigator of the Hayabusa2 asteroid sample with the sample analysis team at Hokkaido Univeristy, led by Professor Shoto Tachibana. Connolly was a visiting professor at the university last year.

Thus, Connolly, whose fascination with rocks began at age five—“They’re the ultimate preservers of time, the ultimate fossils,” he says–holds critical leadership positions in two international asteroid exploration missions that are working together to learn more about the Earth’s origin. It’s the first time two governments throughout the world have operated two asteroid missions simultaneously, according to Connolly.

Nine-year timeline for OSIRIS-REx

From launch to analysis completion, the OSIRIS-REx mission will take nine years, wrapping up in 2025. The mission’s Atlas V 411 rocket will have a 34-day launch period beginning Sept. 8 and will orbit the sun for a year. In August of 2018, it will begin its approach to Bennu.

It will take another year as potential sample sites are determined. Connolly plays a vital role in determining where the sample site on the asteroid, which is about the size of a football field. He’ll work with NASA engineers to determine the best location for both “samplability” and science value.

“My team gets to recommend a sample collection site based on what has the greatest science value. It’s totally awesome. I will be in constant contact with the mission,” Connolly says.

Once the site is determined, an arm of the rocket will collect the sampler. In what Connolly likens to a “space vacuum cleaner,” the sampling arm will emit nitrogen gas, which will allow the sample to be gathered. That process will take five seconds. The sampling arm can accommodate three attempts to collect the minerals.

OSIRIS-REx will begin its journey back to Earth in March of 2021, a process that will take another two years. Once the spacecraft enters the atmosphere in the Utah desert in September of 2023, Connolly and his team of scientists will begin its research, which will be two more years.

“Exploring takes a lot of time, a lot of patience, and a lot of hard work,” says Connolly. “But the rewards are incredible.”

View Connolly’s presentation on OSIRIS-REx on the American Museum of Natural History’s Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/naturalhistory/?fref=ts.

About Harold Connolly

A research associate at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City and an adjunct associate professor of planetary sciences at the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory at the University of Arizona, Connolly joined the Department of Physical Sciences as an assistant professor of Earth and Planetary Sciences at Kingsborough Community College of the City University of New York in 2001.

In Rowan’s School of Earth & Environment, he will work with Founding Dean Ken Lacovara, an internationally known paleontologist and director of the Rowan Fossil Park, to develop bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral programs in geology.

Connolly earned his bachelor’s degree, master’s degree and doctorate in geological science from Rutgers University.

Connolly grew up in South Jersey. He lived primarily in Barrington and attended high school in both Haddon Heights and Washington Township, graduating from Heights in 1983.

And he has an asteroid named after him.

“My obituary can say I’m survived by an asteroid,” he chuckles.

Rowan engineering team helps protect Jersey shoreline, more

November 28, 2016

From coastal Cape May to the Hudson waterfront to communities miles from ocean or river, when storms churn up the East Coast individuals, organizations, communities and government offices in New Jersey prepare as best they can for the worst they face.

Sometimes, that’s just not good enough. Sometimes, there’s no way to know what that “worst” will be.

Dr. Rouzbeh Nazari is changing that. Working under an $800,000 grant from the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs, the assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering in the Henry M. Rowan College of Engineering at Rowan University is developing a resiliency hub for the state.

Battling extreme weather

In brief, the hub will feature hydrodynamic mapping of all of New Jersey, enabling municipalities and others to assess the impact extreme weather will have on their locations, weather like the 2012 Hurricane Sandy and the June 2015 storm that devastated parts of South Jersey.

Nazari and his team will collect data for an advanced computer model that will help users to prepare for bad weather and develop responses to it. The data, including some gathered by unmanned aerial vehicles commonly referred to as drones, will include such details as the baseline of the ocean and river levels and topographical statistics for every inch of the Garden State.

“Often today we are working from outdated FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) flood projection paper maps,” Nazari said. “Our web-based initiative will allow users to zoom into specific neighborhoods, individual blocks.”

Planning ahead

He added, “This will allow the State to adequately plan ahead, to match its resiliency plans to updated information, to know where to dedicate resources – whether it’s bringing in pumps or shoring up flood walls or adding to sand dunes.”

Nazari is teaming with six other civil and environmental engineering professors, a sociology and anthropology professor, a geography and environment professor, the director of Rowan’s Virtual Reality Center and undergraduate and graduate students as well as collaborating with representatives from the Atlantic County Utility Authority, Atlantic County, Cape May County Emergency Management Center, Cape Atlantic Conservation District, South Jersey Land and Water Trust, Camden County Soil and Conservation District, Parkside Business and Community Partnership and Federal Aviation Administration.

Virtual reality critical

Rowan’s VR Center, located at the South Jersey Technology Park, will play a pivotal role in the project. The VR Center provides an interactive environment to visualize data and simulate real-world situations, and it can be used for planning, education, training and prevention programs. In the VR Center, researchers and others can bring together data from multiple sources – overlapping topographic, emergency service, shelter and other disaster-related information.

Users of the web-based computer model will be able to plug in numerous variables and run a simulation as to possible outcomes – variables that include land geography, ocean bathometry, wind speed, wind direction, ocean surface temperature, land type, land cover and rainfall intensity – as part of their decision-making process.

The tool also will enable them to assess prevention recommendations, such as mitigating flooding by rain gardens, detention/retention basins, soil embankments and more.

Helpful for towns, more

The website will go live in approximately 18 months. The end product will be user-friendly, enabling, for instance, a town’s emergency management officer to assess potential hot spots, evaluate the likelihood of flooding and predict damage in order to decide what to do before a storm or other event strikes.

Nazari said his team’s goal is to help the State in three stages: before, during and after a major weather event. Rowan will host and maintain the website for 10 years.

“The project proposed by Rowan was one of three grant awards chosen from among proposals submitted from major universities throughout the nation. Communities that use Rowan’s computer model will have the best available information for decision-making in the event of another major storm.  We believe the additional preparedness that will result from this project will have a dramatic state-wide impact on reducing potential losses from future storms,” said Charles Richman, commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs.


  • Henry M. Rowan College of Engineering holds grand opening for new building

Henry M. Rowan College of Engineering holds grand opening for new building

January 26, 2017

Call it a necessity.

Engineering Hall, the new building that Rowan University officially opened on Jan. 26, will enable the Henry M. Rowan College of Engineering to increase its enrollment to 2,000 undergraduate and graduate students by 2023; expand its programs; and  grow its collaborations with business, industry and government offices.

The nationally recognized College has been in high demand since it opened in 1996, and that demand has only grown stronger recently. In the last five years, Rowan Engineering virtually doubled its enrollment to 1,488, still turning away good students who have to go elsewhere. In almost five years, it has increased its hallmark Engineering Clinics 52 percent to 134 during fall semester 2016, with multidisciplinary teams serving in many cases as the de facto R&D arm of local, national and international companies and agencies. Between FY2011 and FY2016, the College has increased its outside funding from $2.8 million to $8.9 million. And in the last few years, the College added a Ph.D. program and a Biomedical Engineering Department and opened the Center for Research and Education in Advanced Transportation Engineering Systems, among other initiatives.

Revitalizing engineering education

During the grand opening and ribbon-cutting ceremony, Virginia Rowan Smith, a member of the Rowan University Board of Trustees and daughter of the late Henry Rowan, referenced her father’s charge, “What this country needs is not more engineers, but more great engineers.”

Smith’s father and mother, Betty Rowan, made the start of the College possible with a $100 million gift to then-Glassboro State College in 1992, a gift that came with the request to start an engineering school that revitalized engineering education.

The University did just that.

The College’s hallmark Engineering Clinics, for instance, were innovative from the start. While engineering colleges historically started students on hands-on work in their junior year, Rowan Engineering did so during the first semester of freshman year, creating multi-disciplinary teams that mimicked the professional world. During the College’s two decades, faculty and students have garnered numerous honors and held positions in national and international organizations. U.S. News & World Report, among other entities, has honored the College; in its latest rankings, the publication placed the College 22nd among more than 200 master’s-level programs.

“Educating the students here to be great engineers is just what we are doing,” Smith said, noting the new facility enables the College to build on its strong history and further its status as an international leader in engineering education. “(My father) wanted our program to be exceptional, and it truly is.”

“My father . . . would have been so pleased to see this building today,” she said.

Contributing to the region

Rowan University president Dr. Ali Houshmand spoke of the College’s part in Rowan’s role as a state research institution focused on practical research that leads to products, jobs and businesses in the region.

Noting that collaborations among engineering, science and business disciplines can find a home in Engineering Hall, the president said, “This building opens the gate for us to define who we are as a research institution.”

The State of New Jersey funded $46 million of the $70.6 million, 88,000-square-foot structure through the 2012 New Jersey Building Our Future Bond Act. The State awarded Rowan with the second-highest amount of funding — $117 million — through that bond act, which was the first to support construction at New Jersey higher education institutions in two decades.

A packed house turned out for the grand opening, including State and local officials, board members, administrators, professors and staff, students, alumni, partners and friends. The event came just eight days after the University held a similar ceremony for the William G. Rohrer College of Business’ new home on Rt. 322, a $63.2 million, 98,300-square-foot facility that is the first academic building dedicated solely to business education.

Dr. Anthony Lowman, the dean of the College, started the speeches, giving a nod to Mr. Rowan, legislators, the audience and professors, among others.

“This is just amazing to have this turnout,” he said. “It really speaks to . . . the amazing job we’ve done.”

Making a difference

Lowman said that the College now has as many students as it does graduates, and he assured the legislators present that if they wanted to provide for a third Engineering building he was confident Rowan could jump enrollment to 4,000 students.

State Senate President Stephen Sweeney gave a nod to the University and the College, acknowledging that Rowan Engineering is educating students that large corporations such as Lockheed Martin need. “Rowan University is on the map, and it’s so exciting for the economy of the region,” Sweeney said. “We can provide (businesses) with the people they need to help them grow.”

With the College’s original Rowan Hall, to which it is joined by a third-floor pedestrian bridge, Engineering Hall is a gateway to the University’s campus off Bowe Boulevard in Glassboro.

State of the art

The facility includes four classrooms, 19 research and teaching labs and 14 collaboration rooms. Among the highlights of the building are first-floor project labs that open to the outdoors, making extended space available for work on a variety of projects, including automotive engineering, solar arrays and drone technologies; a sustainability wing, where students can focus on such fields as alternative energy; designated lab space for specific departments; designated space for Freshman and Sophomore Engineering Clinics; biomedical engineering labs; space for STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) outreach initiatives; and water and hydrology, cell culture, and wireless communication labs. All Rowan engineering students have access to Engineering Hall, home to the Experiential Engineering Education Department (ExEEd), which oversees the Freshman and Sophomore Clinics for all majors. Engineering Hall also houses the Biomedical and the Electrical & Computer Engineering departments, with additional lab space for Civil & Environmental Engineering and Mechanical Engineering. The building includes a two-story dining/study/gathering space as well as outdoor space for students to study and meet.

Jacob Culleny, a junior electrical and computer engineering major from Brigantine, joined Jillian Sharkey, a senior mechanical engineering major from Williamstown, and administrators and officials in cutting the ribbon for the building.

Noted Culleny before the ceremony, “This is a true testament to how strong the program is because when I was a freshman this was just a gravel lot, and to be able to watch it become all of this is just awesome . . . These new classrooms positively affect our learning environment. The building is really student focused, with white boards in the hallway so you can just stop and work through a problem right there. Everything is team based, and this increased space gives us the ability to work more effectively as a team.”

Adding art

Engineering Hall features two commissioned pieces of public art:

“Vector Space” by Carolyn Braaksma and Brad Kaspari, is a terrazzo installation in the first floor lobby that contains tributes to Mr. Rowan among its elements, which include Faraday’s Law of induction, the equation for magnetism and the Ohm’s Law wheel accompanied by illustrations of various engineering concepts and equations.

“Opticks” by artist Beth Nybeck is a freestanding 23’ by 14’ by 16’ sculpture on the grounds of the new Engineering Hall. Named for the book Opticks, a 1704 treatise on the effects of light by Isaac Newton, the stainless steel and aluminum figure represents a human head, a design intended to reflect the ever-changing quest for, and acquisition of, knowledge, and includes notes from students’ work laser cut into its panels.

About the Henry M. Rowan College of Engineering

The College offers bachelor’s through doctoral programs, with bachelor’s and/or graduate degrees in Biomedical, Chemical, Civil & Environmental, Electrical & Computer and Mechanical Engineering, and Engineering Management. In its 2017 rankings, U.S. News & World Report placed the College 22nd out of more than 200 schools nationwide where the highest degree offered is a bachelor’s or master’s degree.

South Jersey industrialist and philanthropist Henry Rowan and his wife Betty made the creation of the College possible when they donated $100 million to then-Glassboro State College in 1992 with the directive to revitalize engineering education. The College opened its doors to 100 students in 1996 and graduated its first class in 2000. With a focus on minds-on, hands-on learning, the College counts among its hallmarks its eight semesters of Engineering Clinics.

Rowan will retrofit the original College of Engineering building, Rowan Hall, in the near future.