Science Communication Program

Funded/Proposed Research Projects

Agricultural Sciences

Lee Ahern

  • Co-PI on $5 million grant through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture.
  • The main goal of the project is to promote sustainable water management through the use of a proven, flexible, and transferable model of engagement of farmers and other stakeholders. The model, once tested and developed, will transform the way scientists, the Cooperative Extension System, agency officials and engagement specialists approach critical water issues. The $2.2 million is for the first year of a planned four-year, $5 million project.

Department of Agricultural Economics, Sociology and Education

Lee Ahern

  • Co-PI on national survey of ag scientists exploring attitudes toward intellectual property practices and public perceptions of science issues

Environmental Engineering

Colleen Connolly-Ahern

  • PI on survey/experiment exploring attitudes toward the use of biosolids in different stages of food production
  • Currently, more than 2 billion people on the planet suffer from lack of sanitation, leading to discharge of waste into water systems. Many of the same people also suffer from a lack of adequate proteins in their diet. From a sustainability perspective, turning human-generated protein into viable food would save energy and increase food security. But while the technology exists to turn wastewater into edible proteins through the growth cultivation of the duckweed, little is known about the social strictures associated with consuming water-derived proteins. Since this information is not known, the planned outcome of the study is a peer-reviewed research article. The study will also inform later planned work testing the impact of potential messaging on decisions to adopt wastewater based proteins.

Food Science

Denise Bortree

  • Co-PI on proposed study on rollout of new FDA food testing technology
  • The purpose of this project is to understand how the Food and Drug Administration (the FDA) is communicating about the rollout of new food testing technology called Whole Genome Sequencing (WGS), and specifically the new Genome TrackrTracker program, as well as how the food industry (including the food producers and distributors) are is managing and reacting to the same.


Lee Ahern

  • Co-PI on study of communications practices of “natural” beekeepers
  • A complex and controversial beekeeping subculture has emerged—the “natural” beekeeper. Often urban and environmentally motivated, natural or organic beekeepers usually have a small number of hives, and engage in differing levels of science-based hive management. Commercial and more traditional beekeepers are critical of lax practices, and accuse natural beekeepers of spreading disease to their hives because of the lack of appropriate management.
  • This research project will explore the communication practices and information sources of different groups of beekeepers, and how they may impact management practices. We will also explore the sources of the dominant competing narratives on the primary causes, responsibility and solutions to colony collapse.

Current funded graduate student research projects

Marcellus Center for Outreach and Research (MCOR)
Jeff Conlin
• This research study considers communication messages, practices and other factors that may influence reputation of major university science research centers, including The Penn State Marcellus Center for Outreach and Research (MCOR). What is not as well investigated appears to be how major university research centers such as The Penn State Marcellus Center for Outreach and Research (MCOR) are not only managing the output of scientific research related to shale gas extraction, but also managing associated science communication and reputational behavior. Investigating this topic has the potential to add to scholarship and practically benefit current research center operations at Penn State and elsewhere.

Other funded graduate student projects

Sushma Kumble
• Persuasive characteristics of unstated argument assumptions and adaptation/mitigation framing in the context of global warming communication