Temple University Ambler adds technology advances for campus and programs

A view of the Hoop House readings using new technology to test temperature, dew point and other conditions

Temple University Ambler is enjoying a technology boom all its own.

From new technology-supported breakout and meeting spaces to new specialized equipment to new software, the Ambler Campus has been enjoying advances in the technology capabilities available for students, faculty and staff throughout the summer.

“What drives technology services on campus is ensuring quality student/teacher learning experiences. We are always striving to make it easier for teachers to use technology in their instruction,” said Reid Overturf, Information Technology Manager at Temple University Ambler. “With the transition of the Department of Landscape Architecture, Department of Planning and Community Development and the Center for Sustainable Communities to the Tyler School of Art, there were opportunities available to make technology improvements for those programs. Beyond that, we’ve been able to expand our technology spaces — and the technology available to students — across the board.”

About $90,000 in technology improvements, supported in part by University technology fees, have been made throughout the campus, not including several large expenditures for specialized equipment, such a $100,000 mass spectrometer for the Department of Landscape Architecture and Horticulture and a $15,000 “Trimble” geospatial data collection device for the Center for Sustainable Communities.

Library Building Room 1, for example, has been upgraded to a student breakout room with an 80-inch wall-mounted display, “the proper size for the room and table space,” according to Overturf. The first floor Learning Center breakout room has also been upgraded with a new 70-inch display.

Widener Hall Room 213 has additionally been fully upgraded to a student breakout room and faculty/staff conference room with a 70-inch wall-mounted display, Web camera, computer and more.

“This will provide students and faculty in Widener Hall a convenient space that can be reserved for project work or student consultations during or after class,” said Brent Whiting, Director of Information Systems. “This will also add flexibility for staff on campus looking to schedule a technology-equipped meeting space.”

Growing Technology in the Greenhouse

While technology improvements take place each year at Temple Ambler, Whiting said, “One of the things that is unique this year is that we didn’t need to focus on a large number of lab or smart classroom workstations, which are all up to date.”

“That has presented us an opportunity to purchase devices that benefit coursework and research efforts. There has been a lot of buzz in the technology industry over the last several years regarding the ‘Internet of Things’ (IoT) movement as, more and more, people and places connect to networks via the Internet and move to the cloud for data collection,” he said. “New technology in the campus Greenhouse and Hoop House involve sensors and other data collection devices that will provide information to staff for logging purposes, as well as influence adjustments if environmental conditions are not within desired ranges. Several of the purchases this year are an early step into IoT to more efficiently track and learn about the plant conditions and their performance.”

Technology upgrades in the Greenhouse include a new 70-inch wall-mounted display on an articulated arm, computer and wireless peripherals, new weather station equipment and data loggers that display live data, such a temperature, dew point and light, which will be used in research, classroom instruction and general greenhouse operations. The data is also available live for anyone to view online through a HOBOlink system — Greenhouse and Hoop House.

“The workspace adjacent to the Greenhouse growing area is home to many horticulture course labs, including Plant Propagation, Soils, Botany, and of course, Greenhouse Management. The new technology will not only allow professors to enhance their lab sessions with video presentations, but it will also display current conditions from various growing zones and the rooftop weather station,” said Anne Brennan, Administrative Manager in the Department of Landscape Architecture and Horticulture. “These growing areas include the main Greenhouse, the Hoop House, which is only minimally heated in winter, and the Shade House, which protects research plants during the hot summer months.”

According to Brennan, the new weather station, mounted on top of the Greenhouse, communicates with the Greenhouse environmental control system, “allowing vents to automatically close during high winds, for example.” Other sensors include temperature, humidity, light and rainfall, she said. The department will additionally be using a new “rugged tablet,” a weather- and impact-resistant tablet PC with built-in GPS and camera, which will be used to record and merge data gathered in the campus gardens and indoor growing areas.

Hands-on Technology

The Center for Sustainable Communities also has a new technology asset for field projects in the form of a Trimble® Geo 7X handheld device, which collects geospatial data to an accuracy of a centimeter — an invaluable tool for geomapping and gathering GIS (Geographic Information Systems) data, according to Michael Bavas, Senior Technical Support Specialist in Temple’s Computer Services Department.

“The mapping data can then be imported into applications like ESRI to support grant research,” Bavas said. “The device will be used as an instructional tool for programs such as City and Regional Planning and Community Development for students to gain hands-on experience with Temple grant-funded projects.”

Keeping with handheld technology, Temple University Ambler has added three new GoPro cameras, which will be primarily used by ProRanger Philadelphia — a partnership between Temple and the National Park Service to train rangers; the Temple University Municipal Police Academy; and the Seasonal Law Enforcement Training Program.  

“With new regulations requiring officers to wear body cameras out in the field, the GoPro offers an inexpensive means to train with an attached chest harness that simulates the body camera,” said Bavas. “GoPro is a first person perspective ‘action camera,’ which can record live training in a unique way. Outside of the programs, the cameras are a great tool for capturing the experience of attending Temple at the Ambler Campus from a student perspective.”

Bavas, who is also heavily involved in Temple’s ongoing aquaponics research, said moving into the fall semester, the Ambler Campus Aquaponics Lab will additionally benefit from new “Arduino” hardware and software. In the past few years, the Aquaponics Lab at Temple Ambler has grown into a fully accredited lab supporting research and both credit and non-credit courses.

“Arduino designs and manufactures computer open-source hardware and software that will help us measure water quality and nutrients in our Aquaponics system. We frequently have to test for pH, ammonia, dissolved oxygen levels for fish and humidity to maintain balance in the system — Arduino can be customized for all kinds of research-based projects at Temple where sensors can be applied,” said Bavas.“This technology helps students learn how to code electronic systems at a minimal cost; it builds a foundation for anyone to learn electrical engineering and programming concepts. Arduino can be applied to faculty research, robotics and computer engineering-based projects — inventors frequently rely on this hardware to create prototypes for new designs.”

Greatly Expanding Plant Science

In Cottage Hall Room 10, there sits several large boxes just waiting to be opened. For Sasha Eisenman, Assistant Professor of Horticulture, it’s the like the holidays have come early and he knows exactly what is inside — a new Gas Chromatograph-Mass Spectrometer (GC-MS) for the Department of Landscape Architecture and Horticulture.

“This is a device that will greatly increase experiential learning and improve the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) experience for our students in addition to significantly expanding the plant science research capabilities of our faculty,” said Eisenman. “Our horticulture program has a strong foundation in science with a core curriculum that includes science-based courses such as Botany, Chemistry, Entomology, Plant Ecology and Physiology and Pathology and Soil Science. With this technology, we are much better equipped to prepare a future generation of horticultural, agricultural and environmental scientists.”

According to Eisenman, purchase of the GC-MS was made possible by a generous $75,000 grant from the McLean Contributionship, an organization that has previously supported several projects by the Temple University Library system. The purchase was additionally supported by Temple University Computer Services, Temple University Ambler and Ambler Campus alumni contributions.

“The equipment uses a gas chromatograph coupled with a mass spectrometer to separate, identify and quantify complex mixtures of chemicals — think of it a CSI Plant Science,” he said. “You could take a plant, soak it in alcohol and potentially extract hundreds of chemicals, which are then identified by their mass.”

Analysis of plant pigments extracted from leaves, fatty acid content for seeds, used for foods and cosmetics; plant hormone concentration in response to environmental factors stress; floral aroma analysis and pollination; identification of plant pesticide residues; essential oil analysis; and photochemical analysis of medicinal plants could all be investigated using the GC-MS equipment, Eisenman said.  

“It is the type of experimentation that is ubiquitous in numerous fields of science, from plant science and biology to medicine and criminology,” he said. “It really expands both the student experience as they learn and use the equipment and increases our research capacity into more complex studies that we weren’t able to undertake before. It also increases our opportunities to apply for larger research grants that require existing infrastructure.”

While the Gas Chromatograph-Mass Spectrometer will certainly be the most visible advance in  technology for the department, it’s certainly not the only advance.

In nearby Cottage Hall Room 13, a new ceiling mounted projector and projector screen has been installed in addition to two new student-use computers, an upgraded instructor computer and about $2,000 in new software focusing on everything from the morphology and anatomy of seedless vascular plants to plant diseases and the evolution of plants.

“This provides a very deep, useful library of visual references that students can access that they didn’t have before. The software and equipment will greatly supplement our labs in botany, entomology and plant pathology,” Eisenman said. “Improvements in the technology to support our curriculum ensure that we our providing our students the 21st century skills they’ll need to succeed in their chosen fields.”