Public 4-Year Schools

Rutgers Could Soon Be Developing Hazelnuts for Making Nutella

Researcher Tom Molnar has developed a blight-resistant hazelnut tree that could address a worldwide shortage. Photo: Nick Romanenko/Rutgers University

For all those devoted fans of Nutella, the threat of a global hazelnut shortage is disturbing news.

The soaring popularity of the rich cocoa and hazelnut spread has driven up demand for hazelnuts worldwide, exceeding the current supply. But after decades of work, researchers at Rutgers have a solution: They have developed a hazelnut tree that can thrive in New Jersey and throughout the Northeast, greatly expanding the area where hazelnuts can grow.

One of the reasons for the shortage is hazelnuts are cultivated in a very limited area – most sold commercially are grown in Turkey and the Wilmette Valley of Oregon. Until recently, a fungus called Eastern Filbert Blight made it impossible to grow hazelnuts in the Garden State.

Developing a tree that is resistant to the disease provided an ideal focal point for research.

“The demand for hazelnuts is so high that there is no surplus of nuts produced, and that makes companies very nervous,’’ said Tom Molnar, a plant biologist who oversees the hazelnut tree breeding program for the Rutgers New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station.

“We are getting so close to being able to get a new agricultural industry off the ground in New Jersey,’’ he said.

To read more stories about Rutgers, scroll down:

Former Vice President Biden Reinforces Rutgers’ “End Sexual Violence” Campaign
Rutgers-Newark Student Takes Stage at First Gubernatorial Debate
Service Knights: A Different Kind of Win
A New Front Door to the Sciences at Rutgers-Newark
Rutgers Breaks Ground on New Nursing and Science Building in Camden

After more than two decades of work, Molnar believes his research team has developed a blight-resistant hazelnut tree that can thrive in cooler climates and produce a high-quality nut that will appeal to businesses. He is preparing to distribute the new trees to New Jersey farmers to test their viability starting in 2018.

The hazelnut project at Rutgers predates the popularity of Nutella in the United States, Molnar said. But as sales of the spread started to take off, the nut’s popularity put Molnar’s research in the spotlight and drew the attention of Nutella’s parent company, Ferrero. About a quarter of the world’s hazelnut supply – more than 100,000 tons – goes into making Nutella and other Ferrero products each year.

Rutgers’ hazelnut breeding program is only one of two in the country. It was launched by C. Reed Funk, a researcher who developed the hardy varieties of turf grass that are used in Yankee Stadium, the National Mall in Washington, D.C., and other high-profile locations. Turfgrass has generated more than $60 million in revenue for Rutgers, and some of that money was used to support the hazelnut breeding project.

Funk focused on hazelnuts because they currently have a limited growing area, are not very labor intensive, require few chemicals and could adapt to conditions in the Northeast. Eastern Filbert Blight was the only barrier.

Molnar got involved with the project in its early stages through a summer job and became so interested in the research that he transferred to Rutgers as an undergraduate to continue the work.

“It became clear to us that this was an area where Rutgers could have an impact as a university and make a contribution to agriculture,’’ Molnar said. “To be able to bring a new crop to a region doesn’t happen very often.’’

Molnar continued working on the project as a graduate student at Rutgers. He traveled throughout Eastern Europe, Central Asia and the Crimea collecting seeds in search of a plant that would grow well in a cooler climate and be disease resistant.

A team of researchers grew thousands of trees, crossing plants that grew well in the Garden State with plants from Italy that have the desired nut quality. Rutgers teamed up with Oregon State University, using pollen from its research program to develop the new tree variety.

“This is the first time we have such high confidence in our plants that we are ramping up production to get them out to farmers for trials,’’ he said.

Ferrero has been keeping close watch on the project. The company developed a relationship with Molnar in 2008, after they learned about his research through a presentation he gave at a hazelnut conference in Italy. Representatives from the company visit Rutgers research plots twice a year for updates on the work.

“We have been carefully observing the progress of the program managed by Professor Molnar and we strongly believe in his plans and results,” said Michele Pisetta, a manager of sustainability at Ferrero. “At Ferrero, we hope the development of new varieties Professor Molnar is working on will be successful and open new areas for planting hazelnut worldwide.”

Molnar hopes that Rutgers will be able to release a new hazelnut tree in the next two to three years. If those trees are able to thrive near Fererro’s production facility in Southern Ontario, Nutella fans could be eating their favorite spread made with hazelnuts from a tree developed at Rutgers within the decade.

“We have been working on this for so long, it is so exciting to me because we are so close,’’ Molnar said. “I was born here and to be able to make a contribution to the state like this makes me really happy.’’

Former Vice President Joe Biden at the College Avenue Gym. Photo: Nick Romanenko, Rutgers University

With a Challenge to Students, Former Vice President Biden Reinforces Rutgers’ “End Sexual Violence” Campaign

Joe Biden, the 47th vice president of the United States, challenged students during a speech today at Rutgers University-New Brunswick to fight the culture of silence and intimidation against victims of sexual violence, to recognize that non-consensual sex is sexual assault, and to create an environment in which sexual violence is unacceptable and survivors are supported.

Vice President Biden spoke before an enthusiastic crowd of 2,106 students at Rutgers-New Brunswick’s College Avenue Gym as part of the nationwide “It’s On Us” campaign to end sexual assault on college campuses.

“Men on campus, you have to take more responsibility,” Biden said to loud applause. “When you see that person who’s stone cold drunk and you see someone, maybe your roommate, bringing her upstairs; if you see that and don’t stand up and say, ‘Not in my house, Jack,’ you’re a coward. Speak out. Get others up to come with you.”

Noting that the first thing many victims do after an incident of sexual violence is to tell a trusted female friend, Biden said, “You women have an obligation not just to be a sympathetic ear but to help. To know what resources are available. Take her by the hand and say, ‘Here’s what we’re going to do. Here’s where we’re going to go.’ That’s what we mean when we say ‘It’s On Us.’ It’s on each one of us.”

Rutgers-New Brunswick Chancellor Deba Dutta said, “Rutgers is a recognized national leader in sexual violence prevention and education. The university recently expanded its already strong support for victims of sexual violence with help from a federal grant. We have presented recommendations on this topic to a White House task force and to universities and colleges across the country. Rutgers-New Brunswick has launched a comprehensive action plan to combat sexual violence, informed by a campuswide student survey. We are proud to encourage students in this fight by welcoming former Vice President Biden to speak on an issue that has such an important impact on higher education.”

The Rutgers-New Brunswick Division of Student Affairs invited Biden as part of Rutgers-New Brunswick’s “End Sexual Violence” campaign and Turn the Campus Purple, a weeklong series of events intended to help raise awareness and support survivors of dating violence and relationship abuse.

Biden praised Rutgers for its past and current leadership on the issue of sexual violence. He noted that when the U.S. Department of Education recently rescinded Obama-era guidance on how schools should handle sexual assaults under Title IX federal law, “They didn’t confuse your chancellor. They didn’t confuse this university. When this guidance was revoked, [Rutgers University President Robert Barchi] said ‘our commitment will not waver.’”

According to the “It’s On Us” campaign, 11.2 percent of all students experience rape or sexual assault. Female students are four times more likely to be a victim of rape or sexual assault than males. Nine in 10 female college victims of rape and sexual assault knew their offender. Only 20 percent of female student victims, age 18-24, report to law enforcement.

“I am absolutely convinced that we can change the culture. We will have succeeded in this fight when not a single woman who is abused or raped, asks ‘What did I do [to make this happen]?’” Biden said. “Success will come when not a single man who lays a hand on a woman says, ‘She is mine. I am justified. It is my right.”

“I promise you, if you keep at this, when your daughter is dropped off at a college campus at her freshman year, your first thought as a parent will not be, is she going to be safe?” Biden said. “Look what your generation has already taken in. You’re the most progressive, tolerant, decent and well-educated generation in history. That’s just a fact.”

In June 2017, Rutgers announced that a $2 million federal grant will help expand universitywide support for victims of sexual assault, dating violence and stalking by funding the creation and expansion of services, training and education. The Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) grant resulted from a collaborative effort by Rutgers student affairs leaders, researchers, top administrators and students across the university. With matching funds from throughout the university, more than $2.5 million will be made available to increase resources and programs.

In September 2016, Rutgers researchers delivered to the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Violence a comprehensive “campus climate survey model” to assess and combat sexual violence – and encouraged colleges and universities across the nation to consider the Rutgers model in the fight against sexual violence on their own campuses. Additionally, Rutgers developed a guide for other institutions interested in using the university’s model.

Rutgers-New Brunswick in September 2016 announced the launch of a comprehensive action plan to combat sexual violence, based on the results of the campus climate survey. The initiative includes the launch of Rutgers’ “End Sexual Violence” website to provide a single location for information on all Rutgers-New Brunswick resources related to sexual violence; the expansion of Office for Violence Prevention and Victim Assistance resources to engage with students and enhance advocacy services for survivors; and the introduction of Not Anymore, a web-based education program that covers topics such as consent, healthy relationships, bystander intervention, reporting options and resources.

Chinedu Onyemaobi, a senior, plans to pursue a career in broadcasting and digital journalism. Photo: Anthony Alvarez

Rutgers-Newark Student Takes Stage at First Gubernatorial Debate

On Oct. 10, Chinedu Onyemaobi, a Rutgers University-Newark student, will be the only student on the panel of journalists that will be posing questions to gubernatorial candidates Phil Murphy and Kim Guadagno at their first debate at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC) in Newark.

The journalism and media studies major and son of Nigerian immigrants said being selected for the panel is an honor.

“It felt like a lot of hard work paid off,” he said, after learning he’d been chosen to represent his peers. “Early in high school I was kind of lost. I didn’t take school seriously. I wanted to make my parents proud, but the direction I was going, that wasn’t going to happen.”

Onyemaobi, 21, awakened to his love of history and journalism at Union High School, where as a junior, he turned around his failing grades. Now a senior at Rutgers-Newark, he is a member of the Honors Living-Learning Community and focused on launching a media career that not only makes his parents proud but inspires others.

Tuesday won’t be Onyemaobi’s first time in front of a microphone. He spent this past summer as a Media Fellow at WBGO/Newark Public Radio, the global leader in jazz radio and National Public Radio affiliate, where he honed his journalism and on-air skills, said WBGO news director Doug Doyle.

“I’m very excited that Chinedu has been selected by Rutgers University to participate in the televised New Jersey gubernatorial debate,” Doyle said. “From learning how to conduct strong insightful interviews to writing and producing in-depth, sound-rich news features, Chinedu can now use those skills he’s learned as WBGO Media Fellow to pursue a career in broadcasting and digital journalism.”

Onyemaobi also is a radio host for WRNU’s The Campus Beat, for which he produces two programs: Chin Up Sports, a sports commentary show; and Pepper Soup: Sounds from the Motherland, a West-African arts, music, and entertainment program. Onyemaobi also is the social media coordinator for Rutgers Organization of African Students.

Growing up, the former football player remembers soaking up color commentary from sportscaster Brent Musberger during games and contemplating a similar career path. “As a kid, I loved talking,” he said. “So, I thought, ‘Why not pursue something where you get paid for talking.’ ”

Though Onyemaobi is working toward a career that focuses on sports or entertainment coverage, he is excited the debate will give him the opportunity to experience another facet of journalism.

“In journalism, you don’t want to restrict yourself. You should be experienced in music, politics and the arts,” he said. “I’m gaining more knowledge on how to cover politics, which will help me as a journalist and a student.”

Onyemaobi is not yet sure what question he will ask at the debate, which is co-sponsored by Rutgers. He is working with the editors of Scarlet Magazine and The Observer newspaper, both student-run publications, and says he’ll likely form a question that addresses the prospects of career opportunities in New Jersey for recent college graduates or available state protections for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.

“I met with the panel and brainstormed questions and discussed ideas about how to approach a candidate. What to ask. What not to ask. It was a learning experience,” he said. “I think I do a pretty good job with my work, and I’m confident I will represent Rutgers in the best way at the debate.”

Antonio Zuniga, 4, gets a visit from Rutgers Service Knights friends, from left, Zach Allen, Travis Vokolek, Myles Nash, Jerome Washington, Hunter Hayek, Zack Heeman and Zach Venesky, during his stay at Saint Peter’s University Hospital. Photo: Almier McCoy/Rutgers University

Service Knights: A Different Kind of Win

Four-year-old Antonio Zuniga spent the third week of October in St. Peter’s University Hospital recovering from pneumonia – a long time for a little boy to be cooped up, his mom Nancy Sanchez said.

That’s what made his “playdate” with seven members of Rutgers’ Scarlet Knights Football team all the more special.

The visit was organized by Service Knights, a volunteer initiative within the Rutgers-New Brunswick football program started in 2016 by head coach Chris Ash, now under the direction of Nick Quartaro, director of player development for the Scarlet Knights. Every Friday afternoon before home games,

Service Knights sends players into area schools and hospitals, said Quartaro. During the off-season, they serve meals at soup kitchens and psych up Special Olympics athletes, among their many other activities.

“Coach Ash feels strongly that it’s important for our football program to give back to the community in whatever fashion we can,” Quartaro said. “I believe it’s important that our guys connect with people outside of their normal daily life and be a part of something bigger than themselves.”

On Oct. 20 – hours before the team took on Purdue – that meant tossing mini red Rutgers footballs with a giggling Antonio in the brightly painted playroom of St. Peter’s children’s ward and paying bedside visits to children fighting cancer and recuperating from other illnesses.
“I have to be grateful for whatever I have and give back,” said Jerome Washington, of Elizabeth, who plays tight end for the team. “This takes their minds off what they are going through.”

The experience is also therapeutic for the players, who enjoy being able to escape the pressure that comes before game day, said Jeff Jones assistant director of player development, who accompanied the players on their trip to St. Peter’s.

“People have no idea the schedule they are on – up at 6 a.m. and sometimes going until 9 p.m.,” Jones said. “This takes their mind off football.”

Myles Nash, who plays both tight end and defensive end for the Scarlet Knights, views his outings with Service Knights not as work, but an opportunity to be a positive male role model to children who need them most.

“A lot of kids don’t have fathers,” said the Sicklerville resident. “Being around kids, and being able to put smiles on their faces, is very important to me.”

LSC II is the front door to the sciences quad, a contiguous, multi-building teaching and research complex. Photo: Anthony Alvarez

A New Front Door to the Sciences at Rutgers-Newark

Facility broadens the university’s capacity as talent pipeline for women and minorities in science and enhances support for community-based research

Rutgers University-Newark celebrated the new Life Sciences Center (LSC II) on Thursday, November 2, with a  grand opening event for the $59 million, state-of-the-art, five-story science complex located on University Avenue in downtown Newark.

“It is such a grand day,” said Nancy Cantor, chancellor of Rutgers University-Newark, “and a grand facility that not only realizes the long-standing plans of the Rutgers-Newark STEM community, but it also opens so many new possibilities for our community to contribute to where Life Sciences innovation is moving going forward.”

LSC II is the front door to the sciences quad, a contiguous, multi-building teaching and research complex that is home to the departments of Biological Sciences, Chemistry and Earth and Environmental Sciences and the Center for Molecular and Behavioral Neuroscience (CMBN).

The 85,000-square-foot structure gives physical reality to interdisciplinary practice in the sciences linking Life Sciences I, built in 2005; Aidekman Hall, completed in 1991 (neuroscience); Boyden Hall, completed in the 1960s (biology and environmental sciences); and Olson Hall, completed in the early 1970s (chemistry).

“The Life Sciences Center is a focal point for the vibrant science programs on campus. The remarkable transformation of science facilities at Rutgers University-Newark over the years is the realization of a decades-long dream of the science faculty to have truly state of the art laboratories for both teaching and research that exposes Rutgers-Newark undergraduates to the way modern sciences are conducted,” said John Sheridan, senior associate dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences-Newark (FASN). Current faculty in the sciences garner upward of $13 million in external funding for research and teaching.

“It’s the knowledge spinout that drives the engine of the economy,” said Robert L. Barchi, president of Rutgers University. “It’s the students that are learning these new techniques, especially in the biological sciences and medical sciences that are going to stamp those new companies and lead them, and it’s the combined action of both of those that really drives the economy and business of the state.”

Rutgers University-Newark boasts highly regarded chemistry and psychology programs and leading programs in cell biology, ecology and evolution and environmental sciences. In addition, CMBN provides cutting-edge research in the neurosciences and has the premier research MRI facility in the northern part of the state, the Rutgers Brain Imaging Center (RUBIC) located in Aidekman Hall.

The five above-ground floors inside LSC II include: modern teaching laboratories for upper-level chemistry and biology courses; chemistry and biology research laboratories; and a 100-seat lecture hall with “smart classroom” capability, designed for active learning and student engagement. A state-of-the-art imaging and electron-microscopy facility is housed 27-feet below ground level.

LSC II will further broaden the university’s capacity to be New Jersey’s talent pipeline for first-generation, underrepresented and minority students in science and community-engaged research that has an impact in Greater Newark. “LSC II fulfills a commitment to research and teaching in the sciences made at Rutgers University-Newark more than half a century ago. We make a commitment to the future, to pass on to the next generation excellence in the sciences,” adds Jan Lewis, dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences.

The faculty at FASN have proven their ability to hire and mentor younger scientists in their fields.The FASN has 17 distinguished professors, the highest rank Rutgers bestows on professors, and 12 are in STEM fields. Additionally the science faculty has a Henry Rutgers Professor and a Henry Rutgers Term Chair in STEM, as well as an endowed chair in neuroscience and a distinguished service professor. About one-third of the faculty in the departments of Chemistry and Math and the Neuroscience Center are distinguished professors.

Rutgers University-Newark’s commitment and demonstrated success in training first-generation, underrepresented and minority students in STEM is further reflected in the array of longstanding funded programs.

Barry Komisaruk’s National Institutes of Health Minority Biomedical Research Support grant for minority graduate students in the biomedical sciences has been funded continuously since 1984. Alec Gates’ Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation program (LSAMP), aimed at increasing the number of underrepresented students in non-medical STEM fields, has been funded continuously since 2009. The LSAMP grant has recently been supplemented by a $2.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation S-STEM, Sustainable Pathways from Community College to Bachelor’s Degree for Urban Youth in STEM, Northern New Jersey. And the Academic Foundations Center recently received a $1,160,000 grant to fund the preparation for graduate study, including in STEM, of undergraduates from first-generation, underrepresented and minority groups.

Rutgers Breaks Ground on New Nursing and Science Building in Camden

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie joined Rutgers President Robert Barchi, Rutgers–Camden Chancellor Wendell Pritchett, New Jersey State Sen. Donald Norcross, and Camden Mayor Dana Redd at a ceremonial groundbreaking for the construction of the new Nursing and Science Building at Rutgers University–Camden.

The Nursing and Science Building will be a state-of-the-art, $62.5 million teaching and research facility that will allow Rutgers to expand its ability to prepare a new generation of science and nursing leaders for New Jersey and the region. Supported by funds from the higher education bond referendum passed by New Jersey voters in November 2012, the 100,000-square-foot facility will be built at Fifth and Federal Streets in downtown Camden.

“Last year, I signed bipartisan legislation to transform higher education in New Jersey and create a stronger Rutgers that will compete for the best students in New Jersey and around the country,” said Christie. “Today’s Nursing and Science Building groundbreaking here at Rutgers–Camden is the latest expansion of opportunity for Rutgers to attract top tier students and faculty at innovative, state-of-the art facilities and laboratories. I congratulate both Rutgers and the city of Camden on this facility that will foster the next generation of nursing professionals in the Garden State.”

“This building is important both for what it is and for what it signifies,” said Rutgers President Robert Barchi.

“When completed in 2016 this building will provide the cutting-edge technology, research lab space, and classrooms that will place our graduates among the best trained in the nation,” Barchi said.

“What this building signifies is the expanding commitment of the university and our partners to the Rutgers–Camden campus, the City of Camden and, indeed, the entire South Jersey region,” Barchi added.

The new building will expand Rutgers’ footprint in Camden by creating a corridor that will connect Camden’s University District (which includes the Rutgers–Camden campus) with the neighborhood populated by Cooper University Hospital, the Coriell Institute for Medical Research, and the Cooper Medical School of Rowan University.

“Rutgers–Camden is committed to promoting educational advancement and economic development throughout the region,” said Rutgers–Camden Chancellor Wendell Pritchett. “The construction of this Nursing and Science Building means that Rutgers students and faculty will have a world-class facility that will match their own ambitions and excellence. The location of this building represents Rutgers’ commitment to helping Camden build its reputation as a center for the health sciences and the biosciences. We look forward to the many opportunities for collaboration that this new building will nurture.”

The Rutgers–Camden Nursing and Science Building will be financed, in part, by proceeds from the “Building Our Future Bond Act,” a $750 million loan and grant program overwhelmingly approved by voters in a ballot referendum last November. The referendum was sponsored by New Jersey Senate President Steve Sweeney and supported by New Jersey State Sen. Donald Norcross.

“Today’s groundbreaking is what the Higher Education Restructuring Act and the Higher Ed Bond Act of 2012 were designed for, and we’re already seeing their effects throughout South Jersey,” said Norcross. “We are giving our institutions the resources they need to expand and meet the demands of the future. This new nursing school will create more opportunities for our students to get the quality education they deserve close to home. Rutgers–Camden continues to strengthen its partnership with the city and act as an economic engine for our region.”

“I am thrilled that Rutgers–Camden, my alma mater, continues grow and expand its presence right here in Camden,” Redd said. “Today’s groundbreaking further symbolizes our new identity as the regional center for the eds and meds. I thank all our partners who worked hard to make this day a reality and I look forward to celebrating the opening of the new Rutgers–Camden Nursing and Science Building.”

Scheduled for occupancy in fall 2016, the Rutgers–Camden Nursing and Science Building will serve as the primary research and teaching facility for students and faculty in the areas of biology, chemistry, computational and integrative biology, nursing, and physics at the undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral levels.

The building will serve more than 1,000 nursing students in undergraduate and graduate programs. It will also support students in Rutgers–Camden’s Ph.D. in computational and integrative biology program and its doctor of nursing practice (DNP) program. The facility will include classrooms, computer labs, conference rooms, lecture halls, student work and study stations, and administrative offices.

Construction is expected to begin during late spring 2014. Architectural design will be provided by H2L2 Architects in Philadelphia. Cooper’s Ferry Partnership in Camden will assist with the project.