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OSU's Global Impact
OSU's Global Impact - Tue, 05/21/2013 - 5:05pm
Barely a century has passed since Louis Pasteur developed a vaccination for rabies. Since then, scientists have discovered treatments for some of the worst human scourges: smallpox, tuberculosis, polio and influenza. Much of their success can be traced to experiments on animals under circumstances that would shock us today.
Pasteur learned about rabies by infecting guinea pigs, rabbits and dogs with the invariably fatal disease. In the 20th century, the search for a polio vaccine took the lives of millions of monkeys (rhesus macaques). AIDS researchers still rely on monkeys to understand how the immune system responds to HIV and why some (sooty mangabeys) harbor the virus but never develop the disease.
In her book, Experimenting with Humans and Animals, From Galen to Animal Rights (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003), Anita Guerrini tells the story of the scientists whose achievements transformed medical care and of the controversies that erupted around the use of animals for science. “It’s about how this theme traces through the Western tradition and enters into the history of medicine,” says Guerrini, a historian and Horning Professor in the Humanities at Oregon State University.
Advances in medical knowledge and the debate over human and animal rights go back to ancient Greece and Rome. They surface again in 17th century England, a time “when dancing bears, bears fighting with dogs, cockfighting and all manner of cat torture were commonplace, and everyday cruelty to animals was the rule rather than the exception,” writes Guerrini.Scientists such as William Harvey, Robert Boyle and Robert Hooke experimented on insects, rabbits, birds, fish, deer and dogs (Harvey even dissected the dead bodies of his wife’s dearly loved parrot and his own father) in the name of science. Harvey’s success in describing the circulatory system “brought animal experimentation into the forefront as a scientific method,” Guerrini adds.
Guerrini traces the philosophical roots of arguments for and against vivisection (the cutting of live animals) and of the trade-off between suffering and knowledge. For example, Rene Descartes argued that animals lack souls and can’t suffer in the way that humans can, but few accepted this argument.
England passed the first national law to regulate animal research in 1876. It took the United States 90 years to follow suit with the Animal Welfare Act. “Up to then, we had always trusted scientists to do the right thing,” Guerrini says. In 1985, universities and other organizations were required to establish institutional animal care and use committees (IACUC) to enforce higher standards of inspection and care. Those years also saw the rise of citizen activism through groups such as the Animal Liberation Front and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.
Before coming to Oregon State in 2008, Guerrini served on the IACUC at the University of California, Santa Barbara. She is now a member of OSU’s IACUC.
In her own research, Guerrini is completing a book on anatomical research in pre-French Revolution Paris and looking at urban animals in pre-modern Paris and London.
OSU's Global Impact - Tue, 05/21/2013 - 4:57pm
Babies don’t wait for you to get your master’s degree. They arrive on their own schedules and change your life. Drew Arnold learned that lesson when he became a father. He also found that sleep comes in a distant third to family and education.
In 2010, he began a graduate program in mechanical engineering at Oregon State University. He wanted to work on innovative, high-risk projects that solve problems and push technology in new directions. So for his thesis, he aimed to reduce injury risk for chainsaw users. The problem is called “kickback” and happens when the tip of a fast-moving chain accidentally hits an object and lurches toward the user’s face. Chainsaw injuries now send about 36,000 Americans to the emergency room every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Arnold combined a miniature gyroscope with other sensors to create a brake that would stop the chain more rapidly than the mechanical devices used on most saws today.
When baby Claire entered the world, she shifted priorities for Drew and his wife Ashleigh. Education became more than progress toward a degree and an engineering career. It became a stepping stone toward a secure future for their daughter.
Personal and professional lives overlap. Take two other examples from this issue of Terra. Ruth Milston-Clements is on-call 24/7 for the care of laboratory fish. The phone might wake her from a deep sleep or interrupt dinner for her family. Scott Ashford, an earthquake engineer, understands what will happen when the next major quake hits the Northwest. He worries about the safety of his own family as well as the future of communities across the region.
Drew Arnold now works as a product engineer for one of Oregon’s most respected manufacturers, Blount International in Portland. His job is demanding, but the Arnold family also enjoys company-sponsored Easter egg hunts, barbecues and other activities. Moreover, through the Oregon State University Advantage program, Blount sharpens its competitive edge with research by Oregon State engineers. The company’s long-term success rides on the shoulders of such partnerships and on the babies who are our future.
OSU's Global Impact - Tue, 05/21/2013 - 4:41pm
The last great earthquake to strike the Pacific Northwest occurred on January 26, 1700, at about 9 p.m. Parts of the coastline dropped three to six feet in an instant. It set off landslides throughout the Oregon Coast Range. Some of them are still moving. If you could hear soil, rocks and trees creep inch-by-inch downhill, some of those sounds would echo that massive jolt. At sea, it generated tsunamis that reshaped the Northwest coastline, traveled across the Pacific and swept through bays and coastal communities in Japan.
Scientists know that this scenario has happened repeatedly in the last 10,000 years and will do so again. Oregon State University geologist Chris Goldfinger calculates the chance of a major quake at 40 percent in the next 50 years off the southern Oregon coast. The frequency decreases as you move north, but the nearly 800-mile Cascadia subduction zone, where these quakes originate, could rupture anywhere. The last one wiped out villages. The next one will threaten cities and bring a regional economy to its knees.
Nevertheless, for most of us, the threat seems as likely as getting hit by lightning. We know it could happen, but we don’t take it seriously. It feels remote. “The paradigm shift among the citizens of the Northwest has not yet taken place,” says Bob Yeats, emeritus professor of geology at Oregon State and author of Living with Earthquakes in the Pacific Northwest.
As recently as 30 years ago, most scientists didn’t think a major quake could happen here. But, says Yeats in an upcoming book, evidence from coastal marshes, seafloor canyons, GPS monitoring stations and native traditions tell a compelling story: The western edge of North America is locked against another part of the Earth’s crust, the Juan de Fuca Plate, which is diving beneath us. Like wrestlers in mortal combat, they occasionally break their hold on each other and lurch into a new position. Geologists have given such events a name right out of Saturday night wrestling — “megathrust.” When it happens, the landscape vibrates like a bass drum. Seismic waves pulse through the crust for three minutes or more. Some types of soil liquefy and spread out. Bridge and building foundations get pushed out of alignment. Other soils could amplify the shaking from below, subjecting buildings, especially high-rises, to even more violent motion.
Scott Ashford has seen the consequences of these quakes in Chile, Japan and New Zealand: buildings and bridges tilted and broken like toys, beachfront tourist towns reduced to rubble, pipelines squeezed out of the ground like toothpaste out of a tube, businesses closed or forced to relocate.
“Many of Oregon’s lifeline providers have shared research needs, whether it’s to improve our ground motion predictions, to assess liquefaction potential of Oregon soils or to develop retrofit technologies for our legacy systems.”
— Matthew L. Garrett, Director, Oregon Department of Transportation
The Oregon State Kearney Professor of Engineering is determined to soften the blow when Oregon’s turn arrives. In 2010, after viewing damage from a megathrust quake in Chile, Ashford developed the idea for the Cascadia Lifelines Program, a consortium of Oregon businesses, government agencies and universities. The goal is to save lives and to shorten the time it will take for the state and the nation to recover.
“If you look at the effect on the people and at recovery, a key part of our resilience is lifelines,” Ashford says. “Electric power, natural gas, transportation systems, telecommunications, drinking water, sewer. And critical facilities like the Port of Portland and the Portland International Airport. All of these lifeline providers have common challenges to prepare for this next earthquake. None by itself has the financial ability to fund the research necessary. My vision is to pursue research of common interest to develop cost-effective solutions to mitigate the Cascadia earthquake.”
Members of the consortium already include the Oregon Department of Transportation, Portland General Electric, NW Natural (Northwest Natural Gas), the Port of Portland, the Portland Water Bureau and the Bonneville Power Administration. Ashford is lining up others as well. Among their concerns are building standards, landslides, communications and recovery strategies. But first up on their research agenda is an Oregon State study of soil liquefaction, the phenomenon that compounds the damage caused by seismic shaking.
Soils are often named for the places where they’re found. California’s state soil is called San Joaquin. In Washington, Tokul soil is named after a community in King County. Oregon’s state soil is Jory, named for a hill in Marion County where a family of that name settled in 1852. For geotechnical engineers, another local soil poses a potential risk in a megathrust earthquake: Willamette silt.
With a texture midway between sand and clay, this remnant of the ancient Missoula Floods underlies much of the Willamette Valley. From McMinnville nearly to Eugene, bridge piers, roads (I-5, U.S. Highway 99) and pipelines run through or on top of Willamette silt. It carries railroad tracks and electric transmission lines. Large parts of Salem sit on it, as do Albany, Corvallis and Sweet Home. It is up to 130 feet deep in some places.
“We don’t really know anything about how Willamette silt responds to earthquakes,” says Ben Mason, an assistant professor of civil engineering at Oregon State. What he does know is that, as soils go, it doesn’t take much water for it to change from being dry and crumbly to taking on the properties of a liquid. “It has a low plasticity index. What that means is that it can liquefy during an earthquake,” he says. At least theoretically.
To find out for sure, Mason has collected Willamette silt from the Oregon State campus. Last winter, he and a colleague, Li Zheng from the Nanjing Hydraulic Research Institute in China (Li wants to know how earthen dams will perform during an earthquake), placed soil samples the size of hockey pucks in a device that simulates conditions deep underground. They subjected the samples to repeated, precisely controlled cycles of shaking. As a piston shook the sample, simulating seismic waves, sensors measured changes in volume and in water pressure inside the soil.
As the shaking continued, “the water pressure builds up, builds up and builds up and eventually the soil will act like a liquid,” says Mason. “And that’s when we say liquefaction happens.” In effect, he explains, soil structure breaks down, water oozes from pores where it had been bound and the soil turns into a mass with the consistency of pea soup.
We can see liquefaction in action when we walk on a beach, Mason adds. “If you run, you cause these minor liquefaction events. It’s a very dynamic load hitting the sand.” Water is forced out from between the grains and pools briefly on the surface. In contrast, water underground has nowhere to go. As Mason’s experiments show, pressure rises. The question is: Will it get high enough to trigger liquefaction? If it does and the soil happens to be on a slope, it can spread out, jeopardizing any structure that is in the way, such as a bridge pier, building foundation or pipeline.
Mason’s experiments are the first to be supported by Cascadia Lifelines Program funding. His lab is one of the few on the West Coast with the ability to subject soils to a wide range of precisely controlled earthquakes. His “cyclic simple shear” device can be programmed to mimic seismic waves with varying duration and strength. With accurate information about Willamette silt, engineers will be able to design structures that can minimize the damage from the possibility of soil movement caused by liquefaction. Engineering firms are already contacting him to test soil samples for project design purposes.
Buildings and Bridges
Most schools, city halls, bridges, commercial buildings and other structures in Oregon were built before the possibility of big earthquakes was taken seriously. “We don’t know how these buildings will perform (in an earthquake),” says Andre Barbosa, an Oregon State structural engineer. “We have a very rough idea. We know by year and type of construction, whether this or that building may behave well or not so well. But we don’t really know.”
Because seismic stresses were not even recognized in the state’s building codes until 1974, our infrastructure and architectural heritage are highly vulnerable. According to the Oregon Resilience Plan, a report produced by the Oregon Seismic Safety Policy Advisory Commission (OSSPAC) in 2013, nearly half of 2,193 schools assessed in the state have a high to very high potential for collapse. More than a third of the 2,567 bridges in the state highway system were built with no seismic considerations. All nine of Portland’s bridges over the Willamette were built before seismic codes were in force, although some have been strengthened.
But estimating vulnerability is only the start, says Barbosa, who specializes in structural performance in earthquakes. Engineers also need to evaluate strategies for retrofitting old structures and improving standards for new construction. Toward that end, Barbosa conducts experiments on building and bridge components in the Oregon State structures lab, which boasts the second-largest “strong floor” on the West Coast. It allows researchers to simulate earthquake forces up to 1 million pounds on frames up to two stories high. In a project for the Oregon Department of Transportation, Barbosa is evaluating the performance of high-strength reinforcing steel (aka “rebar”) to resist long-duration shaking.
That fills an important need in the Northwest where subduction zone earthquakes are likely to last three to five minutes or more. In contrast, crustal earthquakes, such as those along the famed San Andreas Fault in California, typically last 30 seconds or less. The difference adds up to higher demands on buildings, especially where the frequency of the seismic waves matches a structure’s internal characteristics.
“The main objective of our modern building codes is life safety,” Barbosa adds. “We design structures so that people can evacuate in case of strong shaking. The structure can vibrate back and forth, but it is designed not to collapse. That’s the life safety design approach.”
In addition to living in earthquake country, Barbosa has a personal connection to such events. He grew up in Lisbon, Portugal, which suffered a cataclysmic earthquake and tsunami in 1755. Geologists now estimate that it approached the strength of the 1700 megathrust earthquake in the Pacific Northwest. Since then, Portugal and the Northwest have experienced thousands of smaller quakes centered in local faults, but there have been no large events of the kind seen recently in Chile and Japan. “The problems we have in Portugal are the same as we have here in Oregon,” he says. “The return period for large earthquakes is very long. People just don’t remember.”
Nevertheless, Oregon is taking a leadership role in planning. Elsewhere, agencies and regions (the San Francisco Bay Area) have developed a holistic approach to resilience, but Oregon is the first to do so at the state level. “Through OSSPAC,” says Barbosa, “Oregon is doing something that is amazing.”
When Michael Olsen pulls up a map of the Oregon Coast Range on his computer, he sees wide swaths of red dots. Each one represents landslide-prone areas identified through the highly accurate lens of a remote sensing technology known as LIDAR (“light detection and ranging”). The Oregon State civil engineer and Hoffman Faculty Scholar specializes in the emerging field of geomatics, which is land surveying on steroids. Geomatics practitioners analyze landscapes by combining remote sensing data (from the ground, the air or planetary orbit) and large spatial datasets for soils, vegetation, precipitation, streams and other features.
In the Coast Range, Olsen and his graduate students are assembling LIDAR data and layering it with what engineers know about the terrain. Working with the Oregon Department of Transportation, their goal is to estimate the likelihood of earthquake-triggered landslides near highways that link the I-5 corridor with coastal communities.
These mountains might be beautiful, but Olsen’s picture isn’t pretty. “The Coast Range consists of very loose soils that are of very poor quality. They don’t have a lot of strength to them,” he says. In an emergency, “barriers along these lifeline corridors would be a big problem. Even a small landslide can close down a road for a day or two.”
And it doesn’t take much to start Coast Range soils moving. Based on the locations of previous slides and knowledge of soil types, it appears that slopes as low as 10 to 15 percent are vulnerable to sliding. “That isn’t that much. It’s pretty scary that it’s that low,” Olsen says.
Landslides are hardly a new phenomenon in Oregon, but they are more common in some years than in others. The winter storms of 1996-97 generated an estimated 9,500 landslides, mostly in western Oregon. Scientists at the Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries (DOGAMI) have calculated that, while economic losses exceed $10 million in a typical year, they exceeded $100 million that winter.
Although all Coast Range roads pass through slide-prone terrain, some may be less vulnerable and easier to re-open than others. Such information, says Olsen, will help ODOT prioritize roads for earthquake recovery purposes.
A Statewide Effort
By coordinating these and other research investments, Cascadia Lifelines meets an important need for state agencies and utility companies and fills a critical niche in statewide preparedness efforts. Spurred by the state Legislature, scientists, utility companies and agencies are evaluating risks and identifying solutions to mitigate the most significant impacts of the next megathrust earthquake. Schools and other public buildings have been assessed, and retrofits have begun. Roadways are being ranked for vulnerability to landslides and bridge failures. On the coast, evacuation routes are being marked to help coastal residents and visitors escape the tsunami zone.
“Given the nature and wide-ranging impact of seismic activity, it is appropriate that a consortium of organizations engaged in building, operating and maintaining critical infrastructure in Oregon could work together to identify and address concerns about improving seismic resilience.”
— Grant Yoshihara, Vice President, NW Natural
In 2011, Oregon’s Earthquake Commission (aka the Oregon Seismic Safety Policy Advisory Commission or OSSPAC) assembled experts to lay out the risks and recommend a series of steps for the next 50 years. It released a final report — The Oregon Resilience Plan — last February. “The broad picture of what needs to be done is pretty straightforward,” says Ian Madin, chief scientist for DOGAMI and an Oregon State alum who helped to lead the planning. “We need to strengthen our infrastructure so that it physically resists the effects of the earthquake, so that it is either undamaged or easily repairable.”
Engineers know how to design earthquake-resilient structures, say Madin and Ashford. They can “harden” foundation soils to resist liquefaction and construct bridges and buildings that can survive shaking. Such measures carry a stiff price tag, but the return on investment can be positive. For example, says Ashford, after the earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand, earthquake preparedness steps saved $10 for $1 spent.
Power to Recover
Ultimately, recovery is about more than engineering. It is about assistance for a traumatized citizenry, strategies for keeping small businesses afloat, security to prevent looting, radio systems that will work after cell-phone towers and land lines go down and policies that allow restoration projects to be fast-tracked. In Chile, Ashford adds, electricity was crucial for recovery efforts. Water pumps in rural areas, for example, couldn’t even be tested until power was restored. In New Zealand, homeowners insure against earthquakes as well as fire.
The government helped businesses get back on their feet by creating a temporary mall out of shipping containers. Grants kept paychecks flowing to employees who otherwise would have qualified for unemployment. Some businesses provided food and fuel to employees’ families so that workers could focus on the job of rebuilding without worrying if their loved-ones were safe.
Individuals need to prepare as well. “I’m a big believer in personal responsibility,” says Ashford. He has installed an electrical generator port on his home, keeps extra medication on hand and fills his truck’s fuel tank when it hits half empty. “Every family needs to be prepared to be on their own for a few days. Every community needs to be prepared to be on its own. If you are expecting the government to come in immediately with assistance, it may take many days or weeks for that help to arrive.”
OSU's Global Impact - Tue, 05/21/2013 - 1:15pm
Like the auto industry, trucking companies are looking for new ways to cut fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. A partnership between Oregon State University and Daimler Trucks North America is making inroads by developing an 18-wheeler that combines high strength for heavy payloads and increased fuel efficiency for sustainable performance.
Part of the Super Truck program funded by the U.S. Department of Energy and Daimler, this effort already has yielded promising early results: a prototype carbon-fiber chassis rail and an innovative design for cruise control. The partnership began in 2009 when Daimler contacted John Parmigiani, a research assistant professor in Oregon State’s School of Mechanical, Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering (MIME), seeking ideas. Daimler is the leading commercial truck manufacturer in North America.
Parmigiani led a research project to replace the rails, key chassis components that run from front to back, with lighter materials. By using carbon fiber — the same material used for rocket nose cones — instead of steel, Daimler achieved significant weight reduction.
“Carbon fiber is a great material to use. The weight difference is amazing.”
— John Parmigiani
The partnership with Oregon State was a positive experience, says Derek Rotz, a senior manager in advanced engineering for Daimler — so positive, in fact, that the company hired Brian Benson, one of the graduate students who worked on the project.
“We learned a lot about the design,” Rotz adds. “There still needs to be more work done before we put the carbon fiber rails into mass production, because they are more expensive.”
The next step will be to integrate the rails into a production prototype. Headquartered in Portland, Daimler Trucks North America manufactured 141,000 vehicles in 2012. Its brands include Freightliner, Western Star, Freightliner Custom Chassis, Thomas Built Buses and Detroit.
In a separate project, MIME professor Kagan Tumer used “intelligent systems” to create an adaptive cruise control that improves fuel efficiency.
THE OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY ADVANTAGE delivers bottom-line benefits for business through access to career-ready graduates and world-class research. To discover what the Venture Accelerator and the Industry Partnership Program can do for your business, contact Ron Adams, Executive Associate Vice President for Research, Oregon State University, A312 Kerr Administration Building, Corvallis, OR 97331, 541-737-7722.
OSU's Global Impact - Tue, 05/21/2013 - 1:06pm
Adapting to climate change requires two key things: good data and boots on the ground. As oceans rise, icecaps melt, snowpack diminishes, wildfires rage and aquifers dry up, coupling science to action becomes ever more urgent. But the barriers to linking science to practical action are formidable, often springing from deep disparities in worldview among researchers and “information users,” says Oregon State sociologist Denise Lach. Scientists and decision makers, she notes, may hold “different notions of truth and knowledge.”
Breaking through these barriers is the intent behind a pilot project in Idaho’s Big Wood River Basin, where a diverse group of local stakeholders has been meeting regularly with OSU climate and social scientists to talk about and plan for climate-driven changes in water quality and availability. Convening and hosting this “knowledge-to-action network” is the Climate Impacts Research Consortium (CIRC) based at Oregon State. By fall, the network will have developed and analyzed alternative scenarios based on climate models, land-use practices and population growth.
OSU's Global Impact - Tue, 05/21/2013 - 12:58pm
Over the next 10 years, Oregon State University will be at the forefront of a ship building project that will “revitalize and transform” coastal-ocean science in the United States, says oceanographer and former U.S. Navy and NOAA administrator Rick Spinrad, the university’s vice president of research. OSU has been designated as the lead institution for the design, building and launching of as many as three state-of-the-art research vessels funded by the National Science Foundation.
Officials expect the vessels to be positioned on the East Coast, the West Coast and the Gulf Coast, depending on research needs and available funds. The 175-foot vessels will be “floating, multi-use laboratories” that are “more seaworthy and environmentally green” than previous research vessels, says Mark Abbott, dean of the College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences. The first ship will hit the water in 2019 or 2020.
OSU's Global Impact - Tue, 05/21/2013 - 11:49am
As you sip your favorite Oregon wine, do you ever wonder what happened to the discarded remains of those luscious grapes? Typically, the seeds, skins and stems from the nation’s 4 million tons of wine grapes have been tossed out — until now.
The pulpy leftovers of juicing and crushing, called “pomace,” are finding their way into products as diverse as gluten-free muffins, biodegradable flowerpots and edible food wrappings, thanks to Oregon State Extension researcher Yanyun Zhao and cereal chemist Andrew Ross. Loaded with antioxidants and dietary fiber, pomace also controls bacteria and preserves fats, making it versatile as well as nutritious.
“We now know that pomace can be a sustainable source of material for a wide range of goods,” says Zhao.
OSU's Global Impact - Tue, 05/21/2013 - 11:34am
Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), sometimes referred to as “drones,” have been the focus of recent international attention because of their military use. However, these systems also have many domestic uses that are practical and benign and should be embraced for their potential to save money and lives.
UAVs are an emerging industry that Oregon can help lead, and the state would be wise to support it. Oregon State University has formed a consortium with industry, government and others to develop the use of these aerial systems, a potential multi-billion dollar job growth engine that will also provide significant benefits to society.
Under a mandate from Congress, the Federal Aviation Administration will establish several test sites for UAVs by 2015, and one of those sites could be in Oregon. Our state offers a unique combination of research excellence, varied terrain, relevant industry and local applications in agriculture and forestry.
There’s not much that UAVs can do that a pilot in a small plane couldn’t do, but they can do it more safely and at much lower cost. UAVs can monitor and help manage wildfires or support a search and rescue mission. They can help forest-product industries plant trees to avoid wind or heat damage. They can monitor wildlife, improve irrigation, detect crop-disease outbreaks and gauge environmental health.
Decades of experience in remote sensing have drawn OSU to this venture. Our oceanographers use NASA satellites to monitor global phytoplankton productivity and identify harmful algal blooms. We use optical remote sensing to detect earthquake faults, assess wildfire impacts on forests and measure tsunami inundation patterns. We have instruments on the International Space Station to study shoals and ocean shores.
We have already formed the OSU Unmanned Vehicle System Research Consortium to bring a national UAV test center to Oregon. The business and job potential is high. With more than 300 companies and nearly 7,000 employees, Oregon’s aviation sector sees UAV technology as a natural extension of industry within our state that already is building helicopters, small aircraft and aviation components. OSU and industry partners n-Link and Prioria have conducted the state’s first FAA-sanctioned mission – a UAV flight over McDonald Forest near Corvallis that provided live video of the research forest.
We recognize that the transition toward the civilian benefits of UAVs has raised privacy concerns. Protection from prying cameras where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy is a legitimate concern, legally protected by current law and the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
This technology will be developed somewhere in the United States. Because of Oregon’s comprehensive scientific and industry experience, and our state’s ideal geography, we can choose to be a leader in this exciting venture. That choice would be good for Oregon business, industry, researchers, workers and our environment.
OSU's Global Impact - Tue, 05/21/2013 - 11:27am
The widespread availability of knowledge is a key element of Oregon State’s land grant mission. Since 2006, OSU Libraries and Press has maintained a publicly available repository (ScholarsArchive@OSU) of scientific papers and student theses and dissertations. This archive — and ones like it at other universities — could be a cost-effective solution for a new federal initiative to make more research information available to the public.
Traditional channels of scholarly publication preclude access by the general public who, in the case of state and federally funded research, paid the bills. Journals that charge an annual subscription fee restrict information to those who are affiliated with institutions that can pay the fee. Costs vary widely but can be as much as $20,000 a year or more.
Recognizing the continued role of publishers and the need to facilitate public access, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) issued a policy memorandum on February 22. It directs federal agencies with more than $100 million in annual research and development expenditures to work with stakeholders to make articles and research data associated with federally funded research freely available to the public within 12 months of publication.
The OSTP policy directive is a significant milestone for public access to scholarship. It benefits OSU researchers by increasing the readership and impact of their scholarship. It also provides accountability to the public by enhancing access to the scholarship they funded.
In fiscal year 2012, OSU researchers received more than $176 million in funding from federal agencies. What the OSTP directive means for these scientists will depend on agency requirements still in development, but the existing National Institutes of Health (NIH) public access policy may serve as a model to other agencies. The NIH requires articles that result from NIH funding to be available in the freely accessible PubMed Central database within 12 months of publication. While individual agencies are charged with developing policies, the memorandum does encourage interagency cooperation in order to make the processes and, potentially, the systems uniform.
ScholarsArchive@OSU already provides access to thousands of faculty and student articles and was recently ranked seventh among U.S. single institution repositories. The use of institutional repositories to preserve and make federally funded research available to the public has several benefits. It leverages infrastructure that is largely in place, and it enables institutions to monitor and ensure policy compliance for their own authors.
For scholars, access to the work of their peers is fundamental to the advancement of research. Making well-organized research data more widely available encourages reuse and supports inter- and intra-disciplinary collaboration. It also enables the private sector to leverage public research and invest in and develop new products and services.
Last year, the National Science Foundation began requiring the inclusion of data management plans as part of grant proposals. The Oregon State University Libraries and Press supports OSU faculty in meeting this and other federal data requirements. Our services are likely to evolve to support new agency requirements that result from the directive.
Editor’s note: Michael Boock is head of Oregon State’s Center for Digital Scholarship and and associate professor with OSU Libraries and Press
OSU's Global Impact - Tue, 05/21/2013 - 10:53am
In tune with nature’s seasonal shadings, nomads once roamed across the grasslands of Inner Mongolia on China’s northern frontier. For generations, bands of herders moved across the landscape — matching the dietary needs of livestock to the cycles of plants, striking an ecological and cultural balance.
But that ancient pattern is teetering, warns Oregon State graduate anthropology student Tom Conte, who lived with a group of herders while he studied their changing way of life. Pressure from encroaching modernization is threatening traditional patterns of migration and collaboration, he concludes. The grasslands that stretch forever under an endless sky are also stressed. The longtime symbiosis between grazing and growing, which mutually benefited lifeways, livestock and landscapes, is badly frayed.
Less Grass, More Sand
Bumping along a dirt track, it takes 45 minutes to reach houses outside the tiny village of Dashimo, where Conte stayed while interviewing herders for his master’s thesis. The sparsely populated landscape gives the impression of boundless space, a foreign sensation to a guy of Italian ancestry raised in the Bronx. “There’ve been times in history when an Italian has met with Mongolians — Marco Polo and Kublai Khan, for example,” he jokes. “This is more Joe Pesci than Marco Polo.”
The ground that surrounds Dashimo reveals a troubling ecological process that’s stripping vegetation from arid lands in Inner Mongolia and elsewhere around the world: desertification. Dashimo’s once-lush sea of grass is giving way to sand. A symptom of land privatization — a land-use policy implemented by the Chinese government in the 1970s — desert encroachment is undermining the livelihoods and traditions of herders, according to Conte.
“It’s important to study these things because they’re disappearing,” he says.“Studies show the desert expands more than 10,000 square kilometers a year in China.”
The issues surrounding grassland degradation are complex in this remote region, home mainly to ethnic Mongolians and a minority of Han Chinese (As a whole, Han Chinese comprise about 80 percent of Inner Mongolia’s population of almost 25 million). The herders are being pushed aside to make way for industrialization, mining and privatization, Conte explains.
“Originally the land was managed collectively, until the Chinese government decided to privatize,” he says. “Privatization worked really well in terms of agriculture. But pastoralism is different. Privately managed land has led to widespread degradation of the grassland. Animals eat everything, and the desert expands.”
It’s a tense issue in China. In 2011, a herder was killed by a coal truck as he was trying to stop a mining convoy that was driving across prairie land. His death sparked the biggest wave of demonstrations Inner Mongolia had seen in decades. The region is China’s largest coal producer. It’s also the largest supplier of rare-earth metals in the world — materials that end up in products consumed in the West, like smart phones, solar panels and wind turbines.
Many herders began settling about 20 years ago as the government forced them onto single plots of land that fail to meet all their animals’ needs. Families that once cooperated are now living separately. While some rent additional land where they can move their animals, the land policy, overall, spurs dangerous overgrazing, Conte says. “If you stay in one place, you exhaust the resources.”
But overgrazing is just one outcome of settlement. Another is the loss of traditional kin-based ties that bound herders and enabled cooperation in moving livestock to prime forage, a problem Conte is addressing in his research. “Herders believe that ecological degradation has increased and cooperation has decreased,” he sums up.
Lessons from America
The danger to the herders’ culture, as well as to the land, mirrors our own history, argues Bryan Tilt, Conte’s thesis adviser and an associate professor of anthropology. “The situation of minority populations in China is not unlike the American Indian story,” Tilt says. “Only in folks of this region, the changes are much more recent. There is an element of culture loss that’s happening.”
“We know a lot of people think the nomadic lifestyle is romantic because herders are tied to the land,” Conte says. “But it’s not just romantic. There are concrete data showing that the ways the people manage land is sustainable. And better. Different animals — goats, sheep, camels, horses, yaks — have different water and plant species preferences given the season. A lot of traditional ecological knowledge went into the decision of where to move and when.”
All of the herders Conte interviewed — those who have settled as well as those who still migrate — are feeling the strain in an altered landscape. “You can’t work with people and not have a sense of empathy or wanting to effect change for the better.”
OSU's Global Impact - Tue, 05/21/2013 - 9:25am
Pending approval by the State Legislature, Oregon State plans to create an inspiring teaching laboratory and promote active learning in a new classroom building. Planned by Boora Architects in Portland, the new facility has been designed with faculty input and includes:
- A 600-seat arena classroom in the round
- A parliamentary-style room where students face each other across an aisle
- Lecture halls in which teachers can easily reach every seat
- Flexible seating arrangements that allow students to work in groups
- Space for three programs that develop and support new learning strategies — the Center for Teaching and Learning, Technology Across the Curriculum and Media Services — and room to demonstrate new concepts for student engagement
OSU's Global Impact - Mon, 05/20/2013 - 4:49pm
Why would binoculars be an essential tool for a scholar of Renaissance literature during a study tour of Europe? What does crawling around on a castle floor have to do with researching the writings of Shakespeare and Spenser? Why would a professor of 15th- and 16th-century poetry and drama desperately need a therapeutic massage after a day of intense investigation? The answer is tapestries.
Massive, intricate, otherworldly weavings called “arras” were commissioned by European royals and nobles to adorn the walls of their palaces and estates. Peopled with life-sized figures depicting scripture, myth and legend as well as hunting, falconry and winemaking, they brought color and life to drab, drafty halls. But adornment was only part of the purpose of these colossal works of art, says Rebecca Olson, who has spent more than a decade studying their role in literature and, by extension, in Renaissance society. They also reinforced power and inspired loyalty by evoking tradition and royal status.
“I use the analogy of Kindles and e-readers and how they retain some of the elements of an actual book.”
— Rebecca Olson
“These tapestries were everywhere,” says Olson, an assistant professor in the Oregon State University School of Writing, Literature and Film. “Besides the magnificent large-scale hangings, there were smaller, cheaper versions adorning humbler settings. They were as ubiquitous as TV is today. They had practical uses, educational uses, political uses. You can’t really understand Renaissance literature unless you understand how they were used and how people thought about them.”
Crafted of wool and threaded with strands of silk, gold and silver, the most impressive tapestries sometimes unfurled 30 feet long and soared 15 feet high, all the better to awe, educate and even intimidate the viewer. Studying them can be a workout. Olson once slid herself along the cold stones of Hampton Court Palace to view the underside of an arras laid out on a rack for repairs. To examine details at the top, she often resorts to peering upward through a pair of binoculars. After days of scrutinizing every last detail, she can wind up with a serious crick.
“Just to look at them is very physical,” says Olson. “You’re moving because you can’t take them all in at once, so you’re craning your neck, you’re bending down, you’re walking up to look closely, you’re stepping back. My neck often hurts quite a bit.”
Stories from the Past
The first arras hangings she saw with her own eyes were in the banquet hall of England’s Hampton Court Palace. Even as frayed and faded as the massive tapestries were, she found them enchanting, particularly the heroic scenes depicting the labors of Hercules. The 500-year-old weavings felt like silent emissaries from Shakespeare’s era. As she gazed on them — realizing that the Bard’s contemporaries had sat among these very hangings eating, drinking and watching live actors perform — her arms prickled with goose bumps.
In the years since, she has discovered a rich — and largely overlooked — literary and historical presence for the arras, which she documents in her upcoming book, Arras Hanging: The Textile that Determined Modern Literature and Drama (University of Delaware Press, in press). The arras was, for instance, central to one of Shakespeare’s most dramatic scenes: Hamlet’s stabbing of Polonius. In Act III when Lord Polonius plots with Hamlet’s mother and stepfather to hide behind a tapestry to eavesdrop (“Behind the arras I’ll convey myself”), he makes a fatal mistake. Hamlet, hearing the hidden voice, thrusts his sword through the arras (translated as a “curtain” in some editions), killing Polonius.
“The idea of a prince damaging one of these very expensive tapestries really makes us wonder about Hamlet’s sanity in that scene,” Olson says. Modern audiences, she adds, would fail to grasp the import of his action without the historical context. “It’s like when a rock star smashes his expensive guitar. It has real shock value.”
In Book III of Edmund Spenser’s epic poem The Faerie Queen, one of the great classics of Renaissance literature, the writer devotes 18 stanzas to the virgin warrior Britomart’s night in a room draped floor to ceiling with arras tapestries (“For round about, the wals yclothed were With goodly arras of great majesty, Wouen with gold and silke…”). On the tapestries were bawdy scenes of debauchery and sensuality, which Spenser introduced to contrast with Britomart’s chastity.
Inspired to Reverence
For the rich and the royal, arras hangings were status symbols. They depicted ancient stories of valor and virtue. Often designed to inspire viewers to be braver and better, they also were instruments of political propaganda and puffery. King Henry VIII favored images of King David in an attempt to associate himself with the great biblical figure. Queen Elizabeth I lined her outer chambers with woven figures of small size, yet as the visitor proceeded toward her inner chambers, the figures got bigger and bigger. “They were supposed to make you feel smaller and smaller, so by the time you got to the queen you just felt tiny,” says Olson.
Olson’s research has taken her to the Tower of London and to the National Archives of the United Kingdom, where she scoured ancient ledgers and inventories for clues to ownership and transport of arras hangings. She also has found evidence that tapestries were used to teach a young prince about the Battle of Troy, and that queens gave birth in chambers swathed in weavings.
As important as the woven images is the literary symbolism embedded in the act of weaving. Olson points out that the words “text” and “textile” derive from the same Latin roots texo and texere — “weaving” or “to weave.” Even though the loom has largely disappeared from daily life, the metaphor (to weave a story, spin a tale, follow a narrative thread) has survived all these centuries, cropping up in our most advanced communications lingo (the Web, the Net, an email thread).
Just as many moderns cling nostalgically to bound books of paper and ink, Olson notes, medieval Europeans would have felt attached to stories told upon the tactile surface of a weaving, even as the printing press was beginning to push the technology.
OSU's Global Impact - Mon, 05/20/2013 - 3:42pm
Hybrids meet less often in actual classrooms, but when they do, their sessions resemble hands-on workshops where students solve problems and apply their knowledge. Done well, hybrids can improve learning and help students get more mileage out of education.
Nationally, college faculty have been experimenting with hybrid courses for many years, but they are only now gaining traction in standard curricula, says Kahn, an instructional designer for Oregon State University’s Extended Campus and the Center for Teaching and Learning. Test scores and grades show they are at least as effective as traditional classrooms. Moreover, they appear to help students prepare more effectively for class.
“Think of education as a whole — what is it? Is it just the transfer of information? If that’s the case, then Harvard has a problem, and all other universities have a problem too.”
— Eric Mazur, physicist, Harvard Magazine
“If you walk into classrooms today, you’re likely to see someone reading PowerPoint slides to students. In 10 years, if you walk around the hallways, you’ll see something substantially different,” says Kahn. “Nobody will be talking about hybrid courses. They will be the norm.”
Teaching in this fashion requires a sea change in academia. The hallowed “sage on the stage” tradition — an instructor who lectures uninterrupted for 50 minutes or more, students who sit passively and take notes — is giving way to a more interactive process leavened by Wi-Fi and the Web. The shift pushes against centuries of ingrained pedagogical practice, so Kahn leads OSU faculty members in their own course of study. Through collaborations that he calls Learning Communities, instructors are creating hybrid courses that fit their teaching styles and disciplines.
The move to hybrids is only one example of a broader trend at Oregon State. As one-way information delivery moves online, face-to-face classes are getting recharged. Students are engaging in debates, creating videos, building three-dimensional models, visualizing ideas and even reviewing each other’s exams. Instructors roam the room and vary the pace by challenging students to solve problems or address questions in small groups.
To advance this vision, a new classroom building is on the drawing boards, one that will offer unusual room arrangements and a hub for faculty who want to conduct research on new teaching methods (see “Flexibility to Learn” sidebar).
Jon Dorbolo directs Oregon State’s Technology Across the Curriculum program and was recognized by the Center for Digital Education (an educational research institute in Folsom,
California) last fall as one of 50 Top Innovators in Education. He works with faculty members on methods for stimulating student engagement. “Ultimately what we work for academically,” he says, “is for our students to see themselves as scholars. Not as passive recipients of information but as active scholars, researchers.”
Teaching, he adds, is an example of the scientific method in action. “Every lecture is a hypothesis. An instructor goes in there saying, ‘I’m going to communicate in this fashion, with the expectation that what I’m doing — the examples I’m giving, the analogies I’m using, what I’m drawing on the board, the questions I ask — is going to have an effect on the learner. If they (the students) pay attention and follow along with me, by the end of this, they ought to be different than they were before.’”
Measuring student learning is typically done through exams, which Dorbolo calls “this blunt and unsatisfying instrument.” Ultimately, evidence of teaching effectiveness, faculty members say, lies in the ability of students to think creatively and apply new knowledge.
The foundation for this new approach comes down to how people learn. “We have to allow the integration of knowledge,” says Kay Sagmiller, director of the OSU Center for Teaching and Learning. That requires active engagement in an environment in which students feel welcome, safe and confident. “Our challenge is to figure out how to open up the hearts and minds of those in the classroom to integrate what we offer into their existing knowledge,” she adds.
“Many faculty members don’t want to talk to a sea of faces. They prefer to engage with each person,” adds Dedra Demaree, assistant professor of physics who studies instructional methods in introductory courses. In her research, she has focused on how her own teaching affects student engagement. “My general philosophy is that I want to be able to quantify things so I can measure outcomes. But,” she says, “there are a lot of deep things you can’t get to by measurement.”
Classroom as Studio
While Demaree teaches first- and second-year students in lecture halls, she has also designed a classroom — a “physics studio” — that invites student participation. Instead of facing forward in rows, students work together at round tables. They get out of their seats to demonstrate concepts on electronic displays positioned around the room. A low-friction floor enables them to experiment with phenomena such as momentum and inertia.
With her graduate student team, Demaree analyzes videos of activity in class to understand what students actually do as she leads a discussion. She wants to know if they are disconnected or partially or fully engaged and how they are engaging in and interpreting discourse in the classroom. The team complements those analyses with interviews of students to delve deeply into the learning process.
Demaree’s group has shown that even small unintentional cues from the instructor can make a big difference for students. For example, in two separate sections of a class, Demaree gave two different messages about her expectations. “I told one section, ‘Remember this course is for everyone, even if you’ve never had physics before. We should all be able to reason through the process.’” To the other group, she said, “We started this on Friday and you should already know the answer.” Her explanation stimulated engagement in the first group and depressed it in the second. “The difference in engagement was phenomenal,” she says.
Pushing this educational shift, adds Kahn, is communication technology that students already know and trust. From laptops to smart phones to tablets, students have many opportunities to get information and exercise their brains. “Students are quite adept at accessing information. They’re going to use these devices no matter what. Why not try to get them to use those tools to accomplish the learning outcomes of the course? For better or worse,” he says, “they’re going to educate themselves.”
“In general,” says Sagmiller, “we underestimate how complex teaching and learning and assessment are. It’s exceedingly complex. It’s hard. Anybody who thinks it’s easy should stand up in a classroom of 600 undergraduates and give it a go and see how that feels. Or be held captive in a classroom with 35 kindergartners.”
Engagement Across the Curriculum
Many Oregon State faculty members are challenging their students in new ways. Here are a few examples from across campus.
Applets for Algebra. Scott Peterson wants students to think mathematically, not just to memorize formulas. He teaches introductory algebra, a fundamental course for most students. Online, he provides applets, software that allows students to visually perform mathematical tasks. Two of three weekly classes are spent in active exploration of algebraic concepts. In weekly lectures, he prompts students to discuss problems. He monitors conversations and tracks solutions through a rapid response system known as a clicker. He uses the results as a springboard for deeper discussion. About 2,000 OSU students take introductory algebra every year. Next fall, all sections are scheduled to adopt Peterson’s methods.
Roaming with an iPad. Devon Quick typically has 500 to 600 students in her introduction to human anatomy and physiology class. Like Peterson, she uses clickers, and she posts her lectures and other materials online for students to review. During class, she roams the room with an iPad. Using software from Doceri.com, she draws and manipulates images on a screen at the front of the room. She may hand the iPad to a student to demonstrate a concept. In surveys, 88 percent of her students have indicated that they like her use of the iPad and feel it makes the class more interactive.
Hybrid Versus Traditional. In two sections of Introduction to Psychology (300 or more students), Kathy Becker-Blease compared a hybrid to a traditional teaching approach. Each section used the same classroom, time of day, learning objectives, textbook and exam questions. Through quizzes, exams and homework scores, Becker-Blease found that student learning was equivalent. She also works with textbook publishers who offer online “diagnostic quizzing.” Students get immediate feedback as they answer questions, and instructors see how individuals and the class as a whole perform. Becker-Blease says students come to class better prepared. She is planning research to analyze the effectiveness of this approach.
Collaborative Testing. Tests need not be a cause for jitters. Engineering professor John Selker’s high-tech secret: two pens with different colors. After students complete their tests with one pen, he hands out the second and has them work in groups to identify mistakes and come up with the right answers. Students get full credit for their initial work in the first color and partial credit for writing corrections in the second color. By working out solutions with their peers, students fill in knowledge gaps and strengthen peer relationships. “At last,” says Selker, “the smartest student is also the most popular!”
Video Demonstrations. An engineering course, Strength of Materials, focuses on the forces that push, pull, bend and break everything from steel to carbon fiber. To help his 230 students master the mathematics and the concepts, Joseph Zaworski created 35 short online videos. Playable on any device from desktop computer to mobile phone, they allow students to pause and review as often as necessary. Between classes, students review videos and read the textbook. Class meetings include quizzes and team-based problem solving. Zaworski uses software from TopHatMonacle.com to monitor student responses and address common concerns.On the Drawingboard
A new learning laboratory will be a seedbed for the latest concepts in active teaching and learning to Oregon State.
OSU's Global Impact - Mon, 05/20/2013 - 12:49pm
It was dinnertime at the Milston-Clements home. The hubbub of feeding a 6-month-old baby and a hungry toddler was at full clamor when a ringtone interrupted. Handing off the jar of creamed spinach to her husband, Ruth grabbed her cell phone.
“Ruth, we have a broken pipe.”
As manager of Oregon State’s Salmon Disease Lab, Ruth Milston-Clements is on-call 24/7. With a network of alarms protecting the facility’s 25,000 research fish from disasters both natural and human (power outages, floods, equipment malfunctions, vandalism), she’s accustomed to running out the door at odd times. It happens once a month, on average.
So this dinnertime call seemed fairly routine. A researcher had accidentally backed her truck into a water pipe supplying 30 fiberglass tanks full of fingerlings, the caller reported. Quickly, an onsite technician cranked down the valve to stop the flow. He then rigged a fix that should hold till morning. However, the margin of error between life and death is, for a fish, as thin as a fin. “Without water flow or oxygen, the fish will suffocate in about 20 minutes,” says Milston-Clements, a fish biologist who grew up in Lancaster, England. In her field, there’s no such thing as an excess of caution. So, after tucking her little girls into bed, she spent the next few hours at the lab helping to construct a temporary backup system in case the quick fix failed before morning. It was after midnight when she finally flopped into bed.
The 3 a.m. ringtone blaring from her nightstand jolted her upright. “My heart started beating really loud, and I was hyperventilating,” she recalls. The electronic message from the lab’s security company read: Zone 1, low water. “This is the worst! This is what I’ve been dreading! Thousands of fish could die!” she moaned to her husband as she threw on her sweats and rubber boots and headed out once again.
In fact, no fish died that night. The second alarm turned out to be a minor malfunction unrelated to the burst pipe. But the adrenaline rush highlights what’s at stake in a live-animal research facility.
Crabs Count, Too
Of the 600,000 animals used in Oregon State’s research and teaching programs, 80 percent are aquatic species. Most of these half-million water dwellers are housed in fiberglass tanks on and around the Corvallis campus or at a research hatchery in the Alsea River Basin. Some live in simulated streams or raceways. Still others are on display in touch tanks or seawater aquariums at the Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport. They come in outrageous colors and preposterous designs: pouty, big-eyed rockfish in shimmery golds and coppers; pincushion-like sea urchins bristling with purple spines; a giant Pacific octopus, its suction-cupped arms undulating around a bulbous orange body. The charismatic Chinook salmon, the elusive black prickleback, the tendrilled basket star, the diminutive zebrafish — more than 400 species in total — all are members of Oregon State’s aquatic animal community.
The vertebrates among them are subject to the rigorous protocols of humane treatment laid out by the AAALAC (Association for Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care International) and overseen by OSU’s Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (see Terra, “The Ethic of Care,” Fall 2012; and “Caring for Cows,” Winter 2013). But the ethical distinction between the spined and the spineless has blurred in recent years. In the same way that the animal-care ethos for rodents and livestock has evolved, so have sensibilities for aquatic animals of all kinds. Just ask Tim Miller-Morgan. In his two-decade career, OSU’s aquatic veterinarian has witnessed an ethical sea change.
Take the case of the ailing crustaceans, for example. Miller-Morgan was moonlighting at the Oregon Aquarium a few years back when he noticed that the spider crabs were lethargic and droopy-mouthed. In the old days, he says, a sick crab would have been euthanized. “The attitude was, ‘It’s only an invertebrate; let’s just get another one.’” But instead of discarding the crabs, he drew their blood and discovered a bacterial infection. He treated the animals with antibiotic injections and medicated feed. “Typically, this wasn’t something that was done,” says Miller-Morgan, who also serves as backup veterinarian for OSU Attending Veterinarian Helen Diggs. “But now we understand that we shouldn’t look at these animals as disposable. We brought them into captivity, and we have an obligation to keep them as long as we can, as close to their natural lifespan as possible — or even longer.”
It’s today’s students, he says, who are driving the new morality. In the aquatic-medicine classes he teaches at OSU’s College of Veterinary Medicine, questions about animal welfare are top-of-mind among the Millennials, also known as Gen Y. “Eight or nine years ago, students started telling me, ‘We’d like to hear information on what we know about fish welfare, how we assess welfare, what do we know about pain?’ That was a new thing.”
He hears the same kinds of queries from students enrolled in the aquarium science program he helped develop at Oregon Coast Community College. It boils down to a centuries-old debate among philosophers, scientists, veterinarians, farmers, ranchers, aquarists, and pet owners: What is our obligation to captive animals?
For researcher David Noakes, the answer is crystal clear. “We have an inordinate responsibility,” says Noakes, who directs the Oregon Hatchery Research Center run jointly by Oregon State and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW). “We need to go to extraordinary lengths.”
It’s the Water
Because of the extraordinary lengths taken by Noakes and his staff, international scientists flock to the research center on Fall Creek, a tributary of the Alsea River, which ripples prettily through a mixed woodland of fir, aspens and big-leaf maple. From faraway nations like Japan, China, Iceland and South Korea, they come to conduct studies on the secrets of salmon navigation, the impact of temperature on sexual maturity, the ability of steelhead to negotiate woody debris, and other hot topics in fish biology. “This is the only place on the planet that has everything in one location for salmonid research,” explains Joseph O’Neil, a senior ODFW technician who lives onsite at the hatchery. “It’s the No. 1 destination in the world.”
If O’Neil were to tell you that water is the most critical component for fish husbandry, you might be tempted to say “duh.” But “water” doesn’t come close to conveying the complexity of the systems that support research fish. When O’Neil says, “Fish need water,” he’s not talking about any old water. Whether it fills a 50-gallon fiberglass tank full of Coho smolts, a 40,000-gallon simulated stream stocked with brook trout, or racks of incubation trays, flushing a million salmon eggs at a rate of five gallons per minute, the water O’Neil is talking about is some of the world’s most pampered. Pumped mainly from Fall Creek, this water may be treated with UV sterilization, carbon filtration or aeration so it’s free of viruses and bacteria. O’Neil’s also talking about precise temperature regulation matched to each species’ native environment and each animal’s stage of life. Eight miles of underground pipe circulate up to 2,500 gallons of freshwater a minute and return it to Fall Creek.
Out here in the Siuslaw National Forest, where the nearest town is picturesque Alsea, population 1,153, things do indeed go wrong. The power fails when gale-force winds howl through the hills; the property floods when biblical rains push the creeks beyond their banks; outdoor tanks crack and pipes rupture when branches crash to the ground. The staff takes pride in being able to improvise a solution or jury-rig a repair for just about any piece of equipment, even amidst the wildest squall, wettest deluge or blackest night.
How to Ship a Fish
In Oregon State fish circles, they’re known as “The Two Carries.” The self-described “guard dogs” of OSU’s zebrafish lab, Cari Buchner and Carrie Barton make a solemn commitment each morning when they punch in their pass codes at the high-security building across the river from downtown Corvallis. Tens of thousands of lives hinge on the skill and vigilance of these fish-husbandry professionals.
Barton and Buchner are co-managers of OSU’s Sinnhuber Aquatic Research Laboratory. The species they oversee — a type of minnow that has been dubbed the “new lab rat” for its growing popularity among biomedical researchers — multiplies fast, matures quickly, shares important disease processes with humans, and rapidly regenerates certain body parts and organs. Best of all, it’s transparent during development. Researchers can see what’s happening inside, literally.
For these reasons, zebrafish make great animal models for medical and environmental research.
“The water here is probably cleaner than most people drink at home,” Buchner attests. That level of purity applies even to water flowing into the staff restrooms, toilets included. If you are granted a visit to Sinnhuber, expect this email in your inbox: “Due to our biosecurity protocols we need to ask that you refrain from any contact with other aquatic species, labs, water sources — especially home aquariums, pet stores and outdoor fish habitats — for 24 hours prior to your visit.” Once you arrive, anticipate being asked to sanitize your hands and slip sterile booties over your shoes.
No one here is taking any chances of jeopardizing the lab’s highly specialized, technically sophisticated, razor-edged enterprise: raising fish that are free of the pathogen Pseudoloma neurophilia, rampant in the commercial aquarium trade and common in many research facilities. “Every fish in this room will be tested for that specific pathogen,” says Buchner. Newly arriving fish are raised, spawned and rigorously tested in a quarantine chamber before their offspring can join the general population.
These uniquely healthy zebrafish are in demand not only at Oregon State but also at other labs. So a couple of years ago, Sinnhuber decided to sell them on its website at a nominal cost. But safely shipping live fish is as tricky as it sounds. The package has to be double-bagged, foam insulated, heat controlled and hand-delivered on the tarmac for transfer to the airplane. For months, Barton and Buchner worked with FedEx, testing various containers and running multiple mock shipments, climaxing with a battery of bumping, shaking, dropping, crushing and tumbling trials.
“The container has to be 100 percent secure,” Barton explains. “It has to hold up even when someone says, ‘Oops, that box fell off the forklift.’” (All this TLC comes at a price, ranging from $50 to $500 for U.S. shipments to $1,700 for international deliveries.)
Soon after becoming a Certified Research Fish Shipper, the lab passed a harrowing real-life test when a container of fish en route to Australia got held up in customs during the hottest part of the summer. Despite an extra five days of travel, the fish arrived in perfect health and were spawning within a fortnight.
Fish Food a la Carte
A “happy tank” is the gold standard in a fish lab. When Ruth Milston-Clements lifts the lid of a tank and sees the sleek, silvery smolts schooling round and round in vigorous uniformity, she can rest easy. But if the fish are “dancing” or “flashing” or “looking a bit itchy,” she immediately calls in the lab pathologist. The telltale signs of trouble recently showed up among some rainbow trout. A scale swipe revealed a parasite called Gyrodactalus. She treated the tank with a hydrogen peroxide solution and monitored the fishes’ behavior every 10 minutes for an hour. They revived. Happy tank.
Fish like it when someone lifts the lid on their tank. That’s because it usually means mealtime. Over at Sinnhuber, the two Carries show off their brand-new commercial-grade kitchen where they concoct customized diets to researchers’ specs.
The proteins, carbs, oils, vitamins and minerals are tightly calibrated for optimal animal health. For many studies, researchers order special formulas. One of those researchers had a terrifying jolt a week before Christmas when he discovered his supply of custom fish food wasn’t going to last through his experiment. So while most people were baking gingerbread cookies and fig puddings, Barton was down at the lab whipping up an emergency ration of experimental fish food. “I went into my superhero mode,” Barton says with a satisfied grin. She saved the day — and the study.
“Basic care for aquatic animals is much more intricate than it is for most mammals,” she observes. “It’s really a science unto itself.”
OSU's Global Impact - Wed, 05/15/2013 - 11:33am
Fighting a war of independence should be turmoil enough for a small country, but in 1970, the people of Bangladesh also had to deal with a deadly cholera outbreak. This water-borne disease threatened the country’s plentiful surface water and put public health at risk. To solve this crisis, the government, together with international aid agencies, dug thousands of wells. But the clean water they hoped to deliver created a new crisis, what one researcher calls the largest mass poisoning on the planet.
Fast-forward 20 years. Symptoms of arsenic toxicity were beginning to appear in the population. Skin lesions were misdiagnosed as leprosy and led to social exclusion. Worse, skin lesions are a potential precursor to cancer.
Molly Kile, an environmental epidemiologist at Oregon State University, and her Harvard mentor David Christianie first traveled to Bangladesh in 2003 to study the health effects associated with arsenic in drinking water. “Our efforts have largely been understanding the epidemiology (of arsenic exposure) and the human health risk associated with it,” says Kile. She first traveled to Bangladesh as a doctoral student at Harvard and has returned more than 20 times.
Scientists know that exposure to high levels of arsenic can lead to cancer, but Kile, an assistant professor in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences, wants to know how the metal affects other aspects of health, such as reproduction and child development. Local groups, she says, can effectively translate her results into disease prevention, but many participants in her research are among the most vulnerable in the country.
“By and large, the populations that are affected by arsenic in Bangladesh are the rural populations,” she says, “and about 60% of Bangladesh lives on less than $2 a day. So these are places of absolute poverty.”
Reproductive health effects stem from the fact that the toxic metal crosses the placenta and exposes the fetus. Low birth weight and spontaneous abortions have been associated with arsenic exposure in utero. Kile also uses genetics to look for variations among individuals that increase or decrease susceptibility to skin lesions.
Perhaps the most frightening aspect of arsenic is its invisibility. “You can’t taste arsenic. You can’t smell it, you can’t see it, you have no idea its there unless you test for it,” she adds.
Not being able to detect arsenic by sight or taste has raised the stakes for communities that lack the resources to test or treat their drinking water. Kile’s favorite way to test for arsenic in people may come as a surprise: the human toenail.
Toenails are composed of keratin, which contains chemical combinations of sulfur and hydrogen called sulfhydryl groups. As arsenic in the body binds with these sulfhydryl groups, it accumulates in the toenail.
“So keratin is mostly sulfhydral, as is your hair,” says Kile. “Any inorganic arsenic that is circulating in your body will want to bind to a sulfhydral group. So your toenails, your hair, and even your skin all come into equilibrium with the arsenic in your body. You can take a toenail clipping, and you get a lovely integrated exposure of what that person has been exposed to.”
Kile calls the health crisis in Bangladesh a preventable disaster. Arsenic was known to be present in large parts of western Asia, but that wasn’t considered in the 1970s when the country transitioned to groundwater.
“And it was seen as the public health triumph of its day, only to find out that it’s now the largest mass poisoning on the planet,” says Kile. “That’s one of the messages of this: This was completely preventable.”
Research elsewhere suggests that as exposure declines, skin lesions may go away with time, but such studies are still in progress.
Despite Kile’s start with arsenic being half-a-world away, the issue isn’t so far from home. She calls Oregon “arsenic country” and has been conducting water-testing workshops in communities east of the Cascades. In the United States, technology can remove arsenic from drinking water. So far, there have been no arsenic-related health problems recorded in Oregon.
“It really is across Oregon,” she adds. “Eugene, Salem…and across the border too. This is a Pacific Northwest Issue.”
Scientists estimate that up to 100 million people are exposed to elevated levels of arsenic in Bangladesh alone. Whether you are drawing from a well in Bangladesh or Oregon, researchers like Kile are racing to fully understand the impacts of this invisible contaminant.
Listen to a podcast with Kile.
For more information about arsenic in drinking water in Bangladesh:
D. van Halem, S. A. Bakker, G. L. Amy, and J. C. van Dijk, “Arsenic in drinking water: a worldwide water quality concern for water supply companies,” in the Journal Drinking Water Engineering and Science, 2009,
Manouchehr Amini; Karim C. Abbaspour; Michael Berg; Lenny Winkel; Stephan J. Hug; Eduard Hoehn; Hong Yang; C. Annette Johnson; “Statistical Modeling of Global Geogenic Arsenic Contamination in Groundwater,” Environ. Sci. Technol. 2008, 42, 3669-3675.t © 2008 American Chemical Society
Chowdhury, M. A. I., Uddin, M. T., Ahmed, M. F., Ali, M. A. and Uddin, S. M.: How does arsenic contamination of groundwater cause severity and health hazard in Bangladesh, J. Appl. Sci., 6(6), 1275-1286, 2006
OSU's Global Impact - Thu, 05/09/2013 - 10:50am
When Michael P. Nelson talks about his work, he mentions carcasses and cadavers to a startling degree — startling because Nelson is not a physician or a veterinarian or even a biologist. He’s a philosopher. So at first glance, necropsy seems an odd topic of discourse. But it starts to make sense when you notice that Nelson’s office is in Oregon State’s College of Forestry, not the College of Liberal Arts where universities typically house their philosophers. And, as the only philosopher ever hired to lead one of the National Science Foundation’s 27 Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) sites — in this case, OSU’s H.J. Andrews Experimental Forest — Nelson again defies tradition.
“We started the search assuming we’d end up with some sort of ecologist, hydrologist or biophysical scientist,” recounts John Bliss, the associate dean of forestry who led the hiring process. “I knew we’d turned a corner when the ecologists on the committee stopped me in the hall to say things like, ‘Maybe a philosopher is what we need!’”
With -ologists already well represented, they opted instead for Nelson’s novel viewpoint. “Michael brings a philosopher’s logic to complex problems, unencumbered by disciplinary straitjackets,” Bliss says.
Mind Over Matter
To understand these discrepancies, you have to go back to Nelson’s hometown of Janesville, Wisconsin, where, in a high school anatomy class, he saw a dead body laid out on a steel slab. “I thought that cadaver was the coolest thing in the world,” he recalls. But once he got to college, the study of biology struck him as tedious. Too many equations to solve, too many chemical reactions to memorize. In contrast, he found himself relishing his philosophy classes. Ideas like the moral imperative and the inherent nature of being quickened his imagination. He soon switched majors and began to ponder the world on a cerebral rather than cellular level.
His fascination with biological systems, however, never went away. Eventually, this man whose mental petri dish was awash in syllogisms instead of cell divisions circled back to where he started — to that raw, physical nexus of life and death that is a carcass. It happened about a decade after he earned his Ph.D. at England’s Lancaster University, the cradle of environmental philosophy. By then, Nelson was teaching at Michigan State University, where he met John A. Vucetich, co-director of a long-term, multidisciplinary study of predator-prey dynamics. Vucetich invited Nelson to visit the study site: a wild, isolated, mist-wrapped island in Lake Superior. Nelson was enchanted. Soon he became the “resident philosopher” for Wolves and Moose of Isle Royale.
Which is how, in 2005, he came to be kneeling beside a pile of bones and sinews where wolves had devoured a moose. Every summer, Nelson participates in collecting biological samples, including scat and skulls, for DNA analysis and pathology studies. Now in its 55th year, the project has tracked the dynamics between wolves and moose over a timespan unprecedented in the annals of predator-prey studies. Surprising insights into island biogeography and wildlife management are emerging from the mists.
“What I really like about my work, is that it exists at the edges of disciplines.”
— Michael P. Nelson
Sting Like a Bee
In front of a crowd, Nelson moves nimbly, like a boxer, on the balls of his feet. An aura of great energy emanates from his face and hands. It’s clear that he’s in a hurry to push his thoughts outward. Planet Earth is, after all, poised on the cliff of calamity, he says during a joint presentation on ethics and climate change with OSU conservation philosopher Kathleen Dean Moore. He and Moore challenge the scientists in the audience to couple their facts (climate models, data sets, statistical analyses) to their values (as parents, as community members, as global citizens). It’s time to kick the advocacy taboo to the curb, the two philosophers exhort, arguing that meaningful action arises only when facts (“what is”) are welded to values (“what ought to be”).
To drive home the urgency of curbing fossil fuel use, Nelson cites sources as diverse as “Genesis” and Dr. Seuss. At last year’s meeting of LTER scientists nationwide he did a riff inspired by The Lorax. This scholar of striking contrasts can recite playful couplets one moment and the next, dare scientists to rethink the most basic assumptions of their careers.
“Look, we don’t know how to create careers in science that fully empower scientists,” Nelson tells a roomful of researchers. “What we do know is this: Everything has changed. You have taught us that. You should ask yourself some questions: Are the old forms of scientific practice working? Or do you need to create another path? What does it mean to be a scientist now? You are studying systems, ecosystems; you know about the necessity of connections. Live what you know. That’s integrity.”
See details about Michael Nelson’s teaching, books, ongoing projects and affiliations.
Predator and Prey, a Delicate Dance, The New York Times, May 8, 2013
Wolves Teach Scientists Their Limitations, Chronicle of Higher Education, April 1, 2013
OSU's Global Impact - Fri, 05/03/2013 - 1:39pm
Perry Morrow, student in the Oregon State University Water Resources Graduate Program, produced this video on biochar, the carbonized remains of plants. Turning low-value wood and other biomass into biochar sequesters carbon from the atmosphere for hundreds of years. The resulting material may also benefit water quality by absorbing pollutants such as copper, lead, zinc and other metals.
OSU's Global Impact - Fri, 05/03/2013 - 11:23am
For many first-year college students, going to a new school represents “leaving the nest.” They are now responsible for housing, bills and their own education. But according to Heidi Igarashi , a research assistant at Oregon State University, most are still in their parents’ nest and will be for several more years.
“Parents used to expect that their kids should be financially independent by 22,” she says, “but now the majority of them say 25. There is a longer run up to adulthood.”
Igarashi, a doctoral student who works with Carolyn Aldwin, professor of human development and family sciences, recently published a study looking at parents who support both adult children (ages 18 to 30) and their own elderly parents. She found that while parental support may benefit maturing adults, things get more difficult when they care for the older generation.
“The idea of the empty nest is based on this probably antiquated idea of the life cycle where you get married, have children, your children grow up, ‘leave the nest,’ and the parents are there to ride out those last periods of time. ‘Empty nest,’” she adds, “applies to some people but not many.”
It is simply taking longer for young adults to take flight. That trend shows up in a variety of ways, from education to insurance. For example, Igarashi points to an increased interest and a need for further education in graduate school. Health insurance has also changed. Prior to 2010, states had varying rules on dependency for health insurance purposes. Now federal law says a child can remain on a parent’s insurance until age 26. Igarashi attributes these cultural changes to the nest being full longer.
Igarashi found that most parents were happy to support their children for longer periods of time. Parents, she suggests, are simply continuing what they had been doing. However, she also looked at them as caregivers for their own parents. This type of caring is increasingly common. The average couple has more parents than children. But that doesn’t mean it is always received with ease. Igarashi calls this type of support “caring up.” On the generational ladder, the older you get, the higher on the ladder you are.
Caring Up Is Hard to Do
“Caring up is hard on everyone. The midlife folks were very happy to provide care up, but it came with this burden, feelings of angst, anxiety, uncertainty. Not only for themselves, but for their parents too.” Some elderly parents had Alzheimer’s, and some were bed ridden. In these circumstances, feelings of anxiety are natural, she adds.
Igarashi did her study during the economic recession of 2008-2009. Shortly after she published her results, the PEW Research Center released a similar but separate study that added more detail. PEW found that in 2012, 47% of midlife adults (ages 40-59) were supporting a child, while they were also taking care of a parent older than 65-years-old. Pew Researchers referred to these individuals as part of a “sandwich generation,” meaning they provide both care up and care down the generational ladder.
Despite any feelings of potential burdens, Igarashi’s study found that during these changing economic times, being a “sandwich generation” may not be a bad thing. Young adults get the support they need to take flight from the nest when they are truly ready, whether for educational, financial or other reasons.
“In our society we tend to really value autonomy and independence, and hold it almost paramount to almost anything else,” says Igarashi. “What our study indicates is that it’s really interdependence that may become really important, especially in this changing socioeconomic world where you really need other people around you to really work together.”
Most college students fit into the category of nestlings learning to fly. While the job market will continue to create challenges, Igarashi provides encouragement that parents are willing to assist their children during these changing times even while assisting parents of their own.
Co-authors on Igarashi’s study include Oregon State professor Karen Hooker, Deborah P. Coehlo (OSU-Cascades) and Margaret M. Manoogian (Western Oregon University).
See Igarashi’s report, “My Nest Is Full”: Intergenerational relationships at midlife, in the Oregon State University Scholar’s Archive.
See the PEW Research Center study on mid-life adults: http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2013/01/30/the-sandwich-generation/
OSU's Global Impact - Thu, 04/11/2013 - 2:22pm
Three Oregon State University students have been awarded the prestigious Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship, an annual award given for the nation’s top undergraduate student research scholars in science, math and engineering by the federally endowed Goldwater Foundation. A fourth student has received an honorable mention, making this OSU’s most successful year ever in the annual competition.
“Each campus is allowed to nominate four students for the award and for the first time, all four students nominated by OSU were recognized by the national Goldwater selection committee,” said Kevin Ahern, director of undergraduate research at Oregon State.
The one- and two-year scholarships cover the cost of tuition, fees, books and room and board up to $7,500 per year.
The four awardees are all students in the University Honors College and the College of Science. They are:
Helen Hobbs, a junior from Butte, Montana, is majoring in biochemistry/biophysics. She is a two-time participant in the Howard Hughes Medical Institute program and is currently researching the molecular basis of aging with professor Tory Hagen. She aspires to a research career.
Thomas Pitts, a junior from Ontario, Oregon, is majoring in math and conducts research in mathematics education and theoretical mathematics, with an emphasis on algebra and number theory. He has worked in OSU’s Research Experiences for Undergraduates Program in Mathematics and studies under professor Tevian Dray. His goal is research and teaching at the university level.
Justin Zhang, a junior from Beaverton, is majoring in biochemistry/biophysics. He has worked with associate professor Jeffrey Greenwood since his freshman year studying glioblastoma, a type of malignant brain cancer. Zhang has done internships at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and Sloan-Kettering. He is looking forward to a research career in human health.
James Rekow, a sophomore majoring in biochemistry/biophysics from Portland, works with associate professor Andrew Buermeyer on mechanisms of DNA repair and mutation relating to colon cancer. He has been involved in undergraduate research since his freshman year, including an internship at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. After attaining his Ph.D. in Environmental and Molecular Toxicology, Rekow plans to conduct research in genetic toxicology and teach at the university level.
“The Scholarship Program honoring Senator Barry Goldwater was designed to foster and encourage outstanding students to pursue careers in the fields of mathematics, the natural sciences and engineering,” said Board of Trustees Chair Peggy Goldwater Clay in announcing the awards. “The Goldwater Scholarship is the premier undergraduate award of its type in these fields.”
OSU's Global Impact - Wed, 04/03/2013 - 12:58pm
The Yellowstone caldera is no typical volcano. Its elongated form measures about 35 miles by 45 miles, considerably larger than most. Yellowstone Lake stands at the center of the caldera and shows evidence of volcanic activity that has formed some of its arms. Yellowstone contains one of the world’s largest geothermal systems.
The caldera has generated large amounts of ash over geologic history. One 12-million-year-old deposit of Yellowstone ash at Ashfall State Park in Nebraska entombed rhinoceros, horses, camels and birds that had gathered around a watering hole and today provide paleontologists with a deep view of ancient ecology.
For links to recent scientific reports about the caldera, see this page on Volcano World at Oregon State.