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Justin Biel’s work could force molecular biologists to rethink basics of protein structure.
Linus Pauling won the 1954 Nobel Prize in chemistry for his description of the chemical bond that holds protein molecules together. Sixty years later, an undergraduate researcher at Oregon State University, where Pauling did his own undergrad work, prompted scientists to take a hard look at that model.
Pauling described the connection between protein building blocks, known as the peptide bond, as an arrangement of six atoms that essentially are all on the same plane. It was a groundbreaking insight that helped launch the field of molecular biology and has shaped scientific understanding of protein structure for the past six decades.
But Biel, a University Honors College student working with professor Andy Karplus, analyzed information from a databank of protein structures and found a large number of proteins that deviated from Pauling’s planar model. He also reviewed scientific literature on the subject and discovered that a number of researchers in the 1970s had proposed a similar idea, but they were largely ignored.
Biel’s research has shown that the long-accepted Pauling view of proteins is “a little too simplified,” Karplus said. “It will help get that final level of detail that’s needed to get truly accurate predictions of protein structure.”
Having a clear image of the architecture of these tiny yet intricate constructs has major implications for medicine and human health. “Proteins do almost everything in the body,” Biel pointed out. “And at that scale, a protein’s structure determines its function. So we study the structure of proteins to figure out how they work and also possibly to provide targets for drugs.”
After graduating from OSU in 2013 with a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry and biophysics, Biel went to the University of California at San Francisco, where he is continuing his research as a Ph.D. candidate. He also is working to improve his skills as a scientific communicator, both orally and in writing.
“Your findings don’t really have any impact unless they’re shared,” noted Biel, who was the recipient of OSU’s first Undergraduate Researcher of the Year Award.
The ability to communicate his discoveries — and his enthusiasm for scientific research — will be important in his future career. Biel’s ultimate goal is to become a college professor. “I had some really great mentors at OSU,” he said. “That’s something I want to be a part of and pass along what I’ve learned to others.”
–Updated from a story by Bennett Hall, Corvallis Gazette-Times
PHILOMATH, Oregon – Custom-designed molecules for treating human disease are being manufactured in an unlikely place: the tiny, forest-products town of Philomath. Inside a low-slung industrial building nestled among grasses and alders on the slopes of Oregon’s Coast Range, a small biotech firm called Gene Tools LLC is tailoring molecules that may someday help patients recover from infections like flu or chronic conditions like muscular dystrophy.
Invented by former Oregon State University biochemist Jim Summerton and his colleague Dwight Weller, these specialized, synthetic molecules are commonly called “Morpholinos,” short for the technological tongue twister, “Morpholino antisense oligomers.” These microscopic molecules with the mega-moniker bind to sequences of RNA, a major component of all living cells. Summerton and his team tailor them to block generations of harmful proteins. On the flipside, the Morpholinos can spur production of beneficial proteins by correcting genetic errors.
“Morpholinos have revolutionary potential for treatment of a broad range of human diseases, including viral, bacterial, age-related and genetic diseases,” says Hong Moulton, a biomedical scientist at OSU who studies these manufactured molecules. “But they suffer from poor delivery across the cell membrane into cells. My long-term research interest has been in inventing and improving delivery of Morpholinos.”
The problem is size. Morpholinos may be microscopic, but as molecules go, they’re quite large. To do their job, they must easily enter human cells, a difficult maneuver for the plus-sized molecules. While working for Morpholino inventor Summerton at his first startup, AVI Biopharma, Moulton invented a technology to improve delivery of Morpholinos to the cells of mice either with muscular dystrophy or infected with various viruses. Mice treated with the technology, which uses cell-penetrating peptides, got better and survived longer.
But when the company moved its research operation to Seattle. Moulton chose to stay in Oregon, continuing her work in the OSU College of Veterinary Medicine. Her work spans the campus, from chemical and cell biology in the Vet Med labs to fish biology studies at OSU’s Sinnhuber Aquatic Research Laboratory across the Willamette River.
Red Fish, Blue Fish
One of Moulton’s allies in moving Morpholinos closer to the marketplace is a tiny fish with a talent for switching color. Specially engineered for her at the Mayo Clinic, the genetically altered zebrafish has genes coded for two fluorescent proteins: one blue, the other red. She designed a Morpholino that lets her manipulate the fishes’ colors to test her theories of improved delivery.
“If I am able to deliver the Morpholinos into the nucleus of the cells, every cell in that fish will turn off the blue gene and turn on the red gene,” she explains. “The fish will turn from blue to red when viewed under a fluorescent microscope. That allows me to assess how much material is getting to the cells.”
Too, she can see where the Morpholinos are most effective. “Is it going to the brain? Is it going to the muscles? I can look at distribution of these molecules.”
Fighting the Flu
Moulton’s lab is also investigating the Morpholino’s effect on the flu virus. As a co-investigator on a multi-million dollar grant from the National Institutes of Health, she is collaborating with several teams across the United States to identify the human genes that interact with influenza. By the end of the five-year project, she expects to have Morpholinos that will effectively inhibit infection by the virus.
Next step? “We want to develop this into a therapeutic product that goes to drug development,” Moulton says.
–Story by Lyn Smith-Gloria, OSU College of Veterinary Medicine
NEWPORT, Oregon – Most of us glimpse saltwater fishes only as grilled fillets on a dinner plate or as HD images on a TV screen. Even the fishermen who catch our salmon steaks and cod cakes rarely see a live fish that isn’t thrashing on a line or flopping in a net.
So how do we keep tabs on the hidden, finned denizens of the Pacific? How can we gauge their health and their habitat? How can Oregonians tell, for instance, whether new state laws banning fishing at five Oregon “marine reserves” will make a difference for depleted stocks by protecting juvenile fish, BOFFFFs (“big, old, fat, fecund female fish”) and other organisms that together form an intact marine ecosystem?
One way to tell, says ornithologist Rob Suryan of Oregon State University, is to study birds. At first blush, observing birds to find out about fish seems like a disconnect. But as Suryan explains, avian species (visible from the shore) can serve as stand-ins — scientific surrogates, in a sense — for their ichthyo-brethren swimming, unseen, beneath the sea.
It’s a Bird, It’s a Fish
Fish-eating seabirds like the common murre, Brandt’s cormorant and Caspian tern — which nest in the rocky intertidal zones along the coast — can give scientists clues to the status of native finfish by how they behave. Abundant birds raising robust chicks indicate, among other things, ample stocks of the prey species marine biologists call “forage” fish (sardines, sculpins, smelt, sand lance). If prey fish crash or migrate to new waters, for instance, their feathered predators may fail to thrive, thus becoming harbingers of a changing marine ecosystem. In the bigger picture, these kinds of bird-fish patterns may hint at shifting conditions ocean-wide.
“We refer to birds as ‘ecological equivalents’ of fish,” says Suryan, director of OSU’s Seabird Oceanography Lab at the Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport. “That’s because seabirds eat very similar prey items as commercially important fish like Chinook salmon or tuna or halibut.” A slump in sardines, for example, can mean trouble for nesting murres struggling to feed their young and, at the same time, signal scarcity for spring Chinook trying to put on fat for migrating upstream to spawn.
Citizen Scientists Step Up
If you happened to drive down the Oregon coast this past summer, you might well have seen science in action. An eclectic team of volunteers, huddled in pairs over spotting scopes, field notebooks and coffee thermoses, spent much of the summer observing the seabirds at the Cape Perpetua Marine Reserve and Marine Protected Area, which includes Sea Lion Caves and Heceta Head. Through chilling mists and whipping winds, they watched hour after hour, week after week, keeping detailed records as colonies of pelagic cormorants and common murres played out their biological cycle of pair-mating, egg-laying, fish-catching, chick-feeding and, if all went well, fledging a new generation of the sleek black diving birds so familiar to beachgoers. The birders were on the lookout, too, for bald eagles, brown pelicans and other predators threatening the nests.
Suryan’s lab provided scientific guidance to the team — birders from Portland Audubon, ecologists from the Nature Conservancy, Sea Lion Caves manager Gerald “Boomer” Wright and his volunteer crew at the famous tourist destination, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) and the Oregon Department of Parks and Recreation — as they studied the cormorants and told the their story to curious tourists.
The dramatic headland at Cape Perpetua, known for its ancient stands of giant spruce and its madly churning sea spouts, is the first of Oregon’s five marine reserves to designate an official Bird Protected Area within its study site. OSU and the Oregon Coast Aquarium are under contract with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) to conduct scientific monitoring of the marine organisms — such as rockfish, giant kelp and purple urchins — that inhabit the reserves. A cadre of scientific divers, trained at OSU, is already gathering data in the rocky reef.
As Oregon’s first reserve to be fully implemented, Cape Perpetua is getting a jumpstart in the critical data collection, designed to test the conservation power of the marine reserve concept. But ODFW, which is tasked with monitoring the impact of the 2011 legislation that created the no-fishing and limited-fishing areas, is putting the lion’s share of monitoring funds toward counting and measuring underwater dwellers. There was no state money for seabird studies.
So the citizen scientists stepped up. “These studies complement and expand on ODFW’s efforts to characterize benthic and fish communities,” says Joe Liebezeit of Portland Audubon, which designed the field protocol used at Cape Perpetua. “They also complement our ongoing citizen science project with OSU, studying endangered marbled murrelets in the old-growth forests adjacent to Cape Perpetua.”
Find out more about Oregon State University’s research on seabirds, as well as spotted owls, meadowlarks and other Northwest species, in the upcoming cover story, “Avian Nations,” in Terra magazine.
BLUE NILE, Ethiopia – Can a massive dam on Ethiopia’s Blue Nile River become a “platform for peace” in the parched lands of Africa? Or will it instead spark new conflicts among neighboring nations? And what happens to the people whose homes will be submerged when the reservoir fills?
These are the kinds of questions Oregon State University Ph.D. student Jennifer Veilleux dug into during a five-month study along the African river where the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam is under construction. Working with OSU Professor Aaron Wolf, an international expert on water conflict resolution, she was investigating the human dimensions of the dam’s development and, more broadly, the complex intertwining among peoples and waters the world over.
“Water is needed and shared by every sector of human society and by dependent ecosystems,” says Veilleux, who finished her Ph.D. in geology in June. “Water shapes the physical and human landscape. I want to find out how this resource can be cooperatively shared by different communities.”
To tease out the dynamics of water sharing among countries and cultures, the researcher interviewed both urban and rural Ethiopians, spending time particularly with the Gumuz people, a little-studied subsistence culture found mainly along the Blue Nile in Ethiopia and Sudan. Most of the 20,000 local people who will be displaced by the dam project are Gumuz, artisanal gold miners who trade with nearby communities. From the river they draw not only material sustenance, but also their very identity as a people.
So Veilleux was surprised at the flexibility, resolve and general acceptance voiced by the people she interviewed — a finding that runs counter to prevailing predictions of worldwide water wars as Planet Earth heats up and human populations mount. “I think the people had a very keen sense of being river people, meaning they are very adamant about staying near the water because it’s their everything, their life,” she says. “But I was surprised at how flexible they were about moving.”
Averting Water Wars
Two years ago, the online newspaper Aljazeera ran a stark headline: Almost half of humanity will face water scarcity by 2030. Similar stories have splashed across the front pages of major newspapers for nearly 20 years, with many predicting global water wars.
As a powerful new force in the ancient, life-sustaining relationship between people and water, the African dam presents huge opportunities as well as grave challenges for Ethiopia. On one hand, it will provide reliable power. “Only about 40 percent of Ethiopia has electricity,” notes Veilleux, who manages the “transboundary freshwater dispute” database at OSU. “When complete, the massive, 6,000-megawatt dam will be the largest hydroelectric power plant in Africa, expanding electricity coverage in Ethiopia and neighboring countries.”
It’s also a source of pride for Ethiopians, who are eager to shed the perception of being a famine-prone country in need of international aid, rather than an African leader with a middle-class economy, says Veilleux. “Dams are really big power symbols, not just for their capacity to harness energy, but as symbols of modernity and identity,” she says.
But while the Ethiopian government has a comprehensive resettlement program for the Gumuz, Veilleux’s research raises many important, and as-yet unanswered, questions: What will replace gold as a new source of cash economy? How will farming change without seasonal flooding? Will malaria rates increase with a stagnant reservoir? How will the dam change native fish stocks and the equipment needed to catch them? How will the Gumuz stay connected to other villages when the now-navigable river becomes an expansive lake? Will moving to an urban area lead to increased social problems related to modern life, such as a loss of cultural identity?
“If the dam project is done correctly, the Ethiopian government can greatly improve some of the challenges that the Gumuz communities face from malnutrition, disease or lack of access to secondary or higher education,” the researcher says. “Resource sharing will also improve the lives of Ethiopians who benefit from expanded electricity.”
But the cultural costs should not be ignored, she cautions. People’s ancient connection to the river has led to deep understandings about natural resources in the region — understandings that social scientists call “traditional ecological knowledge” or TEK— that can and should be tapped for the benefit of all.
“More attention needs to be spent on identifying the strengths as well as the vulnerabilities of local communities, to buffer possible threats to these areas, and to make sure that the benefits outweigh the costs.”
Find out more about Professor Aaron Wolf’s international conflict resolution work here http://ceoas.oregonstate.edu/profile/wolf/.
–Story by Abby Metzger, OSU College of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences
…to join us in the lab, in the field and in the incubators of innovation where Oregon State University researchers are doing the business of discovery. Every day, our scientists, scholars and engineers conduct experiments, study natural systems and drive economic development toward a sustainable planet, a thriving population and a prosperous future for all Oregonians. But the story doesn’t stop at the borders of our own state. OSU research spans the globe in pursuit of solutions to unprecedented stressors on ecosystems, social systems and economies worldwide.
In this inaugural issue of the Terra newsletter, we’ll introduce you to Oregon State’s scientific monitoring of the network of marine reserves along the Oregon coast. We’ll describe OSU’s research into water conflict management in the Blue Nile region of Africa. We’ll give you a glimpse inside a Philomath genetics firm that’s collaborating with OSU to create custom-designed molecules for healing. And you’ll meet a recent graduate of the University Honors College whose research challenged certain assumptions of OSU alumnus and Nobel laureate Linus Pauling.
Several times a year, we’ll share a whole new lineup of stories about the research enterprise at Oregon State University. Welcome! And watch this space.
Ron Adams, Interim Vice President for Research
Leah Bolger, a veteran who served in the U.S. Navy for 20 years, believes that all wars should be abolished.
“War is immoral, it’s illegal, it’s ineffective, and it costs too much.” Bolger says.
As a leader of Veterans for Peace, Bolger is working to promote the efforts of World Beyond War — a global network of organizations committed to ending all wars. Through education, lobbying, and nonviolent direct action, World Beyond War aims to raise the public awareness of the facts and myths of war, and to grow the opposition to war.
Event though it’s a worldwide movement, World Beyond War recognizes that the U.S. plays a disproportionate role. On its website, the organization says, “The United States builds, sells, buys, stockpiles, and uses the most weapons, engages in the most conflicts, stations the most troops in the most countries, and carries out the most deadly and destructive wars. By these and other measures, the U.S. government is the world’s leading war-maker, and — in the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. — the greatest purveyor of violence in the world.”
Maintaining such a large and powerful military comes not only with an enormous price tag ($618 billion in 2013), but a hefty carbon footprint as well.
“The United States military is the biggest consumer of fossil fuels of any other entity on Earth,” Bolger says.
With some military vehicles averaging less than one mpg in fuel economy, the Department of Defense uses approximately 300,000 barrels of oil per day. This link between military operations and climate change adds new weight to discussions on the global impacts of war.
Dependence on fossil fuels is both a cause and an effect of war. “Not only are we responsible for the consumption of all this fuel which is leading to climate change, we actually invade other countries and fight and kill their citizens for geographic positioning so we can control the fuel,” Bolger adds. “It’s no coincidence that the recent wars in the Middle East have been in countries that are either neighboring oil rich countries or contain oil themselves.”
World Beyond War welcomes signatures on it Pledge to End War.
In February 2014, the First Alternative Co-op participated in Transformation Without Apocalypse at Oregon State University.
Oregon may have a reputation for an abundance of rain, but even in the lush Willamette Valley, water shortages are a growing concern. Sustainable water management is essential for maintaining productive agriculture, flood control and healthy stream habitats for fish. That’s why the Water Action Team —a volunteer group of the Corvallis Sustainability Coalition is committed to reducing local tap water use as well as wastewater and stormwater.
What’s their strategy? The team is embracing a multi-pronged approach that includes both infrastructure and behavior. Actions such as de-paving parking lots, defrosting meat overnight (instead of in running water), and installing rainwater catchment systems are all part of their plan for a 50 percent reduction of the water flow through Corvallis’s municipal water systems (based on 2008 annual levels) by the year 2050.
“People don’t think there’s a water problem here,” said Dave Eckert, the Water Action Team leader. But according to the Oregon Climate Change Research Institute, Oregon’s water resources are already seeing significant changes. Winter flooding is likely to result from more precipitation falling as rain instead of snow. In the summer, water shortages may become more frequent. Across the western U.S., the reality of a water crisis is even more severe, as many states confront wildfires and drought.
“[At the workshop] I asked a raise of hands of who had moved from Southern California, Arizona, New Mexico — all the dry states, and a bunch of hands sheepishly moved up,” Eckert said.
Even though Oregon faces water shortages too, Eckert thinks more “climate refugees” will be moving to this area as drought worsens in the Southwest. This trend reinforces the importance of sustainably managing our current water resources in order to brace the region for a growing population.
In February 2014, the First Alternative Co-op participated in Transformation Without Apocalypse at Oregon State University.
A year ago, Oregon State University student Jessie Pettibone had never heard of divestment. But last April, a social-media post drew him into to a national movement started by the climate action nonprofit 350.org to divest funds from the fossil fuel industry. Part of the goal was to reinvest in sustainable practices. As president of the group, OSU Divest, Pettibone and almost 20 faculty and student members worked to pass a divestment resolution in the OSU Faculty Senate and one branch of the Associated Students of OSU government.
Currently six percent of the OSU Foundation’s total endowment is in the fossil fuel industry, but OSU Divest hopes to see that portion reinvested elsewhere. OSU Divest member Lexa McCallister sees divestment as a way to change our priorities, despite fossil fuels still comprising the bulk of the energy market due to their refined processes.
“We’re shifting gears and making fossil fuels less economically advantageous,” McCallister says.
This movement is anything but isolated. Campuses, cities and organizations across the country are pushing for divestment, and 10 colleges have already made the switch. With OSU President Ed Ray’s signature on a university agreement to be carbon neutral by 2025, supporting divestment is a step towards adapting to a changing planet.
“This affects everything,” Pettibone says. “We can turn off lights and recycle all we want, but there are bigger problems. Our core group is not that big — no more than 20 people — but we have made this big impact.”
While the OSU Foundation has yet to take an official stance, it has been receptive to the idea and is open to discussing it further. For now, the group will continue to press onwards through petitions and meetings as it demonstrates the impact that a small group of individuals can have on a global issue.
In February 2014, the First Alternative Co-op participated in Transformation Without Apocalypse at Oregon State University.
If environmental catastrophe has you down, call Jana Svoboda. This Corvallis therapist assists people with an array of mental health issues, including sexuality, end-of-life care and even anxieties over a deteriorating environment. Several times a month, she says, patients talk with her about their climate change worries.
Svoboda admits that even she gets anxious about the state of the world at times. “We’re paralyzed and hopeless. We have to find reasons to be joyful in this moment in order to move forward.”
By working on interpersonal communication skills, individuals can become more skilled at working collectively towards a larger goal. Svoboda acknowledges that the current state of the world can cause distress, and she argues that the solution lies in our ability to find common ground with one another.
“We really are all connected, and if one of us is in trouble, we really do all have to pitch in. We have to have some idea of hope and that [our actions] will make some kind of difference. It will not change things if I change one light bulb, but with enough conversations things will change.”
Svoboda’s response to living on an altered planet might seem simple. She sums it up in one word: listen.
“We spend a lot of time preparing our replies but not listening. The solution for that is to practice compassionate curiosity to make [other people] less of an ‘other.’ We look for the other like, ‘Oh you’re a liberal or a gun nut etc.’ But beyond each of those is a person.”
With an issue as divisive as climate change, finding common ground with these “others” could change the entire tone of the discourse. Through small changes in our daily routine, the huge issue of climate change can become more manageable. By sharing smiles and tips of her own, Jana aims to replace anxiety with happiness through effective communication.
If they had come home early, you wouldn’t have been surprised. Half of them got seasick. Equipment failed. And the weather changed unexpectedly. But last April, 11 Oregon college students from three institutions — Oregon State University, the University of Oregon and Clatsop Community College — stuck it out for four days at sea on Oregon State’s research vessel Oceanus and learned what it’s like to run their own oceanographic research cruise. They returned with respect for the difficulties of doing science on a rolling ocean and a better understanding of what stirs beneath Oregon’s coastal waters.
The students deployed and piloted two autonomous underwater gliders, captured underwater video, collected data on water chemistry and phytoplankton and monitored currents as well as upwelling and downwelling events. Unfortunately, oxygen sensors on the ship’s ocean sampler failed, and some sensors secured to a mooring were lost in heavy seas.
When the unexpected happened, the two students who served as chief scientists (Alejandra Sanchez and Rosie Gradoville of OSU) had to make rapid adjustments, said Anqelicque White, one of the organizers and an assistant professor in the College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences (CEOAS). To compensate, the students collected extra water samples and relied heavily on the glider measurements.
“They had a profound lesson in doing real oceanography,” added Kipp Shearman, associate professor in CEOAS. “It was particularly exciting for me to see how they grappled with a lot of the same things that I do now as a scientist.”
The students were tackling an oceanographic conundrum: what underlies occasionally rapid and drastic changes to underwater habitats. They zeroed in on a hotspot along the central Oregon coast, the Cape Perpetua Marine Reserve. In past years, this area has seen abnormally low oxygen conditions — leading to what has been called a “dead zone.”
The students looked at the factors that might cause extreme low oxygen conditions to arise. They also considered how those factors might affect fish, crabs and other sea life. The issue is particularly important now because fishing restrictions went into effect in the reserve in 2013, and scientists want to know whether future ecosystem changes are due to natural variability or to changes in fishing.
Lives on the Line
The students’ results are providing scientists with useful data about the Reserve, but the experience of planning and carrying out experiments was life changing. “The thing that surprised me the most was the amount of foresight and planning that is required for a successful cruise,” said Molly O’Neill a University of Oregon graduate student in an email. “Even for just a four-day cruise, the principal investigators (scientists) expend an enormous amount of time and energy planning every hour of every day. From the loading dock to the university, there is so much that needs to be accounted for. The logistics need to be thought through in such extreme detail because time, money and people’s lives are on the line. It was a tremendous learning experience that will stay with us forever.”
For Alejandra Sanchez, an Oregon State graduate student, the trip was worth the problems the students encountered. “I always get seasick in research ships, sometimes worse than others, but I really enjoy going out and do it anyway,” she said. “It’s the adventure that attracts me. You are out there trying to find something, and you are using all this equipment to find it, so I feel like an explorer. Sometimes you find what you are looking for, and sometimes you find something else, but you always learn something new.”
The level of teamwork also provided an important lesson. “One of my favorite things about the cruise was the opportunity to work on a tight-knit team, aligned towards the same goal,” wrote O’Neill. “Everyone had a job, but we all relied on each other for support and morale. Perhaps the most important thing we learned was how to safely work aboard a pitching and rolling vessel on the high seas.”
Shearman, White and their CEOAS colleague Laurie Juranek applied for financial support for the trip through what may be a unique program in the United States. In 2013, the State Legislature created a $300,000 fund at Oregon State University for oceanographic research. State agencies and Oregon University System faculty and students are eligible to apply for funding. A Research Vessel Council chaired by Jack Barth, professor and associate dean for research in CEOAS, reviews grant requests.
“State funding for an educational expedition like this is huge,” said White. “We are so grateful to the legislators for making this possible for the students.”
Supermarkets always tend to be one or two steps behind the First Alternative Co-op in Corvallis. Since its creation in 1970, this organization successfully led both a buy-local and an organic movement long before they became national trends. With citizens serving as both owners and shoppers, the co-op has its roots spread throughout the community.
As climate change alters the planet, identifying sustainable ways to get our meals poses a real challenge. For example, after the stock market crashed in 2008, the Oregon grass seed industry struggled. So the co-op struck a deal with a local farmer who converted his grass fields to wheat for sale in local stores. He currently distributes his wheat across the state to businesses such as Dave’s Killer Bread in Milwaukie.
“We have helped to create a more stable local food system that will help us through whatever happens to be coming,” says co-op Marketing Director Emily Stimac.
“Everyone should feel empowered that they can make a difference with their food choices,” says Stimac. “It was Michael Pollen who said that, ‘You get a chance to vote with your fork at least 3 times a day.’ We’ve seen those differences with what we’ve done at the co-op by labeling local foods. We’ve seen an increase from 16 percent to 35 percent of our sales for local ingredients. Giving people the choice to choose local has empowered them to choose local and shows that they want to.”
As consumers make choices for their three meals a day, it’s important to remember that the food we eat is directly related to living sustainably on an altered planet.
With reports of climate doomsday on the horizon, many people seek a brighter outlook on the future but aren’t sure where to turn. In February 2014, the Spring Creek Project for Ideas, Nature and the Written Word at Oregon State University hosted a two-day symposium to highlight strategies for coping — and even thriving — in a world confronted by these global-scale challenges.
“I think when people really engage with issues of climate change, environmental degradation, social problems….it’s scary,” says Charles Goodrich, director of the Spring Creek Project. “Often times people withdraw, and the biggest challenge is not to feel alone.
The need for an antidote to isolation inspired Goodrich and his team of writers and philosophers to organize the symposium on a theme of Transformation Without Apocalypse: How to Live Well on an Altered Planet.
With more than 1,000 people in attendance, the free public conference featured speakers, workshops and a “radical reimagining fair” to showcase innovations and organizations dedicated to sustainability. Participants explored a variety of environmental, social and economic solutions, such as water conservation, abolishing war, food co-ops, fossil fuel divestment and personal reflection on grief.
“We hope that with all these organizations and the many, many, many great ideas, there should be something for everyone,” Goodrich adds.
During the event, a small crew of Terra reporters set out to capture attendees’ perspectives on some of these ideas. Here is a collection of their responses.
“We want people to go home feeling less alone,” Goodrich says. “I’m still scared. I’m still angry. But now I know what to do, and I know who to do it with, so I’m not going to sit at home and sulk.”
Keynote speakers at the event included environmental activist Tim DeChristopher, “Yes! Magazine” editor Sarah Van Gelder and OSU Distinguished Professor of Philosophy Kathleen Dean Moore. The weekend culminated with readings by creative visionaries and authors Ursula K. Le Guin and Kim Stanley Robinson.
For an artist, science can be confusing, full of numbers, variables and technical terms. Whereas for a scientist, art can seem like a fantasy, a distraction from the real world.
Such differences lie behind the classic chasm between art and science, which British scientist and author C. P. Snow immortalized in his famous 1959 speech, The Two Cultures. Snow derided the mutual lack of understanding between these two camps. Former Oregon State art student Alice Marshall thinks this separation results from feelings of intimidation, and she used her creative skills to overcome them.
With support from art professor Julie Green and the OSU Research Office, Marshall created a series of paintings that bring the two cultures together. She collaborated with scientists to explore the function and relevance of their most important laboratory instruments. Her project, “Tools of the Trade,” shows the hard edge of science with soft colors and brush strokes.
“I think people in the sciences and the arts are wrongly intimidated by each other,” says, Marshall, who graduated last spring. “If that intimidation factor was lessened, Oregon State University would be a lot more unified.”
Marshall is no stranger to either view of the world. At West Albany High School, she filled her senior year with science courses, and in her first year at OSU, she intended to pursue aquatic entomology. But it wasn’t long before she was exploring the arts and decided to change her focus.
“I was enjoying the objectiveness of the science classes, but I wanted the creativity of the art classes,” she says. In the art department, Marshall still embraced the insights and curiosity of science, but she began doing so with pen and paper rather than with lab equipment.
“I see myself as a draftsman above all,” she explains. “Drawing is the fundamental core of visually interpreting and describing ideas and subjects. I soon found out that art was where I wanted to be, and once I switched to the art department, everything kind of clicked. I realized I could be an art major and research any topic I was interested in.”
Artists and scientists, she says, go through the same basic processes of developing a hypothesis, conducting research, making observations and drawing conclusions, although the results take different forms. So Marshall worked with art professor Green to develop a proposal for the OSU Research Office. The goal was to present science through art. The Research Office supported Marshall’s efforts through the Undergraduate Research Innovation, Scholarship and Creativity award, or URISC, a program that is open to all OSU students.
Marshall interviewed science students who had also received URISC grants and asked them to identify the piece of lab equipment they couldn’t live without. She aimed to bring a personal view to what might be perceived as a mechanical, imposing environment. In addition, she wanted to offer scientists a chance to connect their most useful tools to research outcomes.Talking Points
While meandering through the nooks and crannies of science labs, Marshall had to overcome a problem with language. Each branch of science creates its own vernacular. Students in chemistry, for example, use a different language than those in fish biology.
“That was one of the most creatively challenging parts about this project,” she adds, “trying to learn how to talk to different scientists depending on what they study. I purposely scheduled lab tours at least a week in advance so I could get familiar with what they were doing.”
Inside the labs, she took reference photos of equipment. She sifted through her images and made series of sketches. For her final paintings, she chose to focus on six instruments and explored them in drawings from different perspectives.
In the fall of 2013, she displayed her paintings in the Oregon State art gallery in Fairbanks Hall. Each work of art was accompanied by a description of the function and relevance of the instrument shown.
“Each painting makes a personal statement that draws the viewer in,” says Green, who emphasizes that any OSU student can take an art course. “The handmade quality gives them a human touch. This is not what we would see in photograph. It makes us question what we’re looking at and want to know more. I think her project is highly successful and a credit to her persistence and creativity.”
Marshall’s paintings were displayed in the Beth Ray Center at OSU for the 2014 academic school year. And in a show with other artists, the Albany Public Library also presented Marshall’s work that winter, following another exhibit with a family connection. Her father — a landscape architect, sculptor and lifelong painter — had shown a series of landscapes in acrylics. Alice credits her dad with inspiring her love of art. She remembers him rolling out giant sheets of white paper on the floor so they could draw for hours.
The project left Marshall with a desire to continue to bring the arts and sciences together. She continues to use drawing as a way to explore relationships and meaning. This summer, she is exploring the interaction of honeybees with humans and the environment. “I believe that the arts and sciences provide a wealth of inspiration for each other, and a healthy symbiotic relationship between them is crucial for their success,” says Marshall.
Her work also gave the Research Office a chance to bridge the gap between the fine arts and natural sciences. “We can chip away at the oft perceived gulf between the arts and the sciences,” says Rich Holdren, associate vice president for research. “And we’d like to help foster more collaborations among artists and scientists. Creativity is at the heart of both.”
Listen to a podcast with Alice Marshall.
Julie Green works with students to combine training in the visual arts with other disciplines, from engineering to the sciences and humanities. “Art is about life,” she says. “We learn through both ways of seeing the world.”
Green’s own project, The Last Supper, shows the meals ordered by death-row prisoners before execution. Each meal is presented in blue paint on a ceramic plate. The CUE Art Foundation, 137 West 25th St., New York, has included 12 of her plates in a show this summer, “To Shoot a Kite,” curated by Yaelle Amir, July 5 to August 2.
Green is also showing narrative plates and tempera paintings in a four-person show at the Laura Russo Gallery, 805 NW 21st St. in Portland, Oregon, from August 7 to 30.