News aggregator

Independence Day

Upcoming Events - Fri, 07/04/2014 - 4:06pm
Friday, July 4, 2014 (all day event)

The office of International Degree & Education Aborad (IDEA) will be closed in accordance with the OSU holiday schedule.

If there is an emergency, please contact OSU Public Safety at  541.737.7000.

French Conversation Group

Upcoming Events - Tue, 07/01/2014 - 4:08pm
Tuesday, July 1, 2014 4:30 PM - 6:00 PM

What is Café-Rencontres Francophones?

An initiative of the OSU French Department, Café-Rencontres is a casual French conversation group open to members of the OSU and greater-Corvallis communities. We welcome all levels of French from beginner to native, and we enjoying speaking French in a laid-back atmosphere. It's not a class, but we help each other as we go along.

We meet upstairs at Nearly Normals - come by anytime between 4:30 and 6pm on Tuesdays.

French Conversation Group

Upcoming Events - Tue, 06/24/2014 - 4:07pm
Tuesday, June 24, 2014 4:30 PM - 6:00 PM

What is Café-Rencontres Francophones?

An initiative of the OSU French Department, Café-Rencontres is a casual French conversation group open to members of the OSU and greater-Corvallis communities. We welcome all levels of French from beginner to native, and we enjoying speaking French in a laid-back atmosphere. It's not a class, but we help each other as we go along.

We meet upstairs at Nearly Normals - come by anytime between 4:30 and 6pm on Tuesdays.

Pathway Program Summer Term Begins

Upcoming Events - Mon, 06/23/2014 - 4:11pm
Monday, June 23, 2014 (all day event)

AE Summer Term Begins

Upcoming Events - Mon, 06/23/2014 - 4:11pm
Monday, June 23, 2014 (all day event)

GE Summer Session 1 Begins

Upcoming Events - Mon, 06/23/2014 - 4:11pm
Monday, June 23, 2014 (all day event)

General English Orientation

Upcoming Events - Fri, 06/20/2014 - 4:04pm
Thursday, June 19, 2014 - Friday, June 20, 2014 (all day event)

Academic English Orientation

Upcoming Events - Fri, 06/20/2014 - 4:04pm
Wednesday, June 18, 2014 - Friday, June 20, 2014 (all day event)

OSU Commencement 2014

Upcoming Events - Sat, 06/14/2014 - 4:06pm
Saturday, June 14, 2014 10:30 AM - 1:30 PM

2014 Ceremony Information:

  • Date: Saturday, June 14, 2014
  • Time: 10:30a.m. (when graduates process into Reser Stadium)
  • Location: Reser Stadium, Oregon State University
  • Rain or Shine Event
  • Tickets are NOT required


 For more details, visit: http://oregonstate.edu/events/commencement

Congratsulations to all education abroad returnees who are graduating this year. We wish you the best for the next chapter of your life!

Pathway Program Spring Term Ends

Upcoming Events - Fri, 06/13/2014 - 4:09pm
Friday, June 13, 2014 (all day event)

AE Spring Term Ends

Upcoming Events - Wed, 06/11/2014 - 4:12pm
Wednesday, June 11, 2014 (all day event)

GE Spring Session 2 Ends

Upcoming Events - Wed, 06/11/2014 - 4:12pm
Wednesday, June 11, 2014 (all day event)

French Conversation Group

Upcoming Events - Sat, 06/07/2014 - 4:07pm
Saturday, June 7, 2014 1:00 PM - 2:30 PM

Bonjour à tous!

To celebrate the upcoming end of Spring term, we're organizing a visit to Le Pâtissier (956 NW Circle Blvd) this coming Saturday (samedi 7 juin).

Please RSVP by Thursday, June 5. Also, if you'd like them to set aside something for you (like un pain au chocolat par exemple), indicate what you want in RSVP: elaine.hayashi@oregonstate.edu.

What is Café-Rencontres Francophones?
An initiative of the OSU French Department, Café-Rencontres is a casual French conversation group open to members of the OSU and greater-Corvallis communities. We welcome all levels of French from beginner to native, and we enjoying speaking French in a laid-back atmosphere. It's not a class, but we help each other as we go along. :)

Pathway Program Spring Term Ends

Upcoming Events - Fri, 06/06/2014 - 4:09pm
Friday, June 6, 2014 (all day event)

US Student Fulbright Program

Upcoming Events - Tue, 06/03/2014 - 4:06pm
Tuesday, June 3, 2014 12:00 PM - 1:00 PM

The Fulbright U.S. Student Program is the largest U.S. exchange program offering opportunities for students and  recent graduates to undertake international graduate study, advanced research, university teaching, and primary and secondary school teaching worldwide. The program currently awards approximately 1,800 grants annually in all fields of study, and operates in more than 155 countries worldwide.

During their grants, Fulbright scholars will meet, work, live with and learn from the people of the host country, sharing daily experiences. The program facilitates cultural exchange through direct interaction on an individual basis in the classroom, field, home, and in routine tasks, allowing the grantee to gain an appreciation of others’ viewpoints and beliefs, the way they do things, and the way they think. Through engagement in the community, the individual will interact with their hosts on a one-to-one basis in an atmosphere of openness, academic integrity, and intellectual freedom, thereby promoting mutual understanding.

For more information about Fulbright, please visit:



The 2015-16 Fulbright competition opens on May 1, 2014.  Please join LeAnn Adam, OSU Fulbright Program Advisor for an information session.

French Conversation Group

Upcoming Events - Tue, 06/03/2014 - 4:06pm
Tuesday, June 3, 2014 4:30 PM - 6:00 PM

What is Café-Rencontres Francophones?

An initiative of the OSU French Department, Café-Rencontres is a casual French conversation group open to members of the OSU and greater-Corvallis communities. We welcome all levels of French from beginner to native, and we enjoying speaking French in a laid-back atmosphere. It's not a class, but we help each other as we go along.

We meet upstairs at Nearly Normals - come by anytime between 4:30 and 6pm on Tuesdays.

Oregon State Nuclear Engineers Solve Looming Medical Isotope Shortage

OSU's Global Impact - Thu, 05/29/2014 - 4:25pm

When John Nuslein began experiencing chest pain, he contacted his doctor and underwent a round of tests. But the standard electrocardiogram and cardiac treadmill were inconclusive. It took a nuclear medicine stress test — a procedure in which a radioactive substance is injected into a vein — to visualize two blocked arteries in his heart. Since then, the 66-year-old man from Albany, Oregon, has undergone multiple heart procedures.

“I would have been dead if it had not been for nuclear stress testing,” Nuslein said. “There is no question in my mind that it would have gotten a lot more severe before they found anything.”

Despite its frequent use — more than 50,000 such procedures are performed in the United States every day — the future of nuclear diagnostic testing is at risk. Most of North America’s supply of a major ingredient, a medical isotope called molybdenum-99 — or Mo-99 — comes from an aging nuclear reactor in Ontario, Canada. It is due to shut down in 2016, and proposals to replace it with other technologies have been unsuccessful.

The pending shortage poses a serious health threat, said Nick Fowler, CEO of Northwest Medical Isotopes (NWMI), a Corvallis company and Oregon State University spinoff. “There can easily be a day when someone goes into an emergency room with chest pain, and the cardiologist wants to do a scan, and there won’t be any material.”

Engineers have developed a method for using research reactors to produce commercially useful levels of a critical medical isotope.

Fortunately, nuclear engineers at Oregon State have come up with a solution. A team of a professor, two Radiation Center staff members and an undergraduate student in the Department of Nuclear Engineering and Radiation Health Physics developed a way to use low-power research reactors to generate a supply of Mo-99. Their process uses a reactor’s neutrons emanating from the core to strike an aluminum cylinder containing low-enriched uranium. The researchers have shown that neutrons interact with the uranium to create a number of different isotopes, including commercially viable amounts of Mo-99. Through a process developed by OSU, the cylinder can then be processed to remove the medically useful isotope.

Oregon State has filed to patent the technique and partnered with Samaritan Health Services and NWMI, to commercialize it. The company is proposing to contract with universities around the country and to build a centralized processing plant near the University of Missouri in Columbia. The goal, says Fowler, is to create a secure and reliable domestic supply.

As a radioactive isotope, Mo-99 decays and loses half of its activity in 66 hours. The chemical that is actually used in diagnostic tests is a decay product known as technetium-99m (Tc-99m), which lasts for an even shorter amount of time, about a day.

“This is very perishable material,” added Fowler. “Once it’s created in the reactor, we have a very short time to transport it to the processing facility, extract the moly and get it into the medical supply chain so that doctors have that technique available to them. And it has to be going all the time, 24 hours a day, 52 weeks a year.”

Dr. Matt Lindberg, a cardiac imaging specialist at Good Samaritan Regional Medical Center in Corvallis, puts it succinctly: “no isotope, no image.” Dr. Lindberg and his colleagues conduct about 1,000 diagnostic tests with Tc-99m every year. The United States is by far the largest consumer of the isotope in the world.

For more than 50 years, doctors have used such medical isotopes to visualize the body and to diagnose illnesses that now include cancer, heart disease and bone and kidney problems. Tc-99m works by emitting gamma rays that can be detected with a special camera to show blockages in arteries and areas of low blood flow. Because the isotope breaks down quickly and has a relatively low energy level compared to that of other gamma-ray emitters, it poses a minimal health risk.

When he first heard of the need for a new supply of Mo-99, Steve Reese, director of the Oregon State Radiation Center, was skeptical that university reactors could play a role. “When I was first asked if there’s a way to do this, I said ‘no.’ Because of the way the process traditionally worked, you really couldn’t use small reactors like the one we have here at OSU,” he said.

But Reese decided to take a closer look at the problem and worked with Oregon State colleagues Todd Palmer, Todd Keller and Madicken Munk, an OSU undergraduate from Coon Rapids, Minnesota. “We checked hundreds of possibilities to see what this could look like,” said Reese. “And we came down to one geometry (shape) and one vision.” The Oregon State Research Office filed for a patent, which includes Munk, who graduated from OSU and is pursuing a Ph.D. in nuclear engineering at the University of California, Berkeley.

To develop the isotope technology, Oregon State and NWMI received support from the Oregon Nanoscience and Microtechnologies Institute (ONAMI), said Fowler. ONAMI provided funds to study techniques to create Mo-99 in the Oregon State research reactor. Fowler called ONAMI’s support “critical to our process.”

NWMI has filed a Notification of Intent to make a formal application to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission for permits to build the processing plant in Missouri. The company expects to break ground on that facility in 2015 and to begin production of Mo-99 in 2016.

Meanwhile, research on the procedure for generating and processing Mo-99 continues at the Oregon State Radiation Center. “This will save lives and help us to attract students and research faculty,” said Reese.

Categories: OSU's Global Impact

Poison in the Blood

OSU's Global Impact - Wed, 05/28/2014 - 11:50am

Graphic by Christina Ullman, Ullman Design (click to enlarge)

They used to call it “blood poisoning,” and the term is still descriptive, if outdated.

Like a poison, it’s fast and often deadly. A modest infection suddenly turns into a whole-body inflammation complete with fever, flushed skin, swelling and hyperventilation. It can hit anyone from an infant to the elderly. It killed at least two U.S. presidents while they were still in office.

The modern term is “sepsis.” That word was actually coined by Hippocrates around 400 B.C. and meant “the process of decay.” As a syndrome leading to multiple organ failure, sepsis is clearly a type of decay. But it’s a pretty quick process, where every hour of delay in administering an antibiotic can raise the mortality rate by another 6 percent. Even with aggressive treatment, 28 to 50 percent of the people diagnosed with sepsis die from it.

“Sepsis is a hidden killer, the one nobody really talks about,” says Adam Higgins, a bioengineer at Oregon State University. “It kills more people in the U.S. every year than AIDS, prostate cancer and breast cancer combined, and you still don’t hear much about it.”

A group of researchers in the College of Engineering, however, are working with teams of undergraduate and graduate students on a project that may soon have the whole world talking about sepsis. Finally there may be a way to combat this syndrome with something other than antibiotics — which often don’t work.

“A big part of the problem with sepsis is that it moves so rapidly,” says Joe McGuire, professor and head of the OSU School of Chemical, Biological and Environmental Engineering. “By the time it’s apparent what the problem is, it’s often too late to treat it. What we have in mind is a way to process the blood and prevent sepsis, something that could be used at any time.”

The underlying cause of sepsis is “endotoxins,” molecules that are released from bacterial cell walls and lead to rapid, systemic inflammation. These pieces of bacteria can disrupt the immune response, cause it to overreact and to develop clots and other problems that lead to multiple organ failure.

“If given early enough, antibiotics and other treatments can sometimes, but not always, stop this process,” McGuire adds. “Once these bacterial fragments are in the blood stream the antibiotics won’t always work. You can have successfully eradicated the living bacteria even as you’re dying.”

Jump-starting Careers

Undergraduates have used research opportunities in Joe McGuire’s lab as a launching pad to grad school and jobs in the biomedical industry.
Read more…

The approach being developed at OSU is to move blood through a very small processor, about the size of a coffee mug, and literally grab the endotoxins and remove them. The concept is surprisingly simple and builds on some of the university’s revolutionary work with microchannel technology.

By moving fluids through tubes the width of a human hair, microchannels accelerate chemical reactions and heat transfer. Applications are already being studied in heat exchangers, solar energy and chemical manufacturing. Microchannels can be produced in mass quantity at low cost, stamped onto a range of metals or plastics and used to process a large volume of liquid in a comparatively short time.

In this case, the liquid is blood, which may contain the endotoxins that cause sepsis. In the OSU system, blood can be pumped through thousands of microchannels that are coated with what researchers call “pendant polymer brushes,” tiny strands equipped with chemicals that can grab endotoxin molecules like a fishing hook. On the business end of the strand is a peptide, a bioactive agent that binds tightly to the endotoxin and removes it from the blood, which then goes directly back to the patient. To keep blood proteins and cells from sticking or coagulating in the channels, the strands also have been designed with repeating chains of carbon and oxygen atoms anchored on the surface.

“This doesn’t just kill bacteria and leave floating fragments behind; it sticks to and removes the circulating bacteria and endotoxin particles that might help trigger a sepsis reaction,” says Karl Schilke, the OSU Callahan Faculty Scholar in Chemical Engineering.

“We hope to emboss these out of low-cost polymers, so the device itself should be inexpensive enough that it can be used once and then discarded,” Schilke adds. “The low cost would also allow treatment even before sepsis is apparent, a prophylaxis approach to prevent it, not just treat it after the fact. Anytime there’s a concern about sepsis developing, due to an injury, a wound, an operation, an infection, you could get ahead of the problem.”

The risk of sepsis is surprisingly common. It can develop after an injury from an automobile accident, from a dirty wound, during an extended operation in a hospital, or opportunistically when people with a weak or compromised immune system contract an infectious disease.

More development and a demonstration of feasibility are still needed, the researchers say. The National Institutes of Health, the Collins Medical Trust and the Oregon Medical Research Foundation are supporting ongoing research. Advances are also being made in microchannel structures that would increase the adsorption of the endotoxins. But the promise of such systems — and  their value in medicine — could be enormous once the work is complete.

“When we first conceived of this approach to prevent sepsis, my initial reaction was, ‘Wow!’” McGuire says. “Think of the number of deaths we could prevent. Think of the billions of dollars spent in intensive care that could be available for something else. Think of all the infants and young people who could have their whole lives given back to them.”

In the United States, one out of every four people in a hospital emergency room is there because of sepsis, and more than $20 billion was spent on this problem in 2011. It’s the single most expensive cause of hospitalization. But as Higgins points out, it’s still a hidden killer and doesn’t always even make it onto the death certificate. Sometimes “cardiac arrest” or “kidney failure” is listed as cause of death instead of the real, underlying cause — sepsis.

Since the dawn of time, sepsis has killed infants. It’s killed countless numbers of people wounded in battles. Millions of people around the world die from it every year. It killed Pope John Paul II.

But if the research at OSU succeeds within the next few years, much of that may become a problem of the past.

Categories: OSU's Global Impact

Finding Your Inner Einstein

OSU's Global Impact - Wed, 05/28/2014 - 11:31am

“We believe that undergraduate research is the pedagogy for the 21st century.”   –National Council on Undergraduate Research

Kevin Ahern directs undergraduate research at Oregon State University. (Photo: Hannah O’Leary)

Kevin Ahern’s body language telegraphs his professional zeal. His arms akimbo, his eyes as round as moons, his swivel chair twisting this way and that, the director for Oregon State’s undergraduate research extolls the virtues of active scholarship.

“I’ve seen phenomenal growth and output from undergraduate researchers,” expounds Ahern, who teaches biochemistry and biophysics when he’s not hooking students up with research opportunities.

Even his neckwear speaks of his commitment to jump-starting students’ college careers by bringing them into the research fold early and often. The face of Albert Einstein adorns his orange-and-black tie, a gift from a grateful student. “She told me it reminded her of me,” he says, flipping it up to look at the fabled scientist with the wild hair. “I’m not sure if she meant my brains or my hair.”

Tapping into each student’s inner Einstein — that quester of cosmic secrets, that seeker of deeper insights, that finder of new truths — is what happens when undergrads do original research or scholarship under the wing of a professor or a post-doctoral researcher. It makes no difference whether they’re studying physics or philosophy, forestry or fine arts. The act of creative delving, hand-in-hand with a caring mentor, is transformative.

“They go from being a consumer of knowledge to being a producer of knowledge,” Ahern says. “They’re often surprised that they, too, can participate in creating knowledge. It’s extremely empowering.”

Crockpots to Petri Plates

Ahern tells the story of one former student, Katie Lebold, a biochemistry major who was on his advisee rolls. “She struck me as extraordinarily bright,” he recalls. “But her grades weren’t that great.” When he sat down to talk with her, he learned that she was working almost full-time at Bed Bath & Beyond in a neighboring town to pay for college. The grueling hours selling bathmats and crockpots, along with the grinding commute, were siphoning off her energy for school. Ahern went into action. He found her a paid position running experiments on vitamin E in the lab of OSU researcher Maret Traber.

“The transformation was remarkable,” Ahern says. “She went from struggling to being top of her class. As an undergraduate, she co-authored three or four publications — that’s almost unheard of for an undergrad. She published six more papers as a master’s student. Now she’s in the M.D./Ph.D. program at Oregon Health & Science University.”

Students like Lebold are the beneficiaries of a heavy push toward inquiry-based learning that took hold in American universities a couple decades ago. Textbooks and lectures have their place. But passively soaking up facts fails to foster critical thinking, problem solving and creative visioning, advocates argue. Without systematic investigation and active scholarship, there can be no discovery, no innovation, no advancement, no matter what your field of study. In cetacean genetics, American history, ice-core chemistry, prehistoric art, ancient-forest ecology, breakthroughs happen only when scientists and scholars observe, explore, hypothesize, challenge assumptions, sample, experiment, analyze — in short, follow the evidence. Freshman year is not too soon to jump into this rigorous way of knowing, according to Ahern and other proponents of undergraduate research.

Just before the turn of the millennium, the Boyer Commission on Educating Undergraduates in the Research University made a call to action. “The freshman and sophomore years need to open intellectual avenues that will stimulate original thought and independent effort, and reveal the relationships among sciences, social sciences and humanities,” wrote the commission, funded by the Carnegie Foundation.

At Oregon State, undergrads do research on amphibian declines, post-Cold War America, Weddell seal health, World War II censorship, threats to tropical reefs, radiation protection software and a host of other projects across multiple disciplines. About 2,500 undergraduate researchers participate yearly at OSU, some funded through the university’s Research Office program called Undergraduate Research, Innovation, Scholarship, and Creativity (URISC) and others paid by professors, departments, scholarships and the OSU Foundation. Some students do research for credit. Others do it simply for the experience.

The numbers of students participating and the level of university funding for undergraduate research at OSU fall somewhere in the middle of the pack for land grant and public research universities, according to Ahern. A recent survey of peer institutions across the country found between 1,000 (Stony Brook) and 10,000 undergrads (Michigan State) doing research. University funding to pay undergraduate researchers started at $55,000 (UC Davis) and topped out at $450,000 (Florida State), with Oregon State coming in at $150,000.

Ahern is hoping for an infusion of dollars from two large undergrad research initiatives that are pending: $2 million from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and $2 million from the National Science Foundation.

Keep on Truckin’

Since the Boyer Commission released its seminal report, studies have revealed that undergraduate research is a boon to students. Retention is one of the big benefits. African-American and other underserved students, in particular, are more likely to stay in college when they engage in research. Largely, that’s because the cooperative nature of science enfolds students who might otherwise feel disconnected, research shows. It seems that team spirit imbues scientific and scholarly endeavors just as it does soccer matches and basketball games.

Undergraduate research heightens confidence, teaches patience, strengthens the work ethic, boosts achievement, raises aspirations, bolsters self-concept and fosters persistence. And it inoculates young scholars against the disappointments inherent in trial and error. “As a scientist, you have to learn that sometimes things just don’t work,” one student researcher at Xavier University remarked. “You have to pick up your boots and keep on truckin’.”

In a nutshell, undergraduate research ignites what Grinnell College psychologist David Lopatto calls “a bright period of maturation.”

Categories: OSU's Global Impact

Private Eyes

OSU's Global Impact - Wed, 05/28/2014 - 11:30am

Illustration: Richard Mia

Just about every child has lain in the grass, looked up at the clouds and traced the shapes of lambs, castles and pirate ships. But these days, there’s a new kind of cloud, one made not of droplets but of data — one that conjures images far less benign than the “bows and flows of angel hair” Joni Mitchell sang about in a simpler age.

For this new cloud, the best imaginary shape might be a giant pair of eyes.

“In human history, there’s never been more surveillance of individuals by the state and by private corporations than there is today,” said Oregon State University historian Christopher McKnight Nichols in April when he appeared on National Public Radio’s Philosophy Talk.

Not so long ago, cloud computing — the collection, processing and storage by companies such as Amazon, Google and Microsoft of data generated by cellphone signals, computer searches and credit card sales — would have seemed as sci-fi as cryogenic revival, as out-there as lunar colonization. But now, Internet-based computing is as ubiquitous as blue jeans, as ordinary as PB&J. Within its very commonness lurks its insidiousness. Most Americans, completely comfy with their mobile phones, laptops, desktops, pads and GPS devices, go about their daily lives blithely unaware that their calls are being archived by the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) in the war on terrorism, that their Web searches are being mined by marketers and that their movements are being tracked day and night by cell towers and satellites.

That’s largely because the digital outputs of electronic devices flow invisibly among “virtual servers” that can send and receive data, unseen, from place to place, nation to nation, continent to continent. Just about anything in the digital universe’s zettabyte of data (give or take a gigabyte) can be snatched (or purchased) by a government intelligence agent, a “black-hat hacker,” a for-profit company, an email “phishing” scammer or a digital swindler “sniffing” for wireless signals in a coffee shop.

Since whistleblower Edward Snowden’s recent revelations of government spying and large-scale data mining, journalists, pundits and scholars have ramped up their commentary about the intrusiveness of today’s 24/7 surveillance. Some have gone so far as to invoke George Orwell’s “Big Brother.” Philosophy Talk played on that theme rather ominously in the title for its April taping at Oregon State, “The New Surveillance State: Big Brother Grows Up,” where Nichols was the featured guest.

OSU business professor Nancy King, a nationally recognized scholar in the field of consumer privacy, echoes the sentiment. “The thing that pops to my mind is the extreme example of Orwell’s 1984, where everyone has a video screen inside their house that watches every move they make,” she says. “We have Google doing something very much like that. We have government doing it, too. The extent of surveillance in our society is incredible.”

What does this digital Big Brother mean for the privacy of Americans as consumers, citizens and human beings? That’s the question Nichols, King and other faculty at OSU are digging into as they investigate the historical, contemporary and future concepts of privacy in the United States. Below are some observations distilled from interviews with five scholars: historians Ben Mutschler, Marisa Chappell and Christopher Nichols in the College of Liberal Arts; computer scientist Carlos Jensen in the College of Engineering; and consumer privacy expert Nancy King in the College of Business.

BEN MUTSCHLER: “Emergence of the self”

Secrecy and autonomy of correspondence, journals and even flesh-and-blood bodies have shifted in surprising ways as perceptions of privacy have evolved over the past three centuries. As he studies 18th-century American life, Ben Mutschler scrutinizes attitudes toward letters, diaries, body fluids — even bedfellows.

Back in those days, letters often were public performances, not unlike Facebook postings today, he notes. Recipients would read them aloud at social gatherings for amusement and discussion. Diaries, rather than records of inner musings — what Mutschler calls “intimate self-disclosures” — were matter-of-fact jottings about daily events and transactions. Bodily functions that Americans today regard as intensely private were routinely on public display. Young George Washington, for example, was instructed to urinate away from others and avoid spitting on the person beside him, two of the 100-plus rules listed in his boyhood handbook of etiquette. And in contrast to today’s motel rooms with deadbolts and electronic key cards, a weary 18th-century traveler might awake in his lodgings to find a stranger sharing his bed.

“What we would take to be privacy issues might not have been construed in the same way in the 18th century,” he says. “The social and cultural contexts were quite different. If the NSA were to come in today and take your diary, we’d say it’s a real violation. But in the 18th century, diaries were often a register of social exchanges or bartering — who visited whom, when the eggs were delivered, that kind of thing.”

In fact, the whole notion of “bodily integrity,” of each human as a “self-activated person who can do his or her own thing,” has emerged fairly recently in human history, according to Mutschler. “Historians date the emergence of the self — the whole discourse about a person being an individual with free agency — taking place over hundreds and hundreds of years.”

MARISA CHAPPELL: “Not an enumerated right”

Like the concept of selfhood, privacy is a fairly recent notion, especially in American jurisprudence. Now, with the lines between the physical world and the virtual world as blurry as a dirty windshield in a blinding rain, incipient privacy rights are murkier still.

“Privacy is not an enumerated right,” says Marisa Chappell, a scholar of 20th-century U.S. history. “It’s a concept we create through law and sociocultural understandings.”

Privacy, she points out, is not explicitly spelled out in the U.S. Constitution. The closest thing to a Constitutional guarantee to privacy is the Fourth Amendment, which protects Americans from warrantless government searches of their homes and seizures of their stuff. But the amendment was written well before anyone dreamed of valuable personal information floating around in the air instead of being locked in a vault or stashed under a mattress. Likewise, prohibitions against wiretaps seem quaint in a wireless world.

“Law has to constantly adapt to changing technology,” says Chappell. “We’re making it up as we go along.”

In the 1973 landmark Roe v. Wade decision, for example, the U.S. Supreme Court invoked an implied right to privacy under the “penumbra” of the 14th Amendment guaranteeing due process in its opinion granting abortion rights to women. But state legislatures and lower courts are constantly challenging this fragile right.

“Privacy,” says Chappell, “is a continual source of debate and negotiation, of weighing in on the boundaries. I don’t think Americans are ready or willing to give up a private zone. But technologically, how can it be secured? I don’t know. These are questions of law. They’re questions of policy. They’re questions of technology.

“I don’t envision a dystopian future, myself. I’m not such a pessimist.”

CHRISTOPHER McKNIGHT NICHOLS: “Abridging civil liberties”

Christopher Nichols echoes Chappell’s point about the legal lag time. “Technology tends to outpace the law,” he says. “Constitutional law hasn’t caught up.”

Rights to privacy, speech, due process — even physical liberty — often succumb in the face of enemies, real or imagined, observes Nichols, an historian of U.S. relations with the world. When people are afraid of terrorists, for example, many readily relinquish their privacy in exchange for the sense of greater safety.

“We often abridge civil liberties in wartime,” he says. “You can look at conflict after conflict in American history, and you’ll find abridgements of civil liberties that citizens willfully endorse. The Civil War is a great example. Lincoln suspended habeas corpus, the foundation of American civil law.” The list goes on.

The American public’s tepid outrage over Snowden’s NSA leaks fits this pattern, he argues. People tend to be sanguine about government spying if they think it can stop another 9/11. But apathy about privacy is a slippery slope. What happens if today’s existential threat becomes a threat without end?

Whether history judges Snowden as a patriotic hero or a dastardly traitor, his revelations have contributed to the transparency that keeps government accountable and safeguards individual privacy.

“These kinds of leaks are very important for open democracy,” Nichols asserts. “Ideally, citizens should be informed directly by the government, in a proactive way, about surveillance activities. But that tends not to be the case. So these leaks help us to know more.”

CARLOS JENSEN: “As if no one is eavesdropping”

Carlos Jensen is really glad Facebook wasn’t around when he was growing up. Digital cameras, too. “Thank the Lord,” he says, laughing.

“When you’re putting your life out there, very few people think about the long-term consequences,” notes Jensen, who studies online communications and communities. “In most likelihood, anything and everything you send over services like Google or, say, your employer’s email is being logged, potentially forever, in a way that allows instant searching and instant correlation. Our thinking and our attitudes and the way we live our lives really haven’t evolved to compensate for that. We still conduct business as if no one is eavesdropping on us.”

For Jensen, even more troubling than NSA data mining, which he calls “a gross invasion of privacy,” is corporate amassing of user information around the clock, seven days a week, no breaks for holidays.

“Honestly, what keeps me up at night is that all our laws and all our regulations are about what the government can and cannot do,” says Jensen, who is working on browser privacy tools that are fast and easy to use. “But there’s virtually no regulation that says what Google may or may not do.”

Jensen teaches a class on computer ethics. One of the questions he poses to his students is this: “Who knows you the best?” After they ponder, he tells them: “Chances are, it’s not your family. Chances are, it’s not your friends. Chances are, it’s Google.”

NANCY KING: “The wild, wild West”

Nancy King, too, worries deeply about the unfettered access of governments and corporations to people’s personal information. While she’s quick to clarify that she’s “quite pro-business,” she rues the lack of a legal framework to reign in privacy abuses and tighten up security.

“I appreciate the business value of analyzing consumer data and creating targeted products and services for customers,” she explains. “But there’s almost no protection in the U.S. for consumers’ privacy, particularly their information privacy. The technology is way out ahead of our ability to even understand what we need to do to protect ourselves from identity theft, unfair price discrimination and other harms.”

What’s urgently needed, King argues, is a baseline privacy law that tells businesses what they can and can’t do with data. “Once we have a foundational law that establishes basic informational privacy rights,” she says, “the more egregious privacy abuses likely will be reduced. But right now it’s a free-for-all. It’s the wild, wild West.”

King also frets about Big Brother’s crimping effect on creativity, innovation, spontaneity and originality — those most brilliant sparks of the human spirit, which flame freely only in an open society. “People don’t develop the same way if they’re constantly under surveillance by others,” she warns. “If you’re being watched by people, watched by cameras in the street, watched by computers that monitor your every keystroke and track your online behavior, that changes how you develop and act.

“It’s the essence of being human to have some privacy about ourselves. Our laws need to reflect this fundamental truth.”

Categories: OSU's Global Impact