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High Beams

OSU's Global Impact - Fri, 01/24/2014 - 3:50am

Teresa Sawyer, left, and Pete Eschbach direct operations in Oregon State’s Electron Microscopy Facility. (Photo: Hannah O’Leary)

For a place that takes pictures with what amounts to controlled bursts of lightning, the lab is quiet, almost hushed. Standing in the entrance to Oregon State University’s Electron Microscopy Facility (EMF), you might hear researchers’ soft voices as they discuss the best way to see pollen on a bee’s tongue or to look at a layer of molecules on a silicon wafer. You might be struck by the images on the walls and display screens — disc-shaped blood cells, elegant ocean plankton, flower-shaped nanocrystals.

The EMF is home to machines with names like Titan, Nova and Quanta, all built by FEI, a global scientific instrument company headquartered in Hillsboro, Oregon. In essence, this lab is the Hubble Telescope of the nanorealm. It reveals microorganisms associated with disease, biodiversity and pollination. It demonstrates human innovation at the molecular scale, the architecture of materials designed for industries that are just a gleam in a researcher’s eye.

The technology is a far cry from what you might have used in your high school biology lab. Researchers don’t peer at a sample through a microscope lens. They place it in a sealed chamber and sit at a computer. They direct the machine to shoot an electron beam at the sample through a tube that guides and focuses the beam with magnetic “lenses.” As the subatomic particles strike the sample, they knock other electrons off its surface. A detector captures these “secondary electrons,” and an image appears on a display screen in front of the scientist.

The EMF’s two staff members — Pete Eschbach, director, and Teresa Sawyer, instrument manager — assist scientists and train students to prepare their samples. Over the last four years, Eshbach says, the EMF has provided direct support for more than $100 million in Oregon State research projects. Its images and data underlie advances in solar energy, crop science, archaeology and human and animal health. Businesses use the facility to assure the quality of their products, and lawyers use it in disputes over pollution and patent rights.

Engineers bring in fiberglass strands, semiconductors layered with titanium-coated diatoms and piezoelectric materials, substances that change shape under the influence of an electric current. A researcher in OSU’s J.L. Fryer Salmon Disease Lab brings in a Willamette River carp that is covered in tumors, from skin to gills to throat. (The lab’s images identified the cause: an infectious parasite.)

The EMF’s two workhorses — the scanning electron microscope (SEM) and the transmission electron microscope (TEM) — differ in the power of their sample penetration. Both record the interaction of electrons with molecules, but the SEM looks at the surface, capturing images of shape and structure. The TEM dives deep for a look inside. Working with the TEM takes longer, says Eschbach, but can generate more information about composition and chemistry.

For Sawyer, the ability to generate an intimate view of materials and living things still inspires her. “It’s pretty amazing that you can get a picture with electrons,” she says. “When you hit something with electrons, they excite other electrons and you get an image. I think that’s absolutely cool.”

See examples of the images captured by Oregon State scientists.

Proof of Pollination

Electron microscope images catch bees in the act.
Read more…

Illuminating Plankton

Images reveal new plankton species.
Read more…

Nanocrystals for Solar

Molecular function follows curious form.
Read more…

Oysters on Acid

Acidification has deadly impact on oyster growth.
Read more…

Through the Needle

Swiss needle cast disease retards growth in Douglas-fir trees.
Read more…

Viral Diagnostics

Electron images reveal viruses at work.
Read more…

Categories: OSU's Global Impact

Partners Raise $1.5 Million for Earthquake Research

OSU's Global Impact - Thu, 01/23/2014 - 11:49am

Earthquake damage in Christchurch, New Zealand

Looming in Oregon’s future is a massive 9.0 earthquake. Roads, bridges, buildings, sewers, gas and water lines and lives are at risk. To meet the threat, Oregon State University and partners from government and industry have created a research initiative known as the Cascadia Lifelines Program.

They have raised $1.5 million to support studies of building design, soils, landslide vulnerability and other issues. (See “Oregon 9.0” in Terra, spring 2013)

“With programs like this and the commitment of our partners, there’s a great deal we can do to proactively prepare for this disaster and get our lifelines back up and running after the event,” says Scott Ashford, director of the new program. The Kearney Professor of Engineering in the Oregon State College of Engineering has studied the impact of subduction zone earthquakes in much of the Pacific Rim.


See an Oregon State news release, “Cascadia Lifelines Program begun to aid earthquake preparation,” Oct. 29, 2013

Categories: OSU's Global Impact

Federal Boost for OSU Spinoff

OSU's Global Impact - Thu, 01/23/2014 - 11:43am

NuScale has developed unique and proprietary break-through technology for an innovative, simple, safe, economic, and scalable small modular reactor. Using proven light water reactor (LWR) technology, the NuScale Power Module is cooled by natural circulation, is entirely self-contained and installed underwater and underground to maximize safety. It is the only nuclear plant design in the world that can withstand a station blackout event and self-cool indefinitely with no operator action, no additional water and no AC or DC power. (Illustration courtesy of NuScale Power)

A promising new form of nuclear power that evolved in part from research more than a decade ago at Oregon State University has received a significant boost: up to $226 million in funding to NuScale Power from the U.S. Department of Energy. NuScale began as a spinoff company based on the pioneering research of OSU professor Jose Reyes. It has become one of the international leaders in the creation of small “modular” nuclear reactors. (See “Power Surge,” Terra, spring 2009)

This technology holds enormous promise for developing nuclear power with small reactors that can minimize investment costs, improve safety, provide flexibility in meeting power demands and produce energy without greenhouse gas emissions.

Categories: OSU's Global Impact

Carnivores in Retreat

OSU's Global Impact - Thu, 01/23/2014 - 9:59am

Gray wolf (Photo: Doug McLaughlin)

In ecosystems around the world, the decline of large predators such as lions, wolves and cougars is changing the face of landscapes from the tropics to the Arctic. An analysis of 31 carnivore species shows how threats such as habitat loss, persecution by humans and reductions in prey combine to create global hotspots of carnivore decline.

More than 75 percent of 31 large-carnivore species are losing ground; 17 species now occupy less than half of their former ranges. Bill Ripple of OSU’s College of Forestry led the international review of more than 100 published studies.

“Globally, we are losing our large carnivores,” Ripple says. “Their ranges are collapsing. Ironically, they are vanishing just as we are learning about their important ecological effects.” (See “High Alert,” Terra, spring 2007.)

The researchers, including OSU’s Robert Beschta and Michael Nelson, call for an international initiative to conserve large predators in coexistence with people.


See an Oregon State news release, “Loss of large carnivores poses global conservation problem,”  1-9-14.

Categories: OSU's Global Impact

Viral Diagnostics

OSU's Global Impact - Wed, 01/22/2014 - 6:24pm

Rocky Baker, supervisor of the virology lab in the Oregon State University Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory, identified this influenza virus in pet ferrets whose owner had come down with the flu. Ferrets are susceptible, he says, and the owner was concerned that his animals became sick after contact with a family member who had influenza symptoms.

The College of Veterinary Medicine plays a vital role in animal and human health by diagnosing causes of disease. Baker uses transmission electron microscopy (TEM) weekly to rapidly identify viruses in pets and livestock.

“It’s invaluable to narrowing the playing field,” he says. “There’s a lot of money you can throw at a sample trying to determine what you’ve got. Often, if I can see it by electron microscopy, that’s all I need.”

Baker has identified ORF virus in sheep that had sores on their teats and canine parvovirus in a puppy that had severe diarrhea. In the puppy’s case, a kit test had found no evidence of parvo. Such tests are highly sensitive, he says, to when they are done in the disease cycle.

Categories: OSU's Global Impact

Through the Needle

OSU's Global Impact - Wed, 01/22/2014 - 6:15pm

On the surface of a Douglas-fir needle, the spore of a fungal pathogen, Phaeocryptopus gaeumannii, germinates and sends forth threads (hyphae). It matures into an organism that will grow inside the needle and reproduce. By interfering with the tree’s ability to exchange air and water, it shuts down photosynthesis. Thus starts a disease known as Swiss needle cast, which causes more than $200 million in reduced Douglas-fir growth annually in Oregon.

Researchers in Oregon State’s Swiss Needle Cast Cooperative are studying the disease in order to develop treatments. Robin Rose, professor of forestry, used a scanning electron microscope to capture the fungus at work. The cross section of a needle, left, shows what appear to be hyphae among the needle’s cells, although it isn’t clear that the threads are from the pathogen. At right is an opening, or stomate, in the needle.

“I was looking for hyphae going into or out of the stomates of Douglas-fir needles,” says Rose.

A partnership with the Oregon Department of Forestry, USDA Forest Service and the forest industry, the cooperative was founded in 1997 to maintain productivity in the region’s Douglas-fir forests.

Categories: OSU's Global Impact

Oysters on Acid

OSU's Global Impact - Wed, 01/22/2014 - 6:07pm

The oceans are about 30 percent more acidic than they were a century ago, and scientists are beginning to understand the consequences for marine ecosystems. Oysters may provide an early warning of what’s to come.

George Waldbusser, a biogeochemist in the College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences, and Elizabeth Brunner, a master’s student, conducted an experiment with oyster larvae, which are about the width of a human hair. One group of larvae was grown in water from deep in Puget Sound. Its level of acidity was equivalent to that forecast for the global ocean in the next 100 years. Another was grown in surface water under current conditions. The researchers used scanning electron microscopy to compare larval development after four days in the Taylors shellfish hatchery in Washington state.

Their images show clearly that oyster larvae falter when they are grown in acidified water. A small misshapen shell (left) dooms them to a life cut short. That’s because shell development is required for other stages of oyster growth, says Waldbusser, who uses SEM to study the dynamics of the process. “It’s really important that they get the shell built in a short window of time. Increasing atmospheric CO2 levels will shrink the window for initial shell formation.”

Categories: OSU's Global Impact

Nanocrystals for Solar

OSU's Global Impact - Wed, 01/22/2014 - 5:58pm

In Alex Chang’s lab in the School of Chemical, Biological and Environmental Engineering, researchers arrange atoms in precise patterns to create materials with novel electrical and heat-transfer properties. Chang and his colleagues use electron microscopy to visualize and analyze structures that are often only a few atoms thick.

“The EM facility is very important for our work,” says Chang. “It allows us to look at the structures in high resolution.”

These flower-like particles are among a variety of curious shapes created by zinc-oxide nanoparticles. Others appear as needles or spheres. After mixing a solution in a continuous-flow microreactor (a device in which chemical reactions occur in tiny channels), Chang and his team deposit particles as a film on a heated surface and then slowly cool the film. They have used this relatively simple technique to make transistors as well as materials with high heat-transfer characteristics. Motor and window manufacturers are among the companies that have expressed interest in Chang’s work.


Categories: OSU's Global Impact

Illuminating Plankton

OSU's Global Impact - Wed, 01/22/2014 - 5:49pm

Consuelo Carbonell-Moore has made it her life’s work to document the diversity of one of the ocean’s most abundant life forms: dinoflagellates, a type of plankton. These organisms are no mere bystanders in marine ecosystems. Some produce life-giving oxygen. Others influence the formation of coral reefs. In coastal waters, they can bloom as “red tides” and turn filter-feeding organisms, such as shellfish, toxic.

With a courtesy appointment in Botany and Plant Pathology, the oceanographer uses a scanning electron microscope to capture images of dinoflagellate cells that she and her colleagues have collected in the oceans. She has already described several genera and dozens of new species previously unknown to science. Among her samples currently in process, she says, are up to 100 new species. These two are among the hundreds of dinoflagellate cells that are still undescribed in the scientific literature.

“This is a tremendous amount of new cells that nobody has seen before,” she says. “It will add to our knowledge of biodiversity.”

Carbonell-Moore has used scanning electron microscopes in North America and Europe. “Oregon State’s facility is amazing,” she adds. “For ease of use and the quality of the images, it’s the best.”

Categories: OSU's Global Impact

Proof of Pollination

OSU's Global Impact - Wed, 01/22/2014 - 5:39pm

As honeybees pick up pollen and nectar, they pollinate about one-third of the plants in the human diet. “Growers rent honeybees to pollinate their crops, and we are taking a close look to see what kinds of pollen the bees are actually collecting,” says Sujaya Rao, entomologist in Crop and Soil Science.

Using a scanning electron microscope, Rao, graduate student Sarah Maxfield-Taylor and emeritus entomologist Bill Stephen have studied pollen collected by honeybees and bumblebees in and near blueberry and red-clover fields. They have focused on pollen caught in hair on body parts such as the leg and head, rather than on the “pollen load,” a ball made of nectar and pollen that bees take back to the hive.

Even the tongue accumulates pollen grains, which rub off the plant as the insects work their way into flowers and use their tongues to collect nectar. Bumblebees tend to have longer tongues, says Stephen, which are well adapted to specific types of flowers.

Their images show how pollen picked up by the bees can vary depending on which plants are in bloom. These show pollen on a bee’s legs, head and tongue.

Categories: OSU's Global Impact

Cultural Heritage

Upcoming Events - Wed, 01/22/2014 - 5:13pm
Wednesday, January 22, 2014 4:00 PM - 5:00 PM
Cultural Heritage is an event in which a panel of students and faculty will answer questions on various topics using their cultural background to talk about various topics such as Education, Marriage, Traditions and others. Listen in and ask questions - Join the discussion.

Neighbors in Tech: Advantage Partners

OSU's Global Impact - Wed, 01/22/2014 - 4:26pm

In most neighborhoods, talk turns to family, weather or sports. But when the neighbors include a global high-tech company and the state’s largest research university, the conversation bends to technology.

“In choosing a location for its Advanced Products Division in 1974, key criteria for HP included quality of life and proximity to a great engineering university and talent pool,” says Tim Weber, vice president and general manager at HP. “Corvallis and OSU fit the bill for HP. From the high rate of hiring OSU engineering graduates to joint research efforts, HP and OSU have enjoyed a strong partnership over the years.”

Here are examples of ongoing collaborations between Hewlett-Packard (HP) and Oregon State University.

Magnetic Alignment

The most common type of desktop printer uses inkjet technology. However, researchers are refining the underlying process — the precise application of liquid drops to paper, plastic and other substrates — to make new electronic circuits. “Just like you print things on paper, you would be able to print a circuit with magnetic materials,” says Pallavi Dhagat of the School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. With funding from HP and OSU, researchers developed a method for controlling the alignment of magnetic particles in each drop. Standard techniques align magnetic particles in a single direction, but the new process allows particles to be arranged in radial, spiral and other patterns. The benefits will be seen in improved circuit components such as antennae and inductors.

Sensors for Health Monitoring

As we age, health-care costs climb. Researchers are looking for efficiencies to keep us healthy and in our own homes. A collaboration between OSU’s VLSI (very-large-scale integration) Research Group and HP aims to produce a health-monitoring device the size of a Band-Aid. Combined with HP’s Richter sensor, which measures acceleration as an object moves, a wireless system could transmit data to health professionals. Information about how a person walks, for example, could indicate a need for treatment. Existing systems for monitoring heart rate and respiration use batteries and tend to be bulky. The OSU-HP goal, says Patrick Chiang, OSU electrical engineer, is a lightweight, convenient device that harvests energy from a base station.

Cool Operator

Computers, inkjet printers and many other electronic devices produce heat that can limit performance, so designers and manufacturers resort to many different cooling technologies. One set of materials, known as piezoelectrics, produce voltage in response to a mechanical stress and are already used to eject the ink in some inkjet printers. However, most of these materials contain lead, which is gradually being phased out of industrial products. Researchers at OSU have demonstrated novel lead-free materials that are piezoelectric and can extract heat from their surroundings. “The properties of lead-based materials are so good, they will be hard to replace,” says Brady Gibbons, associate professor of materials science and mechanical engineering. “But the market is so large, the payoff could be huge.” In the course of a five-year collaboration with HP, Gibbons, his colleague David Cann and student researchers have discovered a class of lead-free ceramic materials that have excellent piezoelectric properties and great potential for use in solid state cooling applications. One patent has been received, and several more are in the pipeline. Support has been provided by HP, the Oregon Metals Initiative, the Oregon Nanoscience and Microtechnologies Institute (ONAMI) and OSU’s Venture Development Fund.


To discover what the Oregon State University Advantage and the Advantage Partnerships program can do for your business, contact Ron Adams, Executive Associate Vice President for Research, 541-737-7722.

Categories: OSU's Global Impact

Breed to Feed

OSU's Global Impact - Wed, 01/22/2014 - 4:07pm

Oregon’s $5 billion-a-year agriculture industry needs new breeds of grains, nuts, fruits and vegetables. Some food crops become vulnerable to disease and pests. Others must evolve to match the changing needs of farmers and consumers.

Oregon State University plant breeders have a long legacy of creating new food crops with better yields, healthier nutritional content and enhanced flavors. Breeders emphasize sustainable farming practices that help the environment and boost growers’ bottom lines.

This doesn’t happen overnight: Designing new varieties of wheat, raspberries and other crops can take a decade to go from the back of an envelope to your dinner plate. But OSU sees 5 billion reasons to keep new crops coming to a field near you.

The Indigo Rose tomato has a striking purple pigment – and that’s no accident. OSU bred its skin to contain high levels of anthocyanins, compounds with potential antioxidant health benefits.

When Eastern Filbert Blight crippled Oregon’s hazelnut trees in the 1990s, OSU rescued the industry. Among the newly resistant varieties is Wepster, a high-yielding tree that produces a petite nut, perfect for the chocolate industry.

OSU has a storied history spawning new spuds, including the Crimson Red, Purple Pelisse and Sage Russet. Bred to resist fungi, insects, viruses and weeds, OSU tubers reduce chemical, fertilizer and water use.

Small fruits
OSU and research partners have bred small fruits for nearly 100 years. New varieties of raspberry, strawberry and blackberry continue to emerge at Experiment Stations across the state. The results have been fruitful: Together these sweet treats add $140 million to Oregon communities annually.

Grain growers must stay a step ahead of pests and diseases to keep yields high and meet market demands. In 2013, farmers had their first crack at Kaseberg and Ladd, two new soft white winter wheats. Meanwhile, OSU is testing more than 10,000 experimental varieties of barley. A new variety, known as Verdant, recently hit seed catalogs.

Categories: OSU's Global Impact

The Gas Track

OSU's Global Impact - Wed, 01/22/2014 - 3:24pm

Josh Tibbitts helped to establish an OSU-Cascades lab for testing engines that compress and store natural gas. (Photo: Steve Gardner)

For an undergraduate, Josh Tibbitts faced an unusual problem last winter: where to find a source of high-pressure natural gas for a new research lab. We’re not talking about double or triple the pressure that produces the blue flame in your furnace or a kitchen stove — typically less than one-quarter of a pound per square inch (PSI). Tibbitts needed to find a supply at 2,000 PSI.

The senior in the Energy Systems Engineering program at OSU-Cascades in Bend talked with utilities and gas suppliers, but despite some efforts to help, he came up empty-handed. “We got a lot of blank stares,” he says. “Or like they’re thinking, ‘Are you out of your mind? What do you need this for?’ They just thought we were crazy.”

It wasn’t the first time Tibbitts had pushed into new terrain. A native of Utah, he moved to Ashland in 2000 where he worked as a building contractor and cabinetmaker. After the recession hit, orders dried up, so he folded his business and enrolled at OSU-Cascades. His timing, it turned out, was perfect. With a $700,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), Chris Hagen, assistant professor in Energy Systems Engineering, had just begun building a lab to develop a way for people to pump natural gas into cars and trucks at home. He needed students with skills to move the project along.

Now Tibbitts works as a project manager for Hagen. “I couldn’t have been in a better place at a better time,” Tibbitts says.

The CNG Promise

Hagen’s lab could be at the forefront of a change in our driving habits. The United States has a plentiful supply of natural gas, partly based on the controversial practice known as fracking. Running our vehicles on methane, its primary component, could reduce our dependence on foreign energy sources. A methane fill-up can also help address the threat of global warming. On an energy-equivalent basis, natural gas produces five percent to nine percent fewer greenhouse gas emissions than does gasoline. DOE’s research program known as MOVE, Methane Opportunities for Vehicular Energy, aims to increase the use of natural gas in transportation.

Tibbitts and Chris Hagen, assistant professor at OSU-Cascades in Bend, discuss testing protocols on an engine. (Photo: Steve Gardner)

So, Hagen has subcontracted with researchers at Colorado State University and worked with Czero, an engineering company in Fort Collins, Colorado, to develop a method for compressing and storing natural gas in a vehicle. But there’s a problem: This fuel takes up a lot of space. In fact, it takes 127 cubic feet of natural gas, about the size of a coat closet, to equal the energy content of one gallon of gasoline. Imagine filling up your car with the methane equivalent of 10 gallons of gasoline. You’d need a tank the size of a small bedroom.

To give natural gas vehicles a range comparable to those that run on gasoline, the OSU-Cascades researchers are developing a system that will pump a lot of methane into a reinforced gas tank. Their goal is to compress natural gas to nearly 3,600 PSI. Moreover, they plan to run the vehicle’s engine as a compressor, so drivers can refuel quickly at home.

And that takes us back to Tibbitts’ search for a source of high-pressure natural gas. The researchers need a steady, high-volume supply to do experiments. Just breaking in a custom-built test engine will take about 40 hours of continuous operation. “You run (the engine) at low rpm consistently,” says Tibbitts, “so the seals really seal before you start working it hard. That’s an industry standard. To run the engine for 40 hours straight, we need quite a bit of gas.”

After breaking in the engine, they will test it in what they call “fill mode.” One of the engine’s cylinders has been modified to act as a compressor — pumping natural gas into a storage tank — while the remaining cylinders would power the process. Researchers aim for their system to complete a fill-up in under two hours.

After exhausting sources of natural gas in Central Oregon, Tibbitts was able to strike a deal with Airgas, a national supplier of industrial gases. The company will make regular deliveries of five-foot high cylinders of compressed methane.

A Framework for Experiments

Photo: Steve Gardner

That wasn’t the only job on Tibbitts’ plate. He also coordinated teams of electricians, plumbers, welders and other technicians to construct the heart of the lab’s testing facility: a massive steel frame that holds test engines and a 1,400-pound electric motor. Other components include computers to collect and store data and, for the safety of people working in the lab, a half-inch-thick bulletproof Lexan shield to separate the pressurized engines from the workspace.

Regular visits from DOE officials kept the pressure on the research team as well. “It was a lot needing to come together at once,” Tibbitts says. “There have been times when it got stressful.”

Hagen praises Tibbitt’s contribution to the project. “Josh really takes to the task and gets the job done,” says Hagen. “He takes charge and comes to me only if he has questions.”

For Tibbitts, compressed natural gas is part of a holistic approach to energy. “A lot of people want to subscribe to all renewables,” he says, “but the truth is that there is no one way. It will take a variety of approaches. Natural gas has benefits for energy independence and provides an economic boost at home. It’s something that has to be explored.”

Tibbitts plans to graduate in March after completing a capstone project on thermal energy storage for Hydro Flask, a Bend startup company that makes stainless steel, vacuum-insulated water bottles.

Categories: OSU's Global Impact

International Imperative in Science

OSU's Global Impact - Wed, 01/22/2014 - 2:42pm

Rick Spinrad, Vice President for Research

My research career took me to the waters off Africa, South America and Central America. I found the experience of working with colleagues from many nations to be exciting, and I learned a lot about the scientific challenges we were addressing. In retrospect, I realize I learned a lot more about being a good citizen of the world. I developed a deep respect for cultural differences and varying national perspectives.

How, then, in this faster-paced, more networked world should we approach the global nature of our research enterprise? What are the challenges and opportunities we should prepare for as our research efforts continue to expand across the world?

First, we, as researchers, must realize that our work goes well beyond the boundaries of the hypotheses we are testing. As I was negotiating a collaborative research program between the U.S. federal government and the government of Indonesia several years ago, an American ambassador shared with me that this project was viewed as an important vehicle for building trust between our two nations. In short, the research had become a tool of diplomacy, as well as a forum for advancing knowledge. On more than one occasion, the international partners with whom I initiated a dialog about a research project ultimately became trusted collaborators on larger efforts with broader policy implications. We would never have gotten to the policy issues without a foundation of cooperation predicated on our mutual passion for research.

Global Economy

On perhaps a more pragmatic basis, the global economy (which is, itself, dependent on robust research) has become highly transnational. Many corporations’ executive activities transcend geopolitical borders. Those industries, which are supporting more and more of our research activities, are less interested in the mailing address of the researchers they support than in the ability of those researchers to collaborate globally and provide meaningful advances in understanding that can contribute to the bottom line. However, managing intellectual property across varying legal systems may also present another significant challenge.

Illustration: Teresa Hall

Finally, the world is recognizing that the major research imperatives we face do not have a national identity. Poverty is not an Indian problem alone. Food security is not unique to China. Climate change is not owned exclusively by the Republic of the Maldives. Sure, some issues, like protection of specific species, might correspond to the research priorities of a particular nation, but for the most part, big research problems lend themselves best to multinational solutions. The abundance of international research-dependent organizations (World Health Organization, Food and Agricultural Organization, World Meteorological Organization) testifies to the importance of international cooperation in research.

All of this points to the need to position Oregon State to best respond to the call for international research cooperation. We do a lot of that now. This issue of Terra showcases Gregg Walker’s work with Mediators Beyond Border and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. But we need to continue to think about the best policies and practices for our research community. We don’t simply want to allow this kind of collaboration — we want to nurture it!

Categories: OSU's Global Impact

Engineers with Soul

OSU's Global Impact - Wed, 01/22/2014 - 12:14pm

In Africa, students in Oregon State’s Engineers Without Borders chapter share cultural and social skills as well as engineering expertise. (Photo: Justin Smith)

Engineers excel at solving problems. They can design systems that provide clean drinking water, generate electricity from sunlight and improve personal health. While the design of these systems demands technical skill, success or failure ultimately resides with the people who use and maintain them and whose lives depend on them — that is, with a social network.

Our students want to understand that meaningful context. They come to us with a desire to make an impact with their lives, and Oregon State is embracing the challenge. We have launched a Humanitarian Engineering program (HE@OSU) to offer a transformational education focused on problem-solving and a deep understanding of culture and social relationships.

Nationally, engineering education may not be living up to this vision. In fact, Erin Cech, a sociologist at Rice University, recently noted that engineering education may foster a “culture of disengagement.” In a survey of more than 300 engineering students at four universities in the Northeast, she tracked students’ perceptions of cultural factors, such as public welfare, social consciousness and understanding of the consequences of technology. Cech found that after four years of college, the students were less concerned about public welfare than when they entered.

Humanitarian engineering means developing solutions in partnership with communities.

This provocative result challenges us as educators. Indeed, as we endeavor to ensure students’ competence in fundamental engineering concepts, it’s all too easy to lose sight of what it means to be an engineer: to create solutions for difficult problems, to be aware of the context within which these problems arise and to anticipate the potential consequences of our solutions.

As engineering educators, we find ourselves at a crossroads. We need to engage the millennial generation, open up opportunities to connect engineering to community service and encourage creative problem-solvers to understand the importance of community engagement. These skills are as important for a corporate client as they are for a village halfway around the world.

Humanitarian engineering means developing solutions in partnership with communities. Examples include designing easy-to-maintain water filters, composting toilets, renewable energy systems, wastewater systems, communication systems, vulnerability assessments of local infrastructure and more. Our curriculum will include ethics, social-science methodologies, engineering design for low-resource environments and multidisciplinary case studies of development projects.

We’re well positioned to succeed. Oregon State has tremendous strengths in engineering for global development and strong connections to public, nonprofit and business organizations around the world. We have an award-winning student chapter of Engineers Without Borders. Our HE@OSU team consists of committed faculty from across campus: engineering, public health, social sciences, humanities and natural resources.

The timing is right for HE@OSU. Our emphasis on engagement is a great fit for the university’s ethos of service and commitment to a healthy planet. We are poised to be a leader in this field. Our students expect nothing less.

Categories: OSU's Global Impact

“It’s Nice to Say Something”

OSU's Global Impact - Wed, 01/22/2014 - 11:50am

First thing every morning at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) meeting in Warsaw, Gregg Walker attends meetings in his capacity as a steering committee member for a coalition of organizations called RINGO (Research and Independent Non-Governmental Organizations to the UNFCCC).

“RINGO is for universities, think tanks and NGOs doing research on climate change,” explains the Oregon State University professor of speech communications.

On the fifth day of the conference, he joins his fellow RINGO leaders in the Crakow Room to recap yesterday’s events. By the time the meeting comes to order, several dozen researchers and university students from around the world have wandered in, eager to share their scientific aspirations with like-minded conferees. There’s a Swedish sociologist working on crisis management, a Japanese researcher studying tech transfer, a Canadian student investigating ecological restoration of marine environments. There are scholars from Ontario’s University of Waterloo, from Sweden’s Gothenburg University, from the U.S.A.’s Swarthmore, Duke and University of Colorado. There’s a biologist from Honduras, an environmental law expert from Stockholm, a chemist from the Netherlands.

For university researchers and students, RINGO meetings are one of the few places they get to speak out and be heard. “It’s nice to sit at the table and say something,” one student remarks, alluding to her status as silent observers during the delegates’ negotiating sessions. In fact, as neutral third parties, observers often are shut out of the talks altogether. Someone suggests creating an online network, a “database of expertise” where RINGOs can connect and share. As the idea gains traction, a flurry of business cards is exchanged. Walker notes, “A number of research collaborations have come out of RINGO in the past.”

For more on Walker’s research on climate change negotiations, see The Warsaw Discourses.

Categories: OSU's Global Impact

Shoring Up Our Coasts

OSU's Global Impact - Wed, 01/22/2014 - 11:29am

“The world’s oceans have largely been left out of the mainstream discussion of global climate change.” — United Nations Environment Programme

Sparkling seas wash the Yucatan Peninsula — the Caribbean to the east, the Gulf of Mexico to the west. So it’s more than a little ironic that ocean and coastal issues were mostly absent from the official agenda when the UNFCCC met on the peninsula in 2010. Even as the azure waves lapped outside the Cancun venue, the negotiators inside talked mostly about land-based issues. As one observer grumbled, the delegates “can’t see the ocean through the trees.”

Trust, says Miriah Russo Kelly, is a critical ingredient in coming to grips with climate change. (Photo: Hannah O’Leary)

For Miriah Russo Kelly, an Oregon State University Ph.D. student who was in Cancun for the international climate change conference along with her mentor and adviser Gregg Walker, that oversight was unsettling.

“As the ocean heats up and sea levels rise, many, many, many thousands of people who live in coastal areas are becoming very vulnerable to immense hazards — storm surges, flooding, erosion,” says Kelly. “Quite frankly, if we don’t do something now to mitigate emissions at the international level, many of these communities, many of these cultures, will cease to exist.”

Ocean scientists and NGOs are pushing hard to broaden the UNFCCC dialog from the current emphasis on forests and agriculture to, for example, ocean acidification and “blue carbon” — the colossal promise of mangroves, sea grasses and salt marshes as carbon sinks.

Since Cancun, Kelly has undertaken a bicoastal study of communities that are preparing for climate change. She has four case studies — two in Oregon (Coos Bay and Neskowin) and two in Maine (Ellsworth and Saco Bay) — where residents are engaged in local or regional climate adaptation planning. “Oregon Sea Grant and Maine Sea Grant have collaborated in the past to do survey research on the perception of climate change in coastal communities,” she says. “While there are some significant differences, Maine is not unlike Oregon. They are dealing with a lot of the same issues that we are.”

As a scholar in environmental communications, she’s digging into the interpersonal dynamics of collaboration and cooperation among people who may share little in common except locale — fishermen and hotel managers, loggers and grocers, political leaders and homeowners, climate scientists and climate skeptics. “As more and more communities want to adapt to climate change,” she notes, “it’s going to require people to come together, to work together, from very different parts of the community.”

Her focus is the social psychology behind forging strong bonds among disparate members — the “human process of coming together and engaging in negotiations,” as she puts it. Investigating these “human dimensions” of climate change, Kelly’s research questions range from how climate science is used in decision-making to how individual, organizational and leadership roles best facilitate collaboration.

Trust is critical, she says, especially in the emotion-laden topic of climate change. When scientists listen, when they let group members steer requests for data and other scientific input, they win acceptance where they might have met resistance, Kelly is finding. “In all the projects I’ve been studying,” she says, “there is this ‘co-development of knowledge’ happening, where scientists are truly engaging with the community to find out what information they need.”

As a certified mediator who teams up with Oregon State professor Gregg Walker to conduct conflict-management trainings and facilitate multi-stakeholder dialog, Kelly blends professional negotiation skills with her deep commitment to a healthy planet, a commitment that awakened one day when, at age 12, she was scanning her parents’ book collection for something to read and happened upon Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring. “That set me on a path to care about the environment and consider how humans interact with the natural world.”

Kelly is a founding member of the OSU student chapter of Mediators Beyond Borders International. “We do a lot of work on environmental conflict management, training students and others in how to deal with conflict effectively and productively.”

Categories: OSU's Global Impact

Lamprey Brain Trust

OSU's Global Impact - Wed, 01/22/2014 - 10:51am

Photo: Jeremy Monroe, Freshwaters Illustrated

“The situation for Pacific lamprey is bad and getting worse,” says OSU fisheries biologist David Noakes, director of the Oregon Hatchery Research Center in Alsea. “We have enormous gaps in our knowledge of even the most basic aspects of life history, ecology and behavior of our native lamprey.”

To jumpstart the filling of those gaps, experts from around the Pacific Northwest and Canada gathered at the center in October for a Lamprey Research Workshop. Resolving uncertainties about lamprey, focusing research questions and raising awareness of conservation and restoration needs were the key goals for the 50 attendees. The scientists shared emerging findings in ocean ecology, molecular genetics and barriers to passage, as well as cultural implications for Northwest tribes, which are funding much of the Pacific lamprey research at Oregon State and elsewhere.

“We need to share the concerns of tribal peoples for the Pacific lamprey,” emphasizes Noakes.

For more on lamprey research, see Survivors from the Depths of Time.


Categories: OSU's Global Impact

Friending a Fish

OSU's Global Impact - Tue, 01/21/2014 - 6:20pm

A child peers into a tank of lamprey during an educational outreach sponsored by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. (Photo: Dave Herasimtschuk, Freshwaters Illustrated)

One of Earth’s most ancient animals has inhabited some of the modern world’s hottest locations: Facebook and Twitter.

Thanks to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), the Pacific lamprey last year had a virtual life on social media in the character of “Luna,” an imaginary fish that kids could follow online as she migrated through the Columbia River Basin.

Now, Oregon State has joined USFWS to create a multimedia lamprey curriculum for students in grades four through six.

“The curriculum helps students meet core standards in science and social science,” says Maureen Hosty, the Portland-based OSU Extension 4-H specialist who is leading development of the Pacific Lamprey in the Classroom Project along with Sean Connolly and Donna Allard of USFWS. “Students are able to move through the six learning modules at their own pace and in an order that is intuitive to them.”

Contact Hosty at maureen.hosty@oregonstate.edu for details.

For more on lamprey research, see Survivors from the Depths of Time.

Categories: OSU's Global Impact