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Scientists caution against exploitation of deep ocean

News - Tue, 07/29/2014 - 8:38am
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The world’s oceans are vast and deep, yet technology and the quest for extracting resources from previously unreachable depths is beginning to put the deep seas on the cusp of peril.

CORVALLIS, Ore. – The world’s oceans are vast and deep, yet rapidly advancing technology and the quest for extracting resources from previously unreachable depths is beginning to put the deep seas on the cusp of peril, an international team of scientists warned this week.

In an analysis in Biogeosciences, which is published by the European Geosciences Union, the researchers outline “services” or benefits provided by the deep ocean to society. Yet using these services, now and in the future, is likely to make a significant impact on that habitat and what it ultimately does for society, they point out in their analysis.

“The deep sea is the largest habitat on Earth, it is incredibly important to humans and it is facing a variety of stressors from increased human exploitation to impacts from climate change,” said Andrew Thurber, an Oregon State University marine scientist and lead author on the study. “As we embark upon greater exploitation of this vast environment and start thinking about conserving its resources, it is imperative to know what this habitat already does for us.”

“Our analysis is an effort to begin to summarize what the deep sea provides to humans because we take it for granted or simply do not know that the deep sea does anything to shape our daily lives,” he added. “The truth is that the deep sea affects us, whether we live on the coast or far from the ocean – and its impact on the globe is pervasive.”

The deep sea is important to many critical processes that affect the Earth’s climate, including acting as a “sink” for greenhouse gases – helping offset the growing amounts of carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere. It also regenerates nutrients through upwelling that fuel the marine food web in productive coastal systems such as the Pacific Northwest of the United States, Chile and others. Increasingly, fishing and mining industries are going deeper and deeper into the oceans to extract natural resources.

“One concern is that many of these areas are in international waters and outside of any national jurisdiction,” noted Thurber, an assistant professor (senior research) in Oregon State’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences. “Yet the impacts are global, so we need a global effort to begin protecting and managing these key, albeit vast, habitats.”

Fishing is an obvious concern, the scientists say. Advances in technology have enabled commercial fisheries to harvest fish at increasing depths – an average of 62.5 meters deeper every decade, according to fisheries scientists. This raises a variety of potential issues.

“The ability to fish deeper is shifting some fisheries to deeper stocks, and opening up harvests of new species,” Thurber said. “In some local cases, individual fisheries are managed aggressively, but due to how slow the majority of the fish grow in the deep, some fish populations are still in decline – even with the best management practices.”

The orange roughy off New Zealand, for instance, is both a model of effective and conservation-based management, yet its populations continue to decline, though at a slower rate than they would have experienced without careful management, Thurber noted.

“We also have to be concerned about pollution that makes its way from our continental shelves into the deep sea,” he added. “Before it was ‘out of sight, out of mind.’  However, some of the pollution can either make it into the fish that we harvest, or harm the fishers that collect the fish for us. It is one of the reasons need to identify how uses of the deep sea in the short term can have long-term consequences. Few things happen fast down there.”

Mining is a major threat to the deep sea, the researchers point out in their analysis. In particular, the quest for rare earth and metal resources, which began decades ago, has skyrocketed in recent years because of their increased use in electronics, and because of dwindling or limited distribution of supplies on land. Mining the deep ocean for manganese nodules, for example – which are rich in nickel – requires machines that may directly impact large swaths of the seafloor and send up a sediment plume that could potentially affect an even larger area, the scientists note.

These mining resources are not limited to muddy habitats, Thurber pointed out. Massive sulfides present at hydrothermal vents are another resource targeted by mining interests.

“The deep sea has been an active area for oil and gas harvesting for many years,” he said, “yet large reservoirs of methane and other potential energy sources remain unexploited. In addition to new energy sources, the potential for novel pharmaceuticals is also vast.

“There are additional threats to these unique habitats, including ocean acidification, warming temperatures and possible changes to ocean circulation through climate change.”

The next step, the researchers say, is to attach an economic value to both the services provided by the deep sea – and the activities that may threaten those services.

“What became clear as we put together this synopsis is that there is vast potential for future resources but we already benefit greatly through this environment,” Thurber said. “”What this means is that while the choices to harvest or mine will be decided over the coming decades, it is important to note that the stakeholders of this environment represent the entire world’s population.”

“The Bible, the Koran, the Torah, and early Greek texts all reference the deep sea,” he added. “Maybe it’s time for all of us to take a closer look at what it has to offer and decide if and how we protect it.”

College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences Media Contact:  Mark Floyd Source: 

Andrew Thurber, 541-737-4500; athurber@coas.oregonstate.edu

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Categories: Research news

Strategies identified to improve oral contraceptive success with obese women

News - Mon, 07/28/2014 - 9:32am
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Oral birth control may not work as well in obese women, but Oregon researchers have found new strategies to help address that concern.

PORTLAND, Ore. – The findings of a new study suggest two ways to effectively address the problem that birth control pills may not work as well in obese women, compared to women of a normal body mass index.

Birth control pills are a one-size-fits-all method, researchers say, but as the population has increased in weight, concern has grown about how well the pill works for obese women. Studies have consistently found that obesity has a negative impact on drug levels in the body, which may in turn affect how well the pill prevents pregnancy. 

“Birth control pills have been shown in a large population study to fail at a higher rate in women who are obese,” said Ganesh Cherala, an assistant professor in the Oregon State University/Oregon Health & Science University College of Pharmacy.

“Our original studies were focused on why this might occur,” Cherala said, “and we found that obesity changes how a woman’s body clears contraceptive hormones.”

It takes longer for the pill to reach a steady state level in obese women, with possible impacts on efficacy of the birth control, and putting them at greater risk for a pill failure if they forget to take a pill or take it later.

In order to offset these changes, Cherala and Dr. Alison Edelman, an associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Oregon Health & Science University, studied two alternative strategies. They found that either a slight increase in the pill dose, from a very low dose to a low dose pill; or using the pill continuously without a “period week” off, appeared to counteract the changes that obesity causes.

This, in turn, may provide improved pregnancy prevention for women of differing weights who use the pill, the researchers said. Their work is published in Contraception, a professional journal, and was supported by the National Institutes of Health.

“Since oral contraception remains one of the most popular forms of birth control in the United States and the majority of our population is obese or overweight, it’s important to find methods of contraception that work for all women, no matter what their weight,” Edelman said.

“The strategies that we studied can be, and are currently being used by women, but now we know that they help to counteract the adverse effects of weight on contraceptive hormones,” she said.

For obese women, simply shifting to an alternative form of birth control is an option, the researchers said. But they also pointed out that oral contraceptives are the most preferred form of birth control and that a woman’s individual preference influences her adherence and continuation with any method.

College of Pharmacy Media Contact:  David Stauth Source: 

Ganesh Cherala, 503-418-0447

Categories: Research news

Advantage Accelerator “graduates” moving toward successful new businesses, jobs

News - Thu, 07/24/2014 - 2:31pm
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The first four companies working with the OSU Advantage Accelerator have completed the program and are moving toward commercial success.

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Four promising startup companies in fields ranging from social media to chemical manufacturing are among the first “graduating class” of the Oregon State University Advantage Accelerator, upon completion of a program designed to help lead them toward commercial success.

Organizers of the new program say it’s off to a promising start in efforts to bring more university research and community ideas to the commercial marketplace. This and other elements of the OSU Advantage form partnerships with industry and work to boost the Oregon economy, while providing invaluable experiences for OSU students involved in many aspects of the program.

“Our program has unfolded as well or better than we had hoped, and we now plan to increase the output,” said John Turner, co-director of the Advantage Accelerator. “Completion of this program means that companies have an increased chance to succeed and have a step-by-step plan to approach the future.”

“Based on our experience in the first year of this program, we’ve decided to conduct two cohort groups each year rather than one,” Turner said. “The coming year will result in about 15-20 new startup companies.”

Success in a tough and competitive commercial marketplace is not automatic, however, and not all companies have the will and strength to complete the rigorous program.

The first graduates have completed a “portfolio” of accomplishments, Turner said, that included training to attract investors, a validated business model, a schedule for future steps, and an initial product to show prospective customers, investors or manufacturers. A few clients are already attracting attention through the sale of products and generating profit.

The OSU Advantage Accelerator provides mentoring with industry and entrepreneurial experts, consulting sessions, access to seed grants and the OSU Venture Fund, meetings with active investors, workshops on various topics, networking events and many other activities.

One of the early participants in the program, Onboard Dynamics of Bend, Ore., plans to market technology that could ultimately revolutionize the way America drives. It has developed systems that compress natural gas right in the vehicle and take advantage of the enormous current supplies of low-cost natural gas. The innovation is able to cut automobile fuel costs to the gasoline-equivalent of less than $1 a gallon.

“An intern working with the Advantage Accelerator performed a lot of tasks relating to market analysis and startup activities that were incredibly helpful to the company,” said CEO Rita Hansen.

“We’re in an excellent position right now, having been formally selected by the Department of Energy for a $2.88 million award, and our initial target markets are the underserved, small, light-duty commercial fleets,” Hansen said. “We’re very bullish about widespread adoption by these fleets of our products.”

A few other companies that have completed the program include:

  • Pikli, a student-based company based on social media that allows individuals to involve their friends and family in their shopping experiences;
  • Waste2Watergy, which is commercializing a microbial fuel cell technology to reduce or eliminate significant wastewater costs and produce electricity from the resultant effluence; and
  • Valliscor, a chemical manufacturing company that licensed technology developed at OSU to produce high-value chemicals for the pharmaceutical, agricultural, polymer and electronics industries.

“The OSU Advantage Accelerator program was very helpful and their mentorship was really first-rate,” said Rich Carter, professor and chair of the OSU Department of Chemistry, and CEO of Valliscor. “They helped us develop the necessary tools to become a functioning company, and whenever you needed advice all you had to do was pick up the phone.”

Carter said he’s “very optimistic” about the company going forward, which is already producing and selling its first products.

The OSU Advantage Accelerator is one component of the Oregon Regional Accelerator and Innovation Network, or Oregon RAIN. With support from the Oregon legislature, collaborators on the initiative include OSU, the University of Oregon, the cities of Eugene, Springfield, Corvallis and Albany, and other economic development organizations. All the participants are focused on creating new business, expanding existing business, creating jobs and helping to build the Oregon and national economy.

Oregon State University Advantage Media Contact:  David Stauth Source: 

John Turner, 541-368-5204

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Valliscor research

Categories: Research news

Synchronization of North Atlantic, North Pacific preceded abrupt warming, end of ice age

News - Thu, 07/24/2014 - 12:59pm
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A study by OSU researchers suggests that synchronization of climate patterns in the North Pacific and North Atlantic oceans may be the early warning sign for a climate change "tipping point."

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Scientists have long been concerned that global warming may push Earth’s climate system across a “tipping point,” where rapid melting of ice and further warming may become irreversible – a hotly debated scenario with an unclear picture of what this point of no return may look like.

A newly published study by researchers at Oregon State University probed the geologic past to understand mechanisms of abrupt climate change. The study pinpoints the emergence of synchronized climate variability in the North Pacific Ocean and the North Atlantic Ocean a few hundred years before the rapid warming that took place at the end of the last ice age about 15,000 years ago.

The study suggests that the combined warming of the two oceans may have provided the tipping point for abrupt warming and rapid melting of the northern ice sheets.

Results of the study, which was funded by the National Science Foundation, appear this week in Science.

This new discovery by OSU researchers resulted from an exhaustive 10-year examination of marine sediment cores recovered off southeast Alaska where geologic records of climate change provide an unusually detailed history of changing temperatures on a scale of decades to centuries over many thousands of years.

“Synchronization of two major ocean systems can amplify the transport of heat toward the polar regions and cause larger fluctuations in northern hemisphere climate,” said Summer Praetorius, a doctoral student in marine geology at Oregon State and lead author on the Science paper. “This is consistent with theoretical predictions of what happens when Earth’s climate reaches a tipping point.”

“That doesn’t necessarily mean that the same thing will happen in the future,” she pointed out, “but we cannot rule out that possibility.”

The study found that synchronization of the two regional systems began as climate was gradually warming. After synchronization, the researchers detected wild variability that amplified the changes and accelerated into an abrupt warming event of several degrees within a few decades.

“As the systems become synchronized, they organized and reinforced each other, eventually running away like screeching feedback from a microphone,” said Alan Mix, a professor in OSU’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences and co-author on the paper. “Suddenly you had the combined effects of two major oceans forcing the climate instead of one at a time.”

“The example that we uncovered is a cause for concern because many people assume that climate change will be gradual and predictable,” Mix added. “But the study shows that there can be vast climate swings over a period of decades to centuries. If such a thing happened in the future, it could challenges society’s ability to cope.”

What made this study unusual is that the researchers had such a detailed look at the geologic record. While modern climate observations can be made every day, the length of instrumental records is relatively short – typically less than a century. In contrast, paleoclimatic records extend far into the past and give good context for modern changes, the researchers say. However, the resolution of most paleo records is low, limited to looking at changes that occur over thousands of years.

In this study, the researchers examined sediment cores taken from the Gulf of Alaska in 2004 during an expedition led by Mix. The mountains in the region are eroding so fast that sedimentation rates are “phenomenal,” he said. “Essentially, this rapid sedimentation provides a ‘climate tape recorder’ at extremely high fidelity.”

Praetorius then led an effort to look at past temperatures by slicing the sediment into decade-long chunks spanning more than 8,000 years – a laborious process that took years to complete. She measured ratios of oxygen isotopes trapped in fossil shells of marine plankton called foraminifera. The isotopes record the temperature and salinity of the water where the plankton lived.

When the foraminifera died, their shells sank to the sea floor and were preserved in the sediments that eventually were recovered by Mix’s coring team.

The researchers then compared their findings with data from the North Greenland Ice Core Project to see if the two distinct high-latitude climate systems were in any way related.

Most of the time, the two regions vary independently, but about 15,500 years ago, temperature changes started to line up and then both regions warmed abruptly by about five degrees (C) within just a few decades. Praetorius noted that much warmer ocean waters likely would have a profound effect on northern-hemisphere climates by melting sea ice, warming the atmosphere and destabilizing ice sheets over Canada and Europe.

A tipping point for climate change “may be crossed in an instant,” Mix noted, “but the actual response of the Earth’s system may play out over centuries or even thousands of years during a period of dynamic adjustment.”

“Understanding those dynamics requires that we look at examples from the past,” Mix said. “If we really do cross such a boundary in the future, we should probably take a long-term perspective and realize that change will become the new normal. It may be a wild ride.”

Added Praetorius: “Our study does suggest that the synchronization of the two major ocean systems is a potential early warning system to begin looking for the tipping point.”

College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences Media Contact:  Mark Floyd Source: 

Summer Praetorius, 541-737-6159, spraetorius@coas.oregonstate.edu; Alan Mix, 541-737-5212, amix@coas.oregonstate.edu

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Sediment cores

Hubbard Glacier

Summer Praetorius


Alan Mix

Categories: Research news

15-year analysis of blue whale range off California finds conflict with shipping lanes

News - Wed, 07/23/2014 - 10:52am
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A 15-year analysis of satellite-tagged blue whales off the West Coast found that their favored feeding areas are bisected by heavily used shipping lanes, increasing the threat of injury and mortality.

NEWPORT, Ore. – A comprehensive 15-year analysis of the movements of satellite-tagged blue whales off the West Coast of the United States found that their favored feeding areas are bisected by heavily used shipping lanes, increasing the threat of injury and mortality.

The researchers note that moving the shipping lanes off Los Angeles and San Francisco to slightly different areas – at least, during summer and fall when blue whales are most abundant – could significantly decrease the probability of ships striking the whales. A similar relocation of shipping lanes in the Bay of Fundy off eastern Canada lowered the likelihood of vessels striking endangered right whales an estimated 80 percent.

Results of the study – which was supported by the Office of Naval Research, the National Geographic Society, the National Science Foundation, private gifts to the Oregon State University Marine Mammal Institute and others – are being published this week in the journal PLOS ONE.

The analysis is the most comprehensive study of blue whales movements ever conducted. It was led by researchers at Oregon State University’s Marine Mammal Institute, who tracked the movement of blue whales off the West Coast to identify important habitat areas and environmental correlates, and subsequently to understand the timing of their presence near major ports and shipping traffic.

“The main areas that attract blue whales are highly productive, strong upwelling zones that produce large amounts of krill – which is pretty much all that they eat,” said Ladd Irvine, a researcher with OSU’s Marine Mammal Institute and lead author on the PLOS ONE study. “The whales have to maximize their food intake during the summer before they migrate south for the winter, typically starting in mid-October to mid-November.”

“It appears that two of their main foraging areas are coincidentally crossed by shipping lanes,” Irvine added.

In their study, the researchers attached transmitters to 171 blue whales off California at different times between 1993 and 2008 and tracked their movements via satellite. Their study looked at seasonal as well as individual differences in whale distribution, documenting a high degree of variability – but also a strong fidelity to the upwelling zones that coincide with ship traffic to and from the major ports of Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Blue whales can grow to the length of a basketball court, weigh as much as 25 large elephants combined, and their mouths could hold 100 people, though their diet is primarily krill – tiny shrimp-like creatures less than two inches in length. The blue whale is the largest creature to ever inhabit the Earth, yet little was known about their range or where they went to breed until Oregon State’s Bruce Mate led a series of tracking studies featured in the popular 2009 National Geographic documentary, “Kingdom of the Blue Whale.”

An estimated 2,500 of the world’s 10,000 blue whales spend time in the waters off the West Coast of the Americas and are known as the eastern North Pacific population. The huge whales can travel from the Gulf of Alaska all the way down to an area near the equator known as the Costa Rica Dome.

The majority of the population spends the summer and fall in the waters off the U.S. West Coast, with the areas most heavily used by the tagged whales occurring off California’s Santa Barbara and San Francisco, which puts them in constant peril from ship strikes.

“During one year, while we were filming the documentary, five blue whales were hit off of southern California during a seven-week period,” said Mate, who directs the Marine Mammal Institute at OSU’s Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport, Ore. “Blue whales may not be as acoustically aware as species that rely on echolocation to find prey and there is some evidence that the location of the engines in the rear of the ship creates something of an acoustic shadow in front of them, making it hard for whales to hear the ship coming.

“Putting some kind of noise deterrent on the ships isn’t really an option, however,” Mate added. “You don’t really want to drive endangered whales out of their prime habitat and best feeding locations.”

Moving the shipping lanes would not be unprecedented, the researchers note. Scientists brought concerns about right whale ship strikes in the Bay of Fundy to the International Maritime Organization, and the industry led the effort to modify shipping lanes in the North Atlantic more than a decade ago.

Daniel Palacios, also a co-author on the paper and a principal investigator with OSU’s Marine Mammal Institute, said vessel traffic between Santa Barbara and Los Angeles moved south of its current location in the past to comply with the California Clear Air Act, but shifted back to its current location after getting an exemption to the legislation.

“It is not often that research results are so applicable to a policy decision.” Palacios said, “It’s not really our place to make management decisions, but we can inform policy-makers and in this case it is pretty straightforward. You will eliminate many of the ship strikes on blue whales by moving the shipping lanes south of the northern Channel Islands.”

The solution for the San Francisco area is similar, the researchers note, though not quite as simple. Three separate shipping lanes are used in the region and all cross through the home range and core areas of blue whales tagged in this study.

“We did find that the northernmost shipping lanes crossed the area that was most heavily used by tagged whales,” Irvine noted. “Restricting use of the northern lane during the summer and fall when more whales are present is one option; another would be to extend one lane further offshore before separating it into different trajectories, minimizing the overlap of the shipping lanes with the areas used by blue whales.”

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is planning a review of shipping lanes in the southern California area, which will be informed by this study. A variety of stakeholders must be consulted, however, before any changes are implemented.

Other funding sources for this study over the years including the TOPP Program (Tagging of Pacific Pelagics), the OSU Marine Mammal Institute Endowment, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the Packard Foundation, NASA, the U.S. Geological Survey, the National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Smithsonian Institution.

Hatfield Marine Science Center Media Contact:  Mark Floyd Source: 

Ladd Irvine, 541-867-0394, ladd.irvine@oregonstate.edu; Bruce Mate, 541-867-0202, bruce.mate@oregonstate.edu; Daniel Palacios, 541-990-2750, Daniel.Palacios@oregonstate.edu

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(photo at left and below by

Flip Nicklin/Minden Pictures)

 

 

 

Image by Ladd Irvine

 

Photo by Craig Hayslip

 

 

photo by Craig Hayslip

 

 

Photo by Flip Nicklin/Minden Pictures

 

 

Photo by Craig Hayslip

Categories: Research news

Portland fundraiser to lead OSU Foundation’s Metro office

News - Tue, 07/22/2014 - 1:42pm
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Kristin Watkins, associate vice president for advancement at Portland Community College and executive officer of the PCC Foundation, has been named the head of the OSU Foundation's office in Portland.

PORTLAND, Ore. – Kristin Watkins, associate vice president for advancement at Portland Community College and executive officer of the PCC Foundation, has been named the head of Oregon State University Foundation's office in Portland.

Watkins brings 17 years of experience in the Portland metro area to her new position as associate vice president of the OSU Portland Center. In addition to providing leadership to the OSU Foundation staff based in Portland, she will lead efforts to increase private support for OSU in the metropolitan area. With more than 40,000 alumni in greater Portland, the region is home to one in four of the university’s graduates.

As PCC’s chief advancement officer, Watkins established and led fundraising plans that nearly tripled annual revenue, bringing that institution’s fundraising program into the top 10 percent of community colleges in the nation.

“I couldn’t be more excited about joining the OSU Foundation’s team,” Watkins said. “As a graduate of two other land grant universities, I am passionate about the threefold land grant mission of accessible education, research and community outreach. It will be an honor to represent OSU in Portland and extend the university’s connections with alumni and other partners.”

The addition of Watkins to the OSU Foundation’s leadership team comes as the organization prepares to conclude Oregon State’s first comprehensive fundraising campaign on Dec. 31. In June, gifts from donors to The Campaign for OSU totaled more than $1.06 billion, including more than $180 million for scholarships and fellowships. Scholarship gifts like these support more than 3,000 students at OSU each year. Public events to celebrate the campaign’s donors are scheduled for Friday, Oct. 31.

To date Portland metro donors have contributed more than $330 million to the campaign.

“The campaign has been a tremendous launching point for us, and as we move forward it is even more important that we build our relationships in Portland; it’s our most important market,” said Mike Goodwin, president and CEO of the OSU Foundation. “Kristin is well-known in the community, and her leadership has created truly impressive results. We are thrilled to welcome her to the Oregon State family.”

Shawn Scoville, the OSU Foundation’s executive vice president, added, “Not only do we have a tremendous community of alumni and friends in Portland, we also are committed to supporting the city and our state by collaborating with a variety of nonprofits, industry partners, and colleagues in higher education, including PCC. Kristin is uniquely positioned to help us take these already strong relationships to the next level.”

A native of Virginia, Watkins graduated summa cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in international studies from Virginia Tech then earned a master’s degree in public affairs from the University of Minnesota. Prior to joining the Portland Community College staff, she was deputy director for Wider Opportunities for Women, a national nonprofit organization based in District of Columbia. She serves as a board member on District VIII for CASE – the Council for Advancement and Support of Education.

Watkins will begin her work at the OSU Portland Center in early September.

 

OSU Foundation Media Contact:  Michelle Williams Source: 

Shawn Scoville, 541-737-9312

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Kristin Watkins

Categories: Research news

OSU Board of Trustees OKs budget, approves new degree programs

News - Fri, 07/18/2014 - 4:21pm
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The OSU Board of Trustees on Friday approved the university’s operating budget for the 2014-15 fiscal year, and also approved new degree programs in robotics and religious studies.

CORVALLIS, Ore. – The Oregon State University Board of Trustees on Friday approved the university’s operating budget for the 2014-15 fiscal year, and also approved new master and doctoral degree programs in robotics and bachelor degree programs in religious studies.

This was the first meeting of the board after it officially took over oversight responsibility for the university on July 1 from the State Board of Higher Education. This change occurred as part of legislation adopted by the 2013 Oregon Legislature and the university’s decision to have its own independent board of directors appointed by the governor.

The board unanimously voted to adopt a $1.023 billion operating budget for the 2015 fiscal year, which covers OSU revenues and expenditures from July 1, 2014, through June 30, 2015. The revenue stream includes:

  • Educational and program funding authorized by the state legislature;
  • Projected tuition and fees paid by students;
  • Auxiliary revenues from OSU service centers, including University Housing and Dining Services and OSU’s Department of Intercollegiate Athletics;
  • External funds for teaching, research and outreach from private giving through the OSU Foundation, and from grants funded by state, federal or non-profit agencies or private industry.

The university’s budget for the 2013-14 fiscal year was $986.3 million.

The interdisciplinary robotics degree programs, which will begin in 2014-15, will be located within the School of Mechanical, Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering in OSU’s College of Engineering. During its first five years, the program is expected to graduate as many as 10 Ph.D. students and 30 master degree students and provide students expertise in the fields of robot design, control, manufacturing and operation that are rapidly growing worldwide. As many as 70 OSU students already are engaged in robotics studies.

The new bachelor of arts and bachelor of science degree programs in religious studies will be housed within OSU’s School of History, Philosophy and Religion in the College of Liberal Arts. The program will be initiated in fall 2015 and after five years would serve as many as 60 students. The decision restores religious study degree programs that were eliminated in the early 1990’s following budget cuts at Oregon State prompted by the adoption of state constitutional limits on property taxes.

The board also adopted a contract for the employment of OSU President Edward J. Ray through June 30, 2016, including terms of his compensation and his duties, responsibilities and annual performance evaluation.

The board also approved resolutions related to:

  • How the university manages safeguards of U.S. Department of Defense classified information related to research contracts that may be awarded Oregon State;
  • Reporting known or suspected fraud, waste and abuse within the university;
  • Establishing a university code of ethics;
  • Amending the charter of the OSU Board of Trustees’ executive and audit committee related to how external and internal university financial audits will be reviewed and approved by the board.

The board heard presentations from university finance and administration administrators related to public capital financing tools available for use by Oregon State; the university’s current and forecasted bonded indebtedness; and capital and facility improvement plans and procedures used by the university.

Generic OSU Media Contact:  Mark Floyd Source: 

 Steve Clark, 503-502-8217; steve.clark@oregonstate.edu

Categories: Research news

Ninth season of Bard in the Quad at OSU to feature ‘Julius Caesar’

News - Thu, 07/17/2014 - 10:28am
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Oregon State University’s ninth season of Bard in the Quad runs Aug. 7-10 and Aug. 14-17 in the Memorial Union Quad on the OSU campus in Corvallis.

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Oregon State University’s ninth season of the popular Bard in the Quad program will feature “Julius Caesar,” a tragedy about conspiracy, betrayal and ambition. Performances begin at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 7-10 and Aug. 14-17 in the Memorial Union Quad on the OSU campus in Corvallis.

Bard in the Quad brings innovative Shakespeare productions to Corvallis in a casual, fun summer atmosphere. Performances are held outdoors and no seating is provided. Attendees are encouraged to bring low lawn chairs and/or blankets, warm clothing and even a picnic dinner if desired. Seating begins at 6:30 p.m. and no one will be seated prior to that time.

“Julius Caesar” depicts the plot to assassinate the charismatic Roman emperor in a modern interpretation of a classic drama filled with political intrigue and revenge. Amidst fear that Caesar intends to transform the Roman Republic into an empire, a group of influential senators and military leaders conspire to assassinate Caesar. The bloody political drama unfolds as each Roman struggles with issues of pride, loyalty and revenge.

Director George Caldwell’s production is influenced by the multiple fascist regimes and corrupt political systems of the 20th and 21st centuries and is set in a contemporary world where the military, government and corporations collide.

The cast features OSU students Elise Barberis as Portia/Octavia; Michael Orkney as Caesar; Emily Kathleen Peters as Calpurnia; Alex Small as Lepidus; Mike Stephens as Cinna; Sam Thompson as Trebonius; Joseph Workman as Cassius; and Renée Zipp as Metellus.

Other roles are played by community members from Corvallis, Albany and Salem. They are Erin Cunningham as Brutus; Craig Richard Currier as Lucius; Angie De Morgan as Cicero; Jonathan Thompson as Casca; Kate Thompson as Mark Antonia; Elli Smith as Soothsayer; and Alexandra Toner as Decius Brutus.

Tickets are $15 for general admission, $10 for students and seniors, and $5 for OSU students. Purchase tickets at bardinthequad.org or call the OSU Theatre box office, 541-737-2784. Contact box office manager Arin Dooley at 541-737-2784 for questions regarding tickets, seating, group ticket discounts and other accommodations.

College of Liberal Arts Media Contact:  Michelle Klampe Source: 

Elizabeth Helman, Elizabeth.helman@oregonstate.edu

Categories: Research news

OSU joins NASA mission to measure carbon in ocean plants and ecosystems

News - Thu, 07/17/2014 - 9:50am
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CORVALLIS, Ore. – As part of a NASA air and sea mission, Oregon State University researchers will measure ocean plants to see how changes in carbon levels could affect the future of fisheries and marine life.

Setting sail from Rhode Island on July 18, the Ship-Aircraft Bio-Optical Research (SABOR) campaign will use new optical instruments to pinpoint carbon levels in phytoplankton – tiny plants that play a critical role in carbon cycling. Phytoplankton absorb carbon dioxide during photosynthesis, distribute it when eaten by fish and other marine life, and then act as a carbon sink when they die and drift into the deep sea.

"Phytoplankton are the base of the marine food web and critical to the overall health of the Earth," said Mike Behrenfeld, one of the SABOR project scientists and a botany and plant pathology professor in OSU's College of Agricultural Sciences. “Changes to these microscopic plants – including the carbon they absorb – can affect an entire ocean, from sardine populations, to the location of native birds, and even to decreases in the survival of marine mammals.

"Understanding changes to phytoplankton biomass and photosynthesis are critical for projecting how oceans will fare in the future and how much of it is related to climate change," added Behrenfeld, who specializes in marine algae research.

The 20-day study has the team sailing and flying around the continental shelf off the East Coast of the United States. SABOR is unique among NASA projects because scientists will measure the ocean from both the air and water and try to find relationships between the two datasets. NASA will use the information to guide future satellite missions for understanding how the ocean and atmosphere are affected by climate.

The expedition will feature a state-of-the-art instrument that Behrenfeld's research team is using to separate phytoplankton from other particles in ocean water, such as bacteria, dead mass, and other types of plankton. The device, known as a sorting flow cytometer, uses a laser to detect phytoplankton in small streams of seawater. It then separates out the tiny plants to be analyzed for carbon. The technique is providing the first direct measurements of organic carbon in phytoplankton, said Behrenfeld.

While the Behrenfeld team is making measurements on the ship, an airplane will be collecting additional data, using an advanced laser system that can penetrate the ocean and measure phytoplankton levels in the upper depths of the water.

“By taking measurements using both the air and water instruments, scientists can gather a more accurate dataset than if they just used one or the other method," said Behrenfeld. "These relationships are the first step toward satellite technology that can provide an improved understanding of ocean ecology and its role in the carbon cycle.

"Eventually, new satellite missions will determine how and why ocean ecosystems are changing and the consequences to fish and the climate," Behrenfeld added.

The Behrenfeld research group is teaming with Kimberly Halsey, a microbiology professor with a joint appointment in OSU's College of Science and the College of Agricultural Sciences, to further understand how changes in phytoplankton numbers are related to their photosynthesis and general health. The two OSU teams include Allen Milligan, Jason Graff, Nerissa Fisher, and Matthew Brown.

SABOR is funded by the Ocean Biology and Biogeochemistry Program at NASA Headquarters, Washington. Project management and support will be provided by the Earth Science Project Office at NASA. Other mission scientists hail from the University of Maine; NASA's Langley Research Center; NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies; the City College of New York and others.

Generic OSU Media Contact:  Daniel Robison Source: 

Mike Behrenfeld, 541-737-5289;

Kimberly Halsey, 541-737-1831;

NASA contact: Steve Cole, 202-358-0918

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NASA's Endeavor will be a floating laboratory for OSU scientists collecting data on carbon in tiny ocean plants. (Photo by Tom Glennon/University of Rhode Island)



The expected path of the Endeavor (red) and NASA's aircraft (yellow) show how researchers will coordinate measurements from the ocean and air. (Photo by NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio)

Categories: Research news

Lipoic acid helps restore, synchronize the “biological clock”

News - Wed, 07/16/2014 - 1:50pm
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Lipoic acid may have such a wide range of biological effects because it helps to restore more normal circadian rhythms, which often decline with age.

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Researchers have discovered a possible explanation for the surprisingly large range of biological effects that are linked to a micronutrient called lipoic acid: It appears to reset and synchronize circadian rhythms, or the “biological clock” found in most life forms.

The ability of lipoic acid to help restore a more normal circadian rhythm to aging animals could explain its apparent value in so many important biological functions, ranging from stress resistance to cardiac function, hormonal balance, muscle performance, glucose metabolism and the aging process.

The findings were made by biochemists from the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University, and published in Biochemical and Biophysical Research Communications, a professional journal. The research was supported by the National Institutes of Health, through the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine.

Lipoic acid has been the focus in recent years of increasing research by scientists around the world, who continue to find previously unknown effects of this micronutrient. As an antioxidant and compound essential for aerobic metabolism, it’s found at higher levels in organ meats and leafy vegetables such as spinach and broccoli.

“This could be a breakthrough in our understanding of why lipoic acid is so important and how it functions,” said Tory Hagen, the Helen P. Rumbel Professor for Healthy Aging Research in the Linus Pauling Institute, and a professor of biochemistry and biophysics in the OSU College of Science.

“Circadian rhythms are day-night cycles that affect the daily ebb and flow of critical biological processes,” Hagen said. “The more we improve our understanding of them, the more we find them involved in so many aspects of life.”

Almost one-third of all genes are influenced by circadian rhythms, and when out of balance they can play roles in cancer, heart disease, inflammation, hormonal imbalance and many other areas, the OSU researchers said.

Of particular importance is the dysfunction of circadian rhythms with age.

“In old animals, including elderly humans, it’s well-known that circadian rhythms break down and certain enzymes don’t function as efficiently, or as well as they should,” said Dove Keith, a research associate in the Linus Pauling Institute and lead author on this study.

“This is very important, and probably deserves a great deal more study than it is getting,” Keith said. “If lipoic acid offers a way to help synchronize and restore circadian rhythms, it could be quite significant.”

In this case the scientists studied the “circadian clock” of the liver. Lipid metabolism by the liver is relevant to normal energy use, metabolism, and when dysfunctional can help contribute to the “metabolic syndrome” that puts millions of people at higher risk of heart disease, diabetes and cancer.

Researchers fed laboratory animals higher levels of lipoic acid than might be attained in a normal diet, while monitoring proteins known to be affected by disruption of the circadian clock in older animals.

They found that lipoic acid helped remediate some of the liver dysfunction that’s often common in old age, and significantly improved the function of their circadian rhythms.

In previous research, scientists found that the amount of lipoic acid that could aid liver and normal lipid function was the equivalent of about 600 milligrams daily for a 150-pound human, more than could normally be obtained through the diet.

A primary goal of research in the Linus Pauling Institute and the OSU Center for Healthy Aging Research is to promote what scientists call “healthspan” – not just the ability to live a long life, but to have comparatively good health and normal activities during almost all of one’s life. Research on lipoic acid, at OSU and elsewhere, suggests it has value toward that goal.

Continued research will explore this process and its role in circadian function, whether it can be sustained, and optimal intake levels that might be needed to improve health.

Linus Pauling Institute Media Contact:  David Stauth Source: 

Tory Hagen, 541-737-5083

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Rhythms decline with age

Categories: Research news

New assay to spot fake malaria drugs could save thousands of lives

News - Tue, 07/15/2014 - 9:40am
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OSU chemists have developed a new technology to tell whether a common malaria medication is genuine, and it could save thousands of lives.

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Chemists and students in science and engineering at Oregon State University have created a new type of chemical test, or assay, that’s inexpensive, simple, and can tell whether or not one of the primary drugs being used to treat malaria is genuine – an enormous and deadly problem in the developing world.

The World Health Organization has estimated that about 200,000 lives a year may be lost due to the use of counterfeit anti-malarial drugs. When commercialized, the new OSU technology may be able to help address that problem by testing drugs for efficacy at a cost of a few cents.

When broadly implemented, this might save thousands of lives every year around the world, and similar technology could also be developed for other types of medications and diseases, experts say.

Findings on the new technology were just published in Talanta, a professional journal.

“There are laboratory methods to analyze medications such as this, but they often are not available or widely used in the developing world where malaria kills thousands of people every year,” said Vincent Remcho, a professor of chemistry and Patricia Valian Reser Faculty Scholar in the OSU College of Science, a position which helped support this work.

“What we need are inexpensive, accurate assays that can detect adulterated pharmaceuticals in the field, simple enough that anyone can use them,” Remcho said. “Our technology should provide that.”

The system created at OSU looks about as simple, and is almost as cheap, as a sheet of paper. But it’s actually a highly sophisticated “colorimetric” assay that consumers could use to tell whether or not they are getting the medication they paid for – artesunate - which is by far the most important drug used to treat serious cases of malaria. The assay also verifies that an adequate level of the drug is present.

In some places in the developing world, more than 80 percent of outlets are selling counterfeit pharmaceuticals, researchers have found. One survey found that 38-53 percent of outlets in Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam had no active drug in the product that was being sold. Artesunate, which can cost $1 to $2 per adult treatment, is considered an expensive drug by the standards of the developing world, making counterfeit drugs profitable since the disease is so prevalent.

Besides allowing thousands of needless deaths, the spread of counterfeit drugs with sub-therapeutic levels of artesunate can promote the development of new strains of multi-drug resistant malaria, with global impacts. Government officials could also use the new system as a rapid screening tool to help combat the larger problem of drug counterfeiting.

The new technology is an application of microfluidics, in this instance paper microfluidics, in which a film is impressed onto paper that can then detect the presence and level of the artesunate drug. A single pill can be crushed, dissolved in water, and when a drop of the solution is placed on the paper, it turns yellow if the drug is present. The intensity of the color indicates the level of the drug, which can be compared to a simple color chart.

OSU undergraduate and graduate students in chemistry and computer science working on this project in the Remcho lab took the system a step further, and created an app for an iPhone that could be used to measure the color, and tell with an even higher degree of accuracy both the presence and level of the drug.

The technology is similar to what can be accomplished with computers and expensive laboratory equipment, but is much simpler and less expensive. As a result, use of this approach may significantly expand in medicine, scientists said.

“This is conceptually similar to what we do with integrated circuit chips in computers, but we’re pushing fluids around instead of electrons, to reveal chemical information that’s useful to us,” Remcho said.  “Chemical communication is how Mother Nature does it, and the long term applications of this approach really are mind-blowing.”

Colorimetric assays have already been developed for measurement of many biomarker targets of interest, Remcho said, and could be expanded for a wide range of other medical conditions, pharmaceutical and diagnostic tests, pathogen detection, environmental analysis and other uses.

With a proof of concept of the new technology complete, the researchers may work with the OSU Advantage to commercialize the technology, ultimately with global application. As an incubator for startup and early stage organizations, OSU Advantage connects business with faculty expertise and student talent to bring technology such as this to market.

College of Science Media Contact:  David Stauth Source: 

Vincent Remcho, 541-737-8181

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Drug assay

Categories: Research news

Study: Young women with sexy social media photos seen as less competent

News - Mon, 07/14/2014 - 11:31am
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Girls and young women who post sexy or revealing photos are viewed by their female peers as less attractive and less competent, research shows.

BEND, Ore. – Girls and young women who post sexy or revealing photos on social media sites such as Facebook are viewed by their female peers as less physically and socially attractive and less competent to perform tasks, a new study from Oregon State University indicates.

“This is a clear indictment of sexy social media photos,” said researcher Elizabeth Daniels, an assistant professor of psychology who studies the effect of media on girls’ body image. Daniels’ findings are based on an experiment she conducted using a fictitious Facebook profile.

“There is so much pressure on teen girls and young women to portray themselves as sexy, but sharing those sexy photos online may have more negative consequences than positive,” Daniels said.

Girls and young women are in a “no-win” situation when it comes to their Facebook photos, Daniels said. Those who post sexy photos may risk negative reactions from their peers, but those who post more wholesome photos may lose out on social rewards, including attention from boys and men, she said.

“Social media is where the youth are,” she said. “We need to understand what they’re doing online and how that affects their self-concept and their self-esteem.”

Daniels’ research was published today in the journal “Psychology of Popular Media Culture.” The article, titled “The price of sexy: Viewers’ perceptions of a sexualized versus non-sexualized Facebook profile photo,” was co-authored by Eileen L. Zurbriggen of the University of California, Santa Cruz.

Daniels conducted the research while on the faculty at OSU-Cascades and received two Circle of Excellence grants from OSU-Cascades to support the study. She is now an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Colorado in Colorado Springs.

For the study, Daniels created two mock Facebook profiles for the fictitious 20-year-old Amanda Johnson. In both versions, Amanda liked musicians such as Lady Gaga, books such as “Twilight,” and movies like “The Notebook,” that would be appropriate for a person her age.

The only difference between the two was the profile photo. The photos were actual high school senior portrait and prom photos of a real young woman who allowed the photos to be used for the experiment.

In the sexy photo, “Amanda” is wearing a low-cut red dress with a slit up one leg to mid-thigh and a visible garter belt. In the non-sexy photo, she’s wearing jeans, a short-sleeved shirt and a scarf draped around her neck, covering her chest. 

Study participants were 58 teen girls, ages 13-18, and 60 young adult women no longer in high school, ages 17-25. They were randomly assigned one of the profiles and asked questions based on that profile.

The participants were asked to assess Amanda’s physical attractiveness (I think she is pretty), social attractiveness (I think she could be a friend of mine), and task competence (I have confidence in her ability to get a job done) on a scale from 1-7, with one being strongly disagree and 7 being strongly agree.

In all three areas, the non-sexy profile scored higher, indicating that those who viewed that photo thought Amanda was prettier, more likely to make a good friend and more likely to complete a task. The largest difference was in the area of task competence, suggesting a young woman’s capabilities are really dinged by the sexy photo, Daniels said.

The research underscores the importance of helping children and young people understand the long-term consequences of their online posts, Daniels said. Parents, educators and other influential adults should have regular conversations about the implications of online behavior with teens and young adults, Daniels suggested.

“We really need to help youth understand this is a very public forum,” she said.

The research also highlights the need for more discussion about gender roles and attitudes, particularly regarding girls and young women, she said.

“Why is it we focus so heavily on girls’ appearances?” she said. “What does this tell us about gender? Those conversations should be part of everyday life.”

Daniels’ advice for girls and young women is to select social media photos that showcase their identity rather than her appearance, such as one from a trip or one that highlights participation in a sport or hobby.

“Don’t focus so heavily on appearance,” Daniels said. “Focus on who you are as a person and what you do in the world.”

OSU-Cascades Campus Media Contact:  Michelle Klampe Source: 

Elizabeth Daniels, 831-345-8447 or daniels.psychology@gmail.com

Categories: Research news

Antibiotic use prevalent in hospice patients despite limited evidence of its value

News - Mon, 07/14/2014 - 9:05am
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Research suggests that antibiotics are probably being used more than is appropriate in hospice patients, sometimes making life for the terminally ill worse instead of better.

CORVALLIS, Ore. – New research suggests that use of antibiotics is still prevalent among terminal patients who have chosen hospice care as an end-of-life option, despite little evidence that the medications improve symptoms or quality of life, and sometimes may cause unwanted side effects.

The use of antibiotics is so engrained in contemporary medicine that 21 percent of patients being discharged from hospitals directly to a hospice program leave with a prescription for antibiotics, even though more than one fourth of them don’t have a documented infection during their hospital admission.

About 27 percent of hospice patients are still taking antibiotics in the final week of their life.

This raises serious questions about whether such broad and continued antibiotic use is appropriate in so many hospice cases, experts say, where the underlying concept is to control pain and protect the remaining quality of life without aggressively continuing medical treatment.

Additional concerns with antibiotic use, the study concluded, include medication side effects and adverse events, increased risk of subsequent opportunistic infections, prolonging the dying process and increasing the risk of developing antibiotic resistant microorganisms.

The findings were just published in Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy by researchers from Oregon State University and the Oregon Health & Science University. It was supported by the National Institutes of Health.

“Hospice care is very patient centered and in terminal patients it focuses on palliative care and symptom relief, not curative therapy,” said Jon Furuno, an associate professor in the Oregon State University/Oregon Health & Science University College of Pharmacy.

“It’s not for everyone, and it’s a serious decision people usually make in consultation with their family, nurses and doctors. These are tough conversations to have.

“Having decided to use hospice, however, the frequency and prevalence of antibiotic use in this patient population is a concern,” Furuno said. “Antibiotics themselves can have serious side effects that sometimes cause new problems, a factor that often isn’t adequately considered. And in terminally-ill people they may or may not work anyway.”

Issues such as this, Furuno said, continue to crop up in the evolving issue of hospice care, which is still growing in popularity as many people choose to naturally allow their life to end with limited medical treatment and often in their own homes. Hospice is covered by Medicare for people with a life expectancy of less than six months, helps to control medical costs and reduce hospital stays, and its services are now used by more than one third of dying Americans.

Unnecessary and inappropriate antibiotic use is already a concern across all segments of society, researchers said in the report, and more efforts are clearly needed to address the issue in hospice patients. The design of the study probably leads to it underestimating the significance of the problem, the researchers wrote in their conclusion.

College of Pharmacy Media Contact:  David Stauth Source: 

Jon Furuno, 503-418-9361

Categories: Research news

OSU’s 13th president leaves legacy of university expansion and success

News - Thu, 07/10/2014 - 5:01pm
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OSU's 13th president Paul Risser left a legacy of university expansion, academic and athletic success. He died July 10 at the age of 74.

CORVALLIS, Ore. - Paul Risser, the 13th president of Oregon State University from 1996 to late 2002, died Thursday in Norman, Oklahoma. He was 74.

Risser was president at OSU through a period of significant enrollment growth, new facilities, expanded fund raising, renewed athletic success and the creation of the OSU-Cascades Campus.

“President Risser led Oregon State during a time of challenge and transition,” said OSU President Ed Ray. “He helped to re-energize our intercollegiate athletics programs, increased enrollment, led the successful effort to establish the Cascades Campus in Bend, guided the university through difficult financial times and helped to raise Beaver pride.”

Ray also pointed out Risser’s achievements in donor support and expansion of the OSU campus.

“Paul resumed the process of renovating and building important campus facilities and positioning the university for successful fundraising in the years ahead,” Ray said. “He wanted every student at the university to reach their full potential and promoted programs to achieve that goal. Paul was a wise and kind mentor to me, and we are grateful to him for his essential role in helping to build this great university.”

Under Risser's leadership, OSU boosted recruiting efforts, expanded scholarship offerings, broadened its marketing, and implemented new orientation and retention programs. In 2000, the Oregon State System of Higher Education selected Oregon State to develop the first branch campus in Oregon history, and the OSU-Cascades Campus opened in Bend in September, 2001.

Risser also helped Oregon State launch an effort to propel its College of Engineering into one of the top programs in the nation. In 2000, the university began an ambitious 10-year, $180 million fundraising campaign, with two-thirds of the funds to be raised privately. That campaign led to a $20 million gift from alumnus Martin E. Kelley to support the initiative.

As an advocate for a successful athletic program, Risser strongly supported more competitive teams, improved facilities, reduced athletic department debt, and watched as the university’s football team once again gained success and went to the 2001 Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, defeating Notre Dame 41-9.

A number of campus buildings were constructed under Risser’s watch, including the CH2M-HILL Alumni Center, the $40 million expansion of Valley Library, and Richardson Hall. The university’s first new residence hall in 30 years, Halsell Hall, also opened.

An accomplished ecologist, researcher and scholar, Risser authored or edited six books and published more than 100 chapters and scientific papers in academic journals.

Risser had come to OSU from a position as president of Miami University in Ohio. He left in January, 2003, to return to his home state, becoming chancellor of the Oklahoma State System of Higher Education.

Generic OSU Media Contact:  David Stauth Source: 

Ed Ray, 541-737-4133

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Paul Risser

Categories: Research news

Precipitation, not warming temperatures, may be key in bird adaptation to climate change

News - Thu, 07/10/2014 - 3:28pm
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Precipitation changes are more likely than regional warming to influence bird population trends in the future, a new study suggests.

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A new model analyzing how birds in western North America will respond to climate change suggests that for most species, regional warming is not as likely to influence population trends as will precipitation changes.

Several past studies have found that temperature increases can push some animal species – including birds – into higher latitudes or higher elevations. Few studies, however, have tackled the role that changes in precipitation may cause, according to Matthew Betts, an Oregon State University ecologist and a principal investigator on the study.

“When we think of climate change, we automatically think warmer temperatures,” said Betts, an associate professor in Oregon State’s College of Forestry. “But our analysis found that for many species, it is precipitation that most affects the long-term survival of many bird species.

“It makes sense when you think about it,” Betts added. “Changes in precipitation can affect plant growth, soil moisture, water storage and insect abundance and distributions.”

Results of the study, which was funded by the National Science Foundation with support from the U.S. Geological Survey and others, are being published in the journal Global Change Biology.

The researchers examined long-term data on bird distributions and abundance covering five states in the western United States, and in the Canadian province of British Columbia, testing statistical models to predict temporal changes in population of 132 bird species over a 32-year period. They analyzed the impacts of temperature and precipitation on bird distributions at the beginning of the study period (the 1970s) and then tested how well the predictions performed against actual population trends over the ensuing 30 years.

The scientists keyed in on several variables, including possible changes during the wettest month in each region, the breeding season of different species, and the driest month by area. Their model found that models including precipitation were most successful at predicting bird population trends.

“For some species, the model can predict about 80 percent of variation,” Betts said, “and for some species, it’s just a flip of the coin. But the strongest message is that precipitation is an important factor and we should pay more attention to the implications of this moving forward.”

The study incorporated a lot of complex variables into the model, including micro-climatic changes that are present in mountainous environments. The research area encompassed California to northern British Columbia and the mountain systems drive much of the changes in both temperature and precipitation.

The researchers chose December precipitation as one variable and found it to be influential in affecting bird populations.

“Someone might ask why December, since half of the bird species usually present in the Pacific Northwest, for instance, might not even be here since they’re migratory,” Betts noted. “But much of the critical precipitation is snow that falls in the winter and has a carryover effect for months later – and the runoff is what affects stream flows, plant growth and insect abundance well down the road.”

The rufous hummingbird is one species that appeared affected by changes in December precipitation, the researchers say. The species is declining across western North America at a rate of about 3 percent a year, and the model suggest it is linked to an overall drying trend in the Northwest. The evening grosbeak is similarly affected the authors say.

On the other hand, the California towhee shows a negative association with December precipitation, appears to be drought-tolerant – and its populations remain stable.

“We cannot say for certain that a change in December precipitation caused declines in evening grosbeaks or rufous hummingbirds,” said Javier Gutiérrez Illán, a former postdoctoral researcher at Oregon State and lead author on the study. “Our model shows, however, a strong association between the birds’ decline and precipitation changes and the fact that this variable pointed to actual past changes in populations gives it validity.”

“The study shows that models can predict the direction and magnitude of population changes,” he added. “This is of fundamental importance considering predictions were successful even in new locations.”

The next phase of the research is to use the model to determine if there are patterns in the sorts of species affected – for instance, birds that are migratory or non-migratory, or short- or long-lived. They also hope to test additional variables, including land use changes, wildfire impacts, competition between species and other factors.

“In general, our study suggests that if climate change results in winters with less precipitation, we likely will see a spring drying effect,” Betts said. “This means that populations of drought-tolerant species will expand and birds that rely heavily on moisture should decline.”

College of Forestry Media Contact:  Mark Floyd Source: 

Matt Betts, 541-737-3841

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Rufous hummingbird

Categories: Research news

Sophisticated radiation detector designed for broad public use

News - Thu, 07/10/2014 - 11:08am
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A small, inexpensive radiation detector developed at OSU may help people around the world better understand radiation, and help detect risks if any are present.

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Nuclear engineers at Oregon State University have developed a small, portable and  inexpensive radiation detection device that should help people all over the world better understand the radiation around them, its type and intensity, and whether or not it poses a health risk.

The device was developed in part due to public demand following the nuclear incident in Fukushima, Japan, in 2011, when many regional residents were unsure what level of radiation they were being exposed to and whether their homes, food, environment and drinking water were safe.

Devices that could provide that type of information were costly and not readily available to the general public, and experts realized there was a demand for improved systems that could provide convenient, accurate information at a low cost. The new system should eventually be available for less than $150.

Findings on the new technology were just published in Nuclear Instruments and Methods in Physics Research, a professional journal. The systems are not yet available for commercial sale.

Beyond the extremely rare occasion of a radiological or nuclear incident, the new technology may also help interested consumers learn more about the world of radiation surrounding us, the constant exposure they receive – everything from a concrete wall to the air we breathe, soils around us or a granite kitchen counter top – and how to understand routine radiation exposure as a part of normal life.

“With a device such as this, people will be better able to understand and examine the environment in which they live,” said Abi Farsoni, an associate professor of nuclear engineering in the OSU College of Engineering. “Radiation is a natural part of our lives that many people don’t understand, but in some cases there’s also a need to measure it accurately in case something could be a health concern. This technology will accomplish both those goals.”

Of some interest, the researchers said, is that the technology being used in the new device provides measurements of radiation that are not only less expensive but also more efficient and accurate than many existing technologies that cost far more. Because of that, the system may find use not just by consumers but in laboratories and industries around the world that deal with radioactive material. This could include scientific research, medical treatments, emergency response, nuclear power plants or industrial needs.

The system is a miniaturized gamma ray spectrometer, which means it can measure not only the intensity of radiation but also identify the type of radionuclide that is creating it. Such a system is far more sophisticated than old-fashioned “Geiger counters” that provide only minimal information about the presence and level of radioactivity.

“The incident at Fukushima made us realize that many people wanted, but were not able to afford, a simple technology to tell them if their environment, food or water was safe,” Farsoni said. “This portable system, smaller than a golf ball, can do that, and it will also have wireless connectivity so it could be used remotely, or connected to the Internet.”

The system combines digital electronics with a fairly new type of “scintillation detector” that gives it the virtues of small size, durability, operation at room temperature, good energy resolution, low power consumption and light weight, while being able to measure radiation levels and identify the radionuclides producing them.

Various models may be developed for different needs, researchers said, one of which might be the ability to measure radon gas and check homes with possible concerns for that type of radiation exposure, which can sometimes come from soils, rocks, concrete walls or foundations.

“There are a lot of misconceptions by many people about radioactivity and natural background radiation, and technology of this type may help address some of those issues,” Farsoni said. “Sometimes, there are also real concerns, and the device will be able to identify them. And of some importance to us, we want the technology to be very simple and affordable so anyone can obtain and use it.”

The new device will ultimately be commercialized after final development is completed, researchers said.

College of Engineering Media Contact:  David Stauth Source: 

Abi Farsoni, 541-737-9645

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Small detection device

Categories: Research news

Review: Lead ammunition can be deadly, though mitigation may help

News - Wed, 07/09/2014 - 2:19pm
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A review of scientific studies on lead ammunition found that lead ingestion accounts for illness and mortality in more than 120 bird species in North America, but mitigation will be challenging.

CORVALLIS, Ore. – The ingestion of lead ammunition and lead fishing tackle accounts for illness and mortality in more than 120 different species of birds in North America, according to a newly published review of scientific studies on the issue.

What impact that has at the population level for species is less clear, the researchers say, as is how to deal with the growing controversy over the use of lead for hunting and fishing. The lead issue is complex and steps to mitigate the impacts will be challenging – from cost and performance factors to manufacturing output – but they are possible, the authors point out.

“Although lead shot has been banned for waterfowl hunting in the United States since 1991, and in Canada since 1999, exposure to lead remains a problem for many bird species,” said Susan Haig, supervisory wildlife ecologist with the U.S. Geological Survey and lead author on the study. “However, we did find several examples of ways wildlife managers have helped reduce exposure of birds to lead.”

The review of scientific studies, conducted by biologists from several different institutions and agencies, was published in the July edition of the journal The Condor: Ornithological Applications. A companion perspective article, written by Clinton Epps, an associate professor in the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife at Oregon State University, examines the challenges of transitioning to non-lead ammunition.

In their papers, the researchers do not call for any policy changes, but they outline some of the challenges of reducing the use of lead and explore tactics that have been used to reduce lead exposure.

“Shifting to non-lead alternatives is a lot more complicated than some people think,” said Epps, who has hunted for more than 30 years. “Any efforts to shift hunters and fishermen from using lead needs to be well-informed and collaborative. Everyone concerned with this issue must be prepared to invest time, money, and expertise to work not only with hunters and fishermen, but with ammunition and tackle manufacturers.”

Epps has looked at copper bullets as one less-toxic alternative to lead and notes that they generally work well in modern firearms commonly used for big game hunting. However, effective non-lead alternatives have not yet been developed for all types of hunting firearms, he added.

In the review article, the researchers outline the availability of non-lead ammunition in October 2013 in 35 different calibers and 51 rifle-cartridge configurations at three major online retailers. Of the non-lead options sold by those retailers, only a small proportion was actually in stock: Cabela’s had non-lead ammunition in 18 percent of available sizes; Cheaper Than Dirt, 27 percent; and Bass Pro Shops, 10 percent.

“Non-lead bullets can be difficult to find in all calibers needed, but availability is improving,” Epps said. “Premium quality hunting ammunition costs about the same for lead-based and non-lead options, but I see a lot of people using the cheaper options, which invariably contain lead, so cost may be an issue – particularly for high-volume users.”

The physical properties of lead – including high density, low melting point, malleability and resistance to corrosion – have made it popular in the manufacturing of ammunition and fishing sinkers. However, many birds are sensitive to lead exposure, affecting the structure and function of kidneys, bones, the central nervous system and the blood system. Impacts range from lethargy and anorexia, to reproductive issues and death.

In their review, the researchers noted that lead has widely varying impacts.

  • One study of common loon carcasses found across six New England states found that about 23 percent (118 of 522) of the deaths were caused by ingestion of lead fishing tackle and ammunition;
  • California condors are extremely susceptible to lead poisoning and suffer significant mortality, yet a related species known as turkey vultures can survive with greater and longer exposure to lead;
  • Few studies have been done on population-level impacts of lead with the most complete studies conducted on waterfowl, where deaths from lead poisoning are estimated to be 2-3 percent overall, and 4 percent in mallard ducks.

A survey by the U.S. Geological Survey in 2013 found that 69,000 metric tons (a metric ton is about 2,204 pounds) of lead were used in the production of ammunition in the United States in one year. Annual estimates of lead fishing weights sold in the U.S. equal 3,977 metric tons.

Birds and other animals ingest lead in different ways, according to Haig. Loons, for example, were found to have swallowed lead sinkers and jigs, perhaps mistaking them for prey. Scavengers including condors and eagles often feed on carcasses of animals killed by hunters and cannot avoid incidental lead ingestion.

“Some birds use lead pellets or fragments as grit to aid in digestion after consuming it at hunting areas or shooting ranges,” said Haig, who is a courtesy professor of wildlife ecology at OSU. “Another potentially important lead source is recreational shooting of ground squirrels, which leaves lead-laced carcasses available to be eaten by golden eagles, Swainson’s hawks and other birds of prey.

“We found one estimate that more than 1.1 million ground squirrels were shot in one state during a one-year period,” she added. “It would be helpful to better understand what kinds of risk this poses to raptor scavengers.”

The review outlines some steps to reduce lead exposure to birds, including redistributing shot in the surface soil by cultivating sediments; raising water levels in wetlands to reduce access by feeding birds; and providing alternative uncontaminated food sources.

“Managers have found a number of ways to reduce the risk of lead exposure to birds while preserving the important role hunting plays in wildlife conservation,” Haig said.

One example cited involved Arizona Game and Fish working with other groups in that state on a voluntary approach to the issue.

“They formed a coalition to educate hunters about the negative effects of lead,” Haig pointed out. “The result was more than 80 percent compliance with voluntary non-lead ammunition use among hunters on the Kaibab Plateau and no birds were found with lead poisoning the following year.”

Other authors on the review include Jesse D’Elia, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and OSU Department of Fisheries and Wildlife; Collin Eagles-Smith, U.S. Geological Survey and OSU Fisheries and Wildlife; Garth Herring, U.S. Geological Survey; Jeanne M. Fair, Los Alamos National Laboratory; Jennifer Gervais, Oregon Wildlife Institute and OSU Fisheries and Wildlife; James W. Rivers, OSU Department of Forest Ecosystems and Society; and John H. Schulz, University of Missouri.

College of Agricultural Sciences Media Contact:  Mark Floyd Source: 

Susan Haig, 541-750-0981, susan_haig@usgs.gov; Clint Epps, 541-737-2478, Clinton.epps@oregonstate.edu

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magpie feedng on a carcass

Categories: Research news

SAR11, oceans’ most abundant organism, has ability to create methane

News - Mon, 07/07/2014 - 9:47am
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A new study by researchers at Oregon State University demonstrates the ability of some strains of the oceans’ most abundant organism – SAR11 – to generate methane.

CORVALLIS, Ore. – The oxygen-rich surface waters of the world’s major oceans are supersaturated with methane – a powerful greenhouse gas that is roughly 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide – yet little is known about the source of this methane.

Now a new study by researchers at Oregon State University demonstrates the ability of some strains of the oceans’ most abundant organism – SAR11 – to generate methane as a byproduct of breaking down a compound for its phosphorus.

Results of the study are being published this week in Nature Communications. It was funded by the National Science Foundation and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.

“Anaerobic methane biogenesis was the only process known to produce methane in the oceans and that requires environments with very low levels of oxygen,” said Angelicque “Angel” White, a researcher in OSU’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences and co-author on the study. “In the vast central gyres of the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, the surface waters have lots of oxygen from mixing with the atmosphere – and yet they also have lots of methane, hence the term ‘marine methane paradox.’

“We’ve now learned that certain strains of SAR11, when starved for phosphorus, turn to a compound known as methylphosphonic acid,” White added. “The organisms produce enzymes that can break this compound apart, freeing up phosphorus that can be used for growth – and leaving methane behind.”

The discovery is an important piece of the puzzle in understanding the Earth’s methane cycle, scientists say. It builds on a series of studies conducted by researchers from several institutions around the world over the past several years.

Previous research has shown that adding methylphosphonic acid, or MPn, to seawater produces methane, though no one knew exactly how. Then a laboratory study led by David Karl of the University of Hawaii and OSU’s White found that an organism called Trichodesmium could break down MPn and thus it could be a potential source of phosphorus, which is a critical mineral essential to every living organism.

However, Trichodesmium are rare in the marine environment and unlikely to be the only source for vast methane deposits in the surface waters.

So White turned to Steve Giovannoni, a distinguished professor of microbiology at OSU, who not only maintains the world’s largest bank of SAR11 strains, but who also discovered and identified SAR11 in 1990. In a series of experiments, White, Giovannoni, and graduate students Paul Carini and Emily Campbell tested the capacity of different SAR11 strains to consume MPn and cleave off methane.

“We found that some did produce a methane byproduct, and some didn’t,” White said. “Just as some humans have a different capacity for breaking down compounds for nutrition than others, so do these organisms. The bottom line is that this shows phosphate-starved bacterioplankton have the capability of producing methane and doing so in oxygen-rich waters.”

SAR11 is the smallest free-living cell known and also has the smallest genome, or genetic structure, of any independent cell. Yet it dominates life in the oceans, thrives where most other cells would die, and plays a huge role in the cycling of carbon on Earth.

These bacteria are so dominant that their combined weight exceeds that of all the fish in the world's oceans, scientists say. In a marine environment that's low in nutrients and other resources, they are able to survive and replicate in extraordinary numbers – a milliliter of seawater, for instance, might contain 500,000 of these cells.

"The ocean is a competitive environment and these bacteria apparently won the race," said Giovannoni, a professor in OSU’s College of Science. "Our analysis of the SAR11 genome indicates that they became the dominant life form in the oceans largely by being the simplest.”

“Their ability to cleave off methane is an interesting finding because it provides a partial explanation for why methane is so abundant in the high-oxygen waters of the mid-ocean regions,” Giovannoni added. “Just how much they contribute to the methane budget still needs to be determined.”

Since the discovery of SAR11, scientists have been interested in their role in the Earth’s carbon budget. Now their possible implication in methane creation gives the study of these bacteria new importance.

Generic OSU Media Contact:  Mark Floyd Source: 

Angel White, 541-737-6397; awhite@coas.oregonstate.edu; Steve Giovannoni, 541-737-1835, steve.giovannoni@oregonstate.edu

Categories: Research news

Questions and answers on pest management from OSU experts

News - Mon, 07/07/2014 - 9:40am
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CORVALLIS, Ore. – What to do about garden pests, including insects, plant diseases and weeds, can be a challenge for gardeners who want to effectively manage the pests without damage to the environment and human health.

The question-and-answer series below illustrates a strategy called Integrated Pest Management, a systematic approach to identify pests and use tactics that are cultural, physical, biological or chemical.

The least toxic and effective methods are always considered first, according to Oregon State University researchers Andy Hulting, a weed control specialist, and Gail Langellotto, an entomologist.

Q: How do I know if I have pest problems in my garden?

A: Check your plants regularly for pest damage such as missing leaves, flowers or fruit or changes in color, texture or size. Most plant problems in home gardens are caused by poor growing conditions, temperature extremes, poor water management or compacted soil. Look under leaves and use a flashlight after dark, which is when many insects are active.

Q: How do I identify what is causing the problem?

A: Often it's not a pest, but another problem such as sun scald or nutrient deficiencies. "Don't apply pesticides without understanding the problem you are trying to solve," Langellotto advised. "Many insects are beneficial and actually help gardens grow better. Others do no damage." Some insect pests can be dislodged with simple methods such as shaking the plant or spraying with a high-pressure stream of water.

Your local OSU Extension office and its Master Gardeners can help correctly identify the culprit and at what point in the pest's life cycle it is most susceptible to control measures.

Q: What pest management tool should I use?

A: Integrated Pest Management utilizes a combination of methods to keep pest populations at an acceptable level, with the least toxic and effective first.

  • Cultural methods: Choose healthy plants that are not prone to pest problems, plant them where they will grow well and rotate where annuals are planted to avoid buildup of disease populations.
  • Physical methods: Pull or dig weeds and hand-pick or trap insect pests off of plants. Row covers designed to extend the gardening season have been found to also keep insect pests away from plants.
  • Biological methods: Garden plants can attract beneficial insects, such as parasitic wasps and green lacewings, to help keep pests at bay. Some of the more common ones are alyssum, coreopsis and sunflower.  The flowers of plants in the Apiaceae family (including carrots, parsnips, celery, parsnip, cilantro and dill) are known to be especially good at attracting parasitic wasps and other beneficial insects.

Q: When and how should I use chemical methods?

A: Some pest problems are difficult to manage without chemical pesticides.  However, chemicals can affect human health and be toxic to other organisms. Thus, use them judiciously and only after you are confident you have identified the pest, have chosen an appropriate pesticide, and that other methods are not likely to provide acceptable levels of control.  Read all label directions before choosing and using pesticides in the garden. 

"If you want to utilize biological controls in the garden, avoid broad-spectrum insecticides whenever possible," Langellotto said. "They may help you manage your insect pests, but they also kill other insects they contact, including beneficial ones."

Q: What precautions should I take with chemical pesticides?

A: If you decide to use a chemical, check the label to make sure your intended use or site is included on the label. Then choose one that is least harmful to the environment and to the applicator, specific to the pest and least harmful to beneficial organisms.

Pesticides labeled "Caution" are the least toxic to humans, "Warning" are more toxic, and "Danger-Poison" (with a skull and crossbones), are the most toxic. The law requires that you read the label. Be sure to wear protective clothing, especially eye protection, gloves and long pants.

Pesticides are more concentrated than they used to be, according to Hulting, and are made for very specific uses. "You might need only a fraction of an ounce to treat a large area or number of plants, perhaps less than in previous years," he said. "Don't use more product than the label specifies. More is not better."

Q: Where can I get more specific information?

A: For fact sheets, frequently asked questions and podcasts on pesticide use, check online at http://npic.orst.edu/ or call the National Pesticide Information Center at OSU at 1-800-858-7378.

Generic OSU Media Contact:  Daniel Robison Source: 

Gail Langellotto, 541-737-5175;

Andy Hulting, 541-737-5098

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As green lacewing larvae grow, they benefit gardens by eating immature pests. (Photo by Lynn Ketchum.)

Categories: Research news

Oregon State University hires new director for School of Arts and Communication

News - Thu, 07/03/2014 - 1:35pm
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Lee Ann Garrison, an administrator at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, has been named the director of the School of Arts and Communication.

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Lee Ann Garrison, an administrator at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, has been named the director of the School of Arts and Communication in the College of Liberal Arts at Oregon State University.

Garrison has been executive director of the Design Research Institute at the Peck School of the Arts at the University of Wisconsin. An art and design professor, Garrison also is the interim associate dean for curricular design and innovation in the Lubar School of Business and interim associate dean of academic and student affairs at the Zilber School of Public Health.

Garrison comes to Corvallis with a strong background in curriculum development and creating collaborative teaching and research opportunities at UW-Milwaukee. She will continue to use those skills as director of the School of Arts and Communication.

At Oregon State, Garrison will work to elevate the arts on campus and throughout the community, and also to create opportunities for students and faculty to work with others in the arts and beyond. 

“As an artist, Lee Ann is a bridge-builder who’s been especially adept at working across many disciplines in a university setting,” said Lawrence Rodgers, executive dean of the Division of Arts and Science. “She has a history as an especially accomplished administrator known for her ability to build coalitions and collaborate in a large institution.” 

Garrison will begin her new position Aug. 11.

College of Liberal Arts Source: 

Celene Carillo, 541-737-2137 or Celene.carillo@oregonstate.edu

Categories: Research news

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