Terra in Print: Spring 2011

The “Why” Switch 

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Some people just can’t help it. They ask questions as though their “why” switch got stuck in the “on” position when they were children. Take Don Pettit. The NASA astronaut and OSU chemical engineering alum (’78) from Silverton joined three different labs during his undergraduate years in Corvallis. He learned how to photograph fluidized bed coal combustion, studied asexual reproduction in plants that live on insects and measured gas adsorption on the surface of a solid.

Pettit says professors “roped” him into their labs because he kept asking questions. In exchange, he got a first-hand look at how research was done.

His switch is still wide open. Today he works in a lab that you can see from home. Just look up on a clear night. As an astronaut, he does fundamental physics experiments in the International Space Station. In his online “Saturday Morning Science” videos from space, water forms a glistening sphere in a wire loop, antacid tablets generate frothy bubbles that circulate in a watery world and CD players demonstrate the principles of a gyroscope. These phenomena aren’t just curiosities; they have direct application to engineering in the space environment. Pettit is scheduled to make his third return to space and his second to the station in December 2011.

Pettit may be in the vanguard of space science, but his enthusiasm echoes in today’s undergrads. They show the same thirst to solve problems and make discoveries. At OSU’s Celebrating Undergraduate Excellence forum in May, 56 student teams presented their research in a range of fields — forestry, biochemistry, agriculture, psychology, nutrition, geology, biology, engineering and the arts.

Talking to these students is like getting a tour of new worlds. They gladly share their insights. They talk excitedly but with conviction, and I often come away with an overwhelming feeling: My own “why” switch is open, and I’d love to join them on their journey.

I hope you get that feeling as you read through some of their stories in this issue of Terra.

— Nick Houtman

Bone Builders

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Departments, Healthy People, Spring 2011, Vitality

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Biotech Partnership

Biotech Partnership

Departments, Healthy Economy, Healthy Planet, Spring 2011

Research into tree biotechnology has gotten a boost through a new agreement between Dow AgroSciences LLC and Oregon State University. The wholly owned subsidiary of The Dow Chemical Company will make its EXZACT™ Precision Technology available to Steve Strauss, distinguished professor of forest biotechnology in the College of Forestry. EXZACT™ provides a versatile and comprehensive […]


Free-Choice Science

Free-Choice Science

Departments, Healthy Planet, Inquiry, New Terrain, Spring 2011

In a world confronted with greenhouse gases, emergent diseases, energy shortages, natural disasters, habitat loss, species extinctions and a thousand other urgent issues, public understanding of science is more essential than ever. Now, an OSU study reveals a powerful vehicle for enhancing science literacy in local communities: science museums. Science museums like the Oregon Museum […]


Cultural Designer

Cultural Designer

Departments, Inquiry, Multimedia, Spring 2011, Student Research

Neebinnaukzhik means “summer evening” in the Ojibway (also known as Chippewa) language of the Great Lakes region. When Neebinnaukzhik Southall was growing up, she made handcrafts — friendship bracelets, dream catchers and beaded animals — and sold them to family and friends. She called her business Summer’s Specials.


Canines to the Rescue

Canines to the Rescue

Departments, Features, Healthy People, Multimedia, Spring 2011, Vitality

The similarities are uncanny. Bone tumors, whether from a teenager’s leg or the paw of the teen’s pet dog, look virtually identical. If you biopsy those tumors and examine them under a microscope, you’d be hard pressed to tell one from the other. That’s why oncology research at Oregon State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine […]


Good Impressions

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Departments, Healthy People, Spring 2011, Student Research, Vitality

Call it gut instinct, intuition, street smarts or sixth sense. Good poker players need it. Success in business, politics and athletics demands it. Psychologists call it emotional intelligence, but unlike the myriad tests available to assess verbal and quantitative intelligence, a well-validated test for emotional intelligence has yet to be established, according to Frank Bernieri, […]


One Less Child

One Less Child

Earth, Healthy People, Healthy Planet, Spring 2011

If you’re concerned about sustainable living, you probably pay close attention to your “carbon footprint.” We all have one: the amount of climate changing carbon we emit to the atmosphere through our energy intensive lifestyles. Some of us even calculate our household’s footprint with one of the many carbon calculators available online. It helps to […]


Building a Better Student

Building a Better Student

Departments, Innovation, Spring 2011, Student Research, Terra Blog

When undergraduate students do hands-on research with eminent professors on projects that matter, everyone wins. Students become better thinkers and citizens; the professors who mentor them become better teachers and researchers. Employers get access to employees with critical thinking, problem solving and communication skills that are so important in an economy increasingly dependent on innovation […]


How Do You Know That?

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Departments, Healthy Planet, Innovation, Spring 2011, Student Research

As an undergraduate at Johns Hopkins University in the 1970s, I immersed myself in learning about my field of choice, oceanography. I spent plenty of time in class studying the leading texts of the day. But my real education came from first-hand research experiences.


The Birth-Weight Factor

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Departments, Healthy People, Spring 2011, Vitality

Among the questions you may be asked someday by doctors who prescribe your medications is one that few people can probably answer: What was your birth weight? Research by Ganesh Cherala of the Oregon State University College of Pharmacy suggests that when physicians prescribe drugs ranging from Tylenol to cancer chemotherapies, they may need to […]


The Gamma and the Beta

The Gamma and the Beta

Departments, Healthy Economy, Healthy People, Innovation, Spring 2011

Fast, accurate, affordable detection of radiation — whether it’s from Japan’s damaged Fukushima plant, long-buried waste at Hanford’s WWII weapons site, or secret underground testing by rogue nations — is a pressing need internationally. Now, detection technology has taken a notable leap forward. A newly patented invention from Oregon State University uses “phoswich” technology (short […]


Holding Out Hope

Holding Out Hope

Departments, Features, Healthy People, Spring 2011, Vitality

He hit .295 with 29 home runs and 114 RBIs that last year in 1938 — a season most baseball players could only dream about. They called him the “Iron Horse” because he was known for his durability. But even in 1938, he was feeling tired by mid-season. And for him, a season like that was considered mediocre.


Blood Lines

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Departments, Features, Healthy People, Innovation, Spring 2011, Student Research, Vitality

It wasn’t the most elegant way to enter a lab. Ishan Patel had just met his mentor for the summer of 2009, Dr. Owen McCarty at Oregon Health & Science University. The OSU bioengineering student wanted to make a good impression, and when McCarty told him to go across the hall and meet his research […]


Natural Defense

Natural Defense

Features, Healthy People, Multimedia, Spring 2011, Student Research, Vitality

“I’m not one that is easily deterred,” Anneke Tucker says with a disarming smile. It’s a good thing. The 23-year-old Oregon State University senior from Lakeview, Oregon, has fixed her sights on nothing less than improving health care in rural communities. And along the way, she might throw in a new treatment for one of the nation’s most serious health threats, Type 2 diabetes.


Growth Factors

Growth Factors

Features, Healthy People, Spring 2011, Student Research, Vitality

Feeding the rats was just the beginning. To get to the bottom of questions about the effects of alcohol consumption on bones, Cyndi Trevisiol learned how to remove the living cells from a femur and a tibia (purchased frozen from a biological supply house). She then removed the minerals — calcium, iron, magnesium, zinc, silicon […]


Pathfinders

Pathfinders

Features, Healthy Economy, Multimedia, Spring 2011, Student Research

Robert Johnson gets a lot of strange looks when he tells his friends what he does in Ken Hedberg’s lab. The senior from Salem and another student, Luke Costello from Corvallis, shoot beams of electrons through clouds of gasses and use the results to analyze molecular structure. “People ask ‘why?’” says Johnson. “I just say, […]


A Slippery Slope

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Earth, Features, Healthy Planet, Spring 2011

Grinding over ancient layers of lava and ash, the glaciers of the Cascade Range act like supersized sheets of shrinkwrap. Stretched taut across tons of pulverized rock, these blankets of frozen snow hold sand, gravel and boulders in place — that is, until they start to melt. Then the sediments, unlocked from the glaciers’ icy […]