Terra in Print: Spring 2012

The Culture of Infectious Ideas

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It could be called the “Tale of Two Steves.” Steve Wozniak was the technical genius. Steve Jobs was the visionary. Inspired by a local computer-users group and surrounded by technology giants such as Hewlett-Packard and Xerox, they created the first computer for people who were not engineers or computer-science majors. Like the discovery of gold at Sutter’s Mill, the birth of Apple Computer marked an economic turning point.

It didn’t hurt that the two Steves lived near Stanford University and its culture of infectious ideas. Proximity matters.

Oregon doesn’t have quite the critical mass of Silicon Valley, but the same point applies. When creative people share ideas, new ventures emerge. A recent example in Corvallis begins with the “Tale of Todd and Scott.” That is, Todd Miller, prototyping manager of the Microproducts Breakthrough Institute, and Scott Gilbert, chemical safety officer at the MBI. Both have expertise in the science of microfluidics, the behavior of flowing liquids confined in tight spaces.

Gilbert spent years in Switzerland working on a microfluidics approach to an analytical technique known as “liquid chromatography on a chip.” He formed a company, Crystal Vision Microsystems (yes, inspired by the Fleetwood Mac song) and received support from the Swiss government. The market turned out not to be as receptive as he thought, and then came the dot-com bust in 2001. Over the next few years, Gibert found new allies in the United States, but competitors had also advanced, and when the recession hit in 2008, he pulled the plug.

It was at a Portland meeting sponsored by the Oregon Nanoscience and Microtechnologies Institute (ONAMI) that Gilbert and Miller met. Gilbert was looking for a petrochemical “micromixer,” a device that processes liquids through a honeycomb of tubes slightly wider than a human hair. Miller had developed prototypes that might do the trick. A partnership was born.

Today, Miller is president and Gilbert is chief technology office of Microflow CVO™ (CVO is the flight code for Corvallis Municipal Airport). The company has licensed technology from Oregon State University and launched its website on May 1. John Turner, Microflow CEO and OSU College of Business instructor, estimates that the global market for such devices in the life sciences alone is about $2 billion and expected to grow to $3 billion by 2014.

It’s a bit premature to put Microflow’s founding up against the origins of Apple Inc. But an estimated 47 Oregon start-up companies received private or public investment in 2011. The culture of infectious ideas is nurtured by statewide research initiatives such as ONAMI and Oregon BEST. Oregon State’s land grant mission calls us to set the stage for their success.

[Editor’s note: OSU MBA student Ken True interviewed Scott Gilbert about Gilbert’s journey from Swiss inventor to Oregon entrepreneur.]

Life-Saving Science

Life-Saving Science

Healthy People, Perspectives, Spring 2012, Terra Blog

At a recent meeting of the American Meteorological Society in New Orleans, I participated in a discussion of early warning systems that give the public time to take cover from tornadoes and to prepare for hurricanes. Today, we have hours or days to get out of harm’s way. Contrast that with the hurricane in Galveston, […]


Running Clear

Running Clear

Footprints, Healthy Economy, Healthy Planet, Innovation, Spring 2012

The Arctic Ocean, 1997. Gary Klinkhammer had strapped a water chemistry analyzer onto the hull of a retired U.S. Navy nuclear submarine to measure carbon. He had come to this bleak and desolate place looking for organic matter, fertile detritus dumped into the ocean by massive rivers in Siberia and North America. “The Arctic in […]


Battling the Superbugs

Battling the Superbugs

Healthy People, Spring 2012, Vitality

This story has echoes of heroes tramping the Earth (or the galaxy) on a quest to defeat the forces of darkness. Along the way, the travelers encounter strange creatures with remarkable powers. They endure harrowing tests of mental strength and technological prowess. In the end, they prevail, bringing down the enemy and discovering a truth […]


Turncoat Proteins

Turncoat Proteins

Healthy Economy, Healthy People, Innovation, Spring 2012, Vitality

It’s one of life’s little ironies. The proteins in our bodies fight infection, carry messages, ferry oxygen and build tissue. But then, like double agents in a spy novel, they can betray us. They overreact to a virus and attack our own organs. They promote cancer, help clog arteries or set up roadblocks in the […]


Business Partners

Business Partners

Innovation, Spring 2012

One sunny spring afternoon, friends sat together in the backyard of a Corvallis home sipping wine, bemoaning the recent hike in gas prices to $3.50 per gallon. Among them were a former product-development specialist for Hewlett-Packard and an Oregon State University chemist. Perhaps inspired by the bioethanol in their glasses, what might happen, they wondered, […]


From Wood to Watts

From Wood to Watts

Healthy Economy, Healthy Planet, Spring 2012, Stewardship

About a million years ago in South Africa, a Homo erectus cave dweller used fire on purpose, and some charred bones at the site suggest it may have been for cooking. Thus was born the biofuels industry — and also the first known barbecue. The name of that cave, Wonderwerk, means “miracle” in the Afrikaans […]


Plates of Honor

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Healthy People, Inquiry, Multimedia, Spring 2012

In 1997, Julie Green had just moved to Norman, Oklahoma, when she sat down to read the local paper with her morning tea and toast. As she was looking at the column of news from around the state, she was riveted by an item describing an execution that had happened the previous night. The column […]


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Healthy Economy, Innovation, Spring 2012

New startup companies are emerging from Oregon State research. Here are three young companies just getting their feet on the ground.


Bits & Pieces

Bits & Pieces

Spring 2012

A geologist who once helped discover rock-eating microbes a mile beneath the ocean floor soon will be looking for rocks in the other direction: up.


The Exercise Gender Gap

The Exercise Gender Gap

Healthy People, Spring 2012, Vitality

Men exercise more than women do — 18 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous activity for women versus 30 minutes for men, on average — a study has found. This is bad news for women, who are more prone to “metabolic syndrome” — a cluster of risk factors including so-called “stubborn belly fat” often targeted in diet ads. […]


Of Predators and Herds

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Earth, Spring 2012

The health of any ecosystem starts with razor-like teeth and an appetite for meat. The “apex” predators — big carnivores like bears and wolves at the top of the food web — keep things in balance, OSU researchers have found in study after study in the western United States. Now, the findings have been confirmed […]


Hail Oceanus!

Hail Oceanus!

Earth, Spring 2012

It was a beautiful day for a shakedown cruise off the Oregon coast. For a crew based at Oregon State University’s Hatfield Marine Science Center, March 7, 2012, was also a good day to get to know their new ship, the research vessel (R/V) Oceanus. Scientists and crew took Oceanus, the sister ship to OSU’s […]


The Oh! Zone

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Earth, Healthy Planet, Inquiry, Spring 2012

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Parents Should Chill Out

Spring 2012, Vitality

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Infectious Science

Infectious Science

Healthy People, Spring 2012, Vitality

The National Institutes of Health is supporting OSU researchers with $4.5 million spread across 16 active projects. Among them: Jon Furuno, College of Pharmacy, studies the incidence and severity of MRSA in hospitals and long-term care facilities. Margaret Dolcini, Department of Public Health, studies the behaviors and attitudes of urban African-American youth at risk of […]


The Power’s in the Purple

The Power’s in the Purple

Healthy People, Spring 2012, Vitality

A new type of tomato that’s “as black as an eggplant” is being touted for its health-enhancing properties. Poetically named “Indigo Rose,” the new variety was bred at OSU as a powerful source of antioxidants — micronutrients known to fight the harmful “free radicals” implicated in cancers and other diseases. It’s the purple pigment, in […]


Tracking the Titans

Tracking the Titans

Earth, Healthy Planet, Spring 2012

A whale named Varvara is following in the fluke-path of a whale named Flex, who surprised scientists last year by taking an unexpected migratory route from Russia to Oregon. Scientists led by Bruce Mate at the Marine Mammal Institute are following Varvara’s incredible journey via satellite signals from an electronic “tag” she received in September. […]


Data Driven

Data Driven

Healthy Economy, Innovation, Multimedia, Spring 2012, Student Research

When Chris Patton was helping his Formula SAE team design a racecar for international competition, he made an unusual suggestion: angle the rear wheels outward in relation to the car. Common knowledge would warn against that move. Turning the rear tires outward makes the car less stable. But Patton, a Ph.D. student in mechanical engineering […]


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Resistance Times Ten

Spring 2012, Vitality

Pathogens resistant to one or more drugs are on the rise. Below are 10 diseases associated with antimicrobial resistance identified by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 1. Anthrax. Occurs rarely in humans. Caused by exposure to infected animals or animal products. Also has been used in […]


Evidence for Change

Evidence for Change

Healthy Planet, Perspectives, Spring 2012, Stewardship, Terra Blog

Some people take a dim view of the idea that Oregon, as well as the rest of the world, could be expected to continue warming in coming decades. They may cite March snowfall in the Willamette Valley or unpublished comparisons of mean temperatures over a given time period in specific places. Appealing as it is, […]


From Bedside to Public Square

From Bedside to Public Square

Healthy People, Spring 2012, Vitality

Most of Portland is still punching the snooze button when morning rounds begin on Pill Hill. By 6 o’clock, teams of doctors, residents and medical students have draped their stethoscopes around their necks, collected their clipboards and greeted their first patients at OHSU’s teaching hospital. Joining one of the white-coated clusters, the family-medicine team, is […]


Wood or Oil?

Wood or Oil?

Healthy Planet, Spring 2012

“The world is a complicated place and there are consequences for every choice we make,” says Hal Salwasser, dean of the Oregon State University College of Forestry. “The research cited here (in From Wood to Watts) shows what some of those consequences, good and bad, might be when we transform wood, a carbohydrate renewable over […]