CORVALLIS, Ore. Oregon State University scientists and engineers earned nearly $262 million in research contracts and grants in the recently concluded fiscal year. Here are some of the stories behind that total.
Chemicals in the Environment: As the number of synthetic chemicals expands in the environment, so does the need to rapidly test their impacts on humans and other organisms. With a $1.8 million grant from the U.S. Public Health Service, Robert Tanguay, OSU distinguished professor in Environmental and Molecular Toxicology, leads the creation of a “high-throughput” system to analyze interactions among chemicals, genes and diseases. Funded through a competitive award via the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, Tanguay’s laboratory can expose at least 10,000 zebrafish per day to chemicals and observe behavioral and anatomical responses. The goal, says Tanguay, is to create the first facility capable of such rapid analysis in the context of a whole vertebrate.
Preventing Obesity: OSU researchers earned a grant of nearly $5 million from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture to develop an obesity prevention program for children in rural Oregon. Project directors Deborah John and Kathy Gunter from OSU Extension call their program “Generating Rural Options for Weight-Healthy Kids and Communities” and are working with researchers in six other Western states to develop a plan to prevent obesity and field test it in rural communities within three Oregon counties: Clackamas, Columbia and Klamath. The team will use the assessments to begin an obesity-intervention program in September 2012 in the three counties to promote healthy eating and physical activity. The goal is to improve the body mass index among rural children aged 5-8.
Science and Seniors: The National Science Foundation has awarded a five-year, $2.9-million grant to OSU to support an interdisciplinary graduate training program in aging sciences. Linking Individuals, Families and Environments (LIFE) in an Aging Society will train Ph.D. scientists and engineers through NSF’s Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship, or IGERT, program. It will include scientists led by principal investigator Karen Hooker at OSU’s Center for Healthy Aging Research whose work focuses on diet, genes and aging; psychosocial aging; musculoskeletal factors; and technology for aging populations. This training program is timely, officials say, because the number of people in the United States over 65 is expected to double in the next quarter century, growing to almost 21 percent of the population. By 2025, it is estimated that one in eight of the world’s inhabitants will be over age 60.
Boosting Wood Products: The National Science Foundation awarded OSU and Virginia Tech a $2.2- million, five-year grant to do new research on wood-based composite materials that could aid the wood products industry. Scientists hope to create improved forms of materials that are renewable, environmentally friendly, work better or cost less, in such products as laminated veneer lumber, strand composites, wood and thermal plastic composites, and new wood adhesives. (Photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/oregonstateuniversity/4819489802/)
Open-Source Organizing: Crisis Commons, a global network of volunteers who help people and regions in crisis, received a $1.2 million grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and will use that to expand its partnership with the Open Source Lab at OSU. “Open source” computer technology tools, for instance, helped organize 63 events in eight countries with more than 2,300 people participating, after the major earthquakes of 2010 in such places as Haiti and Chile.
Faster Electronics: OSU scientists led by Douglas Keszler, a distinguished professor of chemistry, made a fundamental advance in material science that has eluded scientists since the 1960s and could form the basis of a new approach to electronics, with support from the National Science Foundation, Army Research Laboratory and the Oregon Nanoscience and Microtechnologies Institute. The discovery, on which the university is seeking a patent, was a high performance “metal-insulator-metal” diode, which could greatly speed the performance of many electronic instruments.
Keeping Bridges Safe: Civil engineers at OSU developed a new system to better analyze the connections that hold major bridge members together, in work that may improve public safety, help address a trillion-dollar concern about aging infrastructure and save lives, according to Chris Higgins, a professor in the School of Civil and Construction Engineering. The findings were made possible with support from the Oregon Transportation Research and Education Consortium, a National University Transportation Center created by Congress. (Photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/oregonstateuniversity/5170707170/)
Better Solar Panels: Engineers at OSU discovered a new way to use inkjet printing with new types of more efficient solar energy devices, in work that reduces raw material waste by 90 percent and could significantly cut the cost of producing solar energy cells. The research, led by Chih-hung Chang, an OSU professor in the School of Chemical, Biological and Environmental Engineering, was supported by the U.S. Department of Energy and Oregon’s University Venture Development Fund.
Myth of the Great Garbage Patch: The National Science Foundation-sponsored Center for Microbial Oceanography: Research and Education, or C-MORE, funded an OSU expedition that examined the mythical “Great Garbage Patch” in an attempt to better understand just how much plastic trash is floating in the Pacific Ocean. The analysis, by OSU oceanographer Angelicque “Angel” White, discovered that claims of a patch “twice the size of Texas” have been grossly exaggerated. “There is no doubt that the amount of plastic in the world’s oceans is troubling, but this kind of exaggeration undermines the credibility of scientists,” White said. “The amount of plastic out there isn’t trivial. But using the highest concentrations ever reported by scientists produces a patch that is a small fraction of the state of Texas, not twice the size.”
Sustaining Cereal Crops: OSU was named a partner on a $20 million grant to ensure the long-term viability of cereal-based farming in the inland Pacific Northwest amid a changing climate. OSU’s share of the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture grant was $4 million. The project is taking a holistic approach to studying how climate change might affect cereal crops; how production practices might contribute to or help curb climate change; what farming methods might help these crops withstand climate change; and which factors influence decisions about crop management. “As a result of this project, the people who produce our food will be better equipped to reduce their carbon footprint and to face the challenges associated with climate change,” said Sonny Ramaswamy, the dean of OSU's College of Agricultural Sciences. Oregon farmers and ranchers grossed $4.3 billion in sales last year, according to a report by the OSU Extension Service. About $354 million of that was in wheat.