OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY

college of engineering

“Smart manufacturing” initiative to aid Pacific Northwest business and industry

CORVALLIS, Ore. – As a partner in a new $140 million federal initiative, the College of Engineering at Oregon State University will significantly expand its outreach and collaboration with Pacific Northwest business and industry, helping them to save energy, waste less, create jobs and become more internationally competitive.

Last month the Smart Manufacturing Innovation Institute, of which OSU is a part, was announced as a major new manufacturing hub to spur advances in smart sensors, digital process controls, and many other efforts to improve the efficiency of U.S. advanced manufacturing.

This broad program is supported by the U.S. Department of Energy, headquartered in Los Angeles and comprised of five regional centers. One of those centers is based at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratories, and its partners include OSU, Washington State University, the University of Washington and regional industry.

OSU researchers say they initially plan to focus their efforts on food production and advanced materials and manufacturing processes. High-tech monitoring processes, for instance, might help fruit and berry growers optimize the energy used to freeze, dry or ship their products. Or an aircraft component manufacturer might adopt specific techniques that could be used to minimize the energy needed in making parts.

“In general terms, this initiative plans to reduce energy use in U.S. manufacturing, making it more efficient and competitive,” said Carlos Jensen, an associate professor of computer science in the OSU College of Engineering, and an OSU co-principal investigator in this initiative. 

“There are a lot of energy-intensive industries in the Pacific Northwest and we plan to assist many of them. A strength of this program is that it isn’t just research or laboratory work. We’re going to be doing hands-on work in the field, dealing with real-world problems and finding working solutions. We’re going to help companies save energy, time and effort.”

The applied nature of the program, Jensen said, will also be of enormous benefit to OSU students. As part of this process, students will learn how to take the knowledge and skills they’ve learned in the classroom and apply it to major industries, enhancing their own knowledge base and employment potential.

As part of a national program, innovations, techniques or knowledge from one part of the country will be broadly shared, to help make U.S. industry more competitive around the world. Optimal manufacturing logistics and supply chains will also be a key part of the program.

“Recent growth in the College of Engineering has positioned OSU well to have a regional and national impact in smart manufacturing,” said Karl Haapala, an associate professor of manufacturing engineering in the OSU College of Engineering, and an OSU co-principal investigator of this program.

“We have new faculty hires in such areas as sensor design and fabrication, new facility investments, and growing partnerships with major regional industries. OSU faculty are already undertaking leading research in advanced manufacturing, and this initiative will give us the ability to bring more of our work to the industries that can benefit from it, while giving our students the opportunity to gain experience working with industry.”

The Smart Manufacturing Innovation Institute is the ninth manufacturing hub awarded by the Obama administration, federal officials said, as part of the progress toward 15 such institutes across the nation. They reported that after a decade of decline from 2000 to 2010, the U.S. manufacturing sector has added more than 800,000 jobs for the fourth year in a row.

Dozens of industry partners, local and state organizations, and academic partners and research institutes are part of these initiatives, as well as independent associations and scientific societies.

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Carlos Jensen, 541-737-2555

cjensen@eecs.oregonstate.edu

New technology could improve use of small-scale hydropower in developing nations

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Engineers at Oregon State University have created a new computer modeling package that people anywhere in the world could use to assess the potential of a stream for small-scale, “run of river” hydropower, an option to produce electricity that’s of special importance in the developing world.

The system is easy to use; does not require data that is often unavailable in foreign countries or remote locations; and can consider hydropower potential not only now, but in the future as projected changes in climate and stream runoff occur.

OSU experts say that people, agencies or communities interested in the potential for small-scale hydropower development can much more easily and accurately assess whether it would meet their current and future energy needs.

Findings on the new assessment tool have been published in Renewable Energy, in work supported by the National Science Foundation.

“These types of run-of-river hydropower developments have a special value in some remote, mountainous regions where electricity is often scarce or unavailable,” said Kendra Sharp, the Richard and Gretchen Evans Professor in Humanitarian Engineering in the OSU College of Engineering.

“There are parts of northern Pakistan, for instance, where about half of rural homes don’t have access to electricity, and systems such as this are one of the few affordable ways to produce it. The strength of this system is that it will be simple for people to use, and it’s pretty accurate even though it can work with limited data on the ground.”

The new technology was field-tested at a 5-megawatt small-scale hydropower facility built in the early 1980s on Falls Creek in the central Oregon Cascade Range. At that site, it projected that future climate changes will shift its optimal electricity production from spring to winter and that annual hydropower potential will slightly decrease from the conditions that prevailed from 1980-2010.

Small-scale hydropower, researchers say, continues to be popular because it can be developed with fairly basic and cost-competitive technology, and does not require large dams or reservoirs to function. Although all forms of power have some environmental effects, this approach has less impact on fisheries or stream ecosystems than major hydroelectric dams. Hydroelectric power is also renewable and does not contribute to greenhouse gas emissions.

One of the most basic approaches is diverting part of a stream into a holding basin, which contains a self-cleaning screen that prevents larger debris, insects, fish and objects from entering the system. The diverted water is then channeled to and fed through a turbine at a lower elevation before returning the water to the stream.

The technology is influenced by the seasonal variability of stream flow, the “head height,” or distance the water is able to drop, and other factors. Proper regulations to maintain minimum needed stream flow can help mitigate environmental impacts.

Most previous tools used to assess specific sites for their small-scale hydropower potential have not been able to consider the impacts of future changes in weather and climate, OSU researchers said, and are far too dependent on data that is often unavailable in developing nations.

This free, open source software program was developed by Thomas Mosier, who at the time was a graduate student at OSU, in collaboration with Sharp and David Hill, an OSU associate professor of coastal and ocean engineering. It is now available to anyone on request by contacting Kendra.sharp@oregonstate.edu

This system will allow engineers and policy makers to make better decisions about hydropower development and investment, both in the United States and around the world, OSU researchers said in the study.

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Kendra Sharp, 541-737-5246

kendra.sharp@oregonstate.edu

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New program to help homeowners, businesses assess their earthquake risks

CORVALLIS, Ore. – The Cascadia Lifelines Program, operated by Oregon State University and its lifeline infrastructure partners, has created a new online tool that anyone in Oregon can use to better identify the risks they face from a major earthquake anticipated on the Cascadia subduction zone.

Called the Oregon Hazard Explorer for Lifeline Program, or OHELP, the program is free to any individual, homeowner, agency, business or industry that wishes to use it.

The program provides basic information about risks from landslides, ground shaking and liquefaction at specific sites during a subduction zone earthquake - a massive, regional event that may reach magnitude 9 at some point in the Pacific Northwest’s future.

This initiative, officials say, is just one of several important accomplishments since the Cascadia Lifelines Program began three years ago, as a collaborative effort of OSU and its partners in industry, the state of Oregon and federal government agencies. It’s another sign of progress, they say, in the region’s long term preparation for a catastrophic disaster that’s seen as sure to come.

“The expected earthquake on the Cascadia subduction zone is going to be the single largest natural disaster ever to face the United States,” said Scott Ashford, dean of the OSU College of Engineering and director of the Cascadia Lifelines Program.

“This event will likely be so severe, causing billions of dollars in damage, that it’s more than just a state or regional concern. It’s one we should be preparing for on a national level. The good news is that Oregon’s state government is now moving in the right direction. We’re starting to retrofit schools, and the awareness of the issue is growing. There’s just so much that needs to be done. This is a commitment that will take decades.”

OSU is taking a leadership role in providing some of the scientific research to help address the concerns, and OHELP is one of the latest results. It can be found online at the web site of the Cascadia Lifelines Program, at http://cascadia.oregonstate.edu/

This program can be used with four different scenarios of earthquake magnitude to predict localized impacts, experts say, and could help everyone from homeowners to hospitals or utility companies to evaluate the threats posed to structures, roads, pipelines, bridges, or anything else at risk.

“OHELP is an excellent first step in evaluating risks from a subduction zone earthquake,” Ashford said. “It’s free, and about all you need to obtain data is an address. For a more detailed and specific analysis, people may still need a consulting geologist. But we’re excited about the potential of this system to provide some important preliminary data.”

The Cascadia Lifelines Program was one of the region’s first efforts to begin preparation for a subduction zone earthquake, and as its name suggests, it focuses work on “lifelines” - the transportation, water, electricity and other infrastructure that will be most critical to recovery after an earthquake. Its goals are to help prepare for an earthquake, reduce loss of life, mitigate damage in the most cost-effective ways, and facilitate recovery after the event. Large amounts of Oregon infrastructure are particularly vulnerable because they were built before experts realized the future threat from subduction zone earthquakes.

The program has five regular members who will all contribute at least $125,000 to this initiative: the Oregon Department of Transportation, Portland General Electric, Bonneville Power Administration, Northwest Natural Gas and the Port of Portland. Associate members include the Eugene Water and Electric Board, Portland Water Bureau and the Tualatin Water District. More members are being sought.

The consortium’s recent progress has focused on these efforts:

  • OSU researchers have developed a low-cost method to protect masonry buildings with reinforcing steel that’s comparatively quick and affordable. This can be used with key infrastructure such as electric substations or water pumping station building facilities to improve their structural performance during an earthquake.
  • Concrete power poles are being tested for their performance under earthquake conditions to help determine whether they should be replaced or retrofitted.
  • Transportation systems and corridors are being studied to determine what routes are most likely to be impassable following an earthquake and where repairs or reinforcement would be most cost-effective.
  • Researchers are trying to more specifically determine the liquefaction potential of the Willamette silt, a thick and somewhat unique layer of sediments deposited by ancient floods that are partly clay, partly sand, and underlie most structures in the Willamette Valley.
  • A consortium decision to study risks facing underground pipeline systems.

“This has been an exceptionally successful program, and a great example of academia, government and private industry joining forces to tackle a major threat,” Ashford said. “Many of our stakeholders face common risks, and we’re trying to develop joint solutions that can be widely used.”

The program, Ashford said, will also complement the growing involvement of other state and federal agencies to build public awareness and response to these risks, such as the Cascadia Rising 2016 drill being organized by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, to be held June 7-10.

The OSU College of Engineering is also sponsoring an engineering short course titled Cascadia Resilience on July 14-15. The course is designed for engineers and other professionals who want to learn more about Cascadia subduction zone earthquakes and tsunamis.

The last earthquake on the Cascadia Subduction Zone occurred in January 1700. A magnitude 8.0 to 9.0 earthquake happens in this region about every 200 to 500 years.

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Editor’s Note: Photographs, downloadable high resolution video and links to YouTube video are available to illustrate this story, and the link to OHELP can be found at the web page of the Cascadia Lifelines Program

Cascadia Lifelines Program downloadable video links. 
https://drive.google.com/folderview?id=0B_nEpHVYyPtpWjlrX205VFpMenc&usp=sharing

Cascadia Lifelines Program viewable links.Interview with Scott Ashford
https://youtu.be/6WVuCHbQ4w8

OSU research lab testing utility poles and brick walls.
https://youtu.be/ppuV5rzkEL8


Geotechnical Extreme Event Reconnaissance to Tohoku earthquake (Japan), March 26 to April 1, 2011.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GviJkVEMfwQ

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Scott Ashford, 541-737-5232

scott.ashford@oregonstate.edu

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“Community solar” systems may add savings to local, cooperative energy projects

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Part of the future of solar energy, especially for residential use, may be small “community-based” systems in which neighbors join together in the construction and use of solar systems to optimize the energy produced in their neighborhood – and share in the benefits.

New research by engineers at Oregon State University indicate that an optimal development of neighborhood solar energy might increase the total electricity produced by 5-10 percent, a significant gain by the standards of solar energy efficiency. At the same time, it can reduce the variability and unpredictability of the solar resource.

With this approach, the use of various rooftops and land used for solar energy production may vary from house to house, depending upon such issues as the home’s orientation, roof slope and shading from trees or other structures. Quite simply, some structures lend themselves better than others to solar energy.

“An approach such as this makes the most sense in a neighborhood where there’s a lot of variation in terms of sun and shadow, and the orientation of buildings,” said Mahmoud Shakouri, a doctoral candidate in the OSU College of Engineering.

“The conventional approach to residential solar energy is to look at each home as an individual package, building its own solar system whether or not that’s a good location. But by grouping 10 or 20 houses in a neighborhood, all of whose owners are interested in solar energy, we can optimize the use and placement of solar panels and let everyone share in the savings.”

The idea has been considered for some time, Shakouri said, but failed to generate much headway in the United States due to limited interest in solar energy, high initial costs, and tax credits or incentives that fail to recognize this approach to optimizing the solar resource.

Findings on this issue have been published recently in the journals of Applied Energy and Data in Brief, and a “decision support model” has been created that homeowners could use to help consider the best options for their neighborhood. Free software to help implement such a strategy is also available from the U.S. Department of Energy. Collaborating on this research was Hyun Woo Lee at the University of Washington.

Initial solar installations can be expensive, making it all the more important to maximize the long-term output of the systems. But such systems are also durable and pollution free, usually with a performance guarantee of up to 25 years, using a technology that produces no greenhouse gases.

Residential energy use is also a big-ticket item – in the United States, the building sector accounts for 40 percent of total energy consumption, and residential buildings consume more than half of the energy in the building sector. By 2035, the federal government estimates that 74 percent of the energy consumed in residences will be in the form of electricity, even as two thirds of the nation’s electricity is still produced by coal or natural gas that are helping to cause global warming.

The new approach developed at OSU, Shakouri said, actually borrows formulas from economic theory. This approach has long been used in the stock market in the form of portfolio investment, to maximize profit while reducing risks. Given the high initial cost of some solar systems – averaging about $20,000 for a 4 kilowatt residential system – reducing risk is of considerable value to many people interested in the technology.

Studies done at OSU included a case study of collaborative solar energy among 24 homes in a neighborhood in Corvallis, Ore., which has sunny summers but often-cloudy and rainy winters, not exactly the nation’s best bet in terms of solar energy production. Even there, this approach increased the annual electricity output of the homes by 4.6 percent and reduced the volatility in electrical output by 4.3 percent.

Use of approaches such as this may become more common as the efficiency of solar technology improves, more people become aware of its potential, and legislation or policies are changed to better enable community solar projects, researchers say. More work is also needed to determine how to contractually share expenses, profits and benefits among cooperating neighbors.

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Mahmoud Shakouri

shakourm@oregonstate.edu

 

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Wetland enhancement in Midwest could help reduce catastrophic floods of the future

CORVALLIS, Ore. – According to a new study from Oregon State University, restoration of wetlands in the Midwest has the potential to significantly reduce peak river flows during floods - not only now, but also in the future if heavy rains continue to increase in intensity.

Wetland restoration could also provide a small step toward a hydrologic regime in this region that more closely resembles its historic nature, before roads and cities were constructed, forests were lost, and millions of acres tile-drained to increase agricultural production.

An evaluation of potential wetlands in one watershed in central Indiana found that if just 1.5 percent of the land were used for wetlands, the peak flow of the overall watershed could be reduced by up to 17.5 percent. Also of importance, researchers said, is that expansion of wetlands appears to provide significant benefits across a wide range of possible climate scenarios.

The study was published in Ecological Engineering, in work supported by the National Science Foundation and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

“Flood management in the Midwest is now almost entirely concentrated on use of dams and levees,” said Meghna Babbar-Sebens, an assistant professor of civil engineering in the College of Engineering, and the Eric H.I. and Janice Hoffman Faculty Scholar at OSU.

“Wetland construction or restoration could provide a natural and ecological option to help with flood concerns, and serve as an additional tool for flood management. Greater investments in this approach, or similar approaches that increase storage of water in the upper landscape of a watershed, should be seriously considered.”

The new research considered not just the problem now – which is serious – but what the future may bring.

The study used climate models supported by the North American Regional Climate Change Assessment Program, along with a hydrology model to examine the impact of wetlands during the climate scenarios for a mid-century period from 2041 to 2070. It suggests this central Indiana region could see continued increases in extreme events, such as more extremely hot days during summer and more heavy rain in the wettest 5-day periods.

“There’s some variation in the models, but there’s general agreement that the future will bring more heavy precipitation events,” Babbar-Sebens said. “How we transfer and store runoff on the landscape is going to become even more critical.”

“From the perspective of a decision maker, an advantage of wetland construction is that it would significantly reduce flooding from heavy precipitation in almost every possible scenario. Wetlands are consistently effective.”

An obstacle at this point, she said, is that many incentive programs that support wetland restoration and creation usually focus on ecology, wildlife enhancement and water quality issues – and there are limited funding mechanisms to create upland wetlands for flood management. This limits the economic incentives for farmers and landowners to set aside room for wetlands, especially with the high price of agricultural crops.

New financial models and flood management policies would probably be needed to address this, Babbar-Sebens said.

Deforestation, agriculture and the historic growth of cities with impervious infrastructure have hugely changed the face of the Midwest and its hydrology, leading to frequent floods.

Climate change is now exacerbating that problem. In 2011, Indiana experienced record-breaking heat in seven counties, record-breaking rainfall in 22 counties, and record-breaking snowfall in six counties. The state has been declared a flood disaster area 14 times between 2000 and 2011, compared to only four times in the decade prior to that.

The great Mississippi River flood of 2011 was considered a “500-year event” and caused $2.8 billion in damage. It flooded more than 21,000 homes and businesses and 1.2 million acres of agricultural land, according to a report from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Wetlands help reduce some of these flooding problems by storing water away from stream channels and releasing it more slowly, while also improving water quality and providing wildlife habitat. Other studies have shown that wetland construction in the Mississippi-Ohio-Missouri river basins could also significantly reduce nitrogen loads in the rivers, which has led to an enormous “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico.

A methodology for evaluating wetlands with respect to historic climate and future climate scenarios, created in this research, should be applicable to other watersheds in the Midwest, researchers said.

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Meghna Babbar-Sebens, 541-737-8536

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Oregon State launches humanitarian engineering program

CORVALLIS, Ore. - The Oregon State University College of Engineering has recently launched a humanitarian engineering program like few others in the nation, partly as a response to a growing number of students who want to make an impact both locally and globally.

Undergraduate students can now minor in this field, taking classes that emphasize the importance of socio-cultural, economic, environmental and resource management factors. Work in ethics, social justice and cross-cultural communication is also part of the program.

Humanitarian engineering emphasizes science and engineering-based solutions that help to improve the human condition, access to basic human needs, the quality of life or level of community resilience. OSU’s program is one of only a few in the nation based in an academic curriculum.

The program reflects an engaged concept of service and the university’s historic land grant mission, officials say. Through it, students will explore case studies of development projects and a historic perspective on humanitarian interventions.

One OSU student who understands that concept is Grace Burleson, a graduating senior majoring in mechanical engineering. She grew up as a missionary child and was raised by parents with a passion for helping underserved populations.

“When I got to college, I loved my engineering coursework but never got excited by applying it to things like cars or computers,” said Burleson. “I began research in humanitarian engineering and landed an internship in Uganda, working where I developed a sustainable business plan for the construction, distribution and maintenance of BioSand water filters.”                    

As a formalized academic program, humanitarian engineering will contribute to the effort of the OSU College of Engineering to become a recognized model as an inclusive and collaborative community.

“The program is attracting a more diverse group of prospective students than is typically attracted to engineering, including women,” said mechanical engineering professor Kendra Sharp, who directs the program, and was appointed the first Richard and Gretchen Evans Professor in Humanitarian Engineering.

OSU is also one of just 10 universities nationwide to offer a Peace Corps Master’s International program in engineering. The university was the first in Oregon to join this initiative, which allows graduate students in several disciplines to get a master’s degree while doing a full 27-month term of service in the Peace Corps.

Multiple student organizations, including Oregon State’s award-winning Engineers Without Borders chapter and the American Society of Civil Engineering student chapter, have also been working on water, energy and other projects in the developing world. 

“Students at Oregon State receive an accredited engineering degree, so adding on this minor opens many more doors and perspectives with how we look at engineering,” said Burleson. “It creates a gateway for really exciting and impactful projects.”

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Krista Klinkhammer, 541-737-4416

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Kendra Sharp, 541-737-5246

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Thousands of landslides in Nepal earthquake raise parallels for Pacific Northwest

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Research teams have evaluated the major 7.8 magnitude subduction zone earthquake in Gorkha, Nepal, in April 2015, and identified some characteristics that may be of special relevance to the future of the Pacific Northwest.

Most striking was the enormous number and severity of landslides.

Many people understand the damage that can be caused to structures, roads, bridges and utilities by ground shaking in these long-lasting types of earthquakes, such as the one that’s anticipated on the Cascadia Subduction Zone between northern California and British Columbia.

But following the Nepal earthquake – even during the dry season when soils were the most stable – there were also tens of thousands of landslides in the region, according to reconnaissance team estimates. In their recent report published in Seismological Research Letters, experts said that these landslides caused pervasive damage as they buried towns and people, blocked rivers and closed roads.

Other estimates, based on the broader relationship between landslides and earthquake magnitude, suggest the Nepal earthquake might have caused between 25,000 and 60,000 landslides.

The subduction zone earthquake expected in the future of the Pacific Northwest is expected to be larger than the event in Nepal.

Ben Mason, a geotechnical engineer and assistant professor in the College of Engineering at Oregon State University, was a member of the Geotechnical Extreme Event Reconnaissance team that explored the Nepal terrain. He said that event made clear that structural damage is only one of the serious threats raised by subduction zone earthquakes.

“In the Coast Range and other hilly areas of Oregon and Washington, we should expect a huge number of landslides associated with the earthquake we face,” Mason said. “And in this region our soils are wet almost all year long, sometimes more than others. Each situation is different, but soils that are heavily saturated can have their strength cut in half.”

Wet soils will also increase the risk of soil liquefaction, Mason said, which could be pervasive in the Willamette Valley and many areas of Puget Sound, Seattle, Tacoma, and Portland, especially along the Columbia River.

Scientists have discovered that the last subduction zone earthquake to hit the Pacific Northwest was in January 1700, when – like now - soils probably would have been soggy from winter rains and most vulnerable to landslides.

The scientific study of slope stability is still a work in progress, Mason said, and often easier to explain after a landslide event has occurred than before it happens. But continued research on earthquake events such as those in Nepal may help improve the ability to identify areas most vulnerable to landslides, he said. Models can be improved and projections made more accurate.

“If you look just at the terrain in some parts of Nepal and remove the buildings and people, you could think you were looking at the Willamette Valley,” Mason said. “There’s a lot we can learn there.”

In Nepal, the damage was devastating.

Landslides triggered by ground shaking were the dominant geotechnical effect of the April earthquake, the researchers wrote in their report, as slopes weakened and finally gave way. Landslides caused by the main shock or aftershocks blocked roads, dammed rivers, damaged or destroyed villages, and caused hundreds of fatalities.

The largest and most destructive event, the Langtang debris avalanche, began as a snow and ice avalanche and gathered debris that became an airborne landslide surging off a 500-meter-tall cliff. An air blast from the event flattened the forest in the valley below, moved 2 million cubic meters of material and killed about 200 people.

Surveying the damages after the event, Mason said one of his most compelling impressions was the way people helped each other.

“Nepal is one of the poorest places, in terms of gross domestic product, that I’ve ever visited,” he said. “People are used to adversity, but they are culturally rich. After this event it was amazing how their communities bounced back, people helped treat each other’s injuries and saved lives. As we make our disaster plans in the Pacific Northwest, there are things we could learn from them, both about the needs for individual initiative and community response.”

Aside from landslides, many lives were lost in collapsing structures in Nepal, often in homes constructed of rock, brick or concrete, and frequently built without adequate enforcement of building codes, the report suggested. Overall, thousands of structures were destroyed. There are estimates that about 9,000 people died, and more than 23,000 were injured. The earthquake even triggered an avalanche on Mount Everest that killed at least 19 people.

The reconnaissance effort in Nepal was made possible by support from the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Geological Survey, the U.S. Agency for International Development, the OSU College of Engineering, and other agencies and universities around the world.

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Ben Mason, 541-737-2014

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Tooth fillings of the future may incorporate bioactive glass

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A few years from now millions of people around the world might be walking around with an unusual kind of glass in their mouth, and using it every time they eat.

Engineers at Oregon State University have made some promising findings about the ability of “bioactive” glass to help reduce the ability of bacteria to attack composite tooth fillings – and perhaps even provide some of the minerals needed to replace those lost to tooth decay.

Prolonging the life of composite tooth fillings could be an important step forward for dental treatment, the researchers say, since more than 122 million composite tooth restorations are made in the United States every year. An average person uses their teeth for more than 600,000 “chews” a year, and some studies suggest the average lifetime of a posterior dental composite is only six years.

The new research was just published in the journal Dental Materials, in work supported by the National Institutes of Health.

“Bioactive glass, which is a type of crushed glass that is able to interact with the body, has been used in some types of bone healing for decades,” said Jamie Kruzic, a professor and expert in advanced structural and biomaterials in the OSU College of Engineering.

“This type of glass is only beginning to see use in dentistry, and our research shows it may be very promising for tooth fillings,” he said. “The bacteria in the mouth that help cause cavities don’t seem to like this type of glass and are less likely to colonize on fillings that incorporate it. This could have a significant impact on the future of dentistry.”

Bioactive glass is made with compounds such as silicon oxide, calcium oxide and phosphorus oxide, and looks like powdered glass. It’s called “bioactive” because the body notices it is there and can react to it, as opposed to other biomedical products that are inert. Bioactive glass is very hard and stiff, and it can replace some of the inert glass fillers that are currently mixed with polymers to make modern composite tooth fillings.

“Almost all fillings will eventually fail,” Kruzic said. “New tooth decay often begins at the interface of a filling and the tooth, and is called secondary tooth decay. The tooth is literally being eroded and demineralized at that interface.”

Bioactive glass may help prolong the life of fillings, researchers say, because the new study showed that the depth of bacterial penetration into the interface with bioactive glass-containing fillings was significantly smaller than for composites lacking the glass.

Fillings made with bioactive glass should slow secondary tooth decay, and also provide some minerals that could help replace those being lost, researchers say. The combination of these two forces should result in a tooth filling that works just as well, but lasts longer.

Recently extracted human molars were used in this research to produce simulated tooth restoration samples for laboratory experiments. OSU has developed a laboratory that’s one of the first in the world to test simulated tooth fillings in conditions that mimic the mouth.

If this laboratory result is confirmed by clinical research, it should be very easy to incorporate bioactive glass into existing formulations for composite tooth fillings, Kruzic said.

The antimicrobial effect of bioactive glass is attributed, in part, to the release of ions such as those from calcium and phosphate that have a toxic effect on oral bacteria and tend to neutralize the local acidic environment.

“My collaborators and I have already shown in previous studies that composites containing up to 15 percent bioactive glass, by weight, can have mechanical properties comparable, or superior to commercial composites now being used,” Kruzic said.

This work was done in collaboration with researchers from the School of Dentistry at the Oregon Health & Science University and the College of Dental Medicine at Midwestern University.

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Jamie Kruzic, 541-737-7027

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Photonic “sintering” may create new solar, electronics manufacturing technologies

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Engineers at Oregon State University have made a fundamental breakthrough in understanding the physics of photonic “sintering,” which could lead to many new advances in solar cells, flexible electronics, various types of sensors and other high-tech products printed onto something as simple as a sheet of paper or plastic.

Sintering is the fusing of nanoparticles to form a solid, functional thin-film that can be used for many purposes, and the process could have considerable value for new technologies.

Photonic sintering has the possible advantage of higher speed and lower cost, compared to other technologies for nanoparticle sintering.

In the new research, OSU experts discovered that previous approaches to understand and control photonic sintering had been based on a flawed view of the basic physics involved, which had led to a gross overestimation of product quality and process efficiency.

Based on the new perspective of this process, which has been outlined in Nature Scientific Reports, researchers now believe they can create high quality products at much lower temperatures, at least twice as fast and with 10 times more energy efficiency.

Removing constraints on production temperatures, speed and cost, the researchers say, should allow the creation of many new high-tech products printed onto substrates as cheap as paper or plastic wrap.

“Photonic sintering is one way to deposit nanoparticles in a controlled way and then join them together, and it’s been of significant interest,” said Rajiv Malhotra, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering in the OSU College of Engineering. “Until now, however, we didn’t really understand the underlying physics of what was going on. It was thought, for instance, that temperature change and the degree of fusion weren’t related – but in fact that matters a lot.”

With the concepts outlined in the new study, the door is open to precise control of temperature with smaller nanoparticle sizes. This allows increased speed of the process and high quality production at temperatures at least two times lower than before. An inherent “self-damping” effect was identified that has a major impact on obtaining the desired quality of the finished film.

“Lower temperature is a real key,” Malhotra said. “To lower costs, we want to print these nanotech products on things like paper and plastic, which would burn or melt at higher temperatures. We now know that is possible, and how to do it. We should be able to create production processes that are both fast and cheap, without a loss of quality.”

Products that could evolve from the research, Malhotra said, include solar cells, gas sensors, radiofrequency identification tags, and a wide range of flexible electronics. Wearable biomedical sensors could emerge, along with new sensing devices for environmental applications.

In this technology, light from a xenon lamp can be broadcast over comparatively large areas to fuse nanoparticles into functional thin films, much faster than with conventional thermal methods. It should be possible to scale up the process to large manufacturing levels for industrial use.

This advance was made possible by a four-year, $1.5 million National Science Foundation Scalable Nanomanufacturing Grant, which focuses on transcending the scientific barriers to industry-level production of nanomaterials. Collaborators at OSU include Chih-hung Chang, Alan Wang and Greg Herman.

OSU researchers will work with two manufacturers in private industry to create a proof-of-concept facility in the laboratory, as the next step in bringing this technology toward commercial production.

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Discovery could open door to frozen preservation of tissues, whole organs

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Researchers in the College of Engineering at Oregon State University have discovered a new approach to “vitrification,” or ice-free cryopreservation, that could ultimately allow a much wider use of extreme cold to preserve tissues and even organs for later use.

The findings were announced today in PLOS ONE, in work supported by the National Science Foundation.

“This could be an important step toward the preservation of more complex tissues and structures,” said Adam Higgins, an associate professor in the OSU School of Chemical, Biological and Environmental Engineering, and expert on medical bioprocessing.

Cryopreservation has already found widespread use in simpler applications such as preserving semen, blood, embryos, plant seeds and some other biological applications. But it is often constrained by the crystallization that occurs when water freezes, which can damage or destroy tissues and cells, Higgins said. This is similar to what happens to some food products when they are stored in a freezer, and lose much of their texture when thawed.

To address this, researchers have used various types of cryoprotectants that help reduce cell damage during the freezing process – among them is ethylene glycol, literally the same compound often used in automobile radiators to prevent freezing.

A problem, Higgins said, is that many of these cryoprotectants are toxic, and can damage or kill the very cells they are trying to protect from the forces of extreme cold.

In the new OSU research, the engineers developed a mathematical model to simulate the freezing process in the presence of cryoprotectants, and identified a way to minimize damage. They found that if cells are initially exposed to a low concentration of cryoprotectant and time is allowed for the cells to swell, then the sample can be vitrified after rapidly adding a high concentration of cryoprotectants. The end result is much less overall toxicity, Higgins said.

The research showed that healthy cell survival following vitrification rose from about 10 percent with a conventional approach to more than 80 percent with the new optimized procedure.

“The biggest single problem and limiting factor in vitrification is cryoprotectant toxicity, and this helps to address that,” Higgins said. “The model should also help us identify less toxic cryoprotectants, and ultimately open the door to vitrification of more complex tissues and perhaps complete organs.”

If that were possible, many more applications of vitrification could be feasible, especially as future progress is made in the rapidly advancing field of tissue regeneration, in which stem cells can be used to grow new tissues or even organs.

Tissues could be made in small amounts and then stored until needed for transplantation. Organs being used for transplants could be routinely preserved until a precise immunological match was found for their use. Conceptually, a person could even grow a spare heart or liver from their own stem cells and preserve it through vitrification in case it was ever needed, Higgins said.

Important applications might also be found in new drug development.

Drug testing is now carried out with traditional cell culture systems or animal models, which in many cases don’t accurately predict the effect of the drug in humans. To address this, researchers are developing “organs-on-a-chip,” or microfluidic chambers that contain human cells cultured under conditions that mimic native tissues or organs.

These new “organ-on-a-chip” systems may be able to more accurately predict drug responses in humans, but to deploy them, cells must be preserved in long-term storage. The new research could help address this by making it possible to store the systems in a vitrified state.

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Adam Higgins, 541-737-6245