college of engineering

OSU professor wins national mentorship award

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Margaret Burnett, a professor of computer science at Oregon State University, has won a national award for her leadership in encouraging women and minorities to pursue computer science.

The National Center for Women and Information Technology awarded Burnett the Undergraduate Research Mentoring Award at the 2015 NCWIT Summit on Women and IT.

The award honors her achievements in providing outstanding mentorship – 100 percent of her research students have graduated with degrees in computer science or information technology, and 59 percent have gone on to graduate school. About half have been members of underrepresented groups, such as females and ethnic minority groups.

Burnett started her career in 1971 when there were few female computer scientists. She was the first woman hired into management at a 13,000-employee complex of Procter & Gamble, and one of the first two females hired as tenure-track faculty in computer science at OSU. Throughout her career as a professor she has involved undergraduates in her nationally recognized research on human aspects of software development.

Most of her undergraduates are co-authors on at least one conference or journal paper. Several of her students went on to receive fellowships from Google, the National Science Foundation, and the National Physical Sciences Consortium, and one became a Rhodes Scholar finalist.

Media Contact: 

Rachel Robertson, 541-737-7098, Rachel.robertson@oregonstate.edu


Margaret Burnett, 541-737-2539, burnett@eecs.oregonstate.edu

Earthquake preparations need to start now, OSU dean advises federal officials

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Developing the resilience to withstand a massive earthquake along the Pacific Northwest’s Cascadia Subduction Zone is the responsibility of public agencies, private businesses and individuals, and that work should be under way now, Oregon State University’s Scott Ashford advised Congressional leaders this week in Washington, D.C.

“It will take 50 years for us to prepare for this impending earthquake,” Scott Ashford, Kearney Professor and dean of the OSU College of Engineering, said in testimony this week before the U.S. House of Representatives’ Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings, and Emergency Management.

“The time to act is before you have the earthquake. Everybody needs to take some responsibility and start preparing now.”

Earthquake preparation – or lack thereof – is not an issue unique to Oregon, Ashford noted – 42 U.S. states have significant earthquake faults. Recent research on the New Madrid Fault Line indicates the risk of earthquakes is much higher than previously thought in this major seismic zone that spans seven states, including Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, Arkansas, Kentucky, Tennessee and Mississippi.

“In Alaska, Hawaii and California, you don’t have to convince people there is a risk of earthquakes, but we haven’t had much earthquake activity in the Midwest, so preparedness is not a top-of-mind concern for residents in this region,” said Ashford, an international expert who has studied the impact of subduction zone earthquakes in much of the Pacific Rim, including the devastating 2011 quake in Japan.

The focus of the Congressional hearing was planning and preparing for seismic hazards in the Pacific Northwest. The region is vulnerable to the threat of a mega, 9.0-magnitude earthquake, which could significantly damage roads, bridges, buildings, sewers, gas and water lines, electrical system and more across the region.

Ashford urged the committee to support three federal initiatives:

  • Investments in more resilient transportation networks that will be critical to rescue, relief, and recovery efforts following a natural disaster, and required for the economy to recover following an earthquake
  • Partnerships with states to require seismic resilience of federally regulated utilities that transport liquid fuel through pipelines and that supply the majority of a state’s population such as in Oregon
  • Investments in applied research to ensure that taxpayer dollars are used most effectively as private companies, the public, and local, state and federal agencies work to improve resilience to an eventual massive earthquake.

Business and governmental leaders in Oregon have begun to prepare for a mega-quake. The Oregon Resilience Plan, which was completed in early 2013, outlines more than 140 recommendations to reduce risk and improve recovery from a massive earthquake and tsunami that is anticipated on the Cascadia Subduction Zone. In 2014, the Governor’s Task Force on Resilience Plan Implementation, chaired by Ashford, submitted to the Oregon legislature a comprehensive program to save lives, mitigate damage and prepare for a costly, life-threatening disaster that is seen as both catastrophic and inevitable.

“The house subcommittee wanted to know what our task force had learned in Oregon through the Oregon Resilience Plan project and how our recommendations can serve as models to help other states,” Ashford said.

Oregon State has also established the Cascadia Lifelines Program, a research initiative to help improve critical infrastructure performance during an anticipated major earthquake. Partners in the program include public agencies and private utilities such as Portland General Electric and Northwest Natural Gas.

“The agencies are working collectively on this issue,” Ashford said. “Orchestrating the actions, agendas and investments in research of different stakeholders is a big step in the right direction.”

More research is needed to determine how best to identify and mitigate problems stemming from a massive earthquake.

“OSU research helps quantify the risks and determine how, in Oregon, we can address those risks,” Ashford said. “We can’t simply replace all of our existing infrastructure. We may need to find ways to retrofit, replace or repair things quickly after an earthquake.”

One thing individuals can do is establish an emergency plan and keep on hand enough provisions such as food, water and medicine to survive up to 14 days without outside aid. In a major quake, many roads will likely be inaccessible and power could be out for weeks or longer, Ashford said.

“People are going to be on their own a lot longer than previously thought,” he said. 

A video of Ashford’s testimony at the congressional hearing is available online: http://1.usa.gov/1JY4EUt. A written transcript is also available: http://1.usa.gov/1PxuENx.

Story By: 

Scott Ashford, 541-737-4934, scott.ashford@oregonstate.edu

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Scott Ashford

Scott Ashford

New energy sensors at OSU will test local electric grid

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A new energy test bed using cutting-edge sensor technology has been located at Oregon State University, designed to gain a better understanding of the local electric grid.

The Bonneville Power Administration awarded a $350,000 grant to develop a system that will provide a detailed analysis of load composition and power use. The project should help accommodate new types of load demands and new sources of renewable energy, such as wind and wave energy, while averting blackouts.

The sensors, called phasor measurement units or “synchrophasors,” can take voltage and current measurements 60 times a second, compared to standard sensors that take measurements every two to four seconds. All data will be time-stamped and synchronized with a common clock, allowing researchers to track electrical spikes and other anomalies throughout the grid.

A better understanding of these anomalies could eventually lead to a “smart grid” that can automatically detect blackout warning signs and disconnect portions of the grid to protect critical loads.

“These synchrophasors will allow us to develop better load models,” said Eduardo Cotilla-Sanchez, an OSU assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering and leader of this project. “Currently, our cascading power outage analysis assumes the campus load to be like a giant toaster – a big resistor that doesn’t change over time – but reality is much more complex.

“We won’t be able to have accurate models until we have a better understanding of the load composition and time-varying demands.”

Three of the synchrophasors have already been installed, and a total of seven will measure a variety of load types. The campus locations for the sensors include the Energy Center, the Salmon Disease Lab, Snell Hall, the photovoltaic array on Campus Way, and the Wallace Energy Systems and Renewables Facility. Two off-campus locations include a platinum foundry in Albany, and one near Newport at the future wave energy testing center, in collaboration with Consumers Power and Central Lincoln PUD.

In addition to the research benefits, the project will allow OSU students to learn about the advanced technology. Graduate students involved in the installation and management of the system are getting hands-on experiences with the all the steps in the chain, from connecting the current transformer to data management and machine learning, which incorporates both electrical engineering and computer science.

“Our students will really have an advantage by being exposed to this technology and having the opportunity to work directly with the local utility companies,” Cotilla-Sanchez said.

In addition to the local utilities, the project involves collaborators from the BPA, OSU Facilities Services, OSU Information Services, and the College of Engineering information technology department.

Media Contact: 

Rachel Robertson, 541-737-7098


Eduardo Cotilla-Sanchez, 541-737- 8926

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Sensor system

Sensor technology

Professional workshop to explore surging interest in the “Internet of Things”

PORTLAND, Ore. – A workshop on May 14-15 in Portland will bring together representatives from industry, universities, federal laboratories and state economic agencies to explore the manufacturing of “Smart Goods,” which are future products that underlie the “Internet of Things” and reflect a growing societal trend.

The program is sponsored by the National Science Foundation and is being organized by Oregon State University, along with four other regional university partners.

Topics of discussion will include the needs of users, developers and manufacturers of state-of-the-art smart goods, which possess wireless sensors and actuators to interact with cloud computing and allow better decision making or autonomous response.

The event will be at the Embassy Suites Downtown Portland. More information on the program, registration fees, speakers and topics can be found online at http://pnwsmartgoodsmfg.com

In the first wave of the internet, about one billion devices were interconnected, and smart phones and tablets brought another two billion devices. However, experts say that as many as 50 billion embedded and internet-connected devices - smart light bulbs, utility meters and autonomous vehicles - are projected to be on the Internet by the end of this decade.

Some of these goods may require small wireless sensors with logic chips having very low power consumption, challenging conventional wisdom about semiconductor design and manufacturing.

Speakers at the workshop include industry leaders that use and develop manufacturing technologies for the next generation of smart goods.  Presentations will address some of the challenges for both large and small companies in developing smart goods with increased levels of performance at lower cost.

Story By: 

Brian Paul, 541-737-7320

Initiative to make OSU a national leader in construction safety research

CORVALLIS, Ore. – The College of Engineering at Oregon State University is developing one of the leading facilities in the world to improve safety for construction workers and the general public.

A $1 million grant announced today from Knife River Corporation and MDU Construction Services Group will help support creation of this laboratory, which will be called the MDU Resources Group Construction Safety Laboratory, officials said.

“This lab establishes us as the principal national facility for construction and transportation safety research and education,” said Scott Ashford, the dean and Kearney Professor of Engineering at the OSU College of Engineering.

“We’re delighted to partner with Knife River and MDU Construction Services Group on this critically important project,” Ashford said. “These two companies are industry leaders in safety, and their commitment to our program will allow us to further advance processes and technologies that will help to better prevent workplace injuries.”

When complete, the lab will have two components to create a virtual construction environment that replicates real-world jobsites. An interactive, high-definition projection system will allow multiple users to conduct sample work operations without actually putting workers at risk for injury. And a connected driving simulator will help evaluate driver and worker actions as vehicles pass through a work zone.

“This project provides a virtual environment where industry and academia can work together on real-world solutions,” said Jeff Thiede, president and CEO of MDU Construction Services Group.

The lab will also expand and enhance an initiative begun several years ago at OSU to yield major improvements in worker safety by emphasizing “prevention through design.” This concept emphasizes safety consideration at the very design stage to make buildings, bridges, roadways and other structures safer both to build and to maintain.

“There’s a long history in the construction industry of architects and design engineers leaving construction safety up to the builder or contractor, saying it wasn’t really the designer’s concern,” said John Gambatese, an OSU professor of civil engineering, leader in this new movement and a national expert in construction design and safety.

“Some of this dates historically to the separation between owner, architect, contractor, maintenance and construction worker,” Gambatese said. “There are also legal and liability issues. But there are many ways we can improve construction safety with this approach.”

OSU researchers and other experts eventually see construction safety, both in design and job-site activities, as becoming one component of “green” construction concepts, and adding a social aspect to the idea of sustainability. Based in part on OSU research, the U.S. Green Building Council recently added a pilot “prevention through design” credit to their rating system for sustainable buildings.

This emphasis on safety is needed, OSU researchers said. Construction is a traditionally dangerous profession, with such risks as falls from an elevated height, electrocution, trench cave-ins, and many lesser workplace injuries.

The new laboratory at OSU will be able to simulate some of these situations on the jobsite, helping to identify safer ways to work while also studying improved productivity and minimizing costs, officials said.

Story By: 

Scott Ashford, 541-737-5232

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Dome maintenance
Cleaning job

OSU to help lead $20 million disaster resilience center

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A team of Oregon State University researchers will help lead the Community Resilience Center of Excellence, a five-year, $20 million initiative to help communities improve resilience to natural disasters.

The center will be based at Colorado State University, and is a partnership of 10 institutions, funded by the National Institute of Standards and Technology at the U.S. Department of Commerce.

It will develop computer tools to help local governments create resiliency in buildings and critical infrastructure, lessen the impact of extreme weather and other hazards, and recover rapidly in their aftermath.

“Engineering plays a big role in how resilient the built environment is in response to a variety of hazards,” said Daniel Cox, professor in the OSU School of Civil and Construction Engineering and associate director for the center. “The research at the center will help communities engineer and improve critical systems by providing them with the tools to make well-informed decisions.”

The primary goal of the center will be creation of the NIST-Community Resilience Modeling Environment. Built on an open-source platform and encompassing all forms of natural disasters, this computer model will incorporate a risk-based approach to decision-making and enable quantitative comparisons of different resilience strategies.

OSU civil and construction engineering associate professor Michael Scott and assistant professor Andre Barbosa will assist with the project, providing expertise in structural engineering and computer modeling.

Scott has helped create OpenSees, a software framework for developing models to simulate the performance of structural and geotechnical systems in earthquakes; Barbosa has conducted extensive research on reliability and risk-based analysis of civil infrastructure systems.

“In civil engineering, we learn a lot from past disasters and mistakes,” Cox said. “So it’s really important that we go out and collect uniform data. OpenSees and other predictive programs will provide a strong framework for us to build a comprehensive data collection and computer modeling tool.”

The center also includes experts from the University of Illinois, University of Oklahoma, Rice University, Texas A&M University, the University of Washington, the University of South Alabama, California Polytechnic University in Pomona and Texas A&M-Kingsville.

This project continues OSU’s dedication to improve resiliency in the built environment.

Recent OSU efforts include leading the Cascadia Lifeline Program, a research initiative with government and private industry to help improve critical infrastructure performance during an anticipated major earthquake on the Cascadia subduction zone; and involvement with the Oregon Resilience Plan, an initiative to mitigate damage from that earthquake and the resulting tsunami.

Media Contact: 

Michael Collins, 541-737-1207


Dan Cox, 541-737-3631

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Sinking structures
Liquefaction damage

OSU research pushing the limits of Moore’s Law

CORVALLIS, Ore. - In 1965, Gordon Moore, co-founder of Intel Corp., observed that the number of transistors on a circuit board doubles about every two years. Fifty years and dozens of doublings later, semiconductor technology may be approaching the limits of how small microcircuits can be.

To pack ever more data storage and processing power onto a chip, researchers at Oregon State University are experimenting with novel materials and new techniques for nano-scale lithography – the microscopic stenciling process used to trace and etch nano circuits onto a chip. The works uses an electron stimulated desorption research system in the OSU materials synthesis and characterization facility.

This and many other topics will be explored on March 4 at the Oregon Convention Center in Portland, when OSU doctoral student Ryan Frederick will join hundreds of other engineering graduate students at the Engineering Research Expo.

The expo will provide insights on how OSU researchers are working to solve Oregon's and the nation’s most pressing challenges. The event is free and open to the public, but registration is required. More information and registration is available online at http://gradexpo.engineering.oregonstate.edu.

Traditionally, microcircuits have been created with processes that use thin films of organic compounds. However, Frederick is using an inorganic solution of hafnium oxide hydroxide sulfate, abbreviated as HafSOx. Another key ingredient is hydrogen peroxide, better known for bleaching hair and sanitizing cuts.

“HafSOx has been studied for about a decade here at OSU,” Frederick explained. “It is an aqueous solution-based process, so there are fewer nasty chemicals. We are trying to find the right solutions that give the best resolution and sensitivity. The hydrogen peroxide is important because it works so well for inducing radiation chemistry in this inorganic system.”

When HafSOx films incorporate hydrogen peroxide and are then exposed to an electron beam, researchers can define patterns just 9 nanometers wide. For comparison, a human hair is about 80,000 nm wide, and most state-of-the-art circuits are 20 nm wide.

Semiconductor fabrication uses a tremendous amount of energy. Frederick has upgraded the ESD system to better characterize the electron gun on his device and uses this gun to understand how the HafSOx reacts to streams of electrons.

“What’s promising in our current research is that we can study the effects of low-energy electrons on HafSOx – an entirely new area of investigation which is relevant to future generations of nano-lithography. We are also able to use the ESD system on our center’s newer films to better understand radiation induced chemistries.”

Frederick’s research is guided by Gregory S. Herman, an associate professor in the School of Chemical, Biological, and Environmental Engineering, and is funded by the National Science Foundation Center for Sustainable Materials Chemistry, which brings OSU together with the University of Oregon, Washington University at St Louis, Rutgers University, University of California Davis, and University of California Berkeley. The work is pushing the limits of materials chemistry.

“Semiconductor companies in the Portland area really do care about getting the latest technology into their fabrication,” Frederick said.

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Electron gun
Electron gun

OSU class addresses need for cybersecurity professionals

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A growing need for computer scientists and engineers trained in cybersecurity has led to collaboration between Oregon State University and Intel Security to offer an experiential course in that field, taught by field experts from around the world.

McAfee Labs, part of Intel Security, reported that in 2014 they detected 307 new cyber threats every minute, and the number of malware exploits increased by 76 percent compared to the prior year. In 2015, company officials said they expect an increase in cyber warfare, espionage attacks and new vulnerabilities for mobile devices and cloud computing.

The “Defense Against the Dark Arts” course, designed by Intel Security, was welcomed by OSU as part of its efforts to build a program in computer security. Intel Security previously delivered the course at California Polytechnic State University, and plans to work with OSU to expand the program to other universities in the future through video recordings.

“We are passionate about this field of work and study, and believe that one of the best avenues for combating cybercrime is to educate the next wave of university graduates with the skills necessary to make the cyber world a safer place,” said Candace Worley, senior vice president and general manager for Endpoint Security at Intel Security.

The course offers practical, hands-on experience on topics such as malware and defenses against them; software vulnerabilities; network, web and mobile security tools and techniques.

The class filled to capacity when it opened with 45 computer science majors and 15 electrical and computer engineering majors.

“It’s a remarkable opportunity for our students to have such cutting-edge knowledge, and a workforce development benefit to the industry,” said Ron Adams, interim vice president for research. “It’s a win for everyone.”

Media Contact: 

Rachel Robertson, 541-737-7098


Terri Fiez, 541-737-3118

Expert to discuss startup business issues, patents

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A national expert on patents and startup businesses will speak in Corvallis on Wednesday, Dec. 3.

John Cabeca, director of the Silicon Valley United States Patent and Trademark Office, will hold an interactive discussion on several topics related to startup businesses, including micro-entity filings, pro bono assistance, law school clinics and other topics.

The event is free and open to the public, and will be from 2:30-3:30 p.m. in the Metolius Room of the Microproducts Breakthrough Institute in Corvallis. It is located at 1110 N.E. Circle Blvd., and directions to the building can be found online at http://mbi-online.org/directions

The program is sponsored by the Oregon State University Advantage program and the Regional Accelerator and Innovation Network, or RAIN-Corvallis.

Story By: 

Tracy Elmshaeuser, 541-737-3888

OSU partnership forms new center for software development

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Two organizations at Oregon State University have joined forces to create a new center offering expanded services in product testing, software development and hosting.

The Center for Applied Systems and Software in the School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science was formed by the partnership of the Open Source Lab and the Business Solutions Group. For several years, both groups have been delivering products and services to clients while providing training opportunities for students on real-world projects.

“It’s a partnership that made sense and it was the right time to make the move,” said Carlos Jensen, director of the new center and associate professor of computer science at OSU. “We have an assertive, aggressive, optimistic view of the future that will drive innovation.”

Although the Open Source Lab and Business Solutions Group will retain their identity and function, their combined skills can provide clients with complete software solutions, including design, development, testing and hosting. They can take on a larger variety of projects that would have been beyond the scope of either one alone.

For instance, although neither group had previously created a mobile application, the first project undertaken by the new organization includes two iOS and Android apps for Oregon Sea Grant. “Oregon Catch” will be an app to help visitors buy fresh fish directly from ocean fishermen, and “Working Waterfronts” will provide educational information about industrial sites on the coast to tourists.

Beyond software services, the new center will provide clients an opportunity to develop working relationships with students for potential future employment. Industry representatives can gain quick and cost-effective access to students who will assist with projects, without the need to directly supervise them, as they would with a conventional internship.

Media Contact: 

Rachel Robertson, 541-737-7098

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New OSU center

Center leaders