OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY

college of engineering

OSU students create light-up dance suits

CORVALLIS, Ore. - Thanks to three Oregon State University students and the university’s new Collaboratory program, the Utah Ballroom Dance Company will be lighting up the stage on their next tour with dance suits made with electroluminescent wire.

As seen on shows like “America’s Got Talent,” the troupe will incorporate the light strings into their choreography for a hip hop and Latin fusion dance. Although other dance groups have developed their own light-up devices controlled wirelessly by computer, no one has made them broadly available.

The company was able to turn to the OSU Collaboratory to develop a prototype for the suits they wanted. The program began this year with seed funding from the Tektronix Foundation, which has long helped provide OSU students with work-relevant experiences. In this initiative, student interns are employed in small teams to work on a specific project. Industry clients, including Tektronix and Texas Instruments, provide mentorship.

Jesse Maher, production manager for the Utah Ballroom Dance Company, was happy with the student’s results.

“Working with the Collaboratory was incredible,” Maher said. “They were professional and took the time to really understand my vision and needs. The best part was they were as excited as I was to be creating our own take on this concept.”

Electrical and computer engineering students Brian Benevidez, Chelsea Collette, and Tuan Truong completed the project for the Utah Ballroom Company over the summer but wanted to take it a step further. They launched a Kickstarter project called Electric Feel and are attempting to raise $10,000 in 30 days. Kickstarter is a platform to raise funds for independent projects in which backers pledge money that will be funded only if the monetary target is reached by the deadline.

“The fact that you could potentially see this as a consumer product was really exciting,” said Truong.

Don Heer, instructor for the Collaboratory, said the program is experiencing rapid growth as more companies discover its versatility. “Tapping young minds like those at OSU can help any company create new and vital products and services,” Heer said.

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Rachel Robertson, 541-737-7098

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Don Heer, 541-737-2978

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Dance outfit

Light-up dance outfit

Interactive “Beaver BarCamp” conference planned at OSU

CORVALLIS, Ore. – The 12th semiannual Beaver BarCamp, an informal conference where participants can explore anything from science to art, technology, food, art, culture or other topics, will be held Saturday, Oct. 12, at Oregon State University.

The event, which is hosted by the Open Source Lab at OSU, is free and open to the public. It will be at the Kelley Engineering Center on the OSU campus from 9 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., and will include presentations by the Corvallis Bicycle Collective, executive in residence Bob Mayes, and Open Source Lab director Lance Albertson.

Introductory science topics will be offered for high school students and interested community members, and participants can attend any portion of the day. A continental breakfast, lunch and afternoon snack will be provided.

Most sessions at Beaver BarCamp are not predetermined. It allows sharing of ideas and projects, discussions, demos and interaction among attendees, who both provide the sessions and choose the schedule. Anyone can participate in sessions throughout the day or propose their own, based on a project, hobby or research interest. More information is available online at http://beaverbarcamp.org

The Open Source Lab, which provides host and support services to more than 160 open source projects, will also have information sessions at Beaver BarCamp for those who are interested in learning more about the Open Source Lab and opportunities to become involved.

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Growth in licensing and industry funding spurs research at Oregon State University

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Oregon State University recorded its best year ever in technology licensing – nearly triple what it earned just five years ago – during the last fiscal year, which ended June 30. Combined with continued growth in funding from private industry, the increase cushioned a nearly 13 percent decline in federal funding stemming largely from budget cuts known as sequestration.

Oregon State research grants and contracts totaled almost $263 million last year, just shy of its fiscal year 2009 level. Meanwhile, OSU received a record $7.7 million in licensing and royalty income. Private sector financing reached nearly $36 million, a 65 percent increase over the past five years, as calculated on an annual basis.

“Licenses are a measure of how effective we are in helping industry turn research into marketable products,” said Rick Spinrad, vice president for research at Oregon State. “Companies in the electronics, chemical processing and natural resources industries are looking to OSU for innovations to help them compete.”

“By licensing the results of our research, they are increasing their value in the marketplace and creating jobs in Oregon,” Spinrad added.

In the last year, OSU signed 88 new licenses with organizations in the fields of information technology, agriculture, industrial materials, biotechnology, forest products, healthy aging and manufacturing.

Oregon State’s statewide role in stimulating economic development stems from research and begins when scientists file notices known as invention disclosures with the university’s Research Office. In 2013, they filed more such notices, 80, than ever before.

It was also a record year for new start-up companies to license OSU technology. Among them were: CSD Nano of Corvallis, which sells a high-performance, anti-reflective coating to increase the performance of solar cells; OilEx Tech of Monmouth, producer of a microwave oil extraction device; NW Medical Isotopes of Corvallis, which offers a domestic option for production of a medically critical isotope, molybdenum-99; and Online Labs of Corvallis, which provides a virtual online chemistry laboratory experience for high school and college students.

The federal government provided more than 58 percent of Oregon State’s research grants and contracts from all sources in FY13, compared to almost 63 percent in FY12. Among the university’s largest federal grants in FY13 were:

  • Nearly $4.7 million from the U.S. Department of Energy for ocean wave energy research at the Northwest National Marine Renewable Energy Center;
  • A $3.8 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to study and avoid threats from wildfire, drought and disease to western forests;
  • A $3.7 million grant from the U.S. Agency for International Development for a worldwide program of aquaculture and fisheries research;
  • Nearly $3 million from the National Science Foundation for design and coordination of construction for up to three new coastal research vessels to bolster the nation’s marine science capabilities;
  • A $2 million grant from the National Science Foundation for investigation of a diatom-based biorefinery.

Funding from state and local governments grew 46 percent in fiscal year 2013 to a total of $7.8 million. Revenue from industrial testing services grew by 25 percent to $11.8 million.

With more than $53 million in grants and contracts, the OSU College of Agricultural Sciences brought in OSU’s largest share of research funding, followed by the College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences ($40 million) and the College of Engineering ($30 million).

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Rick Spinrad, 541-737-0664

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Dying trees
Tree species across the West face threats to their ability to survive. (Photo courtesy of Oregon State University)

osu_rcrv_stbd fwd hd
Architect's rendering of a coastal research vessel. (Drawing courtesy of Oregon State University)

Electronics advance moves closer to a world beyond silicon

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Researchers in the College of Engineering at Oregon State University have made a significant advance in the function of metal-insulator-metal, or MIM diodes, a technology premised on the assumption that the speed of electrons moving through silicon is simply too slow.

For the extraordinary speed envisioned in some future electronics applications, these innovative diodes solve problems that would not be possible with silicon-based materials as a limiting factor.

The new diodes consist of a “sandwich” of two metals, with two insulators in between, to form “MIIM” devices. This allows an electron not so much to move through materials as to tunnel through insulators and appear almost instantaneously on the other side. It’s a fundamentally different approach to electronics.

The newest findings, published in Applied Physics Letters, have shown that the addition of a second insulator can enable “step tunneling,” a situation in which an electron may tunnel through only one of the insulators instead of both. This in turn allows precise control of diode asymmetry, non-linearity, and rectification at lower voltages.

“This approach enables us to enhance device operation by creating an additional asymmetry in the tunnel barrier,” said John F. Conley, Jr., a professor in the OSU School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. “It gives us another way to engineer quantum mechanical tunneling and moves us closer to the real applications that should be possible with this technology.”

OSU scientists and engineers, who only three years ago announced the creation of the first successful, high-performance MIM diode, are international leaders in this developing field. Conventional electronics based on silicon materials are fast and inexpensive, but are reaching the top speeds possible using those materials. Alternatives are being sought.

More sophisticated microelectronic products could be possible with the MIIM diodes – not only improved liquid crystal displays, cell phones and TVs, but such things as extremely high-speed computers that don’t depend on transistors, or “energy harvesting” of infrared solar energy, a way to produce energy from the Earth as it cools during the night.

MIIM diodes could be produced on a huge scale at low cost, from inexpensive and environmentally benign materials. New companies, industries and high-tech jobs may ultimately emerge from advances in this field, OSU researchers say.

The work by Conley and OSU doctoral student Nasir Alimardani has been supported by the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Army Research Laboratory and the Oregon Nanoscience and Microtechnologies Institute.

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John Conley, 541-737-9874

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MIIM diode

MIIM diode

Pass the salt: Common condiment could enable new high-tech industry

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Chemists at Oregon State University have identified a compound that could significantly reduce the cost and potentially enable the mass commercial production of silicon nanostructures – materials that have huge potential in everything from electronics to biomedicine and energy storage.

This extraordinary compound is called table salt.

Simple sodium chloride, most frequently found in a salt shaker, has the ability to solve a key problem in the production of silicon nanostructures, researchers just announced in Scientific Reports, a professional journal.

By melting and absorbing heat at a critical moment during a “magnesiothermic reaction,” the salt prevents the collapse of the valuable nanostructures that researchers are trying to create. The molten salt can then be washed away by dissolving it in water, and it can be recycled and used again.

The concept, surprising in its simplicity, should open the door to wider use of these remarkable materials that have stimulated scientific research all over the world.

“This could be what it takes to open up an important new industry,” said David Xiulei Ji, an assistant professor of chemistry in the OSU College of Science. “There are methods now to create silicon nanostructures, but they are very costly and can only produce tiny amounts.

“The use of salt as a heat scavenger in this process should allow the production of high-quality silicon nanostructures in large quantities at low cost,” he said. “If we can get the cost low enough many new applications may emerge.”

Silicon, the second most abundant element in the Earth’s crust, has already created a revolution in electronics. But silicon nanostructures, which are complex structures much smaller than a speck of dust, have potential that goes far beyond the element itself.

Uses are envisioned in photonics, biological imaging, sensors, drug delivery, thermoelectric materials that can convert heat into electricity, and energy storage.

Batteries are one of the most obvious and possibly first applications that may emerge from this field, Ji said. It should be possible with silicon nanostructures to create batteries – for anything from a cell phone to an electric car – that last nearly twice as long before they need recharging.

Existing technologies to make silicon nanostructures are costly, and simpler technologies in the past would not work because they required such high temperatures. Ji developed a methodology that mixed sodium chloride and magnesium with diatomaceous earth, a cheap and abundant form of silicon.

When the temperature reached 801 degrees centigrade, the salt melted and absorbed heat in the process. This basic chemical concept – a solid melting into a liquid absorbs heat – kept the nanostructure from collapsing.

The sodium chloride did not contaminate or otherwise affect the reaction, researchers said. Scaling reactions such as this up to larger commercial levels should be feasible, they said.

The study also created, for the first time with this process, nanoporous composite materials of silicon and germanium. These could have wide applications in semiconductors, thermoelectric materials and electrochemical energy devices.

Funding for the research was provided by OSU. Six other researchers from the Department of Chemistry and the OSU Department of Chemical Engineering also collaborated on the work.

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David Xiulei Ji, 541-737-6798

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Silicon nanostructure

Silicon nanostructures


Table salt

Table salt

OSU faculty selected for “Early Career Development” award

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Three researchers in the College of Engineering at Oregon State University have received a Faculty Early Career Development award from the National Science Foundation.

These prestigious five-year grants recognize promising faculty at the beginning of their career for excellence and innovation in both research and teaching.

Raviv Raich, an assistant professor in the School of Engineering and Computer Science, develops methods to analyze complex multi-instance data. Applications include training computers to identify bird species from bird song recordings made in the wild, and improving automated tests of blood samples to detect cancer. The $477,000 award will support undergraduate and graduate students who are helping to develop the methods and algorithms for this research.

Glencora Borradaile, an assistant professor in the School of Engineering and Computer Science, advances mathematical techniques to solve problems such as how to connect wind generators to a power grid. Her research seeks to broaden the scope of information used in algorithms to make them more useful for real-world applications. This $500,000 grant will support research by undergraduates and graduate students, and Borradaile will also involve high school students in learning the fundamentals of discrete math, which is the foundation of her research.

Jeff Nason, an assistant professor in the School of Chemical, Biological and Environmental Engineering, is developing “labeled” nanoparticles that can be detected in complex environmental matrices. This $455,000 award will allow study of the risks associated with nanomaterials and their distribution in the environment.

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Rachel Robertson, 541-737-7098

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Raviv Raich, (541) 737-9862

New companies, research ideas chosen to join OSU Venture Accelerator

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Administrators of the Venture Accelerator at Oregon State University have chosen the first 12 research concepts or spinoff companies to participate in the program, which is designed to spur the creation of new companies from university-based research.

The Venture Accelerator is one component of the Oregon State University Advantage, an educational, research and commercialization initiative begun earlier this year. Officials say it should increase industry investment in OSU research by 50 percent and lead to the creation of 20 new businesses within five years.

With the announcement of its first participants, some of those companies may already be taking shape.

In the future this could lead to innovative types of automobiles, improved heating systems, more efficient solar cells, electricity produced from wastewater, an enhanced online shopping experience or – in a pinch – a safe and efficient caesarian delivery of a baby in small, rural hospitals.

“These concepts and companies are emerging from OSU or the Corvallis community, and we feel good about the commercial potential of all of them,” said John Turner, co-director of the Venture Accelerator Program.

“We think the Venture Accelerator will contribute at all stages of their commercial development and really speed the companies toward success,” Turner said. “It’s also worth noting that we’ve chosen some technologies that are incremental advances in a field, and others may represent breakthroughs of global importance. There’s a place for both in what we’re trying to do in job creation and economic advancement.”

The Venture Accelerator at OSU is designed to identify innovation or research findings that might form the basis for profitable companies, and then streamline their development with the legal, marketing, financial and mentoring needs that turn good ideas into real-world businesses. The approach can be customized to each client’s needs and also allows them to tap into the resource of OSU students who can assist in research and business development.

The new companies and innovations include:

  • Waste2Watergy – A Corvallis startup company to commercialize OSU research on the production of electricity from wastewater, while also treating the wastewater.
  • Valliscor, LLC –Valliscor is a chemical manufacturing company that provides innovative solutions to access compounds for the pharmaceutical, agricultural, polymer and electronics industries.
  • MOVE – Referring to “methane opportunities for vehicle energy,” this company is being developed from research at OSU-Cascades to allow a car that runs on methane to compress its own fuel and be re-fueled from a homeowner’s natural gas supply.
  • Macromolecular structure characterization – This is based on a patent of a new way to solve protein structures that could transform biological research.
  • Heating systems – Devices using microchannel arrays to heat air or water that are small or portable could offer much higher efficiency for residential or other uses.
  • Beet – A solar cell device will be developed based on patented absorber material that allows high conversion efficiency.
  • Multicopter Northwest – This company will develop and sell small helicopter and photographic systems to produce photos or video at an altitude up to 400 feet.
  • PlayPulse – The physiological responses of video game users will be measured to help producers understand user behavior.
  • InforeMed – The company will create serious games for health care education.
  • BuyBott – This online website will simplify shopping and enhance social interaction.
  • Bauer Labs LLC – Technology from the company includes a facilitator for emergency caesarean delivery, a special challenge in rural hospitals.
  • FanTogether – Sports fans will stay connected to their favorite teams or individuals.

The OSU Venture Accelerator is a component of the South Willamette Valley Regional Accelerator and Innovation Network, or RAIN, which was made possible by recent legislative approval and funding of $3.75 million.

The University of Oregon and OSU, along with the cities of Eugene, Springfield, Albany and Corvallis, are all collaborating in this broad initiative that taps into the research and educational expertise of academia and aggressively moves it toward private economic growth.

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John Turner, 541-737-9219

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Electricity from sewage

Electricity from wastewater

Stone named head of engineering school

CORVALLIS, Ore. - Rob Stone, a professor in the College of Engineering at Oregon State University, will lead its School of Mechanical, Industrial, and Manufacturing Engineering after serving as the interim head.

Stone will manage one of the largest engineering schools at OSU, which includes 1,600 undergraduate students, 200 graduate students, 38 full-time faculty and 14 full-time staff.

“Rob is committed to excellence in our academic programs, our research programs, our faculty and students,” said Sandra Woods, dean of OSU’s College of Engineering. “His commitment to OSU and to collaboration is a great benefit to the college and to OSU during this extraordinary period of growth.”  

Stone conducts research in the area of design theory and methodology, design knowledge archival, automated design concept generation, and biologically-inspired engineering design. He earned his doctorate in mechanical engineering at the University of Texas at Austin in 1997 and joined the faculty at OSU in 2009.

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Thuy Tran, 541-737-6020

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Sandra Woods, 541-737-3601

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Rob Stone

Rob Stone

OSU solar vehicle wins Formula Sun Grand Prix

AUSTIN, Texas – In bright sun and 105-degree heat, the solar vehicle team at Oregon State University drove “The Phoenix” last week to victory in the 2013 Formula Sun Grand Prix competition in Austin, Texas – 193 laps, or 661 miles, around the Circuit of the Americas raceway on nothing but solar energy.

Eleven teams from across North America competed in the closest Formula Sun Grand Prix race in its 13-year history, a three-day race that featured 24 hours of racing time.

The OSU team was followed closely by Illinois State University, with 192 laps, and Iowa State University, with 191 laps, in this “cooperative” racing format, in which teams help others to address problems in the interest of helping every participant do as well as possible.

“The Phoenix had several motor problems this year, but Missouri University of Science and Technology generously lent their spare motor, and OSU was able to make it out on the track,” said Jacob Hamar, co-captain of the team.More motor problems developed later in the race, but Northwestern University offered use of the motor from its car that was unable to race for other reasons. In that cooperative spirit, OSU helped many other teams to create, install and test new solar modules, repair brake systems, identify battery protection concerns and other issues.

Aside from winning the race, the OSU team also received the sportsmanship award for assistance to other teams. Last year the team received the Spirit of the Race award for excellence in engineering, teamwork, and sportsmanship.

OSU plans to compete again next summer in the 2014 American Solar Challenge, which will include both track race and road race competition. More detail on the team is available online at www.osusvt.com

This racing team at OSU helps both undergraduate and graduate students build skills in all aspects of solar vehicle technology. Participating on the team also provides experiences in teamwork, engineering, and business project management.

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Solar race car

Solar car

Antifreeze, cheap materials may lead to low-cost solar energy

The study this story is based on is available in ScholarsArchive@OSU; http://bit.ly/10Zj0SK

 

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A process combining some comparatively cheap materials and the same antifreeze that keeps an automobile radiator from freezing in cold weather may be the key to making solar cells that cost less and avoid toxic compounds, while further expanding the use of solar energy.

And when perfected, this approach might also cook up the solar cells in a microwave oven similar to the one in most kitchens.

Engineers at Oregon State University have determined that ethylene glycol, commonly used in antifreeze products, can be a low-cost solvent that functions well in a “continuous flow” reactor – an approach to making thin-film solar cells that is easily scaled up for mass production at industrial levels.

The research, just published in Material Letters, a professional journal, also concluded this approach will work with CZTS, or copper zinc tin sulfide, a compound of significant interest for solar cells due to its excellent optical properties and the fact these materials are cheap and environmentally benign.

“The global use of solar energy may be held back if the materials we use to produce solar cells are too expensive or require the use of toxic chemicals in production,” said Greg Herman, an associate professor in the OSU School of Chemical, Biological and Environmental Engineering. “We need technologies that use abundant, inexpensive materials, preferably ones that can be mined in the U.S. This process offers that.”

By contrast, many solar cells today are made with CIGS, or copper indium gallium diselenide. Indium is comparatively rare and costly, and mostly produced in China. Last year, the prices of indium and gallium used in CIGS solar cells were about 275 times higher than the zinc used in CZTS cells.

The technology being developed at OSU uses ethylene glycol in meso-fluidic reactors that can offer precise control of temperature, reaction time, and mass transport to yield better crystalline quality and high uniformity of the nanoparticles that comprise the solar cell – all factors which improve quality control and performance.

This approach is also faster – many companies still use “batch mode” synthesis to produce CIGS nanoparticles, a process that can ultimately take up to a full day, compared to about half an hour with a continuous flow reactor. The additional speed of such reactors will further reduce final costs.

“For large-scale industrial production, all of these factors – cost of materials, speed, quality control – can translate into money,” Herman said. “The approach we’re using should provide high-quality solar cells at a lower cost.”

The performance of CZTS cells right now is lower than that of CIGS, researchers say, but with further research on the use of dopants and additional optimization it should be possible to create solar cell efficiency that is comparable.

This project is one result of work through the Center for Sustainable Materials Chemistry, a collaborative effort of OSU and five other academic institutions, supported by the National Science Foundation. Funding was provided by Sharp Laboratories of America. The goal is to develop materials and products that are safe, affordable and avoid the use of toxic chemicals or expensive compounds.

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Greg Herman, 541-737-2496

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Solar cell nanoparticles

Solar nanoparticles