college of engineering

OSU’s Engineering Expo to showcase student projects

CORVALLIS, Ore. – The 14th annual Engineering Expo, featuring student projects from many engineering disciplines, will be held Friday, May 17, at the College of Engineering at Oregon State University.

The senior design showcase has more than 150 student-built projects, including at least 30 that focus on green energy and sustainability, and is combined with a “Robo*Palooza.” The event is free and open to the public, and will be from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Kelley Engineering Center on the OSU campus. Tours of the O.H. Hinsdale Wave Research Laboratory are also available from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., on the hour.

More information on the event is available online at http://bit.ly/10o7V72 or by calling 541-737-3101.

The various displays offer an entertaining learning opportunity for anyone, organizers say, and may be of particular interest to high school students who are considering a career in engineering.

"The Expo celebrates the college's commitment to developing engineering leaders – students and graduates who apply their education to solve important and complex problems," said Sandra Woods, dean of the College of Engineering.

Among the various displays will be:

  • A driving simulator where participants can interact with a video screen dashboard;
  • A technology that uses solar energy to power a refrigeration system for developing countries;
  • A laser radar camera that scans objects and creates a 3D image;
  • A mechanical device designed to simulate tremors suffered by victims of neurological diseases, and aid in designing products for people with disabilities;
  • 3D models of two indicator species, earthworms and honeybees, to determine safe and unsafe radiation doses for wildlife, which could help in the radiological cleanup at places such as Fukushima.
Media Contact: 

Abby Metzger, 541-737-3295


Thuy Tran, 541-737-6020

Multimedia Downloads

Race car

Race car

College of Engineering

About the OSU College of Engineering: The OSU College of Engineering is among the nation's largest and most productive engineering programs. Since 1999, the college has more than tripled its research expenditures to $37.2 million by emphasizing highly collaborative research that solves global problems. It is a leader in signature research areas, including precision health, clean energy, resilient infrastructure and advanced manufacturing; and targeted strategic areas, including robotics, materials research and clean water.

Lieberman to help guide OSU Venture Accelerator

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Mark Lieberman, an expert in business commercialization, entrepreneurship and international finance, has been named as the new chief startup officer and co-director of the OSU Venture Accelerator, an initiative to help move university research to commercial success.

The Venture Accelerator and a related effort, the Industry Partnering Program, are two key parts of the Oregon State University Advantage, a major new program to boost the university’s impact on job creation and economic progress in Oregon and the nation. It began this spring.

Lieberman most recently has been executive director of the Business Technology Center of Los Angeles County, and was named one of the 50 “Most Innovative Men for 2012” by THE Magazine. He has taught entrepreneurship programs at various colleges, consulted with several governments, worked in international finance, and served on President Obama’s “Rank Review Committee” for 2010.

“Mark brings a wealth of knowledge and experience in launching new enterprises and in mentoring management teams,” said Ron Adams, executive associate vice president for research at OSU. “His leadership as chief startup officer will help ensure OSU’s success in fostering job creation and in developing Oregon’s future entrepreneurial talent.”

The Venture Accelerator is designed to identify innovation or research findings that might form the basis for profitable companies. It will aid their development with legal, marketing, financial and mentoring assistance to help turn good ideas into real-world businesses.

Story By: 

Ron Adams, 541-737-7722

Multimedia Downloads

Mark Lieberman

Mark Lieberman

Invention could make spent nuclear fuel useful for irradiation purposes

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A researcher at Oregon State University has invented a way to use spent nuclear fuel to produce the gamma rays needed to irradiate medical supplies, food and other products – an advance that could change what is now a costly waste disposal concern into a valued commodity.

The technology, if widely implemented, might allow each of the 104 nuclear reactors in the United States to create a revenue stream of $10 million a year while providing thousands of new jobs. And by lowering the cost of irradiation, it could become commercially feasible for a wider range of uses.

A provisional patent has been issued on the technology, and commercialization efforts are under way through a private company, G-Demption LLC, created for that purpose.

“This is essentially a way to re-use spent nuclear fuel for a valuable purpose,” said Russell Goff, a masters student in the OSU Department of Nuclear Engineering and Radiation Health Physics. “Until now no one really thought to do this. But this approach is safe, practical and economical. Instead of treating all nuclear waste as a disposal problem, we could be putting much of it to good use.”

Irradiation is a growing industry, and is commonly used in the sterilization of medical supplies such as bandages or syringes. It’s also widely approved for helping to preserve foods – many spices, and some fruits and meat products are irradiated. The use of gamma radiation for these purposes does not make the underlying product radioactive, and generally has no effects on it that are any more pronounced than other sterilization or preservation technologies.

However, the gamma ray sterilization industry is constrained by the need for cobalt 60, the radioactive isotope most commonly used.

“The U.S. already uses about half of the world’s supply of cobalt 60 for various types of irradiation, and the process can be expensive,” Goff said. “The new system we’ve created should be significantly less expensive, and as such could open the technology to more routine uses. We could double the world supply of gamma rays with this new technology and still won’t come close to meeting the market demand for this valuable resource.”

Sterile medical supplies are a huge market for gamma irradiation, Goff said, and increased used of irradiation could reduce the need for sterilization with ethylene oxide gas, which is a highly toxic and flammable gas.

The system Goff has invented adds another level of protection to prevent unwanted fission products from escaping the spent nuclear fuel and entering the environment, but allows gamma radiation to be released in a controlled manner for irradiation purposes. Because recently spent nuclear fuel – less than 12 years old - still has fairly intense levels of radiation, it provides an economical way to irradiate products.

The nuclear waste handling systems needed to use the new technology are similar to those already being used at nuclear power plants, he said, and the process of sterilizing the products is almost identical to processes used in the cobalt 60 irradiation industry today.

Aside from providing a commercial use for spent nuclear fuel, the approach would also reduce the significant expense of otherwise storing it, Goff noted. This system might also have special appeal in developing countries, where refrigeration and other approaches to preserving food, as well as access to sterile medical supplies, are not always readily available.

Story By: 

Russell Goff

Multimedia Downloads

Irradiating medical supplies

Irradiating products


YouTube video: http://bit.ly/XT0fxO

Pedestrians at serious risk when drivers are “permitted” to turn left

The report this story is based on is available online: http://bit.ly/kZJkWs

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A study to examine driver behavior in permitted left turns has identified what researchers call an “alarming” level of risk to pedestrians crossing the street – about 4-9 percent of the time, drivers don’t even bother to look and see if there are pedestrians in their way.

As opposed to a “protected” left turn, in which a solid green arrow gives a driver the complete right of way in a left-turn lane, a “permitted” left turn is often allowed by a confusing hodgepodge of signals, and drivers may have to pick their way through narrow windows of oncoming traffic.

This difficult driving maneuver, which is played out millions of times a day around the world, is fraught with risk for unwary pedestrians, who too often appear to be an afterthought.

 The danger is much higher than had been realized, experts say.

“There are far more pedestrian crashes in marked crosswalks than anywhere else on roads, and pedestrians already have a false sense of security,” said David Hurwitz, an assistant professor of transportation engineering at Oregon State University. “This study found that one key concern is permitted left turns.”

As they wait to turn left, sometimes taking a narrow opportunity to lunge into a stream of oncoming traffic, drivers focus most of their attention on the vehicular traffic and the traffic signal, rather than any pedestrians crossing the street, the research showed. The heavier the traffic, the less attention paid to pedestrians.

In a controlled analysis in a full-scale driving simulator that monitored specific eye movements, the engineers found that about one time in 10 or 20, the driver didn’t even look to see if a pedestrian was there before moving into the intersection. This suggests a major level of risk to pedestrians, researchers said, if they assume that drivers not only will look for them, but will allow them to cross the street.

The problem is aggravated by “permitted” left turn signals that vary widely, from state to state and sometimes even from one city to the next. Such turns might be allowed by a circular green light, a flashing circular yellow light, a flashing circular red light, or even a flashing yellow arrow. More consistent national standards regarding the flashing yellow arrow were recommended as recently as 2009, but the process of upgrading signals across the nation takes time.

The danger is sufficiently high, the researchers concluded, that more states and cities should consider prohibiting permitted left turns while pedestrians are allowed to be in the crosswalk. In Washington County, Ore., traffic managers recently did just that, after receiving a high number of complaints about pedestrian-vehicle conflicts.

“In traffic management you always have multiple goals, which sometimes conflict,” Hurwitz said. “You want to move traffic as efficiently as possible, because there’s a cost to making vehicles wait. You use more fuel, increase emissions and waste people’s time. The permitted left turn can help with efficiency.

“But the safety of the traveling public is also critical,” he said. “Sometimes the goal of safety has to override the goal of efficiency, and we think this is one of those times.”

Also of some interest, the study found preliminary evidence to suggest that the currently-mandated type of signal, which uses four heads instead of three, offers no change in driver behavior. However, the cost to implement a four-head signal is about $800 more than retrofitting the three-head version, which is widely used around the nation. Many millions of dollars might be saved nationally by using the simpler signal.

The findings of these studies have been compiled in a report by OSU and Portland State University researchers to the Oregon Transportation Research and Education Consortium, which funded the research. They will also be presented this year at the Driving Assessment Conference in New York and the Western District ITE meeting in Arizona.

OSU has a sophisticated driving simulator research facility, which allows test subjects to see, experience and react to realistic driving experiences while scientists study their reactions and behavior. This study was done with 27 subjects experiencing 620 permitted left turn maneuvers.

Story By: 

David Hurwitz, 541-737-9242

Multimedia Downloads

Driving simulation
Volunteer driver

Tracking eye movement
Tracking eye movement

"Permitted" left turn

"Permitted" left turn

Humanitarian engineering documentary to be screened

CORVALLIS, Ore. – In July of 2012, a group of Oregon State University students traveled to the small village of Lela, Kenya, to help the community gain access to safe water.

The story of their journey will be told in Kel Wer ("to bring song" in the native Dholuo language), a documentary that will debut at OMSI in a free public screening on Tuesday, April 9. It will explore the challenges the students faced and the incredibly welcoming and resilient people they met along the way.

Doors will open to the public at 6:30 p.m., a photography exhibit of the people of Lela will be available for viewing in the lobby, and the 35-minute documentary will start at 7:15 p.m.

Following the screening, members of Oregon State's chapter of Engineers Without Borders will share their personal experiences and answer questions. Seating is limited and available on a first-come basis.

EWB-USA is a non-profit humanitarian organization that works with developing communities world-wide to improve their quality of life through environmentally and economically sustainable engineering projects, while developing internationally responsible engineering students.

More information about the project is available online at http://bit.ly/O7J7ij, and a Facebook event link is at http://on.fb.me/Xoc7ZR

The documentary was directed by Justin Smith. The project is a collaboration between the OSU College of Engineering and OSU University Relations and Marketing.

Multimedia Downloads

Kel Wer

Film documentary

New system to restore wetlands could reduce massive floods, aid crops

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Engineers at Oregon State University have developed a new interactive planning tool to create networks of small wetlands in Midwest farmlands, which could help the region prevent massive spring floods and also retain water and mitigate droughts in a warming climate.

The planning approach, which is being developed and tested in a crop-dominated watershed near Indianapolis, is designed to identify the small areas best suited to wetland development, optimize their location and size, and restore a significant portion of the region’s historic water storage ability by using only a small fraction of its land.

Using this approach, the researchers found they could capture the runoff from 29 percent of a watershed using only 1.5 percent of the entire area.

The findings were published in Ecological Engineering, a professional journal, and a website is now available at http://wrestore.iupui.edu/ that allows users to apply the principles to their own land.

The need for new approaches to assist farmers and agencies to work together and use science-based methods is becoming critical, experts say. Massive floods and summer droughts have become more common and intense in the Midwest because of climate change and decades of land management that drains water rapidly into rivers via tile drains.

“The lands of the Midwest, which is one of the great food producing areas of the world, now bear little resemblance to their historic form, which included millions of acres of small lakes and wetlands that have now been drained,” said Meghna Babbar-Sebens, an assistant professor of civil and construction engineering at Oregon State. “Agriculture, deforestation, urbanization and residential development have all played a role.

“We have to find some way to retain and slowly release water, both to use it for crops and to prevent flooding,” Babbar-Sebens said. “There’s a place for dams and reservoirs but they won’t solve everything. With increases in runoff, what was once thought to be a 100-year flood event is now happening more often.

“Historically, wetlands in Indiana and other Midwestern states were great at intercepting large runoff events and slowing down the flows,” she said. “But Indiana has lost more than 85 percent of the wetlands it had prior to European settlement.”

An equally critical problem is what appears to be increasing frequency of summer drought, she said, which may offer a solid motivation for the region’s farmers to become involved. The problem is not just catastrophic downstream flooding in the spring, but also the loss of water and soil moisture in the summer that can be desperately needed in dry years.

The solution to both issues, scientists say, is to “re-naturalize” the hydrology of a large section of the United States. Working toward this goal was a research team from Oregon State University, Indiana University-Purdue University in Indianapolis, the Wetlands Institute in New Jersey, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. They used engineering principles, historic analysis and computer simulations to optimize the effectiveness of any land use changes, so that minimal land use alteration would offer farmers and landowners a maximum of benefits.

In the Midwest, many farmers growing corn, soybeans and other crops have placed “tiles” under their fields to rapidly drain water into streams, which dries the soil and allows for earlier planting. Unfortunately, it also concentrates pollutants, increases flooding and leaves the land drier during the summer. Without adequate rain, complete crop losses can occur.

Experts have also identified alternate ways to help, including the use of winter cover crops and grass waterways that help retain and more slowly release water. And the new computer systems can identify the best places for all of these approaches to be used.

The work has been supported by the Indiana State Department of Agriculture and the National Science Foundation.

Story By: 

Meghna Babbar-Sebens, 541-737-8536

Multimedia Downloads


Iowa wetlands

National security leader to deliver OSU commencement address in June

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Brigadier Gen. Julie A. Bentz, who advises President Obama on national security issues, will return to her alma mater this June when she delivers the commencement address at Oregon State University.

Bentz, director of strategic capabilities policy on the National Security Staff, is a 1986 graduate of OSU, where she received an ROTC commission and earned a degree in radiological health. She is the first female officer from the Oregon Army National Guard to achieve the rank of general.

“Gen. Bentz has played an integral role in advising the United States about security matters – and especially nuclear defense strategies and implications – since Sept. 11, 2001,” said OSU President Edward J. Ray. “Her journey from a small town in Oregon, to Oregon State University, and on to national prominence will provide a compelling message for our graduates.”

Bentz grew up in the tiny, unincorporated town of Jordan, Ore., which is near Stayton, and earned a national ROTC scholarship that would have allowed her to attend any of more than 200 universities in the country. She chose Oregon State, and earned her bachelor of science and bachelor of arts degrees in radiological health. She accepted her ROTC commission and was stationed in Landstuhl, Germany.

She later was stationed in San Antonio, Texas, where she worked as a nuclear, biological and chemical officer, training U.S. medical forces during the first Gulf War.

Then she became a missionary, and spent four years in Europe and Africa, while still working as an Army reserve officer.

“The pay I received from my service time was enough to pay for my missionary lifestyle,” she told the Oregon Stater magazine in a recent interview.

Bentz earned master’s (health physics) and doctoral (nuclear engineering) degrees from the University of Missouri, and another master’s degree in national security strategy from the National War College in Washington, D.C. She worked at the Pentagon during the 9-11 attacks, received a Legion of Merit medal for her work on the Homeland Security Council, and recently helped coordinate the U.S. response to the Japanese earthquake and tsunami.

OSU’s 144th commencement ceremony will take place on Saturday, June 15, in Reser Stadium.

Story By: 

Steve Clark, 541-737-4875

Multimedia Downloads

Julie Bentz

Mobile LIDAR technology expanding rapidly

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Imagine driving down a road a few times and obtaining in an hour more data about the surrounding landscape than a crew of surveyors could obtain in months.

Such is the potential of mobile LIDAR, a powerful technology that’s only a few years old and promises to change the way we see, study and record the world around us. It will be applied in transportation, hydrology, forestry, virtual tourism and construction – and almost no one knows anything about it.

That may change with a new report on the uses and current technology of mobile LIDAR, which has just been completed and presented to the Transportation Research Board of the National Academy of Sciences. It will help more managers and experts understand, use and take advantage of this science.

The full exploitation of this remarkable technology, however, faces constraints. Too few experts are trained to use it, too few educational programs exist to teach it, mountains of data are produced that can swamp the computer capabilities of even large agencies, and lack of a consistent data management protocol clogs the sharing of information between systems.

“A lot of people and professionals still don’t even know what mobile LIDAR is or what it can do,” said Michael Olsen, an assistant professor of civil engineering at Oregon State University, and lead author of the new report. “And the technology is changing so fast it’s hard for anyone, even the experts, to keep up.

“When we get more people using mobile LIDAR and we work through some of the obstacles, it’s going to reduce costs, improve efficiency, change many professions and even help save lives,” Olsen said.

LIDAR, which stands for light detecting and ranging, has been used for 20 years, primarily in aerial mapping. Pulses of light up to one million times a second bounce back from whatever they hit, forming a highly detailed and precise map of the landscape. But mobile LIDAR used on the ground, with even more powerful computer systems, is still in its infancy and has only been commercially available for five years.

Mobile LIDAR, compared to its aerial counterpart, can provide 10 to 100 times more data points that hugely improve the resolution of an image. Moving even at highway speeds, a technician can obtain a remarkable, three-dimensional view of the nearby terrain.

Such technology could be used repeatedly in one area and give engineers a virtual picture of an unstable, slow-moving hillside. It could provide a detailed image of a forest, or an urban setting, or a near-perfect recording of surrounding geology. An image of a tangle of utility lines in a ditch, made just before they were backfilled and covered, would give construction workers 30 years later a 3-D map to guide them as they repaired a leaking pipe.

Mobile LIDAR may someday be a key to driverless automobiles, or used to create amazing visual images that will enhance “virtual tourism” and let anyone, anywhere, actually see what an area looks like as if they were standing there. The applications in surveying and for transportation engineering are compelling, and may change entire professions.

Just recently, mobile LIDAR was used to help the space shuttle Endeavour maneuver through city streets to reach its final home in Los Angeles.

Some of the newest applications, Olsen said, will have to wait until there are enough experts to exploit them. OSU operates one of the few programs in the nation to train students in both civil engineering and this evolving field of “geomatics,” and more jobs are available than there are people to fill them. Due to a partnership with Leica Geosystems and David Evans and Associates, OSU has sufficient hardware and software to maintain a variety of geomatics courses. But more educational programs are needed, Olsen said, and fully-trained and licensed professionals can make $100,000 or more annually.

Other nations, he said, including Canada, have made a much more aggressive commitment to using mobile LIDAR and training students in geomatics. It is critical for the U.S. to follow suit, Olsen said.

Collaborators on the new report included researchers from the University of Houston, Lidarnews.com, David Evans and Associates, Persi Consulting, and Innovative Data, Inc.

Story By: 

Michael Olsen, 541-737-9327

Multimedia Downloads

Glitter Gulch

Glitter Gulch

Highway image using LIDAR

Highway image

Video of space shuttle move:


Fukushima cleanup continues, many areas restored

CORVALLIS, Ore. – The Japanese response to the Fukushima nuclear accident was heroic at first and energetic in the two years since then, experts say, and is now reaching a point in many areas where science and social concerns may diverge – the question becomes, how clean is clean enough?

Considerable work still remains to be done at and near the reactor complex where the most serious damage and radioactive contamination took place, following the tsunami and reactor accident that began on March 11, 2011.

But through sustained and well-managed cleanup efforts in many other areas, enormous progress has been made in the past two years, said Kathryn Higley, professor and head of the Department of Nuclear Engineering and Radiation Health Physics at Oregon State University.

“I was recently standing on top of one of the heavily damaged reactors at the Dai-ichi nuclear power station, and even there it was surprising how moderate the radiation levels are now,” said Higley, who toured the region last month. She also met with local experts and has been involved in international efforts to assist in the response to the accident since it occurred.

“This incident occurred in the midst of an enormous geological disaster and the response to contain it was heroic from the beginning,” Higley said. “And in the aggressive cleanup efforts afterward, they’ve made tremendous strides and have learned a lot about what decontamination procedures are most effective. Certainly challenges remain, but they are working through them.”

Many of the approaches have been basic, Higley said, like removing grass and vegetation, sometimes a little topsoil, washing buildings, carefully measuring the levels of cesium and other radioactive contaminants to ensure they are at safe levels. Radiation can be monitored by sophisticated instruments at levels that are far below anything that will pose a health threat. It’s considerably higher, for instance, across many areas of the Rocky Mountains than in other parts of North America.

The government is subcontracting cleanup in some of the less-affected areas and handling the most heavily contaminated sections itself. And higher levels of radioactive contaminants have been detected in some nearby fish and other marine species that tend to bioaccumulate the toxins. But the dose implications are modest, Higley said.

A question that local Japanese residents and policy makers are already confronting, Higley said, is at what point to conclude that any remaining contaminants or radiation no longer pose a health threat, what areas still need more work, and how much more expenditure of money and resources is warranted. In many places this gets to a discussion of natural background levels of radiation, and what constitutes safe versus risky levels.

“In science we have a pretty good understanding of when radiation exposure is too high,” Higley said. “It’s much more difficult to say how low is low enough. We live in a world of radiation that comes naturally from the sun, our food, soils, rocks, and the foundations of our homes. We also receive it from industrial activities and medical tests.

“The issue of how low is low enough that people in Japan are facing right now often becomes more of a social and political question than a scientific one,” she said.

Most researchers have already concluded that the health impacts from the Fukushima incident will be modest, with the greatest potential for effects on power plant employees who directly worked to contain the accident. Those workers will have a higher chance of getting cancer, but even that might not be detectable, studies suggest.

There continue to be wide areas near Fukushima with minute levels of contamination and higher radiation levels than they used to have. But at the same time, those levels are less than some other areas of the world with naturally high radiation levels due to local geology, such as Kerala, India, home to millions of people.

Higley said it’s also worth noting that in this cleanup effort the Japanese are learning a great deal about how to most effectively decontaminate buildings and urban areas. It’s information that could be of considerable value if any place in the world were ever attacked with a “dirty bomb” by terrorists, she said.

“We’re also going to be learning things for years about the environmental cycling of radioactive contaminants,” Higley said. “Near Fukushima we have an entire landscape that has been affected, and studies of it in the future will help us better understand movement of radioactive materials in the world we live in.”

Story By: 

Kathy Higley, 541-737-0675

Multimedia Downloads

Radiation dose comparison

Radiation comparison