college of engineering

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.

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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

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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

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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

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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

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Radiation dose comparison

Radiation comparison

“Red Chair” campus event to recognize women in technology

CORVALLIS, Ore. - Oregon State University will participate in a national campaign called Sit With Me on March 5 in the Memorial Union quad, to recognize the role of women in creating new technology.

The campaign, which was created by the National Center for Women and Information Technology, works to build awareness of the obstacles that women continue to face in the fields of computing and information technology. The OSU Office of Women and Minorities in Engineering is broadening the activity to include all fields of engineering.

For participants, a signature part of the event is sitting in a red chair, a symbol of solidarity with the goals of the campaign, and discussing their personal life stories. Organizers say they encourage dialogue to continue online and in other forums.

At OSU, the event will include music, prizes, and a photo booth featuring the campaign’s red chair. Photos will be collected and displayed of prominent Oregon State administrators, athletic teams and alumni sitting in the red chair.

Although the numbers of women seeking engineering degrees has been rising, it’s still far from an equitable status. About 18 percent of engineering undergraduates, both nationally and at OSU, are women. Only 13 percent of computer science graduates are female, another report indicated.

“The companies really like their design teams to reflect what America looks like – 50 percent women and 24 percent minority groups,” said Ellen Momsen, director of the OSU Women and Minorities in Engineering program. “We’re certainly not graduating that nationally in engineering.”

OSU has a wide variety of programs both to recruit and retain more women who enter the College of Engineering, she said. Several high level administrators in the college, including Dean Sandra Woods, are women. The university also sends its engineering students as “ambassadors” to talk to high school students around Oregon about engineering and their OSU experiences.

“We find a barrier is the lack of familiarity with the engineering field,” Momsen said. “Many students believe the Dilbert stereotype, and imagine that an engineer is dull and sits in a cubicle all day.

“Our goal is to let students know that engineering is a creative profession,” she said. “The careers they are interested in are actually engineering related, such as creating movie special effects, providing safe drinking water, developing life-saving medical devices.”


Ellen Momsen, 541-737-9699

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"Sit with Me" campaign

"Sit with Me" supporters

College of Engineering honors alumni

CORVALLIS, Ore. - The Oregon State University College of Engineering recently honored some of its most distinguished alumni at the 15th annual Oregon Stater Awards.

The awards honor outstanding alumni and friends for their contributions to the engineering profession and to Oregon State University. There are three award categories determined by length of career and accomplishments: Engineering Hall of Fame, Academy of Distinguished Engineers, and Council of Outstanding Early Career Engineers.

The event was held at the CH2M-HILL Alumni Center on the OSU campus, in conjunction with National Engineers Week. More details on the awards and individuals being honored is available at http://engineering.oregonstate.edu/oregon-stater-awards

The award recipients include:




  • Stephen S. Pawlowski, Fellow, Academy of Distinguished Engineers, general manager, architecture and planning, Intel Corporation, Hillsboro, Ore.
  • Annabelle Pratt, Ph.D. electrical engineering ’99, Academy of Distinguished Engineers, senior power research engineer, Intel Corporation, Hillsboro, Ore.



  • Paul R. Mather, B.S. civil engineering ’84, Academy of Distinguished Engineers, highway division administrator, Oregon Department of Transportation, Salem, Ore.



  • David L. Andersen, B.S. business administration ’80, Academy of Distinguished Engineers, president and CEO, Andersen Construction Company, Portland, Ore.
  • Steven E. Locke, B.S. chemical engineering ’82, Academy of Distinguished Engineers, president and COO, SLR International Corporation, Portland, Ore.
  • Lawrence A. Sitz, B.S. civil engineering technology ’75, Academy of Distinguished Engineers, CEO, Emerick Construction Company, Portland, Ore.



  • Jeffrey J. Firth, B.S. construction engineering management ’96, Council of Outstanding Early Career Engineers, partner and project manager, Hamilton Construction Company, Springfield, Ore.



  • Meagan R. Bozeman, B.S. mechanical engineering ’97, Council of Outstanding Early Career Engineers, director of advanced development supplies strategy and sustainability for Solid Ink, Xerox Corporation, Wilsonville, Ore.
  • Lewis A. Danielson, B.S. mechanical engineering ’79, Hall of Fame, founder and chair, Crimson Trace, Wilsonville, Ore.




  • Jen-Hsun Huang, B.S. electrical engineering ’84, honorary Ph.D. ’09, Hall of Fame, co-founder, president and CEO, NVIDIA, Santa Clara, Calif.
  • David T. West, B.S. mechanical engineering ’69, Hall of Fame, founder, San Luis Sourdough, San Luis Obispo, Calif.
  • Paul R. Anderson, B.S. industrial engineering ’80, Academy of Distinguished Engineers, vice president, global procurement, Life Technologies Corporation, Carlsbad, Calif.
  • Peter P. Gassner, B.S. computer science ’89, Academy of Distinguished Engineers, founder, CEO and president, Veeva Systems, Pleasanton, Calif.
  • Manoj Gujral, M.S. electrical engineering and computer science, ’87, Academy of Distinguished Engineers, Los Altos, Calif.
  • Daniel J. Di Spaltro, B.S. computer science ’07, Council of Outstanding Early Career Engineers, director of product rackspace, San Francisco, Calif.




  • Thomas L. Gould, B.S. chemical engineering ’68, Academy of Distinguished Engineers, senior consultant/senior partner, International Reservoir Technologies, Lakewood, Colo.




  • Brenda M. Holdener, B.S. construction engineering management ’85, Academy of Distinguished Engineers, Captain, U.S. Navy inspector general, U.S. Transportation Command, Scott AFB, Ill.




  • Elizabeth N. Hammack, B.S. industrial engineering ’81, Academy of Distinguished Engineers, vice president, operations and manufacturing, Medtronic, Inc., Mounds View, Minn.




  • Kevin G. Hart, B.S. radiation health physics ’02, Academy of Distinguished Engineers, systems engineer and health physicist, Sandia National Laboratories, Albuquerque, N.M.




  • Michael D. Brady, Ph.D. chemical engineering ’69, Hall of Fame, senior engineering associate (retired), Corning Inc., Corning, N.Y.




  • Donald R. Pettit, B.S. chemical engineering ’78, Hall of Fame, astronaut, NASA, Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center, Houston, Texas




  • Jeffrey P. Harvey, B.S. electrical engineering ’79, Academy of Distinguished Engineers, president and CEO, Burgerville, Vancouver, Wash.
  • Nancy E. Adcock, B.S. mechanical engineering ’01, Council of Outstanding Early Career Engineers, lead structural analyst, The Boeing Company, Everett, Wash.
  • Bradley R. Eccleston, B.S. nuclear engineering ’98, M.S. nuclear engineering ’00, Council of Outstanding Early Career Engineers, federal project manager, U.S. Department of Energy, Richland, Wash.
  • Gregg R. Landskov, B.S. chemical engineering ’95, Council of Outstanding Early Career Engineers, director, strategic planning, T-Mobile USA, Bellevue, Wash.




  • Brenda E. Marsh, B.S. civil engineering ’01, Council of Outstanding Early Career Engineers, senior engineer, Hannah-Reed & Associates, Kidlington, Oxfordshire, England


Researchers invent “acoustic-assisted” magnetic information storage

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Electrical engineers at Oregon State University have discovered a way to use high- frequency sound waves to enhance the magnetic storage of data, offering a new approach to improve the data storage capabilities of a multitude of electronic devices around the world.

The technology, called acoustic-assisted magnetic recording, has been presented at a professional conference, and a patent application was filed this week.

Magnetic storage of data is one of the most inexpensive and widespread technologies known, found in everything from computer hard drives to the magnetic strip on a credit card. It’s permanent, dependable and cheap. However, long-term reliability of stored data becomes an increasing concern as the need grows to pack more and more information in storage devices, experts say.

“We’re near the peak of what we can do with the technology we now use for magnetic storage,” said Pallavi Dhagat, an associate professor in the OSU School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. “There’s always a need for approaches that could store even more information in a smaller space, cost less and use less power.”

That can be possible, scientists say, if the magnetic materials are temporarily heated, even for an instant, so they can become momentarily less stiff and more data can be stored at a particular spot. This has proven difficult to do, because the heating tends to spread beyond where it is wanted and the technology involves complex integration of optics, electronics and magnetics.

With the new approach, ultrasound is directed at a highly specific location while data is being stored, creating elasticity that literally allows a tiny portion of the material to bend or stretch. It immediately resumes its shape when the ultrasound waves stop. The data can be stored reliably without the concerns around heating.

It should also be possible to create a solid state memory device with no moving parts to implement this technology, researchers said. Unlike conventional hard-disk drive storage, solid state memory would offer durability.

These advances were recently reported at the 12th Joint MMM/Intermag Conference in Chicago.

“This technology should allow us to marry the benefits of solid state electronics with magnetic recording, and create non-volatile memory systems that store more data in less space, using less power,” said Albrecht Jander, also an associate professor of electrical engineering and collaborator on the research.

This approach might work with materials already being used in magnetic recordings, or variations on them, the investigators said. Continued research will explore performance, materials and cost issues.

Advances in data storage are part of what has enabled the enormous advance in high technology systems in recent decades.

A disk drive at the dawn of this era in the 1950s had five megabyte capacity, cost today’s equivalent of $160,000, weighed about a ton, had to be moved with a forklift and was so big it had to be shipped on a large cargo aircraft. Experts at the time said they could have built something with more storage capacity, but they could not envision why anyone would want it, or buy it.

A system today that stores 500 gigabytes, or 100,000 times as much information, is found routinely in laptop computers that cost a few hundred dollars.

Story By: 

Pallavi Dhagat, 541-737-9927

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Information storage
Information storage

OSU alum, NASA astronaut to discuss space experiences

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Donald Pettit, an Oregon State University alumnus, NASA astronaut and member of three space missions, will speak at OSU on Friday, Feb. 22, on “Techno-Stories from Space.”

The presentation, which is free and open to the public, will be in the LaSells Stewart Center’s Construction and Engineering Hall from 3-4 p.m.

Pettit, an Oregon native from Silverton, was a 1978 OSU graduate, has worked as a scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory, and overall has spent more than a year living and working in space. His presentation will discuss the challenges and learning opportunities presented by extensive time spent in the International Space Station.

Story By: 

Thuy Tran, 541-737-6020

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Donald Pettit

Donald Pettit

Construction begins on test facility for new nuclear energy concept

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Construction has begun at Oregon State University on a $4.8 million facility to test a new nuclear energy technology that could be safer, more efficient and produce less waste than existing approaches.

It’s a viable and versatile energy concept for the future, researchers say. As needed, it could produce electricity, hydrogen to power automobiles, steam to heat a building complex, or provide a cheaper way to desalinate seawater.

The nuclear power industry is already undergoing a global renaissance with such technologies as “passive safety” and small modular reactors. They use traditional water-cooled approaches in innovative designs, some of which were developed and tested in recent years by OSU nuclear engineers.

But the new approach is a “super-hot” type of nuclear reactor cooled by helium gas, not water, and it would operate at temperatures above 2,000 degrees – about three times as hot as existing reactors. The basic concept of this reactor technology has been known for some time, but advances in material science and the unusual range of applications for such reactors now make them much more attractive.

Like any existing nuclear reactor, the high-temperature nuclear reactors could produce electricity – about 35-50 percent more efficiently than existing approaches. But they also create about half as much radioactive waste, by the nature of their design cannot melt down, and like all nuclear technologies produce no greenhouse gas emissions.

They could be cost-effectively built as small modular reactors, and produce super-heated steam that works well for powering large chemical companies or building complexes. As demand grows for fresh water in arid regions, they could offer a more cost-effective way to desalinate sea water.

And a promising potential is to produce hydrogen that could power the automobiles of the future, using efficient hydrogen fuel cells that leave only electricity and water as their byproducts. There are still obstacles to overcome in hydrogen transportation and storage, but a high-temperature nuclear reactor could directly split water, or H20, into hydrogen and oxygen, without emitting greenhouse gases.

“If they can make the cars, we could use this technology to make the hydrogen,” said Brian Woods, an associate professor of nuclear engineering and director of this project. “One of the biggest attractions of the high-temperature reactors is their versatility, they could be used in so many ways.

“Like any new technology, it will take some time for this to gain acceptance,” Woods said. “But by the middle of this century I could easily see high-temperature nuclear reactors becoming a major player in energy production around the world.”

The test facility now being built at OSU, like some of its previous counterparts in passive safety and small modular reactors, will be used to test high-temperature reactors for safety, and simulate multiple types of accidents. There will be no use of nuclear fuel, with the high temperatures produced by electrical heaters.

“Something that works at a very high temperature might sound more risky, but in fact this type of nuclear reactor technology would be the safest of all,” Woods said. “Everything in the system is designed to withstand extremely high temperatures, and in the event of any system failure, it would simply shut off and slowly cool down.”

The test facility being constructed in the OSU Radiation Center is about six feet wide and 18 feet tall, and will simulate the reactor vessel. In this technology, helium gas is used as the coolant to transfer heat through a steam generator. The system uses special stainless steel and other alloys to handle the extreme heat, and was built by Harris Thermal, Inc., in Newberg, Ore.

Field tests are scheduled to begin in April and continue until summer, 2014. The work is being supported by grants from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

The new facility and testing programs will also provide opportunities for OSU graduate assistants and even undergraduate students to gain experience working with some of the newest nuclear power technology, educators said. Research of this type is a key part of a new program just announced, called the Oregon State University Advantage, which boosts educational programs and research with real-world applications.

Story By: 

Brian Woods, 541-737-6335

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Nuclear test facility

Facility installation

YouTube video:

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