college of engineering

“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.

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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.

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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.

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Brian Woods, 541-737-6335

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OSU receives $20 million in private support for engineering research facility

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Peter and Rosalie Johnson have committed $7 million to create a new educational and research facility in the College of Engineering at Oregon State University.

Leveraging an earlier $10 million gift from an anonymous donor, $3 million in additional private funds, and possible matching state funds, the planned $40 million building will address space needs for engineering faculty, lab space for interdisciplinary research, and a center focused on improved recruitment and retention of engineering students. Construction will rely on legislative approval of state bonds during this legislative session.

The facility could be in the design phase as early as this spring.

Over the past three years, student enrollment in the OSU College of Engineering has increased nearly 34 percent, and contract and grant awards for its faculty have increased nearly 30 percent. Home primarily to the School of Chemical, Biological and Environmental Engineering, the new facility will house interdisciplinary groups of students and faculty working to address important global problems that affect human health, energy and the environment. It will contribute significantly to economic growth in Oregon and the region, said Sandra Woods, dean of the college.

“Oregon State was instrumental in setting me on the right path,” said Peter Johnson, a 1955 engineering alumnus whose Tekmax, Inc., company revolutionized battery manufacturing equipment. The Tangent, Ore., company was acquired in 2004.

“Oregon has a pressing need for innovation, and facilities like this new building can support collaborative research and hands-on learning for generations of OSU faculty and students,” Johnson said.

Longtime supporters of the university, the Johnsons have made leadership gifts to all three priority areas of The Campaign for OSU: student scholarships, faculty support and facilities. Their contributions aided in the construction of the CH2M HILL Alumni Center and the Joe Schulein Computer Laboratory, created the endowed Linus Pauling Chair in Chemical Engineering, and established a scholarship-internship program for students in engineering.

“This new building will help to revolutionize how Oregon State approaches collaborative projects involving scientists and students in engineering and other colleges in essential areas of study and discovery,” said OSU President Edward Ray.

Ray, a noted economist, explained that Oregon’s financial health relies heavily on the success of strong collaborative research initiatives. Last year, OSU’s engineering faculty secured research grants and contracts totaling nearly $37 million. Companies spun off from college research earned more than half of the venture funding attracted by all Oregon businesses in the first half of 2010 – more than $57 million in all.

“Our college has gained tremendous momentum over the last decade,” said Sandra Woods, who was appointed engineering dean in July, 2012. “We are building critical mass in terms of faculty, students and external funding to the point where truly groundbreaking multi-disciplinary work becomes possible, and one step forward leads rapidly to the next. The high-quality space provided by a new facility will spark the growth that brings the college to the next level.”

Together with these gifts, donors to The Campaign for OSU have committed more than $200 million in support of facilities and equipment including engineering’s Kearney Hall and the Kelley Engineering Center. The campaign provided donor support for 24 facility projects. Total campaign gifts crossed the $900 million mark toward the $1 billion goal, Ray said today at the State of the University address in Portland.


Sandra Woods, 541-737-3601

Newport selected as home of Pacific Marine Energy Center

CORVALLIS, Ore.  – The Northwest National Marine Renewable Energy Center, or NNMREC, which is based at Oregon State University, has chosen Newport, Ore., as the future site of the first utility-scale, grid-connected wave energy test site in the United States – the Pacific Marine Energy Center.

The Pacific Marine Energy Center, or PMEC, will test energy generation potential and the environmental impacts of wave energy devices, at an ocean site about five miles from shore. Subsea cables will transmit energy from the wave energy devices to the local power grid, and data to scientists and engineers at on-shore facilities.

The first installment of funding for PMEC was received in September, 2012, consisting of $4 million from the U.S. Department of Energy, along with a non-federal cost match.

“PMEC represents a major step toward the development of energy from Oregon’s ocean waters,” said Jason Busch of the Oregon Wave Energy Trust. “I’m certain that Oregon will reap benefits from PMEC for many years to come, and the research and development performed at PMEC will help usher in this new form of reliable electricity from the sea.”

PMEC design and specific site characterization will begin soon, along with the permitting and regulatory process. NNMREC will continue to work with a variety of partners to develop additional funding sources. The exact ocean location for the PMEC site will be finalized in the next few months in a zone that has been selected in collaboration with ocean stakeholders – an area that will not impede shipping lanes and takes environmental impacts into consideration.

The Pacific Marine Energy Center will have four “test berths,” open spaces of water dedicated to testing individual devices or small arrays of devices, each of which will be connected to the community’s electrical grid. It will also collect data associated with environmental and human dimension impacts. Completion will take several years.

“This site selection builds on the global reputation of Oregon State University in both renewable energy research and marine science,” said Rick Spinrad, OSU vice president for research. “Future research results from this site will help ensure our state’s leadership in these critical areas.”

The development and operation of this facility will provide jobs and other economic development as it attracts researchers and device developers to the Oregon coast from around the world, officials said. While under development, the Ocean Sentinel, NNMREC’s mobile ocean test buoy platform operating out of Toledo, will continue its work testing energy devices at its ocean test site north of Yaquina Head.

Advances in wave power technology are also one example of the growing partnerships between OSU and private industry. The university just announced a major new initiative, the Oregon State University Advantage, which includes such programs as the OSU Venture Accelerator and the Industry Partnering Program. It’s expected to help create 20 new businesses within the next five years while enhancing student education and Oregon’s economic growth.

In an extensive site selection process, NNMREC worked with four coastal communities to consider both technical criteria and community resources.  The options were narrowed last fall to Reedsport and Newport, the two communities that best matched the needed criteria for PMEC. Site selection teams from those communities submitted proposals in December.

The selection was ultimately based on ocean site characteristics, marine and on-shore cable routes, port and industry capabilities, impacts to existing ocean users, permitting challenges, stakeholder participation in the proposal process, and support of the local fishing communities.

“Both communities were committed to finding a home for PMEC,” said Kaety Hildenbrand of Oregon Sea Grant, coordinator of the site team process. “They spoke to their own strengths and demonstrated their unique assets.”

Belinda Batten, director of NNMREC, said the communities were similar in their capacities and capabilities, and the final choice focused on making PMEC a global competitor among international test facilities. All coastal communities will benefit from the growth of this industry on the Oregon coast, she said.

The Oregon Wave Energy Trust has supported PMEC and helped create a wave energy development regulatory process that meshes the needs of ocean stakeholders and the state. The agency has also helped address key points in Gov. Kitzhaber’s 10-year energy plan, including how wave energy is integrated into Oregon’s power grid while maintaining high environmental standards.

NNMREC is a partnership between OSU and University of Washington, focused on wave and tidal energy respectively, and receives a substantial part of its funding from U.S. Department of Energy. NNMREC operates a non-grid connected wave energy testing facility in Newport north of Yaquina Head and supports intermediate scale device testing in Puget Sound and Lake Washington. PMEC will complete the wave energy device test facilities.


Belinda Batten, 541-737-9492

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Pacific Marine Energy Center

Pacific Marine Energy Center

Oregon State University Advantage to spur education, economic growth

CORVALLIS, Ore. – OSU officials today launched a new initiative called Oregon State University Advantage, designed to boost the university’s impact on job creation and economic progress in Oregon and the nation.

“Oregon State University Advantage should foster increased bottom-line success for business,” said Rick Spinrad, OSU vice president for research.

“It will dramatically increase private industry access to talented OSU faculty and researchers, take better advantage of OSU’s unique capabilities, increase the number of spin-out companies, and expand education and job opportunities for students and other Oregonians,” Spinrad said.

Within the next five years, the program also is expected to increase industry investment in OSU research by 50 percent and lead to the creation of 20 new businesses. Hundreds more OSU students will work not only with existing companies, but become involved in every stage from fundamental science to business plans and running start-up companies.

Two key parts of Oregon State University Advantage will be the OSU Venture Accelerator and the Industry Partnering Program.

The Venture Accelerator will begin immediately with $380,000 in support from the OSU College of Business, Office for Commercialization and Corporate Development, and the University Venture Development Fund. It’s designed to identify innovation or research findings that might form the basis for profitable companies, and streamline their development with the legal, marketing, financial and mentoring needs that turn good ideas into real-world businesses.

The Industry Partnering Program will be co-directed by the OSU Foundation and the OSU Research Office. Officials say it will become a “one-stop shop” to help industry access talent; do research and development to aid business success; bring in millions of dollars in private investment in research; and ultimately produce the type of experienced graduates wanted by global industry.

“Many programs and people will be involved in all of these initiatives, but the broad theme is to increase the societal and economic impact of OSU,” said OSU President Ed Ray.

“This is a mission that’s critical to the future of Oregon and the nation,” Ray said. “Producing high-achieving graduates ready to work and create new businesses and jobs is the most important part. But we also see more that can be done in meeting the needs of existing industry, expanding existing business, creating new businesses and jobs, and getting students much more involved in their real working careers while they are still undergraduates.”

To serve as a base for the program, it’s anticipated that a 2,000-square-foot facility will be identified and occupied between OSU and downtown Corvallis later this year.

Various features of Oregon State University Advantage, the Venture Accelerator and the Industry Partnering Program include:

  • Expanded university research will be directed toward industry business needs, while providing opportunities for students, economic growth, patenting and licensing of new discoveries and inventions, and new companies.
  • Outside entrepreneurs and executives will work with faculty and students to evaluate new ideas, and the best ideas will be considered for proof-of-concept grants and equity investments.
  • At least 300 OSU students each year will work with Venture Accelerator projects, and more in the Industry Partnering Program, doing research, identifying markets, and creating business plans.
  • The end result should be improved educational programs and a major increase in the societal and economic impact of OSU’s research, already the largest in the state at $281 million a year.

“It’s a massive job to translate research into a profitable company,” said Ron Adams, executive associate vice president for research. “Students can help us analyze ideas, study market potential and do the legwork on so many tasks. There’s plenty of work to go around.”

Work of this type will greatly enhance educational opportunities, officials said.

“The students will have the opportunity to get practical experience working with the business community while helping drive the economy,” ” said Ilene Kleinsorge, dean of the OSU College of Business. “This experiential learning will prepare them to have an immediate impact to their employers when they graduate from the College of Business.”

OSU has been working in initiatives related to this for a decade or more, and has many success stories in commercialization, industry investment in research, and student internship programs. About 1,200 students are already involved in its entrepreneurship programs and more than two dozen companies have evolved from OSU research.

The Oregon State Venture Accelerator Program is a component of the South Willamette Valley Technology Business Accelerator, featured by the governor’s South Willamette Valley Solutions Group at the Oregon Business Plan Summit last December. The South Willamette Valley Regional Solutions Center will seek funding for the regional accelerator initiative during the 2013 Legislative session. At this stage, details remain to be determined.

More information on Oregon State University Advantage is available online, at http://oregonstate.edu/advantage/

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Ron Adams, 541-737-7722

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Solar cell research

Solar cell studies

Surface chemistry research

Surface chemistry research

Young surgeons face special concerns with operating room distractions

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A study has found that young, less-experienced surgeons made major surgical mistakes almost half the time during a “simulated” gall bladder removal when they were distracted by noises, questions, conversation or other commotion in the operating room.

In this analysis, eight out of 18, or 44 percent of surgical residents made serious errors, particularly when they were being tested in the afternoon. By comparison, only one surgeon made a mistake when there were no distractions.

Exercises such as this in what scientists call “human factors engineering” show not just that humans are fallible – we already know that - but work to identify why they make mistakes, what approaches or systems can contribute to the errors, and hopefully find ways to improve performance.

The analysis is especially important when the major mistake can be fatal.

This study, published in Archives of Surgery, was done by researchers from Oregon State University and the Oregon Health and Science University, in the first collaboration between their respective industrial engineering and general surgery faculty.

“This research clearly shows that at least with younger surgeons, distractions in the operating room can hurt you,” said Robin Feuerbacher, an assistant professor in Energy Systems Engineering at OSU-Cascades and lead author on the study. “The problem appears significant, but it may be that we can develop better ways to address the concern and help train surgeons how to deal with distractions.”

The findings do not necessarily apply to older surgeons, Feuerbacher said, and human factors research suggests that more experienced people can better perform tasks despite interruptions. But if surgery is similar to other fields of human performance, he said, older and more experienced surgeons are probably not immune to distractions and interruptions, especially under conditions of high workload or fatigue. Some of those issues will be analyzed in continued research, he said.

This study was done with second-, third- and research-year surgical residents, who are still working to perfect their surgical skills. Months were spent observing real operating room conditions so that the nature of interruptions would be realistic, although in this study the distractions were a little more frequent than usually found.

Based on these real-life scenarios, the researchers used a virtual reality simulator of a laparoscopic cholecystectomy – removing a gall bladder with minimally invasive instruments and techniques. It’s not easy, and takes significant skill and concentration.

While the young surgeons, ages 27 to 35, were trying to perform this delicate task, a cell phone would ring, followed later by a metal tray clanging to the floor. Questions would be posed about problems developing with a previous surgical patient – a necessary conversation – and someone off to the side would decide this was a great time to talk about politics, a not-so-necessary, but fairly realistic distraction.

When all this happened, the results weren’t good. Major errors, defined as things like damage to internal organs, ducts and arteries, some of which could lead to fatality, happened with regularity.

Interrupting questions caused the most problems, followed by sidebar conversations. And for some reason, participants facing disruptions did much worse in the afternoons, even though conventional fatigue did not appear to be an issue.

“We’ve presented these findings at a surgical conference and many experienced surgeons didn’t seem too surprised by the results,” Feuerbacher said. “It appears working through interruptions is something you learn how to deal with, and in the beginning you might not deal with them very well.”

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Robin Feuerbacher, 541-322-3181

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Simulated surgery

Simulated surgery

New computer approach could revolutionize design, manufacturing

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Engineers at Oregon State University and other leading institutions have made important advances that may dramatically change how machines get built, with a concept that could turn the approaches used by modern industry into a historic relic.

They will essentially throw out the old “design it, build a prototype and test it, then fix the mistakes and test it some more” method that’s been in place since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution. Approaches that worked for Robert Fulton or Henry Ford are now considered too expensive, wasteful, unpredictable and time-consuming.

Instead, virtually all of the design, testing, error identification and revisions will be done on a computer up to the point of commercial production. In theory, a new machine should work right the first time, and perform exactly as the computer said it would.

“If this works, and we believe it will, then it will revolutionize the way that machines get built,” said Irem Tumer, an associate professor in OSU’s School of Mechanical, Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering.

“The field holds great promise to design and test completed machines on a computer before they are ever built,” she said. “We’ll see what works, identify and solve problems, make any changes desired, and then go straight to commercial production.”

There’s some use of such approaches in the technology industry, which is a major reason it has boomed in recent decades. But this has never really been done before in mechanical engineering. The potential, experts say, is to radically change how almost any complex machine gets built, ranging from military vehicles to automobiles, aircraft, space vehicles, consumer products or machines used in industry.

The concept is called “model based design and verification,” and is getting initial impetus from a design challenge sponsored by the U.S. military, which wants a new amphibious vehicle in about one-fifth of the time it would ordinarily take to build it. They also want lower cost and excellent performance.

The technology behind this process, experts say, is translating virtually every aspect of a mechanical system into data that can be mixed and matched in sophisticated computer systems – what a part will do, how it will perform, what materials it is made of, how much stress those materials can take before they fail, what will happen at the intersection where one component interacts with another, where failures might occur, and how those failures can be prevented.

OSU is joining with some of the nation’s leading universities and agencies on this problem, in work supported by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA. Collaborators include Vanderbilt University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Georgia Tech University, Palo Alto Research Center, Carnegie Mellon University, and SRI International.

Advances already made at OSU, which have been published in professional journals, include work on failure propagation analysis, led by Tumer; a model repository, led by Robert Stone, a professor of mechanical engineering; and verification tools that will ensure the model should work, led by Christopher Hoyle, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering. Some of Tumer’s continued studies will look more closely at fault behavior, to determine what will happen if a part fails.

“We’ve done a lot of work like this in the past with individual parts, small groups of components,” Tumer said. “Now we’re taking that complexity to the level of a finished and completed machine, sometimes thousands of parts working together.

“That’s a much more difficult challenge,” she said. “But by the time we actually build it, we should know exactly what it will do and have already solved any problems. The testing will have already been done. There should not be any surprises.”

OSU has already received more than $1 million in support from DARPA on this META-II and C2M2L work, in part to support the “Adaptive Vehicle Make,” or AVM Program, which is trying to create a new amphibious vehicle. Engineers, even students, around the nation will be invited next year to take part in that initiative, using the tools being developed by OSU and its collaborators. This particular vehicle is called FANG, for Fast, Adaptive, Next-Generation Ground vehicle.

“That’s really just the beginning of the concept’s potential,” Tumer said.

“You can understand why our armed forces are interested in this,” she said. “They want to speed production of needed military vehicles by five times over the conventional approach, which is a pretty aggressive goal. For them, it’s about saving money, saving time, and ultimately producing technology that helps to save lives.”

After that, Tumer said, the systems could be used anywhere. There’s little downside to producing cars, aircraft, or new industrial machines that work right the first time, cost less and get produced more quickly.


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Irem Tumer, 541-737-6627