engineering and technology

Gift establishes professorship in “humanitarian engineering” at Oregon State

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Oregon State University’s humanitarian engineering program has received a major boost with a $1.5 million gift creating one of the nation’s only endowed professorships in this emerging field.

OSU alumni Richard and Gretchen Evans, of Northern California, made prior gifts that helped to launch OSU’s program two years ago, responding to growing interest among engineering students in making a lasting, positive impact on the world.

Humanitarian engineering seeks science- and engineering-based solutions to improve the human condition by increasing access to basic human needs such clean water or renewable energy, enhancing quality of life, and improving community resilience, whether in face of natural disasters or economic turmoil. Although the greatest needs often lie in developing countries, needs also exist locally.

Oregon State’s program is focused on disadvantaged communities in the Pacific Northwest as well as around the world.

“The technical skills of engineering are essential, but so are abilities we might call human skills – such as communication, problem-solving, leadership and the ability to work across cultures,” said Richard Evans, an OSU College of Engineering alumnus who was president and CEO of Alcan, a Fortune-100 mining company and aluminum manufacturer based in Montreal. “The humanitarian engineering curriculum is a structured way for engineers to practice those human skills in challenging, real world settings.”

Drawing on the humanities also encourages creative solutions by “thinking outside the box,” added Gretchen Evans, an artist and interior designer who graduated from OSU’s College of Education and subsequently completed master’s courses at Legon University in Ghana, West Africa. “Listening is so important – not just believing that we know all of the answers going into every situation.”

The first Richard and Gretchen Evans Professor in Humanitarian Engineering is mechanical engineering professor Kendra Sharp, who directs the program.

“One of the things that’s most exciting about humanitarian engineering is that it captures the interest of a more diverse group of prospective students than we typically see in engineering, including a significant number of women,” Sharp said. “We are thrilled that the Evans’ gift will help us channel students’ passion for making a better world. The stability provided by this endowment will make a huge difference as we move forward.”

Oregon State’s humanitarian engineering program is grounded in a campus-wide emphasis on engaged service that springs from the university’s historic land grant mission. Multiple student organizations, including OSU’s award-winning Engineers Without Borders chapter and the American Society of Civil Engineering student chapter, have been working on water, energy and other projects in under-served Oregon communities and the developing world.

Yet in contrast to humanitarian engineering programs that are primarily an extracurricular activity, Oregon State’s is one of a handful nationwide rooted in an academic curriculum. Exemplifying OSU’s commitment to collaborative, transdisciplinary research and education, the curriculum was put together by a diverse group of faculty led by the College of Engineering but also involving the humanities, public health and education. A new undergraduate minor in humanitarian engineering will be open for enrollment in the coming year.

OSU’s humanitarian engineering program is further differentiated by residing in a university that also offers a Peace Corps Master’s International program in engineering. OSU was the first university in Oregon to join this program, which allows a graduate student to get a master’s degree while doing a full 27-month term of service in the Peace Corps. In addition to PCMI degrees in other fields, Oregon State remains one of just 10 universities nationwide to offer this degree in engineering.

College of Engineering Dean and Kearney Professor of Engineering Scott Ashford said that the humanitarian engineering professorship positions Oregon State for national leadership in this area while supporting one the college’s highest goals.

“We are dedicated to purposefully and thoughtfully increasing the diversity of our students and faculty, building a community that is inclusive, collaborative and centered on student success,” Ashford said. “This is the community that will produce locally conscious, globally aware engineers equipped to solve seemingly intractable problems and contribute to a better world. That’s the Oregon State engineer.”

Richard Evans is a senior international business adviser and director of companies including non-executive chairman of both Constellium, producer of advanced aluminum engineered products, and Noranda Aluminum Holdings, a U.S. regional aluminum producer. He is an independent director of CGI, Canada’s largest IT consulting and outsourcing company. In addition to her art, primarily in acrylics and mixed media, Gretchen Evans volunteers as an art teacher in a low-income Oakland, California, school.

Over the last decade, donors have established 81 endowed faculty positions at Oregon State, an increase of 170 percent, through gifts to the OSU Foundation. These prestigious positions help the university recruit and retain world-class leaders in teaching and research, with earnings from the endowments providing support for the faculty and creating opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students in the programs as well.

Media Contact: 
Media Contact: 

Molly Brown, 541-737-3602


Kendra Sharp, 541-737-5246

Multimedia Downloads


Sharp with the Evanses


Sharp in India

OSU to outfit undersea gliders to “think like a fish”

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Oregon State University researchers have received a $1 million grant from the W.M. Keck Foundation that will allow them to outfit a pair of undersea gliders with acoustical sensors to identify biological “hot spots” in the coastal ocean.

They also hope to develop an onboard computing system that will program the gliders to perform different functions depending on what they encounter.

In other words, the scientists say, they want to outfit a robotic undersea glider to “think like a fish.”

“We spend all of this time on ships, deploying instrumentation that basically is designed to see how ocean biology aggregates around physical features – like hake at the edge of the continental shelf or salmon at upwelling fronts,” said Jack Barth, a professor in OSU’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences and a principal investigator on the project. “But that just gives us a two-week window into a particular area.

“We already have a basic understanding of the ecosystem,” Barth added. “Now we want to get a better handle of what kind of marine animals are out there, how many there are, where they are distributed, and how they respond to phytoplankton blooms, schools of baitfish or oceanic features. It will benefit a variety of stakeholders, from the fishing industry and resource managers to the scientific community.”

Barth is a physical oceanographer who knows the physical processes of the coastal ocean. He’ll work with Kelly Benoit-Bird, a marine ecologist, who specializes in the relationships among marine organisms from tiny plankton to large whales. Her work utilizes acoustics to identify and track animals below the ocean surface – and it is these sensors that will open up a new world of research aboard the gliders.

“Our first goals are to understand the dynamics of the Pacific Northwest upwelling system, find the biological hotspots, and then see how long they last,” Benoit-Bird said. “Then we’d like to learn what we can about the distribution of prey and predators – and the relationship of both to oceanic conditions.”

Using robot-mounted acoustic sensors, the OSU researchers will be able to identify different kinds of marine animals using their unique acoustical signatures. Diving seabirds, for example, leave a trail of bubbles through the water like the contrail left by a jet. Zooplankton show up as a diffuse cloud. Schooling fish create a glowing, amoeba-shaped image.

“We’ve done this kind of work from ships, but you’re more or less anchored in one spot, which is limiting,” Benoit-Bird said. “By putting sensors on gliders, we hope to follow fish, or circle around a plankton bloom, or see how seabirds dive. We want to learn more about what is going on out there.”

Programming a glider to spend weeks out in the ocean and then “think” when it encounters certain cues, is a challenge that falls upon the third member of the research team, Geoff Hollinger, from OSU’s robotics program in the College of Engineering. Undersea gliders operated by Oregon State already can be programmed to patrol offshore for weeks at a time, following a transect, moving up and down in the water column, and even rising to the surface to beam data back to onshore labs via satellite.

But the instruments aboard the gliders that measure temperature, salinity and dissolved oxygen are comparatively simple and require limited power. Using sophisticated bioacoustics sensors that record huge amounts of data, and then programming the gliders to respond to environmental cues, is a significant technological advance.

“All of the technology is there,” Hollinger said, “but combining it into a package to perform on a glider is a huge robotics and systems engineering challenge. You need lots of computing power, longer battery life, and advanced control algorithms.”

Making a glider “think,” or respond to environmental cues, is all about predictive algorithms, he said.

“It is a little like looking at economic indicators in the stock market,” Hollinger pointed out. “Just one indicator is unlikely to tell you how a stock will perform. We need to develop an algorithm that essentially turns the glider into an autonomous vehicle that can run on autopilot.”

The three-year research project should benefit fisheries management, protection of endangered species, analyzing the impacts of new ocean uses such as wave energy, and documenting impacts of climate change, the researchers say.

Oregon State has become a national leader in the use of undersea gliders in research to study the coastal ocean and now owns and operates more than 20 of the instruments through three separate research initiatives. Barth said the vision is to establish a center for underwater vehicles and acoustics research – which would be a key component of its recently announced Marine Studies Initiative.

The university also has a growing program in robotics, of which Hollinger is a key faculty member. This collaborative project funded by Keck exemplifies the collaborative nature of research at Oregon State, the researchers say, where ecologists, oceanographers and roboticists work together.

“This project and the innovative technology could revolutionize how marine scientists study the world’s oceans,” Barth said.

Media Contact: 

Jack Barth, 541-737-1607, barth@coas.oregonstate.edu;

Kelly Benoit-Bird, 541-737-2063, kbenoit@coas.oregonstate.edu;

Geoff Hollinger, 541-737-5906, Geoff.hollinger@oregonstate.edu

Multimedia Downloads

acoustic_image_benoit-bird smart_glider_OSU glider

Task force outlines major initiatives to prepare for Pacific Northwest earthquake, tsunami

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A task force that studied implementation of the Oregon Resilience Plan today submitted to the Oregon legislature an ambitious program to save lives, mitigate damage and prepare for a massive subduction zone earthquake and tsunami looming in the future of the Pacific Northwest.

The recommendations of the Governor’s Task Force on Resilience Plan Implementation, if enacted, would result in spending more than $200 million every biennium in a long-term initiative.

The program would touch everyone from energy providers and utility companies to their customers, parents and school children, businesses, builders, land use regulators, transportation planners and fire responders. It would become one of the most aggressive efforts in the nation to prepare for a costly, life-threatening disaster that’s seen as both catastrophic and inevitable.

“We have a clear plan for what needs to be done, and now is the time to take our first significant steps forward,” said Scott Ashford, dean of the College of Engineering at Oregon State University, chair of the Governor’s Task Force, and an expert on liquefaction and earthquake engineering who has studied disasters all over the world, similar to those that Oregon will face.

“The scope of the disaster that the Pacific Northwest faces is daunting,” Ashford said. “And we won’t be able to accomplish everything we need to do in one or two years, but hopefully we won’t have to. What’s important is to get started, and the time for that is now.”

The task force making these recommendations included members of the Oregon legislature; advisers to Gov. Kitzhaber; private companies; the Oregon Office of Emergency Management; Oregon Department of Transportation; the Oregon Health Authority; city, county  and business leaders; the Red Cross and others.

The Oregon Resilience Plan, which was completed in early 2013, outlines more than 140 recommendations to reduce risk and improve recovery from a massive earthquake and tsunami that’s anticipated on the Cascadia Subduction Zone, similar to the one that hit Fukushima, Japan, in 2011.

The newest analysis identified specific steps that are recommended for the 2015-17 biennium. They address not only earthquake damage, but also the special risks facing coastal residents from what is expected to be a major tsunami.

One of the largest single steps would be biennial funding of $200 million or more for the OBDD/IFA Seismic Rehabilitation Grant Program, with similar or higher levels of funding in the future. Funds could be used to rehabilitate existing public structures such as schools to improve their seismic safety; demolish unsafe structures; or replace facilities that must be moved out of a tsunami inundation zone.

It was recommended that additional revenue be identified to complete work within a decade on the most critical roads and bridges that form “backbone” transportation routes; that the state Department of Geology and Mineral Industries receive $20 million to update inventory and evaluate critical facilities; and that $5 million be made available through existing programs for tsunami resilience planning by coastal communities.

Utility companies regulated by the Oregon Public Utility Commission would also be required to conduct seismic assessments of their facilities, and be allowed through rate increases to recover their costs if they make prudent investments to mitigate vulnerabilities.

When I studied areas that had been hard-hit by earthquakes in Chile, New Zealand and Japan, it became apparent that money spent to prepare for and minimize damage from the earthquake was hugely cost-effective,” Ashford said.

“One utility company in New Zealand said they saved about $10 for every $1 they had spent in retrofitting and rebuilding their infrastructure,” he said. “There’s a lot we can do right now that will make a difference and save money in the long run.”

Other key recommendations included:

  • Establish a resilience policy adviser to the governor;
  • Use the most recent tsunami hazard maps to redefine the inundation zone for construction;
  • Provide $1 million annually for scientific research by Oregon universities, to provide matching funds for earthquake research supported by the state, federal government or private industry;
  • Provide $500,000 to the Office of Emergency Management for educational programs and training aimed at managers, agencies, businesses and the general public;
  • Provide $500,000 to the Department of Education to lead a K-12 educational program;
  • Require water providers and wastewater agencies to complete a seismic risk assessment and mitigation plan, as part of periodic updates to master plans;
  • Require firefighting agencies, water providers and emergency management officials to create joint standards to use in a firefighting response to a large seismic event.

“Our next steps will include a lot of discussion, with the legislature, with business and community leaders, with the general public all over the state,” Ashford said. “The challenges we face are enormous but I really believe Oregonians are ready to take an important step toward resilience. This is our chance.”

Media Contact: 

Scott Ashford, 541-737-5232

Multimedia Downloads

Sinking structures

Japan liquefaction

YouTube video of damage done in the Japanese earthquake is available online: http://bit.ly/ZYH35d

NSF awards $200,000 to develop technology to treat sepsis, a global killer

CORVALLIS, Ore. – The National Science Foundation has just awarded $200,000 to engineers at Oregon State University who have developed a new technology that they believe could revolutionize the treatment and prevention of sepsis.

Sepsis is a “hidden killer” that in the United States actually kills more people every year than AIDS, prostate cancer and breast cancer combined.

More commonly called “blood poisoning,” sepsis can quickly turn a modest infection into a whole-body inflammation, based on a dysfunctional immune response to endotoxins that are released from the cell walls of bacteria. When severe, this can lead to multiple organ failure and death.

When treatment is begun early enough, sepsis can sometimes be successfully treated with antibiotics. But they are not always effective and the mortality rate for the condition is still 28-50 percent. About one in every four people in a hospital emergency room is there because of sepsis, and millions of people die from it around the world every year, according to reports in the New England Journal of Medicine and other studies.

In pioneering research, OSU experts have used microchannel technology and special coatings to create a small device through which blood could be processed, removing the problematic endotoxins and preventing sepsis. Several recent professional publications have reported on their progress.

“More work remains to be done, and the support from the National Science Foundation will be instrumental in that,” said Adam Higgins, principal investigator on the grant and an assistant professor in the OSU School of Chemical, Biological and Environmental Engineering. “When complete, we believe this technology will treat sepsis effectively at low cost, or even prevent it when used as a prophylactic treatment.”

This technology may finally offer a way to tackle sepsis other than antibiotics, the researchers said.

“This doesn’t just kill bacteria and leave floating fragments behind, it sticks to and removes the circulating bacteria and endotoxin particles that might help trigger a sepsis reaction,” said Karl Schilke, the OSU Callahan Faculty Scholar in Chemical Engineering.

“We hope to emboss the device out of low-cost polymers, so it should be inexpensive enough that it can be used once and then discarded,” Schilke said. “The low cost would also allow treatment even before sepsis is apparent. Anytime there’s a concern about sepsis developing – due to an injury, a wound, an operation, or an infection – you could get ahead of the problem.”

“A big part of the problem with sepsis is that it moves so rapidly,” said Joe McGuire, professor and head of the OSU Department of Chemical, Biological and Environmental Engineering. “By the time it’s apparent what the problem is, it’s often too late to treat it.

“If given early enough, antibiotics and other treatments can sometimes, but not always, stop this process,” McGuire said. “Once these bacterial fragments are in the blood stream the antibiotics won’t always work. You can have successfully eradicated the living bacteria even as you’re dying.”

The approach being developed at the OSU College of Engineering is to move blood through a very small processor, about the size of a coffee mug, and literally grab the endotoxins and remove them.

Microchannels make this possible. They can provide accelerated heat and mass transfer as fluids move through tiny tubes the width of a human hair. Applications are already being studied in everything from heat exchangers to solar energy. They can be produced in mass quantity at low cost, stamped onto a range of metals or plastics, and used to process a large volume of liquid in a comparatively short time.

In the system developed at Oregon State, blood can be pumped through thousands of microchannels that are coated with what researchers call “pendant polymer brushes,” with repeating chains of carbon and oxygen atoms anchored on the surface. This helps prevent blood proteins and cells from sticking or coagulating. On the end of each pendant chain is a peptide – or bioactive agent – that binds tightly to the endotoxin and removes it from the blood, which then goes directly back to the patient.

Sepsis is fairly common. It can develop after an injury from an automobile accident, a dirty wound, an extended operation in a hospital that carries a risk of infection, or infectious illnesses in people with weak or compromised immune systems.

In the U.S., more than $20 billion was spent on this problem in 2011. It’s the single most expensive cause of health problems that require hospitalization.

Media Contact: 

Adam Higgins, 541-737-6245

Multimedia Downloads

Sepsis device

Sepsis device

Technology using microwave heating may impact electronics manufacture

The study this story is based on is available online: http://bit.ly/1pJjhnK


CORVALLIS, Ore. – Engineers at Oregon State University have successfully shown that a continuous flow reactor can produce high-quality nanoparticles by using microwave-assisted heating – essentially the same forces that heat up leftover food with such efficiency.

Instead of warming up yesterday’s pizza, however, this concept may provide a technological revolution.

It could change everything from the production of cell phones and televisions to counterfeit-proof money, improved solar energy systems or quick identification of troops in combat.

The findings, recently published in Materials Letters, are essentially a “proof of concept” that a new type of nanoparticle production system should actually work at a commercial level.

“This might be the big step that takes continuous flow reactors to large-scale manufacturing,” said Greg Herman, an associate professor and chemical engineer in the OSU College of Engineering. “We’re all pretty excited about the opportunities that this new technology will enable.”

Nanoparticles are extraordinarily small particles at the forefront of advances in many biomedical, optical and electronic fields, but precise control of their formation is needed and “hot injection” or other existing synthetic approaches are slow, costly, sometimes toxic and often wasteful.

A “continuous flow” system, by contrast, is like a chemical reactor that moves constantly along. It can be fast, cheap, more energy-efficient, and offer lower manufacturing cost. However, heating is necessary in one part of the process, and in the past that was best done only in small reactors.

The new research has proven that microwave heating can be done in larger systems at high speeds. And by varying the microwave power, it can precisely control nucleation temperature and the resulting size and shape of particles.

“For the applications we have in mind, the control of particle uniformity and size is crucial, and we are also able to reduce material waste,” Herman said. “Combining continuous flow with microwave heating could give us the best of both worlds – large, fast reactors with perfectly controlled particle size.”

The researchers said this should both save money and create technologies that work better. Improved LED lighting is one possibility, as well as better TVs with more accurate colors. Wider use of solid state lighting might cut power use for lighting by nearly 50 percent nationally. Cell phones and other portable electronic devices could use less power and last longer on a charge.

The technology also lends itself well to creation of better “taggants,” or compounds with specific infrared emissions that can be used for precise, instant identification – whether of a counterfeit $20 bill or an enemy tank in combat that lacks the proper coding.

In this study, researchers worked with lead selenide nanoparticles, which are particularly good for the taggant technologies. Other materials can be synthesized using this reactor for different applications, including copper zinc tin sulfide and copper indium diselenide for solar cells.

New Oregon jobs and businesses are already evolving from this work.

OSU researchers have applied for a patent on aspects of this technology, and are working with private industry on various applications. Shoei Electronic Materials, one of the collaborators, is pursuing “quantum dot” systems based on this approach, and recently opened new manufacturing facilities in Eugene, Ore., to use this synthetic approach for quantum dot enabled televisions, smartphones and other devices.

The research has been supported by the Air Force Research Laboratory, OSU Venture Funds, and the Oregon Nanoscience and Microtechnologies Institute, or ONAMI.

Media Contact: 

Greg Herman, 541-737-2496

Multimedia Downloads

Continuous flow reactor

Continuous flow reactor

OSU a partner in $320 million “digital manufacturing” initiative

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Oregon State University and the Design Engineering Laboratory in its College of Engineering have been chosen as one of the key partners in a new Digital Manufacturing and Design Innovation Institute, just announced by President Obama with $70 million in federal support.

The UI Labs in Chicago, Ill., will be the lead institution in this initiative, which is also expected to attract $250 million in support from other academic, industry and government organizations. Collectively, about 70 academic and industry participants hope to revolutionize the way that things get built.

“This is a transformative opportunity to shape the future of American manufacturing,” said Warren Holtsberg, chairman of UI LABS. “We salute the vision of the president.”

OSU engineering experts have been working toward similar goals for several years now, and agree that the potential of the new initiative is extraordinary.

“We now can use sophisticated computer systems and advanced design methods to do mechanical design, testing, and error identification before anything is actually built,” said Rick Spinrad, vice president for research at OSU.

“The advantages in saving time and money on the road to manufacturing the products of the future could be profound,” Spinrad said. “This should increase productivity, make American manufacturing more competitive, and create more jobs – and new types of jobs - both in Oregon and across the nation. We’re excited to be a part of this.”

Key industry investors in the new project include General Electric, Rolls-Royce, Procter & Gamble, Dow, Lockheed Martin, Siemens, Boeing, Deere, Caterpillar, Microsoft, Illinois Tool Works and PARC. Thousands of small and mid-sized companies will also be involved. And OSU’s research in this field, which will continue to assist regional industries, includes such companies as Daimler Trucks, Blunt, PCC Structurals, ESCO, Intel, Xerox and HP.

Oregon industry members of the Northwest Collaboratory for Sustainable Manufacturing have also expressed interest in participating in the new institute.

“Within minutes of forwarding the news of the selection of UL Labs for the DMDI Institute and OSU’s participation in it, I had calls and emails from our industry partners in the Portland area wanting to know how to get involved,” said Rob Stone, head of the OSU School of Mechanical, Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering.

Digital design allows for new product development to be accelerated by up to 50 percent. Most of the initial federal support for this initiative is from the Department of Defense, which envisions ways to create needed military vehicles and other technology much faster and at less cost. But the concepts could ultimately be used to manufacture anything from a tank to an automobile, washing machine, jet aircraft or toaster oven.

According to Matt Campbell, an OSU professor of mechanical engineering and one of the university’s leaders in this field, digital manufacturing is a concept that greatly reduces physical prototypes and testing, as well as time to manufacture.

“In design, the idea is to fail early and often, so that we succeed sooner,” Campbell said. “Our digital tools will predict performance and where failure will occur, and reduce or eliminate the need for costly prototypes. Then we’ll use 3D printers and other tools to automate and streamline actual manufacturing.”

This approach, researchers say, will provide a fundamentally new way for digital information to flow among designers, suppliers, and customers, as well as to and from intelligent machines and workers on the factory floor.

In announcing the grant for this new initiative, President Obama said that digital manufacturing is critical to America’s future.

“The country that gets new products to market faster and at less cost, they’ll win the race for the good jobs of tomorrow,” Obama said. “And if you look at what’s happening in manufacturing, a lot of it is much more specific.  Companies want to keep their inventories low.  They want to respond to consumer demand faster.

“And what that means is, is that manufacturers who can adapt, retool, get something out, change for a particular spec of a particular customer, they’re going to win the competition every time,” Obama said.

Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, most manufacturing has been done by building a prototype based on an original design, then observe what does and doesn’t work. Clearly this approach can work, but it’s slow, wasteful and expensive.

The technology being created at OSU, and other partners in this initiative, is to translate almost 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.

“This field holds great promise to design and test completed machines on a computer before they are ever built,” said Irem Tumer, an OSU professor of mechanical engineering and associate dean for research and economic development in the College of Engineering. “We’ll see what works, identify and solve problems, make any changes desired, and then go straight to commercial production.”

In theory, a new machine should work perfectly the first time it is ever built – because that’s what the computer predicted.

Some strengths that the OSU team will bring to this initiative include virtual testing and performance; automated machining and assembly planning; innovation in conceptual design; automation of difficult design decisions; and process model prediction.

Advances already made at OSU include work on failure propagation analysis; a model repository; verification tools that will ensure the model should work; automated machining and assembly planning; and virtual performance of safety and reliability. Continuing work is studying fault behavior, to determine what will happen if a part fails.

“We’ve already done a lot of work with single parts and 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 it’s also why the support from President Obama and the federal government is so important.

“This infusion of federal and private funding should significantly speed progress in the field,” Tumer said.  “We know these systems are going to work, and we really believe the impact on American manufacturing is going to be extraordinary.”

Media Contact: 

Matt Campbell, 541-737-6549

Sustainable manufacturing system to better consider the human component


The study this story is based on is available online: http://bit.ly/1d1A4YE


CORVALLIS, Ore. – Engineers at Oregon State University have developed a new approach toward “sustainable manufacturing” that begins on the factory floor and tries to encompass the totality of manufacturing issues – including economic, environmental, and social impacts.

This approach, they say, builds on previous approaches that considered various facets of sustainability in a more individual manner. Past methods often worked backward from a finished product and rarely incorporated the complexity of human social concerns.

The findings have been published in the Journal of Cleaner Production, and reflect part of society’s growing demands for manufacturing systems that protect both people and the environment, while still allowing companies to be economically viable and make a profit on their products.

“People around the world – and many government policies – are now demanding higher standards for corporate social responsibility,” said Karl Haapala, an OSU assistant professor of industrial and manufacturing engineering. “In the early days, industry dealt with ‘end-of-pipe’ challenges to reduce pollution or increase efficiency. There’s still a place for that, but we’re trying to solve the problem at the source, to begin the process right at the drawing board or on the shop floor.”

“We want to consider a whole range of issues every step of the way,” Haapala added, “so that sustainability is built into the entire manufacturing process.”

The researchers demonstrated the approach with the production of stainless steel knives, based on an industry project. But the general concepts could be used for virtually any system or product, they said.

With every decision the method considers manufacturing techniques, speed of the operations, environmental impacts, materials, energy used and wastes. Decisions can be based on compliance with laws and regulations, and the effects of different approaches on worker safety and satisfaction.

“This is one of the few approaches to systematically consider the social aspects of the workplace environment, so that people are happy, productive, safe, and can contribute to their families and communities,” said Hao Zhang, a doctoral student in the College of Engineering and graduate research assistant on the study.

“Suppose we make changes that speed up the output of a manufacturing line,” Zhang said. “In theory that might produce more product, but what are the impacts on tool wear, increased down time or worker satisfaction with the job? What about risk of worker injury and the costs associated with that? Every change you make might affect many other issues, but too often those issues are not considered.”

Social components have often been left out in the past, Zhang said, because they were some of the most difficult aspects to scientifically quantify and measure. But health, safety and happiness that start on the workshop floor can ripple through the entire community and society, Haapala said, and they are too important to be pushed aside.

This approach incorporates previous concepts of sustainability that have been found to have proven value, such as “life cycle assessment” of systems that considers the totality of energy used, environmental impacts and other issues. And it lets manufacturers make value judgments about the issues most important to them, so that a system can prioritize one need over another as necessary.

OSU researchers are further developing these approaches in collaboration with Sheldon Manufacturing, Inc., of Cornelius, Ore., a designer and manufacturer of laboratory equipment. This work has been supported by Benchmade Knife Co., Sheldon Manufacturing and the Oregon Metals Initiative.

These demands are a special challenge to small and medium sized companies that may not always have the necessary broad range of engineering expertise, the OSU engineers said. They hope the systems being developed can be implemented at many levels of manufacturing.

Media Contact: 

Karl Haapala, 541-737-3122

Multimedia Downloads

Sustainable manufacturing

On the shop floor

One step at a time, researchers learning how humans walk



The study this story is based on is available online: http://bit.ly/1d1KZ3u


CORVALLIS, Ore. – Humans and some of our hominid ancestors such as Homo erectus have been walking for more than a million years, and researchers are close to figuring out how we do it.

It’s never been completely clear how human beings accomplish the routine, taken-for-granted miracle we call walking, let alone running. But findings published last month in the Journal of Experimental Biology outline a specific interaction between the ankle, knee, muscles and tendons that improve the understanding of a leg moving forward in a way that maximizes motion while using minimal amounts of energy.

The research could find some of its earliest applications in improved prosthetic limbs, said researchers in the College of Engineering at Oregon State University. Later on, a more complete grasp of these principles could lead to walking or running robots that are far more agile and energy-efficient than anything that exists today.

“Human walking is extraordinarily complex and we still don’t understand completely how it works,” said Jonathan Hurst, an OSU professor of mechanical engineering and expert in legged locomotion in robots. There’s a real efficiency to it – walking is almost like passive falling. The robots existing today don’t walk at all like humans, they lack that efficiency of motion and agility.

“When we fully learn what the human leg is doing,” Hurst added, “we’ll be able to build robots that work much better.”

Researchers have long observed some type of high-power “push off” when the leg leaves the ground, but didn’t really understand how it worked. Now they believe they do. The study concluded there are two phases to this motion. The first is an “alleviation” phase in which the trailing leg is relieved of the burden of supporting the body mass.

Then in a “launching” phase the knee buckles, allowing the rapid release of stored elastic energy in the ankle tendons, like the triggering of a catapult.

“We calculated what muscles could do and found it insufficient, by far, for generating this powerful push off,” said Daniel Renjewski, a postdoctoral research associate in the Dynamic Robotics Laboratory at OSU. “So we had to look for a power-amplifying mechanism.

“The coordination of knee and ankle is critical,” he said. “And contrary to what some other research has suggested, the catapult energy from the ankle is just being used to swing the leg, not add large amounts of energy to the forward motion.”

Walking robots don’t do this. Many of them use force to “swing” the leg forward from something resembling a hip point. It can be functional, but it’s neither energy-efficient nor agile. And for more widespread use of mobile robots, energy use is crucially important, the researchers said.

“We still have a long way to go before walking robots can move with as little energy as animals use,” Hurst said. “But this type of research will bring us closer to that.”

The research was supported by the German Research Foundation. The Dynamic Robotics Laboratory at OSU is supported by the Human Frontier Science Program, the National Science Foundation and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, and has helped create some of the leading technology in the world for robots that can walk and run.

One model can run a nine-minute mile and step off a ledge, and others are even more advanced. Robots with the ability to walk and maneuver over uneven terrain could ultimately find applications in prosthetic limbs, an exo-skeleton to assist people with muscular weakness, or use in the military, disaster response or any dangerous situation.

Media Contact: 

Jonathan Hurst, 541-737-7010

Multimedia Downloads

How humans walk

Walking mechanics

Amber fossil reveals ancient reproduction in flowering plants

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A 100-million-year old piece of amber has been discovered which reveals the oldest evidence of sexual reproduction in a flowering plant – a cluster of 18 tiny flowers from the Cretaceous Period – with one of them in the process of making some new seeds for the next generation.

The perfectly-preserved scene, in a plant now extinct, is part of a portrait created in the mid-Cretaceous when flowering plants were changing the face of the Earth forever, adding beauty, biodiversity and food. It appears identical to the reproduction process that “angiosperms,” or flowering plants still use today.

Researchers from Oregon State University and Germany published their findings on the fossils in the Journal of the Botanical Institute of Texas.

The flowers themselves are in remarkable condition, as are many such plants and insects preserved for all time in amber. The flowing tree sap covered the specimens and then began the long process of turning into a fossilized, semi-precious gem. The flower cluster is one of the most complete ever found in amber and appeared at a time when many of the flowering plants were still quite small.

Even more remarkable is the microscopic image of pollen tubes growing out of two grains of pollen and penetrating the flower’s stigma, the receptive part of the female reproductive system. This sets the stage for fertilization of the egg and would begin the process of seed formation – had the reproductive act been completed.

“In Cretaceous flowers we’ve never before seen a fossil that shows the pollen tube actually entering the stigma,” said George Poinar, Jr., a professor emeritus in the Department of Integrative Biology at the OSU College of Science. “This is the beauty of amber fossils. They are preserved so rapidly after entering the resin that structures such as pollen grains and tubes can be detected with a microscope.”

The pollen of these flowers appeared to be sticky, Poinar said, suggesting it was carried by a pollinating insect, and adding further insights into the biodiversity and biology of life in this distant era. At that time much of the plant life was composed of conifers, ferns, mosses, and cycads.  During the Cretaceous, new lineages of mammals and birds were beginning to appear, along with the flowering plants. But dinosaurs still dominated the Earth.

“The evolution of flowering plants caused an enormous change in the biodiversity of life on Earth, especially in the tropics and subtropics,” Poinar said.

“New associations between these small flowering plants and various types of insects and other animal life resulted in the successful distribution and evolution of these plants through most of the world today,” he said. “It’s interesting that the mechanisms for reproduction that are still with us today had already been established some 100 million years ago.”

The fossils were discovered from amber mines in the Hukawng Valley of Myanmar, previously known as Burma. The newly-described genus and species of flower was named Micropetasos burmensis.

Media Contact: 

George Poinar, 541-752-0917

Multimedia Downloads

Ancient flowers

Ancient flower

Pollen tubes

Pollen tubes

OSU spinoff company NuScale to receive up to $226 million to advance nuclear energy

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A promising new form of nuclear power that evolved in part from research more than a decade ago at Oregon State University today received a significant boost: up to $226 million in funding to NuScale Power from the United States Department of Energy.

NuScale began as a spinoff company based on the pioneering research of OSU professor Jose Reyes, and since has become one of the international leaders in the creation of small “modular” nuclear reactors.

This technology holds enormous promise for developing nuclear power with small reactors that can minimize investment costs, improve safety, be grouped as needed for power demands and produce energy without greenhouse gas emissions. The technology also provides opportunities for OSU nuclear engineering students who are learning about these newest concepts in nuclear power.

“This is a wonderful reflection of the value that OSU faculty can bring to our global economy,” said Rick Spinrad, vice president for research at OSU. “The research conducted by Professor Reyes, colleagues and students at OSU has been a fundamental component of the innovation at NuScale.”

NuScale has continued to grow and create jobs in Oregon, and is bringing closer to reality a nuclear concept that could revolutionize nuclear energy. The Obama administration has cited nuclear power as one part of its blueprint to rebuild the American economy while helping to address important environmental issues.

In the early 2000s at OSU, Reyes envisioned a nuclear power reactor that could be manufactured in a factory, be transported to wherever it was needed, grouped as necessary to provide the desired amount of power, and provide another option for nuclear energy. It also would incorporate “passive safety” concepts studied at OSU in the 1990s that are already being used in nuclear power plant construction around the world. The design allows the reactor to shut down automatically, if necessary, using natural forces including gravity and convection.

The Department of Energy announcement represents a milestone in OSU’s increasing commitment to university and business partnerships and its goals of using academic research discoveries to promote new industries, jobs, economic growth, environmental protection and public health.

“OSU has made a strong effort to build powerful partnerships between our research enterprise and the private sector,” said OSU President Edward J. Ray. “The DOE support for NuScale is a vote of confidence in the strategy of building these meaningful relationships, and they are only going to pick up speed with our newest initiative, the OSU Advantage.”

The Oregon State University Advantage connects business with faculty expertise, student talent and world-class facilities to provide research solutions and help bring ideas to market. This effort is in partnership with the Oregon State University Foundation.

News of the NuScale grant award was welcomed by members of Oregon’s Congressional delegation.


“Oregon State University deserves a lot of credit for helping to develop a promising new technology that the Energy Department clearly thinks holds a lot of potential,” said Sen. Ron Wyden, chairman of the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. “Today’s award shows that investing in strong public universities leads to innovative technologies to address critical issues, like the need for low-carbon sources of energy, while creating private sector jobs.”

U.S. Rep. Peter De Fazio added, “Congratulations to NuScale and Oregon State University. This is a big win for the local economy.” 

“This is an exciting time for us, as our students and faculty get incredibly valuable real-world experience in taking an idea through the startup and commercialization process,” said Kathryn Higley, professor and head of the Department of Nuclear Engineering & Radiation Health Physics. “We continue to work with NuScale as it goes through its design certification process, and we are particularly proud of Jose Reyes for his vision, enthusiasm and unwavering commitment to this concept.”

OSU officials say the development of new technologies such as those launched from NuScale could have significant implications for future energy supplies.

“The nation’s investment in the research of small-scale nuclear devices is a significant step toward a diverse and secure energy portfolio,” said Sandra Woods, dean of the College of Engineering at OSU. “Collaborative research is actively continuing between engineers and scientists at Oregon State and NuScale, and we’re proud and grateful for the role Oregon State plays in assisting them in developing cleaner and safer ways to produce energy.

Media Contact: 

Rick Spinrad, 541-737-0662 or 541-220-1915 (cell)