honors college

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

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Ancient flowers

Ancient flower

Pollen tubes

Pollen tubes

Oregon State Honors College Rated Among the Best

CORVALLIS, Ore. – The Oregon State University Honors College was rated among the top 22 honors colleges in the nation in 2014 by Public University Press, a private organization.

The rating confirms the distinctive opportunities that Oregon State provides for high-achieving students, said Toni Doolen, dean of the OSU University Honors College. It complements Oregon State’s 2014 rating as a Best Buy School by the “Fiske Guide to Colleges.”

In recent years, Oregon State and the University Honors College have made it a priority to inform high-achieving students about the benefits of the honors experience at Oregon State. As a result, honors college applications, student enrollment and degrees awarded have increased significantly.

“These recent rankings indicate that Oregon State and the University Honors College are providing an affordable and valuable option for high-achieving students,” said Doolen.

Among 50 honors colleges rated by Public University Press, Oregon State received a 4.5 on a scale from 3 to 5, with 5 being the best. Also receiving 4.5 ratings were honors colleges at the University of Washington, Purdue, Clemson and the University of Oregon.

Among the criteria used to evaluate colleges were class size, course diversity, graduation requirements and actual graduation rate.

Rather than being taught by a select group of faculty, honors courses can be offered by any Oregon State professor. “That means we offer an immensely diverse range of courses and experiences in small classes,” said Doolen. “A lot of our courses are taught in a graduate format where there’s more discussion.”

All honors college graduates must complete honors course work and produce a thesis that they defend before a faculty committee, similar to the process for a graduate program. Access to all theses is provided by OSU’s Scholar’s Archive.

“We look for students who want to think deeply and engage in the scholarship of the university. In return we offer transformative academic and experiential opportunities,” Doolen added.

About 1,100 students are enrolled in Oregon State’s University Honors College, which was established in 1995.

Media Contact: 

Toni Doolen, 541-737-5974

Four Oregon State University students honored by Barry M. Goldwater Foundation

CORVALLIS, Ore. — Three Oregon State University students have been awarded the prestigious Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship, an annual award given to the nation’s top undergraduate student research scholars in science, math and engineering by the federally endowed Goldwater Foundation.

A fourth student has received an honorable mention, making this OSU’s most successful year ever in the annual competition.

“Each campus is allowed to nominate four students for the award and for the first time, all four students nominated by OSU were recognized by the national Goldwater selection committee,” said Kevin Ahern, director of undergraduate research at Oregon State.

The one- and two-year scholarships cover the cost of tuition, fees, books and room and board up to $7,500 per year.

The four awardees are all students in the University Honors College and the College of Science.

Helen Hobbs, a junior from Butte, Mont., is majoring in biochemistry/biophysics. She is a two-time participant in the Howard Hughes Medical Institute program and is researching the molecular basis of aging with professor Tory Hagen. She aspires to a research career.

Thomas Pitts, a junior from Ontario, Ore., is a math major conducting research in mathematics education and theoretical mathematics, with an emphasis on algebra and number theory. He has worked in OSU’s Research Experiences for Undergraduates Program and studies under professor Tevian Dray. His goal is research and teaching at the university level.

Justin Zhang, a junior from Beaverton, is majoring in biochemistry/biophysics. He has worked with associate professor Jeffrey Greenwood since his freshman year studying glioblastoma, a type of malignant brain cancer. Zhang has done internships at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and Sloan-Kettering. He is looking forward to a research career in human health.

James Rekow, a sophomore majoring in biochemistry/biophysics from Portland, works with associate professor Andrew Buermeyer on mechanisms of DNA repair and mutation relating to colon cancer. He has been involved in undergraduate research since his freshman year, including an internship at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. After attaining his Ph.D. in Environmental and Molecular Toxicology, Rekow plans to conduct research in genetic toxicology and teach at the university level.

The Scholarship Program honoring Senator Barry Goldwater was designed to foster and encourage outstanding students to pursue careers in the fields of mathematics, the natural sciences and engineering, according to Peggy Goldwater Clay, who chairs the foundation’s board of trustees.

Media Contact: 

Kevin Ahern, 541-737-2305

University Honors College

About the University Honors College: The University Honors College awards OSU's most prestigious undergraduate degree, the Honors Baccalaureate – one of only a dozen such degrees in the nation. Honors students are drawn from all majors across the campus, holding dual citizenship in their academic department and in Honors. Honors graduates complete a thesis and leave OSU leadership-ready.

OSU names Toni Doolen dean of the University Honors College

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Toni Doolen, an Oregon State University engineering professor who has been associate dean of the University Honors College since September 2010, was named by OSU to head the nationally recognized honors program.

Doolen succeeds Dan Arp, who recently was named dean of OSU’s College of Agricultural Sciences.

The University Honors College has become a national model for honors programs. It has been a magnet for high-achieving students, particularly from Oregon high schools. The OSU program also draws some of the university’s top faculty to teach the small, interactive classes, and to mentor students one-on-one during their thesis experience.

“The University Honors College has enjoyed great success and applications are at an all-time high,” said Sabah Randhawa, OSU provost and executive vice president. “Toni Doolen has played a role in that recent success and she will help us continue the momentum as we seek to increase our enrollment of high-achieving students in the college and at OSU, and continue to improve the impact of the program on our teaching and learning environment.”

Doolen has been on the faculty at Oregon State since 2001, and is a professor in the School of Mechanical, Industrial & Manufacturing Engineering, where she also has been associate head for undergraduate programs.

Prior to joining the OSU faculty, she had a successful career in private industry, working as a process engineer, a manufacturing systems engineer, and a manager with Hewlett-Packard – with the Optical Communications Division in San Jose, Calif.,  and the Inkjet Supplies Business Unit in Corvallis.

She earned her Ph.D. in industrial and manufacturing engineering at OSU in 2001, just before joining the faculty. Doolen has two bachelor’s degrees from Cornell University, and a master’s degree from Stanford.

The University Honors College was established at Oregon State in 1995 by the Oregon State Board of Education. It enrolls about 800 students, many of whom were valedictorians or salutatorians at their high schools.

Media Contact: 

Sabah Randhawa, 541-737-2111

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Toni Doolen

Ferngren, Moore honored by OSU’s University Honors College

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Oregon State University professors Kathleen Dean Moore and Gary Ferngren have been selected by OSU’s University Honors College for its Eminent Professor Awards for 2011. These awards recognize outstanding OSU faculty for their academic achievements and service to the honors college and its students.

Moore, who holds the university’s “Distinguished Professor” title, is a faculty member in the Department of Philosophy and the founding director of the Spring Creek Project. She is a leading writer and scholar on environmental ethics and the author of several books and essay collections on the natural world. Moore has brought environmental philosophy to popular audiences and professionals, and engaged students on the topic.

During this past winter term, she taught a University Honors College course in “Practical Reasoning for the Environmental Professional,” that culminated in a March weekend spent in the snowy forests of the McKenzie River headwaters, where students discussed the moral issues ingrained in the daily work of natural resource professionals.

Ferngren was recognized as a 2011 Sandy and Elva Sanders Eminent Professor for his years of service to the University Honors College. He is a professor in the Department of History with research interests in the histories of religion, ancient medicine, and the relationship between science and religion. Like Moore, he is recognized as one of OSU’s top teachers, and has shown special commitment to the University Honors College.

For more than 30 years, Ferngren has offered a colloquium in the works of C.S. Lewis, first for the OSU Honors Program and, since its founding in 1995, for the University Honors College. The course has become a favorite institution in the UHC curriculum, and it has consistently received superlative reviews from students.

The Eminent Professor awards are made possible through the support of donors, particularly Ruth Beyer and Joseph (Sandy) and Cheryl Sanders.


Kathleen Dean Moore, 541-737-5652; Gary Ferngren, 541-737-1262

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Gary Ferngren

Gary Ferngren

Kathleen Dean Moore

Kathleen Dean Moore