OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY

scientific research and advances

Off-grid power in remote areas will require special business model to succeed

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Low-cost, off-grid solar energy could provide significant economic benefit to people living in some remote areas, but a new study suggests they generally lack the access to financial resources, commercial institutions and markets needed to bring solar electricity to their communities.

Around the world, more than 1.2 billion people lack access to basic electricity service. The majority of those people are living in developing nations, in rural or isolated areas with high rates of poverty. Steep costs and remote terrain often make it impractical or even impossible to extend the electric grid. 

Developing a successful business model that could deliver off-grid power to this market will require addressing challenges unique to the population, an Oregon State University researcher concluded in a study published recently in Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews.

“Surviving and growing in this market is very different than in a typical commercial enterprise,” said Inara Scott, an assistant professor in the College of Business. “There are a lot of people working on off-grid solar products on the small scale, but the problem becomes how can they scale the programs up and make them profitable?” 

When rural, isolated communities do gain access to solar power, the impact on residents can be profound, Scott said. Children are more likely to go to and complete schooling, because they have light to study by. Kerosene lamps, which create a lot of indoor air pollution, are no longer needed, improving people’s health. And work hours are increased, giving people more time to earn money or build home-based businesses.

“Providing electricity starts an incredible cycle of improvement for communities without reliance on charities or government aid,” she said. “There are also environmental benefits to encouraging sustainable development using renewable resources.” 

The market for small solar lighting and charging units has grown dramatically in the last few years, and solar home systems offer cleaner, safer and cheaper lighting over time than kerosene, the primary alternative for lighting in developing nations. But even a small cost can be out of reach for people whose annual incomes are often less than $3,000 per year, Scott said.

She examined successful business models for serving these populations, known as “base of the pyramid” markets, and successful renewable energy enterprises, looking for intersections that might aid businesses looking to market solar energy to base-of-pyramid markets. 

Scott found that a successful enterprise would include four primary components, and she developed a framework around them. Her recommendations:

  • Community interaction: Work with local communities to understand local norms, culture, social issues and economic systems that might influence the effort.
  • Partnerships: Join forces with other companies, government organizations, non-profit groups or non-governmental organizations to share ideas and resources and gain support.
  • Local capacity building: People in the community may lack product knowledge and have little experience with technology, while the community may not have typical distribution channels. Consider the potential customers as both producers and consumers, training local entrepreneurs as distributors, marketers and equipment installation/repair technicians.
  • Barriers unique to the off-grid market: Address issues such as financing of upfront costs, which may be prohibitive to consumers; educate people on the products and their benefits; build trust in quality and reliability; and develop multiple strong distribution networks.

“You’re not going to be successful just trying to sell a product,” she said. “This is really a social enterprise, with the goal of trying to bring people out of poverty while also emphasizing sustainable development.” 

There are a lot of socially-minded enterprises with good intentions that would like to work in these rural, remote and high-poverty areas, Scott noted. Her framework could serve as a checklist of sorts for organizations looking to put their ideas into action, she said.

“It’s a way to pause for a minute and ask yourself if you have all the right pieces in place to be successful,” she said.

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Inara Scott, 541-737-4102, Inara.Scott@oregonstate.edu

Scientists discover a molecular motor has a “gear” for directional switching

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A study published today offers a new understanding of the complex cellular machinery that animal and fungi cells use to ensure normal cell division, and scientists say it could one day lead to new treatment approaches for certain types of cancers.

The research revealed a totally unexpected behavior about a “motor” protein that functions as chromosomes are segregated during cell division. The findings were published in Nature Communications.

The work was led by Weihong Qiu, an assistant professor of physics in the College of Science at Oregon State University, in collaboration with researchers from Henan University in China and the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Maryland.

Motor proteins are tiny molecular machines that convert chemical energy into mechanical work. They are the miniature “vehicles” of a cell, and move on a network of tracks commonly referred to as the cytoskeleton. They shuttle cellular cargos between locations and generate forces to position chromosomes. But in spite of intensive research efforts over many years, mechanisms underlying the actions of many motor proteins are still unclear.

In this study, researchers focused on a particular motor protein, called KlpA, and used a high-sensitivity light microscopy method to directly follow the movement of individual KlpA molecules on the cytoskeleton track. They discovered that KlpA is able to move in opposite directions - an unusual finding. KlpA-like motor proteins are thought to be exclusively one-way vehicles.

The researchers also discovered that KlpA contains a gear-like component that enables it to switch direction of movement. This allows it to localize to different regions inside the cell so it can help ensure that chromosomes are properly divided for normal cell division.  

“In the past, KlpA-like motor proteins were thought to be largely redundant, and as a result they haven’t been studied very much,” Qiu said.

“It’s becoming clear that KlpA-like motors in humans are crucial to cancer cell proliferation and survival. Our results help better understand other KlpA-like motor proteins including the ones from humans, which could eventually lead to novel approaches to cancer treatment.”

Qiu and colleagues say they are excited about their future research, which may uncover the design principle at the atomic level that allows KlpA to move in opposite directions. And there may be other applications.

“KlpA is a fascinating motor protein because it is the first of its kind to demonstrate bidirectional movement,” Qiu said. “It provides a golden opportunity for us to learn from Mother Nature the rules that we can use to design motor protein-based transport devices.  Hopefully in the near future, we could engineer motor protein-based robotics for drug delivery in a more precise and controllable manner.”

The work was done with partial support from the National Science Foundation.

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Weihong Qiu, 541-737-7377

weihong.qiu@physics.oregonstate.edu

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Switching directions
Switching direction

Varmint hunters’ ammo selection influences lead exposure in avian scavengers

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Varmint hunters’ choice of ammunition plays a role in the amount of lead that scavengers such as golden eagles could ingest, a new study shows, and offers a way to minimize the lead exposure to wildlife.

Using a new bullet-fragment recovery technique known as “digestion,” the research also suggests that radiographs, or X-rays, a common tool for estimating how much of the toxic metal left is behind in shot pests or game animals, tend to produce low estimates.

A team of researchers that included Oregon State University undergraduate student Mason Wagner and U.S. Geological Survey scientists collected 127 Belding’s ground squirrel carcasses from alfalfa fields in southern Oregon and northern California.

Eleven western states produce roughly 40 percent of the U.S.’s alfalfa, and burrowing mammals such as ground squirrels and prairie dogs can cause significant yield loss. Shooting the rodents is an important form of pest control as well as a popular recreational pastime throughout the West.

The carcasses are typically left on the fields, where avian scavengers like eagles, hawks and kestrels descend upon the carrion to feed both themselves and their nestlings.

This study looked at how much lead remained in the carcasses and how that correlated with the type of bullet used. Models were also created to estimate from radiographs the amount of lead left in a carcass and the potential effect of the lead on nestlings’ mortality, growth and production of an enzyme critical to the blood’s ability to carry oxygen.

Results of the study by Oregon State’s College of Agricultural Sciences and the USGS were recently published in PLOS ONE.

The research found 80 percent of shot carcasses had detectible fragments of lead. The study also found bullet type didn’t have an effect on the number of fragments, but it did influence the mass of the retained fragments. Also, smaller carcasses showed more “pass-through,” i.e. less retained lead.

Squirrels shot with high-velocity, high-mass .17-caliber Super Mag bullets, for example, had 28 times the retained fragment mass of those shot with .22-caliber solid bullets. One percent of the Super Mags’ original mass was left behind, by far the highest percentage of any ammo type, and the Super Mag fragments also dispersed more than two times farther through the carcass – making them more likely to be eaten by a scavenging animal.

Modeling suggested that hawk and eagle nestlings fed regularly with shot ground squirrels could likely lose more than half the production of the key enzyme ALAD throughout the nestling period, though no nestlings would be expected to die of lead poisoning. They could, though, eat enough lead to impair late-nestling-stage growth, but by then they would have done most of their growing anyway.

The digestion procedure for extracting bullet fragments involved processing carcasses into a solution that was run through sieves and a gold-prospecting sluice box. Researchers used digestion on 30 carcasses to determine a relationship between digestion results and radiography results.

“We found that radiographs are not very accurate at estimating how much lead is left in a carcass,” said study co-author Collin Eagles-Smith, a USGS ecologist and OSU courtesy assistant professor of fisheries and wildlife. “They underestimate density when there are more small fragments. Small ones are the pieces that are more digestible and likely to enter the circulatory system.”

Radiography has also been used to estimate how much lead is present in shot game animals such as deer and elk.

In addition to providing a check on the accuracy of estimating via radiography, the research also suggests a way for hunters to minimize the amount of lead left in varmint carcasses.

“The sheer number of carcasses after a hunting session is a challenge to pick up, assuming you can even find all of the carcasses,” said lead author Garth Herring, also a USGS ecologist. “Picking up every last carcass is not realistic, but there are choices people can make regarding ammunition that may result in smaller amounts of lead in the carcasses left behind.”

Eagles-Smith noted that rodenticides, an alternative to shooting, have their own toxicological implications.

“These pests are really an economic threat to farmers, and shooting them is one method to control their numbers,” he said. “Choosing an ammunition type, such as .22-caliber solid bullets, that creates substantially fewer fragments can be a way to minimize lead exposure to scavengers and other wildlife.” 

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Steve Lundeberg, 541-737-4039

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Belding's Ground Squirrel

Belding's ground squirrel

New tag revolutionizes whale research - and makes them partners in science

NEWPORT, Ore. – A sophisticated new type of “tag” on whales that can record data every second for hours, days and weeks at a time provides a view of whale behavior, biology and travels never before possible, scientists from Oregon State University reported today in a new study.

This “Advanced Dive Behavior,” or ADB tag, has allowed researchers to expand their knowledge of whale ecology to areas deep beneath the sea, over thousands of miles of travel, and outline their interaction with the prey they depend upon for food.

It has even turned whales into scientific colleagues to help understand ocean conditions and climate change.

The findings, just published in the journal Ecology and Evolution, showed sperm whales diving all the way to the sea floor, more than 1000 meters deep, and being submerged for up to 75 minutes. It reported baleen whales lunging after their food; provided a basis to better understand whale reactions to undersea noises such as sonar or seismic exploration; and is helping scientists observe how whales react to changes in water temperature.

The ADB tag is a pretty revolutionary breakthrough,” said Bruce Mate, professor and director of OSU’s Marine Mammal Institute in the College of Agricultural Sciences. “This provides us a broad picture of whale behavior and ecology that we’ve never had before.

“This technology has even made whales our partners in acquiring data to better understand ocean conditions and climate change,” Mate said. “It gives us vast amounts of new data about water temperatures through space and time, over large distances and in remote locations. We’re learning more about whales, and the whales are helping us to learn more about our own planet.”

The new tag, the researchers say, expands by several orders of magnitude the observations that can be made of whale feeding and behavior. Researchers say it’s showing what whales do while underwater; when, how and where they feed; how they might be affected by passing ships or other noises; and what types of water temperatures they prefer.

In the new study, researchers outlined the continued evolution and improvements made in the ADB technology from 2007-15, in which it was used on sperm, blue and fin whales. The research has been supported by the Office of Naval Research, the U.S. Navy and the International Association of Oil and Gas Producers.

“By using this technology on three different species, we’ve seen the full range of behavior that is specific to each species,” said Daniel Palacios, a co-author on the study. “Sperm whales, for instance, really like to dive deep, staying down a long time and appearing to forage along the seafloor at times. During summer the baleen whales will feed as much as possible in one area, and then they move on, probably after the prey density gets too low.”

Unlike earlier technology that could not return data from the deep sea for much longer than a day, the new ADB tags are designed to acquire data constantly, for up to seven weeks at a time, before they detach from the whale, float to the surface and are retrieved in the open sea to download data. The retrieval itself is a little tricky – scientists compare it to searching for a hamburger floating in thousands of square miles of open ocean – but it has worked pretty well, thanks to the tags transmitting GPS-quality locations and flashing LED lights once they have released.

The tag can sense water depth, whale movement and body orientation, water temperature and light levels.

“With this system we can acquire much more data at a lower cost, with far less commitment of time by ships and personnel,” said Ladd Irvine, the corresponding author on the study. “This tag type yields amazing results. It’s going to significantly expand what we can accomplish, learning both about whale ecology and the ocean itself.”

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Bruce Mate, 541-867-0202

bruce.mate@oregonstate.edu

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Whale tag

Whale with tag


Whale tag 2

Whale with tag

Whale travels
Whale travel and feeding

Advance in intense pulsed light sintering opens door to improved electronics manufacturing

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Faster production of advanced, flexible electronics is among the potential benefits of a discovery by researchers at Oregon State University’s College of Engineering.

Taking a deeper look at photonic sintering of silver nanoparticle films – the use of intense pulsed light, or IPL, to rapidly fuse functional conductive nanoparticles – scientists uncovered a relationship between film temperature and densification. Densification in IPL increases the density of a nanoparticle thin-film or pattern, with greater density leading to functional improvements such as greater electrical conductivity.

The engineers found a temperature turning point in IPL despite no change in pulsing energy, and discovered that this turning point appears because densification during IPL reduces the nanoparticles’ ability to absorb further energy from the light.

This previously unknown interaction between optical absorption and densification creates a new understanding of why densification levels off after the temperature turning point in IPL, and further enables large-area, high-speed IPL to realize its full potential as a scalable and efficient manufacturing process.

Rajiv Malhotra, assistant professor of mechanical engineering at OSU, and graduate student Shalu Bansal conducted the research. The results were recently published in Nanotechnology.

“For some applications we want to have maximum density possible,” Malhotra said. “For some we don’t. Thus, it becomes important to control the densification of the material. Since densification in IPL depends significantly on the temperature, it is important to understand and control temperature evolution during the process. This research can lead to much better process control and equipment design in IPL.”

Intense pulsed light sintering allows for faster densification – in a matter of seconds – over larger areas compared to conventional sintering processes such as oven-based and laser-based. IPL can potentially be used to sinter nanoparticles for applications in printed electronics, solar cells, gas sensing and photocatalysis.

Earlier research showed that nanoparticle densification begins above a critical optical fluence per pulse but that it does not change significantly beyond a certain number of pulses.

This OSU study explains why, for a constant fluence, there is a critical number of pulses beyond which the densification levels off.

“The leveling off in density occurs even though there’s been no change in the optical energy and even though densification is not complete,” Malhotra said. “It occurs because of the temperature history of the nanoparticle film, i.e. the temperature turning point. The combination of fluence and pulses needs to be carefully considered to make sure you get the film density you want.”

A smaller number of high-fluence pulses quickly produces high density. For greater density control, a larger number of low-fluence pulses is required.

“We were sintering in around 20 seconds with a maximum temperature of around 250 degrees Celsius in this work,” Malhotra. “More recent work we have done can sinter within less than two seconds and at much lower temperatures, down to around 120 degrees Celsius. Lower temperature is critical to flexible electronics manufacturing. To lower costs, we want to print these flexible electronics on substrates like paper and plastic, which would burn or melt at higher temperatures. By using IPL, we should be able to create production processes that are both faster and cheaper, without a loss in product quality.”

Products that could evolve from the research, Malhotra said, are radiofrequency identification tags, a wide range of flexible electronics, wearable biomedical sensors, and sensing devices for environmental applications.

The advance in IPL resulted from a four-year, $1.5 million National Science Foundation Scalable Nanomanufacturing Grant in collaboration with OSU researchers Chih-hung Chang, Alan Wang and Greg Herman. The grant focuses on overcoming scientific barriers to industry-level nanomanufacturing. Support also came from the Murdock Charitable Trust and the Oregon Nanoscience and Microtechnologies Institute.

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Steve Lundeberg, 541-737-4039

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unsintered and sintered

Unsintered, left, and sintered nanoparticles

Wave energy center receives $40 million to construct world’s premier test facility

NEWPORT, Ore. – Oregon State University’s Northwest National Marine Renewable Energy Center today was awarded up to $40 million from the U.S. Department of Energy, to create the world’s premier wave energy test facility in Newport.

The NNMREC facility, known as the Pacific Marine Energy Center South Energy Test Site, or PMEC-SETS, is planned to be operational by 2020. It will be able to test wave energy “converters” that harness the energy of ocean waves and turn it into electricity. Companies around the world are already anticipating construction of the new facility to test and perfect their technologies, OSU officials say.

“We anticipate this will be the world’s most advanced wave energy test facility,” said Belinda Batten, the director of NNMREC and a professor in the OSU College of Engineering.

“This is a tribute to the support we received from the state of Oregon, and the efforts of many other people who have worked for the past four years – in some cases since the mid-2000s – to see this facility become a reality. It will play an integral role in moving forward on the testing and refinement of wave energy technologies.”

Those technologies, Batten said, are complex and expensive.

“These devices have to perform in hostile ocean conditions; stand up to a 100-year storm; be energy efficient, durable, environmentally benign – and perhaps most important, cost-competitive with other energy sources,” Batten said. “This facility will help answer all of those questions, and is literally the last step before commercialization.”

The DOE award is subject to appropriations, federal officials said today, and will be used to design, permit, and construct an open-water, grid-connected national wave energy testing facility. It will include four grid-connected test berths.

“OSU researchers are already international leaders on several new sources of energy that will be dependable, cost-competitive and efficient,” said OSU President Edward J. Ray.

“This is another enormous step for alternative energy, especially for an energy resource that Oregon is so well-suited to pursue. In coming years this new facility, aided by the assistance of OSU experts, will provide great learning opportunities for our students and have repercussions for wave energy development around the world.”

In making the award, the agency noted that more than 50 percent of the U.S. population lives within 50 miles of coastlines, offering America the potential to develop a domestic wave energy industry that could help provide reliable power to coastal regions.

Investments in marine and hydrokinetic energy technology will encourage domestic manufacturing, create jobs, and advance this technology to help achieve the nation’s energy goals, DOE officials said in their announcement of this award. Studies have estimated that even if only a small portion of the energy available from waves is recovered, millions of homes could be powered.

The new facility and award also received support from a range of academic and political leaders:

Oregon U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden: “This is great news for OSU and its partners and will launch a new level of local job creation and clean energy innovation. Oregon will use this opportunity to build on its solid position nationally and internationally as a leader in renewable wave energy."

Oregon U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley: "This is a huge success story for Oregon State University, and I thank the Department of Energy for helping us harness the enormous potential of wave energy off the Oregon coast. This test facility will make Oregon the leader in bringing wave energy to the United States, which will create good-paying local jobs, and strengthen our coastal economies."

Oregon U.S. Rep. Kurt Schrader: "Being able to tap into our rich marine energy resources will unleash the potential for billions of dollars in investment along our coastlines. The research that will be made possible through this grant is absolutely critical to the full and effective implementation of wave energy converters into the U.S. green energy portfolio. This federal support is terrific news for OSU and the entire local economy as it allows Oregonians to lead the pack here at home on wave energy."

Oregon U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici: "OSU is at the forefront of wave energy research. Wave energy has tremendous potential as a renewable resource to put our country on a path to a clean energy future. This critical federal support will allow the university, researchers, and students to continue to investigate and test the potential of wave energy. With this investment we are one important step closer to harnessing the power of the ocean to meet our nation’s clean energy needs, create good-paying jobs, and spur economic growth in our communities.”

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown: “I commend the talented team of Oregon State University researchers, staff, and students who lead the nation in research and development of wave energy technology. This U.S. Department of Energy grant announcement of up to $40 million leverages years of work and partnership with our state. This innovative work will contribute to Oregon and the nation’s clean energy mix of the future.”

Oregon State Sen. Arnie Roblan: “After the work of the coastal caucus during the 2016 session to secure a state match for this grant, I am pleased by this news. This grant will enable cutting edge research that will bring a variety of individual innovators to the Oregon coast. We are uniquely positioned to help the nation determine the efficacy of their energy devices to Oregon.”

Cynthia Sagers, vice president for research at OSU: “This award is a major win for Dr. Batten and her team.  It comes after years of collaboration among OSU researchers, state and federal agencies, and industry partners. With it, we are one step closer to a clean, affordable and reliable energy future.”

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Belinda Batten, 541-737-9492

belinda.batten@oregonstate.edu

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Wave energy test site
Wave energy test center

OSU, PNNL to lead part of a major national program in ‘chemical process intensification’

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Oregon State University and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratories will co-direct a key component of a new five-year, $70 million advanced manufacturing institute, with the goal of greater energy efficiency, increased manufacturing innovation, and more jobs in the nation’s chemical industries.  

The new institute, Rapid Advancement of Process Intensification Deployment, or RAPID, was announced last week by the U.S. Department of Energy. It will be coordinated by the American Institute of Chemical Engineers.

“Through matching grants and other support by state governments, private businesses and industry, this will encourage more than $140 million of technology development, education and training,” said Scott Ashford, the Kearney Professor and dean of the OSU College of Engineering.

“The emphasis will be on chemical process intensification, which is the development of chemical manufacturing equipment that is smaller, lighter-weight and more energy efficient. The result will be lower costs, and modular production of chemical plants that will help to boost the nation’s economic growth.”

OSU and PNNL, who have worked collaboratively for more than a decade to develop and commercialize process intensification technologies, will lead the Module Manufacturing Focus Area within the RAPID institute, and work with chemical equipment suppliers to advance lower-cost process intensification equipment. To date, RAPID consists of 75 companies, 34 academic institutions, seven national laboratories and other organizations.

“The selection of OSU and our colleagues at PNNL to lead this focus area is a tribute to 15 years of commitment by state leaders, Oregon businesses and our research universities,” said Brian Paul, the Tom and Carmen West Faculty Scholar of Manufacturing Engineering in the OSU College of Engineering, and leader of the new focus area.

“That long-term commitment is what it takes to become a national player that can advance technology with industry and create new job opportunities for Oregonians. Contract negotiations to finalize funding for the new institute are underway, and we hope to hit the ground running by next summer, launching some of the projects outlined in the original RAPID proposal.”

The new focus area, Paul said, is an outgrowth of the collaboration between OSU and PNNL through the Microproducts Breakthrough Institute which began in 2001. The success of that partnership has evolved into the Advanced Technology and Manufacturing Institute, located on the Hewlett Packard campus in Corvallis. It focuses on the research and commercialization of advanced materials and technologies being developed within OSU, in concert with research partners across Oregon and throughout the world.

The broader program approved last week will seek to improve domestic energy productivity, energy efficiency, cut operating costs and reduce waste in chemical industries as diverse as oil and gas, pulp and paper, and biofuel processing. Improved technologies, officials say, have the potential to save more than $9 billion annually just in process costs. Gains of 20 percent in efficiency and productivity within five years are being sought.

“In the module manufacturing focus area, we’ll work to create chemical equipment that is lighter, smaller and less expensive than existing equipment,” Paul said. “This will enable distributed chemical processing, like efforts to use solar energy to augment the energy content of natural gas. This could reduce greenhouse gas emissions, using solar thermal processes that are 70 percent solar-to-chemical efficient.”

The RAPID institute will work with downstream module manufactures and chemical companies to identify common intensified components that need to be mass produced.  By pooling resources and combining markets, these companies will encourage suppliers to make capital investments critical to reducing intensified component costs. And cheaper, lighter-weight equipment will enable module manufacturers to build chemical plants with greater efficiency and lower costs.

All of these steps, officials say, will improve the competitiveness of U.S. chemicals on the world stage.

The state of Oregon made significant cost share contributions to the RAPID institute, Paul said, which will help Oregon companies lead the way in creating new high-wage jobs and products to export from the Pacific Northwest.

This is the tenth institute aimed at improving the nation’s manufacturing competitiveness through a multi-agency network known as Manufacturing USA, supported with $700 million from the federal government. RAPID is one part of a commitment by the Obama administration to double U.S. energy productivity by 2030. The goal of all of these programs is to ultimately become self-supporting with heavy business and industry involvement.

OSU and Oregon expertise in microchannel manufacturing, 3D-inkjet printing, advanced materials, fine chemicals, microelectronics, food and beverage, advanced wood products, bio-refining, and carbon-free power generation - such as small modular nuclear reactors - are all part of the technological ecosystem that could benefit from RAPID investments in Oregon, officials say.

“The cumulative economic impact from these industries could one day mean billions of dollars and thousands of high-wage jobs for Oregonians,” Paul said. “We are creating the building blocks for an economy with staying power and the ability to export sustainable technologies to the world.”

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Brian Paul, 541-737-7320

brian.paul@oregonstate.edu

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Chemical reactor
Chemical reactor

New study: Weakening of North Atlantic current can be prevented by reducing carbon emissions

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Continued melting of the Greenland Ice Sheet could have a significant impact on the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation, a system of surface and deep ocean currents – including the Gulf Stream – in the Atlantic Ocean that keeps upper North America and Europe temperate.

A new international study incorporating a comprehensive assessment of Greenland Ice Sheet melting suggests the freshwater influx could weaken the AMOC over the next three centuries, though the impact could be offset if human-caused carbon emissions decline and global temperatures stabilize.

However, if carbon emissions continue unabated, there is a 44 percent likelihood of a collapse of the system by the year 2300, the researchers say.

The findings are being published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

“Previous studies and assessment reports, including those from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, have not considered the impacts on the AMOC from melting of the Greenland Ice Sheet, or they have looked at it simplistically,” said Andreas Schmittner, an Oregon State University climate scientist and co-author on the study.

“Our study, using eight state-of-the-science global climate models, incorporates a realistic assessment of the ice sheet melting and shows a definite weakening of the AMOC system, but one that can be partially mitigated by a decline in carbon emissions.”

The study also suggests that the freshwater influx from melting of the Greenland Ice Sheet will have less of an impact on the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation than will overall global warming, rising sea surface temperatures, and intensification of the water cycle leading to more precipitation and evaporation.

“The good news is that we can still do something to lessen the impact of AMOC weakening and prevent an unlikely, but still possible collapse of the system,” said lead author Pepijn Bakker, a former post-doctoral researcher at Oregon State University now with the MARUM Center for Marine Environmental Studies at the University of Bremen in Germany.

“Our models predict that the ice sheet may not melt as rapidly as another recent study has suggested, but everything comes down to what will we in the United States, and people in other countries, do to lessen our carbon emissions.”

The Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation brings warm waters up from the tropics and transports cooler water to the south. A weakening of the system could mean that the North Atlantic would not warm as rapidly or thoroughly as it does now, affecting regional climate in North America and northern Europe.

The AMOC also is important for preserving ocean ecosystems, affecting nutrient transport.

“A weakening of the AMOC system would probably lead to more stratification of ocean waters and less biological productivity,” Schmittner said. “It may create more sea ice in the North Atlantic, which could be beneficial in some ways. At the same time, however, it would likely reduce the transport of cooler water to the south and shift rainfall patterns near the equator.”

The study was supported by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and several other agencies.

 

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Andreas Schmittner, 541-737-9952, aschmittner@coas.oregonstate.edu;

Pepijn Bakker, 004942121865435, pbakker@marum.de

Undersea volcano may provide clues to terrestrial eruptions

NEWPORT, Ore. – The Axial Seamount, located some 300 miles off the Oregon Coast, has become one of the most intensely studied volcanoes on Earth – and it may provide clues to better understand how and when terrestrial volcanoes erupt.

Three new papers published this week detail the workings of the most active undersea volcano in the northeast Pacific Ocean, which erupted in 1998, 2011 and 2015 – the latter of which was forecast seven months in advance by researchers from Oregon State University, NOAA’s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory, and the University of North Carolina at Wilmington.

The key to the researchers’ forecast was a gradual inflation of the seafloor created by intruding magma, noted William Chadwick, an Oregon State volcanologist and co-author on two of the three papers, which are being published in Science and Geophysical Research Letters. Chadwick also is with NOAA’s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory.

“We’re beginning to really understand how this volcano works and some of these lessons can be applied to other volcanoes in a general way,” Chadwick said. “During its eruptions, Axial’s seafloor drops suddenly by about eight feet, and then over the next several years it gradually rises back up. When it re-inflates to a certain level, the volcano is almost ready to erupt again.

“Axial inflates and deflates like a balloon, except it’s filling with magma instead of air.”

Chadwick said that following the 2015 eruption, Axial began re-inflating rapidly at first but the rate has been slowing. The volcano has regained just less than half of the eight feet of seafloor it lost during the 2015 eruption.

“Now we’ll just have to watch and see how fast it builds back up,” Chadwick said. “We’ll be trying to forecast the next eruption again, but right now it’s a little too early to tell.”

Chadwick calls Axial Seamount a “great natural laboratory” because it is close to land, has a simple structure and is frequently active, yet not a hazard to people.

“Ironically, in some ways we can learn more about how volcanoes work by studying them underwater because the seismic imaging works so much better in the oceans,” Chadwick said. “Previous surveys created the images of where the magma is and because ships can go everywhere over the volcano we get a lot more data. On land, you have to drill a hole, set off an explosion, and record it with a few scattered seismometers. It’s not nearly as effective.”

That previous seismic data helped the researchers interpret the monitoring data collected during the 2015 eruption.

The researchers also have benefited from the Ocean Observatories Initiative, a National Science Foundation-funded program to study the world’s oceans that includes the Cabled Array, a network of sensors that helped them make real-time seismicity and geodetic measurements.

The instruments recorded a growing number of tiny earthquakes that increased from fewer than 500 a day to more than 2,000. During the eruption, there were 600 earthquakes every hour, according to William Wilcock at the University of Washington.

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Research outlines how low-dose aspirin can help prevent cancer

PORTLAND, Ore. – Researchers have outlined for the first time a key mechanism by which low-dose aspirin may inhibit cancer cell proliferation and metastasis.

Aspirin reduces the ability of blood platelets to raise the levels of a particular protein that can support malignant cells and allow them to survive and spread, scientists say.

It has long been known that low-dose, or “baby” aspirin can have some benefits in protection against cardiovascular disease, and there’s increasing evidence it may be useful in cancer prevention as well – especially colon cancer. The new study reveals at least one of the ways the cancer inhibition may take place.

The research was published by scientists from Oregon Health & Science University and Oregon State University in AJP-Cell Physiology, with support from the National Institutes of Health, the American Heart Association and Altarum Institute.

Low-dose aspirin does not appear to directly affect cancer cells, the researchers said. Instead, it inhibits the normal function of blood platelets and reduces their ability to upregulate an “oncoprotein” called c-MYC, which plays an important role in cancer cell proliferation and survival.

“The benefit of aspirin may be due to its effect on blood cells called platelets, rather than acting directly on tumor cells,” said senior author Owen McCarty, a professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering at Oregon Health & Science University.

“Our work suggests that the anti-cancer action of aspirin might be in part as follows: during their transit in the blood, circulating tumor cells interact with platelets, which spur tumor cell survival by activating oncoproteins such as c-MYC. The inhibition of platelets with aspirin therapy reduces this signaling between platelets and tumor cells, thus indirectly reducing tumor cell growth.”

C-MYC in its normal biological role orchestrates the expression of more than 15 percent of all genes, including those involved in cell cycles, survival, protein synthesis and cell metabolism. But it also appears to be overexpressed, the researchers said, in a large number of human cancers, including colon, pancreas, breast, lung and prostate cancers.

“Early cancer cells live in what’s actually a pretty hostile environment, where the immune system regularly attacks and attempts to eliminate them,” said Craig Williams, a professor in the OSU/OHSU College of Pharmacy, and co-author on the study. “Blood platelets can play a protective role for those early cancer cells and aid metastasis. Inhibition with aspirin appears to interfere with that process and c-MYC may explain part of that mechanism.”

Also of interest, the researchers said, is that this effect of aspirin on platelet function is as great at low doses as it is at the higher doses which are sometimes used to treat inflammation, headaches or pain. This is consistent with epidemiological studies which show that the anti-cancer benefit of aspirin occurs at these very low doses.

This is significant, because using low doses of aspirin allows clinicians to minimize the risk of bleeding, which is a serious concern with any antiplatelet medication.

Blood platelets in healthy biological systems play an important role in blood clotting after injuries, and also in the repair of the walls of blood vessels. Unfortunately, they have also been found to play a role in tumor survival, growth, proliferation and metastasis.

This study shows for the first time the ability of platelets to regulate the expression of the oncoprotein c-MYC in cancer cells. Elevated expression of c-MYC has been found in almost one-third of colon cancers and 42 percent of advanced pancreatic cancer, the researchers noted in the study.

Anyone considering use of low-dose aspirin should do so only in consultation with their physician, researchers said, in order to balance the potential benefits against known risks.

“Because the interaction between platelets and cancer cells is believed to occur early… the use of anti-platelet doses of aspirin might serve as a safe and efficacious preventive measure for patients at risk for cancer,” the researchers wrote in their conclusion.

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Craig Williams, 503-494-1598

williacr@ohsu.edu