OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY

scientific research and advances

“Pan-Pacific Test Site” to aid growth of unmanned aerial systems

CORVALLIS, Ore. – The Federal Aviation Administration has chosen the states of Alaska, Oregon and Hawaii to operate one of six test sites for unmanned aircraft systems, the agency announced today.

The test site, led by the University of Alaska and including Oregon State University, will be collectively known as the Pan-Pacific Test Site. It will offer unique terrain and scientific capabilities to help develop the future of unmanned aerial vehicles for civilian uses, in everything from crop monitoring to search-and-rescue or fighting forest fires.

The initiative is also a critical step forward for Oregon to be a major player in the evolution of this new industry, with the advances in science, manufacturing and employment opportunities that it offers.

“This will help put OSU and the state of Oregon on the map for the future of unmanned aerial systems,” said Rick Spinrad, vice president for research at OSU. “As one of only six test sites in the nation, we’ll be able to fly UAVs more freely and actively, get our students involved in an evolving industry, and help Oregon take advantage of research, development and manufacturing that will be needed.”

The FAA was given a mandate by Congress to integrate civilian use of unmanned aerial vehicles into the nation’s skies by 2015, and the six test sites just announced will explore airspace use, safety, certification, technological development, environmental and human factors and many other issues.

The FAA made its decision on the sites after considering 25 proposals from 24 states.

The Pan-Pacific Test Site will combine OSU’s historic strengths in remote sensing, platform development and other fields with extensive flying experience and Department of Defense collaboration at the University of Alaska and in Hawaii. The three states also offer an extraordinary range of terrain in which to test new systems: mountains, rivers, valleys, high desert, Arctic tundra, volcanoes, many types of forest and agricultural areas, and tropical islands.

Three specific areas in Oregon are already designated for use in the new test sites, Spinrad said. They include the Warm Springs Reservation in the central Oregon Cascade Range; the Pacific Ocean off Tillamook; and areas near Pendleton in eastern Oregon.

A range of air operations are already under way near Pendleton, and the Tillamook site will offer interesting marine and coastal research options. In cooperation with their tribal council, work done at the Warm Springs Reservation site will provide a range of alpine, river, forest and agricultural areas in which to test various types of devices.

Unmanned aerial systems in civilian use are expected to become a multi-billion dollar industry while opening new opportunities in scientific research and student education. OSU has worked closely with such collaborators as Economic Development for Central Oregon, the U.S. Department of Defense, OSU-Cascades Campus, the state of Oregon, Oregon Congressional leaders, private industry and others to help get the state involved.

It’s envisioned that a multitude of devices in the future will fly, walk, swim or crawl to perform valuable or dangerous tasks at very modest expense. Largely because they will be so much cheaper, routine uses in agriculture are planned, environmental monitoring could be improved, forest or crop diseases could be spotted early, fire fighting or search-and-rescue might be enhanced.

Oregon already has a large aviation industry in such fields as helicopters, small aircraft, aviation components and other technology. Along with the state’s exceptional range of terrain in which to test new devices, this makes it a natural location in which to help unmanned aerial systems grow.

Further development of the industry, officials say, will require technological advances, regulatory work to ensure privacy rights, improved manufacturing to lower costs, and many other steps.

Other locations for test sites announced today included universities or facilities in Nevada, New York, North Dakota, Texas and Virginia.

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Rick Spinrad, 541-737-0664

Phillips named director for OSU Office of Research Development

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Mary Phillips has been named director for the Office of Research Development, a new unit within the Research Office, effective Dec. 1.

Phillips is associate director for the Office for Commercialization and Corporate Development, where she oversees the management of intellectual property and licensing of OSU inventions. In her new role, Phillips will work with faculty and academic units to identify and pursue major funding opportunities, including federal, non-profit and corporate sources.

The creation of the Office for Research Development is a proactive step by the Research Office that addresses the challenge and goals articulated in the OSU research agenda by providing strategic institutional support for successful proposal development, Phillips said.

"What excites me about this position is the role I will play in developing new approaches that will enable our faculty to be highly competitive in securing grant funding in these times of dwindling federal funding and sequestration," Phillips noted. "This in itself is a grand challenge."

Vice President for Research Rick Spinrad said there is a lot of untapped potential for building OSU’s capacity and reputation.

“By establishing an Office of Research Development, we have created the structure to engage in strategic positioning of our research enterprise, long before specific solicitations for research are issued,” Spinrad said. “As part of OSU’s research agenda we are striving to diversify our sponsorship base.  We’ve done this very successfully with our industry engagement (40 percent increase in two years), now we have the staff and organization to start doing the same with other sponsors, notably federal agencies.”

Spinrad anticipates that OSU will dramatically increase the number of federal agencies supporting its research, and that OSU will take a much more forward-leaning posture in driving the research interests of traditional sponsors. 

“In addition, Mary’s role will allow us to be much more effective in strengthening our proposal efforts - for example by being more strategic in how we address ‘broader impacts,’” Spinrad said. “This is particularly important as general decreases in federal funding for research make for an even more competitive environment.”

Phillips will be supported by an advisory group that will consist of senior faculty representing each of the divisions within the university.

Prior to joining OSU in 2006, Phillips began her career in university technology transfer in 2001 at Oregon Health and Science University. She has a Ph.D. in physical chemistry from the University of London’s Imperial College of Science, Technology and Medicine and gained postdoctoral experience in the areas of laser spectroscopy and molecular biology at the University of Oregon. 

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Mary Phillips

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OSU receives $1.25 million CDC grant to study Medicaid expansion in Oregon

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Oregon State University and the Oregon Health Authority have received $1.25 million from the Centers for Disease Control to study the health impact of opening the Oregon Health Plan to more people.

The five-year study will evaluate how the health of low-income women and their infants is affected when more of them are eligible for Medicaid health care coverage, i.e., the Oregon Health Plan. According to researchers, this study’s results will inform health reform efforts in Oregon and across the nation, as many states and communities undergo sweeping changes under the Affordable Care Act.

The OSU team will be led by researchers in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences, including Marie Harvey, Jeff Luck, Jocelyn Warren and Jangho Yoon.

“Oregon is an ideal state to conduct this study because of its ongoing commitment to Medicaid health care delivery for all, and the commitment of state leaders to collaborate to ensure this program’s success,” said Harvey, associate dean for research in OSU’s College of Public Health and Human Sciences, and one of the grant’s principal investigators.

One of the study’s goals will be to create an integrated, state-level data system that links de-identified Medicaid information with other existing health care data, such as from hospitals and birth and death certificates. This data system will help answer critical questions about the effect of Medicaid expansion on the use of health services and health outcomes among women and their children. A diverse group of county and community groups in the state with interest in maternal and child health will participate in setting research priorities for the study.

The project has been endorsed by Gov. John Kitzhaber, who has led the state’s efforts on implementation of comprehensive reform of Oregon’s Medicaid financing and delivery system. The research will also be helpful as Oregon looks towards the adoption of a more coordinated care model across all types of health care delivery systems.

“This project is an ideal complement to ongoing health system innovation and reforms in Oregon,” said Mike Bonetto, senior health care policy adviser to Gov. Kitzhaber. “This project will play a key role in our action plan by providing concrete data on how we can improve the health care and health outcomes of Medicaid-eligible women and their infants, a particularly vulnerable population.” 

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Marie Harvey, 541-737-3824

GMOs in agriculture to be Corvallis Science Pub topic

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Direct modification of DNA, or genetic engineering, is a tool for plant breeding that has spread at unprecedented speed over the last two decades. At the Oct. 14 Corvallis Science Pub, Steve Strauss, director of Oregon State University’s Outreach in Biotechnology program, will discuss the pros and cons of gene technology for agriculture.

The Science Pub presentation begins at 6 p.m. in the Majestic Theater, at 115 S.W. Second St. in Corvallis. It is free and open to the public. In November, Science Pub will resume at its usual location at the Old World Deli.

Today’s agricultural bounty can be traced to traditional plant breeding and other technologies, but population growth and demands for higher quality food will require large improvements in agricultural productivity, said Strauss. The undesirable environmental and social effects of more intense farming systems also need to be minimized.

“Gene technology is a valuable tool, not a silver bullet,” Strauss added. “It can do a lot, but it must be used with due caution and as part of integrated, ecologically-guided management systems for sustained benefit.”

Biotechnology appears capable of providing major humanitarian benefits to the poor by improving nutrition and food security.

“Despite the fears and growing legal barriers, the stakes in this debate are too high to turn away from,” he said. “We must find socially acceptable ways to move forward.”

While genetic engineering can provide nutritional and agronomic benefits, it has also come up against strong social and legal resistance in many countries, making its future uncertain. Strauss will review what the technology actually is, how it is similar and different from conventional breeding, and how it has impacted agriculture to date. He will also discuss diverse sources of the controversy surrounding it, including the numerous myths and confusing science that pervade the online world.

Strauss is a distinguished professor in the Oregon State College of Forestry and a fellow of the Leopold Leadership Program at Stanford University. He is also the director of the Tree Biosafety and Genomics Research Cooperative at OSU that conducts research on mitigation of risks from genetic engineering in forestry.

Sponsors of Science Pub include Terra magazine at OSU, the Downtown Corvallis Association and the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry.

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Steve Strauss, 541-737-7568

China honors Oregon State researcher for decade of scientific collaboration

CORVALLIS, Ore. — Major advances against some of the world’s most devastating plant diseases are starting to emerge from more than a decade of international scientific collaboration led by Brett Tyler, director of the Center for Genome Research and Biocomputing at Oregon State University. Tyler has fostered collaborative research in China, the United States and Europe on a group of organisms that cause diseases such as late blight in potatoes and soybean root rot. Both diseases cost millions of dollars in annual crop losses worldwide.

The joint research activities have advanced food production by understanding how plants such as potatoes and soybeans resist disease and how the genes responsible for resistance can be incorporated into new varieties. Potatoes developed by European researchers that incorporate these findings are just starting to hit commercial markets, and research is continuing on soybean diseases in the U.S. and China.

The People’s Republic of China recognized Tyler on Sept. 29 for his achievements with its highest civic award for non-Chinese scientists. Tyler, who is also a professor in the Department of Botany and Plant Pathology, received the Friendship Award of China for a decade of technical assistance and scientific collaboration with researchers at Nanjing Agricultural University and other Chinese institutions.

“It’s a wonderful bridge across the Pacific with the joint objective of increasing food security,” Tyler said.

Tyler, holder of the Stewart Chair in Gene Research, coordinates a worldwide research program on plant pathogens known to scientists as oomycetes. He and his colleagues have identified plant genes that confer long-term resistance to these pathogens. Scientists have focused on plant and pathogen genetics because the diseases can be so devastating, and pesticides tend to be rapidly evaded by these adaptable organisms.

“I have been working with an expanding circle of collaborators in China,” said Tyler, who has traveled to China 13 times. “We have published papers in top journals and established a growing collaborative research program.” In addition to his collaboration with researchers in Nanjing, he has worked with scientists at the Northwest Agricultural and Forestry University, Tsinghua University, the Beijing Genome Institute, Shandong Agricultural University and Yangzhou University.

Tyler’s Chinese partners — especially Yuanchao Wang at Nanjing and Weixing Shan at the NW Agricultural and Forestry University — have formed a consortium in China to apply the results of their disease resistance work in soybean and potato breeding. At the same time, Tyler has developed a similar network involving 19 institutions in the United States. With funding from the U.S. and Chinese governments, labs on both sides of the Pacific have hosted exchange students, jointly planned experiments and shared data.

“During our ten years of cooperation, Brett has helped to guide our research,” said Wang. “Research on the molecular genetics of oomycetes in China started from our cooperation. Brett helped us set up a great platform of genetic transformation and bioinformatics in Nanjing, and many other groups in China learned how to do this research from my group.”

The Chinese government has invested heavily in research in the last decade, added Tyler. “Our colleagues in China now have research facilities that are equal to or surpass what we have available in the United States,” he said.

Genes that provide long-term resistance to oomycete diseases are just starting to emerge in commercially available crops. “Resistance genes have been used in breeding for a long time, but many of them have been quickly defeated by the pathogens,” said Tyler. “We’ve uncovered why that happens. The pathogen produces a group of proteins that the plant has learned to detect. Unfortunately, these are proteins that the pathogen can quickly change. Now we have started to identify proteins the pathogen cannot change.”

In 2011, the USDA awarded $9.3 million to Tyler and his colleagues to apply their research to the U.S. soybean crop. Tyler’s Chinese collaborators are also contributing to that project. Soybean root rot causes major crop losses in China.

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Brett Tyler, 541-737-3686

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Brett Tyler

Growth in licensing and industry funding spurs research at Oregon State University

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Oregon State University recorded its best year ever in technology licensing – nearly triple what it earned just five years ago – during the last fiscal year, which ended June 30. Combined with continued growth in funding from private industry, the increase cushioned a nearly 13 percent decline in federal funding stemming largely from budget cuts known as sequestration.

Oregon State research grants and contracts totaled almost $263 million last year, just shy of its fiscal year 2009 level. Meanwhile, OSU received a record $7.7 million in licensing and royalty income. Private sector financing reached nearly $36 million, a 65 percent increase over the past five years, as calculated on an annual basis.

“Licenses are a measure of how effective we are in helping industry turn research into marketable products,” said Rick Spinrad, vice president for research at Oregon State. “Companies in the electronics, chemical processing and natural resources industries are looking to OSU for innovations to help them compete.”

“By licensing the results of our research, they are increasing their value in the marketplace and creating jobs in Oregon,” Spinrad added.

In the last year, OSU signed 88 new licenses with organizations in the fields of information technology, agriculture, industrial materials, biotechnology, forest products, healthy aging and manufacturing.

Oregon State’s statewide role in stimulating economic development stems from research and begins when scientists file notices known as invention disclosures with the university’s Research Office. In 2013, they filed more such notices, 80, than ever before.

It was also a record year for new start-up companies to license OSU technology. Among them were: CSD Nano of Corvallis, which sells a high-performance, anti-reflective coating to increase the performance of solar cells; OilEx Tech of Monmouth, producer of a microwave oil extraction device; NW Medical Isotopes of Corvallis, which offers a domestic option for production of a medically critical isotope, molybdenum-99; and Online Labs of Corvallis, which provides a virtual online chemistry laboratory experience for high school and college students.

The federal government provided more than 58 percent of Oregon State’s research grants and contracts from all sources in FY13, compared to almost 63 percent in FY12. Among the university’s largest federal grants in FY13 were:

  • Nearly $4.7 million from the U.S. Department of Energy for ocean wave energy research at the Northwest National Marine Renewable Energy Center;
  • A $3.8 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to study and avoid threats from wildfire, drought and disease to western forests;
  • A $3.7 million grant from the U.S. Agency for International Development for a worldwide program of aquaculture and fisheries research;
  • Nearly $3 million from the National Science Foundation for design and coordination of construction for up to three new coastal research vessels to bolster the nation’s marine science capabilities;
  • A $2 million grant from the National Science Foundation for investigation of a diatom-based biorefinery.

Funding from state and local governments grew 46 percent in fiscal year 2013 to a total of $7.8 million. Revenue from industrial testing services grew by 25 percent to $11.8 million.

With more than $53 million in grants and contracts, the OSU College of Agricultural Sciences brought in OSU’s largest share of research funding, followed by the College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences ($40 million) and the College of Engineering ($30 million).

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Rick Spinrad, 541-737-0664

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Dying trees
Tree species across the West face threats to their ability to survive. (Photo courtesy of Oregon State University)

osu_rcrv_stbd fwd hd
Architect's rendering of a coastal research vessel. (Drawing courtesy of Oregon State University)

Electronics advance moves closer to a world beyond silicon

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Researchers in the College of Engineering at Oregon State University have made a significant advance in the function of metal-insulator-metal, or MIM diodes, a technology premised on the assumption that the speed of electrons moving through silicon is simply too slow.

For the extraordinary speed envisioned in some future electronics applications, these innovative diodes solve problems that would not be possible with silicon-based materials as a limiting factor.

The new diodes consist of a “sandwich” of two metals, with two insulators in between, to form “MIIM” devices. This allows an electron not so much to move through materials as to tunnel through insulators and appear almost instantaneously on the other side. It’s a fundamentally different approach to electronics.

The newest findings, published in Applied Physics Letters, have shown that the addition of a second insulator can enable “step tunneling,” a situation in which an electron may tunnel through only one of the insulators instead of both. This in turn allows precise control of diode asymmetry, non-linearity, and rectification at lower voltages.

“This approach enables us to enhance device operation by creating an additional asymmetry in the tunnel barrier,” said John F. Conley, Jr., a professor in the OSU School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. “It gives us another way to engineer quantum mechanical tunneling and moves us closer to the real applications that should be possible with this technology.”

OSU scientists and engineers, who only three years ago announced the creation of the first successful, high-performance MIM diode, are international leaders in this developing field. Conventional electronics based on silicon materials are fast and inexpensive, but are reaching the top speeds possible using those materials. Alternatives are being sought.

More sophisticated microelectronic products could be possible with the MIIM diodes – not only improved liquid crystal displays, cell phones and TVs, but such things as extremely high-speed computers that don’t depend on transistors, or “energy harvesting” of infrared solar energy, a way to produce energy from the Earth as it cools during the night.

MIIM diodes could be produced on a huge scale at low cost, from inexpensive and environmentally benign materials. New companies, industries and high-tech jobs may ultimately emerge from advances in this field, OSU researchers say.

The work by Conley and OSU doctoral student Nasir Alimardani has been supported by the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Army Research Laboratory and the Oregon Nanoscience and Microtechnologies Institute.

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John Conley, 541-737-9874

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MIIM diode

MIIM diode

ACL injuries may be prevented by different landing strategy

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Women are two to eight times more likely than men to suffer a debilitating tear of the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in the knee and a new study suggests that a combination of body type and landing techniques may be to blame.

In two new studies published online this week in the Journal of Athletic Training, lead author Marc Norcross of Oregon State University documents how women who were asked to undergo a series of jumping exercises landed more often than men in a way associated with elevated risk of ACL injuries.

Both men and women tended to land stiffly, which can lead to ACL injuries, but women were 3.6 times more likely to land in a “knock-kneed” position, which the researchers say may be the critical factor leading to the gender disparity in ACL tears.

“We found that both men and women seem to be using their quad region the same, so that couldn’t explain why females are more at risk,” Norcross said. “Using motion analysis, we were able to pinpoint that this inability to control the frontal-plane knee loading – basically stress on the knee from landing in a knock-kneed position – as a factor more common in women.

“Future research may isolate why women tend to land this way,” he added, “but it could in part be because of basic biology. Women have wider hips, making it more likely that their knees come together after jumping.”

Norcross, an assistant professor of exercise and sport science in OSU’s College of Public Health and Human Sciences, is a former collegiate athletic trainer dedicating his research to the prevention of ACL tears.

“You see ACL injuries in any sport where you have a lot of jump stops and cuts, so basketball, soccer, lacrosse, and volleyball are high-risk sports,” said Norcross. “We know that people who hurt themselves tend to look stiff when they land and that the combined ‘knee loading’ from multiple directions is likely causing the injury event. But it wasn’t clear initially why women had more injuries than men.”

The researchers used motion analysis software to monitor the landing strategies of 82 physically active men and women. They found that both males and females had an equal likelihood of landing stiffly – likely from tensing the muscles in their quads before landing – putting them at higher risk of ACL tears. Women, however, were more likely to land in a “knee valgus” position, essentially knock-kneed.

Norcross said his next research project will focus on high school athletes, looking at a sustainable way to integrate injury prevention into team warm-up activities through improving landing technique.

“We are trying to create a prevention strategy that is sustainable and will be widely used by high school coaches,” he said. “A lot of athletes do come back from an ACL injury, but it is a long road. And the real worry is that it leads to early onset arthritis, which then impacts their ability to stay physically active.”

This study was supported by the NATA Research & Education Foundation Doctoral Grant Program.

Researchers from University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Greensboro contributed to this study.

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Marc Norcross, 541-737-6788

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ACL jumping landing
Biomechanical model of a female using a “knock-kneed” technique and experiencing high frontal plane knee loading during a jump landing.

Science Pub focuses on getting ready for school

CORVALLIS, Ore. – If you want to know if your kindergartener will succeed in school, look to Simon Says for an answer. Or to Red Light/Green Light. Or to the marshmallow game. 

At the Corvallis Science Pub on Sept. 9, Megan McClelland will demonstrate how these and other tasks can be used to determine if a child is ready for school. Her Science Pub presentation begins at 6 p.m. at the Old World Deli, located at 341 S.W. Second St. in Corvallis. It is free and open to the public.

“We’re talking about being able to sit still, follow directions and play well with other kids,” said McClelland, an associate professor in the Oregon State University College of Public Health and Human Sciences. To be prepared for school, “they need to have some self-control as well as some basic academic skills.”

These games, she added, give children an opportunity to demonstrate self-regulation, the ability to control their behavior, thoughts and emotions.

McClelland specializes in early childhood development, but self-regulation turns out to be critical for success later in life as well. In 2012, McClelland reported that stronger self-regulation in young children is associated with later success in college.

McClelland is the director of the Early Childhood Research Core in the Hallie E. Ford Center for Healthy Children and Families at Oregon State. Her research focuses on social and cognitive development in young children and pathways to school readiness.

Sponsors of Science Pub include Terra magazine at OSU, the Downtown Corvallis Association and the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry.

 

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Megan McClelland, 541-737-9225

Winter depression not as common as many think, OSU research shows

The study this article is based on can be found at: http://hdl.handle.net/1957/41955.

CORVALLIS, Ore. – New research suggests that getting depressed when it’s cold and dreary outside may not be as common as is often believed.

In a study recently published online in the Journal of Affective Disorders, researchers found that neither time of year nor weather conditions influenced depressive symptoms. However, lead author David Kerr of Oregon State University said this study does not negate the existence of clinically diagnosed seasonal affective disorder, also known as SAD, but instead shows that people may be overestimating the impact that seasons have on depression in the general population.

“It is clear from prior research that SAD exists,” Kerr said. “But our research suggests that what we often think of as the winter blues does not affect people nearly as much as we may think.”

Kerr, who is an assistant professor in the School of Psychological Science at OSU, said the majority of studies of seasonal depression ask people to look back on their feelings over time.

“People are really good at remembering certain events and information,” he said. “But, unfortunately, we probably can’t accurately recall the timing of day-to-day emotions and symptoms across decades of our lives. These research methods are a problem.”

So Kerr and his colleagues tried a different approach. They analyzed data from a sample of 556 community participants in Iowa and 206 people in western Oregon. Participants completed self-report measures of depressive symptoms multiple times over a period of years. These data were then compared with local weather conditions, including sunlight intensity, during the time participants filled out the reports.

In one study, some 92 percent of Americans reported seasonal changes in mood and behavior, and 27% reported such changes were a problem. Yet the study suggests that people may be overestimating the impact of wintery skies.

“We found a very small effect during the winter months, but it was much more modest than would be expected if seasonal depression were as common as many people think it is,” said Columbia University researcher Jeff Shaman, a study co-author and a former OSU faculty member. “We were surprised. With a sample of nearly 800 people and very precise measures of the weather, we expected to see a larger effect.”

Kerr believes the public may have overestimated the power of the winter blues for a few reasons. These may include awareness of SAD, the high prevalence of depression in general, and a legitimate dislike of winter weather.

“We may not have as much fun, we can feel cooped up and we may be less active in the winter,” Kerr said. “But that’s not the same as long-lasting sadness, hopelessness, and problems with appetite and sleep – real signs of a clinical depression.”

According to Kerr, people who believe they have SAD should get help. He said clinical trials show cognitive behavior therapy, antidepressant medication, and light box therapy all can help relieve both depression and SAD.

“Fortunately, there are many effective treatments for depression, whether or not it is seasonal,” he said. “Cognitive behavior therapy stands out because it has been shown to keep SAD from returning the next year.”

Kerr is an expert on the development of depression and risky behavior in youth in OSU’s College of Liberal Arts. He received a 2010 New Investigator Award from the Oregon Health and Science University Medical Research Foundation to conduct this research, which is building upon two ongoing studies that have been funded by the National Institutes of Health.

Researchers from OSU, Columbia University, the Oregon Social Learning Center, Iowa State University and the University of California, Davis contributed to this study.

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David Kerr, 541-737-1364