New classroom building at Oregon State features cutting edge technology, design

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Oregon State University is celebrating the grand opening of a new state-of-the-art academic building that will showcase classrooms unlike any found elsewhere on university campuses.

A celebration of the new space will be held at the building on Tuesday, Sept. 22, beginning at 1 p.m. in the Arena Classroom (Room 100), 165 S.W. Sackett Place. Open house tours will follow the program.

Built to serve every department on campus, the new Learning Innovation Center (known as LInC) was designed by Portland-based Boora Architects and includes 2,300 seats of formal teaching space and 640 seats of student-directed informal learning space.

The 134,000-square-foot academic building will showcase large-scale, active learning classroom formats never seen before.

“Considerable thought and work went into designing the learning spaces in LinC to enhance student learning broadly, accommodate various learning styles, and promote collaborative learning," said Sabah Randhawa, OSU provost and executive vice president. "In addition to providing much needed classroom capacity for our expanding student body, LinC provides a technology-rich and supportive learning environment for faculty and students.”

Based upon principles of ideal physical proximity and visibility between student and instructor, the design includes two “in the round” arena style classrooms of 600 and 300 seats.  The larger classroom collapses the distances separating student and instructor to just eight rows or 30 feet. Four aisles extend from the center of the room, enabling faculty to come within 15 feet of every student in the space.

Lois Brooks, OSU vice provost for Information Services, participated in the design of the building. She said she’s excited to be a part of an endeavor that focuses on utilizing space to enhance classroom experiences. “It emphasizes collaboration, active learning and excellent teaching.”

The Parliament Room, inspired by the layout of the British House of Commons, is a curved, double-loaded classroom that accommodates 175 students and will encourage discourse and debate among students and faculty.  In this classroom, students are no further than five rows from their professor at any one time. 

Brooks said the designs, even for the larger classroom, create a more intimate space where the professor can roam rather than remaining static, and can engage students directly, even in large courses.

“These rooms put the instructor as close to the student as possible so students don’t drift away during lectures,” Brooks said. The classrooms are equipped with wireless technology so no one is tethered to one place, and each has at least two screens so faculty or students can project multiple images, ideas or presentations at once.

Classrooms are located in the center of the building with hallways on either side, allowing more flow between classes, crucial given the numbers of students expected to utilize the building each day. There are many informal learning spaces as well, providing opportunities for both students and faculty to collaborate, study and teach in a more relaxed setting, and green room areas for faculty to prepare before class, or spend time after class talking to students without interfering with the next class arriving.

The design of these spaces is so cutting-edge it's inspired a long-term partnership between Boora and Oregon State that involves a research project with the College of Education, Center for Teaching and Learning, and Technology Across the Curriculum, which will study the effects of alternative large-scale classroom configurations on student learning outcomes and engagement.  

"This is state of the art in every sense,” Brooks said. “While people are the centerpiece of the learning experience, the new spaces will allow faculty and students to use technology to further enhance their learning experience.”

Initial research will first create a baseline of student outcomes and engagements by studying large-scale classrooms in existing OSU facilities in which instructors are attempting to use active learning techniques.  Data will then be gathered on the same courses/instructors in the Learning Innovation Center’s new classrooms. Learning outcomes and behaviors studied will include test scores, attendance, participation, and engagement, and comparative analysis will continue after the building is opened between new and existing classrooms.

More than 2,500 students have signed up to participate in the study.  Clicker technology is used to track student attendance and seating location in the room. The data collected and analyzed will inform future classrooms and teaching methods both on the campus and for other higher education institutions.

The University Honors College has relocated to LInC and Dean Toni Doolen said she is thrilled to have four smaller classrooms dedicated to the college, which limits class sizes to 25 students or less for lower division undergraduates and 12-15 for upper division undergraduates. She said the new classrooms will be perfect for accommodating the unique teaching styles and learning approaches of Honors College courses.

“Our faculty members use many different strategies to create an interactive classroom,” Doolen said. “Our students are fully engaged in the learning and due to the high level of interaction between students and faculty, are also engaged in learning from each other.”

Doolen also hopes that having the University Honors College located in a heavily trafficked student building will raise the visibility of the college. This fall, nearly 1,200 OSU students will be enrolled in the rapidly growing college. Doolen pointed out that in total over the 20-year history of the college there are only 1,200 alumni total.

“Being in the new space really highlights the importance of the Honors College and its students to all of campus,” Doolen said. “And our faculty like to pioneer curriculum and learning technology in their honors courses, which makes this new space a perfect fit for us.”

LInC will be the new home for the Information Services division of Academic Technology comprised of Classroom Technology Services, Media Services and Technology Across the Curriculum; the Center for Teaching and Learning; and the University Honors College offices and conference rooms.

Media Contact: 

Lois Brooks, 541-737-8810; lois.brooks@oregonstate.edu

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LInC building

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

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Sharp with the Evanses


Sharp in India

OSU names Hoffman vice provost for international programs

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Mark Hoffman, associate dean in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences, has been named vice provost for international programs at Oregon State University. He will begin his new duties July 15.

Hoffman, an Exercise and Sport Science faculty member since 2000, has provided leadership for the college’s international education and student services efforts, including collaborations on campus-wide student success initiatives.

The vice provost for international programs plays a key role in the development and implementation of programs that further the university’s internationalization goals, according to Sabah Randhawa, OSU provost and executive vice president.

“Mark has been an active leader for the college and university in our internationalization efforts, and he will be able to focus on and expand those efforts in his new role,” Randhawa said. “We want to provide the best possible experience for international students who come to Oregon State and for OSU students who study in other countries.”

As vice provost, Hoffman will provide strategic direction for OSU’s internationalization efforts, coordinate relevant campus activities, facilitate integration of international students and scholars into OSU, support and expand education abroad opportunities for students and faculty, and oversee INTO Oregon State University academic programs and the OSU Office of International Admissions.

Hoffman is a certified athletic trainer with expertise in the human sensory and motor systems, and has focused his scholarship on understanding and preventing injuries of the lower extremity in active individuals. He has a Ph.D. in motor control with a minor in neuroscience from Indiana University, where he also earned a bachelor’s degree. He has a master’s from San Jose State University.

“I strongly share OSU’s aspiration to be a top international research university,” Hoffman said. “Comprehensive campus internationalization is critical for the development of globally-minded students. It’s not just about increasing our international enrollment, but we need to strengthen our education abroad opportunities and promote global learning and appreciation for global diversity among all students and create strategic international partnership opportunities for our faculty.”

Media Contact: 

Sabah Randhawa, 541-737-2111, Sabah.randhawa@oregonstate.edu;

Mark Hoffman, 541-737-6787, mark.hoffman@oregonstate.edu

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Mark Hoffman

                  Mark Hoffman

OSU campaign celebration to feature N.Y. Times columnist

CORVALLIS, Ore.: Two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times will be the keynote speaker at an event on Friday, Oct. 31, celebrating the success of Oregon State University’s billion-dollar campaign.

The public is invited to this free celebration, which will be held at the LaSells Stewart Center on the OSU campus beginning at 4 p.m.

A seasoned journalist and native of Yamhill, Oregon, Kristof has traveled the major roads and minor byways of China, India, South Asia and Africa, offering a compassionate glimpse into global health, poverty and gender in the developing world.

He and his wife Sheryl Wudunn co-authored the best-selling “Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide,” which inspired a four-hour PBS series of the same name. In their new book, “A Path Appears: Transforming Lives, Creating Opportunity,” they look around the world at people who are working to make it a better place, and show readers the numerous ways this work can be supported.

Kristof’s remarks will conclude an hour-long multimedia showcase of the impact of The Campaign for OSU on students, Oregon and the world. Publicly launched in October 2007, the campaign has raised more than $1.096 billion to support university priorities. To date, more than 105,000 donors to the campaign have:

  • Created more than 600 new scholarships and fellowship funds – a 30 percent increase – with gifts for student support exceeding $180 million;
  • Contributed more than $100 million to help attract and retain leading professors and researchers, including funding for 77 of Oregon State’s 124 endowed faculty positions;
  • Supported the construction or renovation of more than two dozen campus facilities, including Austin Hall in the College of Business, the Linus Pauling Science Center, new cultural centers, and the OSU Basketball Center. Bonding support from the state was critical to many of these projects.

"In his world travels, Nicholas Kristof has seen incredible examples of people who are transforming lives and creating opportunity,” said OSU President Edward J. Ray. “Though on a different level, that’s what’s happening at Oregon State University, with the help of our growing philanthropic community. We couldn’t be more pleased to welcome one of Oregon’s native sons to our campus to celebrate our progress over the last decade and look together to the future.

“The contribution this university makes to our state and to our world is extraordinary and this campaign has expanded future opportunities tremendously.”

Several additional activities are planned on campus for Oct. 31, which is part of Homecoming week. The grand opening celebration for Austin Hall, the new home of the College of Business, will take place at 1:30 p.m. A full schedule of Homecoming events, including lectures, open houses and a Thursday evening Lights Parade and Block Party, is available at osualum.com/homecoming.


Molly Brown, 541-737-3602, molly.brown@oregonstate.edu

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Nicholas Kristof

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

OSU faculty members key contributors to IPCC report

CORVALLIS, Ore. – The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a United Nations-sponsored group of scientists, issued its latest report on the state of scientific understanding on climate change. Two Oregon State University faculty members played key roles in the landmark report.

Peter Clark, a professor in OSU’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences, was one of two coordinating lead authors on a chapter outlining sea level change. He and fellow coordinating lead author John Church of Australia oversaw the efforts of 12 lead authors and several dozen contributing scientists on the science of sea level change.

Philip Mote, director of the Oregon Climate Change Research Institute at OSU, was one of 12 lead authors on a chapter looking at the cryosphere, which is comprised of snow, river and lake ice, sea ice, glaciers, ice sheets, and frozen ground. The cryosphere plays a key role in the physical, biological and social environment on much of the Earth’s surface.

“Since the last IPCC report, there has been increased scientific understanding of the physical processes leading to sea level change, and that has helped improve our understanding of what will happen in the future,” Clark said.

“One of the things our group concluded with virtual certainty is that the rate of global mean sea level rise has accelerated over the past two centuries – primarily through the thermal expansion of the oceans and melting of glaciers,” Clark added. “Sea level rise will continue to accelerate through the 21st century, and global sea levels could rise by 0.5 meters to at least one meter by the year 2100.”

The rate of that rise will depend on future greenhouse gas emissions.

Among other findings, the sea level chapter also concluded that it is virtually certain that global mean sea level will continue to rise beyond the year 2100, and that substantially higher sea level rise could take place with the collapse of the Antarctic ice sheet.

Mote, who also is a professor in the College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences, said analyzing the cryosphere is complex and nuanced, though overall the amount of snow and ice on Earth is declining.

The report notes: “Over the last two decades, the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets have been losing mass, glaciers have continued to shrink almost worldwide, and Arctic sea ice and Northern Hemisphere spring snow cover have continued to decrease in extent.” Other cryosphere changes include:

  • Greenland and Antarctica are not only losing ice, but the rate of decline is accelerating;
  • The amount of sea ice in September has reached new lows;
  • The June snow cover also has reached new lows and has decreased by an average of 11.7 percent per decade – or 53 percent overall – from 1967 to 2012;
  • The reduction in snow cover can formally be attributed to human influence – work done by Mote and David Rupp of OSU.

 Rick Spinrad, OSU’s vice president for research, praised the efforts of the two OSU faculty members for their contributions to the report.

 "OSU is a global leader in environmental research as reflected by the leadership roles of Dr. Clark and Dr. Mote in this seminal assessment,” Spinrad said. “The impact of the IPCC report will be felt by scientists and policy makers for many years to come."

The IPCC report is comprised of 14 chapters, supported by a mass of supplementary material. A total of 209 lead authors and 50 review editors from 39 countries helped lead the effort, and an additional 600 contributing authors from 32 countries participated in the report. Authors responded to more than 54,000 review comments.

The report is available online at the IPCC site: http://www.ipcc.ch/

Media Contact: 
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Melting glacier
A shrinking glacier

Coastal waves
Rising sea levels

Crossroads International holds 2015 International Film Festival

CORVALLIS, Ore. – An international film festival this February in Corvallis will support Crossroads International, an Oregon State University program that has provided hospitality and language assistance to international students, visiting scholars and their families at OSU for more than four decades.

From providing conversation partners to locating families willing to extend friendships to incoming international scholars, the organization makes difficult transitions more comfortable and friendly.

Each year, Crossroads presents an international film festival that reflects the organization’s dedication to cross-cultural communication and understanding and is the organization’s primary fundraiser.  The 2015 Crossroads International Film Festival will feature films on consecutive Sundays in February at Darkside Cinema, 215 S.W. Fourth St. in downtown Corvallis.

One film in the annual festival features a special discussion section following the screening. This year’s highlighted film is “Sita Sings the Blues,” a Sri Lankan and U.S. production that mixes a modern love story of lost love with the ancient Indian tale of the Ramayana, told with colorful animation and a 1920s American jazz soundtrack.

Tickets are $6 per show and passports are $30 for six shows. For information on how to order passports, contact Crossroads at crossroadsosu@gmail.com . All proceeds go to Crossroads International programs. For more information, see http://oregonstate.edu/international/crossroads/crossroads-international-film-festival

The festival will feature six films from around the world (Note: All films in foreign language have English subtitles):

Feb. 1

  • 1:30 p.m.: "Nothing But the Truth," South Africa (92 minutes)
  • 4 p.m.: "Amreeka," USA (96 minutes)
  • 6:30 p.m.: "Sita Sings the Blues," Sri Lanka, USA (82 minutes, discussion to follow)

Feb. 8

  • 1:30 p.m.: "Amreeka" USA (96 minutes)
  • 4 p.m.: "Sita Sings the Blues," Sri Lanka, USA (82 minutes, discussion to follow)
  • 6:30 p.m.: "Instructions Not Included," Mexico (115 minutes)

Feb. 15

  • 1:30 p.m.: "I Have Found It," India (151 minutes)
  • 4 p.m.: "Instructions Not Included," Mexico (115 minutes)
  • 6:30 p.m.: "Boy," New Zealand (87 minutes)

Feb. 22

  • 1:30 p.m.: "Boy," New Zealand (87 minutes)
  • 4 p.m.: "Nothing But the Truth," South Africa (92 minutes)
  • 6:30 p.m.: "I Have Found It," India (151 minutes)
Media Contact: 

Urmila Mail, 541-737-3929; urmila.mali@oregonstate.edu

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.


Media Contact: 

Brett Tyler, 541-737-3686

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tyler photo
Brett Tyler

Study documents early warming of West Antarctica at end of last ice age

CORVALLIS, Ore. – West Antarctica began emerging from the last ice age about 22,000 years ago – well before other regions of Antarctica and the rest of the world, according to a team of scientists who analyzed a two-mile-long ice core, one of the deepest ever drilled in Antarctica.

Scientists say that changes in the amount of solar energy triggered the warming of West Antarctica and the subsequent release of carbon dioxide (CO2) from the Southern Ocean amplified the effect and resulted in warming on a global scale, eventually ending the ice age.

Results of the study were published this week in the journal Nature. The authors are all members of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet Divide project, which was funded by the National Science Foundation.

The study is significant because it adds to the growing body of scientific understanding about how the Earth emerges from an ice age. Edward Brook, an Oregon State University paleoclimatologist and co-author on the Nature study, said the key to this new discovery about West Antarctica resulted from analysis of the 3,405-meter ice core.

“This ice core is special because it came from a place in West Antarctica where the snowfall is very high and left an average of 20 inches of ice or more per year to study,” said Brook, a professor in OSU’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences. “Not only did it allow us to provide more accurate dating because we can count the layers, it gave us a ton more data – and those data clearly show an earlier warming of the region than was previously thought.”

Previous studies have pointed to changes in the Earth’s orbit around the sun as the initial trigger in deglaciation during the last ice age. An increase in the intensity of summer sunlight in the northern hemisphere melted ice sheets in Canada and Europe starting at about 20,000 years ago and is believed to have triggered warming elsewhere on the globe.

It previously was thought that Antarctica started its major warming a few thousand years later, at about 18,000 years before present. However, the new study shows that at least part of Antarctica started to warm 2,000 to 4,000 years before this. The authors hypothesize that changes in the total amount of sunlight in Antarctica and melt-back of sea ice caused early warming at this coastal site – warming that is not recorded by ice cores in the interior of the continent.

“The site of the core is near the coast and it conceivably feels the coastal influence much more so than the inland sites where most of the high-elevation East Antarctic cores have been drilled,” Brook said. “As the sunlight increased, it reduced the amount of sea ice in the Southern Ocean and warmed West Antarctica. The subsequent rise of CO2 then escalated the process on a global scale.”

“What is new here is our observation that West Antarctica did not wait for a cue from the Northern Hemisphere before it began warming,” Brook said, “What hasn’t changed is that the initial warming and melting of the ice sheets triggered the release of CO2 from the oceans, which accelerated the demise of the ice age.”

Brook said the recent increase in CO2 via human causes is also warming the planet, “but much more rapidly.”

Media Contact: 

Ed Brook, 541-737-8197; brook@geo.oregonstate.edu

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ice core wintering


drilled ice core



Researchers use circulation models, genetics to track “lost years” of turtles

CORVALLIS, Ore. – When green turtles toddle out to the ocean after hatching from eggs at sandy beaches they more or less disappear from view and aren’t seen again for several years until they show up as juveniles at coastal foraging areas.

Researchers have long puzzled over what happens to the turtles during these “lost years,” as they were dubbed decades ago. Now a new study published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society outlines where they likely would be based on ocean currents.

It is the first quantitative estimate of juvenile turtle distribution across an entire ocean basin and experts say it is significant because it gives researchers in North America, South America, Europe and Africa an idea of where hatchlings that emerge on beaches will go next, and where the juveniles foraging along the coastlines most likely came from.

“Hatchling sea turtles are too small for transmitters and electronic tags, and their mortality rate is sufficiently high to make it cost-prohibitive anyway,” said Nathan F. Putman, a post-doctoral researcher at Oregon State University and lead author on the study. “Even if you could develop a perfect sensor, you would need tens of thousands of them because baby turtles get gobbled up at such a fast rate. So we decided to look at an indirect approach.”

Putman and his colleague, Eugenia Naro-Maciel of City University of New York, used sophisticated ocean circulation models to trace the likely route of baby green turtles from known nesting sites once they entered the water. They also identified known locations of foraging sites where the turtles reappeared as juveniles, and went backwards – tracing where they most likely arrived via currents.

“This is not a definitive survey of where turtles go – it is more a simplification of reality – but it is a starting point and a big and comprehensive starting point at that,” Putman pointed out. “Turtles have flippers and can swim, so they aren’t necessarily beholden to the currents. But what this study provides is an indication of the oceanic environment that young turtles encounter, and how this environment likely influences turtle distributions.

“When we compared the predictions of population connectivity from our ocean current model and estimates from a genetic model, we found that they correlate pretty well,” said Putman, a researcher in OSU’s Department of Fisheries and Wildlife. “Each approach, individually, has limitations but when you put them together the degree of uncertainty is substantially reduced.”

The researchers simulated the dispersal of turtles from each of 29 separate locations in the Atlantic and West Indian Ocean and identified “hot spots” throughout these basins where computer models suggest that virtual turtles would be densely aggregated. This includes portions of the southern Caribbean, the Sargasso Sea, and portions of the South Atlantic Ocean and the West Indian Ocean.

In contrast, they estimate that the fewest number of turtles would be located in the open ocean along the equator between South America and central Africa.

Based on the models, it appears that turtles from many populations would circumnavigate the Atlantic Ocean basin. “Backtracking” simulations revealed that numerous foraging grounds were predicted to have turtles arrive from the North Atlantic, South Atlantic and Southwest Indian oceans. Thus, a high degree of connectivity among populations appears likely based on circulation patterns at the ocean surface.

Putman said the next step in the research might be for turtle biologists throughout the Atlantic Ocean basin to “ground truth” the model by looking for young turtles in those hotspots. Knowing more about their early life history and migration routes could help in managing the population, he said.

“Perhaps the best part about this modeling is that it is a testable hypothesis,” Putman said. “People studying turtles throughout the Atlantic basin will have predictions of turtle distributions based on solid oceanographic data to help interpret what they are observing.

“Finding these little turtles is like looking for the proverbial needle in the haystack,” Putman added. “But at least we’ve helped researchers understand where that haystack most likely would be located.”

Putman also has a study coming out in Biology Letters using similar methodology to predict ocean distribution patterns for the Kemp’s ridley sea turtle.

Media Contact: 

Nathan Putman, 205-218-5276; Nathan.putman@oregonstate.edu

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Hatchling green turtle


Distribution of turtles
from Florida