Johnson Internship Program turns 20

Nicole Laschober with research poster
Bioengineering junior Nicole Laschober, a two-time Johnson Intern, presented a poster in October 2017 at the national conference of the Biomedical Engineering Society in Phoenix, Arizona.

Since it was launched in 1998, the Peter and Rosalie Johnson Internship Program has provided paid research opportunities for more than 400 students in the School of Chemical, Biological, and Environmental Engineering.

Created at the initiative of chemical engineering alumnus Peter Johnson ’55 and his wife, Rosalie, the program was endowed with a $2.4 million gift in 2008. Each spring, about 25 qualified first-year students are matched with research labs on campus, or with one of Oregon State’s academic partners.

In addition to a good, paid summer job and valuable training on laboratory equipment, Johnson Interns gain confidence and new perspectives from their research experience.

The Johnson program is special, says Professor Skip Rochefort, who administers the program, because there are very few comparable, intensive research opportunities available for students with only one year of schooling under their belts. The experience that Johnson Interns acquire in their first summer can be instrumental in assuring their future success.

“Our students compete nationally for internships and undergraduate research experience programs,” said Rochefort. “To be competitive for these positions, they need to have demonstrated mastery of skills not widely taught or practiced at other schools. This is what the Johnson Internship provides them in the summer following their first year.”

Bleeding for science

Nicole Laschober, a bioengineering junior, has spent the past two summers working at Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU) in the lab of Owen McCarty, examining the clotting mechanisms at work in blood platelets. From the beginning, she says, it was a hands-on learning experience. ­­­

“I was in the lab every day, working with fresh blood,” she said. “Going in, I didn’t realize at all what the job was going to be like. So in retrospect, I guess it’s a good thing I’m not squeamish. The blood I worked with was often my own, so I got to learn a lot about my own platelet count.”

Laschober says her platelet count wasn’t the only thing she learned about herself during her time at OHSU.

“I also figured out that I really enjoy doing research,” she said. “And I like being at a lab bench. That has helped me to focus. I’m thinking I might want to go to graduate school, and I’m looking around at different labs.”

The work Laschober was involved in during her first summer led to publication in a peer-reviewed journal, where she was the third-listed author. And last fall, she presented a research poster at the annual meeting of the Biomedical Engineering Society in Phoenix, Arizona.

Kendra Jones with research poster
Bioengineering sophomore Kendra Jones presents research she did over the summer at OHSU, during the Johnson Interns poster presentation in January at Oregon State University.

Kendra Jones, a bioengineering sophomore, joined Laschober last summer in McCarty’s lab, where she worked on a research project examining the unique properties of platelets in newborn babies. And, just like her fellow student, Jones had the opportunity to shed a little blood for her research. But for her, that wasn’t the scary part, she says.

“I was very nervous going in, just because it was OHSU, and it’s kind of a big deal,” she said. “But there’s really no reason to be nervous. You just need to slow down, and know that you know things. I think my biggest problem was that I was just a first-year student and I felt like I didn’t have enough background in engineering or biology. But you learn on the spot.”

Jones says the experience was a transformative moment in her educational career.

“Looking back, I gained so much confidence in myself,” she said. “I can see how my education lines up with a future career. It was hard to see that before.”

Getting a close-up view of the field

Joe Hebert, now a sophomore in chemical engineering, spent his summer on campus in the lab of Professor Greg Herman. There, he worked alongside another intern, using atomic force microscopy to examine the orientation of a certain type of chemical structure, called beta-Keggin clusters, on a graphite surface. The research has implications for the development of new materials for microprocessors.

Joe Hebert with research poster
Chemical engineering sophomore Joe Hebert presents research he did last summer in the lab of Professor Greg Herman, at the Johnson Interns poster session in January.

Hebert says he had looked at a few scientific papers detailing the standard operating procedures for the instrument, but even just assimilating the required technical vocabulary presented a big challenge up front.

“It was very intimidating — until that first day,” Hebert said. “My partner and I were immediately introduced to the graduate students who took us under their wing. They showed us how to use the equipment and what to watch out for.”

Hebert says he had always envisioned himself focusing on the pharmaceutical side of chemical engineering because of his personal interests and family background. However, his experience with the Johnson program has expanded his horizons.

“It kind of opened my eyes to how broad chemical engineering can be,” he said. “There are so many other fields that are extremely interesting. The doors are wide open.”

Bioengineering with beads

Kelly Hollenbeck, also a sophomore in chemical engineering, worked with bioengineering Assistant Professor Kate Schilke on a project to engineer tiny beads made of bionanoparticles. These beads are coated with various proteins that give rise to different surface properties, making them useful in a host of potential bioengineering and biomedical applications.

Kelly Hollenbeck with research poster.
Chemical engineering sophomore Kelly Hollenbeck presents research she did last summer in the lab of Assistant Professor Kate Schilke, at the Johnson Interns poster session in January at Oregon State.

The beads Hollenbeck worked with are grown in a type of cell that typically is fed with glucose. Hollenbeck’s project involved growing the cells on an alternative substrate, 1-4, butanediol. Growing the beads was a long process that involved learning a lot of different microbiology techniques, including the use of nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy. Getting time on that equipment is a rare experience for an undergraduate, Hollenbeck said, let alone a first-year student.

“I got so many things out of the experience,” Hollenbeck said. “I learned how to work in a lab environment, individually, with peers, and in groups. I learned how to present my findings, both written and orally. That was a big part of our group, actually. We really had to communicate a lot, because there were so many projects going on at once.”

Hollenbeck says the knowledge she gained over the summer helped to consolidate what she had learned in class during her first year. But more than that, she says, she felt the work she was doing had value beyond what it could do for her.

“I could definitely see how the stuff I was learning in the classroom applied to real-world applications,” she said. “But knowing that I was working on something that was real, and that has the potential to help people — that was a really a cool experience.”

Applications due March 30

Applications for the 2018 Johnson Internship Program are due March 30. First-year students who meet the eligibility requirements are encouraged to apply. Those with questions may contact Skip Rochefort directly at

Connecting students with industry partners

students attending a presentation
Students attend a Career Insights session at the 2018 CBEE Winter Career Reception.

Career Expo week brings many companies to campus to recruit students for internships and entry-level positions, but smaller events held around campus at this time allow students and industry representatives to connect on a more personal basis. On Feb. 20, the evening before the Career Expo, more than 100 students, 15 industry representatives (including many Oregon State alumni), and CBEE faculty participated in the third annual 2018 CBEE Winter Career Reception at the Memorial Union.

Students attended their choice of three “Career Insights” informational sessions, hosted by industry partners Cascade Pacific Pulp, E. & J. Gallo Winery, Enzymatic Deinking Technologies, Lonza’s Bend Research HQ, Micron Technology, and SLR International. Also participating was Oregon State’s Undergraduate Research, Scholarship, and the Arts office, providing information to students about getting started in undergraduate research on campus. This format provides a recruiting and marketing opportunity to companies, while helping students appreciate the myriad career opportunities and diverse industries available to them as new engineers.

A catered networking reception followed the presentations, giving the students, mostly juniors and seniors, more opportunities to connect with industry visitors, also including new CBEE Industry Advisory Board member and Oregon State alumnus Kyle Gee from ThermoFisher Scientific.

The CBEE Club, Oregon State’s AIChE Student Chapter, is instrumental in putting on this event, with the support of the participating companies and the CBEE Corporate Relations office. The work of the CBEE Club’s industry liaison officer, along with CBEE Club member volunteers and corporate event sponsorship, make the event possible.

CBEE-Industry connections are a two-way street that can enhance CBEE academic programs and also help meet industry needs related not only to staffing, but also technology and marketing. We welcome industry involvement with our program. Upcoming opportunities to connect with CBEE students include the May 18 Engineering Undergraduate Expo, which showcases our senior student projects. The next Career Reception will be held in the fall term, on Oct. 16.

For more information about these and other ways to connect or the CBEE Industry Advisory Board, please contact Lynn Ekstedt, CBEE Corporate Relations.

Showcase winners tackle 21st century problems

Professor Dorthe Wildenschild, left, presents award certificates to Lynza Sprowl, Riley Murnane, and Ross Warner
Professor Dorthe Wildenschild, left, presents award certificates to Lynza Sprowl, Riley Murnane, and Ross Warner, selected as the top three poster presenters at the College of Engineering’s 2018 Graduate Research Showcase.

Energy storage, clean water, and cryopreservation were the subjects of research posters selected as award recipients from the School of Chemical, Biological, and Environmental Engineering at the College of Engineering’s 2018 Graduate Research Showcase held Feb. 8.

A panel of the school’s faculty members selected the top three posters out of a field of more than 30 presentations representing a diverse cross-section of research interests from each of the school’s three main disciplines.

In addition to the recognition of their mentors and peers, winning presenters were invited to attend the 2018 Oregon Stater Awards ceremony on Feb. 22 in Portland, where they had the opportunity to present their research to the College of Engineering’s industry partners and distinguished alumni.

Graduate students Lynza Sprowl, left, and Qin Pin discuss their posters at the 2018 Graduate Research Showcase.
Graduate students Lynza Sprowl, left, and Qin Pang discuss their posters at the 2018 Graduate Research Showcase.

Improving batteries for a clean-energy future

Lynza Sprowl, a fifth-year chemical engineering student in the lab of Líney Árnadóttir, took top honors for her poster discussing how charge state impacts battery life in lithium-ion cells. Sprowl says improving upon this technology will be essential to making a global transition to clean and renewable energy.

“A lot of people are looking at solar panels and wind turbines, and there have been a lot of successes there,” Sprowl said. “But battery technology is the bottleneck. We need better energy storage to supply power when the sun isn’t shining or the wind isn’t blowing.”

When a lithium-ion battery is being charged, energized electrons at the surface of the anode cause the battery’s electrolyte to break down, consuming lithium ions and creating a chemical barrier that slows lithium ion diffusion to the anode.

“When lithium ions can’t reach the anode, you can’t charge the battery fully,” she said. “As the barrier gets thicker, fewer lithium ions remain and the lithium ion diffusion gets slower, until it reaches a point where it stops. At this point the battery lifetime is up.”

Sprowl uses mathematical modeling, specifically something called density functional theory (DFT), to look at the fundamental interactions of how electrolyte breaks down under different conditions.

“With computational studies, you can break down different electrolyte additives, see what products they make, and figure out how those additives match up experimentally with what you think is going to give the best results.”

One of Sprowl’s findings is that it is two times more favorable for the electrolyte to break down when the battery is at a high charge state. And this has immediate, practical implications that anyone can use.

“Basically, if you leave your phone plugged in overnight and it’s at 100 percent charge state for several hours, you’re shortening your battery life,” she said. “So, once it hits 100, take it off the charger.”

Second-year master's student Riley Murnane presented research on bacteria that break down toxic waste.
Second-year master’s student Riley Murnane presented research on his substrate selection project.

Using bacteria to clean up toxic waste

Riley Murnane, a second-year environmental engineering master’s student working in the lab of Lewis Semprini, took second place for his poster discussing substrate selection for a type of microorganism that shows promise in cleaning up toxic waste spills.

Rhodococcus rhodochrous is a species of soil bacteria that produces enzymes capable of degrading dioxane, a persistent groundwater contaminant, through a process called aerobic co-metabolism.

“The co-metabolism requires a certain substrate to be present,” Murnane said. “And I’m looking at which food-grade, economically viable, and readily available substrates work best in our context for this specific microbe’s enzyme.”

Murnane’s research focuses on a group of aromatic, sweet-smelling compounds called esters as potential substrates.

“The ones we’re looking at are all FDA-approved as food additives,” Murnane said. “For example, we’re working with things like sec-butyl acetate and benzyl acetate, which are used in fruit flavorings because they smell like banana or green apple.”

These esters hydrolyze, or degrade in water, over time to form an alcohol and an organic acid. It’s these end products that are taken up by the microbes, which in turn produce the enzyme that enables co-metabolism to happen.

“The idea is to encapsulate the microorganisms and their food supply into little gel beads that can be pumped into the upper sandy layer of the aquifer to work over time,” Murnane said. “We want the ester to hydrolyze slowly to the substrate that the bugs will use, so that they will continue to metabolize pollutants as they diffuse from the denser, clay layer. So the half-lives of the materials we’re looking at range from 100 to 3,000 days.”

Ross Warner presented his research on mathematical modeling of toxicity in tissue cryopreservation.
Ross Warner presented his research on mathematical modeling of toxicity in tissue cryopreservation.

Advancing cryopreservation to the next level

Ross Warner, a third-year chemical engineering Ph.D. student working in the lab of Adam Higgins, was awarded third place for his poster concerning a cryopreservation project.

Cryopreservation involves introducing chemicals such as ethylene glycol, better known as antifreeze, into biological specimens to suppress the formation of ice crystals so they can be preserved at very low temperatures.

“Dr. Higgins has done a lot of work at the single-cell level,” Warner said. “We’re at the point now of taking that knowledge gained and trying to advance to the next level of biological complexity. So a lot of my work has been on the theoretical modeling of tissues and organs.”

A major problem with exposing cells to ethylene glycol is toxicity. This problem is accentuated in larger specimens, such as whole organs, Warner says, because their larger volume requires greater cooling time and exposure to higher concentrations of antifreeze.

“If we can model the transport of this given antifreeze into and out of the cell, we can get a grasp of the toxicity it’s imparting,” Warner said. “Through mathematical modeling, we can calculate a given percentage of cell death at different concentrations, temperatures, time of exposure, and so on, and compare that to acceptable tolerances. If we can obtain a model that predicts concentration as a function of space and time we can predict toxicity as a function of space and time.”

Mathematical modeling enables researchers to home in on the type of experiments needed, Warner says, conserving time and resources and accelerating the pace of progress in the field. The research has big implications in the long-term preservation of tissues and organs, which could revolutionize transplant surgery.

“The lifespan of donor organs outside of the body is typically measured in hours,” Warner said. “What if we could extend that to days or weeks? Right now we have a pretty good grasp of blood banks, but what if there were organ banks? We could potentially save a lot of lives.”

Eric MacKender joins Council of Early Career Engineers

Eric MacKender

Eric MacKender, a 2000 graduate in chemical engineering, was honored at the 2018 Oregon Stater Awards, held Feb. 22 in Portland, where he joined the Council of Early Career Engineers.

MacKender says it was thanks to prompting from his high school chemistry teacher that he became interested in chemical engineering, and he selected Oregon State after being awarded a scholarship and admission to the Honors College.

When it came time to write the thank you letter for the scholarship, he was surprised to learn that there wasn’t anyone to thank. The scholarship was a generous endowment created from the estate of a woman who valued education.

“I always remembered that,” MacKender said, “and I started giving back to Oregon State after graduation. It wasn’t much at first, but slowly it increased over time.”

MacKender, an Honors College graduate, says the program influenced him a great deal.

“The honors program opened my eyes to more than just engineering,” he said, “and I really benefited from the colloquial courses, seeing the passion of my professors, and from the opportunities to learn about many different topics.”

Chevron recruited MacKender directly out of school for its specialty chemical business, and he has worked there for 18 years. In that time, he’s had an opportunity to work in many different parts of the business and see how they are all connected.

“It’s been fun commercializing new chemistry and bringing new products to market,” he said.

The Chevron Oronite plant produces quality additives that improve the performance of fuels and lubricants. As technical manager, MacKender oversees all the engineering functions and the quality control laboratory. MacKender enjoys helping others to thrive.

“I’ve had a chance to lead a lot of great people, mentor them, watch them grow, and help them get promoted to bigger and broader roles. My wife and I both value the importance of education, and we donate our time and money to help others in this way,” he said.

MacKender serves on the Board of Regents, the development advisory group for the Honors College at Oregon State.

Colette Gaona joins Council of Early Career Engineers

Collette Gaona

Colette Gaona, a 2008 graduate in chemical engineering, was honored at the 2018 Oregon Stater Awards, held Feb. 22 in Portland, where she joined the Council of Early Career Engineers.

Knowing the actual chemistry behind environmental contamination issues is what sets Gaona apart from her colleagues. She is one of just three chemical engineering professionals on Landau Associates’ staff of 92 employees.

“I often get calls when a more technical explanation is needed concerning chemical contaminants,” she said.

In her 9 1/2-year career with Landau Associates, Gaona has conducted a number of field studies that include finding and tracing the pathways of pollutants, evaluating analytical data, preparing technical reports, and developing cleanup recommendations for aerospace, industrial, and public sector facilities.

“I enjoy playing the role of detective in helping our clients solve problems,” she said.

Gaona is now taking it to the next level. Landau Associates is an employee-owned company, and she ran for a seat on the firm’s board of directors in 2016. Now in her second year on the board, she serves as corporate secretary.

“It’s been a great opportunity to learn about the company and the business of my profession from a different perspective,” she said.

Gaona also has stepped into a leadership role in the firm’s Portland office, overseeing larger projects and staff. And she’s accomplished all this while embarking on parenthood — her second child is due in April.

“It’s worked out well,” she said, “I’m learning how to balance and excel in new areas while becoming a mom.”

For students entering the profession, especially women, she offers this advice:

“You don’t have to take the traditional route, but women must have passion if they want to advance in this industry. Excellent mentors and internships provided by the School of Chemical, Biological, and Environmental Engineering prepared me for real-life work. If you don’t take internships, it’s tough to get your foot in the door. Wisdom, education, tenacity, and a little experience help you get noticed.”

Sarady Tan joins Academy of Distinguished Engineers

Sarady Tan

Col. (Dr.) Sarady Tan joined the Academy of Distinguished Engineers at the 2018 Oregon Stater Awards ceremony, held Feb. 22 in Portland.

Tan earned both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in chemical engineering at Oregon State University, in 1988 and 1990, before earning his medical degree from Oregon Health and Science University in 1993.

Today he is director of the National Center for Medical Intelligence within the Defense Intelligence Agency, headquartered in Washington, D.C. He leads a diverse team of military, civilian, and international partners who monitor the medical risk intelligence of foreign adversaries to help the president and national policymakers make informed security decisions.

His impressive 22-year career as a physician and commander in the U.S. Air Force includes eight deployments: to Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Qatar. “As an operational flight surgeon, my responsibility has always been to prepare — physically and mentally — the folks who are going to fight on the front lines and make sure they’re fit to go,” Tan said.

Tan came to the United States from Cambodia as a refugee with his family in 1975 during the U.S. withdrawal from the Vietnam War. He was just 9 years old. In high school, he watched documentaries about the challenges faced by refugees and wanted to do something to serve the underprivileged.

Before Tan started graduate school at Oregon State, his parents gave him a plane ticket to Thailand so he could visit a refugee camp.

“I saw a lot of doctors working there,” Tan said. “When I experienced Doctors Without Borders, I knew I wanted to be a physician.”

Tan also knew he wanted to serve in the U.S. military. His father was formerly in the Cambodian Royal Air Force.

“I wanted to at least serve my adopted country as a way to repay for the second chance in life and opportunities I’d been given living here,” Tan said.

Tan is passionate about educating others about the necessity of giving back to our country.

“It’s about doing something you enjoy,” Tan said. “For me, medicine and serving our country are intricately related. You can say that I am living the American dream.”