How to not come unglued: A wood adhesive story

It all started with a broken (tanbur) neck

A traditional Persian tanbour. Photo credit:

While playing the tanbur in his native country of Iran, tonight’s guest Yahya Mousavi found the wooden instruments are sensitive to the moisture and it cannot produce high quality sounds in humid conditions. The tanbur, a traditional Persian string instrument, is the ancient ancestor of the guitar with a pear-shaped body composed of wood, a long neck, and many strings. In his third year of undergraduate studies, Yahya begin to develop a suitable substitute for wood in making musical instruments. He shared his idea with his professor. The professor was excited about the idea and allowed Yahya to pursue the research, which resulted in many publications, such as [1-3], both in English and Persians, as well as the manufacturing a tanbur, a setar, and a tar (the names of some Persian musical instruments) from polymeric composites, rather than wood.

Hunting for safe adhesive alternatives

Wood Science & Engineering PhD Student, Yahya Mousavi

It seems that wood science has always piqued Yahya’s interest, but now instead of focusing on instruments, he is focusing on an issue with a much broader impact – developing a safe, sustainable adhesive for wood composite production. Wood-composites such as particleboard and plywood wood are mainly used to construct buildings, make furniture, cabinetry, etc.; however, in order to make these wood composite panels, an adhesives have to be used to hold all the layers together. The problem is, the adhesive that has been used historically and is currently in use contains the toxic chemical formaldehyde, which is known to cause different cancers and mental disorders. The California Air Resources Board (CARB) passed a regulation on limiting formaldehyde emission from wood-based products used and sold in California in April 2007. A national regulation of limiting formaldehyde emission, ‘‘formaldehyde standards for composite wood products act,’’ was signed into law on July 7, 2010.

This has been the focus of Yahya’s PhD research for the past three years in Dr. Kaichang Li’s lab in the Department of Wood Science and Engineering in Oregon State University’s College of Forestry. The first goal of the research was to find a safe replacement for formaldehyde-based adhesives. Currently, isocyanates is being used as a replacement, but poses similar health risks. Secondly, the Li Lab was seeking to find something renewable. Yahya set out to find if he could fulfill both of these goals with soybean-based adhesives. In order to do so, he would need to find a way to make an adhesive that could pass all the standard requirements for use, which requires various water soaking tests. The main issue with soy-based adhesives was that they are not water resistant.

Close-up view of plywood board. Photo credit:

Success for soy-based adhesives

In his research, Yahya was able to crosslink the functional groups of soybean flour using a polymer named poly (glycidyl methacrylate-co-styrene) (PGS). To do this, poly (glycidyl methacrylate-co-styrene) (PGS) emulsions were synthesized through a free radical initiated emulsion polymerization of glycidyl methacrylate (GMA) and styrene. The PGS was characterized with FTIR, and investigated as a curing agent for soybean flour (SF)-based wood adhesives. Seven-ply plywood panels were prepared with the SF-PGS adhesives and were evaluated for their water resistance through a three-cycle water-soaking test. Effects of the PGS/SF weight ratios, hot press temperature, hot press time, and usage of NaOH on the water resistance of the resulting plywood panels were investigated. Plywood panels made with the SF-PGS adhesives met the industrial requirement for interior plywood. More information about this research can be found in [4].

In another study, Yahya was able to develop a cold-set wood adhesive based on soy protein isolate. This adhesive was able to pass all the standard requirements for exterior plywood such as the two-cycle boil test, dry shear test, and cyclic-boil shear test. Now, Yahya is working to modify this cold-set adhesive for manufacturing of cross-laminated timber (CLT) panels, which are a novel wood product recently introduced to the construction industry and it is expected to grow very fast.

While Yahya is not personally involved in the translation of his research into industry practices, the ultimate goal would be for these soy-based adhesives to be widely used by the wood composite industry reducing widespread exposure to toxic chemicals.

Following passion with purpose

Yahya enjoying one of Oregon’s many waterfalls at Silver Falls State Park.

Yahya is an engineer by trade and began his career in polymer engineering when obtaining his Bachelor of Science and Master of Science at the Islamic Azad University (IAU)in Tehran, Iran. (Fun fact: IAU is the fifth largest university in the world based on an enrollment of over 1.5 million students!?) Yahya hopes to one-day have a faculty position where he can continue conducting polymer research on meaningful projects.

Join us on Sunday, October 14 at 7 PM on KBVR Corvallis 88.7 FM or stream live to learn more about Yahya’s quest to find a safe, sustainable wood adhesive alternative and his journey to graduate school at Oregon State.

[1] Jalili MM, Pirayeshfar AS, Mousavi SY (2012) A comparative study on viscoelastic properties of polymeric composites measured by a longitudinal free vibration non-destructive test and dynamic mechanical thermal analysis. Iran Polym J 21:651–659. DOI: 1

[2] Jalili MM, Mousavi SY, Pirayeshfar AS (2014) Investigating the acoustical properties of carbon fiber-, glass fiber- and hemp fiber-reinforced polyester composites. Polym Compos DOI: 10.1002/pc.22872.

[3] Jalili MM, Mousavi SY, Pirayeshfar AS (2014) Flexural free vibration as a non-destructive test for evaluation of viscoelastic properties of polymeric composites in bending direction. Iran Polym J (2014) 23: 327. DOI: 10.1007/s13726-014-0227-x.

[4] Mousavi SY, Huang J, Li K (2018) Investigation of poly (glycidyl methacrylate-co-styrene) as a curing agent for soy-based wood adhesives. Int. J. Adhes. Adhes 82: 67-71, DOI: 10.1016/j.ijadhadh.2017.12.017.

Infection Interruption: Identifying Compounds that Disrupt HIV

Know the enemy

Comparing microbial extracts with Dr. Sandra Loesgen.

The Human Immunodeficiency Virus, or HIV, is the virus that leads to Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS). Most of our listeners have likely heard about HIV/AIDS because it has been reported in the news since the 1980s, but our listeners might not be familiar with the virus’s biology and treatments that target the virus.

  • HIV follows an infection cycle with these main stages:
    • Attachment – the virus binds to a host cell
    • Fusion – the viral wall fuses with the membrane of the host cell and genetic material from the virus enters the host cell
    • Reverse transcription – RNA from the virus is converted into DNA via viral enzymes
    • Integration – viral DNA joins the genome of the host cell
    • Reproduction – the viral DNA hijacks the host cell activity to produce more viruses and the cycle continues
  • Drug treatments target different stages in the HIV infection cycle to slow down infection
  • However, HIV has adapted to allow mistakes to occur during the reverse transcription stage such that spontaneous mutations change the virus within the host individual, and the virus becomes tolerant to drug treatments over time.

Faulty Machinery

Due to the highly mutable nature of HIV, a constant supply of new drug treatments are necessary to fend off resistance and treat infection. Our guest this week on Inspiration Dissemination, Ross Overacker a PhD candidate in Organic Chemistry, is screening a library of natural and synthetic compounds for their antiviral activity and effectiveness at disrupting HIV. Ross works in a Natural Products Lab under the direction of Dr. Sandra Loesgen. There, Ross and his lab mates (some of whom were on the show recently [1] [2]) test libraries of compounds they have extracted from fungi and bacteria for a range of therapeutic applications. Ross is currently completing his analysis of a synthetic compound that shows promise for interrupting the HIV infection cycle.

“Uncle Ross” giving a tour of the lab stopping to show off the liquid nitrogen.

Working in Lab with liquid nitrogen.








Havin’ a blast

Chemistry Club at Washington State University (WSU) initially turned Ross onto chemistry. The club participated in education outreach by presenting chemistry demonstrations at local high schools and club events. Ross and other students would demonstrate exciting chemistry demos such as filling hydrogen balloons with salt compounds resulting in colorful explosions piquing the interest of students and community members alike. Ross originally made a name in

Collecting Winter Chanterelles in the Pacific Northwest.

WSU’s chemistry club, eventually becoming the president, by showing off a “flaming snowball” and tossing it from hand to hand—don’t worry he will explain this on air. For Ross, chemistry is a complicated puzzle that once you work out, all of the pieces fall into place. After a few undergraduate research projects, Ross decided that he wanted to continue research by pursing a PhD in Organic Chemistry at Oregon State University.



Tune in this Sunday October 7th at 7 PM to hear from Ross about his research and path to graduate school. Not a local listener? Stream the show live or catch this episode on our podcast.

Learning without a brain

Instructions for how to win a soccer game:

Score more goals than your opponent.

Sounds simple, but these instructions don’t begin to explain the complexity of soccer and are useless without knowledge of the rules of soccer or how a “goal” is “scored.” Cataloging the numerous variables and situations to win at soccer is impossible and even having all that information will not guarantee a win. Soccer takes teamwork and practice.

Researchers in robotics are trying to figure out how to make a robot learn behaviors in games such as soccer, which require collaborative and/or competitive behaviors.

How then would you teach a group of robots to play soccer? Robots don’t have “bodies,” and instructions based on human body movement are irrelevant. Robots can’t watch a game and later try some fancy footwork. Robots can’t understand English unless they are designed to. How would the robots communicate with each other on the field? If a robot team did win a soccer game, how would they know?

Multiple robot systems are already a reality in automated warehouses.

Although this is merely an illustrative example, these are the types of challenges encountered by folks working to design robots to accomplish specific tasks. The main tool for teaching a robot to do anything is machine learning. With machine learning, a roboticist can give a robot limited instructions for a task, the robot can attempt a task many times, and the roboticist can reward the robot when the task is performed successfully. This allows the robot to learn how to successfully accomplish the task and use that experience to further improve. In our soccer example, the robot team is rewarded when they score a goal, and they can get better at scoring goals and winning games.

Programming machines to automatically learn collaborative skills is very hard because the outcome depends on not only what one robot did, but what all other robots did; thus it is hard to learn who contributed the most and in what way.

Our guest this week, Yathartha Tuladhar, a PhD student studying Robotics in the College of Engineering, is focused on improving multi-robot coordination. He is investigating both how to effectively reward robots and how robot-to-robot communication can increase success. Fun fact: robots don’t use human language communication. Roboticists define a limited vocabulary of numbers or letters that can become words and allow the robots to learn their own language. Not even the roboticist will be able to decode the communication!


Human-Robot collaborative teams will play a crucial role in the future of search and rescue.

Yathartha is from Nepal and became interested in electrical engineering as a career that would aid infrastructure development in his country. After getting a scholarship to study electrical engineering in the US at University of Texas Arlington, he learned that electrical engineering is more than developing networks and helping buildings run on electricity. He found electrical engineering is about discovery, creation, trial, and error. Ultimately, it was an experience volunteering in a robotics lab as an undergraduate that led him to where he is today.

Tune in on Sunday at 7pm and be ready for some mind-blowing information about robots and machine learning. Listen locally to 88.7FM, stream the show live, or check out our podcast.

Challenging assumptions about wellness and illness through the lens of Mad Studies

Our entire environment is built upon assumptions about how someone is supposed to move and interact with/in the world. Although disability studies have been around for a long time, in recent years the field has distanced itself from the medical model of disability, in which people with disabilities are viewed as flawed and in need of cure, instead towards a social model of disability. In the social model of disability, an individual in a wheelchair is not the problem; rather, the problem is the building without a ramp and automatic doors. As a 2nd year PhD student of Dr. Patty Duncan in the Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Program at OSU, Lzz Johnk pursues questions posed by Mad Studies scholars, such as, what does it mean to think of Mad, neuroqueer, neurodivergent, and mentally disabled people as self-organizing political agents, instead of individuals who society must deal with to maintain order? The core of Lzz’s research consists of applying a genealogical lens to the root of Mad Studies, which is a field examining the lived experiences and culture surrounding individuals identifying as mentally ill, neurodiverse, mentally disabled, and/or Mad. From a white-dominated, Amerocentric perspective, Mad Studies has been around for ~10 years, although the field actually goes back much further, with its roots in the perspectives of people of color, and more specifically, women of color. Lzz explains, “we need to interrogate who gets to decide what constitutes Mad Studies.”

Framing the history of Mad Studies

Examining and interrogating the history of Mad Studies requires understanding the relationships within that history. The location and history of the institution provides framework for the context of the research being done within, as institutions are saturated in the history of the land. Specifically, what does it mean for a white, European settler at a land grant institution such as OSU to be working and researching in a field steeped in the lived experiences of Indigenous people and people of color? Much of the work being done in Mad Studies is limited to the perspectives of cis-masculine individuals and ignores the work of marginalized peoples.

We are all stigmatized to varying extents based on components of our identities, be it national identity, religion, gender, or social class, which is conceptually encompassed by a theory forwarded by Black and other feminists of colour known as intersectionality. The degree to which these stigmas overlap and compound, can effectively result in more acute and damaging marginalization. Historically, people of color and femme and/or gender-deviant people have been hyper-diagnosed as Mad (think of the stereotype of hysteria applied to women). As an example, in considering borderline personality disorder as discussed by writer Susanna Kaysen, Lzz asks, “where is the border-line? Why do women cross that line so often? That line has historically been set and upheld by white settler cis-masculine doctors who determine the boundaries of Madness and wellness. But, the closer you look at the line, the harder it is to define.”

Implementing change

One reason Lzz cites as motivation to return to the academy is to be part of the conversation to make real change in the lives of people identifying as Mad. Changes are being implemented at an unacceptably slow rate. However, Lzz’s research is not directly associated with generating tailored recommendations about health, and explains, “we should be really cautious about the people and institutions making recommendations, by asking what community they are coming from and what their intentions might be. The tendency of entire fields to broad-brush people, and to distill people’s identities into crude stereotypes that get turned against them in moments of vulnerability – as if it is remotely possible to categorize an individual’s whole life experience – is one reason why Mad and disabled people are so stigmatized in our culture.”

Lzz cites the work of Gloria Anzaldúa, a Chicana feminist, as being a critical influence on their wanting to pursue the study of Madness. Anzaldúa wrote and theorized mind-body differences embodying what gets pathologized as Madness or disability. Lzz relates how the work of Anzaldúa exposed them to the concept of navigating overlapping interstitial spaces – or “the space between things, where things don’t fit; falling between, but not quite fitting into binary systems of identity, such as gender.” In this sense, Mad and disabled people are continually finding ourselves in ambiguous terrain.

Why OSU?

Lzz completed their undergrad at Michigan State University in Cultural Anthropology with a certificate in Asian Studies, followed by completion of an MA at Eastern Michigan University in Women and Gender Studies. Lzz felt they could handle doctoral-level work, and also felt strongly that the institution they ended up pursuing a PhD at would need to embrace their Madness. About OSU, Lzz says, “the faculty in my program, in all of their various subfields, are really stellar. Even faculty who don’t necessarily position themselves within Mad Studies are supportive.”

Future directions

Lzz loves teaching and research and would like to pursue these endeavors after graduate school. They also enjoy community work and plan to be involved in outreach to young people who might need support in navigating their neuroqueerness, Madness, and/or mental illness. As someone who has experienced violent pathologization firsthand – fostering a sense of self-hatred instead of acceptance and celebration – Lzz feels that teaching can be one way to disrupt those violences and impact people’s lives in a tangible and meaningful way.

You will not want to miss our interview with Lzz on Sunday, September 16th at 7pm. Listen live on KBVR Corvallis 88.7 FM or stream live. Also, check us out on Apple Podcasts!

Can soil bacteria clean up our toxic messes?

Thousands of sites across the US are contaminated with chemical solvents that have been used for decades in industrial processes. These solvents can leach into groundwater and create plumes up to several miles long. 1,4-dioxane, a probable human carcinogen, is often present in groundwater contaminant plumes because of its historical use in degreasing heavy machinery, but it’s also present in trace amounts in products as varied as laundry detergents, deicing agents, cosmetics, and even in food.

There’s good news and bad news here: The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, enacted in 1980, established laws for the management and disposal of hazardous wastes, meaning new releases to the environment have diminished considerably. Decontamination of chlorinated solvents often involves pumping groundwater to the surface and removing the contamination through volatilization or adsorption. However, this process is expensive, time- and energy-consuming, and ineffective at removing some chemicals, like water-soluble 1,4-dioxane.

Some jobs require the help of friends. In this case, for Hannah Rolston, a fifth-year PhD student in the Department of Environmental Engineering working with Dr. Lewis Semprini, these friends are soil bacteria that are able to naturally degrade this carcinogen. Bioremediation, or the practice of putting these bacteria to work to degrade contaminants, offers some hope in cases like these. Sometimes they can degrade certain pollutants all by themselves (called natural attenuation), but when you’re dealing with carcinogens in areas with people nearby, you want to use an engineered approach to make sure this process goes as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Hannah explained to us that not all compounds are easily degraded by bacteria, and even though some will consume 1,4-dioxane as food, environmental concentrations are not enough to sustain their growth (though remain harmful to humans). To work around this, she has been using a strategy called cometabolism. This involves adding a different carbon source into the groundwater plume for the microbes to eat–ideally, one that will cause the bacteria to produce enzymes that not only degrade the food source, but the 1,4-dioxane as well. This can be tricky, and not only in an engineering sense: you need to know enough microbial metabolism to be sure they’re not converting the hazardous compound into something even worse.

Hannah collecting groundwater samples from test wells at the OSU motor pool.

Using soil samples from two contaminated sites in Colorado and California, Hannah and the Semprini group are using isobutane (yes, the same gas you use for your camp stove) to nourish the native microbial communities so that they produce a type of enzyme called a monooxygenase. She has observed the 1,4-dioxane levels decrease in these enrichments. Preliminary work shows the bacteria convert 1,4-dioxane all the way to carbon dioxide–completely benign compared to what we started with.

Hannah began her undergraduate at Seattle University as an international studies major interested in a career in diplomacy. Feeling her first year of humanities classes provided her a wide breadth of knowledge but didn’t give her applicable skills, she transferred to environmental engineering, where she became interested in groundwater and hazardous waste remediation. After graduation, she worked for the US Army Environmental Command, working with army installations across the country to comply with environmental regulations.. When the spreadsheets and desk work didn’t quite live up to its expectations, she knew it was time to seek out graduate programs where she could put her engineering background and interest in hazardous waste remediation to work.

When she’s not tricking microbes into consuming carcinogenic contaminants, Hannah can be found road biking and doing ceramics at the OSU craft center. She is also involved in the OSU Chemical, Biological, and Environmental Engineering Graduate Student Association and the OMSI Science Communication Fellowship program. To hear more about her research and journey to graduate school, tune in to Inspiration Dissemination Sunday August 26th at 7pm on 88.7 FM, or stream the show live.

The Evolving Views of Plastic Pollution

Oceans cover more than 70% of the Earth’s surface and some studies suggest we still have over 91% of marine species that await discovery. Even as far back as 2010 some NASA scientists admit we knew more about the surface of Mars than we did about the bottom of our own oceans! Despite the fact we may not know everything about our oceans just yet, one thing is certain: plastics are becoming part of ecosystems that have never experienced it and we’re beginning to understand its massive impact. One estimate suggests that even if you had 100 ships towing for 10 hours a day, with 200 meters of netting and perfectly capturing every large and tiny piece of plastic, we could only clean up 2% of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch every year. It would take 50 years to clean everything up, assuming we magically stopped using plastics on Earth. As one Nature research article suggests, the problems lies mostly with local municipalities; but that means with targeted local action, individuals can make a real difference and limit how much plastic makes it to our oceans. So you may be thinking “let’s tell all our friends these plastic facts and then everyone will stop using plastic, right?”. Not so fast, unfortunately a host of studies show just informing people about the scope of the problem doesn’t always make them change their behavior to ameliorate the problem in question.

Katy getting a seal kiss from Boots the harbor seal at the Oregon Coast Aquarium

Our guest this evening is Katy Nalven, a 2nd year Masters student in the Marine Resources Management program, who is using a community based social marketing approach to ask people not only IF they know about the problem of plastics in oceans, but she also seeks to understand how people think about this problem and what could be individual hurdles to decreasing plastic usage. Using a survey based approach administered at the Oregon Coast Aquarium, Katy plans to examine a few specific communities of interest to identify how the views around plastic usage from Aquarium visitors and local community members may differ and hopefully where they overlap.

This community based social marketing approach has many steps, but it’s proven more effective in changing behaviors for beneficial outcomes rather than just mass media information campaigns by themselves. By identifying a target goal for a community of interest you can tailor educational material that will have the greatest chance of success. For example, if your goal is to decrease plastic usage for coastal communities in Oregon, you may find that a common behavior in the community you can target to have the greatest impact such as bringing your own mug to coffee shops for a discount, or automatically saying “no straw please” whenever going out to eat. Katy is beginning to pin down how these Oregon coast communities view plastic usage with the hope that a future student can begin implementing her recommended marketing strategies to change behaviors for a more positive ocean health outlook.

Hugs from Cleo, the Giant Pacific Octopus, at the Oregon Coast Aquarium

Katy grew up in the landlocked state of Arizona constantly curious about animals, but on a childhood visit to SeaWorld San Diego she became exposed to the wonders of the ocean and was wonderstruck by a close call with a walrus. Near the end of a Biology degree in her undergraduate years, simultaneously competing as an NAIA Soccer player for Lyons College, Katy was looking for career options and with a glimpse of her stuffed walrus she got at the San Diego Zoo, she decided to look at Alaska for jobs. After a few summers being a whale watching guide in Juneau, an animal handling internship in Florida, and then another internship in Hawaii Katy decided she wanted to formally revisit her science roots but with a public policy perspective. Oregon State University’s Marine Resource Management Program was the perfect fit. In fact, once she was able to connect with her advisor, Dr. Kerry Carlin-Morgan who is also the Education Director for the Oregon Coast Aquarium, Katy knew this was the perfect step for her career.

Meeting Jack Johnson at the 6th International Marine Debris Conference. He and his wife are the founders of the Kokua Hawaii Foundation whose mission is to “provide students with experiences that will enhance their appreciation for and understanding of their environment so they will be lifelong stewards of the earth.”



Be sure to tune in to Katy’s interview Sunday August 19th at 7PM on 88.7FM, or listen live, to learn more about her findings about how we view plastic pollution, and how we can potentially make local changes to help the global ecosystem.

Mobility is critical to social and cognitive development in children

Learning to crawl and walk affords children opportunities to explore their world. As such, early childhood mobility is intertwined with other formative childhood milestones, such as motor skill development and learning to negotiate social encounters. Disabled children who may have difficulty reaching mobility milestones, are thus at risk for missing out on opportunities for play and exploration that are critical to cognitive, social, and motor skill development. Samantha Ross, a PhD student in the Kinesiology, Adapted Physical Activity program within the College of Public Health and Human Sciences at Oregon State University, asks the question: how can we support the movement experiences of children with mobility disabilities to ensure they have equitable access to play, exploration and social encounters?

The experience of movement Ride-on cars are modified, child-sized, battery powered vehicles designed to support children with disabilities during play. The ride-on car is equipped with a large button to initiate movement, as well as structural modifications to enhance body support. As part of her research, Samantha observes children with and without disabilities participating in an inclusive play group. She monitors changes in the behavior of individual children, and video analysis helps her to track their distance traveled while using a ride-on car. Factors including whether the child initiated their own movement, if movement included interaction with a peer, or was motivated by a toy, all contribute to a child’s experience of mobility. The ride-on car facilitates the initiation of new relationships among children, noticeably reducing the barrier between children with and without disabilities and promoting equitable play experiences.

For more information about ride-on cars and to watch videos of the cars in action, visit the GoBabyGo website:

The impact of impaired mobility is nuanced Nearly thirty years of research has indicated that young children can benefit from powered mobility devices. However, the field is dominated by the medical perspective of reducing disability. In recent years, a major push from disability groups has emphasized the importance of community and social interactions in enhancing the well-being of children with disabilities. Mobility cannot be distilled down to simply moving from point A to point B, rather the self-perceived experience of movement and how movement facilitates encounters with people and objects is integral to children’s feelings of well-being. It is important for children to feel valued for their contribution. Samantha’s goal is to facilitate a social environment that enhances the well-being and development of children with disabilities, thereby promoting equitable access to a healthy and active childhood.

Following graduate school, Samantha would like to continue her involvement in research at one of the University Centers of Excellence in Developmental Disabilities, representing a partnership between state, federal, academic, and disability communities. Samantha explains, “We need to hear from people with disabilities – we need everyone at the table for the system to work.” These centers provide the interface between policy and research, where priorities are weighed and decisions are made. Often headquartered at medical schools, the centers raise awareness and help train future healthcare professionals. Samantha would love to be involved in this discussion.

Join us on Sunday, August 5th at 7pm on KBVR Corvallis 88.7 FM or stream live to hear more about Samantha’s research. We will discuss other aspects of her research, as well, including her investigation of national surveillance reports, which provide insight about whether children’s service needs are being met, and how to identify children who could benefit from mobility assistive devices.

How do bone cancer cells become resistant to chemotherapy?

Limited treatments for bone cancer Bone cancer is a devastating and poorly understood disease with few available treatment options in humans. The disease disproportionately impacts young adults and children, and treatment still often includes amputation of the affected limb. Relapse within one year is common. Dogs can also spontaneously develop bone cancer, which makes them a suitable model for comparative oncology: insights about disease progression in dogs can yield insights about the disease in humans.

Animal models – one size does not fit all The difficulty of establishing a robust animal model has impeded scientists’ ability to study bone cancer rigorously. For example, although mice are commonly used to study human disease, they do not develop bone cancer spontaneously. Invasive tumor tissue grafts are required to study the disease in mice, which adds confounding variables to the results – it is not necessarily clear if an observed effect is the result of the tumor or the grafting procedure.

Understanding how chemotherapy resistance develops As a 2nd year Master’s student in the College of Veterinary Medicine, Marcus Weinman is working towards understanding how bone cancer tumors adapt and acquire resistance to chemotherapy. He has been developing canine osteosarcoma cell lines to study disease progression, which entails exposing cells to chemotherapy until they become resistant. Using a variety of molecular biology techniques, Marcus investigates how cells acquire resistance, and whether specific molecules or groups of molecules are more active or less active as resistance develops. The goal is to identify possible targets within the cell that might be sensitive to therapeutic intervention.  

Complexity of bone cancer cells Cells contain exosomes – small packages containing a diverse mix of molecules – that participate in signaling and transfer of molecules between cells. These compact cellular packages are being investigated for their role in the development of resistance. These tumor cells are also endocrine tumors – they express hormones normally found in other tissues, such as the brain and the gut – which adds a layer of physiology to the already-complex nature of cancer.

Why cancer research? Originally from Denver, Colorado, Marcus knew he wanted to attend OSU to pursue research opportunities. He completed his undergraduate studies at OSU, and attributes part of his desire to attend OSU to a deep family connection to Corvallis – his grandfather was a professor at OSU!

After completing his Master’s, Marcus plans to attend med school, with the eventual goal of becoming an oncologist, while maintaining his connection to research. He emphasizes how the teaching component of medicine is a motivating factor in his desire to become a physician. As a clinician, he would like to teach patients how to take care of themselves by integrating educational and interpersonal aspects of medicine.

Join us on Sunday, July 29th at 7pm on KBVR Corvallis 88.7 FM or stream live to hear more from Marcus about his research and experience as a graduate student at OSU.


Don’t just dream big, dream bigger

If you’ve purchased a device with a display (e.g. television, computer, mobile phone, handheld game console) in the last couple decades you may be familiar with at least some of the following acronyms: LCD, LED, OLED, Quantum LED – no, I did not make that up. Personally, I find it all a bit overwhelming and difficult to keep up with, as the evolution of displays is so rapidly changing. But until the display replicates an image that is indistinguishable from what we see in nature, there will always be a desire to make the picture more lifelike. The limiting factor of making displays appear realistic is the number of colors used to make the image. Currently, not all color wavelengths are used.

Akash conducting research on nanoparticles.

This week’s guest, Akash Kannegulla studies how light interacts with nanostructure metals for applications to advance display technology, as well as biosensing. Akash is a PhD candidate in the Electrical Engineering and Computer Science program with a focus in Materials and Devices in the Cheng Lab. Exploiting the physical and chemical properties of nanoparticles, Akash is able to work toward the advancement of display and biosensing technologies.

When shining light on metals, electrons and photons interact and oscillate to create a surface plasma, or “electron cloud”. Under specific conditions, when fluorescent dye is excited with UV light on the surface plasma, electrons move to higher atomic levels. When the electrons return to lower atomic levels, energy is released in the form of light. This light is 10-100X brighter than it would be without the use of fluorescent dyes. With this light magnification, less voltage is used to produce a comparable brightness level. This has two main benefits; first consumer products can use less energy to produce the same visual experience, so we can significantly decrease our carbon footprint. Second, these unique conditions can be amplified at the nano-scale, which means smaller pixels and more colors that can be produced so our TV screens will look more and more like the real world around us. These new advancements at the nano-scale have extremely tight tolerances in order for it to work; however, in this case, not working can also provide some incredible information.

This technology can be applied in biosensing to detect mismatches in DNA sequences. A ‘mismatch’ in a DNA sequence has a slightly different chemical bond, the distance between the atoms is ever so slightly different than what is expected, but that tiny difference can be detected by how intense the light is – again the nanoscale is frustratingly finnicky at how precise the conditions must be in order to get the expected response – in this case light intensity. So when we get a ‘dim’ spot, it can be indicative of a mismatched DNA segment! Akash predicts that in a just a few years, this nanotechnology will make single nucleic acid differentiations detectable on with sensing technology on a small chip or using a phone camera, rather than a machine half the size of MINI Cooper.

Akash, the entrepreneur, with his winning certificate for the WIN Shark Tank 2018 competition.

In addition to Akash’s research, he has spent a significant portion of his graduate career investing in an award-winning start-up company, Wisedoc.This project was inspired by the frustration Akash felt, and probably all graduate students and researchers, when trying to publish his own work and found himself spending too much time formatting and re-formatting rather than conducting research. By using Wisedoc, you can input your article content into the program and select a journal of interest. The program will then format your content to the journal’s specifications, which are approved by the respective journal’s editors to make publishing academic articles seamless. If you want to submit to another journal, it only takes a click to update the formatting. Follow this link for a short video on how Wisedoc works. And for those of us with dissertations to format, no worries – Wisedoc will have an option for that, too. Akash notes that Wisedoc would not have been possible without the help of OSU’s Advantage Accelerator program, which guides students, faculty, staff, as well as the broader community through the start-up process. Akash’s team has won the Willamette Innovators Network 2018 Shark Tank competition, which earned them an entry into the Willamette Angel Conference, where Wisedoc won the Speed Pitch competition. If you are as eager as I am to checkout Wisedoc, the launch is only a few months away in December 2018!

The soon-to-be Dr. Akash Kannegulla – his defense is only a month away – is the first person in decades from his small town at the outskirts of Hyberabad, India, to attend graduate school. Akash’s start in engineering was inspired by his uncle, an achieved instrumentation scientist. Not knowing where to start, Akash adopted his uncle’s career choice as an engineer, but took the time to thoroughly explore his specialty options while an undergraduate. A robotics workshop at his undergraduate institution, Amirta School of Engineering in Bangalore, India, sparked an interest in Akash due to the hands-on nature of the science. Akash explored undergraduate research opportunities in the United States landing on a Nano Undergraduate Research Fellowship from University of Notre Dame. During the summer of 2013, Akash studied photo induced re-configurable THz circuits and devices under the guidance of Dr. Larry Cheng and Dr. Lei Liu. Remarkably, Akash conducted research resulting in a publication after only participating in this four-week fellowship. After graduating with the Bachelor of Technology in Instrumentation, Akash decided to come to Oregon State University to continue working with Dr. Cheng as a PhD student.

After defending, Akash will be working at Intel Hillsboro, as well as preparing for the launch of Wisedoc in December. And if that doesn’t sound like enough to keep him busy, Akash has plans for two more start-ups in the works.

Join us on Sunday, July 22 at 7 PM on KBVR Corvallis 88.7 FM or stream live to learn more about Akash’s nanotechnology research, start-up company, and to get inspired by this go-getter.


The Mold That Keeps On Giving

All around us, plants, fungi, and bacteria are waging chemical warfare against one another to deter grazing, prevent against infection, or reduce the viability of competitor species. Us humans benefit from this. We use many of these compounds, called secondary metabolites, as antibiotics, medicines, painkillers, toxins, pigments, food additives, and more. We are nowhere close to finding all of these potentially useful compounds, particularly in marine environments where organisms can make very different types of chemicals. Could something as ordinary as a fungus from the sea provide us with the next big cancer breakthrough?

Paige Mandelare with one of the many marine bacteria she works with

Paige Mandelare thinks so. As a fourth-year PhD student working for Dr. Sandra Loesgen in OSU’s Chemistry department, she has extracted and characterized a class of secondary metabolites from a marine fungus, Aspergillus alliaceus, isolated from the tissues of an algae in the Mediterranean Sea. After growing the fungus in the laboratory and preparing an extract from it, she tested the extract on colon cancer and melanoma cell lines. It turned out to be cytotoxic to these cancer cells. Further purification of this mixture revealed three very similar forms of these new compounds they called allianthrones. Once Paige and her research group narrowed down their structures, they published their findings in the Journal of Natural Products.

Next, she grew the fungus on a different salt media, replacing bromine for chlorine. This forced the fungus to produce brominated allianthrones, which have a slightly different activity than the original chlorinated ones. Her lab then sent two of these compounds to the National Cancer Institute, where they were tested on 60 cell lines and found to work most effectively on breast cancers.

The recent publication of Paige in her story of the allianthrones from this marine-derived fungus, Aspergillus alliaceus.Like many organisms that produce them, this wonder mold only makes secondary metabolites when it has to. By stressing it with several different types of media in the lab, Paige is using a technique called metabolomics to see what other useful compounds it could produce. This will also give insight into how the fungus can be engineered to produce particular compounds of interest.

A native Rhode Islander who moved to Florida at the age of ten, Paige has always been fascinated with the ocean and as a child dreamed of becoming a marine biologist and working with marine mammals. She studied biology with a pre-med track as an undergraduate at the University of North Florida before becoming fascinated with chemistry. Not only did this allow her to better appreciate her father’s chemistry PhD better, she joined a natural products research lab where she first learned to conduct fungal chemical assays. Instead of placing her on a pre-med career path, her mentors in the UNF Chemistry department fostered her interest in natural products and quickly put her in touch with Dr. Loesgen here at OSU.

Paige enjoying her time at the Oregon Coast, when she is not in the research lab

After finishing her PhD, Paige hopes to move back east to pursue a career in industry at a pharmaceutical company or startup. In the meantime, when she’s not discovering anticancer agents from marine fungi, she participates in a master swimming class for OSU faculty, trains for triathlons, and is an avid baker.

To hear more about Paige and her research, tune in to KBVR Corvallis 88.7 FM this Sunday July 15th at 7 pm. You can also stream the live interview at, or find it on our podcast next week on Apple Podcasts.