Monthly Archives: October 2017

Tracing Goethe’s influence on botany and plant morphology

As a History of Science PhD student in the School of History, Philosophy, and Religion, Andy Hahn studies how botanists and plant morphologists in the 20th century were influenced by Goethe, a famed German writer and naturalist during the 19th century. Goethe is well known for his rendition of Faust, as well as his novel, The Sorrows of Young Werther. Although historians and philosophers have studied Goethe extensively, his influence on subsequent generations of botanists and plant morphologists has not been fully explored. Goethe wrote a book called Metamorphosis of Plants, which provided early foundational insight into morphology, the study of plant structure and appearance of plant features such as leaves and petals. For his PhD work, Andy has visited institutional archives in Switzerland, England, and Scotland to study the letters and writings of 20th century botanists and other scientists influenced by Goethe’s science.

Goethe’s science was characterized by taking account appearance and structure of plants as a whole entity, as opposed to focusing only specific parts of the plant, a method employed in the taxonomy of Linnaeus, a prominent 18th century natural historian. As the 19th century progressed, Goethe’s approach towards morphology was well-integrated in botanical science in Germany, France, and England. However, the rise of Darwinism, genetics, and experimental methods in the late 19th and early 20th centuries was accompanied by a decreased role for Goethe’s style of morphology. In the early 20th century, plant morphologist community split into two groups: new morphology based in Darwinian thought, and old morphology based in Goethe’s principles. The influence of Goethe’s writing can be seen among botanists in the 20th century, including Agnes Arber, a plant morphologist who translated Goethe’s Metamorphosis of Plants into English.

Andy was introduced to Goethe’s scientific work as he continued to follow his interests that arose from his as an undergraduate in philosophy. He appreciated Goethe’s and current Goethean scientists’ approach to plant morphology as a means to understand the natural world. By visualizing a plant through the course of its life, he was able to develop a stronger connection to the natural world, awakening his own senses by meditating on the form of plants. Andy found himself wondering what happened to the ideas of Goethe, and why Goethe’s ideas weren’t recognized more commonly in biological education. He became interested in philosophical questions surrounding why we think the way we do, as well as the accumulation of knowledge; in particular, how we produce scientific knowledge, and how we can be certain about it. During his Masters studies at OSU, Andy first began researching the botanical work of Goethe, and has continued to study the influence of Goethe on 20th century botanists for his PhD work. Following completion of his graduate studies, Andy would like to teach history of science at the university level and pursue science writing.

To hear more from Andy about the influence of Goethe’s science on botany and plant morphologists, tune in to Inspiration Dissemination on Sunday, October 22 at 7pm on 88.7 KBVR Corvallis. Or stream it online here!

The Breathing Seafloor

In the cold, dark depths of the seafloor across the world, microbes living in sediments and on rocks are quietly breaking down organic material and sucking dissolved oxygen out of the seawater. The continental shelf off of Oregon’s coasts, home to a fishing industry that brings in over a hundred million dollars of revenue per year, is no exception. Does oxygen consumption, and therefore carbon cycling, vary by location, or across seasons? Setting a baseline to investigate these patterns of oxygen drawdown is crucial to understanding habitats and distributions of fish stocks, but will also establish what “normal” oxygen consumption looks like off our shores. Measurements like these are also used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to estimate global patterns of carbon burial. If any forces were to shift these patterns in the future, we’d at least have a baseline to allow us to diagnose any “abnormal” conditions.

Peter Chace is a third-year PhD student of Ocean Ecology and Biogeochemistry in the College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences (CEOAS). Peter’s research focuses on developing a technique of measuring fluxes of oxygen across the seafloor called Eddy covariance. This technique takes high-resolution time measurements of three-dimensional velocities of water moving in turbulent whorls, or random circular patterns, within the boundary layer of a fluid like air or water. Eddy covariance has been employed to measure fluxes across air layers on land for decades, but has only recently been applied in marine systems. A point-source oxygen measurement within this turbulent layer is measured with a microelectrode and combined with the velocity data to develop a flux. Why go through all this trouble? Other ways to measure oxygen fluxes, like putting chambers over an area of seafloor and waiting to measure an oxygen drawdown, require a lot of work and give little temporal resolution.

Workers on the RV Oceanus, Oregon State’s largest research vessel, deploy a benthic (seafloor) oxygen sensor.

Peter can calibrate his microelectrodes to measure other chemicals and obtain their fluxes across the seabed, but he is mainly focused on oxygen. To measure fluxes off the Oregon coast, Pete and his advisor, Dr. Clare Reimers, will head to sea on the RV Oceanus several times this fall and winter to deploy their sensor on the seafloor for days at a time. The desk-sized seafloor lander and the microelectrode attached to it are fragile, and the rough seas offshore Oregon in fall and winter will make it a challenging endeavor. We hope they pack enough seasickness medication and barf bags!

You get right up close and personal with the ocean when you send down these instruments… and this is on a clear day with calm seas!

Since growing up as a child in New Jersey, Peter has always wanted to learn about the ocean. While studying chemistry and marine biology at Monmouth University (in New Jersey) as an undergraduate, he completed a summer REU (Research Experience as an Undergraduate) with his current advisor, Clare Reimers, here at Oregon State University. He also interned for NOAA (the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association), analyzing the chemistry of hydrothermal vent fluids with Dr. David Butterfield. Pete revisited a hydrothermal system on a cruise to the East Pacific Rise off of Central America where he got a remarkable opportunity to dive in Alvin, the submersible that discovered the wreckage of the Titanic.

Here’s Pete in the submersible Alvin just before the dive, checking his microelectrodes.

To hear more about Peter’s research on sensor development and his seafaring expeditions, tune in to Inspiration Dissemination on Sunday, October 15th at 7pm on 88.7 KBVR Corvallis. Or stream it online here!

Clean Meat, Clean Conscience

Some may say, “there is nothing like a juicy hamburger,” and here is the USA we are fortunate to have access to affordable meat. While the cost of your next hamburger may not weigh too heavily on your pocket, the quantity resources required to produce one pound of beef may surprise you. One pound of meat is fed by nearly 7 pounds of grain, 53 gallons of water, 70 square acres of land, and 1,000 BTU of energy(The Meat Revolution- Mark Post). Additionally, animal agriculture produces 5 times the amount of greenhouse gasses than other food sources (Smithsonian Mag). Finally, 56 billion land animals are killed every year solely for food. The impacts on marine animals are high as well but difficult to estimate. More information about the impacts of animal agriculture. But what can be done? Is there a better way to grow meat that uses less resources and reduces animal suffering?

From the petri dish to the plate

Bjørn on the Oregon State University campus

Yes, our guest this week, Bjørn Kristensen from the School of History, Philosophy, and Religion, studies the ethics behind cultured meat or clean meat. Similar scientific advances in muscle tissue culture that have led to lab grown human organs are now being harnessed to grow animal muscle for human consumption. Clean meat is made from cells that can be obtained with no harm to the animal donor. One company, Hampton Creek Foods, has cultured chicken muscle with cells from a chicken feather. Hampton Creek Foods and Finless Foods are focused on producing clean meat with zero animal suffering. Clean meat is literally clean because it is grow under 100% sterile conditions. This means no natural parasites or other infections, and no need for antibiotics nor artificial growth hormones. While Bjorn maintains that the best option for the both purposes of sustainability and reduction in animal suffering is eliminating animal products from one’s diet, within the next year or two, companies such as Hampton Creek and Finless Foods will be introducing clean meat which is structurally identical to meat coming from mainstream animal agriculture. This means that even those who choose not to stop eating meat will have options that do not require an animal to be killed for their food.

The best part: by some estimates a few animal cells can be used to grow 10,000 kg of meat (The Meat Revolution- Mark Post). Practically speaking, clean meat could reduce the number of cows in animal agriculture from half a billion to thirty thousand. This reduction animal agriculture would free up land and resources for other food sources such as vegetable crops, lessen the amount of greenhouse gasses being emitted by animal agriculture, and it would lower animal suffering.

When practicality meets ethics

Bjørn with a resident of Green Acres Farm Sanctuary in Silverton, Oregon where he volunteers.

Animal agriculture is an ethical issue. The intersection occurs when humans act as mediator and place the needs of one species over the needs of another. Bjorn studies this ethical conundrum. In the case of animal agriculture,we have placed our desire for meat over the needs of the individual animals within the current food system. For these animals, their entire life is planned for their death, process, and consumption, and this planned “life” comes with emotional consequences for the animals. Check out this video about chickens, considered one of the most abused animals. Clean meat could alleviate the need for so much animal suffering to feed humans and other non-human animals.

Not convinced?

Bjørn with his dog, Thor.

Consider this: humans are not the only animals on the planet that consume meat from animal agriculture. While humans can actually survive and thrive on a plant-based diet, other carnivorous animals must consume flesh to survive. Pets, zoo animals, and wildlife in rehabilitation also require animal proteins, and the animals that are harvested to produce pet food are at the bottom of the food chain. Removing small fish or small rodents from natural ecosystems means that animals in the wild have to get energy from other sources. For some wild animals, such as marine mammals, this is simply not possible. Few have considered that clean meat could become an alternative protein source for pets and other wildlife that have been removed from their natural habitat. Bjørn explored the ethics of “captive predation” or feeding captive animals with other animal protein sources in a recent paper that he presented at the International Conference on Cultured Meat in Maastricht, the Netherlands.

Because it’s who you are

Receiving the award for outstanding philosophical essay from his undergrad professor, Antony Aumann.

Bjørn’s “when I grow up” career choice was a veterinarian, and although not a vet now, his concern for animals has not dwindled. During college, Bjørn started out as a Human Services major at Finlandia University, but switched his focus after taking some philosophy and religious studies classes. Eventually, he transferred to Northern Michigan University and found a connection between concern for animals and philosophical study, particularly in animal ethics.  Bjørn began to consider graduate school after his professor in existentialism, Anthony Aumann, encouraged him to apply. Bjørn applied toOregon State University, and began to develope his thesis concerning inter-species justice with Robert Figueroa his major advisor.

Hear more about clean meat and Bjørn’s work and journey to graduate school this Sunday October, 8 at 7pm on 88.7FM KBVR Corvallis. Listen live online anywhere!

Continue the conversation with Bjørn and learn more about clean meat ethics and research:

 on twitter

kristenb@oregonstate.edu

 

Safe nuclear power and its future in our energy portfolio

Humanity’s appetite for energy is insatiable. The US Energy Information Administration projects almost a 30% increase in world energy demand by 2040. The fastest expansion of energy production is projected for renewables, whereas coal demand is expected to flat line. By 2040, the world will also practically double electricity production from nuclear fission, and for good reason: nuclear power is a reliable source of carbon free energy. In the United States, for instance, about 60% of carbon free electricity is generated by nuclear power.

Dylan Addison recently earned a Master’s degree from OSU’s Materials Science program.

However, significant barriers exist to making nuclear energy a stable and lasting piece of the puzzle. The way things are going, most new nuclear power in the coming decades will be installed in China, which has recognized the societal costs of air polluting fossil fuels, and is taking massive corrective action. Meanwhile, the rest of the world is hesitating when it comes to the nuclear option.

Our guest this week hopes to change that, by helping to qualify the world’s first small modular nuclear reactor design. Dylan Addison recently received his Master’s Degree in Materials Science from OSU. His focus was high temperature crack propagation in a nickel superalloy that is slated for use in a Generation IV reactor. Dylan transitioned to work with NuScale Power here in Corvallis, where he’ll continue to study the safety of materials exposed to high temperatures and pressures.

There are many reasons why you should keep track of NuScale Power in the coming years. In addition to being a local company, they stand to solve two key issues facing the nuclear energy industry: (1) NuScale stands to alter the economics of nuclear energy by radically reducing the upfront capital investment and time associated with plant construction, and (2) the passive safety features built into NuScale’s design will quell the fears of even the most skeptical among us.

The NuScale Power Module takes advantage of natural convection to circulate water through the nuclear core, eliminating a host of safety concerns.

Dylan’s Master’s thesis work was in performing high temperature crack growth experiments. Shown here is a sample at 800 °C!

Like many of us, Dylan’s meandering path through higher education took him longer than expected, and through several fields. While studying rhetoric at Willamette University, he started selling health-products over the phone from his dorm room. After dropping out of Willamette, he put in two years as a line cook at a thai food restaurant to see what life would look like in the service sector (his conclusion? It wasn’t for him). Then he decided to return to school and study engineering at OSU. While at OSU, he maintained the web presence of a marketing firm that continued to employ him after graduating with a Bachelor’s of Mechanical engineering in 2014. However, he wasn’t satisfied with the impact he was making by selling stuff on the internet, and entered graduate school in 2015 with a firm resolve to apply his technical knowledge to problems that have real weight. Working under Dr. Jamie Kruzic, Dylan was introduced to the field of fracture mechanics, which qualified him to apply for a job with NuScale upon graduation. Now, a few months into an engineering job, he gets to share his story on this week’s episode of Inspiration Dissemination!

Be sure to tune in Sunday October 1st at 7PM on 88.7FM or live to hear more about how Dylan’s schooling at Oregon State has positioned him to help bring reliable carbon free energy to all the world’s people.