Category Archives: College of Engineering

Antibiotic resistance: The truth lies in the sludge

 

Genevieve experiencing Vietnamese culture at Sam Mountain in the Mekong Delta

Did you know that about 30% of people here in Oregon have septic tanks? Why is that relevant to this week’s topic you ask? Our guest this week on Inspiration Dissemination, Genevieve Schutzius is an Environmental engineering masters student in the College of Engineering interested in waste water management. Genevieve is working with Dr. Tala Navab-Daneshmand as part of the Navab lab. The lab’s mission is to identify the fate and transmission pathways of pathogenic and antibiotic-resistant bacteria from wastewater systems to environmental reservoirs, and to design engineered systems and interventions to reduce the associated human health risks.

 

 

A beautiful sunrise over the Saigon River in District 4 of Ho Chi Minh City.

Recently, Genevieve spent a term abroad working on a project that is in collaboration with Dr. Mi Nguyen at Nguyen Tat Thanh University in Vietnam. The purpose of the study is to identify the human health risks associated with the spread of infectious bacteria resistant to antibiotics in areas with high septic tank use. Specifically, Genevieve’s project is to identify the fate of antibiotic resistance in soils and waters as recipients of untreated septic sludge.

 

Genevieve sampling a sludge-filled canal using a fashioned “sampling stick” from an abandoned bamboo fishing pole in the northwest of Ho Chi Minh City.

She did this by collecting 55 soil samples from canals, rivers, parks, and fields in Ho Chi Minh City, then plated dilutions of these samples to quantify the number of E. coli, which is a common indicator of fecal contamination. She selected E. coli colonies and brought them back to her lab at OSU, where she performed the disk diffusion method. The disk diffusion method involves plating isolated bacteria across an entire agar plate and see how it grows in the presence of disks containing antibiotics. She tested them against 9 different antibiotics, finding that 69% of 129 isolates were resistant to more than two! She is also conducting a microcosm study to see how resistant bacteria thrives in soils and in different temperature environments. Soon, she will determine the presence of absence of antibiotic-resistant genes in her isolated bacteria using PCR to amplify genes.

Samples mixed with bacteria including chosen E. coli isolates (circled).

Why Vietnam? Well Vietnam has high levels of septic tank use and out of 11 Asian countries surveyed, Vietnam also had the highest levels of antibiotic resistance in patients due to the ease at which they are acquired. A survey Genevieve assisted in implementing while in Vietnam opened her eyes to just how easy it is to get antibiotics and how much they are used among citizens.

 

A plate showing how resistant this particular E.coli isolate is to ampicillin (full resistance), streptomycin (full resistance), gentamicin (mostly resistant), and imipenem (not resistant – “last resort” antibiotic.

 

Originally from Colorado, Genevieve acquired her undergraduate degree in environmental engineering at the University of Colorado Boulder where she became interested in waste water management. She always knew that she wanted to end up in the pacific northwest and after finding out about Oregon State Universities program she decided that the environmental engineering program suited her interests. Following completion of her masters degree she hopes to continue to travel and find work in the humanitarian/non-profit public health and sanitation sector.

In Genevieve’s free time, she enjoys experimenting with her cooking, typically with different types of Indian spices. She also enjoys partaking in activities such as yoga, snowboarding, playing piano, and singing.

 

Tune in to 88.7 FM at 7:00 PM Sunday evening to hear more about Genevieve and her research on antibiotic resistance in areas of high septic tank use, or stream the program live.

This includes you!

A graph illustrating why it is important to incorporate inclusive considerations early in the design process where they will do the most good. If it is kept for a later stage as it generally has been, the products will end up more expensive and less effectively inclusive.

Jessica Armstrong is a PhD candidate in her last year in the Design Core of the Department of Mechanical, Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering working to give product designers more information about customer needs so that they can create a more inclusive product design. Generally, products are conceived out of a need, and their design is based on the eventual user(s). The term inclusive design, similar to universal design, aims to design products for people with a varying range of abilities from the start. Making it possible to incorporate inclusive considerations early in the design process, when they will most benefit the design, and at the lowest cost, is a major part of the work. Jessica’s research goal is to build a framework that designers can follow to allow them to easily design as inclusive products as possible.

A picture of Jessica in the motion restriction suit.

To do this, Jessica, advised by Dr. Rob Stone, uses a motion restriction suit (tested during her M.S. degree at OSU) to test users’ experiences using kitchen gadgets. The suit restricts motion of the upper body by stiffening movements of the fingers, wrists, elbows, abdomen, and shoulder. They are investigating what they have termed “surrogate experiences”, or allowing a research subject (surrogate) to simulate the actual target users and their needs. Jessica is able to record a user’s experience with the kitchen gadget and identify any difficulties in products user interactions, the products actions and design, and the suit’s restriction.

 

 

 

Jessica Armstrong, at her first Design Engineering Technical Conference.

Jessica grew up in Boise, Idaho wanting to become an astronaut. Very much interested in physics and engineering, she moved to Corvallis for her Bachelor’s degree in Engineering Physics. She took a break from studying while her husband worked on his Entomology MS degree at Washington State University. During that time, she worked as a telephone interviewer for WSU’s Social and Economic Sciences Research Center where she interviewed people over the phone for the various studies they were conducting. She then moved back to OSU to pursue her MS and then PhD in Mechanical Engineering, and specifically focusing on design. She acquired a minor in IE Human Systems Engineering, as she finds the human aspect of engineering fascinating. While not working on research, Jessica sings alto and tenor in OSU’s University Choral and is the Treasurer for the OSU Physicists for Inclusion in Science group.

Her interest in space has not dissipated and she aims to work for a private space company after completing her degree. She hopes her doctoral research will eventually be used to encourage inclusivity in space travel and everyday life.

Tune in at 7 pm this Sunday March, 11 to hear more about Jessica’s research and journey to graduate school. Not a local listener? Stream the show live online!

 

 

Workplace Woes for Women in Engineering

The human race has given rise to incredible engineering accomplishments. Some examples include an Egyptian pyramid with 2.3 million perfectly placed limestone blocks, the Great Wall of China that traverses difficult terrain and can be seen from space, or the more recent example of the SpaceX Falcon Heavy launch, sending a sports car floating through space with re-usable rockets landing back on Earth to use for a future mission. It’s no surprise that the engineering field attracts the best and brightest among us because they are innovators, problem solvers, and basically all white males. Wait – What?

Four minutes into SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy launch, the manufacturing division was shown which has errily similar demographics to the NASA space race era. via @B0yle on Feb 6th 2018

During the celebration of the Falcon Heavy launch the SpaceX guys were shown jumping for joy at the technological milestones. The same way you cringe from an oncoming car with high beams is the same way many felt about the gender imbalance that was present in the 1970’s during the NASA days and continues to persists in one of the most innovative companies the world has ever seen. For example, the 2016 film Hidden Figures began to break that mold, detailing the story of female African-American mathematicians and engineers living in the south in the 1950’s who helped propel NASA to the moon, yet few knew or acknowledged their enormous role. Since their story remained in the shadows how could a young student believe ‘I too could be a female engineer’ if they believe it’s never been done before? One’s life expectations are shaped by what they see around them, and without role models that ‘look like me’ in positions of power, how can we expect for anything to change?

Gender gap in bachelor’s degrees awarded by field of study, 1969-2009. Figure 1. Courtesy of Legewie, J., and T. DePrete. 2014. The High School Environment and the Gender Gap in the Science and Engineering. Sociology of Education. 87(4):259-280.

Our guest this evening is Andrea Haverkamp, a 2nd year PhD student in the College of Engineering, who is asking what it means to think of yourself as an engineer, and examining how the engineering culture has perpetuated the lack of diversity we see today. Of the currently active engineering professionals approximately 90% are men, university engineering programs are nearly 80% male dominated. Herein lies the paradox; girls get better grades than their male counterparts from kindergarten through high school, girls have a similar level of STEM interest as their male counterparts early in their schooling career and within the last decade women outnumber men among college graduates. Unfortunately, women significantly lag behind men in college STEM degrees and only 1 out of 6 engineering degrees are received by women.

Andrea snuggling up with her beloved dog, Spaghetti.

Andrea’s research seeks to answer what happens in the engineering workplace that continues to be unwelcoming to women; but gender cannot be taken in isolation because there is a confluence of race, socioeconomic class, and potential disabilities that color our thought process that we cannot avoid. Her work also focuses on LGBT students and a broader, more expansive, theory of gender than has been used in prior engineering research. Furthermore she is using novel approach that breaks traditional boundaries in the social sciences field that she hopes to encourage her interviewees to become an active participant and empower them to become co-authors on future research papers. This method, Community Collaborative Research, was made popular by a researcher who lived in a prison to better relate to those people in his work. How can you expect to have female engineers rise through the ranks, if there are hardly any female engineers to look up to; can you see yourself become a superhero if you’re from an underrepresented minority? A recent pop-culture example is the release of the Marvel’s Black Panther; the first film with an all black cast, predominately black writers, and directors that celebrates black culture. Here is how one fan reacted from just seeing the poster [displaying the all black cast] “This is what white people get to feel all the time? Since the beginning of cinema, you get to feel empowered like this and represented? If this is what you get to feel like all the time I would love this country too!”

There is no silver bullet that will be an overnight fix for the gender imbalance in the workplace or the salary disparity between men and women in the same job. But there are some positive examples; such as some companies are taking concrete actions to get women into leadership roles, or how the Indian Space Agency (with a recent boom in women engineers) sent a rocket to Mars that was less expensive than the making of “The Martian! Through Andrea’s research we can at least begin to systematically answer the questions of how to develop a more inclusive culture for aspiring women engineers and workplaces alike. As Jorja Smith sings in the Black Panther soundtrack, “I know that we have asked for change. Don’t be scared to put the fears to shame…”

You can listen to the show at 7PM Sunday March 4th on 88.7FM or stream the show live online!

If you want to hear more from Andrea, she also hosts her own KBVR radio show called LaborWave every other Friday at 2PM. If you want to read more about Andrea’s field, she’s on the Editorial Board for the International Journal of Engineering, Social Justice, and Peace.

How many robots does it take to screw in a light bulb?

As technology continues to improve over the coming years, we are beginning to see increased integration of robotics into our daily lives. Imagine if these robots were capable of receiving general instructions regarding a task, and they were able to learn, work, and communicate as a team to complete that task with no additional guidance. Our guest this week on Inspiration Dissemination, Connor Yates a Robotics PhD student in the College of Engineering, studies artificial intelligence and machine learning and wants to make the above hypothetical scenario a reality. Connor and other members of the Autonomous Agents and Distributed Intelligence Laboratory are keenly interested in distributed reinforcement learning, optimization, and control in large complex robotics systems. Applications of this include multi-robot coordination, mobile robot navigation, transportation systems, and intelligent energy management.

Connor Yates.

A long time Beaver and native Oregonian, Connor grew up on the eastern side of the state. His father was a botanist, which naturally translated to a lot of time spent in the woods during his childhood. This, however, did not deter his aspirations of becoming a mechanical engineer building rockets for NASA. Fast forward to his first term of undergraduate here at Oregon State University—while taking his first mechanical engineering course, he realized rocket science wasn’t the academic field he wanted to pursue. After taking numerous different courses, one piqued his interest, computer science. He then went on to flourish in the computer science program eventually meeting his current Ph.D. advisor, Dr. Kagan Tumer. Connor worked with Dr. Tumer for two of his undergraduate years, and completed his undergraduate honors thesis investigating the improvement to gauge the intent of multiple robots working together in one system.

Connor taking in a view at Glacier National Park 2017.

Currently, Connor is working on improving the ability for machines to learn by implementing a reward system; think of a “good robot” and “bad robot” system. Using computer simulations, a robot can be assigned a general task. Robots usually begin learning a task with many failed attempts, but through the reward system, good behaviors can be enforced and behaviors that do not relate to the assigned task can be discouraged. Over thousands of trials, the robot eventually learns what to do and completes the task. Simple, right? However, this becomes incredibly more complex when a team of robots are assigned to learn a task. Connor focuses on rewarding not just successful completion an assigned task, but also progress toward completing the task. For example, say you have a table that requires six robots to move. When two robots attempt the task and fail, rather than just view it as a failed task, robots are capable of learning that two robots are not enough and recruit more robots until successful completion of the task. This is seen as a step wise progression toward success rather than an all or nothing type situation. It is Connor’s hope that one day in the future a robot team could not only complete a task but also report reasons why a decision was made to complete an assigned task.

In Connor’s free time he enjoys getting involved in the many PAC courses that are offered here at Oregon State University, getting outside, and trying to teach his household robot how to bring him a beer from the fridge.

Tune in to 88.7 FM at 7:00 PM Sunday evening to hear more about Connor and his research on artificial intelligence, or stream the program live.

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.

You can also download Dylan’s iTunes Podcast Episode!

To code or not to code: the way forward for machine learning

In a rapidly changing word of technology and engineering advancements, we’re reminded of Charles Darwin’s words it’s not the strongest that survive, but the most adaptable. For humans this means learning from our errors, one painful mistake at a time, and fixing our approach so we do not stumble again. We’re limited by our personal experiences so we can only adapt once we approach a problem; but by then it may be too late. Imagine having the collective wisdom and understanding of everyone’s experiences so that you know how to solve problems you’ve never seen before. This is the beauty of machine learning.

 

Behrooz hanging out in front of the Magnolia’s in the MU

If you haven’t heard of machine learning, then it’s just a matter of time. These techniques are already involved in highly complex board games, advertising optimization, and especially self-driving cars. It’s difficult to say how impactful machine learning will be to our everyday lives because the applications of this field are still being discovered. One of the primary foundations of machine learning is researching how computers interpret visual information so computers can make on-the-fly adjustments to stop for a pedestrian or speed up to merge on the freeway.

Behrooz Mahasseni recently finished his Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science where his research focused on how computers interpret video recordings. As part of his research, he worked on a project to analyze football videos to identify specific patterns like huddles, punts, and special teams plays. This is specifically useful for football recruiters who don’t have time to watch 3.5-hour football games when they’re looking for a good wide-receiver for their team. Behrooz’s work helps the computer understand when passing plays occurred so the football recruiter can watch the ‘highlights’ reel for five minutes and get all the information they need to make a hiring decision. This seems rather easy, but Behrooz worked on this for high school football games where the video is not in high definition, from an oblique angle instead of a birds-eye-view, and probably has a very excited parent-videographers jumping up and down for major plays. Obviously teaching a computer to understand videos is easier said than done, but Behrooz was able to get all this accomplished with a high degree of accuracy that helped him land a job with Apple. He’s described this job as research and development using the skills he learned in graduate school (that’s about all he can say) but it took him many years of school to finally realize he had the skills to act as the spearhead of technological innovation.

Behrooz’s family including his wife Mitra and Behrad celebrating the Persian New Year March 2016

There is so much more to discuss with Behrooz, especially about where the field of machine learning and artificial intelligence is moving. We will also discuss his first experience with a robotic competition in Tehran, his decision to move to the United States, and his never-ending drive for finding and solving new problems. Be sure to listen in Sunday September 3rd at 7PM on 88.7 KBVR Corvallis!

Bone marrow transplants save lives, but can it keep our bones strong?

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. This phrase is often helpful when fighting adversity, but it does not hold true for patients suffering from diseases such as leukemia, tuberculosis, and certain forms of anemia. Current medical science allows us to save lives, but their quality of life is curtailed because bones are typically weaker and prone to breaking as a result of cancer treatments. Patients may have endured countless surgeries, drug rehabilitation, and physical therapy only to have their level of physical activity severely limited because of the complications posed from fragile bones.

Goldner’s trichrome staining, in which mineralized bone matrix, erythrocytes, and cytoplasm were stained green, orange, and red, respectively. Credit: Burr, David B., and Matthew R. Allen, eds. Basic and applied bone biology. Academic Press, 2013.

At the center of this problem is bone marrow, and working to find a solution is Richard Deyhle, a Masters student studying Radiation Health Physics, believes we may have found a way to treat these cancers while also increasing our bone strength to previous levels of functionality. This work is in the proof-of-concept phase so it’s still early in the framework of medical application to the public but there is little doubt this can provide miraculous benefits to cancer patients providing them a higher quality of life.

Richard working on generating a 3D visualization of Micro-Computed Tomography data.

 

First it’s important to understand that even though bone marrow only accounts for ~4% of our body mass, it’s also the production source of red blood cells (carrying oxygen throughout our body), blood platelets (helping to clot blood to prevent blood loss), and white blood cells (major players in our immune system keeping us healthy). Cancer treatments focus on treating and restoring the healthy function of bone marrow so we can live. Kind of important stuff! But the health of the bone marrow does not always correspond to strong bones. This is where Richard, working under Urszula Iwaniec & Russell Turner in the Skeletal Biology Lab at OSU, brings their expertise to find new ways to treat malfunctioning bone marrow.

Micro-Computed Tomography image of the radius bone from a rat from Space Shuttle Mission, STS-41.

Bone marrow is made of many subcomponents, and standard medical practice is to replace a patient’s bone marrow (containing all subcomponents) with bone marrow from a compatible donor. Depending on the extent of transplant, there are somewhere in the neighborhood of 5,000,000 cells that are replaced representing the mosaic of cells that make up bone marrow. Richard is using a more targeted approach of purifying bone marrow and isolating a subcomponent, called Hematopoietic stem cells, so a transplant will only need a few thousand of these special cells to perform the same function as the much larger transplant. Using mice models his lab has found similar results as other researchers showing the use of pure Hematopoietic stem cells, instead of bulk bone marrow material, has similar effects on bone marrow functionality. Through the use of Green Fluorescent Protein (as a bookmark in the newly injected cells allowing researchers to trace where cells move through the body), the Skeletal Biology Lab hopes to better understand the mechanism of bone strength resilience to a healthy functioning bone marrow. Like any good scientific study, much more work needs to be done to examine these results and verify effect sizes, but the road ahead looks promising.

Richard’s childhood home was nestled away from large cities that allowed him to stare at the sky and see the Milky Way in all its beauty. Even at a young age he wondered about space, wondered how far humans can go, and wondered how he can help keep future explorers safe as we explore distant worlds. These youthful curiosities of space eventually lead to his research passion of understanding how radiation affects the human body. If all his plans work out he hopes to transition into a PhD program where he can focus more closely on making sure our fragile human bodies can explore worlds beyond ours.

If you’re interested in new medical advancements that can be used to treat cancer or astronauts, you cannot miss this episode! Be sure to tune in Sunday May 7th at 7PM on KBVR Corvallis 88.7FM or by listening live.