Category Archives: Physics

Heat and oxygen exchange at the interface of ocean and atmosphere.


Jenessa aboard OSU's vessel the R/V Oceanus during a cruise for a field work course. She is deploying a vertical microstructure profile attached to a large winch: fishing for the big one!

Jenessa aboard OSU’s vessel the R/V Oceanus during a cruise for a field work course. She is deploying a vertical microstructure profile attached to a large winch: fishing for the big one!

As a physical oceanographer in the College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences, Masters candidate Jenessa Duncombe is investigating how the movement of water impacts heat and oxygen exchange at the interface of the ocean and atmosphere. Combining analytical and modeling approaches in the labs of Roger Samelson and Eric Skyllingstad, Jenessa uses linear stability analysis to predict the circulation of water in the upper 300 feet of the ocean.  Jenessa focuses on regions in the ocean with high rates of ocean and atmosphere exchange; those areas are common throughout the ocean, typically occurring near river mouths, along upwelling regions, or along strong surface currents, like the Gulf Stream. These regions can be thought of as the lungs of the ocean, responsible for the majority of oxygen and carbon dioxide uptake into the ocean. Jenessa’s goal for her research is to improve how surface ocean circulation is accounted for in global climate change models, hopefully making model predictions more accurate.

Satellite sea surface temperature image of the Gulf Stream. The red colors show the warm Gulf Stream waters traveling from the Gulf of Mexico, along the east coast, then traveling out into the Atlantic. Whirlpools of warm and cold water, called eddies, pinch off as the Gulf Stream becomes unstable heading into the Atlantic Ocean. Ocean eddies are (in Jenessa’s opinion) the coolest type of ocean circulation! For a dynamic look at ocean surface currents, check out this video from NASA called Perpetual Ocean. You can see the Gulf Stream and other strong currents, as well as whirlpools of warm and cold water spinning up in the ocean!

Jenessa’s interest in earth science began during middle school with encouragement from an inspirational teacher.  During her undergraduate studies at Wesleyan University in Connecticut, Jenessa decided to major in earth science after becoming acquainted with other earth science majors who shared her interest in hiking. Structural geology and a physics course on the topic of waves and oscillations were among her favorite courses. In particular, waves and oscillations provided insight and clarity into her realization that visual patterns can be described by a mathematical equation. Jenessa cites a summer REU (Research Experiences for Undergraduates) at the University of Maryland through the NSF as a critical introduction to research. During the summer after finishing her undergraduate studies, Jenessa worked at Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico, acquiring experience in research related to harnessing power generated from wave energy. After finishing her Masters degree, Jenessa plans to pursue a career in science writing.

Tune in on September 25th 2016 at 7PM to hear more from Jenessa about her research related to the movement of water in the ocean and the role it may play in climate change. You can listen on the radio at 88.7FM KBVR Corvallis or by streaming live.

Walk Like a Kinesin

To the naked eye, plants don’t move around a whole lot. Take a closer look, inside of a plant cell, and a whole new world is opened. From cytoplasmic streaming to mitosis (cellular division), a cell is a bustling city with a plethora of different molecules and organelles being moved all around so it can grow and survive. And how are these molecules and organelles moving about? How are they getting to their very important destinations to ensure that vital signals or nutrients are delivered on time? The answer is molecular motor proteins. Molecular motors are proteins that all cells have. They have feet, can walk, and carry stuff. These proteins are the workforce of the cell, moving along the cytoskeleton (fibrous protein bundles that give the cell structure), carrying precious cargo from one place to another.

Allison GickingNot all of these microscopic walkers are created equal, however, some can walk farther or faster than others and Allison Gicking wants to know why and how this happens. She is using a particular kind of microscopy called TIRF (Total Internal Reflection Fluorescence) to put a spotlight on individual protein molecules so she can observe the unique ballet of life dancing on minuscule tightropes. Because these proteins are important for cell division, her work on understanding the movements of these proteins could have implications in cancer remedies or even drug delivery.

A 4th year Ph. D. student in the department of Physics, Allison has always had a passion for science. From high school to college, she was constantly looking for ways to blend her love of physics and biology. In a time when fewer than 20% of physics degrees are awarded to women, Allison is using her experience to advocate for women in science by being involved in science communication and co-organizing the Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics here at OSU.

Tune in Sunday, July 17th at 7PM PDT on KBVR, 88.7 FM or stream live at to hear Allison’s journey.