Author Archives: Adrian Gallo

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.

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!

Do you trust others, as much as they trust you?

My mother told me never to judge a book by its cover, but our brains do this tens if not hundreds of times a day. Research has shown that seeing a face for just 1/10 second allows enough time for someone to make judgments of a person’s attractiveness, competence, aggressiveness, and trustworthiness. While it is impressive our brains can come to a decision about a face so quickly, how accurate are those assessments? For better or worse, a person’s facial characteristics can predict court decisions, as well as outcomes of elections. Many studies focus on how the interpreter makes these decisions, but what happens to the people who are instantly considered untrustworthy when all you see is a face? Whether we care to acknowledge it, these first-impressions inevitably lead to different life-outcomes, especially if you are judged as having an untrustworthy face.

What kind of facial features can be considered trustworthy or untrustworthy? Here are some examples on a spectrum.

Our guest this evening is Zoe Alley, a 1st year PhD student in the newly formed Psychological Sciences program within the College of Liberal Arts, and she will be tackling these tough questions of how we perceive and understand trust. She is specifically exploring how the first impression of someone’s face can be a predictor, or possibly a driver, of their future life-outcomes. The Golden Rule says to treat others the way you want to be treated; but what happens when everyone around you is unpleasant or treats you with suspicion? You’re more likely to reciprocate those feelings, developing fewer formative relationships early in life, eventually snowballing into awkward social behaviors intensifying later in life so that finding a job or keeping friends are hopeless endeavors. Was this sequence of events caused by the person’s actions toward others, or was it the constant distrust from others that caused these behaviors leading to a negative outcome?

This is a classic chicken or the egg dilemma that we will explore, but first we have to understand how we got here. The Oregon Youth Study began in 1982 with evaluations of participants starting at age 10, and continuing with annual assessments until all 183 males from predominantly lower income neighborhoods reached 35 years old. This study generated a prodigious amount of data that scientists continue to use. One finding was the participants’ real-life behavior explained relatively small but measurable amount of how trustworthy those outside the study perceived them to be once other factors  were controlled (i.e. smiling). This shows a disconnect from how we judge someone, compared to how that person actually behaves. This again begs the question: what happens to those unfortunate souls who are constantly judged negatively and is there anything we can do mitigate this unfortunate pattern?

Here is Zoe Alley who is a 1st year PhD student in the Psychological Sciences program at OSU

Zoe grew up as a native Oregonian and while her childhood passion started with art and expression, it has always focused on how she can help her community. Even though the Oregon Youth Study was focused in the Willamette Valley, understanding these social constructs can help children and adults everywhere. Through this research Zoe hopes to understand how this phenomenon of ‘facial trustworthiness’ works, especially in adolescents, so that we can identify mechanisms to break this vicious cycle and give everyone an equal chance at success. Be sure to tune in for what is sure to be a candid discussion on Sunday June 4th at 7PM on KBVR Corvallis 88.7FM or by listening live.

 

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.

Keeping Oregon Forests Green: What Swiss Needle Cast Disease is Teaching Us About Forestry

I’ll never forget driving through the steep and windy I5 corridor of the Klamath Mountains when I moved to Oregon. Wet roads bordered by thick fog with protruding trees that were lusciously green. Very, very green. This concept of ‘Keeping Oregon Green’ started as a fire prevention act, and Oregon’s color is a quality that visitors and residents adore. Unfortunately there is sleeping giant that is gaining momentum, slowly turning Oregon’s forests from green to yellow with an eventual needle fall of the iconic state tree. This color change is from a microscopic fungus that all Douglas-fir trees have around the world, but for some reason it’s only harming the trees along the Oregon coast range. Our guest, a 4th year PhD student Patrick Bennett, is peeling away the layers of complexity to reveal why Oregon’s green forests are dwindling.

Aerial view of Douglas-fir stand with Swiss needle cast near Tillamook, Oregon. Chlorotic (yellow) foliage is a major symptom of the disease.

Douglas-fir needles with pseudothecia (fruiting bodies) of the fungus (Phaeocryptopus gaeumannii) emerging from the stomata.

It is estimated that Swiss Needle Cast disease is affecting nearly 1,000,000 acres in Oregon and Washington alone leading to economic losses estimated at $128 million per year. The fungus covers the stomata, openings in the needles, used to exchange air and water essential for plant metabolism. As more of these stomata become clogged the tree cannot make enough glucose so the needle dies, turns yellow, and eventually the needle falls off entirely. Douglas-fir trees typically keep needles for five years, but in heavily affected areas the needles last one year before falling off leaving the tree extremely thin and frail. Even though the fungus does not directly cause death, it leaves our iconic state tree highly susceptible to drought, beetles, nutrient limitations, and wildfires.

This disease was first discovered in Switzerland, hence the name Swiss Needle Cast, in the 1920’s. At that time it was only negatively affecting Douglas-fir trees planted outside their native habitat. But since the 1980’s the natively planted Douglas-fir trees, within a narrow band parallel to the coast range, are showing annual growth decreases by as much as 50%. Recently there have been advancements in molecular biology and computing power that allow researchers to identify the genetic heritage of pathogens. Using these tools scientists can focus on population genetics to figure out why there is such a discrete area affected along the Oregon coast range. Some evidence points to  warming winters and fungal-subspecies expansion as reasons for the spread of this fungal disease. But Patrick has indications to suggest it’s death by a thousand cuts and begs the question of whether the future of forestry is in danger.

Growing up in southern California Patrick wasn’t exposed to the forests he studies today. It wasn’t until he attended Humboldt State University where he got his first exposure to towering canopies and ecology. His first research experience was in the Lassen Volcanic National Park in California where his advisor, Dr. Patricia Siering, pushed him to develop his own scientific study. Needless to say he was hooked on science and after taking a mycology class he also knew he was jazzed on studying mushrooms so he continued his passions that lead him to Oregon State University.

Dr. Patricia Siering (Humboldt State University – Biology Department) collecting boiling hot sulfuric acid from Boiling Springs Lake in Lassen Volcanic National Park in Northern California with the help of undergraduates and graduate students.

Patrick Bennett is a 4th year PhD student in Dr. Jeff Stone’s lab in the department of Botany and Plant Pathology housed in the College of Agricultural Sciences where he is investigating how population genetics can be used to better understand the factors contributing to the recent emergence of Swiss Needle Cast as a damaging forest pathogen in the native range of Douglas-fir. Be sure to tune in Sunday April 30th at 7PM on KBVR Corvallis 88.7FM or by listening live.

Just keep swimming or don’t! Curiously following Zebrafish

People often think of science as focusing on very specific questions or rigorous hypothesis testing. However, some of the most exciting advancements were the result of general curiosity of seemingly disparate ideas, and a sprinkle of creativity. For example, the beginnings of how electricity was discovered started by poking frog legs with different types of metals. The modern zero-calorie sugar (saccharin) was discovered by playing creative-chef with coal tar products in the 1870’s when the chemist accidentally tasted his chemical concoction.

Sarah Alto

Our guest this week is using young zebrafish to investigate how environmental factors affect their behavior, and whether behavioral changes can be attributed to specific brain activity. Why zebrafish you may ask? They are a model organisms or they tend to be well studied, relatively easy to breed and maintain in lab settings, and as vertebrates, they share some characteristics with humans. The more we know about zebrafish, the more clues we may have into our own neurobiology. Sarah Alto is exposing these model organisms to different levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide stress. She monitors their swimming with infrared cameras and examines their brain to get an idea of how they respond to stress physically and mentally. This is no easy task because the young zebrafish are only a few millimeters long!

Oxygen, nitrogen, and carbon dioxide gas is bubbled into the tank holding the larvae.
The entire set-up is enclosed in a light-tight box so the larval behavior is more connected to the environment changes and not human interaction.

Curious Sarah is asking: Are low oxygen or high carbon dioxide concentrations changing the swimming behavior of zebrafish? What happens in the brain of a zebrafish when it experiences environmental stress? What can we learn about how environmental factors shape the brain’s connections and influence behavior? Sarah has a long road ahead of her, one that is unpaved with many junctions, but she is performing the exploratory work that may inspire future investigations into the affects of stress on the brain.

The second part of Sarah’s research will be investigating the neural activity when the larvae are exposed to the same gas concentrations as studied in the behavioral experiments.
Image courtesy of Ahrens et al. (2013)

Prior to Sara’s interest in biology, she was always drawn to art as an escape and a method of expression. When choosing which colleges to attend, she didn’t want to choose between art and science. So she chose to pursue both! Sarah enrolled at UC Berkeley as double major including Molecular and Cellular Biology, as well as Practice of Art. The San Francisco art scene was highly accessible, and Berkeley is a top-flight university for the sciences. Needless to say she flourished in this environment and her love of science grew but her love of art continues to this day. Finishing her schooling she began working at UC San Francisco, a premier medical research university, investigating the role of stem cells in facial development to for possible medical treatments for facial reconstruction. She was involved in a variety of projects but her gut feeling led her to continue schooling at Oregon State.

Sarah is now a part of Dr. James Strother’s lab in the College of Science within the department of Integrative Biology focusing the behavioral neurobiology of zebrafish. Be sure to tune in Sunday April 9th at 7PM PST on 88.7FM or listen live.

No strings attached. Why some students need help, and how others provide assistance

When was the last time you helped someone? Do you hold the door open for the person behind you when you enter a building? Have you picked a stranded friend up at the airport recently? Would you let distant relatives stay at your house? Our willingness to help others is a common thread that defines us as humans, but our guest this week has made this basic tenet her life’s mission. This passion for people is a product of the long and arduous road she has had to walk.

Vesna Stone grew up in Macedonia, at a time of relative safety and stability in this little country nestled between Greece and Serbia. She knew peace and economic security would not last much longer in her country, so she sought a stable country and better life for her child. It took over two years with rolling 30-day deadlines requiring health, housing, employment, and financial documents (just to name few), but Vesna and her family finally acquired green cards. They flew directly to Corvallis to start their new life in America.

Vesna at the Rotary Visit of the Presidential Palace of Peru – the presidents desk. July, 2011.

Finding work as a foreigner is tough. Vesna’s english and people skills landed her a job at the Ramada Inn. Her husband however, who spoke no english, was struggling to find work. To solve that problem, Vesna made a very interesting wager with the manager at the Georgia Pacific mill. It worked out, and her husband worked there for many more years. After traveling all this way, an entry-level job wasn’t going to suffice for Vesna.

An education can often be the difference between minimum wage and a well paying job with benefits. So Vesna found a graveyard shift at Hewlett Packard (HP) and went back to school, first at Linn-Benton Community College, then at OSU. After years of going to class in the morning, taking care of the kids in the evening, and working all night, Vesna eventually got her bachelor’s degree. She moved on to the first class job she had dreamed of at the Department of Human Services (DHS).

Vesna completing her first degree at Oregon State

The Macedonian flag being installed in OSU’s Memorial Union. The flag is also referenced in their National Anthem: “Today over Macedonia, is being born the new sun of liberty. The Macedonians fight, for their own rights!”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vesna is now back in school to pursue a Masters degree in Anthropology. She has focused on a problem affecting students around the country. Many are faced with the impossible hurdle of not having enough food to eat. To put it in perspective, 20% of Oregonians are participating in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as Food Stamps, as of 2015. Oregon has a resident participation rate that falls in the top five states in our country, however, even here, there are additional hurdles to receiving assistance if you are a student. Imagine studying for your midterms without lunch, or coffee, or the ability to snack on your pretzels to help you cram in that last chapter. Now imagine the frustration fellow classmates have when they realize it’s easier to participate in this crucial food assistance program if they were not enrolled in classes and instead sitting at home.

Vesna saw this problem not through scientific journals or reading the newspaper, but through her own eyes and ears. While working at the DHS, she kept hearing the frustration from students trying to get the assistance they desperately need. Those conversations with students, and her unending passion for wanting to help others, has lead Vesna to pursue a Masters degree while also being a full-time employee at a local office in the DHS.

There is so much more to this story that we’re leaving out, but to hear about Vesna’s experiences and future directions be sure to tune in Sunday February 12th at 7PM on 88.7FM, or listen live!

EDIT: For those looking for more information on the SNAPS program, you can see Vesna’s presentation provided by the Coalition of Graduate Employees, or OSU’s extension website. You can also find out more about Vesna on her website.

Dirt: It’s under all of us!

We depend on the humble soil beneath our feet to grow the cotton in our shirts, feed the world with fruits and vegetables, and growing all the commodities necessary to make beer and whisky alike! Given the range of functions soils have on earth it’s no surprise soils themselves have very different colors, sizes, and even smells! If we look closely at soils, especially their horizons resembling layers of a cake, they can be read to ascertain how nutrients got there, how long those nutrients can last for the plants above, and what to do if an area needs to be remediated.

Great soil profile showing the burial of an old soil (reddish-grey) formed on a basalt flow. The soil surface was buried by volcanic ash ejected during the cataclysmic eruption of Mt.Mazama (Crater lake. Photo taken near Cougar Ridge, Eagle Cap Wilderness,Summer 2015.

Great soil profile showing the burial of an old soil (reddish-grey) formed on a basalt flow. The soil surface was buried by volcanic ash ejected during the cataclysmic eruption of Mt. Mazama which is now Crater lake. (Eagle Cap Wilderness, Summer 2015)

12cm is of soil is precariously protected from alpine winds by a thin gravel mulch (Summer 2015).

12cm is of soil is precariously protected from alpine winds by a thin gravel mulch (Summer 2015).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Even though humans rely on soils for our health and comfort, we too often take soil for granted. But our guest reminds us exactly how essential soils are to life! Vance Almquist is a PhD student joining us from the Crops and Soil Science Department, in the College of Agricultural Sciences, and focuses on how soils develop in wildland environments, as well as how to read soils in order to understand its historical record keeping. Vance is also known as a soil pedologist, or someone who studies soil genesis, its transformations, and specializes in how to read the language of soil horizons. You might ask, ‘why do we need to know the history of a soil in order to use it?’

Human society developed in the ‘Cradle of Civilization’, an area known as the Fertile Crescent because (as you guessed it) the soils were extraordinary fertile! To practice higher-level agriculture, early settlers built levees to block the floodwaters. But when they prevented the annual floods soils were no longer getting enough nutrients, salts started to build up, and eventually it lead to a collapse of civilizations. If only they understood the soils’ history, they would’ve know the annual floods are essential to maintaining their prosperous way of life. If we know how soils develop, and how to read them, these are the kinds of problems we can avoid in the future.

Hiking toward China Cap in the Eagle Cap Wilderness to describe and map soils (Summer 2016)

Hiking toward China Cap in the Eagle Cap Wilderness to describe and map soils (Summer 2016)

Vance grew up in Utah and before yearning to be a soil scientist he worked at a brewery, trained dogs, and is a master forklift driver. High school was never terribly fun because nothing really challenged him, but he continued to enroll in classes at the local community college. He was really turned onto botany because he always went mushroom hunting as a kid and he saw the practical application of knowing which plants we share the world with. Then he realized how soil science was at the intersection of biology, chemistry, and physics. Here he found his calling because he also noticed how much our economy was overlooking the usefulness of soils and wanted to continue to explore this idea further in graduate school.

Not only can understanding soils avert disasters, but ranges of scientific disciplines are dependent on soils. A botanist can be interested in finding rare flowers, a hydrologist is interested in finding out how much sediment is mucking up the streams, and a meteorologist wants to know how much CO2 is released into atmosphere. Specific soil properties are needed for certain plants to grow, some soils erode faster than others, and soils can become a source, instead of a sink, of CO2 emissions! Soils are integrators of many scientific disciplines and I hope you join us to discuss this with Vance. You can tune in on Sunday November 20th at 7PM on 88.7FM or listen live here.

Birds to bacteria and kickstarting research boundaries

Did you know us humans have a background army of microbes that work to keep us healthy, turns out these microbial cells outnumber human cells 10 to 1 in a healthy human body! The human microbiome is beginning to be elucidated that shows most of these microbes have a mutualist relationship such as helping us to digest food or producing anti-inflammatories that our human genome can’t produce. Similar to humans, other mammals are expected to have a similar microbiomes that can contribute to a healthy species. However this area of research is in it’s infancy, our guest is spearheading this effort and pushing the boundaries of avian-microbe interactions in tropical environments that can help us understand what contributes to a healthy bird population.

Felipe after sampling a baby trogon (Trogon melanocephalus). This species only nest inside termite nests.

Felipe after sampling a baby trogon (Trogon melanocephalus). This species only nest inside termite nests.

Felipe found his way to these avian-microbe questions while pursing a masters degree at a Chamela biological field station in Mexico. He noticed that some young birds he found in termite-associated nests were dirty and grimy, but they were very healthy! How could this be? His curiosity continued to drive his motivation to pursue a PhD in the Biology Department at the University of Oregon. Yes that’s right he’s a duck, but science holds no grudges because all that really matters is what kind of knowledge this research can produce.

His passion for the outdoors started young while growing up visiting small towns in the seasonal dry jungles of Mexico. He recalls playing with his siblings but would always stop and look at cool rocks, or to show his friends all the creepy crawly insects he found! Only recently did he discover his siblings thought this was annoying because he was more focused on observing his surroundings than playing games with them; sound like a scientist in the making!

Felipe is teaching two field assistants (Rosi and Jesus) how to take body measurements of chicks.

Felipe is teaching two field assistants (Rosi and Jesus) how to take body measurements of chicks.

He is now in his 5th year of his project but has run into a sort of barrier; his research interests are the boundaries of where other researchers have ventured. If he is successful he will be one of few who will assess how nesting behavior influence bird-biomes in a tropical setting. Pushing boundaries may sound glamours but it comes at a cost, literally, because few agencies are willing to fund such a new exploration he’s chosen to pursue other means of obtaining funding.

Experiment.com is a way of combining a grant submission easily understandable to the public, and they can fund your work similar to a kickstarter. As Bill Gates said, “This solution helps close the gap for potential and promising, but unfunded projects.” Felipe’s campaign to raise enough money to help process 500 samples collected from the Mexican jungles has just started and will continue until the end of November. You can learn more about his project on his Facebook page. If you’re interested in this ‘crowd-sourced’ version of research funding you can read about how the process works.

Flycatcher chick after being sampled and measured.

Flycatcher chick after being sampled and measured.

You’ll have to tune in to hear the current state of his research as well as how this new funding venture could provide him the avenue to finish his PhD! You can listen October 30th 2016 at 7PM on the radio at 88.7FM KBVR Corvallis, or stream live.

A Big Punch at the Smallest Scale

How do you connect the dots between sunscreen, coatings on reading glasses, and medicine? Nanoparticles! More and more the potential uses of nanotechnology are moving forward. For example the use of nanoparticles in sunscreen (i.e. zinc dioxide) helps to increase its protective coverage time and its ability to block harmful UVA rays. Another emerging field of nanotechnology hopes to decrease the economic burdens of growing enough food for a booming world population. Matt Slattery joins us from the College of Agricultural Sciences Department of Environmental and Molecular Toxicology to discuss his flourishing endeavor to ensure that technology does not outpace environmental safety.

Matt reflecting at Panther Creek Falls

Matt reflecting at Panther Creek Falls.

Growing food takes a serious amount of commitment, time, and money; and one of the major factors dictating a successful harvest is the timing and effectiveness of the pesticides applied to a crop. Over a billion (1,000,000,000) lbs of the active ingredient in pesticides are applied in the USA alone (EPA)! With the help of nanotechnology we can decrease the necessity of repeated pesticide application and still get the same level of productivity from the land. When pesticides are applied, they generally have a very short residence time, and are only effective in fighting pests for a week or two. However, by encapsulating pesticides in multi-layered nanoparticles that slowly releases a small quantity of pesticide over time, you can get a far more consistent application instead of the boom-and-bust strategy that’s currently used. Another major benefit of nanoparticle delivered pesticides is that farm workers are less exposed to the chemicals because application of the pesticide is less frequent and safer. This encapsulation method is not just for an agricultural application but has the potential to be used in any platform that needs a “time-release” delivery, but much work is still required to make sure we really understand how they interact with the environment.

Matt having a grand time play his ukulele in Halong Bay, Vietnam

Matt having a grand time playing his ukulele in Halong Bay, Vietnam.

To no surprise, it takes someone special to merge multiple scientific disciplines into one research project, and our guest fits the bill! Matt has always been interested in science, but it was the interdisciplinary nature of environmental toxicology that requires the understanding of how chemistry, physics, and the environment can affect the biology and health of an organism. His first experience with the contamination of the Puget Sound in Bellingham, while attending Western Washington University, was a catalyst that launched him to eventually work with the Lummi Tribe. There he joined the discussion of how salmon as a major source of food, as well as their cultural foundation, could be damaged by bioaccumulation from the contaminated estuary. This intersection of science and outreach convinced Matt he wanted to pursue a higher degree, but he decided to go abroad for a short time before putting his nose to the grindstone!

You’ll have to tune in to hear where Matt’s explorations led him, and how nano-technology is becoming an increasing popular method for chemical delivery across scientific disciplines and industries. You can listen on October 16th 2016 at 7PM on the radio at 88.7FM KBVR, or stream live.