Author Archives: Zhian Kamvar

About Zhian Kamvar

Zhian got his Ph. D. in the department of Botany and Plant Pathology ( advisor: Dr. Niklaus Grünwald) developing software tools for genetic analysis of clonal populations. He has had a passion for radio ever since he started in 2004 at Truman State University’s radio station: KTRM, Kirksville. Beyond being a scientist and radio host, he speaks intermediate Korean and enjoys baking, writing music, listening to the Screaming Females, and watching bad SF/Horror movies.

Happy New Year 2017!

Happy New Year from all of us at Inspiration Dissemination! It’s been a great year with fantastic guests on our program. We’ll be back on the air January 15th with Joe Donovan, who’s working on his MFA in Creative Writing! Stay tuned and stay inspired!

Word butt describing guest research in 2016

A word cloud of research descriptions from our guests in 2016

A Softer Side of Robots

Do me a favor: close your eyes for a few seconds and think of a robot, any robot, real or imaginary.

Done? Good. Now, that robot you thought about, what did it look like? What did it do? What was it made of? The answers to the first two questions will likely be different from person to person: perhaps a utilitarian, cylindrical robot that helps with menial tasks like cleaning and homework, or a humanoid robot, hell-bent on crushing, killing, and/or destroying humans. I’m willing to bet, however, that the majority of the answers to the last question is one word: “metal”.

Most of our images of robots, droids, and automatons (i.e. R2-D2, The Cybermen, or Wall-E), including robots that we encounter in day to day life, are made of metal, but that might change in the future. The future of robotics is not simply to make robots harder, better, faster, or stronger, but also softer. For robots that must interact with humans and other living or delicate things, they must have the capacity to be gentile.

Samantha works on the jumping spider model that mimics a jumping spider by using an air hockey table with a tethered puck with a consistent starting speed

Samantha works on the jumping spider model that mimics a jumping spider by using an air hockey table with a tethered puck with a consistent starting speed

Researchers like Samantha Hemleben are beginning to explore the world of soft robotics, creating robots that are made out of soft materials, acting through changes in air pressure. These robots could be used for tasks where a light touch is needed to avoid bruising such as human contact or fruit picking. Currently, the technology to create soft robots involves making a 3D-printed mold and then casting the silicone robot parts in those molds. If you need a robot that has both soft and firm parts, it must be designed in separate steps, reducing efficiency and effectiveness.

This is where Samantha comes in; she’s trying to optimize this process. When she started her undergrad at Wofford College, she tried out Biology, Pharmacy, and Finance, but didn’t feel challenged by them. Switching to mathematics with a computer science emphasis allowed her creativity to flourish and she was able to secure a Research Experience for Undergraduates here at OSU, modeling a robot that mimics the movements of jumping spiders. This experience heavily influenced her decision to get her Ph. D. at OSU.

Samantha is now a 2nd year Ph. D. student of Drs. Cindy Grimm and Yiğit Mengüç in Robotics (School of Mechanical, Industrial, and Manufacturing Engineering). Her research is focused on trying to understand the gradient between hard and soft materials. That is, she’s creating mathematical models of this gradient so that the manufacturing process can be optimized, and soft robots will be able to stand on solid ground.

Tune in on Sunday, July 24th at 7PM PDT on 88.7FM or stream live at

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.

Learn the past. Speak the present. Guide the future.

Lake Victoria, sitting just below the equator in eastern Africa, shared between the countries of Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania is the second largest freshwater lake in the world. To put that into

Early 20th century map of Lake Victoria

Colonial territories surrounding Lake Victoria in the early 20th Century

perspective, at 68,800 square kilometers, Lake Victoria is larger than the country of Switzerland (41,285 sq. km.). Beyond its immense size and grandeur, it is also one of the most important sites on earth for our current understanding of evolution because of one rapidly-diversifying group of fishes: the cichlids, which include both tilapia, an important food source, and aquarium fish such as angelfish.


The cichlids in Lake Victoria are especially interesting because that body of water dried out and refilled less than 15,000 years ago. This may seem like a long time, but on a geologic and evolutionary timescale, that’s less than the blink of an eye. Consider that before 1980, itwas estimated that there were over 500 species of cichlids in Lake Victoria. To contrast that with our own timeframe, the speciation time from our last common ancestor with chimps was on the order of millions of years ago. The fish in this lake are evolving at record speeds.

Traditionally haplochromines were harvested and dried as a food source for indigenous peoples Most of these practices were outlawed in 1908 Most subsistence fishing on Lake Victoria today is illegal

Traditionally haplochromines were harvested and dried as a food source for indigenous peoples Most of these practices were outlawed in 1908 Most subsistence fishing on Lake Victoria today is illegal

Today, the populations of cichlids in Lake Victoria have plummeted and many species are either endangered or extinct. The extinction was due to environmental pressures and invasive species such as the nile perch, a large predator game fish with an appetite for a group of small cichlid fish known as Haplochromis. Like many invasive species, the introduction of the nile perch was no accident. It was introduced to stem the overfishing of tilapia in the 1920s. This worked, but at the price of hundreds of species of Haplochromis. Now that the biodiversity in the lake is reduced, there are efforts to protect these species that are informed by scientific inquiry, but who gets a say in how management decisions are made? How did the focus of inquisition change over the past hundred years?


Cat. Man. Do.

Matt his cat work on writing Matt’s thesis

Our guest, Matt McConnell, is trying to answer these questions and trying to understand how communication between scientists and non-scientists affect how science is done. As a Masters Student in the History of Science department or Oregon State University, he is digging through the archives, trying to understand the changing scientific values surrounding Lake Victoria in the 20th century. Is the lake important as a resource or as a haven for species? Why should we care? Our current notion of science is that it is objective, but as we look into its history, science is value-driven, which is culturally laden; the question is, who’s culture is asking the questions and who’s culture is affected? In our current time, we are hearing about resource management and those are informed by scientific inquiry. Science is the answer, but it affects farmers and fishermen and their opinions are often denigrated in favor of science. Science is considered an objective measure, but it is really a cultural decision. Practitioners of science not only need to communicate their values, but they need to listen.

Matt and the 2016 History of Science cohort enjoy a day in the sun in Seattle at an Environmental Humanities Conference

Matt and the 2016 History of Science cohort enjoy a day in the sun in Seattle at an Environmental Humanities Conference

Tune in Sunday, July 3rd at 7PM PDT on 88.7FM or live stream to hear Matt talk about his journey with the history of science and science communication.

Go With The Flow

If you get the chance to meet Emily Khazan, you’ll probably learn a thing or two about damselflies. You can think of them as smaller versions of dragonflies whose wings can fold back

Emily attempting to collect ants off of baited trees in Costa Rica

Emily attempting to collect ants off of baited trees in Costa Rica

when they perch. They need bodies of water to breed and live, and sometimes, water caught in the leaves of a plant is all that’s needed for survival. For her Masters degree, she worked with damselflies that lived in old growth forests in Costa Rica. She would wade through thick underbrush, collecting data, trying to understand how damselflies were affected by a highly impacted landscape throughout a biological corridor that was designed for restoration of habitat for a large-bodied, strong-flying bird.


These days, you’ll find her stooped over the bank of a river in the desert, collecting the various insect inhabitants that live there. Working in the David Lytle lab, she wants to understand how these aquatic invertebrate communities are affected by climate change by seeing how they respond to the changing river flow. Why does it matter? Because aquatic invertebrates not only serve as a food source for fish, and a good indicator for water quality, but because our world is interconnected, biodiversity matters.


One of Emily's current study sites: the lower Salt river outside of Phoenix, AZ

One of Emily’s current study sites: the lower Salt river outside of Phoenix, AZ

So, how does one go from research in the tropics to the arid lands of the American southwest? For Emily, its a story where she continuously reinvents herself as she moves across the landscape. This Sunday, you can hear her journey from her first ecology course at the University of Michigan, to persevering through an underfunded Masters degree fueled by her weird love of damselflies and their environment, to leading a research station in Costa Rica, and finally coming to OSU to study aquatic invertebrates.

Tune in Sunday, June 12, 2016 at 7PM PST on KBVR 88.7FM or stream live at

View of the Costa Rican coast line from the Caño Palma Biological Station (

Adrift in a sea of noise

Imagine walking around your neighborhood in a dense fog as night settles in; you may be familiar with the layout, but everything seems different. Innocuous obstacles like low-hanging tree branches and broken sidewalks become invisible right until you stumble upon them. You must be extra vigilant in order to avoid blindly injuring yourself as visibility drops.

For many humans, sight is our most valuable sense, but for marine mammals like dolphins, whales, and seals, their hearing is most precious. As sound travels better through water than air, the ocean is already a noisy place with atmospheric activity and other animals passing around, but their senses have had millions of years to evolve in such an environment. Unfortunately, because of an increased human presence in the ocean, like a fog bank rolling in, the ocean is getting noisier and putting these already threatened animals in danger.

Samara ready to deploy a hydrophone

Samara ready to deploy a hydrophone in the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary.

Samara Haver, a Masters student of Holger Klinck in Wildlife Science is interested in knowing about how the noise is affecting marine life. To do this, she must first characterize the ocean soundscape with hydrophones (pictured right) situated in various parts of the globe. With these data, she hopes to understand how loud the ocean is, how much noisier it’s getting, and where the noise is coming from. Tune in on Sunday, February 28th at 7PM PST on 88.7 FM in Corvallis or stream us online at to hear Samara’s journey into the sounds of science.

No show on February 21st

We will not have a show on February 21st, 2016 due to a broadcast of a Women’s Basketball game.

Tune in on February 28th, 2016 to hear a whale of a tale from Fisheries and Wildlife Student, Samara Haver.

Liver On The Edge

When thinking of the consequences of a diet high in fats, sugars, and cholesterol, many will think of weight gain and heart disease, but it may be the liver that suffers the most in the end. Non Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD) affects as many as 35% of Americans and is caused by fat abnormally being stored in the liver. This disease can lead to irreversible scarring, inflammation, cancer, and even liver failure.

Healthy Mouse Liver

Healthy Mouse Liver

Currently, there is no known cure, but Kelli Lytle, RD, a Ph. D. student of Donald Jump in the department of Nutrition is looking for an answer; not with drugs, but with diet. If we change our diet to one that is low in fats, sugars, and cholesterol, can we nurse our livers back to health? By using a two-pronged approach with a mouse model and a cell culture model, she can better understand not only if restoration is possible, but how it works.

Diseased Mouse Liver. White circles indicate pockets of fat

Diseased Mouse Liver. White circles are pockets of fat

In this episode of our show, we will find out how Kelli found her passion for nutrition. We follow her journey from her beginnings studying Art History in Portland Community College, to becoming a registered dietician, and on to her five years at Oregon State University where she has not only published her work, but also communicated it to broad audiences in the three minute thesis competition.

So, tune in to hear Kelli’s passion for Science, Nutrition, and Science Communication on Sunday, January 31st at 7PM PST on 88.7FM or stream it live at

Photo credit: Kelli Lytle

No Show This Week

We will not have a show on January 17th, 2016 due to the broadcast of OSU Women’s basketball game. Tune in on January 24th as we interview History of Science Ph. D. student, Edwin Wollert.

Happy New Year

Happy new year from all of us at Inspiration Dissemination. It’s been an incredible year for us all and we will be back starting Sunday, January 10th, 2016. Stay tuned and stay inspired!

2015 research wordcloud

Word cloud summary of all the research from our guests in 2015