Author Archives: Lauri Lutes

Don’t just dream big, dream bigger

If you’ve purchased a device with a display (e.g. television, computer, mobile phone, handheld game console) in the last couple decades you may be familiar with at least some of the following acronyms: LCD, LED, OLED, Quantum LED – no, I did not make that up. Personally, I find it all a bit overwhelming and difficult to keep up with, as the evolution of displays is so rapidly changing. But until the display replicates an image that is indistinguishable from what we see in nature, there will always be a desire to make the picture more lifelike. The limiting factor of making displays appear realistic is the number of colors used to make the image. Currently, not all color wavelengths are used.

Akash conducting research on nanoparticles.

This week’s guest, Akash Kannegulla studies how light interacts with nanostructure metals for applications to advance display technology, as well as biosensing. Akash is a PhD candidate in the Electrical Engineering and Computer Science program with a focus in Materials and Devices in the Cheng Lab. Exploiting the physical and chemical properties of nanoparticles, Akash is able to work toward the advancement of display and biosensing technologies.

When shining light on metals, electrons and photons interact and oscillate to create a surface plasma, or “electron cloud”. Under specific conditions, when fluorescent dye is excited with UV light on the surface plasma, electrons move to higher atomic levels. When the electrons return to lower atomic levels, energy is released in the form of light. This light is 10-100X brighter than it would be without the use of fluorescent dyes. With this light magnification, less voltage is used to produce a comparable brightness level. This has two main benefits; first consumer products can use less energy to produce the same visual experience, so we can significantly decrease our carbon footprint. Second, these unique conditions can be amplified at the nano-scale, which means smaller pixels and more colors that can be produced so our TV screens will look more and more like the real world around us. These new advancements at the nano-scale have extremely tight tolerances in order for it to work; however, in this case, not working can also provide some incredible information.

This technology can be applied in biosensing to detect mismatches in DNA sequences. A ‘mismatch’ in a DNA sequence has a slightly different chemical bond, the distance between the atoms is ever so slightly different than what is expected, but that tiny difference can be detected by how intense the light is – again the nanoscale is frustratingly finnicky at how precise the conditions must be in order to get the expected response – in this case light intensity. So when we get a ‘dim’ spot, it can be indicative of a mismatched DNA segment! Akash predicts that in a just a few years, this nanotechnology will make single nucleic acid differentiations detectable on with sensing technology on a small chip or using a phone camera, rather than a machine half the size of MINI Cooper.

Akash, the entrepreneur, with his winning certificate for the WIN Shark Tank 2018 competition.

In addition to Akash’s research, he has spent a significant portion of his graduate career investing in an award-winning start-up company, Wisedoc.This project was inspired by the frustration Akash felt, and probably all graduate students and researchers, when trying to publish his own work and found himself spending too much time formatting and re-formatting rather than conducting research. By using Wisedoc, you can input your article content into the program and select a journal of interest. The program will then format your content to the journal’s specifications, which are approved by the respective journal’s editors to make publishing academic articles seamless. If you want to submit to another journal, it only takes a click to update the formatting. Follow this link for a short video on how Wisedoc works. And for those of us with dissertations to format, no worries – Wisedoc will have an option for that, too. Akash notes that Wisedoc would not have been possible without the help of OSU’s Advantage Accelerator program, which guides students, faculty, staff, as well as the broader community through the start-up process. Akash’s team has won the Willamette Innovators Network 2018 Shark Tank competition, which earned them an entry into the Willamette Angel Conference, where Wisedoc won the Speed Pitch competition. If you are as eager as I am to checkout Wisedoc, the launch is only a few months away in December 2018!

The soon-to-be Dr. Akash Kannegulla – his defense is only a month away – is the first person in decades from his small town at the outskirts of Hyberabad, India, to attend graduate school. Akash’s start in engineering was inspired by his uncle, an achieved instrumentation scientist. Not knowing where to start, Akash adopted his uncle’s career choice as an engineer, but took the time to thoroughly explore his specialty options while an undergraduate. A robotics workshop at his undergraduate institution, Amirta School of Engineering in Bangalore, India, sparked an interest in Akash due to the hands-on nature of the science. Akash explored undergraduate research opportunities in the United States landing on a Nano Undergraduate Research Fellowship from University of Notre Dame. During the summer of 2013, Akash studied photo induced re-configurable THz circuits and devices under the guidance of Dr. Larry Cheng and Dr. Lei Liu. Remarkably, Akash conducted research resulting in a publication after only participating in this four-week fellowship. After graduating with the Bachelor of Technology in Instrumentation, Akash decided to come to Oregon State University to continue working with Dr. Cheng as a PhD student.

After defending, Akash will be working at Intel Hillsboro, as well as preparing for the launch of Wisedoc in December. And if that doesn’t sound like enough to keep him busy, Akash has plans for two more start-ups in the works.

Join us on Sunday, July 22 at 7 PM on KBVR Corvallis 88.7 FM or stream live to learn more about Akash’s nanotechnology research, start-up company, and to get inspired by this go-getter.

 

When Paths Cross: The Intersection of Art, Science and Humanities on the Discovery Trail

When you think about a high school field trip to the forest, what comes to mind? Hiking boots, binoculars, magnifying glasses, plant and fungi identification, data collection – the science stuff, right? Well, some high school students are getting much more than a science lesson on the Discovery Trail  at the HJ Andrews Long-Term Ecological Research Forest in the western Cascades Mountains, where researchers are seeking to provide a more holistic experience by connecting students with the forest though art, imagination, critical thinking and reflection.

Sarah (red hard hat) observing two student groups on the Discovery Trail (October 2017); Photo Credit: Mark Schulze

Working with environmental scholar and philosopher Dr. Michael Nelson at Oregon State University (OSU), Sarah Kelly is pursuing a Master of Arts degree as a member of the first cohort of the Environmental Arts and Humanities program. Through this program, Sarah works with many collaborators at the HJ Andrews Forest to enrich the experiences of middle and high school students through environmental education.

Sarah giving presentation on the Discovery Trail for the Long-Term Ecological Research 7 midterm review (August 2017); Photo Credit: Lina DiGregorio

Built in 2011, the Discovery Trail at the HJ Andrews Forest not only provides researchers access to field sites, but also is a venue for educational programming. Since the trail’s inception, researchers have designed curriculum that integrated the arts, humanities and science – the foundation of Sarah’s research.  The objective for the trail curriculum is to invite students to explore their own curiosity and values for forests while learning about place through observation, mindfulness exercises, scientific inquiry, and storytelling. Sarah and other researchers are interested in how this integrated arts/science curriculum stimulates appreciation and empathy for non-humans and ecosystems. This curriculum was first used on the trail in 2016.

Two students examining the dry streambed at stop 3 on the Discovery Trail (October 2017); Photo Credit: Mark Schulze

With the use of iPads to guide activities and collect research data, students engage with the forest at a series of stops. After a silent sensory walk to just be in the forest, students cluster in small groups to participate in the lessons at a designated location. At one stop, students are instructed to gain intimate knowledge of one plant by observing all of its features and completing a blind contour drawing. A clearing at another stop encourages students to find clues and identify reasons for disturbances in the forest and their impacts – positive and negative – on the forest ecosystem. Another stop invites students to consider how we can care for forests by reading Salmon Boy, a Native American legend about a boy that gains an appreciation for non-human life by becoming a salmon.

Two students reading Salmon Boy near Lookout Creek at stop 6 (October 2017); Photo Credit: Mark Schulze

Using the iPads to log student experiences on the trail, pre- and post-stop reflections, surveys and interviews, Sarah and her collaborators are able to understand the students’ experiences on the trail and assess any cognitive or affective shifts. Several weeks after the trip, teachers are also interviewed to find if the trail experience has impacted student learning and behavior in the classroom. Many teachers are returning visitors, bringing different classes to the Discovery Trail each year.

Sarah’s first trip to the Pacific Northwest; Multnomah Falls in background (November 2014)

So far, the students have expressed positive feedback about their trip on the Discovery Trail with many citing their relaxed mood, new career interests and inspiration to better care for nature. Sarah is busily analyzing the data collected to support her findings and identify ways to continue to enhance the program.

Sarah cultivated a new interest in human impacts on the environment while working for a green events company – the kind that focuses on sustainability – after completing her BA in Communications at her hometown university, the University of Houston. A few years after graduating, she led campus sustainability initiatives for her alma mater – a job she enjoyed immensely, but she always knew that graduate school was her next big undertaking. A work trip to attend the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education conference brought Sarah to Portland, Oregon, where she and her husband, Dwan, fell in love with the Pacific Northwest.

Sarah working on her research project during a Spring Creek Project retreat at Shotpouch Cabin (January 2017); Photo Credit: Jill Sisson

Eventually, Sarah was able to combine her graduate school dreams with her desire to live in Oregon when she became a student at OSU. Sarah is now nearing the end of her graduate studies and recently participated in a Spring Creek Project Retreat to work on a writing piece, as part of her final project – a creative non-fiction composition about her experience with students on the trail. After leaving Houston, Sarah has learned to embrace and enjoy uncertainty and is keeping all possibilities open for her next big step. There is no doubt she will be working to improve the world around us.

Join us on Sunday, February 11 at 7 PM on KBVR Corvallis 88.7 FM or stream live to journey with Sarah through her environmental education research and path to graduate school.

 

 

 

Are Touch Tanks Touching Lives?

Imagine, you just spent the day at the aquarium. Perhaps you were on a date, enjoying the day with your friends, on a solo exploration, or taking your children on a special trip. Throughout your experience you encountered many live animal exhibits and even got up close with some creatures in touch tanks: sea urchins, sea cucumbers, sea stars, and stingrays. Now take a moment and reflect. What will you remember about today? What conversations or thoughts did you have?

Close up view of the Touch Tank and Visitor Interaction at Hatfield Marine Science Center – Visitor Center Photo Credit: Pat Kight

Working on an interdisciplinary project through the Oregon State University (OSU)  Environmental Sciences program with College of Education advisor Dr. Lynn Dierking, PhD candidate Susan Rowe seeks to illuminate the impacts of free-choice learning – or the learning that occurs in informal settings, such as museums, zoos and aquariums. A conservation mission has driven these institutions to shift in recent years from a menagerie of captive animals on display to these animals acting as ambassadors for their ecosystems. But is this message clear? Through her studies, Susan is examining visitors’ conservation narratives at live animal exhibits in order to better understand what counts as conservation talk for families, what research methods better help us understand that, and how education experiences can better advance the conservation mission of these institutions.

Susan Rowe with the Octopus at Hatfield Science Center Visitor Center

After filming and observing 10 families’ interactions with the Touch Tank at the Hatfield Marine Science Center Visitor Center in Newport, OR, Susan invited the families to construct concept maps – a visual thinking routine to represent their thoughts and ideas –and conducted interviews to understand the families’ perceptions of the experience.  Susan also conducted a focus group with professionals involved in the field of conservation at different levels, and they too built conservation concept maps. With insights about the meaning of conservation for families and professionals, Susan constructed a rubric as a research tool to identify where, when and how conservation dialogue happens at live animal exhibit.  She is using the rubric to evaluate further interactions from additional 50 families who visited the exhibit and were recorded through the Visitor Center CyberLab  project, a system of surveillance cameras established to collect visitor data through advanced technology that uses facial recognition, eye tracking and other research tools to understand visitor use of exhibits, their movement and conversations.

Susan Rowe holding a stuffed “brain cell” at the March for Science In Newport, Oregon, Earth Day 2017

So what are these families talking about? Spoiler alert: it’s not conservation, at least not directly. And when families are asked to discuss conservation and what it means to them, the central theme seems to be their values. Different from common methods of studying the impact of free-choice learning, which focus on knowledge gained, Susan is identifying that a more holistic approach may be necessary for researchers to understand what challenge or provoke conservation talk at live animal exhibits. Susan hopes that her research will help determine better ways to engage audiences to think explicitly about conservation, i.e. values-based approaches to research and practice as opposed to values-changing. Susan suggests that if we can better understand how conservation talk is shaped in these experiences, we can advance our research methodologies and education curriculum design in ways that give families what they are looking for and, perhaps advance the argument that animal exhibits are indeed valuable conservation education platforms.

Susan Rowe and her family doing what they love… enjoying a beautiful day at the beach!

Growing up in Recife, Brazil, with the Atlantic Ocean as her playground, Susan spent her childhood dipping her feet into tide pools and exploring the wonders of the ocean – a curiosity and passion that has never faded. As an undergraduate at the Universidade Federal Rural de Pernambuco, Susan completed a dual-degree in Biology and Education with a license to teach. An undergraduate exchange program at Iowa State University (ISU) brought Susan to the United States for the first time. After spending some time as a middle school science teacher in Brazil, Susan returned to ISU to pursue a Master’s degree in Animal Ecology. Upon her move to Oregon, Susan worked as a marine educator at the Hatfield Marine Science Center, a volunteer at Oregon Coast Aquarium, teaching instructor for the Afternoon Adventures program at Muddy Creek Charter School, a field researcher for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, and has occupied a variety of job positions at OSU as well, including working at Hatfield Science Center as a research assistant and exhibit designer.

Susan Rowe and Benny Beaver

After spending years working as a frontline educator, Susan realized her desire to do more work behind the scenes as a museum, zoo, or aquarium education director in order to keep her feet in both research and teaching opportunities, which led her back to graduate school. At OSU, Susan has had the freedom to design her interdisciplinary PhD program of study, which melds sociology, philosophy, and anthropology with environmental education and ethics, providing a rich foundation for her research. Through her PhD program, Susan has realized her desire to continue to do free-choice learning research and ultimately seeks an academic position where she can continue finding the best ways to make an impact on the environment through free-choice learning venues.

Join us on Sunday, January 28 at 7 PM on KBVR Corvallis 88.7 FM or stream live to dive deeper into Susan’s free-choice learning research and journey to graduate school.

You can also download Susan’s iTunes Podcast Episode!

It’s a Bird Eat Bird World

Female sage-grouse in eastern Oregon, 2017. Photo credit: Hannah White

Over the last half century, populations of Greater Sage-grouse – a relative of pheasants and chickens – have declined throughout their range. Habitat loss and degradation from wildfires is regarded as a primary threat to the future of sage-grouse in Oregon. This threat is exacerbated by the spread of invasive annual grasses (read: fuel for fires). In addition, raven populations, a predator of sage-grouse nests, are exploding. But how does all of this relate? PhD student Terrah Owens of Dr. Jonathan Dinkins lab in the Department of Animal and Rangeland Sciences at Oregon State University and her colleagues are trying to find out.

Specifically, Terrah’s research is focused on the impact of wildfire burn areas – the burn footprint and edge – on sage-grouse predation pressure and how this influences habitat selection,

Terrah Owens with a radio-collared female sage-grouse in Nevada, 2015.

survival, and reproductive success. To do this work Terrah is characterizing six sites in Baker and Malheur counties, Oregon, based on their burn history, abundance of avian predators, shrub and flowering plant cover, as well as invasive annual grasses. To monitor sage-grouse populations, Terrah captures and radio-marks female sage-grouse to identify where the birds are nesting and if they are producing offspring. Additionally, Terrah conducts point counts to determine the density and abundance of avian predators (ravens, hawks, and eagles) in the area. Burn areas generally provide less protective cover for prey, making it an ideal hunting location for predators. Ultimately, Terrah hopes her work will help determine the best ways to allocate restoration funds through proactive, rather than reactive measures.

An encounter with a Bengal tiger at a petting zoo as a young girl inspired Terrah’s lifelong interest in wildlife conservation. As an undergraduate, Terrah studied Zoology at Humboldt State University in Arcata, CA. She then interned at Bonneville

Banding a juvenile California spotted owl, 2016.

Dam on the Columbia River for the California sea lion and salmon project. After this she went on to work for the U.S. Forest Service in northern California as a wildlife crew leader working with spotted owls, northern goshawk, fisher, and marten, among other species. She eventually moved on to work with sage-grouse in Nevada with the U.S Geological Survey.

After graduate school, Terrah would like to head a wildlife service research unit and apply her wealth of knowledge and government experience to bridge the gap between scientists and policymakers.

Join us on Sunday, December 10, at 7 PM on KBVR Corvallis 88.7 FM or stream live to learn more about Terrah’s research, how she captures sage-grouse, and her journey to graduate school.

You can also download Terrah’s iTunes Podcast Episode!

Secrets of the Black Cottonwood

Ryan cultivated his interest in plants at a young age while checking wheat fields with his dad on the family farm near Beltrami, MN.

Growing up on a family farm in North Dakota, Ryan Lenz loved learning about wheat – specifically the things that made wheat varieties different. Why were some taller or shorter than others? Why did some have more protein? After gaining skills in molecular biology at North Dakota State University with a Bachelor of Science in Biotechnology, Ryan interned with a biotech company where he was finally able to make the connection between wheat varieties and the genes that make them different. This experience sparked his interest and led him to earn a Master’s degree in Plant Sciences at his alma mater and eventually brought him to OSU’s Department of Botany & Plant Pathology to study host-pathogen interactions as a PhD student with Dr. Jared LeBoldus.

Using black cottonwood (Populus trichocarpa) – a native tree to the western US – Ryan is working to reveal the genes responsible for making woody plants susceptible to fungal disease and those that give the fungus the ability to infect trees. The fungus of interest, Sphaerulina musiva, causes leaf spot and stem canker on cottonwood trees – the latter disease being more severe as it girdles the trees and causes the tops to break off.

Ryan tending to his tissue culture plants in the LeBoldus Lab.

The fungal pathogen was first found in the eastern United States in association with the more resistant eastern cottonwood (Populus deltoides), but has worked its way westward putting the susceptible black cottonwood at risk. This fast-growing cottonwood is a foundation species in riparian areas and provides erosion control. Not only are these trees important ecologically, they are also important in forest agriculture for their uses in making pulp for paper, biofuels, building materials, windbreaks, and for providing shade.

Ryan and his wife, Rebecca, enjoying the beautiful Pacific Northwest.

To learn how the tree and fungus interact, Ryan employs advanced molecular techniques like the CRISPR-Cas9 system to edit genes. To put it simply, he tries to find the important information in the plant and fungus by making changes in the genetic code and then seeing if it has a downstream effect. The implication of his work has two sides. On one hand, Ryan is trying to provide cottonwood breeders with insight to make a more resistant tree to be grown in the western US. While on the other hand, he is working to establish the black cottonwood as a model system for other woody hosts susceptible to necrotrophic fungi – those that feed on dead tissue. As a model system, the secrets of the black cottonwood would be unveiled, providing a blueprint of valuable information that could be applied to other woody trees.

 

One day, Ryan hopes to move back to the Midwest to be a plant researcher near his family’s farm.

Join us on Sunday, November 5, at 7 PM on KBVR Corvallis 88.7 FM or stream live to learn more about Ryan’s love for plant genetics and his journey to graduate school.

You can download Ryan’s iTunes’ Podcast Episode!

Seeing live animal exhibits can be a powerful experience, but do they change our behaviors?

Imagine you’re at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park cheetah run. You hear the sounds of awe and wonder as the cheetah demonstrates its amazing speed. The zookeeper tells you more about the cheetah and its ecosystem – an ecosystem that is being negatively impacted by humans. You walk away with tangible ways that you can do your part to reduce your impact – recycling, using less plastic. But when you exit the zoo gates and enter back into the hustle and bustle of life, do you actually make those changes?

Nicolette and Ebony, the raven, at Moorpark College in 2007.

Working under the advisership of Dr. Shawn Rowe in OSU’s College of Education, Nicolette Canzoneri is passionately pursing a Master of Science degree in Environmental Sciences with research centered around the idea of free-choice learning – or, the education that happens outside of a formal school environment. The menagerie of animals that zoos and aquariums have historically been known for has transitioned in recent years to conservation efforts. Instead of a spectacle, the animals – often rescued and unable to be re-entered into their natural environment – act as ambassadors for their ecosystems. This summer, Nicolette will be conducting a three-part project to get to the heart of human behavior changes based on interactions with live animal exhibits at zoos and aquariums.

First, Nicolette will be interviewing education directors and animal care supervisors to understand how the education programs are designed to target pro-environmental behavior. She will then observe the programs to determine the degree to which they align with the intended educational and behavioral goals. Despite the nuances of evaluation, Nicolette then plans to discover the if, how and why of evaluations being used to determine effectiveness of these educational programs. Ultimately, she hopes that her research can help to fill the knowledge gaps between theories and principles in applied behavioral studies and their implementation in free-choice learning.

Nicolette with her Animal Behavior students at Moorpark College in 2015.

Nicolette brings a wealth of experience in animal training and applied behavioral psychology to her research. As a teenager Nicolette knew that she wanted to work with animals, but it wasn’t until she found herself watching the Animal Planet reality TV show Moorpark 24/7 that she realized animal training was part of her calling. Nicolette went on to pursue her dream by obtaining her Exotic Animal Training & Management degree at the prestigious Moorpark College near Los Angeles, CA. Through the twists and turns of her career, Nicolette has since obtained a bachelor’s degree in Applied Behavioral Analysis at California State University, Sacramento and volunteered, interned, and worked in some interesting places along the way including as a dog trainer in Austria, an animal trainer at the Playboy Mansion, and most recently training dolphins for reconnaissance for the United States Navy.

Nicolette with her two dogs in San Diego, 2016.

Join us on Sunday, June 17 at 7 PM on KBVR Corvallis 88.7 FM or stream live to dive deeper into Nicolette’s free-choice learning research and journey to graduate school.