How high’s the water, flood model? Five feet high and risin’

Climate change and the resulting effects on communities and their infrastructure are notoriously difficult to model, yet the importance is not difficult to grasp. Infrastructure is designed to last for a certain amount of time, called its design life. The design life of a bridge is about 50 years; a building can be designed for 70 years. For coastal communities that have infrastructure designed to survive severe coastal flooding at the time of construction, what happens if the sea rises during its design life? That severe flooding can become more severe, and the bridge or building might fail.

Most designers and engineers don’t consider the effects of climate change in their designs because they are hard to model and involve much uncertainty.

Kai at Wolf Rock in Oregon.

In comes Kai Parker, a 5th year PhD student in the Coastal Engineering program. Kai is including climate change and a host of other factors into his flood models: Waves, Tides, Storms, Atmospheric Forcing, Streamflow, and many others. He specifically models estuaries (including Coos and Tillamook Bay, Oregon and Grays Harbor, Washington), which extend inland and can have complex geometries. Not only is Kai working to incorporate those natural factors into his flood model, he has also worked with communities to incorporate their response to coastal hazards and the factors that are most important to them into his model.

Modeling climate change requires an immense amount of computing power. Kai uses super computers at the Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC) to run a flood model and determine the fate of an estuary and its surroundings. But this is for one possible new climate, with one result (this is referred to as a deterministic model). Presenting these results can be misleading, especially if the uncertainty is not properly communicated.

Kai with his hydrodynamic model grid for Coos Bay, Oregon.

In an effort to model more responsibly, Kai has expanded into using what is called a probabilistic flood model, which results in a distribution of probabilities that an event of a certain severity will occur. Instead of just one new climate, Kai would model 10,000 climates and determine which event is most likely to occur. This technique is frequently used by earthquake engineers and often done using Monte Carlo simulations. Unfortunately, flooding models take time and it takes more than supercomputing to make probabilistic flooding a reality.

To increase efficiency, Kai has developed an “emulator”, which uses techniques similar to machine learning to “train” a faster flooding model that can make Monte Carlo simulation a possibility. Kai uses the emulator to solve flood models much like we use our brains to play catch: we are not using equations of physics, factoring in wind speed or the temperature of the air, to calculate where the ball will land. Instead we draw on a bank of experiences to predict where the ball will land, hopefully in our hands.

Kai doing field work at Bodega Bay in California.

Kai grew up in Gerlach, Nevada: Population 206. He moved to San Luis Obispo to study civil engineering at Cal Poly SLO and while studying, he worked as an intern at the Bodega Bay Marine Lab and has been working with the coast ever since. When Kai is not working on his research, he is brewing, climbing rocks, surfing waves, or cooking the meanest soup you’ve ever tasted. Next year, he will move to Chile with a Fulbright grant to apply his emulator techniques to a new hazard: tsunamis.

To hear more about Kai’s research, be sure to tune in to KBVR Corvallis 88.7 FM this Sunday May, 27 at 7 pm, stream the live interview at kbvr.com/listen, or find it in podcast form next week on Apple Podcasts.

Agroforestry: any takers?

Agroforestry, the practice of growing crops or tending livestock while purposefully managing trees on the same parcel of land, can provide security of fuel wood and food in rural areas of the developing world. Increased access to healthcare in many African countries has spurred population growth over the past couple of decades. Malnourishment remains a problem, and as the number of people per acre of farmland increases, maintaining food security may require changes in agricultural practices.

As a second-year PhD student in the Forest Ecosystems and Society department in the College of Forestry, Sonia Bruck knows this isn’t a simple task. Communities around the world who are exposed to agroforestry practices tend to adopt them at low rates, which often depend on residents’ wealth and education. Working with the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), a non-governmental organization in Kenya, Sonia will travel to the town of Mbola in the Uyui district of eastern Tanzania in September. She will be living there for seven months, examining how and why these and other factors might play a role in how people decide to adopt agroforestry practices. A Tanzanian regional office of ICRAF has already promoted the intercropping of pigeon pea and cassava with Gliricidia sepium (a nitrogen fixing tree), but despite this being a biologically sound strategy, it hasn’t caught on among everyone in Mbola. So if there are cultural or socioeconomic barriers to adopting these techniques, she wants to know about them.

An agroforestry system in North Carolina – Longleaf pine alley cropping, where corn and soybeans were alternated near an open agricultural field.

Knowing that wealthier villagers are able to place more risk into implementing a new agroforestry technique might be only one facet. Health, household division of labor, number of children per household, and access to food may also factor into whether people decide to adopt this strategy. Sonia is developing a quantitative survey to gather data like these, and plans to administer it to 600 residents once she arrives in Mbola. She will then analyze the survey data and schedule focus groups to allow residents to provide more context, especially if there are relationships between variables that don’t seem to make sense. According to rational choice theory, we’re all rational actors – so Westerners like us might be missing important cultural preferences that could guide farmers’ agricultural decisions in rural Tanzania. Sonia hopes that her findings will help ICRAF target households that could benefit from implementing agroforestry.

(From left to right) Jeremais Mowo (Regional Coordinator for Eastern and Southern Africa), Sonia Bruck, and Badege Bishaw (her adviser) at ICRAF.

When Sonia departs for Tanzania, she certainly will not be a stranger to international travel. Her father, a professor of plant pathology, taught a field course in the Peruvian Amazon, and she first got to tag along as a fourteen-year-old. The heat, humidity, and occasional threat of vampire bats didn’t seem to deter her when she studied abroad for a summer in Brazil, as an undergraduate at Appalachian State University majoring in Sustainable Development and Environmental Studies. She has also traveled extensively across Central and South America, and recently to the Philippines, Thailand, and Nepal to catch up with friends stationed in the Peace Corps and learn more about local cultures.

Sonia near Silver Falls, Oregon

To hear more about Sonia’s research and experiences traveling and living abroad, be sure to tune in to KBVR Corvallis 88.7 FM this Sunday May, 27 at 7 pm, stream the live interview at kbvr.com/listen, or find it in podcast form next week on Apple Podcasts.

If you’re interested in participating in agroforestry in the Pacific Northwest please visit: http://pnwagro.forestry.oregonstate.edu/

A Space for Me

Minerva presenting at the Radical Imaginations Conference on the panel ” Feminist Radical Imaginations: Marches and Revolutions” with Andrea Haverkamp, Carolina Melchor, Maria Lenzi Miori, Minerva Zayas, and Nasim Basiri

Everyone handles their personal growth differently, and for many finding an identity category can lead to feelings of comfort and an opportunity to find community. However, for folks who identify with more than one category or find identity in LGBTQ+ categories may find difficulty navigating their identity in spaces that have been shaped by the heteronormative majority. Moreover, for people of color, retaining identity in their culture might add another layer of complexity to navigating the path to their goals. Our guest this week, Minerva Zayas a Master’s student in Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, is interested in how folks who identify as LatinX and LGBTQ+ navigate the intersection of these identities, especially in university spaces. In particular, Minerva is asking how LatinX, LGBTQ+ individuals engage in a system that has historically catered to white heteronormative college students. Minerva, speaking from personal experience, expects that University life offers little tailored support systems for folks of color who identify as ‘other,’ but that a university campus might offer opportunities to build a support systems that other institutions might lack: the opportunity to participate in a campus cultural/lifestyle community and engage in activism.

Minerva presenting at Corvallis Poetics Open Mic Night on the poem, “My worst NightMare” at Interzone Inc.

Minerva participating in a creative photo session in downtown Corvallis, OR.

For her Master’s, Minerva will conduct interviews with LatinX, LGBTQ+ students and ask questions than run the gamut of identity in sexuality, culture, community, and activism. She hopes to highlight their experiences and examine themes that arise. In addition to her research, Minerva, a poet herself, plans to extend her project in a creative way, ideally through a podcast. After completing her Master’s, Minerva hopes to complete a PhD and has considered becoming a counselor for Spanish-speaking folks. This aim coincides with her mission to bring voice to folks who share identity with her in LatinX culture. Minerva ultimately wants institutions, academia and beyond, to be more inclusive and cognizant of minority identities, but she realizes that change comes from within. By pursuing her aspirations for a PhD and engaging in academia, she hopes that others who share her identity will be drawn to academia so that a system that has been shaped by the majority identity can grow to support all.

Tune in to KBVR Corvallis 88.7 FM this Sunday May, 20 at 7 pm to hear more about Minerva’s research and personal journey to graduate school. Listeners, local and otherwise, can stream the live interview at kbvr.com/listen or find the podcast of Minerva’s episode next week on Apple Podcasts.

 

Putting kids in the driver’s seat: How modified ride-on cars let kids with disabilities drive their own development

My mother often tells the story of when I first learned to walk: Instead of sluggishly taking one step at a time, I would quickly take five or six steps as I accelerated into the floor or surrounding walls — Bang! She says I learned to run before I would walk. Based on my old scars I think she’s right. Many families have memories of their children’s first steps.  But how about baby’s first drive?  This Sunday we interview Christina Hospodar, finishing her M.S. in Kinesiology with an option in Adapted Physical Activity, who is working to better understand how providing modified ride-on cars to children with disabilities as a source of mobility can help to close the developmental gaps between children with disabilities and their typically developing peers.

Throughout infancy and early childhood, movement is key to learning. Mobility at a young age allows children to begin exploring their surroundings, which helps with not only motor development, but also language, social, and cognitive skills. While crawling towards mom or chasing birds in the park may seem like that is all it is, these experiences are embedded with inherent learning opportunities; learning to move in and of itself is a learning opportunity! Once you can direct your own movement, this propels a cascade of cognitive advancements. For example, once babies begin walking and their hands become more available to explore objects, they begin bringing favorite toys or novel finds to parents, and consequentially hear more words as they engage in these social bids. Many developmental advancements arise following the ability to independently move through their environment, of course alongside many smiles and giggles.

Go Baby Go is a community-based outreach program that provides modified ride-on cars to children with disabilities as a source of self-directed mobility. By modifying the activation switch and adding more supportive seating with common materials such as PVC pipe, pool noodles, and foam kickboards, children with disabilities can use the ride-on cars as an accessible powered mobility device.

It is estimated that approximately 500,000 children in the United States have some sort of mobility limitation. Children under 5 report unmet mobility needs almost twice as often as older children, with 61% of families report that gaining access to a mobility aid is “difficult.” While some children may have a more clear limitation in their ability to walk around the house and knock cups off the table, there is also the undercover impact of potentially delayed cognitive, social, and language development. This “exploration gap” happens during formative years, when decreased movement may have far-reaching consequences on overall development. One solution is powered mobility. Parents can buy wheelchairs with a joystick so their children can move independently and at their own will. However, powered pediatric wheelchairs often cost upwards of $17,000, which even with (limited) insurance coverage, often makes these devices completely inaccessible. Further, no commercial device exists for children 2 and under, which denies access at an age which may have the most benefit. Not to mention the social stigma of using an assistive device, with even clinicians often viewing powered mobility as a “last resort.”

A more recent version of the modified ride-on car is called a Sit-to-Stand (STS) car. Here, there is a reverse-activated switch in the seat, so the child must pull to stand and remain standing in order to power the vehicle. This combines functional training with the experience of powered mobility.

That’s where the work of the Social Mobility Lab at Oregon State University comes back into the picture. Under the direction of Dr. Sam Logan, a large part of Christina and her lab group’s work revolves around Go Baby Go Oregon, one of about 75 national and international chapters. Started in 2012 at the University of Delaware by Dr, Cole Galloway, Go Baby Go is a community-based outreach program that provides modified ride-on cars to kids with disabilities as a source of self-directed mobility. With a total cost of around $200, the modified ride-on cars are affordable, portable, and perhaps most importantly, FUN. Ride-on cars can be purchased from standard box stores like Walmart or Toys R Us. Then, these cars are electrically and structurally modified to make them more user-friendly and accessible to any child. Most standard ride-on cars are operated by a foot pedal or very small button switch, so in order to make the vehicle more accessible to children with disabilities, they modify the electrical wiring by adding a large easy-to press activation switch. Now, the car will move via an oversized button on the steering wheel. They also reinforce the structure and support of the vehicle with PVC pipe and pool noodles so there are more soft-touch contact points to keep the child secure. Maybe the child has a vision impairment? They can make the steering wheel a very big and very colorful button. What if the child needs to be able to sit upright? They design a support system integrated into the car so the child can maintain an upright posture. The essence of being a kid is mostly about playing and exploration; this program and these devices are helping to make sure that all kids can be kids and get into just as much trouble as anybody else.

Christina’s work goes beyond the community-outreach sector of Go Baby Go. With Dr. Logan and lab mates, Christina is working to quantify the benefits of the modified ride-on cars and determine how they can be optimally used. Anecdotally, first drives are filled with big grins, happy dancing, and engaged attention. But how do you capture that in research?  Her Masters project aims to understand how use of the modified ride-on cars relate to tangible outcomes like onset of independent driving and independent walking. This intervention is unique in that researchers incorporated elements of physical therapy within the vehicles to sneakily have children practice motor skills. If you want children to practice standing, you have to incentivize that movement. By wiring a negative activation switch in the seat, the child must stand up in the car to move forward. When they sit down, the car stops moving. Therefore, the children practice pulling to stand and maintaining balance, physical therapy exercises that would be very difficult to get children to do without that positive incentive of freedom of movement provided by the car. Christina’s thesis focuses on a year-long progressive modified ride-on car intervention for infants with Down syndrome that utilizes the seated cars as well as this more advanced sit-to-stand version to encourage exploration and motor skill development. We will discuss her findings, which suggest that children who spent more time with the vehicles and were more consistent with usage potentially had better motor outcomes.

Adapted Physical Activity graduate students (from left to right: Michele Catena, Samantha Ross, and Christina Hospodar) presenting research from the Social Mobility Lab at the 2017 Society for Research in Child Development (SRCD) Conference in Austin, Texas.

As I write this on a sunny afternoon sitting on a bench overlooking the MU quad, there are seniors taking graduation photos and families meandering through the courtyard. One family walks by the pair of 120-feet tall incense cedar trees. The little sister walks off the pavement and onto the grass, tracing the perimeter of the wide droopy branches. She stops. Looks up and down in awe, wonder, and amazement. Maybe she’ll be a forester someday, perhaps a botanist, or maybe an ornithologist with all the noisy bird conversations happening way up high in the canopy. But in a snap, her parents turn around and wave her to return. She sprints back towards the group. Because of her ability to freely explore her environment, life has left her with a new seed of curiosity. This embodies the spirit of Go Baby Go, where self-directed mobility is a fundamental human right.

Be sure to listen to the interview on Sunday May 13th at 7PM on KBVR 88.7 Corvallis or you can listen live online. Christina is nice enough to do the interview the day before her defense so if you’re interested you can see her research talk on Monday May 14 at 2 PM in  Hallie Ford Center room 115. In the fall Christina will be moving onto a PhD program at NYU in the Cognition and Perception program within the Psychology Department. There, she will study infant motor development under the direction of Dr. Karen Adolph.

If you want to find out more about the Go Baby Go program, you can look at Oregon State’s Chapter page, the greater Oregon Facebook page, and the national website to look for contacts or access to local sites around the US.

Comunicación Científica con Franco

Kristen Finch interviewing Francisco Guerrero for this special episode. (Photo by Adrian Gallo)

This week on Inspiration Dissemination we will be featuring a previous guest: Francisco Guerrero, a PhD student in the Department of Forest Engineering, Resources, and Management. Francisco’s first interview aired on October 18, 2015, and we called him back for a follow-up because he has been selected for the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Mass Media Science and Engineering Fellowship. As a fellow, Franco will be writing feature stories about climate change and health for CNN en Español. Part of the fellowship will involve helping with film production, as well. FUN FACT last time Franco was on the show, he told us that he always wanted to be a movie producer. Franco will take this amazing opportunity during the final push for his PhD research to enhance his science communication skills and gain experience in production and video broadcasting.

This special interview will begin at 6:30 pm on May 6, 2018. We will be asking Franco about the application process, his responsibilities as a fellow, and his goals for the fellowship. After our interview with Franco, we will rebroadcast his first interview on Inspiration Dissemination at 7 pm.

Tune in to KBVR Corvallis 88.7 FM at 6:30 pm to hear about the AAAS Fellowship and learn about Franco’s research in the College of Forestry. Not a local listener? No sweat! Stream the show live on line or hear the podcast next week.

Franco wants to hear from you! Tweet him with ideas for CNN Español, specifically stories about Climate Change and Health. 

The folks behind the episode: Francisco Guerrero, Kristen Finch, and Lillian Padgitt-Cobb. (Photo by Adrian Gallo)

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.

Beyond doom and gloom: highlighting solutions to ocean acidification

When we hear news coverage of global environmental changes, it can easily overwhelm us. We mentally curl up into the fetal position and conclude there is nothing we can do to stave off the changes that Earth is projected to experience. One of these changes is ocean acidification–a phenomenon where carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is absorbed by the ocean. As carbon dioxide levels increase in our atmosphere, more of it is able to dissolve into the ocean and lower its pH, making it more acidic. A decrease of 0.1 pH unit in the global ocean since the beginning of the 1900s may not seem like a lot, but because pH is represented on a logarithmic scale, it actually represents about a 30% increase in hydrogen ions. This makes it harder for organisms like oysters, clams, and corals to build hard shells and skeletons. It is uncertain how this phenomenon could affect the long-term fate of these organisms, as well as the fish that depend on them.

Brian flying in a hot air balloon north of Mt. Rainer, WA.

This is where Brian Erickson comes in. Brian, a masters student in Marine Resource Management in OSU’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Science, observed that most curricula designed to teach high school students about ocean acidification do not discuss actionable solutions that most people can take in their everyday lives to mitigate their carbon footprints. Do student attitudes change when presented with solutions like insulating homes to save on heat, swapping incandescent bulbs with LEDs, or consolidating trips to the store to minimize gas consumption?

Brian at work during his first field biology job, studying the sexual reproduction of tropical seaweeds in St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands and San Blas, Panama. It’s easy to fall in love with the ocean when you snorkel on coral reefs for two summers!

A former high school science teacher himself, Brian grew up in St. Louis and received his undergraduate degree in biology from Lewis and Clark College. As an undergraduate, he first became acquainted with environmental research as a field technician in St. Croix in the Caribbean. After participating in Teach For America in New York City, he took many environmental research and education jobs before deciding to return to the ocean to bridge his interests of outdoor education and social science. As his masters draws to a close, Brian will be staying at OSU to begin a PhD in Fisheries and Wildlife working to bring multiple perspectives to marine conservation efforts in East Africa.

Helping students dissect a shark at Bronx Career & College Preparatory High School (Bronx, NY).

Taking students on their first canoe trip with Parks in Focus near Pictured Rocks, MI.

To hear more about Brian’s research and experiences in education, tune in to KBVR Corvallis 88.7 FM at 7 pm on April 15th, or stream it online here. If you’re busy at that time, the show will appear on our podcast later this week.

 

Genes & Body Metabolism: How our Muscles Control Outcomes

The basic human body plan is fairly similar (most have eyes, arms, and legs) but how efficiently our bodies’ function is unique and depend heavily on our genes. Although our brains use a lot of the simple energy compounds (like glucose), our skeletal muscles use 70% of our body’s total energy production such as fats, sugars, and amino acids. All of this energy demand from our skeletal muscles means our body’s metabolism is highly regulated by our muscles. If you want a higher metabolism then you should work out more to gain muscle; this process of muscle formation or repair is a complicated sequence of events requiring hundreds of genes all working together at the right time to promote muscle development. However, if one or many genes do not function properly this sequence of events have inefficiencies that diminish our muscle production capability; for some this means more time at the gym but for others it could lead to diseases like diabetes.

Vera working with her mouse models to better understand how a body’s metabolism is controlled by their genes

Our guest this evening is Vera Lattier (Chih-Ning Chang) who is a PhD candidate in the Molecular and Cellular Biology Program focusing on one gene in particular that orchestrates the muscle formation process at various stages of life development. This PITX2 gene is implicated in regulating the activity of other genes as well as formation of the eyes, heart, limbs, and abdominal muscles during embryonic stages. During later stages of life the amount of skeletal muscle you have dictates your bodies metabolism, and if you are unable to build muscles you tend to have a lower metabolism that encourages excess food to be stored as fat. This is the first step towards obesity and is also a precursor to developing diabetes that affects nearly 26 million people in the United States. Although eating right and exercising can have a substantial impact to your health, if your genes are not functioning correctly poor health may ensue at no fault of the patients.

Vera’s research uses mice as models to better understand this complex interaction between our genes and our body’s metabolism. As part of a decade’s long research through Dr. Chrissa Kioussi’s research lab at Oregon State University they examined the role of this PITX2 gene in three main stages of muscle formation. By mutating the gene to affect it’s expression (effectively ‘turning off’ the gene) during early embryonic formation the mice bodies were unable to effectively create the physical structures for basic bodily functions and they were not viable embryos. When mutating the gene near the time of birth the mice were fully functional at the early stage of life and seemed normal. However, when they grew older they quickly became obese, in fact three times as heavy as the average mice, that lead to fatty liver disease, enlargement of the heart, obesity, and of course diabetes. Vera’s work continues to try and elucidate the mechanisms behind the connection of our genes and our body’s metabolism through structural muscle formation that could help us to identify these limitations earlier and help save lives.

Vera giving presentations to scientific conferences to help people understand the importance of muscle in body metabolism.

There is so much more to discuss with Vera on tonight’s show. You’ll hear about her first experience with a microscope at a young age and how she dreamed of one day becoming an evil scientist (luckily her parents changed her mind). Be sure to tune in for what is sure to be an enlightening discussion on Sunday April 8th at 7PM on KBVR Corvallis 88.7FM or by listening live.

 

When Fungus is Puzzling: A Glimpse into Natural Products Research

Ninety years ago, a fungal natural product was discovered that rocked the world of medicine: penicillin. Penicillin is still used today, but in the past ninety years, drug and chemical resistance have become a hot topic of concern not only in medicine, but also in agriculture. We are in desperate need of new chemical motifs for use in a wide range of biological applications. One way to find these new compounds is through natural products chemistry. Over 50% of drugs approved in the last ~30 years have been impacted by natural products research, being directly sourced from natural products or inspired by them.

Picture a flask full of microbe juice containing a complex mixture of hundreds or thousands of chemical compounds. Most of these chemicals are not useful to humans – in fact, useful compounds are exceedingly rare. Discovering new natural products, identifying their function, and isolating them from a complex mixture of other chemicals is like solving a puzzle. Donovon Adpressa, a 5th year PhD candidate in Chemistry working in the Sandra Loesgen lab, fortunately loves to solve puzzles.

Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR): an instrument used to elucidate the structure of compounds.

Donovon’s thesis research involves isolating novel compounds from fungi. Novel compounds are identified using a combination of separation and analytical chemistry techniques. Experimentally, fungi can be manipulated into producing compounds they wouldn’t normally produce by altering what they’re fed. Fungi exposed to different treatments are split into groups and compared, to assess what kind of differences are occurring. By knocking out certain genes and analyzing their expression, it’s possible to determine how the compound was made. Once a new structure has been identified and isolated, Donovon moves on to another puzzle: does the structure have bioactivity, and in what setting would it be useful?

Donovon’s interest in chemistry sparked in community college. While planning to study Anthropology, he took a required chemistry course. Not only did he ace it, but he loved the material. The class featured a one-week lecture on organic chemistry and he thought, ‘I’m going to be an organic chemist.’ However, there were no research opportunities at the community college level, and he knew he would need research experience to continue in chemistry.

At Eastern Washington University, Donovon delved into undergraduate research, and got to work on a few different projects combining elements of medicinal and materials chemistry. While still an undergrad, Donovon had the opportunity to present his research at OSU, which provided an opportunity to meet faculty and see Corvallis. It all felt right and fell into place here at OSU.

As a lover of nature and hiking in the pacific northwest, Donovon has always had a soft spot for mycology. It was serendipitous that he ended up in a natural products lab doing exactly what interested him. Donovon’s next step is to work in the pharmaceutical industry, where he will get to solve puzzles for a living!

Tune in at 7pm on Sunday, March 18th to hear more about Donovon’s research and journey through graduate school. Not a local listener? Stream the show 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!