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Archives: July, 2009

Tires made out of wood  July 21st, 2009

No, we’re not talking about an episode of The Flintstones, but actual OSU Forestry research on mycrocrystalline cellulose — “a product that can be made easily from almost any type of plant fibers,” including trees, “to partially replace silica as a reinforcing filler in the manufacture of rubber tires.”

Yes, you read right: Tires made (in part, anyway) from wood.

A study from Associate Professor of Wood Science Kaichang Li suggests such tires might require less energy to produce, reduce costs, better resist heat buildup, have comparable traction on cold or wet pavement, be just as strong and provide higher fuel efficiency than traditional tires.

“We were surprised at how favorable the results were for the use of this material,” said Kaichang Li of  OSU’s College of Forestry, ranked No. 1 in North America. He conducted this research with graduate student Wen Bai. “This could lead to a new generation of automotive tire technology, one of the first fundamental changes to come around in a long time.”

Careful readers will recall that Li is the same guy who invented a type of wood adhesive modeled on the clinging power of ocean mussels that has none of the formaldehydes that make traditional adhesive so noxious. That innovation turned segments of the wood industry on their ear, as manufacturers scrambled to come up with a similarly environmentally friendly adhesive to compete with the company that smartly licensed Li’s work.

Read the whole fascinating story at Or via our friends at The Oregonian:

Single-celled organisms, solar energy and the Science Channel  July 16th, 2009

We taped this morning for “Brink,” the Science Channel’s hip/edgy/cool program on new and emerging scientific innovations. The subject: OSU chemical engineering Prof. Greg Rorrer’s research on diatoms — ancient, single-cell organisms that Rorrer is now using, incredibly, to dramatically increase the electrical output of solar cells.

Rorre’s novel use of biology rather than conventional semiconductor manufacturing processes caught the attention of the savvy producers at Brink, where host Josh Zepps (former host of Australian Idol Backstage, people!) guides “viewers through the unusual mix of science information and eureka moments” that make up the weekly program.

Look for the show on Aug. 3, and check your local cable listings for times to catch Brink both on the air date and in replays throughout the week.

Drugs in the water  July 15th, 2009

New research being released today by OSU and University of Washington faculty focuses on the first “statewide drug test,” performed by an examination of wastewater samples from 96 municipalities around Oregon. Scientists looked at prevalence of methamphetamine, MDMA or ecstasy and cocaine and found great variation from area to area.

The idea behind the work is to put more information in the hands of public health officials to provide more focus to efforts to prevent drug abuse and addiction. So far, the methodology behind the water sampling and analysis works like a charm, researchers say. Says one of the scientists, “Sewage doesn’t lie.”

Read/hear Northwest Public Radio Reporter Tom Banse’s account here.

‘Dinosaur Plague’ and OSU’s Poinar on PBS’s NOVA  July 14th, 2009

OSU Professor George Poinar, who has found the strangest things in amber over a long and fascinating career, is front and center in the new NOVA program, “Dinosaur Plague,” premiering tonight on PBS affiliates nationwide.

Check out now for a preview of the show, as well as links to books, discussion groups, Web sites and other things that provide more detail and context for the program. You can also view a cool slide show, produced by George, of the plants, insects, seeds and other ancient stuff encased in amber. A moth fly caught in a spider web, for instance, looks like it might have been captured yesterday, not bajillions of years ago.  Personal favorite: Pseudoscorpion attacking ant in a prehistoric smackdown, frozen in time.

Professor Poinar is a treasure among scientists — genuinely enthusiastic and fascinated by his subject matter and an illuminating, pleasant interview. Check it out at