Prof. Bo Sun and student Amani Alobaidi’s work on 3-D tumor modeling technology has been highlighted in an article in Advantage-Impact.

DIGME discoids shaping the growth of tumor cells.
DIGME diskoids shaping the growth of tumor cells. (full caption in article below)

Here is the full article

DIGME shapes better cancer therapies

A new 3-D tumor modeling technology could drastically change the way cancer is treated. Diskoid In Geometrically Micropatterned Extracellular matrix (DIGME) is a tissue-patterning solution that uses a low-cost device to control the shape of tumors — as well as the directionality and rigidity of their surrounding matrix — to stop cancer cells from spreading.

Bo Sun, an assistant professor of physics in Oregon State’s College of Science, says DIGME will help doctors test their own cancer treatments and create new ones. And it could even improve the efficiency of early cancer detection.

“Right now, cancer detection is relying on techniques that were developed decades ago,” Sun says. “I think tumor modeling is going to show us the new things we should look at. There may be a different set of metrics that make the accuracy and sensitivity of early detection much better.”

Sun’s device can facilitate development of new cancer treatments by better mimicking the physiological condition of tumors. Oregon State University has filed for a patent and is looking for potential licensees and research collaborators to further develop the technique.

Understanding how cancer cells spread

In order for a cancer cell to dissociate from the main tumor and spread — also known as metastasis — it must dig a hole through the extracellular matrix (ECM). The ECM is the area that surrounds a tumor, which is made up of connective tissues like collagen. It can act as a barrier to keep tumor cells in or out, depending on its porousness.

For example, an ECM that is very porous provides a soft environment for cancer cells to easily squeeze through and enter other areas of the body. An ECM that is very rigid, on the other hand, provides a barricade that is very difficult for a cancer cell to dig into. However, a rigid ECM also promotes tumor growth; therefore the relationship between ECM and cancer is anything but simple. This relationship is one of the central problems of cancer research.

Modeling tumors

Sun’s team worked with standard cancer cell lines in the lab. To shape a tumor, a micro-fabricated stamp is used to create a mold made of collagen. Tumor cells are then suspended in a collagen solution and poured into the mold. The liquid collagen turns into a gel and links to the mold. The device can precisely control the location and rotation of the stamp, creating an exact shape.

Different tumor shapes equal different clinical outcomes for patients, Sun explains. If a tumor has very high curvature corners, these sharp corners are more likely to become cancer stem cells, which are very invasive and lead to metastasis.

Changing directions

Directionality is an equally important factor. The ECM — which is covered in polymer fibers — can be rotated with the help of DIGME technology. When the ECM is polarized — or given positive and negative charges — the orientation of those fibers can be rotated circularly, preventing additional cancer cells from disconnecting and spreading throughout the body. Controlling the shape and directionality allows DIGME to create challenging environments for cancer cells, testing their adaptability and understanding how they respond to treatments in complex physiological conditions.

“A tumor — no matter where it starts — is going to experience many different environments when it metastasizes into many parts of the body,” Sun says. “If a cell has no way to adapt to this new environment, it is going to stop there and won’t be able to spread.”

Sun’s research began with the goal of determining how tumors migrate and communicate with one another. Two-and-a-half years later, DIGME has the potential to help save lives.

For licensing information, please contact Jianbo Hu at or 541-737-2366.

This figure shows a breast cancer cell.

(A) DIGME consists of a diskoid – a tumor cell aggregate whose shape is tightly controlled. The example shown in A is a hexagonal diskoid of monolayer thickness. Typical diskoid thickness can range from one to five cell layers. (B) A triangle diskoid of MDA-MD-231 cells (green) in collagen matrix (labeled with fluorescent particles, blue). Top: top view. Bottom: side view. (C) A MDA-MD-231 diskoid (green) surrounded by two layers of collagen matrix with different concentrations (1.5 mg/ml, red and 3 mg/ml, blue). Top inset: the diskoid invasion into the surrounding ECM after five days. Bottom inset: confocal reflection imaging showing distinct fiber microstructures across the interface of two collagen layers. (D) A MDA-MB-231 ring diskoid with its sounding ECM circularly polarized. The configuration mimics the ductal carcinoma in vivo. Scale bars: 200 μm.

Andrew Stickel wearing a Swedish Doctoral hat.
Andrew Stickel wearing a Swedish Doctoral hat.

On University day, our own Andrew Stickel will receive the University wide Herbert F. Frolander Award for Outstanding Graduate Teaching Assistant!

University Day is Monday, September 19th and there will be an awards ceremony at the LaSells Center.

Andrew recently defended his dissertation “Terahertz Induced Non-linear Electron Dynamics in Nanoantenna Coated Semiconductors at the Sub-picosecond Timescale”. Please congratulate him on both of these accomplishments!

Scientists from the Physics Department visited the first grade classes (about 100 students) at Clover Ridge Elementary School. Atul Chhotray and Davide Lazzati used solar telescopes to give students an introduction to astronomy. Nicole Quist, Jacob Bigelow and Ethan Minot used an assortment of interactive demos to explain the amazing things we can do with air. From pushing a sail boat with giant air molecules, to floating on a hover craft. Nicole: “Raise your hands if you want to say something.” Student: “That was awesome!”

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On March 5th, the Department hosted 22 girls from Oregon middle schools who were taking part in the “Discovering the Scientist Within” Workshop ( .

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The students came to the free half-day workshop to learn about the wide range of career options for women in science, technology, engineering and math. 100 girls chose from a range of activities (physics was one option) hosted across campus. Through hands-on activities, they find out what it’s like to work in different careers. Participants have a chance to interact with professional women who work in a variety of fields. And they have a chance to meet other girls who share their interests.

Many thanks to the OSU students, staff and faculty (Liz Gire) who shared their time and enthusiasm with the girls.

The Physics Outreach team visited Hoover Elementary School on Thursday March 3rd. 160 kids came with their parents to play with our physics demonstrations and ride the physics hover craft. Each child left with a pair of “rainbow diffraction glass”, pictured below.


Here are some photos of OSU grad students (Lee Aspitarte and Jay Howard), and undergrad (Ryan Bailey-Crandell) explaining physics at the event:

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Many thanks to all the OSU student volunteers: Lee Aspitarte, Ryan Bailey-Crandell, Jake Bigelow, Morgan Brown, Jay Howard, and MacKenzie Lenz. Faculty/Staff volunteers Clarissa Amundsen, Ethan Minot and Jim Ketter.

To learn more about Physics Department Outreach Events visit our outreach webpage. If you are interested in volunteering to help with outreach events, please contact Ethan Minot.

VLUU L100, M100 / Samsung L100, M100


hovercraft here

There was a buzz of excitement amongst the kids lined up underneath the sign “hover craft here”. The OSU Physics road show was at Periwinkle Elementary School in Albany to be part of the school’s annual “Family Science Night” on Thursday Feb 25th.

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As kids lined up to ride the hovercraft, they enjoyed physic demos on two tables. They learned how to make their own hovercraft using an old cd, a balloon and a bottle cap. They tried out rainbow diffraction glasses that turn white light into a rainbow of colors. They used a hair drier to levitate a ping pong ball, and then used the same hair drier to lift up a 1kg weight. “Wow!”

200 kids brought their families to interact with our exhibits. All the kids went home with their own pair of rainbow diffraction glasses and stories about their hovercraft adventure.

Many thanks to OSU student volunteers: Jay Howard, Kelby Peterson, Evan Peters, MacKenzie Lenz, and James Haggerty. Faculty volunteers Heidi Schellman and Ethan Minot. And Physics Staff Jim Ketter and Clarissa Amundsen.

To learn more about Physics Department Outreach Events visit our outreach webpage. If you are interested in volunteering to help with outreach events, please contact Ethan Minot.

College of Science scholarships and fellowships are available for students in the College of Science at both the graduate and undergraduate level.


Only one application is needed to be considered for over 250 scholarships and awards. Last year, the College awarded more than $700,000 in scholarships.

Graduate students

Graduate students may apply for scholarships administered by the Graduate School. Newly admitted students are automatically considered for fellowships administered by the College of Science, including Wei Family Private Foundation Scholarships.


Learn more about these exciting opportunities




IMG_2954Bethany Matthews and James Haggerty, graduate students in Janet Tate’s research group, attended the 2015 Fall MRS Meeting in Boston, MA.  Each submitted a poster on their work with the DOE-funded EFRC, Center for Next Generation Materials by Design: Incorporating Metastability.  Both posters were nominated for “best poster” in their respective sessions – congratulations!  Bethany is pictured with her poster, “Growth and Characterization of the Metastable Heterogeneous Alloys (Sn1-xCax)S and (Sn1-xCax)Se“.  James’s poster was entitled, “Sb2Ox polymorphic thin films using pulsed laser deposition“.

Brian Johnson (Ostroverkhova group) has received the 2015 Physics Graduate Research Award in recognition of his work on organic semiconductors.

Brian Johnson with optical setup.

He describes his work as follows.

I have focused on studying the charge photogeneration, carrier transport, and carrier trapping mechanisms in small molecule organic semiconductor materials, specifically, functionalized derivatives of pentacene and anthradithiophene. I developed a computational model which simulates experimental data and fits those simulations to measured data to extract quantitative material parameters. My work helps to answer one of the most important open questions in organic semiconductor material physics: what, exactly, is the process by which charge photogeneration happens? Classic models have been shown to be incomplete, and my work fits into gaps in the current research towards this topic, as much more work has been done on polymers than in small molecules, and investigations of nanosecond time scale carrier dynamics are rare. This work is important to the development of new materials for organic LEDs, solar cells, and transistors.

Congratulations to Lee Aspitarte,  2015 recipient of the Ben and Elaine Whiteley Materials Research Fellowship
Lee Aspitarte is a fourth year PhD student working with Prof. Ethan Minot, and recipient of this year’s Ben and Elaine Whiteley Materials Research Fellowship. He is studying photocurrent generation in photodiodes fabricated from single carbon nanotubes (CNTs). CNTs are exciting candidates for next generation solar technology because they undergo Multiple Electron-hole pair Generation (MEG), where carriers excited by a photon with an energy of more than twice the band gap can decay by exciting additional electron-hole pairs. By utilizing MEG, CNT based solar technology could exceed the theoretical limit on solar power conversion efficiency for silicon based technology, 29%. The research funded by this fellowship will study MEG in CNT photodiodes by manipulating the dielectric environment surrounding the CNT, affecting the electron-electron scattering processes that lead to MEG. The knowledge gained from this study could directly impact design considerations for next-generation high-efficiency MEG based solar cells.  Mr. Aspitarte received the  Peter Fontana Outstanding Graduate Teaching Assistant Award in 2012 and has already co-authored two papers on his research at Oregon State.
The Ben and Elaine Whiteley Endowment for Materials Research, established in 2007, provides support for materials research in the College of Science. In particular, it provides fellowship support for students to work full time during the Summer in a research laboratory, working on materials research related topics.