Oregon State alum (’78) Don Pettit is a NASA astronaut and a veteran of multiple space missions, including a six-month stint aboard the International Space Station. During that trip, Pettit captured thousands of images from space – some of which he’s made into time-lapse videos that show phenomenon like the aurora borealis over northern Canada, and some that show the sun rising and falling over the Earth. We posted the videos on YouTube, and since then they’ve been picked up by Wired magazine and viewed by hundreds of thousands.

We recently had a chance to talk with Pettit about why he thought it was important to make videos from space, and some of the things in space that surprise him.

When did you make the videos, and what gave you the idea to do it?
I did the imagery on STS 126 (a Space Shuttle mission to the International Space Station), which would have been November/December 2008.

There are things that happen on the period of an orbital time scale, which is 90 minutes, which you can’t really perceive with your eye. It’s kind of like watching the minute hand on a clock move. You really can’t see the dynamics of it.

What kinds of things can’t you perceive with your eye?
One is the movement of the station’s solar panels. They make one motion every 90 minutes, one complete revolution. You look out the window and they’re there. Then you get busy doing something and look out the window again, and they moved. But you’re really not aware of the motion.

What is the purpose of the solar panels?
They produce a solar energy for the space station. So they track the sun as we go around earth. We have radiators that get rid of waste heat, and those have to be pointed away from the sun.

Did you end up perceiving things differently as you put these movies together?
Yeah, I did. If you look at some of the videos closely you could see meteorites coming in. They’re just flashes that show up on a few frames. There are other little surprises that come out when you do these time-lapse videos.

Why do you think it’s important that people see something like this?
When I go and give a talk to a group of people, one of the more common questions is, ‘so tell me, what was it really like?’ These images give people on earth a close approximation to what it is really like when you look out a window. Particularly the nighttime Aurora and some of the other nighttime time-lapse work.

Part of it is sharing the experience with the people who make it all possible, because this is a publicly funded program. And part of it is to share these images with other technical and scientific people so they can see things in these images either that I don’t see or that I can’t explain. And maybe they can make a discovery from the raw data that I’ve collected.

What are some of the things that go through your mind when you see things like a nighttime aurora?
I actually wrote an essay about this when I was on the Space Station during Expedition 6 in 2002/2003, and it’s posted on the NASA website.

Basically I wrote that if the Greeks and the Romans had seen Aurora they would have named a goddess after her, and Aurora would have been the twin sister of Isis, who is the god of the rainbow. I made the analogy between other striking and beautiful phenomenology that have gods named after them. I said we should have a god named after Aurora, because it is certainly fitting.

What kind of equipment did you use to make the videos?
A normal video camera isn’t sensitive enough. So I used one of our low-light level still cameras. I put it on a framing rate where it would take a picture every 10-15 seconds. I’d get a series of thousands of images. Of the 12,000 images I was able to make 85 separate time-lapse movies. So it’s laborious. You have thousands and thousands of individual images that you have to import into editing software and put together into a time-lapse movie.

Is there anything else you want to add?
I do love the concept of a frontier. I like to describe a frontier as a place where your normal intuition does not apply. The answers are not in the back of the book. These are places that are rich in discovery, and these can be all over the place. You could be going to the bottom of the ocean, off to the Antarctic or Arctic regions. Space happens to be my frontier. All you have to do is open your eyes and you can make all these neat observations.

How is what you saw different than what your intuition would tell you?
Your intuition has no idea what Earth looks like when you’re not on Earth, because you’ve never been there before – and being in a weightless environment, and flying around the room like Peter Pan. And when you have 16 sunrises and 16 sunsets a day. And sunrise takes 7.5 seconds. So you go from pitch black to bright, full sun in 7.5 seconds. And then the inverse goes. These are all things that are counter to your intuition.

Michael Goodman has combined his love of language and computers to create a Japanese-English translation program.

Goodman's senior project combines his love for language and computers
Goodman's senior project combines his love for language and computers

Words and language have always fascinated Michael Goodman. Growing up in Florence, Ore., he liked tracing the roots of words that most of us take for granted. And at Oregon State University, he has minored in Japanese.

But it is his affinity for computers that is propelling the senior in the School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. Combining his interests, he has created software that overcomes a barrier in translation.

Along the way, Goodman lived in Tokyo for an academic year, collaborated with OSU faculty members and set the stage for graduate work in computational linguistics.

The problem he tackled for his senior project stems from a fundamental difference between Japanese and English. “The Japanese language is different from English in the way pronouns — words such as he, she or they — are used. They exist in the language, but their use is less common than in English,” says Goodman. Instead, subjects in a Japanese sentence usually refer to the last proper noun mentioned in a conversation. This practice can make it hard for people whose primary language is English to keep track of whom or what is being discussed.

In order to address this problem, Goodman has created a software solution that he calls Co-reference Resolution. The goal is to point a translation system to the subject in scanned Japanese text, increasing translation accuracy.

Goodman had help in bridging the disciplines of computer science and linguistics. His adviser in the School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, Alan Fern, specializes in artificial intelligence and machine learning. Providing linguistics expertise was Setsuko Nakajima, a Japanese language specialist in the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures.

“Doing this project has forced me to think long and hard about linguistic analysis and processing in a language that’s not my mother tongue, and has exposed me to the challenges and obstacles and ways to overcome them,” says Goodman. Not bad for a young man who taught himself computer programming at home “just by messing around.”

School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science

Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures

OSU Office of International Programs

Mas Subramanian is the first Signature Faculty Fellow in the Oregon Nanoscience and Microtechnologies Institute (ONAMI).

Mas Subramanian
Mas Subramanian

With the naming of Mas Subramanian to faculty positions at OSU and ONAMI, the university and the statewide collaborative program will be among the world leaders in materials chemistry.

Subramanian is the new Milton Harris Professor of Materials Science at OSU, as well as a fellow in ONAMI, a major collaborative effort among OSU, other Oregon universities, agencies and private industry.

“Dr. Subramanian recognized the quality, opportunities and excitement surrounding the materials research and education programs at OSU,” said Douglas Keszler, chair of the university’s chemistry department. “We believe his enormous scientific talents and high energy, visionary leadership will accelerate very powerful ONAMI collaborations for the benefit of all Oregonians.”

And David C. Johnson, a chemistry professor at the University of Oregon and an ONAMI leader, agrees, saying Subramanian’s move to the state could help “make Oregon the best place in the world to study materials chemistry.”

An expert in such fields as high-temperature superconductivity, thermoelectrics, magnetoresistive materials and solid state, fast ion conductors, Subramanian is a world leader in the discovery and development of new materials.

A native of India, Subramanian was a senior scientist DuPont Central Research and Development prior to his appointment to the Oregon positions. He has published more than 225 papers in professional journals, and his work has yielded 51 patents that are in place or pending.

ONAMI is putting nanotechnology to work in a variety of ways in institutions throughout Oregon. At OSU, ONAMI areas of development include:

  • Transparent electronics that can be printed on glass and plastics
  • Tiny microreactors capable of super-fast portable biodiesel production
  • Lightweight cooling units for use by soldiers and hazmat workers in high heat conditions
  • Automobile air conditioning systems that use waste engine heat
  • Blood filters that are leading to portable kidney dialysis machines

OSU news release announcing Subramanian’s hiring

ONAMI Web site home page


Terry Reese is helping libraries move into the electronic age — and winning awards for it.

Terry Reese is the OSU Libraries digital production unit head
Terry Reese is the OSU Libraries digital production unit head

When OSU’s Terry Reese was named a Mover & Shaker by Library Journal, was featured in the magazine, and then picked up a major award from the American Library Association, people in the library profession weren’t particularly surprised.

That’s because Reese, the OSU Libraries digital production unit head, is known throughout the library world for his skills in developing applications that save staff time in performing tasks within a library’s online catalogs and services.

His Open Source applications are freely available to any library and are used in libraries worldwide. Most notable is his improvement upon the Library of Congress’s MARC editing system, which has more than 50,000 users.

“I do a lot of work with other libraries,” Reese says. “I write software that they use and then I end up doing a lot of consulting with them on projects they’re using the software for.” It’s not unusual for him to get 100 questions in a week from his various program users.

He offers consultant work pro-bono as a service to the library community, and he is frequently called upon to make presentations at various library and information technology meetings.

Last summer he worked with librarians in Lahore, Pakistan, to get their first library conference set up, and he has worked with UNICEF on a project in Africa. “A hospital in a small village in Kenya had a medical library that needed to be migrated to a new system,” he says. “We had to send data back and forth for a half year but we finally got it done.”

Reese is now working on building a metasearch program to bring all library resources into a single interface. “We have commercial software for that, but it doesn’t work as well as we’d like,” he says.

And, with all the demands on his time, he still finds time to bicycle to work each day from his home in Independence, Ore., 25 miles from the campus.

Terry Reese Web page

Library Journal 2005 Movers & Shakers awards

Library Journal article about Terry Reese

Josè Reyes leads an OSU team designing a safer, smaller, more streamlined nuclear reactor.

Jose Reyes is designing better nuclear reactors
Jose Reyes is designing better nuclear reactors

As a powerful and potentially clean source of energy, nuclear power could offer a solution to the Earth’s dwindling supply of oil and fossil fuels.

But in a world that recalls the Chernobyl Nuclear Disaster, nuclear energy is seen by many as a catastrophe waiting to happen.

Enter a team of OSU nuclear engineers led by Josè Reyes, interim director of the OSU Department of Nuclear Engineering.

By eliminating pipes, pumps, and moving parts, the engineers have created a new reactor design that is simpler, less costly to build, and based on passively safe concepts that take advantage of natural forces such as gravity, natural circulation, convection, and evaporation.

In short, the new reactor has fewer parts that can fail than previous generations of nuclear plants. “Because our design is so simple, the reactor is much safer,” says Reyes.

The team’s innovative approach enables the reactor to fit on a single railcar, run for five years between refueling shutdowns, and be installed for a fraction of the cost of a traditional nuclear plant.

The team is considering the patent potential of the design and has completed testing the first prototype for the U.S. Department of Energy. The promise for the system is so great that many other countries, including Argentina and South Korea, are considering similar designs.

In addition to Reyes, the project team includes OSU professors Brian Woods, Qiao Wu, and Todd Palmer, as well as partners at the Idaho National Engineering Lab and Nexant/Bechtel.

Reyes is a key innovator on the team and at OSU. In the past 10 years, he has leveraged an initial $4,000 grant into more than $13 million in research funding–part of the reason the graduate program in nuclear engineering is currently ranked ninth in the nation by U.S. News & World Report.

And, as one of the nation’s leading Hispanic engineers, Reyes was named “Role Model of the Week” in early March by HENAAC, a nonprofit corporation dedicated to promoting careers for Hispanics in engineering, science, technology, and mathematics.

Josè Reyes nuclear engineering faculty page

Large-Scale Energy Systems cluster at OSU

Nuclear Engineering and Radiation Health Physics at OSU

OSU Alum Don Pettit has gone a long way in his career. All the way to the International Space Station and back, in fact.

Pettit in his spacesuit
Pettit in his spacesuit

Donald Pettit has had a lifetime of adventures packed into the past six months. Initially a backup member of the Expedition 6 International Space Station crew, Pettit was chosen to go last November when another astronaut was medically disqualified.

Once at the station, Pettit did two space walks that he hadn’t anticipated. Then his stay was increased from four months to six months when the U.S. Shuttle fleet was grounded following the Columbia disaster Feb. 1. Finally, the trip was capped off by returning to Earth in a Russian Soyuz capsule that dropped steeply to Earth and missed its landing site by 290 miles.

For Pettit, who has been in the astronaut program since 1996, the experience was the culmination of a lifelong goal. “I have wanted to fly in space ever since I was a kid,” he said. “I remember John Glenn flying in space and wanted to be like him.”

Pettit, a 1978 OSU chemical engineering graduate, remembered his alma mater during the trip, engaging in a high-tech conversation from space with two of his professors, Octave Levenspiel and Goran Jovanovic, and a group of engineering students.

Pettit told the group that a typical workday for the space station crew started at 7:30 a.m. and ended about 12 hours later. Except, he said, when a shuttle is docked at the station. Then, he said, the astronauts work around the clock. “It’s kind of like what you do down there during finals week,” he told the students.

Don Pettit’s space chronicles

News articles about Pettit’s space journey

OSU’s College of Engineering is revolutionizing engineering education through hands-on, real-world design.

OSU students with robot they built
OSU students with robot they built

The Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) at Oregon State University is making a fundamental change in the way engineering concepts are taught. The goal is to revolutionize engineering education by integrating classroom instruction with hands-on, real-world design and trouble-shooting experience.

The approach puts the fun and excitement into ECE, inspiring and retaining interest among students. Beginning in the first year, ECE students create their own TekBot™ robot and modify it throughout their college careers as they learn engineering concepts.

Unique to Oregon State and seed-funded by Tektronix, this program helps students understand how class content is interconnected. It also gives them hands-on experience in applying theoretical concepts to their robots, turning theories into realities. For example, seniors who’ve added several layers of sophistication to their TekBot™ can create a wireless, Internet-controlled robot that performs tasks remotely.

TekBots™ capitalize on creativity by encouraging students to experiment with their new creations. Sophomore Celia Hung (shown with fellow student Robert Bennett) says she has been looking forward to adding onto her robot since she finished it last year.

“It gives students a lot of hands-on experience and it’s definitely a lot of fun,” says Hung. “In lecture you’re presented with all this information about a certain electronic component. But when you get to lab, you can actually hold it in your hand and work with it.”

More information