Oregon Middle School Students Get an Astronaut’s Education.

Math and science are the emphasis at this camp
Math and science are the emphasis at this camp

If middle school students don’t seem likely to devise a spacecraft that could bring humans to Mars, or a module that could support a crew of four to travel and live there for 700 days, think again.

Forty-eight Oregon middle school students from underrepresented and underserved populations are currently using creative teamwork and their knowledge of Earth systems to solve those problems at this year’s Oregon ExxonMobil Bernard Harris Summer Science Camp at OSU.

The classes students are attending throughout the two-week residential camp are helping them prepare for these tasks — they’re learning about the interrelationships of calories for energy, plant production, soils, living things, water and landforms, habitat components and solar energy.

Competition to get into the camp is stiff — more than 400 students who are entering grades 6-8 applied to earn a spot — and students come from 21 of Oregon’s 36 counties.

The idea, says the camp’s executive director Virginia Bourdeau, is to follow kids who have been in the program throughout the rest of their schooling. Do they take more math and science courses after attending camp? Do they go on to college?

“The camp is an opportunity for students to come and say, ‘I can do this.’ If they have a positive experience, they’ll come back to a university when they’re 17 and 18,” Bourdeau says.

Bernard Harris, the first African-American astronaut to walk in space, visited the camp on Aug. 7. He founded the Bernard Harris Foundation in 1998 to develop math/science education and crime prevention programs for America’s youth.

The camp is the result of a grant from the ExxonMobil Foundation and the Bernard Harris Foundation, as well as the effort of OSU’s Extension 4-H Youth Development; College of Education, Science and Math Investigative Learning Experiences (SMILE) program; Department of Science and Mathematics Education in the College of Science; and College of Engineering.

To follow the students’ progress, check out the Science Camp blog.

Anna Putnam uses nanotechnology to create a revolutionary battery.

Anna Putnam is on the edge of innovation with nanotechnology
Anna Putnam is on the edge of innovation with nanotechnology

Undergrad Anna Putnam is squirming. The interviewer has touched a raw nerve in the chemical engineering major. “You’re digging deeply into my life,” she says, shifting in her chair. Her confession comes with reluctance: “My first term at OSU, I struggled in math.” Pressed, she admits the worst: “I got a C in vector calculus.”

For the University Honors College student who had breezed through Advanced Placement calculus and chemistry at Oregon’s Clackamas High School, a grade of “average” was a jarring wake-up call. “Before I got to the university,” the 2005 senior class valedictorian explains, “I never had to study very hard.”

In the three years since that rude awakening, nothing less than an A has darkened Putnam’s grade report. She has gone on to collect scholarships like most students collect songs on their iPods. The American Engineering Association Scholarship from Intel and OSU’s Presidential Scholarship are among them.

Now, Putnam has advanced from the front of the class to the front edge of innovation, where chemical engineering meets nanoscience and “drop-on-demand” printing technologies.

Read more about Anna Putnam and her undergraduate research in the Summer 2008 issue of Terra.

Follow OSU in the 2008 North American Solar Car Challenge.

OSU Solar Vehicle Team
OSU Solar Vehicle Team

Designing and building a solar-powered car fit to take on the North American Solar Challenge took OSU Solar Vehicle Team captains and College of Engineering doctoral students Kathy Van Wormer and Hai-Yue Han three years of work and $50,000. They also enlisted the help of nearly two dozen team members to make sure that Rain Dancer, which is powered by more than 400 solar cells and weighs 600 pounds, was competition-ready.

But that was only the beginning of their trip.

The North American Solar Challenge, in which Van Wormer, Han and 10 of their teammates are currently participating, is a 2,400-mile race from Dallas, Texas to Calgary, Alberta, Canada. It’s the longest solar power race in the world, beating out the World Solar Challenge by almost 500 miles. OSU’s team is racing with 15 others from universities all over the United States and Canada, including the University of Michigan, Northwestern University, Queens University and the University of Kentucky. “Everyone here is fantastic. The atmosphere is so helpful,” says Van Wormer. “It’s the best time I’ve ever had. We are definitely doing this again.”

Rain Dancer’s solar array only outputs around 1.5 hp during the brightest time of the day, forcing it to drive more than 2,000 miles with less power than a hairdryer.

Follow the OSU Solar Vehicle team’s progress in the race on their blog.

OSU’s Robotics Team Takes First in National Competition.

OSU Quad Rover
OSU Quad Rover

The core members of the OSU student team that won the 2008 University Rover Challenge could have been characters in an action movie. There was Ben Goska, who’s been programming computers since the age of 10, and Jordan Levy, who’s been assembling gadgets for just as long. Ryan Albright knows mechanical design software and how to manufacture professional-grade parts. Matt Shuman organized the group and kept their goals in focus. All four are students in OSU’s College of Engineering and members of the OSU Robotics Club.

Their challenge was to brave the harsh, Mars-like terrain at the Mars Desert Research Station in Utah.

They outstripped the competition when their “Parallax Quad-Rover” beat teams from the University of Nevada, Georgia Tech, Iowa State, Brigham Young University and others. “The rover competition promotes innovation within engineering, challenging engineers to find solutions that improve their engineering abilities,” says Shuman. The team adapted their rover to perform tasks such as construction, soil analysis and navigation in extreme conditions.

“It’s just dust and rocks,” says Shuman. “The entire valley is in a rain shadow and funnels light right into your eyes. It makes you realize you don’t need a rover that can get over plants and bushes.”

The event that helped the OSU team clinch victory was finding and delivering supplies to a “distressed astronaut” — in this case a real, but empty astronaut suit lying on the desert floor. The team’s Quad-Rover used a gasoline-powered hydraulic drive system, the first of its type ever used in this competition. It provided far more power than some of the other systems that were run on electrical batteries.

“We were able to go over and through rocks instead of weaving around them in places where many teams got stuck,” says Shuman.

The key, says Shuman, is teamwork. “It’s a challenge at first to communicate with three other people who are focusing on a small aspect of the project. We needed to communicate through documents, schematics and instructions. Documents allowed us to use each other’s strengths and understand what teammates had built.”

It still wasn’t an easy process. “We made a firm commitment to publicly showcase our rover a month before Utah,” says Shuman. “But the dress rehearsal failed horribly.” Once the team got the wheels of the rover moving and increased the throttle, the gasoline engine shook so much it disconnected a vital power cable. The pitfall motivated them to find and fix problems, which was crucial to their success.

Robotics TeamIt also made them realize that they needed to bring in more varied talents before the competition. “Anyone with enough motivation was welcome to help, says Shuman. Nearly a dozen did, supplying the team with t-shirts, maps of the Utah terrain and even expertise in constructing robotic arms. Most were engineering students also involved in OSU’s Robotics Club, and several accompanied the original team members on the 16-hour drive to Utah.

The team credits the Oregon NASA Space Grant Consortium, Parallax, Inc., a Sacramento, Calif., robotics firm and AJK Sheet Metal with providing sponsorship and valuable parts. Design instructor Donald Heer also helped the team stay on course.

As a result of winning the Rover Challenge, the team will receive support to attend the 11th annual Mars Society Convention to be held this summer in Boulder, Colo. They’re also looking forward to next year’s competition. “The whole team will be back next year,” says Shuman. “It’s amazing to compete and see how many ways there are to solve a problem.”

Chris Higgins’ life-sized bridge research provides vital insights.

Chris Higgins
Chris Higgins

OSU civil engineering professor Christopher Higgins bases his career on a part of our lives that’s easy to take for granted: the roads and bridges on which we travel every day, and on whose strength our lives depend. And Higgins is a big-time researcher — that is, the structures and materials he studies are life-size.

In his work Higgins aims to prevent tragedies like the August 2007 bridge collapse in Minneapolis. “We need to continue to make the investments needed to sustain and renew our infrastructure. If we ignore them, it will be just a matter of time before they fail,” says Higgins, a member of OSU’s Kiewit Center for Infrastructure and Transportation and Associate Director of the Oregon Transportation Research and Education Consortium.

With their life-sized experiments, Higgins, along with other OSU researchers, have taken bridge research to a whole new level inside OSU’s cavernous Structural Engineering Research Laboratory. “We’re doing some things that no laboratory in the world has ever done before,” says Higgins. “For instance, we built a moving load simulator that can actually roll, acting like a truck traveling across full-size girders. We found that a moving load affects the bridge structure differently than a single load pushing at one spot.”

Some of Higgins’ other toys include a 35-ton yellow crane, rebar benders, hydraulic rams, 40,000-pound concrete beams and a gigantic environmental chamber, all residing on a concrete and steel-reinforced strong-floor that measures five feet thick inside one of the few laboratories in the country built for such research.

The reason for such extremes is that the physical properties of wood, concrete and reinforcing steel differ geometrically with size, and so do the forces that impinge upon them. There are inherent limitations to studying scaled-down models — questions about how their larger counterparts will fare in real world conditions.

Since Higgins’ arrival at OSU in 2000, he has been awarded the Lloyd Carter Award for Outstanding and Inspirational Teaching and the American Society of Civil Engineers student chapter’s Teacher of the Year Award — twice — proving that large-scale impact doesn’t always have to happen in the lab.


Kiewit Center for Infrastructure and Transportation

Chris Higgins’ Web site

Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering

Federal Highway Administration

Oregon Department of Transportation

Structural Engineering Research

The robots compiled by OSU’s nascent electrical engineers help students learn hands-on skills, exercise their creative muse and forge bonds with fellow TekBotters.

Tekbots help student engineers at OSU learn throughout their four years
Tekbots help student engineers at OSU learn throughout their four years

Educating tomorrow’s electrical engineers has come to this: Teamwork, creativity and ownership are as important as the principles of theory and design. All get rolled into a box that first-year Oregon State University students receive in their introduction to the field. Inside are circuit and charger boards, wheels, a steel roller ball and assorted electrical components. Batteries and instructions are not included. Working in teams, students must put the parts together, learning leadership and problem-solving skills as they go.

The resulting “TekBots” are far more than clever machines. They are the students’ companions through four years of lectures and labs. From course to course, year to year, students transform their TekBots with advanced electrical engineering concepts.

“It’s their own robot,” notes TekBots program director Don Heer. “They put their own money, their own time into it.”

The TekBots “give students the big picture,” says Terri Fiez, director of the School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. Success arrives, she adds, when students get excited about an upcoming course that will help them solve a problem or add a new feature to their TekBot.

Some students even develop a fondness for their bot, giving it a name, such as Billy or Toby. Katy Humble called hers FlutterBot. The 2005 OSU graduate added motor-controlled wings and decorated them with lights. Her parents, Larry and Dona Nixon of Yachats, have put FlutterBot on the mantle like a trophy.

In 2000, Tektronix — the Beaverton, Oregon, high-tech manufacturer — gave OSU a $500,000 grant to start the program. Humble was part of the first corps of undergraduates hired to develop the kits.

“TekBots is all about debugging something that doesn’t work. It’s a constant problem in industry,” says Humble, who credits her TekBots experience with helping her to land a job with Intel in Hillsboro, Oregon. Today, she continues to mentor students with her employer’s full support.

Over the years, the students’ bots have taken on personalities. There was one that could balance on two wheels, like the Segway Human Transporter. Another morphed into a four-legged walking creature. And then there was the giant TekBot that grew to the size of a wheelbarrow.

The National Science Foundation and high-tech firms have supported the program, and OSU has sold kits to other universities, including Texas A&M, Rochester Institute of Technology, Johns Hopkins, Worcester Polytechnic Institute and the Fukuoka Institute of Technology in Japan.

OSU’s TekBots program is run substantially by students. “All of the labs have been made by undergraduates,” Heer says. “It creates a culture where they are helping each other.”

The program has also fostered personal relationships. Katy Humble met her husband-to-be Ben while she was assembling TekBots kits. They married in 2006 and live in Beaverton, where Ben works for Tektronix.

“We say that TekBots brings people together,” laughs Ben. “That is really true for us.”

TekBots Web page

School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences

College of Engineering


National Science Foundation

OSU news releases offer more information about engineering education:

OSU “Driverless” Car Semi-Finalist for $2 Million Prize (6-8-05)

OSU Engineers Learn by “Playing” with Legos, Robots (5-24-05)

Tektronix Outfits Lab, Bolsters Hands-on Learning at OSU (5-24-05)

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

From seat transfer assistance to accessible lavatories, Kate Hunter-Zaworski and Joe Zaworski work to make intercity travel easier for people with disabilities.

Accessibility are this husband and wife's passion
Accessibility are this husband and wife's passion

Air travel is becoming less of a chore for persons with disabilities thanks to Kate Hunter-Zaworski and other researchers in Oregon State University’s National Center for Accessible Transportation (NCAT).

“Our focus is intercity public transportation,” says Hunter-Zaworski, NCAT director and associate professor in civil engineering. “We started with buses and now are working with aircraft. Air travel is the mode of choice for trips over 250 miles.”

Her husband, Joe Zaworski, an assistant professor in mechanical engineering and NCAT researcher, says the aircraft work has involved “improving jet bridges, transferring people from aisle chairs to seats and back, and making lavatories more accessible.”

A lot of the work occurs in a crowded campus laboratory cluttered with wheelchairs, airplane seats, special aisle chairs and lifts, an airplane restroom, and a variety of other equipment in various stages of development.

Hunter-Zaworski, who has been working to improve accessibility for people with disabilities for more than 25 years says, “I like to look at people’s abilities, not their disabilities. What we develop should make travel better for everybody.”

NCAT is funded by a five-year grant from the National Institute of Disability and Rehabilitation Research. NCAT brings together researchers from various OSU colleges and departments and numerous students, both graduate and undergraduate.

Recently NCAT received attention for its work on developing an accessible restroom for the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, which will begin flying next year.

“The Boeing project was really fun,” Hunter-Zaworski says. “I didn’t have to tell them this is the right thing to do. They’re very committed to doing the right thing in this area. We had a lot of give-and-take. They picked my brain. I picked their brains. We hall have the same goal — to enhance the flying experience.”

NCAT Web site

Boeing 787 restroom development

KEZI-TV news report on Boeing project

The Kelley Engineering Center is the new home for the rapidly growing School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.

Kelley Engineering is LEED Gold Certified
Kelley Engineering is LEED Gold Certified

It features wireless classrooms, “plug-and-learn” alcoves, flexible learning laboratories, and many high-tech innovations, along with office clusters and common areas that foster communication.

But it also offers an array of “green” features, including an atrium, glass-walled conference rooms, and dozens of windows designed to take advantage of sunlight for light and heat.

In fact, the four-story, 153,000-square-foot Kelley Engineering Center, new home of OSU’s School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, is on track to receive a “Gold” certification from the U.S. Green Building Council, which will make it the greenest academic engineering building in the nation.

OSU is the 23rd largest engineering school in the U.S., and, according to engineering dean Ron Adams, “as we continue to build a nationally ranked program, we will continue to grow. The timing for the new building could not be better.”

The $45-million building was funded by a $20-million gift from OSU engineering alumnus Martin Kelley, $20 million in public funds authorized by the Oregon legislature, and $5 million in other donations.

Adams says the new facility will help the College of Engineering in its efforts to be ranked among the top 25 in the country. “Today, innovation is all about collaboration, teamwork, and new ideas,” Adams says. “This new building is designed to help spark those ideas by ensuring that the people inside connect.”

To encourage connection, labs in the new building are not dedicated to individual faculty members. Instead, each lab is the central element of a “research-learning suite” surrounded by faculty and graduate student offices and assigned to a specific research project. In addition, the building contains a centrally located e-café where faculty, staff, students, and industry partners can gather to share ideas.

The building was designed by the Portland architectural firm of Yost Grube Hall and built by Baugh/Skansa of Portland. It features six ceiling-suspended kinetic aluminum sculptures by Tim Prentice, a wall-mounted sculpture of commercial safety reflectors by Dick Elliot, and a 20-foot-tall stainless steel sculpture by Po Shu Wang in the exterior plaza.

A grand opening ceremony will be held during Homecoming, October 29 at 10 a.m. Jen-Hsun Huang, a 1984 engineering graduate and co-founder of nVIDIA, one of the most successful high-tech companies in the world, is the keynote speaker. The day’s activities, called “A Home for Innovation,” feature departmental gatherings throughout the College of Engineering in addition to the building dedication.

Information about Kelley Engineering Center

Photos of the completed building

Kelley Engineering Center animated tour

“Green” characteristics of Kelley Engineering Center

School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science website

College of Engineering website

OSU’s Education Double Degree is allowing Evan Johnson to take advantage of his love for computers and for teaching.

Evan Johnson has a love for computers and teaching
Evan Johnson has a love for computers and teaching

“Growing up in the computer generation, I was always interested in computers,” says Evan Johnson, an OSU senior from Oregon City. “I knew it was the future and I wanted to be in on it.”

But he also had the feeling that he’d like to teach. “Playing basketball in high school, people told me I’d be a good coach. Teaching people was something I liked.”

He got a taste of teaching when he volunteered to tutor students at Corvallis High School last year. “It was supposed to be for a term, but I liked it so much I decided to stay with it for a full year.”

That caused the computer engineering major to enter OSU’s Education Double Degree program, which allows students to get two degrees–one in their primary field and one in education when they graduate.

Evan now plans to teach high school mathematics. “I hope I can put both majors to work,” he says. “As a computer engineer, I can think of about a thousand reasons students need to learn math. And I could also teach technology education.”

He hopes to make an impact on his students. “One of my personal goals is to be a motivator–an encourager–that’s important,” he says. “Students can’t carry all of their books home, and they want to take books from classes they enjoy. I want them to take math books home.”

He recently was awarded a $2,500 College of Education scholarship for his final year of school. “That will really help,” he says.

But engineering is still part of Evan’s life. He was part of a team that took second place in OSU’s Engineering Expo this spring, developing a cell phone-car alarm interface that allows users to arm and disarm their alarm by phone.

Education Double Degree

College of Education

College of Engineering