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Suzanne Austin’s undergraduate research internship helps determine why bluebird populations are declining.
Internships help undergraduates succeed
Internships help undergraduates succeed

Working with researcher Tara Robinson, fisheries and wildlife senior Suzanne Austin was involved in a study to examine the population viability of the Western Bluebird.

At issue in Robinson’s research is an effort to determine why young birds often are killed in the nest, and then finding out whether something can be done about it.

Austin’s involvement in the project is part of an OSU Department of Fisheries and Wildlife requirement that students must complete two internships before they graduate. After the internships, most students enter their last year of undergraduate study with a refined sense of what they want to learn and what they want to do after they graduate.

“Most of our students are from urban areas,” says Rebecca Goggans, coordinator of the internship program. “They’ve seen a lot of nature shows on TV but don’t know how that translates into a career. So the internship is one of the best ways to give students an experience that allows them to synthesize the skills and theories they learned in class.”

And it seems to be working.

  • Spencer Rearden spent his internship monitoring salmon return in remote Alaskan rivers. He gathered data on the return to help establish quotas for commercial salmon fishing.
  • Jaimie Wisnowski did his internship in Wyoming working on the wolf recovery program in Grand Teton National Park and the Bridger-Teton National Forest.
  • Nemesia Herzstein learned during her internship as a naturalist at BLM’s Yaquina Head natural area on the Oregon coast that she not only loves to work with animals but also to teach people about them.

“The internship experience seems to make college much more meaningful for the students,” says Goggans. “They feel like they are at OSU for a reason.”

Stephen Giovannoni looks for life in some of the most inhospitable places on Earth–and he usually finds it.

Giovannoni out at sea
Giovannoni out at sea

Stephen Giovannoni and his colleagues have discovered colonies of bacteria thriving beneath one of the coldest, driest deserts on Earth–the McMurdo Dry Valleys of Antarctica.

The find suggests that it’s possible life also exists in the inhospitable climate of Mars. The average temperature in the McMurdo Dry Valleys is about 68 degrees below zero. Within that frigid environment are warmer pockets where a combination of minerals, water, and solar radiation supports a surprisingly vigorous population of bacteria.

Giovannoni and OSU oceanographer Martin Fisk also have discovered evidence of rock-eating microbes living nearly a full mile beneath the ocean floor in the Pacific, Atlantic, and Indian oceans.

What these discoveries have in common are to primitive processes that were undertaken to create a simple, basic life form. These processes may have taken place hundreds of millions of years ago on Earth and may be taking place right now on Mars or Europa, one of the moons of Jupiter, Giovannoni said.

“It’s been suggested that Mars is too dry and cold for life to exist,” he said. “But it’s also known that both Mars and Europa have frozen water on or near their surfaces. It would be a distinct possibility that similar life forms could exist there.”

Giovannoni’s research team also has shown recently that one of the smallest known bacteria, SAR11, is also one of the most abundant organisms on Earth.

Dr. Giovannoni’s Department of Microbiology page
Dr. Giovannoni’s Center for Gene Research and Bacteriology page
SAR11 news release
Rock-eating microbes news release
Life in Antarctic ice news release

Kalkidan Tadesse is preparing for her future with research that could help protect alpacas and llamas from anemia.
Tadesse working on her research
Tadesse working on her research

This is a busy summer for Kalkidan Tadesse. As a participant in the McNair Scholar program, which provides rigorous academic preparation for doctoral education for low-income, first-generation, and underrepresented minority college students, she is doing lab work, participating in field students, working in the library, and participating in McNair seminars and field trips, while getting ready to write a final paper and give an oral presentation on her research at the end of the summer.

Kalkidan’s research is under the guidance of faculty mentors Susan Tornquist and Luiz Bermudez in the Oregon State University College of Veterinary Medicine.

The research involves the pathogenesis of an organism called Mycoplasma haemolama that attaches to the red blood cells of llamas and alpacas and can cause them to become anemic. “We have developed a very sensitive assay to detect the organism and are trying to find the best antibiotic therapy to actually eliminate the infection,” Tornquist says.

Pretty serious research for a college senior who has only been in the U.S. since 1996. Kalkidan was born and raised in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. After graduating from Grant High School in Portland with highest honors, she received a diversity achievement scholarship to attend OSU.

With the research she’s done the past couple of summers through the McNair program, Kalkidan says she expects to be well prepared for graduate work in chemistry.

The McNair Scholars Program

OSU’s Spring Creek Project brings together people from different disciplines to examine the relationship between human culture and nature.

Kathleen Dean Moore and Charles Goodrich
Kathleen Dean Moore and Charles Goodrich

Take an environmental scientist, a philosopher, and a poet. Put them together in a room and ask them to re-imagine connections between human culture and natural landscapes.

Is this a recipe for disaster? No, it’s just a challenge, says Kathleen Dean Moore, OSU philosophy professor and director of the Spring Creek Project.

Created through an endowment from an anonymous donor, the project is designed to explore the relation of humans to the rest of the natural world.

“That’s the idea behind the Spring Creek Project,” Moore says. “Bring together people with different background and perspectives–whether they are forest managers, artists, students, or scientists-and engage them in creative thought about how to live on this beautiful Earth.”

To encourage that cross-fertilization of ideas, the Spring Creek Project promotes what it calls “confluence communities.” These are groups of three or more people, preferably from different backgrounds, who get together to discuss themes that revolve around nature.

The centerpiece of the program is the Cabin at Shotpouch Creek, located on a 40-acre nature reserve and writing retreat in the Coast Range of western Oregon. The cabin serves as a meeting place for workshops and scholarly projects.

In addition to the cabin and confluence communities, the program offers a number of field courses and public events. There is also a Spring Creek Library, located on the second floor of Hovland Hall on the OSU campus.

Moore has high hopes for the interdisciplinary nature of the project. “We need to look beyond our own disciplines,” she says. “When we talk with people whose expertise is different from our own, creative new solutions and perspectives can emerge.”

The Spring Creek Project

Aerin Holman combines her apparel design major and her love for the theater–with outstanding results.

Holman in her element
Holman in her element

When it comes to theater, Aerin Holman has done it all.

The apparel design major from the tiny Willamette Valley town of Monroe, Oregon, has been involved with OSU’s University Theatre throughout her college career.

“She has acted in a variety of shows and has played major roles,” says Marion Rossi, faculty member in the Theatre. “She also has designed costumes, stage managed, done set design, and even worked in the costume shop.”

It’s costume design, a combination of her major and theater involvement, that has brought her the most acclaim. Working with theater professors Barbara Mason and Charlotte Headrick, Aerin conducted period research and designed all of the costumes for the OSU Theatre production of Henry V. It’s unusual enough for an undergraduate to be given the responsibility for costume design on a main stage production, but she did it so well that she won a regional award for costume design at the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival.

This summer, Aerin is capping off her college career with an internship at the Central City Opera House near Denver, Colorado. A long way from Monroe.

Meanwhile, the OSU Theatre continues its tradition of producing a Shakespeare play each summer. This year’s production of “As You Like It” is scheduled for August 7, 8, 9 and 14, 15, 16, with a revival October 2, 3, and 4.

OSU Theatre home page

Summer Shakespeare play at OSU

Graduate student Jeff Bender won a prestigious Intel Foundation Ph.D. fellowship for his involvement in OSU’s groundbreaking transparent electronics research.
Electrical Engineering has developed the world's first see-through transistor
Electrical Engineering has developed the world's first see-through transistor

When OSU scientists developed the world’s first see-through transistor earlier this year, it was another step toward the next generation of electronics components.

“This is a significant new advance in basic electronics and materials science,” says John Wager, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at OSU. “There’s no doubt it will open the door to some interesting new products and businesses, but we’re not sure what all they might be.

“It’s a little bit like lasers when they were first developed in the 1960s,” Wager says. “People at first thought they were an interesting novelty, but no one was quite sure what they could be used for. Later on, lasers became the foundation of dozens of products and multi-billion dollar industries. Right now, we’re just beginning to think about what you could do with a transistor you can see through.”

OSU’s efforts in this area have been interdisciplinary, featuring researchers in chemistry, physics, and chemical engineering, as well as Wager’s department.

The research has been reported in the journals “Science” and “Applied Physics Letters” and even earned Wager an invitation to appear on the National Public Radio show “Science Friday.”

Jeff Bender, who co-authored the article in “Science,” says OSU’s approach to engineering education allowed him to be so deeply involved in the project.

“A new grad student here can be in the clean room doing research right from the get-go.” Bender says. In many other major universities, graduate students don’t get deeply involved for their first year and may not have much control over what they can do. “OSU is very different from that,” he says. “It’s a lot more hands-on and there is a lot more collaboration with industry on research projects.”

News release, first transparent transistor

Graduate student co-authors “Science” article

Wager appears on “Science Friday”

George Poinar’s research provides information about life millions of years ago.
George Poinar holds a piece of amber
George Poinar holds a piece of amber

Research by George Poinar has shown that amber can provide clues to the plants, animals, and climate of the ancient past.

“Amber has been touted for its medicinal values, and in World War II was used as a conductor in some rockets,” says Poinar, a courtesy professor of entomology at OSU. “It has been used in fine art and sculpture. But for scientific purposes, it gives us a view of the past unlike anything else that exists.”

Amber is an unusual stone that begins as sap flowing from certain trees. Sometimes insects, plants, or small animals become trapped in the sap and preserved in near-perfect condition. Over millions of years, the resin became amber, which can be found in a few areas of the world where conditions were just right.

The preservation properties of amber are so spectacular that Poinar was able years ago to extract ancient DNA from some of his insect specimens. This 130-million-year-old DNA is damaged but in some instances provides enough sequences to identify the insect it came from.

The results of Poinar’s research are covered in the book “Lebanese Amber: The Oldest Insect Ecosystem in Fossilized Resin,” published by the Oregon State University Press.

“Lebanese Amber,” published by OSU Press

Amber research news release

But it’s also about education. About research. About public service. And about fun.

Young students discover what sea anenome's feel like
Young students discover what sea anenome's feel like

If you’ve been to the Hatfield Marine Science Center’s visitor center, you’ve seen a variety of sea and estuary life, and you’ve probably even touched an octopus or other sea denizen.

While you were learning a little about marine science and the coastal environment–and having fun, a lot was going on behind the scenes at the HMSC. The center is an integral part of Oregon State University’s programs.

It’s about education. Many university classes are held at the center, but the educational component goes far beyond that. Special courses and camps are offered throughout the year for children, school teachers, and the general public.

It’s about research. Top scientists work at the HMSC, either as visiting researchers or as full-time residents. The center serves as a laboratory for scientists and as a home base for far-ranging oceanographic studies, often involving OSU’s three ocean research vessels.

It’s about public service. The HMSC sponsors such programs as twice-a-year whale watch weeks, CoastWatch for kids, and estuary and dock exploratory walks. Opportunities are available for school groups from preschool through high school, and a number of seminars, lectures, and meetings are held there to keep members of the public up-to-date on coast- and ocean-related issues.

It’s about fun. And that starts at the Visitor Center. Stop by, look around, and take advantage of whatever programs might be offered during the time you’re there. You’ll learn something, and you’ll enjoy yourself.

And if you want to experience more than the typical visitor, stop by during HMSSeaFest, a single day each summer that the center is open to the public for tours and a behind-the-scenes look. HMSSeaFest2003 is scheduled for 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, June 21. Check the current events link for more information.

The HMSC is located on Yaquina Bay at Newport on the central Oregon coast. Admission is by suggested donation. Donations help offset operational costs and allow for expanded educational programs.

All about the HMSC
Visitor information, getting there
Current events at the visitor center
Educational programs
Research at the HMSC

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 students in the College of Health and Human Sciences work one-on-one with special-needs kids to improve skills and self-confidence.

Lai Saeturn, a student in the college, works on hand motor skills with Kaycee Settlemire
Lai Saeturn, a student in the college, works on hand motor skills with Kaycee Settlemire

Most Friday evenings, as many as 80 children and young adults excitedly congregate in the OSU Women’s Building gymnasium to do things that most of us take for granted. Catching a ball. Swinging a bat. Climbing warily atop a balance beam.

It’s part of the Special Physical and Motor Fitness Clinic offered by the College of Health and Human Sciences. Benton County United Way and Hewlett-Packard sponsor the clinic, which is designed to help children with all kinds of disabilities work on fitness, motor skills, and aquatic skills. But mostly they just have fun.

The skills these youngsters develop will help them with day-to-day life in their classrooms, on playgrounds, and at home. An even deeper imprint is made on the undergraduate and graduate students who work with children in the clinic. In the photograph, Lai Saeturn, a student in the college, works on hand motor skills with Kaycee Settlemire.

Oregon State is becoming nationally known for its Movement Studies in Disability program, and top doctoral students are lured to campus by this reputation and by outreach programs like the clinic. Undergraduate students in a variety of fields gladly give up their Friday evenings for the chance to work with the kids.

“It’s hard to say who gets more out of it–the OSU students or the kids,” says Jeff McCubbin, who directs the clinic and the movement studies program. “I think it’s safe to say everyone comes out a winner.”