Learning the secrets of seed germination is helping Jing Sun grow her future career as a physician.

Jing Sun is pursuing a career as a physician
Jing Sun is pursuing a career as a physician

Jing Sun, an OSU junior in microbiology, has wanted to become a doctor ever since a childhood bout with hepatitis A put her in the hospital. “That made a big impression on me, mostly on how much I didn’t want to be in the hospital, but also on how grateful I was to the doctors who helped me get better,” she says.

Jing decided to use that experience as motivation to study medicine and become a pediatrician. In her first year at OSU, she wanted to learn to diagnose and solve problems, and she jumped at a chance to learn those skills in a research laboratory.

“It was the first lab I found that was looking for a freshman to do real research. Dr. Nonogaki was specifically looking for someone to take on their own projects, which was pretty unique and very exciting,” she says.

As she learned laboratory techniques, Jing found other undergrads were doing research in her area, the Integrative Seed Biology Program, which is funded by the National Science Foundation. Established by associate professor Hiro Nonogaki in the Department of Horticulture, the program offers undergraduates a chance to gain research skills while they discover how seed genes function.

Jing begins by identifying seeds that show a mutation in a gene known as a transcription factor. These genes operate somewhat like light switches, turning other genes on and off. After finding seeds with transcription factor mutations, Jing allows the seeds to sprout, observes the growing plants and documents the results. She then compares the plants to those grown from seeds with normal germination patterns. Her goal is to identify the molecular mechanisms at work and the consequences of the mutation.

Jing, who is in the University Honors College, has accomplished a lot. In 2005, she received a research grant through the Ernest and Pauline Jaworski Scholarship for Underserved Undergraduates in Plant Science. She also received an award for her presentation in OSU’s Howard Hughes Medical Institute summer research program.

In 2006, Jing was selected to study at the University of Freiburg in Germany through RISE (Research Internships for Science and Engineering), a German Academic Exchange Service program created to bring Canadian and American undergraduates to Germany to study with Ph.D. students.

Each year about 2,000 OSU undergraduates are involved in research projects around campus. “I think it is good for undergraduate students to do this research,” Nonogaki says, “and to present their findings at conferences. It is important for them to be exposed to real scientific research and to experts in the field.”

Jing Sun’s University Honors College page

Integrative Seed Biology Program Web site

Department of Microbiology Web site

The Cobarrubias children are on their way to health care careers, living their mother’s unfulfilled dream.

All four of the Cabarrubias siblings attend OSU
All four of the Cabarrubias siblings attend OSU

Living their mother Amelia’s dream, four Cobarrubias children are studying at OSU.

Amelia longed to become a medical practitioner. But the tiny Mexican village where she grew up offered scant opportunities for girls. So she carried her dream to Oregon where her husband Florencio found work in the orchards of Hood River.

More than a decade later, widowed and juggling three low-wage jobs to raise her eight children alone, she still nurtured her childhood wish to bring health care and healing to those in need. But the dream was no longer for herself. Almost like a genetic gift, Amelia had passed it along to her offspring, math and science whizzes all.

Four of them — Genobeva, Florencio Jr., Elizabeth, and Kristina — are enrolled in pre-health programs at OSU. Majoring in microbiology and German, Genobeva (Genny) plans to go on for an M.D. in pediatrics. Kristina is in pre-dentistry, thinking about a children’s practice. Florencio is in pre-pharmacy, hoping to own his own pharmaceuticals business someday. And Elizabeth, with a major in biochemistry/biophysics, wants to be a surgeon, probably a cardiologist.

“At least one-quarter of the students in the College of Science are preparing for health professions,” says the Northwest’s most experienced pre-health adviser, Chere Pereira, who guides OSU’s pre-medical and pre-dental students from orientation through professional-school application.
“OSU’s pre-health programs are well-respected throughout the country,” says Pereira. “Our students are not only well-trained, they tend to be resourceful and grounded in the real world.”

With so many underserved ethnic communities across the United States, cultural competence is, Pereira notes, a big plus for prospective medical students. So, in partnership with OHSU, Oregon State is supporting greater diversity in health professions through special programs. And, through IE3 Global Internships, undergrads can get international experience working side-by-side with doctors in Bolivia, Mexico, Ecuador, India and South Africa.

For the bilingual and trilingual Cobarrubias siblings (in high school, Genny and Elizabeth studied in Germany and Italy, respectively), cultural competence is a given. Add to that their single-minded focus on achieving their goals, and it appears their mother’s lifelong dream will finally be realized — in quadruplicate.

OSU pre-professional programs in health

Microbiology Web site

Biochemistry and Biophysics Web site

Mary Jo Nye has been honored with a prestigious lifetime achievement award, but that doesn’t mean she’s done.

Mary Jo Nye
Mary Jo Nye

Mary Jo Nye has received the History of Science Society’s highest award, the 2006 Sarton Medal, for a lifetime of scholarly achievement.

“It’s somewhat daunting to receive a ‘lifetime achievement’ award, since I’m not ready to call it a day,” says Nye, Horning Professor of the Humanities and professor of history at OSU. “However, I know of Sarton medalists who have done even more research and writing after they received the award than before.”

In presenting the medal, Alan Rocke of Case Western Reserve University said “Mary Jo’s work has brilliantly illuminated important areas of the history of modern European and American physics and chemistry, with significant additional contributions to institutional and disciplinary history, philosophy of science, and the social and political relations of science. Her elegant writing is always a joy to read, her research as deep as it is broad and her historical arguments are judicious and convincing.”

Nye has written a number of books, including Molecular Reality: A Perspective on the Scientific Work of Jean Perrin (Elsevier, 1972), Science in the Provinces (University of California Press, 1986), and From Chemical Philosophy to Theoretical Chemistry: Dynamics of Matter and Dynamics of Disciplines, 1800-1950 (University of California Press, 1993). Her latest, Blackett: Physics, War, and Politics in the Twentieth Century (Harvard University Press), came out in 2004.

The History of Science Society is the world’s largest society dedicated to understanding science, technology, medicine, and their interactions with society in historical context. Over 3,000 individual and institutional members across the world support the Society’s mission to foster interest in the history of science and its social and cultural relations.

This isn’t the first time Nye, who came to OSU in 1994 after 25 years at the University of Oklahoma, has been honored with a lifetime achievement award. In 2000, she received the Dexter Award for Outstanding Achievement in the History of Chemistry from the American Chemical Society.

Mary Jo Nye Web page

History of Science Society Web

Previous Sarton Medal winners

Sarton Medal news release

Chrissy Lamun has completed her all-American gymnastics career. Now she’s preparing for a career as an orthodontist.

Chrissy Lamun, an all-American gymnast, is now pursuing a career in dentistry
Chrissy Lamun, an all-American gymnast, is now pursuing a career in dentistry

Chrissy Lamun loves to make people smile. She does it with her vivacious enthusiasm. She does it with athletic performance that earned her all-American honors as an OSU gymnast this past season.

And the recent graduate from Reno, Nev., hopes to do it in the future as an orthodontist.

“When I was little, I was obsessed with braces,” she says. “I couldn’t wait to get them. I made retainers out of paper clips and headgear out of wire. When my mom saw the paper clips, she said get them out of your mouth, they’re dirty.”

Yet, Chrissy didn’t think of going into the dental field until a high school friend suggested it because of her obsession. “And I was thinking, ‘it’s perfect,’” she says.“I want to help people have a beautiful smile.”

When she started looking for schools with good predental programs, she says OSU was an easy choice. “It’s been a wonderful experience,“ Chrissy says, “and I love Corvallis. The community is so supportive.”

And she found time to give back to the community, participating in the Relay for Life the last two years and talking to children in elementary schools.

Chrissy received her degree in general science, with a pre-dental emphasis, and she minored in business administration.

This year she plans to help coach the OSU gymnastics team while gaining experience observing dentists at work to help prepare her for dental school. Students normally do their observation during the school year, but because of the time demands of gymnastics, Chrissy decided to wait until she finished.

College of Science academic programs

College of Business Web site
OSU gymnastics team Web site

J.C. Sanders worked with leading scientists to determine how to protect the planet from a possible future asteroid collision.

J.C. Sanders
J.C. Sanders

An asteroid more than a half-mile in diameter is on a collision course with the Earth. How do we avoid disaster?

J.C. Sanders, a June 2006 OSU University Honors College physics graduate from Roseburg, Ore., spent last summer on an internship with top scientists at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California looking for a solution to that not-so-impossible scenario.

The answer may well be to use a nuclear device to deflect the object, slow it down or speed it up so it misses the Earth. Using computer models, J.C. worked with the scientists on such issues as when and where to detonate the bombs for maximum effect against different types of space objects.

J.C.’s work was so well received that he was invited to the Livermore lab for another internship this summer to work on alternative propulsion systems for interplanetary travel.

And, proving that an OSU education really is hands-on, J.C. also did an internship at Los Alamos National Laboratory working on a fusion research simulation project two years ago.

J.C. says being in the Honors College was a real plus in his OSU education. “You interact with professors in a different way than in a normal class. There’s more discussion and study of ideas in honors classes,” he says.
Next on J.C.’s agenda is graduate work in physics at the University of Texas in Austin.

University Honors College

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory Web site

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


Fred Kamke focuses on designing composite products that make more efficient use of timber resources.

Fred Kamke is designing effecient uses for timber
Fred Kamke is designing effecient uses for timber

Composite wood products have had a bad reputation over the years, being considered a low-cost means of using commercial waste or low-quality wood.

That image is changing, and Fred Kamke is helping make sure it continues to change.

“The old paradigm of growing trees for lumber or pulp is no longer the only option,” Kamke says. “Short-rotation woody crops, intensively grown on a relatively small land area, may be used to produce structural products with properties equal to or better than the highest-grade Douglas-fir lumber.”

Kamke, a leader in research on innovative new wood composite products and technology, is currently working on wood modifications that can be used in composites.

Oregon has about 20,000 acres of hybrid poplar that were planted for pulp uses. As a low-density wood the poplar isn’t useful for much else. “I want to be able to densify it to make useful products,” Kamke says. Using a home-made wood press, he is able to take a quarter-inch-thick piece of the poplar, apply steam, heat and pressure, and turn it into a hard wood about one-fourth as thick.

The process is called viscoelastic thermal compression (VTC) and the resulting wood has higher density, strength and stability than the original. Kamke believes it can be used as a composite with a piece of the original poplar sandwiched between two of the VTC pieces.

“I can see uses for it in building construction, and I think there could be applications for flooring materials because it has good hardness properties,” he says.

Hybrid poplar is a good choice because it grows fast, produces many trees in a small area, and is harvestable within five or 10 years.

Kamke has worked with composites his entire career, spending more than 20 years at Virginia Tech after receiving his doctorate from OSU in 1983.

He returned to OSU in 2005 to become the first holder of the JELD-WEN Chair in Wood-Based Science in OSU’s College of Forestry. Now he is in the process of helping make the university a world center in bio-based composite materials.

“I’ve always liked the idea of being able to get more out of the forest, of getting the products we need without relying on huge land masses for the resources,” he says.

Fred Kamke Web page

News release on Kamke’s OSU appointment

Oregon Wood Innovation Center

Description of VTC

Michael Campana wants OSU’s new Institute for Water and Watersheds to lead the way in resolving Oregon’s water problems.

Michael Campana will serve as the director of the Insitute for Water and Watersheds
Michael Campana will serve as the director of the Insitute for Water and Watersheds

Despite its reputation for abundant rain, Oregon faces a myriad of water-related challenges, from water rights issues in the Klamath basin to pollution concerns in the Willamette River.

To coordinate the far-flung water research efforts, involving 80 faculty members in six colleges, the university has established the OSU Institute for Water and Watersheds.

The institute involves a statewide network of resources, including research laboratories, classrooms, Extension offices and experiment stations, which will allow OSU scientists to connect with decision makers at state, federal and local levels to develop solutions to water problems.

A multidisciplinary team of researchers helped build the water initiative into reality, and now it is ready to take the next step forward with the hiring of Michael Campana, a hydrogeologist and international expert on complex water management issues, as the first director of the institute.

Campana says he hopes to focus the institute’s efforts on large, multidisciplinary, long-term projects and significantly increase external funding for water research activities at the university.

“Oregon is facing a variety of water and environmental problems,” he says. “OSU’s water expertise must be brought to bear in solving these problems, and the Institute for Water and Watersheds needs to reach a point where it is the first organization Oregonians think of when water issues arise.”

The institute is one of six strategic initiatives for investment that will bring OSU new centers for research and outreach, outstanding faculty and students, and scholarship, fellowship, internship and educational opportunities.

The other initiatives are:

  • A Center for Healthy Aging Research, linking individuals, families and environments
  • Computational and genome biology
  • Ecosystem informatics, involving mathematics, computer science and ecology
  • Subsurface biosphere education and research
  • Sustainable rural communities

Institute for Water and Watersheds website

Institute for Water and Watersheds history and goals

Michael Campana hiring news release

OSU’s six strategic initiatives

Maret Traber is trying to set the record straight about the role of vitamin E.

Maret Traber is setting the record straight on Vitamin E
Maret Traber is setting the record straight on Vitamin E

You’ve undoubtedly heard the claims.

“Everyone needs a vitamin E supplement.”

“Vitamin E has no value in protecting people from disease.”

“We get all the vitamin E we need in a normal diet.”

Maret Traber, a scientist in OSU’s Linus Pauling Institute who has studied the vitamin most of her professional life, says research so far just scratches the surface about how the body absorbs vitamin E, what forms should be used, how they interact with the immune system and what role they play in cancer prevention.

“A lot of people out there make all kinds of wild claims about the value of vitamin E without having a solid scientific basis for what they say,” according to Traber.

With more than 170 scientific publications, including over 100 peer-reviewed articles, Traber is one of the world’s leading experts on vitamin E.

She stepped into the middle of the controversy when she disputed the recent claims of a 10-year study of women over 45 who took vitamin E. The scientists conducting the study reported that vitamin E was ineffective at preventing heart disease.

“I was so surprised when I read the study that they didn’t emphasize what I considered the most exciting finding in 10 years of vitamin E research,” Traber says. “The study shows that women over 65 years old had a 24 percent reduction in major coronary vascular events, a 34 percent reduction in heart attacks, and a 49 percent reduction in cardiovascular deaths.”

So while some say vitamin E could be dangerous and others claim it’s a panacea, Traber says more work needs to be done.

“We owe it to the public to do good research on these issues, find out the truth and then be honest about it. The potential value of vitamin E is just so important, we have to find out what the facts are.”

Maret Traber’s Linus Pauling Institute web page

Maret Traber’s College of Health and Human Sciences page

Results of Traber’s study of vitamin E and smoking

Linus Pauling Institute website

An OSU scientist’s trip to the coast inspired a new adhesive that may revolutionize the wood products industry.

Kaichang Li developed a wood glue based on mussels
Kaichang Li developed a wood glue based on mussels

One day a few years ago, Kaichang Li was at the Oregon Coast harvesting mussels. When the day was over, in addition to mussels, he returned to Corvallis with questions that led to development of an environmentally friendly wood glue.

Li, an associate professor in Wood Science and Engineering in the College of Forestry at OSU, noticed during his visit to the coast how mussels clung tenaciously to rocks despite being pounded almost continuously by ocean waves.

“I was amazed at the ability of these small mollusks to attach themselves so strongly to rocks,” Li says. “Thinking about it, I didn’t know of any other type of adhesive that could work this well in water and withstand so much force.”

The protein in the small threads the mussel uses to attach itself is an exceptional adhesive, but it’s not readily available. In trying to identify a protein that could be adapted for this purpose, Li had another inspiration–while eating tofu. Soy beans, from which tofu is made, “are a crop that’s abundantly produced in the U.S. and has a very high content of protein,” Li says.

But soy protein lacks the unique amino acid that provides adhesive properties. So his research group went to work and was able to add these amino acids to soy protein, making it work like a mussel-protein adhesive. They’ve also developed other strong and water-resistant adhesives from renewable natural materials using the mussel protein as a model.

Their discoveries have resulted in three pending patents and should lead to a wide range of new products. The research work also has resulted in 11 papers in journals such as Macromolecular Rapid Communications and Journal of Adhesion Science and Technology.

One of the new adhesives is cost-competitive with a commonly used urea-formaldehyde resin, researchers say, but it doesn’t use formaldehyde or other toxic chemicals. Formaldehyde, which has been used to make wood composites since the 1950s, has been shown to be a human carcinogen, and in some circumstances it may be a cause of “sick building syndrome” when used in building products.

In addition to the environmental advantage, the new adhesives have superior strength and water resistance. “The plywood we make with this adhesive can be boiled for several hours and the adhesive holds as strong as ever,” Li said. “Regular plywood bonded with urea-formaldehyde resins could never do that.”

Kaichang Li home page

OSU news release on development of new adhesive

Columbia Forest Products announces use of new adhesive in its products

OSU Department of Wood Science and Engineering

OSU College of Forestry website