Jane Lubchenco says there is no longer any doubt that global warming threatens the planet, and it’s time to do something about it.

Jane Lubchenco
Jane Lubchenco

A vast majority of scientists agree that global warming caused by human-generated greenhouse gases is a serious threat to civilization and the Earth’s natural ecosystems.

A recent scientific study reports that many of the ecosystem services that support life on the planet are being degraded in a manner that could lead to significant harmful consequences over the next 50 years.

“What has become clear is that if society wants to avoid future disasters, it should do two things: prevent even greater disruption to the climate system and prepare for the climate changes already set in motion,” says Jane Lubchenco, Wayne and Gladys Valley Professor of Marine Biology and Distinguished Professor of Zoology at OSU, and an expert on issues related to global warming.

“The evidence is overwhelming that even simple changes can be a big help and have a huge cumulative impact,” Lubchenco says. “If every American switched just three light bulbs to compact fluorescent bulbs, it would be the equivalent of taking 3.5 million cars off the road. If everyone switched to a car with five miles-per-gallon better mileage, that would be equal to taking another 150 million automobiles off the roads. Individual actions add up to big changes.”

Lubchenco says the oceans also are being critically affected by the changes. Events of the past year, including disrupted fisheries, torrential rains and catastrophic hurricanes, are consistent with what scientists expect as a result of global warming, Lubchenco says.

The American Association for the Advancement of Science recently honored Lubchenco with its Public Understanding of Science Award for her role in encouraging scientists to promote “an open dialogue on issues affecting all our lives.”

Lubchenco has been instrumental in the foundation of three major initiatives to increase science communication. They are:

  • The Aldo Leopold Leadership Program, begun at OSU in 1998 to train academic environmental scientists to become more effective communicators and leaders
  • COMPASS, the Communication Partnership for Science and the Sea, a collaborative effort to communicate marine conservation science to resource users and managers, policy makers and the media
  • PISCO, the Partnership for Interdisciplinary Studies of Coastal Oceans, a four-university research, training, and outreach collaboration focused on the near-shore marine ecosystems of the Oregon, Washington and California coasts

“Earlier in my career I was like most researchers who just teach their students and publish their studies but don’t get involved much in the public arena,” Lubchenco said. “But I’ve come to realize that as scientists we have both an opportunity and an obligation to help more people understand and use science, which plays such a critical role in our lives.”

Jane Lubchenco home page

Lubchenco public understanding of science award

Lubchenco presentation to City Club of Portland (1 hour video)

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


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

As an OSU undergraduate, Nick Ehlers has been involved in research projects in Panama, the Bahamas, and Newport, Oregon.

Nick Ehlers highlights his research as one of his most memorable college experiences
Nick Ehlers highlights his research as one of his most memorable college experiences

Nick Ehlers had the opportunity to do research in a wide range of places as an Oregon State University undergraduate student majoring in biology.

With funding from OSU’s International Undergraduate Research Program, Nick traveled to Panama and the Bahamas to work as a research assistant alongside OSU faculty members Bruce Menge and Mark Hixon. “Both were such amazing experiences,” Nick says. “It was a classroom with no walls and everything and everybody was my professor.”

Then, as part of the marine biology option, Nick had the opportunity to live on-site at OSU’s Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport, Oregon. The 16-week marine biology course offers students field and laboratory experiences with a variety of instructors, including Sally Hacker, associate professor of zoology, pictured with him above. “This program was one of the reasons that I chose Oregon State,” Nick says.

For the coming year, Nick has accepted a job as a science instructor at the Ocean Institute at Dana Point, California. “This will combine my love of science, research, and education,” he says.

“The three highlights of my college career have been my research, my fraternity, and my involvement in the Big Brothers Big Sisters Program,” Nick says.

OSU biology program

Hatfield Marine Science Center

Marine Biology at HMSC

Mark Hixon website

Dana Point Ocean Institute

Fighting osteoporosis is a lifelong process, according to researchers at the OSU Bone Research Laboratory.

Jumping can increase bone mass as much as 5 percent
Jumping can increase bone mass as much as 5 percent

Osteoporosis is generally considered only an issue for older people, but researchers at OSU’s Bone Research Lab have found that protection from the disease can start at an early age.

In a recent study, researchers found that a regimen of jumping and other load-bearing activities for children can increase bone mass by as much as 5 percent. “A 5 percent increase may not sound like a lot, but it translates into a 30 percent decrease in the risk of a hip fracture in adulthood,” says Christine Snow, director of the laboratory.

Osteoporosis is a low bone mass disease that reduces bone strength and increases risk of fracture. It’s a significant problem in the United States, and the numbers are startling.

  • Osteoporosis is a serious health threat for 44 million Americans, 80 percent of whom are women.
  • In the United States, more than 10 million people have osteoporosis and another 34 million have low bone mass, putting them at increased risk for the disease.
  • One of every two women and one of every four men over 50 will have an osteoporosis-related fracture in their lifetime.

The Bone Research Laboratory is committed to reversing these trends through a lifespan approach that involves building bone mass during youth and building bone and preventing bone loss in adulthood.

For those most at risk, research at the laboratory has shown that a long-term exercise program with weighted vests reduces hip bone loss and the risk of falling in post-menopausal women.

The laboratory also serves the community by performing clinical bone scans to determine individual risk for fracture and to help people and their physicians determine what treatment might be indicated. All scans require physician referral.

An active education program also is part of the laboratory. Graduate students are actively engaged in teaching and research every year, and there are opportunities for undergraduates to gain practicum and internship experience.

“I came to OSU because of the strong reputation of the Bone Research Lab,” says doctoral student Hawley Chase Almstedt. “The knowledge I have obtained here will enable me to become a professional who can significantly contribute to the field of bone health and osteoporosis prevention.”

Bone Research Lab home page

Tory Hagen’s research suggests it may be possible to slow-and perhaps even reverse-the aging process.

Hagen in his lab
Hagen in his lab

Tory Hagen’s lab in OSU’s Linus Pauling Institute features rats that seem to be in the prime of life. They are active, full of energy, and have good memories.

The amazing thing is that these rats are quite old–in the time of their lifespan when most rats are sedentary, slow, and rather senile.

What makes these rats different from others is that Hagen, associate professor of biochemistry and biophysics at Oregon State, is feeding them two dietary compounds, carnitine and lipoic acid, that can mask metabolic problems caused by cellular aging.

“What we are trying to do is understand how these micronutrients work in the body,” Hagen says. “We need to understand both the proper effective dosage and whether they are completely safe.”

So far, the tests have been short-term studies, Hagen says, so it’s unknown whether the benefits can be preserved over the long term.

“Before going on to human clinical trials, we feel compelled to understand the ramifications of supplementation, including any potential safety problems with the use of these supplements,” he says. “Therefore, I cannot recommend that people use them until this information is available.”

“This research is exploring the fundamental process of aging, and we may in fact find ways to slow down that process and even reverse some of the effects of it,” says Balz Frei, professor and director of the Linus Pauling Institute. “But what we learn about aging is also directly relevant to the chronic diseases that kill most people around the world, such as heart disease and cancer.”

Tory Hagen’s Linus Pauling Institute page

Tory Hagen’s gene research center page

LPI newsletter interview

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

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