By Vinay Ramakrishnan

The Daily Barometer

Published: Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Updated: Wednesday, March 6, 2013 00:03

prof 03/06/13Vinay Ramakrishnan | THE DAILY BAROMETER

Dr. Joseph Beckman with research assistant professors Dr. Valery Voinov and Dr. Yuri Vasil’ev in the Mass Spectrometry lab at OSU.

This spring, Oregon State University will honor two professors as distinguished. Joseph Beckman, director of the Environmental Health Science Center, and Thomas Diettreich, professor of computer science and a pioneer in the field of machine learning, will become distinguished professors, an honor they will continue to hold as long as they stay with OSU.

Distinguished professor is the highest recognition given by the university to an active OSU faculty member.

“The honor recognizes outstanding accomplishments as well as the potential to continue to excel in the future,” said Sabah Randhawa, provost and executive vice president at OSU.

Randhawa has the final decision in terms of recognizing distinguished professors.

Nominations are requested around campus and a small committee of faculty who hold the distinguished professor title evaluate nominations.

Both Beckman and Dietterich felt honored to be named distinguished professors.

“It’s a very nice honor,” Beckman said. “I have tremendous respect for those who have been selected as distinguished professors before, and know that many others deserve the recognition.”

“We are fortunate to have excellent faculty at OSU,” Randawa added. “Dr. Dietterich and Dr. Beckman have outstanding credentials in their respective fields — Dr. Dietterich in artificial intelligence and Dr. Beckman in neurodegenerativediseases.”

Dietterich and Beckman both felt they were recognized as distinguished professors in large part due to contributions to their respective fields.

“I’ve made major contributions over many years in understanding the role of oxidative stress in human diseases,” Beckman said. “Also, I’ve been director of the Environmental Health Science Center for over a decade, a very important resource at OSU that’s helped drive many new discoveries.”

Dietterich cites his role as an innovator in the field of machine learning.

“As a graduate student, I was one of the first people to do research in this field,” Dietterich said. “I was one of the people to help grow machine learning as a scientific field.”

Beckman has been interested in researching the progression of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, more commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, for the past 20 years.

“I made a key discovery about how the oxidant peroxynitrite underlies many different diseases,” Beckman said. “Of all the disease processes that peroxynitrite affects, I focused on ALS 20 years ago because of the discovery of a mutation in an antioxidant enzyme called SOD1 that reacts with peroxynitrite.”

Beckman’s research also involves looking into the cause of the death of motor neurons in ALS.

“We’ve discovered, as a number of different investigators, that astrocytes, support cells that surround motor neurons, can be activated and drive the death of motor neurons,” Beckman said.

As a pioneer in the field of machine learning, Dietterich was part of a group that founded the first journal in machine learning and was the first president of the international machine learning society.

“The idea of machine learning is to teach the computer by example to do particular things,” Dietterich said. “Cameras that put a square around a person’s face would be an example of the results of machine learning.”

Dietterich and Beckman both work in research labs here at Oregon State University. Beckman works in the OSU mass spectrometry lab, helping develop and use new instrumentation.

“We are also synthesizing and testing new types of drugs in vitro to treat ALS here at OSU,” Beckman said.

Dietterich runs a research group here at OSU, and is interested in a wide range of things.

“I joke that I have research Attention Deficit Disorder,” Dietterich said.

His research group is currently working on three major projects, all involving the application of computer modeling.

Dietterich received an undergraduate degree in mathematics from Oberlin College in Ohio, a master’s in computer science from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and a Ph.D. in computer science from Stanford, prior to coming to Oregon State in 1985.

“My master’s adviser at Urbana-Champaign named the field ‘machine learning,’” Dietterich said.

Diettrich’s research group’s major projects currently involve using computer modeling to look at a variety of topics, including bird behavior and migration, invasive species and managing wildfires.

“We’re trying to build a computer scientific model to answer questions about bird behavior,” Diettrich said. “Joint with Jo Albers in the department of forest ecosystems and society, I’m working on a project using computer modeling to control invasive species.”

Diettrich’s third major research group project is about managing wildfires in Eastern Oregon.

“We’re trying to use computer models to decide when a fire’s ignited whether to fight it or to let it burn,” Diettrich said.

Along with his research duties at Oregon State, Diettrich is the deputy director of the Institute for Computational Sustainability, based out of Cornell University.

“The purpose of computation sustainability is to apply novel computer science techniques to solve sustainability problems,”Diettrich said.

Beckman came to OSU in 2001 from the University of Alabama at Birmingham, where he advanced from his post doctorate position to being a full professor in the department of anesthesiology.

He holds an undergraduate degree in molecular biology and a masters in population biology, both from the University of Colorado at Boulder. He holds a Ph.D. in botany from Duke University. After receiving his master’s degree, he worked for a surgical hospital in Korea for the U.S. Army for two years.

Besides acting as the chairman of the Environmental Health Science Center, Beckman is the Ava Helen Pauling Chair of the Linus Pauling Institute. He is also a professor in the department of biochemistry and biophysics in the College of Science.

“Joe is a valued colleague, a talented scientist and a wonderful mentor to our junior faculty, graduate students and undergraduates,” said Vince Remcho, interim dean of the College of Science. “I am so pleased to count him among our distinguished science faculty. This designation brings great honor and much positive attention to the college.”

Vinay Ramakrishnan, news reporter


One of the most common elements included in an energy-efficient passive housedesign is a roof that is coated with materials to help reflect the sun’s rays and prevent solar gain in the interior. Most of these so-called “cool roofs” are made of squint-inducing white materials to take advantage of the color’s highly reflective properties.

Well, we may no longer be limited to building a boring (and blinding) sea of white-roofed buildings, according to research from Oregon State University (OSU). A recent article from Fast Company’s Co.Exist website described how a rich, deep blue may be the new hot color to keep our buildings cool.  Read more…

By Dacotah Splichalova


Published: Thursday, February 28, 2013

Updated: Thursday, February 28, 2013 02:02

PaulingMitch Lea

The Linus Pauling special collection contains nearly 500 boxes of letters, Pauling’s personal library, manuscripts and awards. The collection includes 47 honorary doctorates and two Nobel prizes.

Ken Hedberg was pursuing a doctorate at Cal Tech. It was the 1940s. He worked hard. He worked weekends. Seventy years later he still recalls one sunny Saturday with particular fondness. A smile came to Hedberg’s face with the recollection of this memory.

Chemistry professor Linus Pauling padded into the lab, still wearing his bedroom slippers. He often stopped by — sometimes to work, other times just to find out what others were doing. Hedberg was in awe of the man. Pauling sat down in Hedberg’s chair and rested his feet on Hedberg’s desk.

“Hello Ken,” Pauling said.

“Hello, Professor Pauling,” Hedberg replied.

No one ever called Pauling by his first name.

Pauling scanned the room. Then he picked up a spyglass key chain attached to Hedberg’s keys. The spyglass contained an image. He put the spyglass to his eye and dropped his head back up into the light.

Hedberg felt uneasy, he remembers so many years later. The image showed a beautiful — and naked — woman smiling from her perch on a boulder. A stream flowed in the background.

Pauling looked at the poster through his small looking glass. Then he looked down and replaced the glass on the desk. He stood up and began walking out. At the door he turned.

“That rock is basalt,” Pauling said, and left.

Friends and colleagues of Pauling remember him not only for his intelligence, but for his curiosity. He was known to have called curiosity “one of the greatest sources of happiness in life.”

The Oregon State University alumnus and native Oregonian is the only person ever to have been awarded two unshared Nobel Prizes. He was first honored in 1954 for his research into the nature of the chemical bond, the theory which states how atoms are bound together into molecules and how these molecules are built in various ways depending on their intermolecular forces.

In 1963 he was honored for his work regarding nuclear disarmament and the establishment of a foundation for global peace negotiations.

Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber has declared Feb. 28 as Linus Pauling Day. The chemist would have been 112 years old today.

Pauling is by far OSU’s most celebrated and famous graduate. His name can be found in the Valley Library, the Linus Pauling Science Center and there are chairs endowed in his and his wife’s name. The Pauling Papers, archived in the Valley Library, are comprised of 500,000 documents covering the lives, work and legacies of Pauling and his wife.

“In terms of linear feet, the collection is close to a mile long,” said Chris Petersen, faculty research assistant with OSU’s Special Collections & Archives Research Center.

It contains nearly 500 boxes of letters, Pauling’s personal library, manuscripts and awards. It includes 47 honorary doctorates and two Nobel Prizes. The collection also contains newspaper clippings, audio-visual content, scrapbooks and even clothes.

Pauling was born in Portland in 1901. His father was a pharmacist and died when Pauling was 9. The loss left his family in dire financial straits. Young Pauling drew into himself, devoting time to studying minerals. He set up a chemistry lab in the basement of his family’s southeast Portland home.

While his experiments resulted in the occasional explosions, noises, smells and small fires, according to a book on Linus Pauling by biographer Thomas Hager, no one was ever hurt.

Pauling was bright, but disliked the restrictive curriculum offered at Washington High, so he dropped out before graduation. His mother wanted him to stay home and help support his siblings, but Pauling wanted to study, according to Hager.

Pauling defied his mother’s wishes, and in 1917 he came to OSU. The school was then named the Oregon Agricultural College (OAC) and was free for students who attended. Hager wrote that Pauling worked hard at his chemistry courses and read voraciously. The only area in which Pauling didn’t excel was physical fitness, according to report cards maintained as part of the OSU archives.

Pauling studied for two years before being offered a position teaching general chemistry. He is the youngest professor the school has ever hired, according to the Pauling Papers archive.

Students loved his passion, encyclopedic memory and kindness.

Pauling studied German so he could read papers about theoretical physics. He learned quantum mechanics and applied that to chemistry. He cultivated a comprehensive understanding of physics, chemistry, mineralogy and biology.

He encouraged students to be skeptical — even of him.

“When an old and distinguished person speaks to you, listen to him carefully and with respect. But do not believe him. Never put your trust into anything but your own intellect,” he told students in his column “Advice to Students” in a 1955 issue of “Engineering and Science.”

One student loved him as more than a teacher. She fell in love with the man. Ava Helen Miller was smarter than Pauling. The I.Q. tests that prove Ava Helen’s genius can be found within her own archival collection, the Ava Helen Pauling Papers.

While teaching a general chemistry course at OAC for home economics majors, Pauling called on Ms. Miller in class to answer a question. She responded correctly and thoroughly impressed Pauling.

Pauling initially rebuffed the advances of the strong-willed young woman, because he feared placing his teaching job in jeopardy. Despite this, the two fell in love and were married nine months later.

Miller was Pauling’s great love and lifelong best friend, according to Petersen. She admired Pauling’s work and helped him carve out space for research. She encouraged him to devote time to furthering world peace, while she raised the couple’s four children.

Pauling’s students and colleagues saw softness unexpected in a scientist with so many awards to his name.

Steve Lawson, a long-time employee of Pauling’s, recalls leaving the Linus Pauling Institute one warm evening after work.

“I was walking across the lot and I saw Pauling was leaving with his cardboard box of papers, as he did every day,” Lawson said.

Pauling was known for carrying a box filled with documents between his home and his office. Lawson remembers watching Pauling. He was wearing the same scuffed old shoes he always did. Pauling spotted an approaching janitor. Pauling stood with his box, holding the door for several minutes until the other man could pass through.

“That is what really impressed me most,” Lawson said. “After all of his fame, two Nobel prizes and countless other achievements, Pauling was still very respectful of everyone.”

Lawson stayed in touch with Pauling as the man aged. Even in his 80s, Pauling was sharp and moved like a young man, but no longer liked to drive.

Lawson picked him up for work and drove him around for errands.

“It was a time that we could be alone and talk,” Lawson said.

One time Lawson remembers Pauling asked to stop by the supermarket on his way home from the office.

“In the store, I heard him call out ‘Over this way, Steve,’” Lawson said.

Pauling wanted to buy some oxtail to cook.

“Have you ever tried bangers?” Lawson asked Pauling.


“He loved them,” Lawson recalled. “Our final purchase of the day was half a dozen bottles of Stoli vodka.”

Pauling drank his vodka on the rocks.


Dacotah Splichalova, news reporter