College of Science Chemistry Professor Mas Subramanian will discuss the discovery of new pigments with energy-saving applications in the 2014 F.A. Gilfillan Memorial Lecture May 6 at 6:15 pm at the LaSells Stewart Center. Subramanian is the 2013 recipient of the F.A. Gilfillan Award for Distinguished Scholarship in Science recognizing College of Science faculty who have a record of distinguished scholarship and scientific accomplishments.

Guest Bloggers: Kim Thackray & Mike Lerner

Have you looked around and noticed that more and more items are powered by lithium ion batteries?  All cell phones and laptops use lithium ion batteries, and automobiles and even ships are moving toward this technology.  Advances in technology are making these batteries (and the products they power) smaller, lighter, and longer-lasting—but what happens to the batteries once they have outlived their usefulness?

Dr. Sloop battery researcher
Dr. Sloop enjoys football too.

The current technology for handling used batteries follows 2 tracks:  batteries are either ground up in order to extract the expensive components (nickel, cobalt), or…they go to the landfill.  Good earth stewardship demands a better, lower-energy alternative.  Dr. Steve Sloop (OSU, 1996), founder of OnTo Technology, is in the forefront of this field, helping to change the battery waste flow into a battery resource flow.

Working closely with researchers and students at Willamette University and OSU, OnTo Technology is developing direct recycling processes that entail disassembling used batteries into their reusable components, ensuring component quality, and then introducing these components back into the battery manufacturing process.  The associated recovery technologies, which must continually evolve as lithium-ion battery technology evolves, use much less energy and create much less waste than current recycling methods.  Although their new procedures are somewhat more labor-intensive, Steve calculates they use 1/62 as much energy (based on the Hess cycle calculation for smelting, boiling, and purifying the valuable components).  If the energy used to originally extract these materials from the earth is included, the savings are even greater.

OnTo Technology came into being as a company in 2004, starting with a loan from the Oregon Department of Energy.  This loan allowed Steve to hire a staff and to purchase equipment for pilot-plant scale research.  A battery recall by Apple provided the raw materials required for initial testing.  Interestingly, one of the first revenue streams for this fledgling company was reselling perfectly functional batteries (obtained in the recall but not on the recall list) on eBay.  Since that time, OnTo Technology has largely moved away from the small consumer electronics batteries to work with automobile and ship batteries; a grant from the US Department of Energy, Vehicles Division supports this newer focus.

When asked about the business model for his company, Steve explains that OnTo Technologies is not planning to become a battery manufacturer.  Instead, their goal is to license battery recycling technology to a manufacturing partner; currently they are working with XALT, a major US based manufacturer of large format batteries for cars and boats, and other manufacturers as well.  The scientists at OnTo are working to keep up with rapidly evolving battery technologies, in order to keep their partners in the forefront.  Their main product is knowledge and expertise in this exciting field.

Mike Lerner researches batteries full time at OSU
OSU’s Mike Lerner

In addition, OnTo works with OSU Chemistry’s Dr. Mike Lerner and his group to characterize material structures and compositions at different points in the recycling process. This information helps guide OnTo’s process development.  Collaborating for several years now on battery chemistry, Dr. Lerner and Dr. Sloop met 20 years ago when Steve was a doctoral student working with Mike.

Battery companies are not only interested in Steve’s ideas in order to save money on minerals.  There is momentum in local and state governments to require battery recycling, in order to reduce the toxic load in landfills; California already has such laws.  In addition, the marketing value of being considered a “green” manufacturer cannot be overstated.  Steve believes recycling is inevitable; he is leading the way in developing the best way to do it.

Many challenges remain; some manufacturers still think it is crazy to consider processes that are so labor intensive when it is easier/cheaper to grind and smelt, or discard, old batteries.  In the future, an automated disassembly line may reduce the required labor.  Right now, the scientists at OnTo Technologies continue to work on these challenges.

Guest Blogger: Mike Lerner

Dr. Lerner's booth before the other staffers arrived.  (photo courtesy of Mike Lerner)
Dr. Lerner’s booth before the other staffers arrived. (photo courtesy of Mike Lerner)

I attended the 31st International Battery Seminars in March. One the one hand, I presented a short review of current academic research on graphene in energy storage applications. My conclusions were that “gen-2” graphenes, with tailored functional edges and basal surfaces, present a possible route towards dense, electrically and thermally conductive composite hierarchical structures for battery or supercapacitor electrodes. And also that this is no secret, there is a lot of research activity ongoing all over the globe.

On the other hand, I manned an OSU exhibitor booth extolling the virtues of our soon-to-be-offered online course called “Chemistry and Materials of Batteries and Supercapacitors”.  There was an encouraging level of interest from large and small companies, governmental agencies, and other academics. I hope we’ll get a mix of students from these sources; among other advantages it will make for interesting class discussions.

Finally, the conference itself was fantastic. One could feel, almost palpably, the pull from industry for better batteries to meet the demands of the electric vehicle and smart grid markets. At the same time, we heard from many contributors that the existing technology and its logical extensions will not likely get us there — that major and fundamental advances in materials and chemistry are needed. What does this all mean? For one thing, it’s a very good time to be a battery chemist!

Originally aired on KLCC 89.7 | By Jes Burns | Used with Permission

Simonich Radio Broadcast

The South Willamette Valley consistently ranks high nationally for levels of air pollution.  According to the American Lung Association, Eugene-Springfield was the 14th worse in the country for “short-term particle pollution” in 2013.

Air pollution is a complex mixture of chemicals and particulate matter –so complex, scientists still don’t know exactly what’s in the air we breathe.  But now they’re one step closer.

Researchers at Oregon State University have discovered fourteen new chemical compounds.   The mixtures can be hundreds of times more likely to cause mutations than other pollutants.

It all started in Beijing at the Summer Olympics of 2008.  Concerns about the high levels of air pollution were a major storyline of the games.  That created the opportunity for OSU Chemistry Professor Staci Simonich to begin doing air testing in China.

Dr. Staci Simonich, Professor in Environmental and Molecular Toxicology in her office at Oregon State University (Credit Jes Burns)

Simonich: “The first paper my laboratory published on the air quality and particulate matter in Beijing before, during, after the Olympics was a little controversial.”

Despite this, Simonich was able to continue work in the country, figuring out the chemical fingerprint of air pollution and using that information a bit closer to home.

Simonich has an air monitoring station at the top of Mt. Bachelor near Bend.  There, she is able to detect if air pollution in China is making its way across the Pacific Ocean to Oregon.  Short answer: it is.

Simonich: “Some of the compounds that we found that were transported were Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons.”

…Or PAHs.  Quick science lesson: That’s the name for a group of chemical compounds. Many are classified as carcinogenic and mutagenic by the Environmental Protection Agency.  They’ve been shown to cause things like tumors and birth defects in lab mice, and a growing body of research suggests serious ill effects on humans as well, including cancer.  So they’re regulated by the government.

PAHs are naturally occurring – and happen whenever organic material is burned.

One of the labs on the OSU campus where PAH research occurs. (Credit: Jes Burns)

Simonich: “Anytime there was a forest fire or a prairie fire or even to some degree even a volcanic eruption if there’s carbon present…  For eons, since the advent of fire, there’s been PAHs.”

Of course, since humans started burning fossil fuels like coal and oil, the amount of PAHs in the atmosphere has dramatically increased.  And PAHs are even being produced in the home.

On the barbecue.  When meat, and in particular fat, is charred on a grill – like I’m doing right now – PAHs are produced.  So I’m breathing in all kinds of PAHs right now – not a pleasant thought.

Simonich: “We tend to think a lot about particles in air, and that is important – in our lungs.  But largest dose of our exposure is via diet.”

Wait, does that mean I should put down my tongs right now?

Simonich: “No, I’m a firm believer in everything in moderation…”

Through air monitoring in Oregon, Simonich found high concentrations of PAHs riding on the backs of particulate matter coming over from Asia.

Simonich: “And the fact that they’re on very fine particles – less than 2.5 microns – means that they can be stuck in the lungs once you breathe them in.  And then we started to think other pollutants are also transported in this mix.  Could there be chemistry happening in Asia?  Reactions that are occurring there or in transit across the Pacific Ocean that may be modifying them chemically?”

The other pollutant is the highly reactive nitrogen dioxide, commonly found in car exhaust. With computer modeling, the scientists predicted that the nitrogen dioxide and the PAHs would combine.  Then in a lab, they recreated atmospheric conditions where both chemicals were present and tested the samples.

Simonich: “One sample working on it continuously could take a week or so, between having the sample, extracting it, purifying it…”

Four to five-hundred samples later… The predictions were correct.  The OSU team found fourteen never-before-detected compounds collectively called High Molecular Weight Nitro-PAHs

But they didn’t stop there. Back at the lab at Oregon State, they asked another question:  How likely are these new compounds to cause mutations to genetic material?

Using further tests, they found that the Nitro-PAHs are up to 467 times more mutagenic than the original PAHs on their own.

So to give you a picture of this: imagine PAHs are tiny piranha … swimming out there in the air. If you encounter enough of them, you may begin to sustain long-term damage.

Now imagine some of the Piranhas are carrying chainsaws.  Those are the Nitro-pAHs.  And the potential for damage is much greater.

But currently those chainsaw-wielding Piranhas have only been detected in a lab at Oregon State.

Simonich: “Our next step now is to go into our air samples from Beijing and air samples from Mt. Bachelor, and various different diesel exhaust, and maybe even grilled meat, and start to look in those different parts of the environment to see where those chemicals may be.  And the truth is no one has ever looked for them before.”

That’s because, prior the discovery of Simonich and her team, no one even knew they existed.

The Oregon State research was published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology.

Click here to access the research.

Chemical Storage in the Simonich lab (Credit: Jes Burns)
Gas Chromatographic Mass Spectrometer (Credit: Jes Burns)
Ken Hedberg
Ken Hedberg, a professor in the department of chemistry, moved into his office in the basement of Gilbert Hall in the early 1960s. (Photo by: Justin Quinn – Daily Barometer)

Originally printed in The Daily Barometer, Wednesday, February 5, 2014 (used with permission)

By: Dacotah-Victoria Splichalova

Professor Ken Hedberg makes waves in his field after nearly 30 years in retirement.

He tells everyone to “just call me Ken.”

Professor Ken Hedberg is an Oregon State University alumnus and the longest emeritus faculty researcher to continue researching after retirement for nearly 30 years.

Hedberg was born in Portland on Feb. 2, 1920. His father only completed eighth grade, and his mother didn’t continue her education after high school.

“Both of my parents were incredibly smart,” Hedberg said.

When the Great Depression hit, Hedberg’s father lost his job, which put the family in financial straits.

Hedberg recalls the lights being shut off in his home for periods of time; food rationing became a reality.

This experience left a strong imprint on Hedberg.

“My father said to me in my early teens that with every dollar I made, he would match for my college education,” Hedberg said, “but then how the depression hit us and with my father being out of work for such a long time — I knew that this promise would not come to be.”

Readjusting through a series of moves across the state, Hedberg, his mother and his sister moved to Corvallis with the goal in mind for the Hedberg children to attend OSU, while Hedberg’s father took a job working on the coast.

“I was so impressed by how my mother and my father came together to see what options they had in order to do the best for our family,” Hedberg said.

In order to meet this goal, Hedberg’s mother ran a boarding house within their home.

“It was a lot of work for my mother — the cooking the cleaning,” Hedberg said. “Almost 75 years later, I wouldn’t be seated here nor carrying out my research if my mother didn’t work as hard as she did.”

Graduating OSU in the 1940s, Hedberg attended graduate school at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, Calif., where he first met Dr. Linus Pauling, a fellow OSU graduate and head of the department of chemistry at the California Institute of Technology.

For the young graduate student, Pauling took note of Hedberg’s talents and intelligence and pushed Hedberg to pursue research that he was interested in. Pauling supported Hedberg by cultivating channels of opportunities and became a close, lifelong mentor and friend.

Upon completing his Ph.D., Hedberg was awarded the Guggenheim Fellowship and Fulbright Scholar Program within the same year carrying out his research in Oslo.

Hedberg enjoyed exploring and seeing all the sites that the Norwegian culture offered him.

One warm summer evening in Oslo, Hedberg, a lover of chamber music, booked a ticket to attend an outdoor performance.

While waiting in line to pick up his ticket, Hedberg looked over to see a young woman, a woman researcher who worked with him in his new lab. She too was picking up her ticket for the show.

They entered together.

“Following, we went to a famous restaurant called Blom,” Hedberg said. “We had some snacks and munchies and walked our separate ways home.”

That was the first evening of the rest of their lives.

The couple married. Sixty years later, Lise and Ken Hedberg have two children — who respectively graduated from Stanford University and Harvard University — and four grandchildren.

In the early years, Hedberg worked at Caltech. Yearning to leave the Southern California smog, Hedberg decided to return with his family to beautiful Oregon to carry out his research and teach chemistry at his alma mater in the 1960s.

Hedberg retired from OSU in 1986.

Monday through Friday, Hedberg still arrives in the mornings to work on his research.

Hedberg is considered a sort of phenomena in the chemistry department.

He is an internationally recognized scientist and is one of the world’s pioneers in the development of electron diffraction and the study of molecular structures and intramolecular dynamics.

Moreover, Hedberg is the only researcher in OSU history to remain continuously funded, while being retired.

“Ken’s been retired — but not retired — for almost as long as I’ve been here,” said Phillip Watson, professor of chemistry at OSU.

Working for free, Hedberg continues to conduct his research at OSU and make scientific advancements within his field.

Originally printed January 11, 2014 1:00 pm  in the Corvallis Gazette-Times
By JAMES DAY, Corvallis Gazette-Times (reprinted with permission)
Kevin Gable on his last day as Faculty Senate President (Photo by Andy Cripe - Corvallis Gazette Times)
Kevin Gable on his last day as Faculty Senate President (Photo by Andy Cripe – Corvallis Gazette Times)

Kevin Gable has been a chemistry professor at Oregon State University since 1988.

He was chairman of the Chemistry Department from 2006-11, and he just finished a year as president of the OSU Faculty Senate.

But he doesn’t really count himself a political animal.

“The only thing that disqualifies you is wanting to do the job,” Gable said of how he wound up president.

“I never actually ran for it. When you get to full professor you feel a certain measure of responsibility to the institution.”

And being a chemist, Gable likes having a role in mixing things up.

“It’s all about shared governance. There is a tradition in higher ed and at OSU that the faculty demands a voice in how it’s done.”

Then Gable ticks off the pieces of the OSU puzzle in which the Senate wields significant influence: curriculum, academic regulations, the criteria for promotions and tenure.

Gable also noted the Senate’s role in the establishment of OSU’s new Board of Trustees.

“I’m extremely happy with the process we went through. It was a showcase of shared governance. The Senate specifically and the faculty broadly participated in the decision-making process. And that’s where our interest lies.”

Gable notes that in an institution as diverse as the OSU faculty, with more than 3,500 people, “there is a broad spectrum of opinion” then adds an old college joke: “If there are three faculty involved there may very well be four opinions in the room.”

There was a wide range of opinions in the room Dec. 12 when the Senate voted to approve a resolution asking the university foundation to divest from companies that are involved in fossil fuels.

At times the debate resembled a national political convention as representatives of the various colleges expressed their views.

In the end the resolution passed narrowly.

Gable’s conclusion: “It’s within the realm of the faculty to make a statement.”

When he is not teaching or working on Senate business Gable say he likes to cook. Which made a reporter curious about the relationship between the science of chemistry and how his expertise works on the stove.

“There are pieces of cooking that are purely art. But as an organic chemist I have an understanding of some of the processes when you cook. An organic chemist can follow a recipe. We do that in the lab all the time. Also, you understand why in a recipe you add things in a particular order.

“The goal is to have a good meal and a decent glass of wine to go with it and feel good at the end of the night.”


Contact reporter James Day at or 541-758-9542. Follow at or

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