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

Large trees are a valuable habitat component for a variety of forest wildlife.

Wildlife ecologist Chris Maguire
Wildlife ecologist Chris Maguire

The Ecological Society of America recently determined that Oregon State University is the best in the nation in the field of forest ecology.

When it looked at faculty producing published new research on critical environmental issues, the society found that OSU is No. 1 in forest ecology and 11th in the broad fields of ecology, evolution, and behavior. That puts OSU on a par with Stanford and the University of Washington, and well ahead of most Ivy League schools.

The College of Forestry has world-class facilities and forest properties that enable OSU to deliver a first-rate educational experience, while conducting innovative basic and applied research. It helps, of course, that OSU is located near a wide array of forest ecosystems, from the coast to the mountains to the high desert.

In one aspect of research, Oregon State ecologists are investigating effects of managed forests on wildlife populations Wildlife ecologist Chris Maguire, an assistant professor in OSU’s Department of Forest Science, focuses her research on wildlife habitat relationships in forest environments, animal responses to environmental change, and the comparative importance of dead wood to terrestrial vertebrates across a variety of forest types.

“Oregon State is an incredible place to be for leading-edge environmental research,” Maguire says. “I consider myself fortunate to be involved in projects that have such immediate relevancy to how we manage forests in the Pacific Northwest.”

OSU marine biologist Bruce Mate helps protect earth’s largest animals by studying their critical habitats and migration patterns.

Bruce Mate at sea
Bruce Mate at sea

Bruce Mate made national news in 2002 with his landmark study of massive blue whales. The director of OSU’s Marine Mammal Program at the Hatfield Marine Science Center also was featured in the BBC television production “Blue Planet,” airing on the Discovery Channel.

“We’ve focused on finding critical habitats, including where blue whales breed and calve,” Mate said. “We hope to reduce the impact of human activities on their recovery.”

Since 1993, Mate and colleagues have tagged 100 blue whales off California’s coast and tracked their movements by satellite. They found that the whales travel farther and faster than previously thought–seeking fertile upwelling zones for their krill diet–and that they feed throughout the year.

Even though the whales are the earth’s largest animals–up to 100 feet long and 100 tons–little was known about their migration and winter habits. Mate and his staff have developed state-of-the-art satellite-monitored radio tags and use other new technologies in their research. The ongoing studies have resulted in discoveries that dramatically increased the current level of knowledge about several species. Mate’s research is funded by the Marine Mammal Endowment at OSU and the Office of Naval Research.

OSU’s innovative 4-H Wildlife Stewards Program, designed to bring native plants back to school grounds, is catching on around the state and may be on the verge of becoming nationwide.

Oregon elementary students
Oregon elementary students

An innovative program to bring native plants and wildlife back to school grounds is growing out of the Portland area and into rural Oregon.

Oregon State University’s 4-H Wildlife Stewards Program was founded four years ago by Maureen Hosty, an urban natural resources faculty member in the Multnomah County office of the OSU Extension Service. Since that time, she has watched the program grow like a vine maple.

Today, 4-H Wildlife Stewards programs can be found at 42 schools. Most are in the greater Portland area, but in recent months schools in the mid-Willamette Valley, central Oregon, on the coast, and in southern Oregon have established schoolyard natural areas.

Now the program is poised to go national. Hosty is working with the National 4-H Council to secure corporate and government funding that could return native landscapes to schools across the country.

For the past four years, program volunteers, parents, teachers and community members have worked to establish natural areas on school grounds that create habitat for native plants and wildlife-and a learning laboratory for students, for teaching sciences ranging from ecology to math. These combination natural area/laboratories boast butterfly gardens, native woodlands, flowers, nesting boxes, nurseries, bogs, and wetlands.

Volunteers help organize fund-raising efforts to provide the $2,000 to $5,000 in start-up costs necessary to establish a natural area as 4-H Wildlife Stewards usually receives no direct school district money.

At Rose City Park Elementary School in northeast Portland, volunteers reclaimed a patch of natural green from the city block of pavement that has surrounded the school building for more than 50 years. The spot was replenished with rich soil and planted with native bushes and flowers. A Brownie troop created an in-ground birdbath. Students added nesting boxes and a worm composting station.

OSU students in chemical engineering are testing ways to recycle biological and human waste in weightless conditions. Their research may help make long space voyages possible.

OSU Students visit NASA
OSU Students visit NASA

When astronauts venture to the forbidden planet of Mars, it may be in part through the research efforts of students from Oregon State University. The OSU students are working on ways to recycle biological and human waste so that it can be used again and again on a long space voyage.

Such recycling technologies already exist, but they are dependent upon gravity. And in space, that is a problem. So NASA gave the College of Engineering a two-year, $500,000 grant to take advantage of its expertise in “fluidized bed” technology.

“On a long space voyage, everything has to be recycled,” explained Goran Jovanovic, an associate professor of chemical engineering. “If you’re going on a years-long trip to Mars, you won’t be taking along several years’ worth of food and water.”

Jovanovic assembled a team of undergraduate and graduate students and turned them loose on the problem. “We had to find another force to substitute for a gravitational one,” said master’s student Thana Sornchamni.

They decided on an electromagnetic current, with the idea that the magnetic force would act much like gravity. As a team, they created an instrument that would replace gravity with artificially controlled electromagnetic forces that could be adjusted to a variety of levels.

NASA officials were intrigued and invited the team to visit Houston to fully test its hypothesis. Waiting for them was the “Vomit Comet,” an aircraft specially designed to dive several thousand feet in mere seconds, causing periods of weightlessness-and nausea.

“I’ve wanted to be an astronaut since I was six years old,” said freshman Marcia Whittaker, an OSU chemical engineering student from Pendleton. “I’ll do whatever it takes to get up there in space.”

Joshua Stein, a senior from Portland, said, “The experience of weightlessness was incredible. I did get sick, but I would do it again in a moment.”

The results? “Not only did the team’s instrument work, it turned out to be more versatile than alternative technologies NASA planned to use in the future,” Jovanovic said.

And then, of course, there is the impact on the students. “This is what a real high-tech education can do,” Jovanovic said. “Give students the right opportunity and it will bring out all of the curiosity, ambition, and creativity that already exists within them.”