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

OSU Alum Don Pettit has gone a long way in his career. All the way to the International Space Station and back, in fact.

Pettit in his spacesuit
Pettit in his spacesuit

Donald Pettit has had a lifetime of adventures packed into the past six months. Initially a backup member of the Expedition 6 International Space Station crew, Pettit was chosen to go last November when another astronaut was medically disqualified.

Once at the station, Pettit did two space walks that he hadn’t anticipated. Then his stay was increased from four months to six months when the U.S. Shuttle fleet was grounded following the Columbia disaster Feb. 1. Finally, the trip was capped off by returning to Earth in a Russian Soyuz capsule that dropped steeply to Earth and missed its landing site by 290 miles.

For Pettit, who has been in the astronaut program since 1996, the experience was the culmination of a lifelong goal. “I have wanted to fly in space ever since I was a kid,” he said. “I remember John Glenn flying in space and wanted to be like him.”

Pettit, a 1978 OSU chemical engineering graduate, remembered his alma mater during the trip, engaging in a high-tech conversation from space with two of his professors, Octave Levenspiel and Goran Jovanovic, and a group of engineering students.

Pettit told the group that a typical workday for the space station crew started at 7:30 a.m. and ended about 12 hours later. Except, he said, when a shuttle is docked at the station. Then, he said, the astronauts work around the clock. “It’s kind of like what you do down there during finals week,” he told the students.

Don Pettit’s space chronicles

News articles about Pettit’s space journey

OSU students in the College of Health and Human Sciences work one-on-one with special-needs kids to improve skills and self-confidence.

Lai Saeturn, a student in the college, works on hand motor skills with Kaycee Settlemire
Lai Saeturn, a student in the college, works on hand motor skills with Kaycee Settlemire

Most Friday evenings, as many as 80 children and young adults excitedly congregate in the OSU Women’s Building gymnasium to do things that most of us take for granted. Catching a ball. Swinging a bat. Climbing warily atop a balance beam.

It’s part of the Special Physical and Motor Fitness Clinic offered by the College of Health and Human Sciences. Benton County United Way and Hewlett-Packard sponsor the clinic, which is designed to help children with all kinds of disabilities work on fitness, motor skills, and aquatic skills. But mostly they just have fun.

The skills these youngsters develop will help them with day-to-day life in their classrooms, on playgrounds, and at home. An even deeper imprint is made on the undergraduate and graduate students who work with children in the clinic. In the photograph, Lai Saeturn, a student in the college, works on hand motor skills with Kaycee Settlemire.

Oregon State is becoming nationally known for its Movement Studies in Disability program, and top doctoral students are lured to campus by this reputation and by outreach programs like the clinic. Undergraduate students in a variety of fields gladly give up their Friday evenings for the chance to work with the kids.

“It’s hard to say who gets more out of it–the OSU students or the kids,” says Jeff McCubbin, who directs the clinic and the movement studies program. “I think it’s safe to say everyone comes out a winner.”

OSU English professor Jon Lewis explores the symbiotic relationship between film and culture in America.

Jon Lewis
Jon Lewis

With wry wit and an academic’s analytical mind, professor Jon Lewis has taught film and cultural studies in the OSU English Department since 1983. He cheerfully admits that he has one of the best jobs at Oregon State University.

Lewis has a growing national reputation as an author and a critic of the film industry. He was recently named the editor of Cinema Journal, the nation’s leading critical and scholarly journal in film studies. Cinema Journal is sponsored by the Society for Cinema Studies, a group that includes university faculty, graduate students, archivists, filmmakers, and others in the film industry.

Lewis also served as editor and contributor to The End of Cinema as We Know It: American Film in the 90s (NYU, 2002), an anthology of essays on American film in the 1990s. The book covers a variety of topics, including film censorship and preservation, the changing structure and status of independent cinema, the continued importance of celebrity and stardom, and the sudden importance of alternative video.

An earlier book that examined the Hollywood rating system, Hollywood v. Hard Core: How the Struggle Over Censorship Saved the Modern Film Industry, was favorably reviewed in The New York Times and other national publications. Lewis is the author of two other books on Hollywood: Francis Ford Coppola and the New Hollywood and The Road to Romance and Ruin: Teen Films and Youth Culture.

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.

Oregon State educators and researchers are having an impact in the metro area.

Lisa Conroy, Christopher Higgins and Jean Moule
Lisa Conroy, Christopher Higgins and Jean Moule

Lisa Conroy, Christopher Higgins, and Jean Moule are only a few of the links that give OSU an important and visible effect in the Portland area and around the state.

Conroy, a 4-H faculty member in OSU’s Washington County Extension Office, leads the innovative Web Wizards program that mentors Hispanic youth with the help of community partners, including Intel and the Intel Latino Network volunteers.

The students learn emerging technologies from their Intel mentors. In return, they teach computer skills to community members. Participants in the 4-H Web Wizards program have a 95 percent graduation rate, and 98 percent pursue post-high school education. More information

Higgins, assistant professor of civil engineering, is principal investigator in a project teaming OSU with the Oregon Department of Transportation to study the structural integrity of bridges. ODOT gave OSU $1.6 million to examine the severity of cracks in more than 500 Oregon bridges. An on-campus laboratory will enable OSU engineers to conduct full experiments on structural elements. “There is almost no data to determine how bridges actually fail under moving loads,” Higgins says. “This grant will give us the opportunity to address these issues.” More information

Moule, assistant professor of education, developed an “immersion” program that takes OSU student teachers into Portland to teach in predominantly African-American King Elementary School. And each year, busloads of King students visit OSU for exposure to the campus. The program began in spring 1998 and focused on the best ways to teach math and science to culturally diverse students. Moule says some differences in learning, such as emphasis on family or age, can be culturally based, and new teachers need to be aware of these differences. More information

OSU’s College of Engineering is revolutionizing engineering education through hands-on, real-world design.

OSU students with robot they built
OSU students with robot they built

The Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) at Oregon State University is making a fundamental change in the way engineering concepts are taught. The goal is to revolutionize engineering education by integrating classroom instruction with hands-on, real-world design and trouble-shooting experience.

The approach puts the fun and excitement into ECE, inspiring and retaining interest among students. Beginning in the first year, ECE students create their own TekBot™ robot and modify it throughout their college careers as they learn engineering concepts.

Unique to Oregon State and seed-funded by Tektronix, this program helps students understand how class content is interconnected. It also gives them hands-on experience in applying theoretical concepts to their robots, turning theories into realities. For example, seniors who’ve added several layers of sophistication to their TekBot™ can create a wireless, Internet-controlled robot that performs tasks remotely.

TekBots™ capitalize on creativity by encouraging students to experiment with their new creations. Sophomore Celia Hung (shown with fellow student Robert Bennett) says she has been looking forward to adding onto her robot since she finished it last year.

“It gives students a lot of hands-on experience and it’s definitely a lot of fun,” says Hung. “In lecture you’re presented with all this information about a certain electronic component. But when you get to lab, you can actually hold it in your hand and work with it.”

More information

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.