An OSU-based team hopes to send a self-guiding driverless vehicle over a rugged desert course for the challenge–and a shot at $2 million.

NOTE: The Oregon WAVE team’s participation in the 2005 Grand Challenge ended at the semifinal level—an extraordinary accomplishment for a first-year competitor.

The Oregon WAVE team finished at the semifinal level
The Oregon WAVE team finished at the semifinal level

The challenge is immense.

Send a vehicle over a grueling 150-mile Southwest desert course without a driver or any human intervention, including remote control.

The reward is great.

The Department of Defense is offering $2 million to the team whose autonomous vehicle successfully completes the winding, obstruction-laden course the fastest within a 10-hour time period.

An OSU-based team of 30 engineering students, faculty members, and local engineers is among 40 semifinalists–and the only one from the Northwest–seeking the prize.

The impetus for entering the competition was the autonomous vehicle research of Belinda Batten, head of the OSU Department of Mechanical Engineering and faculty mentor for the team, as well as the interest of students and others.

“To be one of 40 finalists from an original field of 195 teams in our first year attempting this testifies to the creativity, ingenuity, and perseverance of the people involved,” Batten said. “It’s an incredible accomplishment.”

Matt MacClary, team member and engineering graduate student, agrees. “I knew this would be tough because many of the other teams have a lot more resources than ours, and many competed in the Grand Challenge race last year,” he said. “Our vehicle is one of the lightest and most fuel efficient in the running.”

While other teams put hundreds of thousands of dollars into their vehicles, the OSU-based team, called Oregon WAVE (Willamette Autonomous Vehicle Enterprise), spent about $5,000 to modify a mini-Baja car to reach the semifinals. The vehicle was donated by OSU’s 2003 Mini-Baja race team.

The next step in the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) test is head-to-head competition September 27 to October 5 in Fontana, California. The top 20 teams will advance to the national finals.

And if the OSU-based team should win the $2 million?

“I would anticipate it would be used to fund research in autonomous vehicles,” Batten said, “not simply ground vehicles, but there is a fair amount of work on campus that relates to autonomous underwater vehicles and autonomous air vehicles.”

Oregon WAVE team website

Belinda Batten website

College of Engineering site

DARPA Grand Challenge website

Corvallis Gazette-Times story on OSU team

A team consisting of OSU students and others is testing a propulsion system that could cut the time needed for a human flight to Mars.

Traveling to Mars might not take as long as we think
Traveling to Mars might not take as long as we think

When Marci Whittaker-Fiamengo describes the project she and other OSU undergraduate students are working on, she calls it “an out-of-this-world experience.”

And so it is. Marci, a senior in nuclear engineering, and Dan Wittmer, an electrical engineering senior, lead a student team working on ways to use nuclear power in a propulsion system that could substantially reduce the time needed for a flight to Mars.

“We’re not using nuclear fuel in the test,” Marci says, “but we’re doing a test of what the actual physical reaction in a nuclear reactor would be.”

Their idea impressed NASA officials enough that they agreed to test it in their Reduced Gravity Student Flight Opportunities program.

That means a trip to the Johnson Space Center in Houston this summer where the students will make presentations, work on experiments, and fly on NASA’s famed “vomit comet,” a large aircraft that simulates weightlessness in long, steep dives.

Dan and Marci have been on previous NASA flights through their participation in other student projects. “The nearest thing I can compare the ride to is when you’re in an elevator and it just drops,” Dan says. “That’s like a millisecond, though, and this goes on.”

The team has five OSU students (Brooke Butler, Adam Reiner, and Michael Rutherford, in addition to Dan and Marci), five from Western Oregon University, and a high school student from Salem. In addition, OSU student Cody Sheehy, is filming the students for a documentary on their project.

Marci and Dan plan careers in the space industry, and both would like to eventually go into space. They say OSU’s hands-on education and supportive professors have prepared them well.

Meanwhile, the team is carrying the story of the project and the space program to students in schools around the state. “This is an important program. It needs to continue. That’s the message we carry,” Dan says.

The Oregon Space Grant Consortium has provided much of the financial assistance for the student project. “They have been a major supporter of our program from its infancy to where we are today, and without them this program would have diminished long ago,” Dan says.

OSU student team news release

Reduced Gravity Student Flight Opportunities program website

OSU College of Engineering website

Oregon Space Grant Consortium website

Josè Reyes leads an OSU team designing a safer, smaller, more streamlined nuclear reactor.

Jose Reyes is designing better nuclear reactors
Jose Reyes is designing better nuclear reactors

As a powerful and potentially clean source of energy, nuclear power could offer a solution to the Earth’s dwindling supply of oil and fossil fuels.

But in a world that recalls the Chernobyl Nuclear Disaster, nuclear energy is seen by many as a catastrophe waiting to happen.

Enter a team of OSU nuclear engineers led by Josè Reyes, interim director of the OSU Department of Nuclear Engineering.

By eliminating pipes, pumps, and moving parts, the engineers have created a new reactor design that is simpler, less costly to build, and based on passively safe concepts that take advantage of natural forces such as gravity, natural circulation, convection, and evaporation.

In short, the new reactor has fewer parts that can fail than previous generations of nuclear plants. “Because our design is so simple, the reactor is much safer,” says Reyes.

The team’s innovative approach enables the reactor to fit on a single railcar, run for five years between refueling shutdowns, and be installed for a fraction of the cost of a traditional nuclear plant.

The team is considering the patent potential of the design and has completed testing the first prototype for the U.S. Department of Energy. The promise for the system is so great that many other countries, including Argentina and South Korea, are considering similar designs.

In addition to Reyes, the project team includes OSU professors Brian Woods, Qiao Wu, and Todd Palmer, as well as partners at the Idaho National Engineering Lab and Nexant/Bechtel.

Reyes is a key innovator on the team and at OSU. In the past 10 years, he has leveraged an initial $4,000 grant into more than $13 million in research funding–part of the reason the graduate program in nuclear engineering is currently ranked ninth in the nation by U.S. News & World Report.

And, as one of the nation’s leading Hispanic engineers, Reyes was named “Role Model of the Week” in early March by HENAAC, a nonprofit corporation dedicated to promoting careers for Hispanics in engineering, science, technology, and mathematics.

Josè Reyes nuclear engineering faculty page

Large-Scale Energy Systems cluster at OSU

Nuclear Engineering and Radiation Health Physics at OSU

OSU student engineers finished first and third in cars they designed and built for the 2004 Mini-Baja West competition.

Team members pose in front of the award winning design
Team members pose in front of the award winning design

Battling a dirt and rock strewn course near Portland–as well as more than 90 teams from schools as far away as Florida and Mexico–OSU students finished first and third overall in the Society of Automotive Engineers 2004 Mini-Baja West competition.

Belinda King, head of OSU’s department of Mechanical Engineering, said winning first and third is an unprecedented accomplishment for the OSU engineering program. The students competed with students from some of the nation’s best engineering programs on a grueling course that included crawling over huge boulders and logs, as well as a four-hour endurance leg.

And the finish was no fluke. In 2003, an OSU team finished second in the same competition at Logan, Utah.

The interdisciplinary OSU team, coached by mechanical engineering professor Bob Paasch, designed, modeled, tested, and built the racers.

“This definitely shows that OSU’s hands-on approach to engineering education works and works well,” King said.

It worked well for the students pictured above with one of the winning cars. Darren Johnson (right) graduated in June of 2004 went to work at Warn Industries, where he had previously done an internship, and is now a design engineer at the company.

After the team’s victory at the competition, David Elia (left) was contacted by recreational vehicle manufacturer Polaris with an offer of a paid internship. “This is my dream job, and I got it before graduation,” says Elia, now a senior. “And the amazing thing is they called me!”

News release on OSU group’s mini-Baja win

OSU mini-Baja group home page

OSU Department of Mechanical Engineering

Kent Abel is working on a process that will allow him to look through steel and nonmetallic pipes.

Kent Abel is working on x-ray vision to see through steel
Kent Abel is working on x-ray vision to see through steel

He’s not faster than a speeding bullet.

He can’t leap tall buildings in a single bound.

But Kent Abel is working on seeing through steel.

As part of his research on the flow of bubbly material through pipes, Abel is using powerful neutron beams from OSU’s nuclear reactor to get the 3-dimensional images he needs to investigate high pressure and high temperature processes in thick steel pipes.

And Abel, who is working toward a Ph.D. in nuclear engineering, finds himself at the cutting edge of research in the area of finding industrial applications for magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technology.

Working with faculty members in nuclear engineering, Abel has found a new use for the huge MRI machines normally found in hospitals. He is using them to obtain concentrations and velocity profiles for a variety of gas-liquid flows that are typical of industrial fluid processes that take place in PVC and other nonmetallic pipes.

“Nobody else is using an MRI to do this,” Abel says. “We’re able to obtain an incredible amount of information on complex flows with the single touch of a button.”

Because there is a variety of research that could be done with an MRI, the College of Engineering is working with various other colleges on campus to obtain an MRI at OSU. “It’s very exciting,” Abel says.

Engineering newsletter article on Abel’s research

OSU’s Open Source Lab is becoming a focal point for Open Source software development at the university and beyond.

Open source development is growing in popularity
Open source development is growing in popularity

With his enthusiasm about the potential of open source software, Scott Kveton relishes the challenge of helping OSU become a critical worldwide center for open source development.

Kveton, program director for OSU’s Open Source Lab, says the university got into open source because it was a great way to solve computing problems inexpensively.

“Open source software is free and open, so we are able to use and modify whatever is out there,” he says. “Because we are a large university with a lot of specialized needs, open source meets our needs in many cases better than shrink-wrap software.”

The basic idea behind open source is that any programmer can freely read, redistribute, modify, and improve the source code for a piece of software, making it evolve much more rapidly than conventional software.

“Open source fits in well with the university mentality of open research,” Kveton says. “We say, ‘Here are our results, take a look at them, test them, and make them better if you want.'”

Some of the better-known open source projects are the Linux operating system and the Mozilla web browser, and OSU has become an open source player by hosting some of the major projects.

Over half of OSU’s infrastructure is operating on open source tools, Kveton says, and open source is being used in a number of areas, including e-mail, web servers, and domain name space management.

One of the biggest areas of growth for open source software use may well be on the computer desktop. “Open source solutions can provide a fantastic alternative to Windows, something that is more secure and more resistant to viruses and can be tweaked to meet our needs,” he says.

OSU Open Source Lab

Open source initiative website

Graduate student Jeff Bender won a prestigious Intel Foundation Ph.D. fellowship for his involvement in OSU’s groundbreaking transparent electronics research.
Electrical Engineering has developed the world's first see-through transistor
Electrical Engineering has developed the world's first see-through transistor

When OSU scientists developed the world’s first see-through transistor earlier this year, it was another step toward the next generation of electronics components.

“This is a significant new advance in basic electronics and materials science,” says John Wager, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at OSU. “There’s no doubt it will open the door to some interesting new products and businesses, but we’re not sure what all they might be.

“It’s a little bit like lasers when they were first developed in the 1960s,” Wager says. “People at first thought they were an interesting novelty, but no one was quite sure what they could be used for. Later on, lasers became the foundation of dozens of products and multi-billion dollar industries. Right now, we’re just beginning to think about what you could do with a transistor you can see through.”

OSU’s efforts in this area have been interdisciplinary, featuring researchers in chemistry, physics, and chemical engineering, as well as Wager’s department.

The research has been reported in the journals “Science” and “Applied Physics Letters” and even earned Wager an invitation to appear on the National Public Radio show “Science Friday.”

Jeff Bender, who co-authored the article in “Science,” says OSU’s approach to engineering education allowed him to be so deeply involved in the project.

“A new grad student here can be in the clean room doing research right from the get-go.” Bender says. In many other major universities, graduate students don’t get deeply involved for their first year and may not have much control over what they can do. “OSU is very different from that,” he says. “It’s a lot more hands-on and there is a lot more collaboration with industry on research projects.”

News release, first transparent transistor

Graduate student co-authors “Science” article

Wager appears on “Science Friday”

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

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