McGuire to lead CBEE

Gleeson Hall, Interim Head, Chemical Engineering, Bioengineering

Joseph McGuire, a professor at Oregon State University since 1987 has been appointed by Sandra Woods, dean of the College of Engineering, as interim head of the School of Chemical, Biological and Environmental Engineering (CBEE).

“Joe has experience as an interim head. He has developed and led a strong research program. He cares about students and teaching and he has the respect of the faculty and staff in CBEE,” said Woods. “I look forward to working with him to continue to build the CBEE faculty and to develop excellent, collaborative programs.”

Over the course of his 27 years at Oregon State, McGuire has sponsored 40 master’s and Ph.D. graduates, mentored more than 80 undergraduate research assistants, and hosted five postdoctoral research associates. He has delivered more than 100 conference presentations and approximately the same number of peer-reviewed scientific articles, and taught 21 different courses.

In his new appointment, McGuire will manage the school’s academic programs, which serve more than 925 undergraduate and 120 graduate students, and oversee a unit with 35 faculty and 6 staff. He will continue to conduct research on theoretical and experimental studies of biopolymer adsorption, structure, and function at interfaces, with emphasis on applications to bioprocess and biomedical materials technology.

“In this role, I expect to see that CBEE moves forward with high achievement and optimism during the interim period, fueled as much as possible through faculty empowerment,” said McGuire.

McGuire earned his bachelor’s degree from Georgia Institute of Technology and completed his master’s and doctoral degrees in chemical engineering at North Carolina State University.

Techno Stories from Space

In a riveting presentation laced with humor, scientific discovery and stunning photography, Don Pettit stood before a diverse audience packed with OSU students, professors, fellow alumni and middle school students at Stewart LaSells’ Construction and Engineering Hall last Friday.


A native of Silverton, Oregon, and a member of Beaver Nation, Pettit has accomplished what many of us have dreamed — to view the Earth from space. A 1978 Oregon State University graduate in chemical engineering, Pettit is a NASA astronaut and was on campus to be inducted into the College of Engineering’s Hall of Fame. A veteran of three space flights, he has logged more than 370 days in space, more than 13 spacewalk hours and has lived aboard the International Space Station for more than eleven months.


“Here is a picture of my home,” Pettit quipped, flashing a brilliant color photograph of the space station floating silently above Earth on the overhead screen. “You know, most government job applications now require you to list the addresses of where you have lived. The space station does not have a zip code. Even aircraft carriers have zip codes. The space station needs a post office box and zip code!”

CHE Alumni and astronaut Don Petit self-portrait in space

It was this special brand of scientist humor that endeared Pettit to young and old alike in his presentation entitled “Techno-Stories from Space” — a series of anecdotes and photographs of Pettit’s gravity-free experiments and experiences in his “office away from home” in the F region of Earth’s atmosphere 400 kilometers in space.


Pettit most recently returned to Earth on July 1, 2012, having flown there aboard a Soyuz craft from Kazakhstan. As the NASA flight engineer, he rocketed to space with a Russian and Belgian astronaut, docked the shuttle, and joined the other three space station crew members in a myriad of repair and maintenance functions, docking and off-loading of unmanned shuttles and unending scientific experiments.


Throughout his missions, Pettit has piqued Earth-bound audiences with his zero gravity experiments in videotaped vignettes chronicled on YouTube and Internet blogs with titles like Saturday Morning Science, Science Off The Sphere and the Diary of a Space Zucchini. He even recently announced the release of “Angry Birds in Space,” a space-age version of the popular video game involving weightless trajectories and atmospheric vortexes.


“Space is a frontier just like the bottom of the ocean, or on a glacier or under the lens of a microscope. Space just happens to be my frontier,” said Pettit. “A frontier is a place where normal intuition does not apply. Frontiers are places that are rich in discovery.”


From the physics and oscillations of spheres of water free-floating in the space station cabin to the sprout and growth of a zucchini plant through aeroponics and sixteen daily sunrises, Pettit chronicled his simple experiments of complex issues with humor, fascination and brilliant illustration.


“Things behave in space in a way we don’t normally get to see — it’s hard for your jaw to drop when you’re in a weightless environment,” said Pettit. “You never know how these kinds of simple observations bubble up years down the road.”

Pettit pictorially toured the audience through the mechanical workings of the space station galley through his description of the need for hot water to make his beloved Kona coffee in an astronaut “juice box.”


“The water for our galley comes from this refrigerator-size machine with peristaltic pumps, charcoal filters — everything a chemical engineer loves,” said Pettit. The water comes through a fractional distillation column in a drum circulating to create its own gravity. In essence, it’s a regenerative life support system, which comes directly from the space station toilets where it recovers potable water from the astronaut’s urine. “This machine takes yesterday’s coffee and turns it into today’s coffee,” joked Pettit.


There may be a big ‘yuck factor’ with this, but Pettit said we don’t know the meaning of the word desert until we leave planet Earth. “If we’re going to go on three-year missions to Mars, we’re going to need to recycle our water streams,” he said. “This is a good example of engineering research — working the bugs out while we are close to Earth and preparing for future longer trips in space.”


With Pettit’s lecture running 30 minutes longer than scheduled, the astronaut left his audience with National Geographic-quality photographs of star trails, Earth’s illuminated cities in the darkness of night and the Aurora Australis or Southern Lights.

Pettit also shared a self-produced music video of the sun-glassed astronaut opening up the multi-windowed cupola of the space station with a moon and sun rising at the same time — all to the tune of Credence Clearwater Revival’s “Bad Moon Rising.” The production is still awaiting copyright approval which currently prevents Oregon State’s home grown astronaut from posting it on YouTube — at least not yet.

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Street, City and Zip

Ancient Diatoms Could Lead to Change

Graduate student Jeremy Campbell displays the live micron scope

Diatoms, tiny marine life forms that have been around since the dinosaurs, could finally make biofuel production from algae truly cost-effective – because they can simultaneously produce other valuable products such as semiconductors, biomedical products and even health foods.

Engineers at Oregon State University concede that such technology is pushing the envelope a bit. But it’s not science fiction – many of the needed advances have already been made, and the National Science Foundation just provided a four-year, $2 million grant to help make it a working reality.

In theory, and possibly soon in practice, these amazing microscopic algae will be able to take some of the cheapest, most abundant materials on Earth - like silicon and nitrates - and add nothing much more than sunshine, almost any type of water, and carbon dioxide to produce a steady stream of affordable products.

The concept is called a “photosynthetic biorefinery.” Sand, fertilizer, a little sun and saltwater, in other words, might some day power the world’s automobiles and provide materials for electronics, with the help of a tiny, single-celled microstructure that already helps form the basis for much of the marine food chain and cycles carbon dioxide from the Earth’s atmosphere.

“This NSF program is intended to support long-range concepts for a sustainable future, but in fact we’re demonstrating much of the science behind these technologies right now,” said Greg Rorrer, an OSU professor and head of the School of Chemical, Biological and Environmental Engineering. Rorrer has studied the remarkable power of diatoms for more than a decade.

“We have shown how diatoms can be used to produce semiconductor materials, chitin fibers for biomedical applications, or the lipids needed to make biofuels,” he said. “We believe that we can produce all of these products in one facility at the same time and move easily from one product to the other.”

Biofuels can be made from algae, scientists have shown, but the fuels are a comparatively low-value product and existing technologies have so far been held back by cost. If this program can help produce products with much higher value at the same time – like glucosamine, a food product commonly sold as a health food supplement – then the entire process could make more economic sense.

Much of the cost in this approach, in fact, is not the raw materials involved but the facilities needed for production. As part of the work at OSU, researchers plan to develop mathematical models so that various options can be tested and computers used to perfect the technology before actually building it.

The key to all of this is the diatom itself, a natural nanotechnology factory that has been found in the fossil record for more than 100 million years. Diatoms evolved sometime around the Jurassic Period when dinosaurs flourished. A major component of phytoplankton, diatoms have rigid microscopic shell walls made out of silica, and the capability to biosynthesize various compounds of commercial value.

“Regular algae don’t make everything that diatoms can make,” Rorrer said. “This is the only organism we know of that can create organized structures at the nano-level and naturally produce such high-value products. With the right components, they will make what you want them to make.”

About the OSU College of Engineering: The OSU College of Engineering is among the nation’s largest and most productive engineering programs. In the past six years, the College has more than doubled its research expenditures to $27.5 million by emphasizing highly collaborative research that solves global problems, spins out new companies, and produces opportunity for students through hands-on learning.

Microproducts Breakthrough Institute

Innovation with an Impact

Biodiesel Microreactor

photo of kendra sharp

For Kendra Sharp, taking a faculty position at Oregon State University in 2010 was appealing because it meant more chances to collaborate—not just with colleagues in the College of Engineering, where she is an associate professor of mechanical engineering, but also with faculty in other departments and colleges around campus.

Sharp thinks these collaborations could lead to research discoveries that will make a real difference. “I’m really interested in working on technology that can lead to commercialization,” Sharp says. “I was excited to work on not just fundamental topics, but topics that are a little more applied and have a future in being able to help people.”

Sharp, and other researchers with similar goals, spend much of their time at the Microproducts Breakthphoto of brian paulrough Institute (MBI), a collaborative effort between Oregon State and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL). MBI’s mission is to create and develop micro- and nanotechnologies and then usher them through the process of commercialization. Many of these new technologies are focused on fields such as energy systems, microchannel heat and mass transfer processes, microreactor technologies, nanoparticle synthesis, and fabrication of microchannel components.

Sharp works with experimental fluid mechanics and microfluidics. One of her main projects through “Given the number of people in the world who rely on dialysis, this could have some transformative impact in the dialysis regime,” Sharp says.

The trick to the HD Plus device, says Brian Paul, a professor of manufacturing engineering and co-director of MBI, is the microchanphoto of goran jovanovicnel unit that reduces the overall size of the dialysis treatment system. “Being able to reduce size reduces cost and allows us to do things at home that we used to have to do at centralized facilities,” Paul says. “Dialysis treatment at home allows the patient to have kidney function that is more amenable to what a typical person would have.”

The concept for HD Plus was generated at Oregon State by Paul and Goran Jovanovic, MBI associate director and professor of chemical engineering. PNNL was instrumental in developing the concept, largely due to a robust and diverse intellectual property portfolio.

Startups like HD Plus become potentially viable commercial ventures by attracting funding and support beyond the stage where researchers are able to prove that their concept works. “Typical tech starts as proof of concept, then prototypPhoto of Ward TeGrotenhuise, then what we call the ‘valley of death,’ ” says Ward TeGrotenhuis of PNNL and co-director of MBI. “A lot of technologies get hung up at that point because it takes a lot of investment to take it to the next step. That’s when you need to find the entrepreneurs and venture capitalists.”

That’s where Oregon State’s Office of Commercialization can become essential in working with MBI to connect startups like HD Plus with potential management teams that can take them forward. ONAMI (Oregon Nanoscience and Microtechnologies Institute), a state-funded agency that collaborates with Oregon universities and PNNL, also funds startups in the often-critical “valley of death” stage.

The idea of moving research beyond proof of concept is something that TeGrotenhuis considers career-changing for him and has helped him connect with the MBI’s mission. “For most of my career I’ve had the perspective of a researcher. If I had a good idea and it was technically sound, showing that was enough,” he says. “Now I appreciate that the hardest part is not the technical demonstration, but pinpointing the commercial value that’s the driver towards taking it from an idea to a product.”

Researchers aren’t the only ones who benefit from seeing their work through MBI make an impact. Oregon State students can, too. “I’ve got former students who are working for some of these startup companies,” says Paul. “I take pride in the fact that we’re not just training them and sending them out, but also giving them opportunities to see significant impact—in the economy, in health care, and in clean energy industries.”

Crossing the Threshold