Academic Year Highlights 2022-2023

Our Story

Every year, we take great pride in showcasing our school's achievements. We share the most compelling stories, exciting statistics, and notable new hires that have contributed to our school's success. From groundbreaking research to innovative teaching methods, we celebrate the outstanding accomplishments of our students, faculty, and staff. Whether you're a prospective student, a current member of our community, or simply interested in learning more about us, join us in celebrating the Iincredible impact of our school.

Welding lab creates opportunities for industry partnerships

The College of Engineering’s acquisition of the Metals Manufacturing Research Group (informally called the welding lab) from Portland State University in summer 2021 has created an unparalleled opportunity for the college to expand industry-focused research and augment its materials engineering capabilities.

The lab’s 10,000-square-foot high-bay facility in Portland boasts a full suite of advanced, industrial-scale equipment for welding, alloy synthesis, and thermomechanical processing.

With a staff of four seasoned metallurgists, the lab focuses on industry-oriented research in physical and mechanical metallurgy, welding research and testing, computational and experimental alloy design and synthesis, hot deformation processing and modeling, and additive manufacturing.

Its goals include serving the metals community statewide, nationwide, and internationally through research, providing advanced solutions to research problems and projects in industry and government, and contributing to the research community.

Operations are funded almost entirely through projects commissioned by industry and government agencies, which turn to the lab to address difficult welding and other metallurgical challenges. For example, MMRG researchers applied lab-scale simulations, as well as other tools, to solve an alloy-processing problem that one of their clients had been unable to resolve for 30 years. The solution charted a course of optimal manufacturing and processing that minimized energy use and avoided material failure.

“The company started saving hundreds of thousands of dollars every year because of the work we did for them,” said Graham Tewksbury, the lab’s director and research associate professor of mechanical engineering.

“We offer a convenient and cost-effective way for organizations to outsource research and solve problems that are either too complex or too costly for them to do in-house,” said Benjamin Adam, a lab team member and research assistant professor of materials science and engineering. “It’s been a very successful model for years and a steady source of funding.”

A cleaner wood-burning stove

Oregon State University researchers have received a $2.5 million grant from the Department of Energy’s Bioenergy Technologies Office to reduce harmful emissions from wood-burning stoves — a primary source of heat in Native American communities and in low-resource areas in the United States.

Principal investigator Nordica MacCarty, the Richard and Gretchen Evans Scholar of Humanitarian Engineering and associate professor of mechanical engineering, is working with colleagues from the College of Engineering, the College of Liberal Arts, and tribal and industry partners to develop a firebox retrofit that injects turbulent jets of air to help stoves burn more cleanly and efficiently, even under suboptimal conditions such as wet wood or too much fuel in the firebox.

“Minimizing the impact of non-ideal stove operation is really important, because it contributes the most to fine-particle emissions, but it’s often been neglected during testing, research, and development,” MacCarty said. “Retrofitting will make rapid and affordable implementation possible in underserved and tribal communities that suffer disproportionate health effects from wood smoke exposure.”

Exposure to fine-particle emissions is linked to serious health issues, including asthma, bronchitis, and cancer. It can also aggravate heart and lung disease, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Preliminary testing suggests that forced-air, turbulent-jet retrofits can reduce a stove’s fine- particle emissions by up to 85%, says MacCarty.

“Our initial focus is on low-resource and tribal communities, but the fundamental combustion discoveries and design rules we develop around the injection of jets of forced air will also apply to wood-burning cookstoves, which are widely used in the developing world,” MacCarty said.

Robots to the rescue

Students and researchers in robotics and computer science from Oregon State University joined forces with their peers from Carnegie Mellon University last fall as “Team Explorer” in the final round of the DARPA Subterranean Challenge, sponsored by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

The challenge involved deploying a squad of coordinated, semiautonomous robots in a succession of increasingly difficult search-and-rescue exercises. Points were awarded for locating “artifacts” — 40 in all, ranging in size from a cellphone to a backpack — hidden in a darkened, underground obstacle course. Team Explorer came into the final round at the Louisville Mega Cavern strong, having taken first and second place in two preliminary trials.

DARPA launched the SubT Challenge in 2017 “to better equip warfighters and first responders to explore uncharted underground environments that are too dangerous, dark, or deep to risk human lives.” By design, the challenge strains the limits of existing hardware and software capabilities, in terms of autonomy, networking, perception, and mobility.

Led by Geoff Hollinger, associate professor of mechanical engineering and robotics, the Oregon State contingent was responsible for developing the multirobot coordination algorithms that determined where the team should look for artifacts. Hollinger earned his doctorate at Carnegie Mellon and collaborated with colleagues there in assembling Team Explorer. Their proposal was one of only seven selected for funding by DARPA — at $1.5 million per year, for up to three years of competition.

In the end, the team lived up to its name, earning the “Most Sectors Explored” award and taking fourth place in overall points.



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Research Funding

Building AI systems to assist older adults

The College of Engineering has joined a multi-institutional effort to establish the AI Institute for Collaborative Assistance and Responsive Interaction for Networked Groups, or AI-CARING. Funded by a five-year, $20 million grant from the National Science Foundation, the institute is dedicated to building intelligent systems to help people as they grow old.

As people age, safety concerns and isolation can pose challenges to independent living. The institute aims to develop artificial intelligence systems to support older adults who live in their own homes — including those with mild cognitive impairment — and their caregivers.

“An intelligent system could, for example, detect when the stove is left on and send a reminder to turn it off,” said Kagan Tumer, director of the Collaborative Robotics and Intelligent Systems Institute. “And if the stove wasn’t turned off, the system could send an alert to a family member or caregiver.”

Such a system could also be extended to support a full calendar of appointments, medication reminders, and schedules for multiple caregivers.

“An exciting part of AI-CARING is the possible development of AI agents that support repetitive or tedious tasks and free up time and energy for meaningful human-human interaction,” said Naomi Fitter, assistant professor of robotics.

Naomi Fitter and Kagan Tumer walking

Led by Georgia Tech, the institute also includes researchers from Carnegie Mellon University, the University of Massachusetts-Lowell, and Oregon Health & Science University.

Prototype lab partners on paddling project

Paddlers who want to leave their boat on the riverbank in Independence and explore the historic town won’t have to worry about their watercraft not being there when they return, thanks to the College of Engineering’s Prototype Development Lab.

In partnership with the Willamette Valley Visitors Association, Jonathan Cordisco, an undergraduate in the lab, has developed a locker system for kayakers, canoeists, and stand-up paddleboarders to secure their craft and gear if they want to go into town for a walk, a meal, or to stay the night.

“This project highlights how OSU and its students are able to work with organizations in highly collaborative ways, in this case to achieve some-thing that improves recreational activities and economic impact,” said lab director John Parmigiani, associate professor of mechanical engineering.

The Prototype Development Lab traces its roots to 2004, when Parmigiani joined the College of Engineering and began building contacts with regional companies so undergraduates could develop industrial prototypes as their senior capstone project.

As the lab has taken on increasingly large jobs, graduate students have been added to the mix, and in 2019 Parimigiani changed the focus of the lab to include consumer products. Over the years the lab has worked with organizations including Oregon Tool (formerly Blount International), Boeing, Daimler Trucks North America, Precision Castparts, Lora DiCarlo, and Benchmade Knife Company.

Engineering for social good

Two Oregon State graduate students participating in the humanitarian engineering program have received fellowships through the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program, earning three years of financial support with an annual stipend of $34,000. Ethan Copple is pursuing dual master’s degrees in industrial systems engineering and applied anthropology. Researching health care access in Guatemala in 2018 propelled him to seek NSF funding. Through systems consulting, he hopes to identify and solve problems in health care within international development contexts.

David Evitt came to Oregon State to earn his doctorate, co-advised by Nordica MacCarty and David Blunck, both associate professors of mechanical engineering. He hopes to bridge “cutting-edge combustion science and practical implementation” by developing cleaner cookstoves fueled by biomass, the primary energy source for an estimated 3 billion people worldwide.

Nordica MacCarty, associate professor of mechanical engineering and the Richard and Gretchen Evans Scholar of Humanitarian Engineering, works with Copple and Evitt, who are also Evans Family Fellows. She believes their research will benefit society.

“The fact that two graduate students in Oregon State’s humanitarian engineering program are NSF Fellows speaks to the caliber and commitment of the students we have attracted, as well as the relevance of engineering for social good,” MacCarty said.

Catalyzing materials

Melissa Santala, associate professor of materials science, has received a Fulbright U.S. Scholar Program Award in materials science for the 2022-23 academic year. Santala will be based at the Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa, where she will collaborate with researchers to study materials used as heterogenous catalysts, whose phases — liquid, solid, or gas — differ from those of their associated chemical reactants or products. Santala’s work will help clarify fundamental physical processes affecting the efficiency and environmental impact of platinum- containing heterogeneous catalysts, which show potential for applications in catalytic converters, methanol steam reforming, and desulfurization of petroleum. Santala is part of a record-tying cohort of seven Fulbright Scholars at Oregon State this year.

New Hire

Richard Wirz

Mechanical, Industrial, and Manufacturing Engineering