FY22 Research Funding Highlights

Nordica MacCarty sitting in front of a furnace.

The College of Engineering at Oregon State University is a proven leader in research, expanding knowledge and creating new engineering solutions in fields such as artificial intelligence, robotics, advanced manufacturing, clean water, materials science, sustainable energy, computing, resilient infrastructure, and health care.

In the 2021-2022 fiscal year, the College of Engineering notched its highest-ever total in research funding, with $75.8 million in awards — an increase of more than 17% over the previous record of $64.6 million, set the year before. With 321 new and continuing awards from 128 agencies (13 of them awarding $1 million or more), 140 faculty members were chosen as lead principal investigators.

Among the notable new sponsored projects:

Geoff Hollinger, associate professor of mechanical engineering and robotics, is leading a large team of researchers to develop a multi-arm robotics platform capable of performing complex manipulation tasks, such as cleaning the hulls of boats and performing routine maintenance of piers in challenging, low-visibility environments. The team, funded by a $6 million Office of Naval Research grant, will develop algorithms for coordination of the semiautonomous arms, build reactive sensor systems to provide tactile feedback, and create decision-support modules to provide easier control by human operators.

Nordica MacCarty, associate professor of mechanical engineering and the Richard and Gretchen Evans Scholar in Humanitarian Engineering, is working 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. MacCarty will work with other Oregon State researchers, including Chris Hagen, professor of energy systems engineering and interim director of research at OSU- Cascades, and David Blunck, associate professor of mechanical engineering, in collaboration with tribal and industry partners to develop a firebox retrofit that uses turbulent jets of air to improve combustion efficiency, even under suboptimal conditions. Funding for the project comes from a $2.5 million grant from the Department of Energy.

Haori Yang, associate professor of nuclear science and engineering, is developing sensors to monitor nuclear waste from within storage vessels. With the storage of nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain on hold, U.S. nuclear power plants have resorted to storing waste on-site in dry storage casks. Ensuring the integrity of these canisters is critical. The Department of Energy has awarded Yang $640,000 to design externally powered sensors that can be placed inside the canisters and read from the outside. Such sensors would allow the monitoring of internal conditions difficult to assess with external sensors alone.

The National Science Foundation awarded Andre Barbosa, associate professor of structural engineering, $530,000 to develop a building-design paradigm to improve earthquake resilience while integrating sustainable building practices. The new paradigm will be applied to the design of mass timber structures.

With $500,000 in funding from the Department of Energy, Goran Jovanovic, professor of chemical engineering, is developing a microchannel device for membrane-less recovery of lithium from unconventional sources, such as byproducts of shale gas extraction. Lithium is a critical element for advanced energy storage systems.

Matthew Johnston, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering, is creating a wearable device to assess levels of anti-epileptic medication, the dosage of which is notoriously difficult to manage. The device sits in the mouth like an orthodontic retainer and monitors saliva in real time. The project is funded by a $205,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health.

Sept. 1, 2022

Beyond 40 Hours – Janet Knudson

Two people holding a diagram at a dam.

Janet Knudson has volunteered at the Center Against Rape and Domestic Violence in Corvallis since early 2006. Sometimes Knudson wonders if her sister Jill would still be alive today had she known about CARDV or a similar sanctuary. Jill, one of Knudson’s three older sisters, was 46 when her husband killed her in September 2005.

“You never think something like this will happen to you or anyone you know,” Knudson said. “Maybe if she’d asked for help or known that there was a safe place to go rather than staying in her house, events would have been different.”

When 2006 rolled in, Knudson felt compelled to act. She still can’t remember how she learned about CARDV. Perhaps a friend mentioned the organization or she saw flyers taped to the door of a women’s restroom.

“They’re all over, but I rarely paid attention to them,” she said. “Maybe this time I did.” The important thing was that she called.

“I told the director at the time that I wanted to do something — that I didn’t want this to happen to anyone else.”

CARDV was established in 1981 when Corvallis Women Against Rape merged with the Linn-Benton Association for the Prevention of Domestic Violence. A headline from the organization’s brochure powerfully sums up its ideals: Everyone deserves to be safe. CARDV’s services include a 24-hour crisis hotline, two emergency safe houses with 16 beds and three cribs between them, emergency response, in-person advocacy, support groups, and education. With its professional staff of nearly 30 and more than 200 volunteers, CARDV serves about 7,000 people each year. Its most recent annual budget exceeded $1.25 million, and a quarter of that came through fundraising. That’s where Knudson has really made her mark: Many thousands of dollars have been raised through the events she’s planned and managed over the past 14 years.

For Knudson, CARDV has been a perfect fit — a place to focus her energy and work in the background to stop domestic violence from destroying families. Her first assignment was to recruit volunteers for the annual 5K fun run. The following year, she became the event’s volunteer coordinator.

The to-do list was long: Get permits to close roads and re-route traffic; enlist volunteers to set up and take down signs, banners, and course markers; find more volunteers to guide and encourage more than 500 runners; recruit still more to haul in and hand out water at the halfway point; and much more. One year, Knudson recruited players from the Oregon State University women’s basketball team. Another time, the men’s soccer team stepped up, and they’ve returned every year since. Benny the Beaver has made some appearances, and the Corvallis police chief and other high-profile local figures have emceed the event.

“There are so many moving parts at these events, and almost everything is done by volunteers,” Knudson said.

Knudson soon became co-chair of the fun run, and, after a few more years, moved on to manage the annual spaghetti dinner. This fall, she’ll also host a table at the Safe Families Breakfast.

“I like to mix things up,” she said. “I like variation and I believe events should change and evolve so they don’t get stale and boring.”

There’s not much chance of that happening, according to Letetia Wilson, CARDV’s executive director.

“Janet brings an enormous amount of energy and personal commitment to CARDV. She has an ability to develop lasting, meaningful connections with the community, which are invaluable,” Wilson said. “We rely on volunteers to do so much, especially for our events. All of those generous people are a big reason why we’ve been so successful.”

Before CARDV, Knudson had already logged a long track record of volunteering. She worked with June’s Kids Kloset in Philomath to provide clothing, diapers, and other necessities to families in need; served countless meals to hungry people at Stone Soup in Corvallis; and devoted many hours to the children’s ministry at her church. At CARDV, though, Knudson learned that she had a natural talent and affinity for planning and running big events.

“I really love that part of the work, and now I even do it for friends and family,” she said. “I’ve probably catered a dozen weddings, baby showers, funerals, and church events.”

She’s also learned something much darker: The prevalence of sexual and domestic violence is far greater than most people realize.

“It’s often hidden,” Knudson said. “Many victims deny there’s a problem or put a good face on things. Women may convince themselves that the situation will change. If someone has gotten to the point where they start thinking ‘Oh, you know, I don’t think this is abuse,’ then something’s wrong and they need to get help. Just knowing that there are people out there who care and who they can talk to is a huge deal, which is why it’s so important to make everyone aware of CARDV and other places they can turn to.”

Sept. 26, 2019

Beyond 40 Hours

odd Shechter, Anna Pakenham Stevenson, and John Stevenson in front of an Oregon Army National Guard UH-72A Lakota Helicopter.

“He might have survived, or he might have succumbed to exhaustion, dehydration, or hypothermia,” said Todd Shechter (’99 B.S., Management Information Systems), a member of the all-volunteer Corvallis Mountain Rescue Unit (CMRU).

Not every CMRU mission has a happy ending, and at the start of each one — a dozen or more a year — that nagging question hangs in the air: Is this going to be a rescue or a body recovery?

From 6:30 a.m. on Sept. 9, 2017, three men from CMRU had bushwhacked and rappelled through steep terrain near Natural Phantom Bridge, a 60-foot rock arch eight miles northwest of Detroit, Oregon. They were looking for a 40-year-old man who’d headed out on an overnight camping trip with a day’s supply of food. He should have returned two days earlier. The searchers came up empty, as did teams dispatched by the Marion County Sheriff’s Office and a pair of Oregon Air National Guard helicopters.

When an empty campsite was found a few miles north of CMRU’s position, the command center, located 25 miles to the northwest, asked them to check it out. They found worrisome signs: the man’s tent, food, and sleeping bag. They suspected he had moved even farther north, away from the nearest road, and they wanted to give chase. Instead, the incident commander instructed them to retreat south and prepare to start fresh in the morning. But they had other ideas.

“I remember getting on the radio and saying, ‘There’s a trail leading north, and we think the guy took it, why not let us check it out?’” Shechter said. “We felt good, the weather was good, and we had plenty of daylight, food, and water.”

That did the trick. The team ascended through thick vine maple and crested a ridgeline a couple of hours later. By then, late afternoon, they were resigned that they wouldn’t find their target that day. “That’s a bad feeling,” Shechter said. Then, everyone stopped in their tracks.

They all heard it. Shechter thought it might be a bird or another search team, but there it was again, and no mistake: “Help me, help me!”

“We thought we were done for the day, and all of sudden I’m thinking, ‘Oh man, that’s real,’” he said. “We just heard this guy, and he’s hidden down there somewhere.”

From the ridge, Shechter relayed compass bearings to one of the helicopters, directing it toward the source of the sound. Twice it circled in; twice it withdrew, contending with a tree canopy so thick that the team couldn’t see the aircraft when it was nearly overhead. So CMRU started down the slope, alternately calling the victim’s name and stopping to listen for a response. Not 10 minutes later, at 5:30 p.m., they found him lying on the ground a few hundred feet below the ridge. He was exhausted, hungry, and dehydrated, but uninjured.

“This shock runs through you, and you think, ‘Wow, we actually found this guy, he’s alive!’” Shechter said. “That doesn’t always happen.”

They filled him with hot food, warm Gatorade, and reassuring words, and then put him in dry clothes. Several hours later, they all strapped on headlamps and walked the man out, slowly, in darkness, three miles to the road.

“The stars aligned for this guy, because we were the last team in the field and we were his last hope for the night,” Shechter said. “Sometimes you just
luck out.”

It’s great when luck bends your way, but it’s not luck that rouses three people from warm beds, two hours before dawn, on a Saturday to help someone in desperate need.

For Shechter, who is from Fairbanks, Alaska, rescuing people runs in the family. His father was a fire chief and his brother is a paramedic. In 2005, he joined CMRU, a tight-knit band of about 25 men and women.

“It’s just a wonderful group that wants to give a little back to our community,” Shechter said. “We trust each other with our lives. We have to. It can be draining, but also very rewarding, to help people who are having the worst day of their life.”

After every mission, the team reviews its performance and lessons learned — what they did, what they saw, and what could be fixed. If it was a body recovery, an entirely different emotional support component plays in.

“Everybody deals with it in their own way, but it’s very important to come together as a team and talk things through,” Shechter said. “When we come home to Corvallis, we go our own ways. Sometimes we go right to work, sometimes to our homes and families, sometimes to sleep. Whatever you need to do; life continues, and you have to be able to go out and do it again.”

Photo: Courtesy of Corvallis Mountain Rescue Unit

Sept. 18, 2018
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