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

Student thrives at nexus of art and engineering

A picture of Paris Myers.

Paris Myers’ time at Oregon State University took the shape of a collage with a bit of everything in the mix.

An Honors College student graduating this spring with bachelor’s degrees in bioengineering and fine arts and minors in art history and popular music, Myers has been, among other things, an undergraduate researcher at Oregon State’s Collaborative Robotics and Intelligent Systems  Institute, a visiting research intern at Harvard’s John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, an intern for, and co-leader of Oregon State’s 2021 Marine Energy Collegiate Competition team that placed in a national competition.

It’s no wonder, then, that she was recently awarded the Joe Hendricks Scholarship for Academic Excellence and will be honored with a video highlighting her accomplishments at Oregon State’s 2022 Commencement.

“I’m extremely grateful to be awarded the Joe Hendricks scholarship,” Myers said. “There are hundreds of excellent graduating students at OSU, including 36 other nominees for this honor. I can’t emphasize that enough.”

Myers was nominated by her Honors thesis co-chair, Skip Rochefort, associate professor of chemical engineering, who describes her as a thinker, learner, and maker to the highest degree.

“Paris will change the world, sooner rather than later,” Rochefort said.

Myers was shown the value in blending art and science via hands-on learning early on by her parents. Once she started Crescent Valley High School in Corvallis, she took a course called Introduction to Art and Engineering taught by Adam Kirsch. 

“In that class, I realized combining art and engineering empowered me to engineer in a way that put humanity first and created scalable impact,” Myers said. “I had an intrinsic curiosity.”

Paris Myers
Graduating from high school at 16, Myers committed to cultivating her dual art and engineering interests. Trusting her intuition about where she would best thrive, she contacted both Oregon State and the University of Oregon. Immediately and enthusiastically, Toni Doolen, dean of the Honors College and professor of industrial and manufacturing engineering, responded to her.

“It was just a match,” explained Myers. “A special shoutout to Dean Toni Doolen. I did things differently, and the Honors College supported me and stood behind my interdisciplinary approach to my education and research.”

While at Oregon State, Myers has engaged in research, internships, and other professional and charitable opportunities. Last summer, she received funding from Doolen and the Honors College and Larry Rodgers, dean of the College of Liberal Arts, to intern with the Harvard Biorobotics Laboratory. There, she co-created a study that combined haptics and soft robotics, visual art, and curatorial studies. Myers’ own curatorial experience began while interning with Oregon State’s Kirsi Peltomäki, professor of art and contemporary art historian.

“Dr. Peltomäki was my main advisor for my art history minor. I loved every second of it, and I’m honored to have her on Honors thesis committee” Myers said. “I also loved my experience doing a minor in popular music. I’m thankful and lucky to have earned the graduating senior music award.”

Inspired by Solomon Yim, professor of coastal and ocean engineering and structural engineering, who serves at her other Honors thesis co-chair, Myers will continue her passion for sustainable engineering by collaborating with interdisciplinary teams to promote renewable, innovative solutions.

Myers also serves her community through her art. When the pandemic struck in 2020, she launched her fundraising campaign, Paintings for Produce, working with Gathering Together Farm in Philomath to raise $10,000 for food donations to Benton County families through the commission of custom paintings. She also advocates for accessible education; in 2021, she interned for, a startup from the co-founder of Master Class that designs courses filling baccalaureate core credit requirements for all learners at a low cost.

Days after she graduates, Myers will join the MIT Media Lab’s biomechatronics team as a full-time researcher working with famed scientist Hugh Herr

“I’m thrilled to combine art and engineering — function and form — to create solutions that integrate the human body, design, and robotic systems,” Myers said.

As she reflects on her undergraduate career, Myers wishes success to current and prospective Oregon State engineering and arts students. She suggests it is OK not to know what they want at first, but they should “never take themselves out of a room” and trust their capacity to learn, even if nontraditionally.

“There are many different ways to be excellent,” Myers said. “How you create artwork, engineer systems, or solve problems might differ from how your peers do it. And that’s absolutely OK.”

June 7, 2022

Reaching new heights: Pioneering female engineer left a space-age legacy

Black and white image of engineers

Growing up, Elaine Gething Davis, ’49, would hear an airplane soaring above her family’s coastal Oregon farm and rush outside with everyone else to watch it. Later, living near a military base during World War II, she was amazed by the variety of airborne machines leaping into the sky. After the war, her father bought a surplus airplane and gave the whole family flying lessons. Thus began a lifelong fascination with things that fly.

When she arrived at Oregon State College in 1945, she was the sole woman in her mechanical engineering class.

“I can recall the day as a freshman that I went to orientation. I could hear the rumble-rumble-rumble of a lot of people talking all the way down the hall, coming from a big auditorium,” she said in a 2017 interview for Boeing’s oral history archive. “When I stepped up to the door, all of a sudden, everybody quit talking.”

Elaine Davis was photographed
for a student engineering publication
in an Oregon State test laboratory.

She was one of six women among the undergraduate engineering students on campus. Before them, only three female students had ventured into engineering at Oregon State.

Her male classmates taunted her that she was “just here to get married.” She told an Oregon State Technical Record reporter that she was in engineering for a career and was not considering marriage.

“I simply would not give up, as hard as it was,” she said in the oral history. “I figured, my parents are sacrificing to send me to school. I couldn’t disappoint them.”

Many older students — men returning to Oregon State after the war — were supportive and kind. She had the support of her professors as well, especially Ben Ruffner, an aeronautical pioneer who served as a mentor to her in college and would later prove vital in her career. Eventually, even the scoffers came to treat her with respect. By her junior year, she’d zeroed in on the aeronautical option within her mechanical engineering major and was thriving in her classes.

She graduated with top honors, was quickly hired by Boeing, and moved to Seattle, renting a room at a residential hotel for women. She couldn’t wait to put her engineering training to use. But Boeing had relegated her to a clerk position. She spent her days entering data alongside other women. It was tedious, but she kept her head down and gave it her all.

One day, about a year after she’d been hired, Ruffner visited the offices to do some consulting for Boeing. After saying hello to Davis at her clerk’s desk, he marched straight to the head of the company’s human resources department. He told them he wouldn’t work with Boeing unless the company put Davis in a position worthy of her skills.

Almost immediately, Davis was reclassified as an aerodynamicist and became one of the first female space engineers at Boeing. She helped design a new wind tunnel, mapped out launches and worked on putting machines into orbit.

After hours, Davis loved to cut loose. Every Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday, she’d go with her roommate to dance the night away across Seattle. That’s how she met her husband, Phil.

“He was an electronic engineer, and we had a lot of the same interests,” she said.

She wasn’t allowed to talk about her work, even with her husband. The Cold War was ramping up, and she was doing classified work in partnership with the military. She started working on SRAMs, short range attack missiles, that could deliver nuclear warheads using a computer program to simulate their launch.

“It was scary,” she said. “I had quite a few nights of nightmares. I personally don’t believe war solves anything, but unfortunately in this world, you have to make sure you’ve got your defenses, because otherwise you’re vulnerable.”

After retiring in 1992, Davis sailed the San Juan Islands with Phil and kept dancing into her 80s. She died in 2018 at age 90.

Having grown up poor, she understood the importance of scholarships, and planned her legacy accordingly. She created a scholarship at Oregon State to support those in need, “of all races, genders and anything else,” including students of all majors. The first Elaine Gething Davis Scholarship was awarded in 2020.

April 27, 2022

Designing sustainable outdoor products

Oskar Zheren in ski clothing.

Oskar Zehren and his classmates will be the first-ever Oregon State University students to earn a bachelor’s degree in outdoor products when they graduate this spring. 

Based at Oregon State University-Cascades in Bend, the interdisciplinary outdoor products degree program, introduced in 2019, has given Zehren the knowledge to navigate all stages of outdoor product development, including conceptualization, design, manufacturing, and marketing.

“I really enjoy the design classes, and I think it’s also beneficial to learn about all the sectors of a business, focusing on marketing and sustainability,” Zehren said. “The well-roundedness of the degree is what I find to be most beneficial. It expands your knowledge of an outdoor company from top to bottom."

Indeed, the outdoor products program prepares students to be innovative industry leaders while emphasizing environmental sustainability, which is crucial to the field. It also provides students with practical experience beyond the classroom. For Zehren, who relishes both outdoor recreation and the technical aspects of design, undertaking the degree was a “no-brainer.”   

“I grew up in Portland, and outdoor recreation drew my attention when I was younger. I always wanted to go and explore the woods. It kind of started with camping and backpacking, and eventually, I picked up snowboarding. That’s actually what brought me out to Bend, Mount Bachelor,” he explained.

Zehren began his postsecondary education by taking foundational courses at Central Oregon Community College before Oregon State launched the outdoor products degree. By that point, he had grown to love living in Bend, and he enrolled in the program as soon as it launched.

“Whenever I was at home, not snowboarding or camping, I was researching gear; it’s fascinating to me,” Zehren said. “There’s an outdoor product design program in Utah that I was looking at, but I love Oregon, this beautiful state. It was a pretty easy choice.”

Notably, Oregon is home to some of the biggest outdoor industry brands; Bend hosts the headquarters of both Hydro Flask and Puffin Drinkwear. In fact, Zehren is working with Puffin for his capstone project, for which he is helping conduct a sustainability assessment created by Bluesign Technologies to recognize and recommend eco-conscious practices during product development.

“We’re looking at the materials used and the chemical components of all their products to show them what's going on in their supply chain, and, hopefully, to give them opportunities to become more sustainable,” Zehren said.

Puffin is not Zehren’s introduction to the field, however; he is also affiliated with Ride Snowboards as a brand subrepresentative to promote the company in the Pacific Northwest, where he interns with the regional brand representative to provide PNW snowboarders with gear and help them create social media content and video projects promoting Ride.

Further, he has been working at Tactics, a snowboard and skateboard shop in Bend, for the past five years. Working at Tactics has given him the chance to directly implement his classroom knowledge; he offers technical assistance to customers with a variety of outdoor sports and recreation interests and ability levels, maintaining industry knowledge of both hard goods and soft goods.

Zehren advises others who are contemplating Oregon State’s outdoor products degree to consider working at an outdoor recreation store for both the experience as well as networking opportunities with industry representatives. 

Zehren is determined to join an outdoors equipment manufacturer when he graduates, then bolster his industry knowledge further and, possibly, go into business for himself one day. Ultimately, his experience in the outdoor products program has motivated him to research, design, and sell more sustainable products.

“The goal is to just keep gaining as much experience as possible, especially on the sustainability side,” Zehren said. “Looking at bigger brands that are really focused on sustainability, Patagonia or Arc'teryx or anything like that. I want to gain as much knowledge as I can at a brand like that and then take that to a smaller brand or my own brand in the future.”

April 13, 2022

Intel engineer adapts computational chemistry skills learned at Oregon State

A picture of Kingsley Chukwu looking at a piece of machinery.

After obtaining his Ph.D. from Oregon State University’s College of Engineering in 2021, Kingsley Chukwu has transitioned to a successful career as an electronic design automation tools software engineer at Intel. However, Chukwu is not your typical software engineer; while he has a minor in computer science, his degree is in chemical engineering with a focus on computational chemistry.

“I use computer quantum software to understand how atoms and molecules will behave on catalyst surfaces,” Chukwu said. 

Chukwu’s doctoral research, a National Science Foundation-funded project, was conducted in the lab of Líney Árnadóttir, associate professor of chemical engineering. He implemented computational methods to better grasp how water and other solvents affect the selectivity and rate of acetic acid-based chemical reactions on palladium and platinum surfaces.

Notably, Intel is famous for manufacturing semiconductors, not catalysts. Even though Chukwu’s research was not directly related, the company understood that his training and perspective as a chemical engineer would be invaluable. 

“It is challenging for experimentalists to understand the mechanisms underlying chemical reactions on catalyst surfaces, because most of the time they can only observe the products or some intermediates,” Chukwu said. “As a computational chemist, I fundamentally understand the mechanisms behind these chemical reactions on catalyst surfaces, so we can design a catalyst system to get a certain product.”

Chukwu conceptualizes his team at Intel as “gatekeepers.” They are responsible for verifying the design of products in the final stages before they are manufactured.  

“I write software for physical design verification of chips or microprocessors before they go to the foundry, mostly making sure that spaces between wires or the geometry in the design matches the design specifications before manufacturing,” Chukwu said.

Chukwu says a combination of transferable and technical skills he honed at Oregon State — problem-solving, critical thinking, project management, and good old Beaver grit — prepared him to excel at Intel. His proficiency with the Linux operating system and the programming skills he developed as a doctoral student writing scripts in Python and C++ have benefited him. He specifically recalls a VLSI system design course with Houssam Abbas, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering.

“That class gave me the confidence that I can work in a place where I can design chips or verify chips using computer-aided designs,” he said.

As future College of Engineering graduates prepare to join Chukwu at Intel, he recommends they continuously strive to improve their programming skills and take courses to boost proficiency in the use of CAD tools for chip design. This will increase their employability, he says, reflecting on his own experiences in the college:

“They offered me all the opportunities that allow me to do what I’m supposed to do here.”

Feb. 7, 2022

Lidar-based building information models

A visualization of Lidar techonology for seeing the structure of buildings.

Oregon State researchers, led by Yelda Turkan, assistant professor of civil and construction engineering, are using deep learning algorithms to discover better, faster way for architects and engineers to design, construct and manage buildings.

Turkan and her colleagues in construction, geomatics, and computer science have been developing building information models, or BIMs, from lidar data. Lidar, short for light detection and ranging, is a remote sensing method that collects detailed 3D measurements of the built environment. But it is prohibitively expensive to manually convert that data into useful, digital information models. 

“Our team is turning lidar data into BIMs by automating the tedious and time-consuming manual work required to develop and maintain a BIM,” said Yelda Turkan, the project’s lead principal investigator. “We are doing this with deep learning algorithms to process the lidar data. Modelers – the people who convert lidar data into BIMs – will be able to model buildings within hours instead of weeks and thus transform how the built environment is managed and maintained.”

BIMs are used to create and document building and infrastructure designs. Each detail of a building comprises a model used to explore design options and to create visualizations that help people understand what a building will look like before it’s constructed. The model is also used to generate the design documentation needed for the construction process.

BIMs are also used for managing existing buildings, facilities, and infrastructure. This can be more challenging than using BIM for design because what exists in the real world, including imperfections, must be captured and modeled.

The team’s AI-based algorithms automatically segment, classify, and extract real-world features to create intelligent models for building design, energy management, renovation, and emergency planning.

The end product of the OSU team’s work will be a combination of a database and a deep learning framework that accelerates the creation of BIMs from lidar data, Turkan said.

The project is part of a National Science Foundation effort called the Convergence Accelerator program that seeks to drive transformative research in artificial intelligence and quantum technology. Following a successful phase one development period, NSF has awarded Turkan and her collaborators a two-year phase two grant worth $5 million to continue the work. College of Engineering collaborators include Rakesh Bobba, associate professor of electrical engineering, Fuxin Li, associate professor of computer science, and Mike Olsen, professor of geomatics.

Dec. 30, 2021
Associated Researcher

Great strides

A robot walking the stairs outside of the Memorial Union.

In a dramatic breakthrough for robotics, researchers in the College of Engineering at Oregon State University used a reinforcement learning algorithm operating in a simulated environment to train a bipedal robot to walk, run, hop, skip, and climb stairs in the real world.

The “sim-to-real” learning process represents a transformation in robotics control, according to Jonathan Hurst, professor of mechanical engineering and robotics.

“It’s groundbreaking work that’s simply never been done before,” said Hurst, who developed the robot, named Cassie, at Oregon State in 2017 and later began marketing it through Agility Robotics, the spinoff company he cofounded.

Typically, bipedal robots learn to move using reference trajectories that specify the positions and velocities of limbs and joints. A reinforcement learning algorithm, which earns rewards for imitating those trajectories, trains the neural network that controls the robot.

But finding good reference trajectories can be difficult; so is ensuring that they’re compatible with the robot’s hardware. In addition, reference trajectories may not capture the variation of movement needed to fully realize gaits in changing circumstances.

“For a robot like Cassie, which has a tremendous amount of dynamic complexity, writing down equations that describe the robot’s motion is just too complicated,” Hurst said.

At first, just getting the robot to take a few steps on a treadmill without falling was difficult when traditional training techniques were applied, added Alan Fern, professor of computer science. “We thought Cassie was capable of all of the major bipedal gaits, but we didn’t know how to specify them,” he said.

A turning point occurred when the team developed a straightforward mathematical framework describing all common bipedal gaits based on their periodic motions.

“We started thinking in terms of the periodic structure of each gait and how to specify constraints on foot force and velocity,” Fern explained.

When walking, for example, the foot moving through the air has velocity but no force, while the grounded foot registers force but no velocity. By adjusting the force and velocity constraints, the entire realm of bipedal gaits could be stipulated.

Training occurred entirely within a simulation. Through trial and error, a reinforcement learning algorithm trained the neural network used to control a virtual Cassie. The algorithm attempted to behave in a way that maximized its rewards, which it earned when it accurately reproduced the forces and velocities of specified gaits. So, during the swing phase of a walking step, velocity was rewarded and force was penalized, prompting the algorithm to lift a foot.

Simulated training allows the reinforcement learning algorithm to run through hundreds of millions of practice steps. By contrast, training on a treadmill would severely limit the number of repetitions and inevitably involve numerous falls — and possibly damage the hardware.

However, small differences between the physics of the virtual and real environments must be reconciled, or they can lead to failures in the physical realm. Bridging the “realism gap,” involves a process called domain randomization, in which small perturbations to fundamental physical parameters, like friction, are seeded into the simulation. The process enhances the robot’s ability to generalize its algorithm across different environments.

The researchers also decided to use a recurrent neural network — rather than a feed-forward neural network — because it incorporates memory. RNNs are adept at error-correcting and encoding domain randomizations, even when faced with situations not encountered during training.

“We think this memory, combined with domain randomization, was critical for creating robust behavior in the real world,” Fern said.

Training was halted after 150 million practice steps, which only took several hours in real time. Then the knowledge about the newly learned gaits was transferred to Cassie. In a separate sim-to-real process, Cassie was also trained to negotiate stairs.

So that Cassie would be prepared to handle the range of step elevations that it would encounter in the physical world, stair heights in the simulation were randomized within reasonable limits. That way, the robot learned to lift its leg high enough to cover those limits.

Cassie executed all the specified gaits and repeatedly navigated stairs — a remarkable feat for a robot that completely lacks external sensors and that relies entirely on proprioceptive feedback from contact between its limbs and the ground for information about its position in the world. It also robustly completed tasks not modeled in training, such as traversing curbs, inclines, and logs in a natural setting.

“This was all really shocking,” Fern said. “I can’t overstate how surprised we were by the results. When we watched Cassie climb stairs in the simulation, at first we thought it was some simulator artifact, because a ‘blind’ robot couldn’t possibly do that in the real world. Then they brought the robot outside, and it walked up and down stairs all over campus.”

According to Fern, Cassie learned to change its gait and use higher default trajectories of its feet when necessary to clear each stair, then it learned some basic reactive behaviors when it sensed it was becoming unstable. He likened the skill to how a blindfolded human would climb or descend steps.

“We would try to feel our way ahead one foot at a time, and we could do it, carefully, without seeing the stairs,” he said.

Even after poor foot placements and stumbles on stairs, Cassie showed a remarkable ability to instantly adjust and recover. And in July, it became the first bipedal robot to run a 5K.

“This is a new tool that will be part of robot control moving forward,” Hurst said. “As we figure out how to make robots go where people go, we’ll be enabling an entirely new era of robotics. Until recently, the core science of how to make a two-legged robot walk or run was not known. Now that’s changing.”

Dec. 30, 2021

Alumni spotlight: Alex Hagmüller '09

Alex Hagmüller and Max Ginsburg, founders of a wave energy converter company.

In 2015, Alex Hagmüller (’09 B.S. Mechanical Engineering) co-founded Aquaharmonics, a wave energy converter company, with Max Ginsburg (’10 B.S. Electrical Computer Engineering). After winning a $1.5 million Wave Energy Prize, they were awarded up to $5 million in U.S. Department of Energy funding to enhance and test their energy-converter concept in the ocean.

Where did your interest in wave energy come from?

Growing up in the small fishing town of Cordova, Alaska, I spent my summers working aboard commercial fishing boats. You get to experience firsthand how quickly things can change, from flat calm to absolute terror. There is nothing forgiving about the immense power of the ocean.  While at OSU, I took a class with Dr. Annette von Jouanne, who was working on a wave energy converter that used a linear permanent magnet generator. She took us on a tour of her lab and was really excited to show the work being done on their linear test bed. I think these experiences formed the basis for my interest.

How did the School of MIME prepare you?

Formula SAE taught me invaluable skills in team-building, manufacturing, and practical design. Dr. Robert Paasch was a fantastic advisor and really allowed us to explore our interests, while still stressing the importance of function. 

In addition, I attribute a lot of learning the rigors of numerical analysis to Dr. Nancy Squires. I did not find her class to be easy, but I did find it extremely fascinating. I was learning mathematics from a talented engineer who had seen it all. Dr. Squires was always available, always cheerful, never assuming, and humbling beyond words. It did not matter to her where your level of understanding was, she would efficiently give you the path to build your understanding.

In fact, just a few weeks ago we were developing a new numerical model in Matlab for our Wave Energy Converter. The problem needed to be transferred from time domain equations to frequency domain. After a bit of digging, I found the Fourier Transform notes that Dr. Squires had put together. There were the best and cleanest explanations and derivations I had ever come across, and completely relevant to the task at hand! (Thanks again, Dr. Squires!)

What is your best memory from your time at OSU?

Participating on the Formula SAE team, you are confronted with the incredible amount of work and skill required to build a successful race car, which can take its toll on a student. Balancing the team project, work and school was challenging, and often it felt like you are doing all these things but none of them very well. That is a difficult thing to work through, and you really have to refine what success means for you, and what your priorities are. You eventually come to the conclusion that you can only do so much; you only have so much time, so much focus. It causes you to organize in a different way from everyone else and be responsible for what you are delivering in a different way. That being said, there is nothing easy about this process, and it can result in a lot of stress and despair at times. In these darkest of moments is when the silliness reigns supreme; you remember the power of goofing off and how productive and emancipating that can be. One spends so much time and effort on these very rigorous, disciplined subjects, and everything becomes so serious. It’s in these moments you really find that connection with your team, and this can result in much ridiculousness.


Want to learn more about AquaHarmonics? Listen to this recent episode of Engineering Out Loud, the podcast from the College fo Engineering at Oregon State.

Dec. 3, 2021
Associated Researcher

Pushing 3D metal printing further

A close up image of a 3d printer.

Additive manufacturing (AM)—also known as 3D printing—is rapidly disrupting the manufacturing sector, providing freedom of design, allowing a transition from rapid prototyping to real commercialization, decreasing material waste, and reducing time and cost of manufacturing. Furthermore, AM methods can be utilized for manufacturing of functionally graded materials (FGMs).

Unlike the conventional homogenous materials, FGMs are characterized by transitions in design, microstructure, texture, and properties that can be obtained at relatively small or large length scales, depending upon the functional gradient desired in a particular application.

Somayeh Pasebani, assistant professor of advanced manufacturing, is working to advance research in metal additive manufacturing, focusing on new techniques such as selective laser melting (SLM). Technologies like SLM allow for engineers to create objects with detailed control over process parameters, and part geometry and structure that would have been impossible just a few years ago.

Using a materials design approach, Pasebani and her research group couple experimental research with theory and mechanistic modeling for the accelerated and innovative development of alloys and metal matrix composites that can be manufactured by additive manufacturing. In doing so, they are developing the tools that will overcome the limitations of conventional and current additive manufacturing.

The practical applications of this research will be far-reaching—from high temperature oxidation and corrosion resistant parts for extreme environments such as energy sectors, aerospace, or nuclear reactors to implementation in tooling industry.

She collaborates with several faculty members across the College of Engineering as well as companies such as HP, ATI, and Daimler Trucks, with support from research grants from the RAPID Institute, Oregon Metals Initiatic, and Oregon Manufacturing Innovation Center.

Dec. 3, 2021

Oregon State to play major role in AI research institute for agriculture

story of banner.

Oregon State University will participate in a new research institute that will develop artificial intelligence solutions to tackle some of agriculture’s biggest challenges related to labor, water, weather, and climate change.

The institute, funded by a $20 million federal grant, is led by Washington State University and will involve 13 Oregon State faculty from the College of Engineering, spanning computer science, electrical engineering, and robotics. It’s one of 11 institutes launched by the National Science Foundation and among two funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture-National Institute of Food and Agriculture in 2021. Called the AgAID Institute — for USDA-NIFA Institute for Agricultural AI for Transforming Workforce and Decision Support — its work will involve collaborative efforts among faculty and scientists with expertise in a diverse range of areas in computer science, agriculture, and agricultural outreach.

“As the climate changes and the human population grows, it is essential to improve the robustness, efficiency, and adaptability of food production,” said Alan Fern, professor of computer science and principal investigator representing Oregon State. “The institute aims to achieve this by identifying the most synergistic ways to integrate humans and AI/robotics technology.”

While traditional AI development involves scientists making tools and delivering them to end-users, the AgAID Institute’s development process will involve the people who intend to use AI solutions, such as farmers, farm workers, and policy makers, said Ananth Kalyanaraman, a WSU computer science professor and the institute’s lead principal investigator. 

Other institute members include the University of California, Merced; University of Virginia; Carnegie Mellon University; Heritage University; Wenatchee Valley College; and Kansas State University. Private sector partners include IBM Research and the start-up

According to Fern, the key principle behind the institute’s work will be to take a human-first approach, which will include iterative cycles of working with end-users to design and build workflows involving AI/robotics technology that will have real utility and, hence, be used.

“This is in contrast to focusing on advanced AI/robotics research that conceptually relates to agricultural problems but never materializes into actual deployments that deliver utility,” he said. “Humans and AI/robotics have very different capabilities and competencies, and there are many possible ways of combining them for any given agricultural application, but only some of those combinations will be effective.”

Fern added that Oregon State’s team will serve as the lead for fundamental and applied research in AI, robotics, and human factors. Its researchers will work closely with agriculture researchers and, most importantly, with agricultural end-users to identify, develop, and deploy synergistic workflows involving humans and AI/robotics technology that will have a significant impact on agricultural practices.

Kalyanaraman added that AgAID institute researchers will seek solutions that can adapt to changing environments and amplify productivity by combining human skills and machine capabilities to be more effective than either would be alone. For instance, pruning trees is a highly skilled task, but a beginner-level worker could benefit from an AI tool that provides expert guidance to help decide which is the best branch to prune. The task is done better, and the worker starts to learn from the feedback. With the current shortage of skilled labor, AI can benefit both the orchard and the worker.  

“It’s a partnership. AI can help us bridge the divide between high-skilled and low-skilled workers,” Kalyanaraman said.

Educating the workforce at all levels will also be central to the AgAID Institute, not just to encourage AI adoption but as a matter of equity, according to institute leaders. Multiple education programs targeting K-12, higher education, and workers are planned. The goal is to raise AI skill levels and open new career paths, which can improve pay and quality of life for agricultural workers and attract more people to agriculture and computing professions.

The institute will undertake several challenging test cases involving specialty crops, many of which grow in the Western United States, such as apples, cherries, mint, and almonds. These crops encompass several major challenges: they require intensive labor and irrigation, and they are vulnerable to weather events and climate change. Specialty crops account for 87% of the U.S. agricultural workforce, and about 40% of these crops are perennial, requiring long-term management and resource planning.

“The biggest impact the institute can have will not necessarily be specific agricultural solutions,” Fern said, “but, rather, the knowledge gained and disseminated about the processes involved in going from initial application concepts to deployments that deliver real value to end users.”

July 29, 2021
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