Latest news from the UO

  • The perfect cup of coffee, with a little help from science

    First published in the Conversation and republished in Around the O on January 22nd, 2020. Editor’s note: This article is republished as it appears in The Conversation, an independent news publisher that works with academics worldwide to disseminate research-based articles and commentary. The University of Oregon partners with The Conversation to bring the expertise and views of its faculty members to a wide audience. For more information, see the note accompanying this story. Have you ever wondered why the coffee you make at home tastes different from the drinks you buy in cafes? Or why coffee from the same place can taste different throughout the week? You may be quick to blame the barista for changing the recipe, but our recent study, published in Matter, suggests that this variation is down to an inherent inconsistency of common brewing methods. Luckily, we believe to have discovered a path to making a great espresso, to your taste, every time. The quality of a cup of coffee depends on the coffee’s variety and origin, its roast and the water chemistry. The brewing method also plays a critical role in determining the overall flavor. Espresso is certainly the most complicated brewing method because it requires precise measurements. However, espresso also happens to underpin all coffee menus, as it is the basis for lattes and cappuccinos. To make espresso, hot water is forced through a finely-ground bed of coffee. The barista makes decisions about how much coffee and water to use, and how finely the coffee is ground. The machine’s water pressure, temperature and brew volume are also crucial when it comes to taste. Together, these parameters control the relative proportion of around 2,000 different chemicals, a delicate balancing act. Yet, even if the barista does everything perfectly, there remain large variations between espresso shots made following the same recipe. One shot may taste like raspberries and dark chocolate, and the next like motor oil. And while everyone has different flavour preferences, we believe we have derived a procedure to help the barista out, and achieve the flavour profile they intended, every single time. Our research team — which involved a team of mathematicians, chemists, materials scientists and baristas — formulated a mathematical model to simulate the brewing of an espresso in realistic cafe conditions. We used this to make predictions of how much of the solid coffee ultimately ends up dissolved in the cup. This percentage, known as the extraction yield, is the key metric used by the coffee industry to assess different coffee recipes. Solving a series of equations, we found that our model accurately predicts extraction yields that we see in real life, except when the coffee is ground very finely. This is because water flow through the espresso bed is quite unpredictable, resulting in sections of the bed becoming clogged. In other words, parts of the coffee are under-extracted (low extraction yield), while others are over-extracted (high extraction yield). But the objective of a barista isn’t just to produce shots that taste great, they also have to be reproducible. Consistency can be monitored by examining the extraction yields of different shots. Contrary to our expectation, we discovered that to make consistently tasty brews, the barista should use less coffee and grind the coffee marginally coarser. By doing so, they are able to achieve very reproducible, high-yielding shots. The mathematical theory tells us that this is because reducing coffee mass means that the water flows faster through the shallower coffee bed. The coarse grind results in a relatively permeable bed, such that water flow and extraction are uniform and predictable. This method leads to fast, bright, sweet and acidic shots that taste the same each time. Of course, not everyone will enjoy the same flavour profile, and we account for this by presenting a series of procedures that barista can use to help navigate the various flavours available within their coffee. Complex flavours, a result of tasting a mixture of both over and under-extracted coffee, can still be emulated by running and then mixing two shots with different extractions. More importantly, consumers could also simply select a different roast, that features flavour profiles more suited to their palate. One of our key findings, however, is that baristas are able to reduce their coffee waste by up to 25 percent per espresso shot, dramatically increasing their annual profits with no sacrifice in quality. Using our protocol we estimate that, in the U.S. coffee market alone, the total savings would amount to $1.1 billion in America’s cafes per year. What’s more, it has been estimated that 60 percent of wild coffee species are under threat of extinction due to climate change. So ultimately, using less coffee is not only better for making a consistently tasty espresso, it is also better for the environment. —By Jamie Foster, University of Portsmouth and Christopher H. Hendon, University of Oregon The Conversation This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article or sign up for The Conversation’s daily newsletter. The Conversation works with academics to prepare 700-1,000 word research-based pieces (not op-eds) on timely topics. Stories from The Conversation are then picked up by major media outlets, such as PBS NewsHour, the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Salon and the Associated Press. Learn more about The Conversation. If you are a UO faculty member interested in writing for The Conversation, email Molly Blancett.

    Read More
  • Knight Campus to host diversity luncheon and panel discussion

    First published in Around the O on February 6th, 2020. The Phil and Penny Knight Campus for Accelerating Scientific Impact is putting diversity efforts into action with a free luncheon and panel discussion. “Establishing a Culture that Values and Promotes Diversity in STEM,” slated for noon on Friday, Feb. 21, is open to the university community. It will feature academic leaders who are making strides to foster inclusion across the engineering field. Guests are asked to RSVP online by Monday, Feb. 17. Lunch will be provided. Joining Knight Campus Vice President and Robert and Leona DeArmond Executive Director Robert Guldberg will be panelists Nancy Allbritton, Frank and Julie Jungers Dean of Engineering at the University of Washington, and Scott Ashford, Kearney Dean of Engineering at Oregon State University. University of Oregon Provost Patrick Phillips will moderate the discussion. The candid conversation will examine the implementation of diversity plans and programs. The panelists will share some of the positive outcomes and challenges they have faced in recruiting and hiring.

    Read More
  • Employee food drive helps students via pantry, Produce Drops

    First published in Around the O on February 13th, 2020. Operating out of a single-car garage on East 19th Avenue, the Student Food Pantry is open two days a week and serves hundreds of students. And the food it distributes comes from FOOD for Lane County. FOOD for Lane County is the primary recipient of donations made during this month’s Governor’s State Employee Food Drive. Donations of cash and food will help keep the shelves stocked and meals on the table. Approximately 200 students each week visit the pantry during its two hours of operation on Wednesday and Thursday evenings. Students visiting the pantry receive a total of approximately 1,500 pounds of food each week, according to pantry coordinator Ryan Baker-Fones. The pantry isn’t the only FOOD for Lane County program feeding UO students. Produce Drops are held the second and fourth Tuesdays of each month at the Erb Memorial Union amphitheater and distribute around 900 pounds of fresh produce to about 150 students per week. Produce Drops are like a pop-up farmer’s stand, but everything is free to eligible students and their families. Satellite locations have opened recently at Moss Street Children’s Center and the UO Veterans Center, meeting the needs of diverse student populations. Produce Drops and the Student Food Pantry are key to feeding UO students and their families when resources run low. Graduate employee Kris Wright is with Graduate Families in the UO Graduate School and a doctoral candidate in media studies. Part of her job is to direct graduate students experiencing hunger to resources available.

    Read More
  • State universities agree to more sharing of research facilities

    First published in Around the O on February 13th, 2020. A trio of new agreements between the University of Oregon and four of the state’s public universities are poised to advance research across Oregon, promote greater collaboration and help magnify state funding. The memorandums will help researchers at the UO, Oregon Health & Science University, Oregon State University, Portland State University and the Oregon Institute of Technology work more closely together by reducing hurdles for cooperation while also leveraging each other’s strengths. Researchers at each of the five universities will now have greater access to facilities at the partner institutions, and at a lower cost to them as well. The agreements also clarify ownership of intellectual property that emerges from research efforts across multiple institutions. It’s a significant step in the ongoing trend of improving collaboration within the state among the UO and its statewide peers (see Related Links). “When it comes to research and innovation, we all agree we are stronger when we collaborate and speak with one voice about the value of research universities to the state of Oregon,” said David Conover, the UO’s vice president for research and innovation. “These initiatives will allow us to build on our collective strengths and pave the way for new discoveries and innovations that will benefit Oregonians and help fuel our state’s economy.” Fred Sabb, assistant vice president for research facilities at the UO, said the agreements will build on activity already taking place. “There’s already quite a bit of cross-institution research core facility activity that this has kicked off, and more things are planned for near future to facilitate access and harmonize services,” he said. One of the most visible hurdles potentially slowing researchers across the state from working more closely together has been the limited access to specialized, expensive research equipment available at other in-state institutions and the cost to use it. Universities typically have one set of fees for their own students, staff and faculty members, and another set for those at other universities. Now the cost to use those facilities could decrease by as much as 25 percent in many cases for researchers at the five universities taking part.

    Read More
  • UO-Lane Transit District partnership brings brainstorms to reality

    First published in The Register-Guard on January 29th, 2020. University of Oregon students’ ideas for future of LTD are starting to take shape during the 10th year of Sustainable City Year Program. The University of Oregon’s Sustainable City Year Program in the fall partnered with Lane Transit District and set students to work on a variety of projects meant to make local transportation more efficient and sustainable. With the first two quarters of the school year now finished, many of those student projects are taking shape. “It’s been a really good experience. It provides a good opportunity for students to gain professional experience and work on real world issues and experiment and try new things,” said Rachel Cohen, a second-year UO business graduate student participating in the Sustainable City Year Program. The projects undertaken this year asked students to examine physical infrastructure, such as design ideas for the transit station at the former Santa Clara Elementary School site, and those that require some long-term imagination, such as re-imagining River Road for the residents who live there. There were 10 classes during the fall term and six classes are ongoing through the winter term, all centered around LTD projects, according to Sustainable City Year Program Manager Megan Banks. It’s not yet determined how many classes will focus on the LTD goals in the spring, she said. The Sustainable City Year Program, part of UO’s Sustainable Cities Initiative, is in its 10th year of pairing students from across college disciplines with community partners in need of fresh ideas. In past years, the program has paired with groups such as the city of La Pine and TriMet, the tri-county transit agency in Portland. The program has been so successful, Banks said, it’s being replicated in 35 universities nationwide. “Transit is evolving. It’s going to be different in the future than it is now, and universities are this resource for helping guide that,” Banks said. Transit in Eugene is about more than making sure the buses run on time, and many of the student projects identified by LTD are focused on the MovingAhead initiative, a citywide plan to update and expand services on and around some of the area’s most important transportation corridors: 30th Avenue to Lane Community College, Coburg Road, Highway 99, Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and River Road. LTD already is getting a look at some of the student project ideas. Nine teams of landscape architecture students on Friday showcased their visions for the former Santa Clara Elementary School site to LTD managers. The eight acres of property is where the agency plans to put a new transit station, but only about half of the property is needed for the station’s operations. “After that construction is done, people want to know what we should do with this property. It’s one of the few large lot vacant properties in the community that could be something that both supports transit and becomes a community amenity,” said Jennifer Zankowski, LTD senior development planner and project manager for the Sustainable City Year Program. Zankowski said the students were asked to include housing, mixed-use commercial offices, a public plaza, a playground and a pavilion in their proposals for site development. She said members of the community told LTD while plans were being made that they lacked a local gathering place. “They see this site as an opportunity for that. They were happy to see the ideas students were coming up with,” she said about the community’s input. “From the LTD and city perspective, this idea of taking this opportunity to have land development that compliments transit and helps achieve some of the density the city is trying to achieve within our urban growth boundary. It’s fun to give students that challenge to work on.”

    Read More
  • Governor announces legislative push to fund Oregon ShakeAlert

    First published in Around the O on January 28th, 2020.With a vision for preparing the state for a large Cascadia earthquake, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown announced on Monday a resiliency agenda for the upcoming legislative session that would include $7.5 million in funding to the University of Oregon to build out the ShakeAlert earthquake early warning system. In addition to building out Oregon’s earthquake early warning network, Senate Bill 1537 would direct of the Office of Emergency Management and other state agencies to develop and administer earthquake safety educational outreach programs to ensure Oregon is as prepared and resilient as possible in the wake of a natural disaster. “It is imperative that our state be resilient enough to face anything that comes our way, especially natural disasters,” Brown said at the event at the UO’s White Stag Block in Portland. “For our Oregon communities and economy to thrive, we have to be ready to recover from natural disasters, including a Cascadia event. One of my priorities is to improve the resilience of our people and our infrastructure.” The ShakeAlert system uses sensors to detect significant earthquakes when destructive shaking travels across the region. Depending on how far away someone is from the epicenter, seconds to many tens of seconds of warning would allow people to take cover and protect critical infrastructure. With even a short amount of warning, water utilities could switch valves to preserve drinking water, fire station doors could open before electricity goes out, and hospitals could power up generators to continue care for patients.

    Read More
  • Urbanism Next launches the NEXUS online clearinghouse

    First published in Around the O on January 14th, 2020. A new online database that examines emerging technologies and their effects on cities is now available through the University of Oregon’s Urbanism Next Center. NEXUS, an acronym for Navigating Emerging Technologies and Urban Spaces­, launched Jan. 14 in Washington, D.C. at an event associated with the Transportation Resource Board Conference, one of the largest transportation conferences in the world. Created by the UO’s Urbanism Next Center in partnership with NUMO Alliance, NEXUS is a comprehensive, vetted source of information that explores the potential effects of innovations such as new mobility, autonomous vehicles and the rise of e-commerce. Going beyond the technologies themselves, NEXUS sheds light on possible long-term and compounding influences of these technologies on cities and communities. The one-stop, online resource provides a toolkit to approach important topics and assists decision-makers and government leaders with information to create new policies to manage and regulate emerging trends.

    Read More
  • From the classroom to Congress: Oregon Law students in DC

    First published in Around the O on January 15th, 2020. “What is public policy, why does it matter, and how is it made?” Assistant Professor Greg Dotson posed this question to his law students enrolled in the Oregon Law Environmental Policy Practicum.The ten law students had the entire semester not only to answer those questions, but to present their own research and recommendations to the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis in the US House of Representatives in Washington, DC. The House created the committee in January of 2019 and charged it with submitting climate policy recommendations to Congress by March 31, 2020. In the class, Dotson tries to demystify the policymaking world. He talks about the theoretical underpinnings of policymaking as well as the real-world efforts that result in environmental protection or other desired policy outcomes. “Crafting public policy can be as much art as science and efforts to change policy often see as much failure as success,” said Dotson. “A well-crafted public policy can promote competition, innovation, efficiency, environmental protection or other desired policy outcomes. It can be transparent and responsive to constituents and can foster faith in the democratic process and our representative form of government.”

    Read More
  • New Knight Campus bioengineer advances bone repair research

    First published in Around the O on January 7 2020. Just as Marian Hettiaratchi begins her new job this month as a bioengineer at the Phil and Penny Knight Campus for Accelerating Scientific Impact, a research project that lays the groundwork for her UO lab has landed in a major journal. Her paper in the Jan. 3 issue of Science Advances takes a big step toward improving the effectiveness of spinal fusion procedures and repairing broken or defective bones. In the preclinical study, done during her graduate work Georgia Tech, her team drastically reduced undesired bone growth outside of a targeted repair area by using a mixture of bone morphogenetic proteins, which promote tissue and bone development, and microparticles made of heparin, a drug widely used as a blood thinner. The accomplishment is a proof of concept that shows the natural bone protein, known as BMP, can be merged into a heparin-like biomaterial for safer delivery. Given alone in high doses, as has been the practice in human treatments, BMP leakage has led to soft tissue inflammation and abnormal bone growth. At her new UO lab, Hettiaratchi will try to synthesize a heparin-like substance that can deliver BMP while avoiding the potential side effects of heparin, none of which have been seen in the work with rats. Her approach also uses a nanofiber mesh tube unveiled in 2011 by Robert Guldberg, who left Georgia Tech in 2018 to become executive director of the Knight Campus. He is a co-author on the new paper. “I am planning on applying this approach more broadly to healing other injuries and diseases since proteins are important in every system in the body,” Hettiaratchi said. “My lab's objective is to create biomaterials that can locally deliver proteins to sites of injuries with high precision to accelerate tissue repair.” She began exploring the use of heparin microparticles to deliver BMP while a doctoral student at Georgia Tech under the mentorship of Guldberg and co-author Todd McDevitt. For the new study, Hettiaratchi and colleagues fed their earlier results from experiments done in rats and test tubes into computer simulations to guide how they could adjust their heparin-based approach in animal testing with levels of BMP comparable to dosages required in human bone-repair procedures. “We focused on using doses that were more clinically relevant,” Hettiaratchi said. “In humans, the typical treatment uses 0.1 to 0.2 milligrams of BMP per kilogram of body weight, so we used the same amount in the rats. Most research done in rats uses 10 times less BMP to repair bone, which isn’t comparable to what’s done in humans and doesn’t exhibit the side effects of a clinical BMP dose.” Two different strengths of the combination used in the study reduced unwanted bone growth by 40 to 50 percent.

    Read More