Latest news from the UO

  • Earthquake early warning now available to Oregon public

    First publish in Around the O on March 10, 2021. Earthquake early warning is coming to the Pacific Northwest. Known as ShakeAlert, the system will be available to the public’s wireless devices in Oregon starting March 11. Depending on the point of origin of a major earthquake, a ShakeAlert can give residents critical seconds to several tens of seconds of warning to prepare for shaking. University of Oregon researchers are playing a pivotal role in the science, development and rollout of the technology, which detects earthquakes using about 400 seismic sensors spread across the Pacific Northwest and more than a thousand up and down the West Coast. The system will eventually span the entire West Coast. It launched in California in 2019, and Washington will launch ShakeAlert in May. West coast members of Congress have led the effort to jump-start funding for ShakeAlert. Over the last several years, Congress has provided more than $25 million per year for operations and infrastructure to the U.S. Geological Survey, which leads ShakeAlert. Oregon recently awarded $7.5 million to the UO for the Oregon Hazards Lab to complete buildout of the ShakeAlert system in Oregon by 2023. With the funding, the lab will purchase and install sensors at an additional 83  sites and improve data communications throughout Oregon. The state previously contributed approximately $1 million to enhance Oregon’s seismic network. ShakeAlert includes a number of university partners, including the UO and the University of Washington, which collaboratively operate the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network. UO geophysicist Doug Toomey heads the UO’s ShakeAlert team. Below, he answers questions about the launch and the new alerts. Q: What is happening March 11 when ShakeAlert is released to the public? A: March 11 is the 10-year anniversary of the devastating Tohoku earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan and also the first day that Oregonians will be able to receive wireless earthquake early warnings, or ShakeAlerts. This is a monumental achievement for the West Coast of the United States, for the state of Oregon, and for the many individuals and groups that are contributing to Oregon’s resilience. Q: How will the public be notified in the event of an earthquake? A: The public will receive alerts by all available means, with the primary mechanism in the near future being alerts delivered by wireless devices, such as phones. ShakeAlerts will be transmitted to phones by the Wireless Emergency Alert system as well as apps that can be downloaded. The wireless system exists on all smartphones, and the public may know this as the Amber Alert system. Provided users have not turned off this alerting mechanism, they can receive ShakeAlerts via wireless alerts. Q: Are there apps available for ShakeAlerts? A: The public should also consider downloading and installing apps, and when doing so they should look for those that say “Powered by ShakeAlert.” Android users will also benefit from ShakeAlerts that are integrated into that operating system. It is perfectly fine to have multiple delivery mechanisms on a wireless device. In fact, it may be preferable since alerting times can vary depending on the mechanism. Q: In what other ways could ShakeAlerts issue warnings? A: In addition to wireless devices, ShakeAlerts can be delivered by other means, for example sirens, road signs, stoplights at bridges, emergency broadcasts and other methods. For Oregonians to benefit from these diverse alerting mechanisms it is important that the system be adopted and embraced by the public and private sectors, since this will accelerate development of novel and effective alerting technologies. Q: A few seconds doesn’t seem like much. How can that be beneficial? A: ShakeAlert can protect the public by giving them precious seconds or tens of seconds of warning before strong shaking arrives from an earthquake. Studies show that when people are caught unaware by an earthquake or natural hazard, their ‘lizard brain’ takes over and they often take actions that are not safe. For example, panicking or running can lead to injuries due to falling or being hit by debris. By giving forewarning of imminent shaking via a ShakeAlert, the public can gather themselves and take protective action. Q: What should a person do when they receive a ShakeAlert? A: When someone receives a ShakeAlert they should move to a safe location and duck, cover and hold on to something until the shaking is complete. At present, ShakeAlerts will warn that an earthquake has occurred and that shaking is expected. The public must be aware that shaking could begin immediately, the next few seconds or perhaps in tens of seconds. Given the range of alerting times, the recommended action is to find a safe spot to duck, cover and hold on. Q: What can ShakeAlert do to save lives and mitigate damage to critical infrastructure? A: For several years now the ShakeAlert system has been delivering alerts so that stakeholders could evaluate how to protect critical infrastructure, including water and power utilities and transportation infrastructure. For example, in San Francisco the Bay Area Rapid Transit system has been slowing trains in response to ShakeAlerts delivered in California. In the Pacific Northwest, water utilities are installing devices that could shut water valves in response to a ShakeAlert, thus safeguarding precious drinking water during and after an event. Similarly, power utilities such as the Eugene Water and Electric Board are looking at turning off power-generation facilities, such as those at Carmen Smith Reservoir, so that large and expensive turbines are not spinning when strong shaking arrives. Similarly, power distribution facilities, like the Central Lincoln Public Utilities District, are exploring how ShakeAlerts can protect their infrastructure and personnel.  As the ShakeAlert system becomes part of the earthquake culture in the Pacific Northwest, I think we will see many novel lifesaving and infrastructure-saving practices develop over the next several years. What they’re saying “A catastrophic earthquake in the Pacific Northwest is not hypothetical. It is a not a question of if an earthquake will happen. It is a question of when. In an earthquake, every second counts. Thanks to the incredible work of the University of Oregon and other West Coast universities, we now have an early warning system that will give people extra seconds to save lives, avoid or reduce injury and mitigate infrastructure damage during a major earthquake.” —Peter DeFazio, U.S. Representative from Oregon “If there’s anything we’ve learned from this pandemic and last year’s catastrophic wildfires, it’s the importance of trusting science and preparing for emergencies before they strike. Whether it’s wildfires or The Big One, I will continue to fight for the resources Oregonians need to stay safe.” —Jeff Merkley, U.S. Senator from Oregon “When the devastating earthquake hits, our state needs a response that equips all Oregonians with valuable minutes and seconds to protect themselves. I’m proud to have worked with colleagues to secure the funding for ShakeAlert.” —Ron Wyden, U.S. Senator from Oregon

    Read More
  • Oregon congressional delegation requests FY22 budget for ShakeAlert

    March 9, 2021 02:34 pm Congressman Peter DeFazio (D-Oregon) circulated a Dear Colleagues letter to fellow U.S. House members urging the Office of Management and Budget to include ShakeAlert in the U.S. Geological Survey budget request to Congress. The letter (link) dated Feb. 25 was signed by 32 members of Congress, including all five House members from the Oregon delegation. The letter requests $28.6 million annually to support the west coast early warning system.  ShakeAlert was made available to the public for alerting to wireless devices in California in October 2019 and will go public in Oregon on March 11 and Washington in May. While ShakeAlert has been successfully implemented along the west coast, the network needs continuous funding for further acquisition of sensors, operations, and maintenance. The members of Congress wrote to Rob Fairweather, acting director of OMB, states “with concern regarding the heightened risk of a major earthquake resulting from increased seismic activity near the San Andreas Fault, coupled with the prospect of a magnitude 9.0 earthquake along the Pacific Northwest coast, there is public demand for EEW to be fully operational. When major earthquake events occur—and we know it is “when” and not “if”—they have the potential to be one of the costliest and deadliest disasters the United States has ever faced. Given the economic and health strains of the Covid-19 pandemic, it is more critical than ever that we limit the potential damage of compounding crises.” President Joe Biden is expected to send his proposed budget to Congress this spring.

    Read More
  • UO researcher lands two NSF grants to boost seismic modeling

    First published in Around the O on March 9, 2021. The National Science Foundation has awarded UO computer scientist Brittany Erickson two competitive grants, both of which involve building high-performance code for seismic modeling that will be available to the greater scientific community. Both grants will help develop a method of modeling earthquake and volcano physics, along with their associated hazards. That could mean better forecasting of earthquakes and volcanic eruptions around the world. The first grant of $287,000 is for two years and focuses on volcanic modeling. Erickson, who holds a joint faculty position as an assistant professor in the both the computer and information science and the earth sciences departments, wrote the grant with her husband, Leif Karlstrom, a UO volcanologist. Erickson is the co-investigator on this grant. “We’ve always wanted to collaborate, but Leif’s always been in the volcano realm and I’ve always been in the earthquake realm,” Erickson said. “So, finally we’re been able to do something together.” The focus will be on the Kilauea volcano in Hawaii, she said. The outstanding question in volcano science is how to predict or better understand volcanic eruptions, which happen due to unstable fluids moving around a volcanic conduit. The goal is to develop a computational technique that gives researchers reliable insight into what influences volcanic eruptions. The second grant of $489,000 is for three years and comes from a collaboration with Jeremy Kozdon, an applied mathematician from the Naval Postgraduate School. Erickson is the primary investigator for the grant. Their aim is to model the earthquake cycle and show hundreds of years of earthquake activity, which means dealing with large systems of equations. Erickson said the work is groundbreaking and possibly the first of its kind. “We are trying to answer why some earthquakes nucleate on faults that are unfavorably orientated to the remote stress field,” Erickson said. “Faults in the earth’s crust are usually part of a larger network that intersect in geometrically complex ways. You would assume that those faults more optimally oriented would exhibit an earthquake first, but that’s not always the case. We want to explore this phenomenon through numerical simulation.” Erickson is also the co-leader of the Southern California Earthquake Center’s working group for advancing codes for simulating earthquake sequences, a group of earthquake modeling  researchers from around the world. She said her interests in earthquakes arose from her childhood in California. “When I was 8 years old, I experienced the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake that hit San Francisco, and it really affected me,” she said. “My adviser in graduate school was a mathematician working on problems in geoscience, and I jumped at the chance to do some mathematical modeling for earthquake processes. I wanted to do something with math that had clear, broader impact.” Through their research, Erickson said the models she and her collaborators will build will allow them a better understanding of volcano and earthquake physics. The NSF grants will help develop an open-source, high-performance code that will be available to both the scientific community and the public. Typically, Erickson’s field of study is dominated by male scientists, she said. She considers herself lucky because she has felt supported by her male colleagues and advisers throughout her career. At the UO, she noted that the Department of Computer and Information Science has four other women faculty members. Still, gender inequality in her field is a challenging problem to address. “Women in the workforce are struggling through the COVID pandemic, particularly if they have children,” she said. “I was only able to submit these two grant proposals last summer because our day care opened for a couple months. This wouldn’t have been possible if the day care had remained closed due to the ongoing pandemic. I feel for the other faculty around the university who are at home and responsible their children’s distanced learning. It’s very tough.”  To learn more about Erickson’s work, visit her website.  —By Victoria Sanchez, University Communications 

    Read More
  • Guldberg testifies before legislative committee on importance of University Innovation and Research Fund

    March 8, 2021 01:11 pm On March 3, Robert Guldberg, Vice President and Executive Director of the Phil and Penny Knight Campus for Accelerating Scientific Impact, testified before the Oregon Legislature’s Joint Ways & Means Subcommittee on Transportation & Economic Development to highlight the importance of the University Innovation Research Fund (UIRF) and urge the Oregon Legislature to restore funding this legislative session. The UIRF is a competitive grant fund of $10 million created by the legislature in 2019 to match competitive federal research awards, increase the competitiveness of Oregon universities for federal research funds, leverage federal grants that require matching funds, and support innovation and research capacity. The UIRF was not recommended for funding in this year’s State budget. Guldberg shared an example of how the UIRF has contributed to expanding research capacity at the UO. He stated, “At the University of Oregon, this funding has been fundamental to our development of new cell therapies and technologies for cell therapy manufacturing. It has helped support two undergraduate students, one graduate student, two post-doctoral fellows and one full time Research Assistant. “The manufacturing sector around cell therapy is a rapidly growing biomedical market and could help make Oregon a player in a market sector that is conservatively projected to surpass $10 billion worldwide within the next decade. Cell therapies have potential applications for everything from treating cancers to repairing spinal cord injuries to reducing opioid addiction associated with back pain.” Guldberg also demonstrated how this matching funding helps make universities more competitive when seeking federal research funds. He explained, “Our $600K of URIF funding immediately enabled a $600K federal subcontract from the DOD. We subsequently received a $580K cell-manufacturing grant from the NSF and then a $2.5 million grant from NIH to develop a cell immunotherapy for trauma. Oregon is competing with many states that have similar funds to the UIRF to cover these matching fund requirements found in many federal grants. Without the UIRF, Oregon may lose out on important research opportunities.

    Read More
  • March 2021 State revenue forecast released

    February 25, 2021 05:09 pm On Feb. 24, the State of Oregon Office of Economic Analysis released the March 2021 Revenue Forecast, the fourth forecast capturing the impact of COVID-19 on Oregon’s economy and the first of 2021. Overall, General Fund and other major state revenues are now slightly up from pre-COVID-19 levels, and the state has a projected ending balance of $1,232.5 million above the 2019 close-of-session estimate. In addition, the State continues to be well-positioned due to significant reserves and substantial federal aid. The full report can be found here. Healthy revenue collections have put Oregon’s unique kicker law into play. Following a booming first half of the biennium, Oregon’s General Fund revenue outlook was very close to the kicker threshold when the pandemic hit. After filling all of the recessionary hole, the March 2021 forecast calls for collections to exceed the threshold by $170 million (0.9%), resulting in a kicker credit of $571 million. However, this kicker credit is far from a sure thing. Although the additional revenue called for in the March 2021 outlook is a welcome sight, budget writers still face a challenging environment this session. While personal income taxes have continued to grow this biennium, many other revenue sources such as Lottery sales have not. It is also important to note that while revenue growth has now exceeded pre-pandemic levels the “needs” side of the ledger has grown dramatically in recent months. Human services caseload estimates are beginning to show the impact of pandemic-related job losses, and the state continues to face significant expenditure needs associated with the wildfires that occurred in September. With both federal aid and asset booms expected to expire, revenue growth will remain modest during the 2021-23 budget period. The March 2021 forecast provided a positive fiscal outlook for budget writers to work with as they develop the upcoming biennial budget this session, but the kicker, relatively low long-term growth projections and the fact that federal aid will be one-time resources may make budget writers hesitant to commit to significant investments without stakeholder groups, including public universities, making a compelling case. Oregon’s education leaders have called on lawmakers to respond to the most recent revenue forecast by using their best economic recovery tool: fully investing in public education from pre-school through post-secondary education. Oregon’s seven public universities joined a dozen higher education, K-12 and pre-K associations in saying that making strong investments in education is not just good for students, it's an approach that is good for the economic health of the state. The legislature will receive the next quarterly revenue forecast on May 19th. This will be the baseline that is used to finalize the 21-23 biennial budget. On Feb. 24, the State of Oregon Office of Economic Analysis released the March 2021 Revenue Forecast, the fourth forecast capturing the impact of COVID-19 on Oregon’s economy and the first of 2021. Overall, General Fund and other major state revenues are now slightly up from pre-COVID-19 levels, and the state has a projected ending balance of $1,232.5 million above the 2019 close-of-session estimate. In addition, the State continues to be well-positioned due to significant reserves and substantial federal aid. The full report can be found here. Healthy revenue collections have put Oregon’s unique kicker law into play. Following a booming first half of the biennium, Oregon’s General Fund revenue outlook was very close to the kicker threshold when the pandemic hit. After filling all of the recessionary hole, the March 2021 forecast calls for collections to exceed the threshold by $170 million (0.9%), resulting in a kicker credit of $571 million. However, this kicker credit is far from a sure thing. Although the additional revenue called for in the March 2021 outlook is a welcome sight, budget writers still face a challenging environment this session. While personal income taxes have continued to grow this biennium, many other revenue sources such as Lottery sales have not. It is also important to note that while revenue growth has now exceeded pre-pandemic levels the “needs” side of the ledger has grown dramatically in recent months. Human services caseload estimates are beginning to show the impact of pandemic-related job losses, and the state continues to face significant expenditure needs associated with the wildfires that occurred in September. With both federal aid and asset booms expected to expire, revenue growth will remain modest during the 2021-23 budget period. The March 2021 forecast provided a positive fiscal outlook for budget writers to work with as they develop the upcoming biennial budget this session, but the kicker, relatively low long-term growth projections and the fact that federal aid will be one-time resources may make budget writers hesitant to commit to significant investments without stakeholder groups, including public universities, making a compelling case. Oregon’s education leaders have called on lawmakers to respond to the most recent revenue forecast by using their best economic recovery tool: fully investing in public education from pre-school through post-secondary education. Oregon’s seven public universities joined a dozen higher education, K-12 and pre-K associations in saying that making strong investments in education is not just good for students, it's an approach that is good for the economic health of the state. The legislature will receive the next quarterly revenue forecast on May 19th. This will be the baseline that is used to finalize the 21-23 biennial budget.

    Read More
  • UO teams are playing key roles in local vaccination efforts

    First published in Around the O on February 22, 2021. In keeping with its role as a community leader, the University of Oregon has mobilized resources across campus to help Lane County fight off COVID-19. Most recently, the UO helped organize 10 vaccination clinics that provided more than 12,000 vaccines to eligible Lane County residents since the COVID-19 vaccines first became available in late December. The UO is a member of the Lane County Regional COVID-19 Vaccination Collaborative, a group of local health and education agencies that has joined forces to assist Lane County Public Health in providing vaccinations countywide. The UO is drawing from its experience in staging large events and holding meningococcal vaccination clinics several years ago to help the county meet the logistical challenges of trying to vaccinate thousands of individual as quickly as possible. “The University of Oregon’s expertise in event planning and project management has been absolutely critical in getting our mass vaccination drive-thru clinics and phase 1b group 1 clinics up and running,” said Steve Mokrohisky, the county administrator. “Vaccinating hundreds of thousands of Lane County residents with a vaccine that is in relatively short supply requires all of our community partners working together and bringing their respective strengths to the table. We are very fortunate to have the University of Oregon at that table and working hand in hand with Lane County on so many different facets of the COVID-19 response.” Responding to and recovering from COVID-19 is a shared responsibility, and the UO is doing its part to help the county with vaccine rollout, said Krista Dillon, the UO’s director of operations in Safety and Risk Services. “This is a monumental effort, and no entity can do this work alone,” Dillon said. “Relationships and partnerships are a cornerstone of emergency management, and that is why we offered up our emergency management program staff to help develop a sustainable and effective vaccination program for all of Lane County.” At one recent event, Vicki Strand, the UO’s continuity and emergency manager in Safety and Risk Services, helped plan and organize a drive-through clinic that administered doses. She was among the workers and volunteers who weathered snow, sleet and rain to ensure it went smoothly. Days earlier, Dillon helped organize a three-day, 2,000-dose vaccination clinic for area child care providers and educators  that was planned and completed in only seven days. Those efforts are on top of the large-scale and free public testing and contact tracing programs UO staff and faculty quickly developed and implemented last summer. Combined, they leverage the university’s expertise across a range of disciplines to benefit residents of Eugene, Springfield and Lane County. “We’ll need this for at least the remainder of 2021, and the goal is setting up mass vaccination systems that are transferable and scalable to other locations within the county,” said Andre LeDuc, associate vice president for safety and risk services and chief resilience officer. “Our whole emergency management staff is now unified and embedded with Lane County Public Health and we’re working together to build these systems.” The shot itself is only one part of the process. “It’s not just putting a vaccine into somebody’s arm,” LeDuc said. “It’s making sure data is loaded into the state alert program, it’s the scheduling for second doses and making sure we’re setting up systems  to ensure that community members complete the vaccine series.” That also includes storing vaccines properly, determining the right amounts to deliver to a site, ensuring that shots go to people who are eligible to receive the vaccine, and implementing a standby system to ensure any excess doses of vaccine aren’t wasted. Lately, Dillon and Strand have been on the front lines of those vaccination sites, drawing on their years of experience to ensure they run smoothly. Dillon has been working with public and private K-12 schools and local child care providers to get their staffs vaccinated. That included a recent event where the UO helped secure a vendor to administer vaccines. Not a single dose went to waste. “The clinic was a huge push in a short amount of time,” Dillon said. “It ended up working really, really well. We got lots of positive feedback.” Learning from the experience she gained helping coordinate the university’s meningitis clinics in 2015-16, she’s been able to take charge of coordinating vaccination of the entire education sector so the county could focus on other needs. “If we get our child care providers and educators vaccinated, there are more opportunities for kids to get back into child care and school settings, and more opportunities for people to get back to work,” Dillon said. Prior to her job at Safety and Risk Services, Strand worked for 22 years in the Department of Intercollegiate Athletics, coordinating event logistics for football, basketball, track and field, and the U.S. Olympic track and field trials as well as the meningitis vaccination clinics at Matt Knight Arena. Now she’s assisting Lane County set up drive-through clinics and possible walk-up sites. The expertise throughout the university in large-scale logistics — whether it’s helping the community stage the U.S Olympic Team trials or coordinating a resource hub for wildfire victims within 48 hours, as happened last summer — also comes with a responsibility to step up early and assist with such a communitywide need. “It would be ridiculous to sit on the sidelines until they said, ‘Higher ed, it’s time for you now,’” Strand said. “That’s being a poor partner. There’s so much we can do to help, and why not?” LeDuc, Strand, Dillon and others from within the UO and the collaborative are developing plans that will be needed two and three months from now, while the county addresses the most immediate needs. That includes scaling up the drive-through clinics to high-volume, 16-lane capacities, with one already in the works for Autzen Stadium. They’re coordinating with coastal and rural communities for clinics there as well. Up next is building a “vaccination corps” of students, similar to the UO’s Corona Corps and COVID Monitoring and Assessment Program testing team, that will assist at the mass clinics. For LeDuc and his team, it’s their part of the multiagency effort to get the job done, with the university contributing resources as a citizen of its community. “Out of all the things we’ve done in my career at UO, this will be the most impactful,” Dillon said. “I try and tell my daughter, this is bigger than the UO, bigger than the community. This is huge, but it’s also about problem-solving. There are going to be little problems to solve and big problems to solve, and if we think about it from that perspective, we can be successful together.”

    Read More
  • Mars rovers safe from lightning strikes, new UO research finds

    First published in Around the O on February 19, 2021. If experiments done in small bottles in a University of Oregon lab are accurate, the friction of colliding Martian dust particles are unlikely to generate big electrical storms or threaten the newly arrived exploration vehicles or, eventually, human visitors. For 50 years since Viking landers and later orbiters detected silts, clays, wind-blown bedforms and dust devils on Mars, scientists have worried about the potential for large lightning storms and whether static electricity generated by the planet’s mostly basaltic rock particles could damage vehicles or human protective gear. In the journal Icarus, a UO team reports that the friction caused by dust particles making contact with each other may indeed produce electrical discharges at the surface and in the planet’s atmosphere, but any resulting sparks are likely to be small. Such concerns had resurfaced in relation to the new NASA Mars mission, which successfully put the Perseverance rover and Ingenuity robotic helicopter on the red planet Feb. 18. In the lab of volcanologist Josef Dufek, researchers used a vertical glass tube comparable in size to a water bottle measuring some 4 inches in diameter and 8 inches in length. Inside it, they swirled volcanic ash as a stand-in for Martian dust in a series of experiments that allowed them to avoid pitfalls that had stymied earlier research. They determined that electrical discharges would likely be small, given the weak electrical fields, about 20 thousand volts per meter, supported by the Mars atmosphere. Earth’s atmosphere, by comparison, can withstand electrical fields reaching 3 megavolts per meter, producing spectacular lightning storms common and sometimes deadly in the southeast United States, said Joshua Méndez Harper, a research engineer in the Oregon Center for Volcanology in the Department of Earth Sciences. “Our experiments, and those of others before us, suggest that on Mars it is easy to get sparks when you agitate sand or dust,” Méndez Harper said. “However, it may be difficult, even in large dust storms or within dust devils, to get very large discharges or conventional lightning because the Martian atmosphere is bad at storing charge.” Such frictional processes are experienced on Earth in much simpler ways — by touching a doorknob after socks slide across carpet or sticking a balloon on a window after rubbing it on human hair. Martian dust devils, Méndez Harper said, may appear to sparkle, crackle or faintly glow in dark conditions as they roll across Mars’ desiccated landscape. However, discharges may be so small that they may only be detected using the radio waves they emit at close ranges. Previous experiments had been inconclusive because particles were swirled in a way that put them in contact with the walls of the testing enclosures. Some experiments used particles of materials not found on Mars. Such contacts may have produced charging not characteristic of a Martian dust storm. Méndez Harper, Dufek and George McDonald, a postdoctoral researcher at Rutgers University, got around the wall-exposure limitation using the glass tube. They created frictional charging by colliding particles of basaltic ash from Mexico’s Xitle volcanic eruption about 2,000 years ago. Collisions in the sealed tubes occurred at velocities expected in a light Martian breeze, with particles away from outer walls and in a pressurized, atmospheric pressure of 8 millibars of carbon dioxide, similar to that on the Martian surface. The volcanic rock used in the project is similar to Martian basalt, as detected by rovers in the Pathfinder and Mars Exploration Rover missions and the dust analogs developed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. As a comparison, the researchers also allowed particles to contact surfaces foreign to anticipated conditions on Mars. That created sparks but with a polarity different than in the new experiments. “We were interested in pursuing this work because of the number of new missions to Mars and the potential of constraining observations,” said Dufek, the UO’s Gwen and Charles Lillis Chair and director of the Oregon Center for Volcanology. “Quantifying charging and discharging behavior has a bearing on the transport of dust in the atmosphere and has long been studied in relation to modulating chemical reactions, including synthesizing organic compounds,” he said. The low energy of discharge on Mars as indicated by the new experiments means these effects are unlikely to impact mechanical operations, Dufek said.  Nevertheless, the Jezero Crater appears to regularly experience dust storms in the autumn and winter. That, McDonald said, may provide opportunities for rudimentary observations of electrostatic phenomena by the newly deployed rover. One of the objectives of its mission is to assess past environmental conditions. Evidence for a more substantial atmosphere in the past would have a bearing on the planet’s electrical environment and how it has changed over time. “The big takeaway from this study is that Mars may be an electrically active place, although in ways quite different than the Earth,” Dufek said. “The fact that analog Mars dust readily charges up to the point of discharge even when grains did not rub against other surfaces suggests that future colonists may find a world modified by static electricity in subtle ways.” The National Science Foundation funded the research through a grant to Dufek. Méndez Harper was supported by a Blue Waters Graduate Fellowship. —By Jim Barlow, University Communications

    Read More
  • Suppressed immune response linked to failed bone healing

    First published in Around the O on February 18, 2021. If all goes as envisioned, research done at the UO could one day lead to a blood test to guide treatment for trauma victims whose bones may be slow to heal. A team led by Robert Guldberg of the UO’s Phil and Penny Knight Campus for Accelerating Scientific Impact reported that measurements of specific immune cells and proteins circulating in the blood immediately following trauma can be combined with advanced data analytics to predict whether injuries will successfully respond to treatment. The findings were published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. In the research, the team measured the blood-based biomarkers in a rat model previously created to mimic chronic femoral bone-healing failure similar to that seen in human trauma cases. “Our immune systems are very personalized,” said Guldberg, the Robert and Leona DeArmond Executive Director of the Knight Campus. “The identification of these dysregulated immune response profiles associated with poor healing may allow physicians to reliably predict patient outcomes and potentially open new treatment strategies.” Guldberg was principal investigator on the project, which was supported by the U.S. Armed Forces Institute of Regenerative Medicine and done in a collaboration with researchers at Georgia Tech and Evolved Analytics. In a series of experiments, Guldberg and colleagues ran thousands of data models on hundreds of biomarkers. They identified elevated levels of myeloid-derived suppressor cells and the immunosuppressive protein interleukin-10 as the strongest predictors of delayed and less-effective bone regeneration. “Our studies showed that myeloid-derived suppressor cells were consistently elevated in the blood as well as the local tissue in the nonresponders to treatment, suggesting that suppression of the immune system may negatively affect musculoskeletal healing,” Guldberg said. “That opens up potential novel therapeutic targets to improve patient outcomes following traumatic injuries.” Although standard bone fractures heal 95 percent of the time, complex fractures or trauma that damage bones and surrounding soft tissues such as muscle have higher rates of complications and often require multiple procedures before fully healing. Factors such as age or underlying conditions, Guldberg said, can increase the risk of complications, motivating the need for biomarkers that can predict patient outcomes.   Under a recently awarded $2.5 million, five-year grant from the National Institutes of Health, Guldberg will lead a team to further characterize and confirm the immune biomarkers in anticipation of a possible human clinical trial and a test of a new immunomodulation treatment strategy. “We were quite intrigued to identify biomarkers that could be measured from the blood that correlated with local healing,” he said. “The observation that was most exciting though was that immunosuppressive biomarkers were elevated as early as one week after treatment, well before radiographs could be used to assess the progress of healing.” A similar dysregulated immune response is seen in early stages of infections, cancer and other diseases. Myeloid-derived suppressor cells normally activate along with other cell groups that respond to injury or a pathological condition. In turn, various proteins, such as the cytokines identified in the new paper, activate to control inflammation. Under normal conditions following injury, these compensatory responses return to normal levels.    When things go awry, Guldberg said, patients can enter a state of chronic inflammation and sustained immune suppression that appear to be associated with poor treatment outcomes. The potential to use a person’s blood profile to predict patient healing outcomes, he said, could be a real game changer for orthopedic trauma doctors. Guldberg’s co-authors were Georgia Tech doctoral students Albert Cheng and Casey E. Vantucci, the study’s lead authors, former Georgia Tech doctoral student Marissa A. Ruehle and Georgia Tech researchers Laxminarayanan Krishnan, Levi B. Wood and Krish Roy, and Theresa Kotanchek of Evolved Analytics. —By Jim Barlow, University Communications

    Read More
  • Merkley named chair of US Senate Appropriations Subcommittee

    February 12, 2021 12:46 pm The Office of U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley announced that the senator will serve as the Chair of the US Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, the Environment, and Other Related Agencies. This committee has wide-ranging jurisdiction over funding recommendations for  the U.S. Department of the Interior, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the U.S. Forest Service. These agencies oversee projects critical to Oregon’s forests, natural habitats, housing, coastal, tribal, and rural communities. This Appropriations Subcommittee also considers budget requests for: The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), which supports seismic monitoring for volcanic and earthquake activity, including the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network and the ShakeAlert earthquake early warning system operated in Oregon by the Oregon Hazards Lab in the Department of Earth Sciences at the UO The National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities, which awards grants to faculty and  programs such as UO libraries, the Museum of Natural and Cultural History, Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art, , and the Oregon Folklife Network. Merkley has served on the Senate Appropriations Committee, considered the one of the most powerful in Congress because of its role in allocating funding, since 2013. A media release with more information about how the funding from this subcommittee benefits the state of Oregon can be found here.

    Read More