Latest news from the UO

  • New virtual challenge rewards students’ COVID-19 knowledge

    First published in Around the O on March 29, 2021. After a year of learning and living with rules and requirements for COVID-19 safety, UO students have the chance to test their knowledge and earn prizes. It’s all part of the Crush COVID-19 Challenge, a new online activity created by UO staff and students just for Ducks. The Crush COVID-19 Challenge launched March 29, with weekly challenges running through the end of spring term. “Our Ducks have achieved the impossible this year on so many levels, following COVID-19 safety practices that frequently and quickly shifted,” said Kris Winter, associate vice president for student life and dean of students. “This challenge aims to engage students in recommitting to COVID-19 safety and reward our amazing students for choosing each other above all.” To participate, students register at the crushcovid site, provide contact information, create a unique user name, and log on to complete challenges and invite other Ducks to join in. Challenges range from multiple-choice quizzes to photo and video uploads, with a new set added each week. They spotlight COVID-19 information and safe practices in an engaging way while informing and reminding participants about prevention steps and the resources available to students. Students earn prizes by completing the weekly challenges and by inviting other Ducks to play, tracking results on the game’s leaderboards. The challenge also offers weekly random prize drawings, which include gift cards from GrubHub, Instacart and the DuckStore, along with headphones, iPads, Oculus Quests and MacBook Pros. A “Supercharged” category yields some exclusive experiences: dinner with UO President Michael Schill (when it is safe to do so), tours of Matt Knight Arena or Autzen Stadium, or a guided visit to the top of the new Hayward Tower. The challenge was created by the Division of Student Life, the Location Innovation Lab of the Campus GIS and Mapping Program and the incident management team. Student focus groups and student employees helped design the challenge and contributed feedback. With Lane County in the low risk category entering the term, vaccines for all students coming in May, and the promise of a fall return to in-person classes, Winter said the challenge offers a way for students to reflect on what they’ve experienced and feel upbeat about getting through turbulent times. “All year, students have responded to the changes caused by the pandemic,” she said. “As our current status shows, they’ve been crushing COVID in real life. Now they have a chance to crush it in the challenge, and in the process earn some well-deserved rewards.”

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  • UO chemist Christopher Hendon named Cottrell Scholar

    First published in Around the O on March 22, 2021. UO chemist Christopher H. Hendon has been named a Cottrell Scholar by the Research Corporation for Science Advancement, which supports both research and teaching in chemistry, physics and astronomy. Hendon, who is known widely as Dr. Coffee, was selected for the proposal “Inorganic Defects in Metal-Organic Frameworks.” In his research, he will look at chemical properties of imperfect inorganic materials using high-performance computing. “Nature isn’t perfect. In every crystal there may be an atom or two out of place, and that mistake may govern the entire property of the material,” said Hendon, an assistant professor and computational chemist in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. “An example is the perfect diamond, which is shiny and clear, but its defects cause them to be colored and less shiny.” “Since the first class of Cottrell Scholars in 1994, this community has provided leadership and guidance that has made a big impact on science, on students and across academia,” said Silvia Ronco, senior program director at the research corporation, a private foundation that supports catalytic funding for research in the physical sciences at colleges and universities. Hendon turned to his work in the coffee industry as inspiration for the teaching portion of the Cottrell Scholarship. “My education proposal came from reflecting on this past year,” he said. “One category of classes that really struggled with the transition to remote learning were those with a laboratory component, where students do hands-on work. I teach general chemistry in cafés every day, so I figured why not develop an entire general chemistry laboratory class on coffee. It is accessible to most people and could be done for around $100 in homemade equipment.” Hendon will get $100,000 as a Cottrell Scholar. He joins 24 others in the 2021 class and is now among a handful of UO Cottrell Scholars. “The Cottrell Scholarship is unique,” he said. “Once you become part of the community, you are in it forever.”

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  • College of Education team develops inclusive K-12 curriculum

    First published in Around the O on March 22, 2021. A research project in the College of Education is helping educators create more inclusive classroom environments and embrace a state requirement to incorporate Native American culture and history into curriculums. Senate Bill 13, passed by the Oregon Legislature in 2017, addressed a concern that Oregon has been “missing a critical opportunity to fully leverage the strengths, assets and contributions our Native American students bring to their communities.” The bill requires Oregon school districts to include Native American curriculum in lesson plans and includes lessons written by the Oregon Department of Education as well as each of the federally recognized tribal nations in Oregon who developed their own place-based curriculum units. Stephanie Wood, a research associate in the Center for Equity Promotion, works with her team to develop K­-12 curriculums that include Native American cultures and their histories. Though not part of the Senate Bill 13: Tribal History/Shared History curriculum mandate, these curriculum units nevertheless fill an important gap with respect to Native studies curriculum. The  study units are available to all teachers as downloadable PDFs and are created for diverse grade levels and subjects. Education about Native American history in the U.S. is often not comprehensive. Eighty-seven percent of content taught about Native Americans in school includes only history before 1900, according to a study in the journal Theory & Research in Social Education, and 27 states surveyed did not name one Native American individual in their teachings. In fact, most Americans do not even know that there is more than one Native American tribe, the study says. “Because so many U.S. citizens are barely aware that tribal nations continue to exist, and few know that these are diverse cultures with varying historical experiences, we have worked to ensure Native voices get into more classrooms nationwide,” Wood said. “We hope that a more balanced education will help reverse achievement gaps for Native students and broaden the appreciation for Indigenous cultures for non-Native students.” To ensure Native voices are heard, the project includes primarily Indigenous curriculum designers. Curriculum designers receive support locating primary sources and crafting lessons that encourage critical thinking and ensuring their units are easily transferrable to a range of classrooms. A recent grant from the Department of the Interior has helped develop 10 new lesson units. Funds helped recruit designers, conduct research, edit curriculum and publish the units on the Honoring Tribal Legacies website. Founded at the University of Oregon in 2010, Honoring Tribal Legacies is a project that initially sought to build upon a digital video archive — “Tribal Legacy” — of hundreds of educators and tribal leaders sharing their stories. Wood’s team is now expanding the free online curriculum that educators can use in their own classrooms. “Our project aims to promote greater diversity and balance in U.S. classrooms by supplying information that has been ignored and points of view that have been overlooked,” Wood said. “If our curriculum design practice can serve as a model for others seeking to address state laws for shared histories and improve conditions for native students, that would be a victory.” —By Meghan Mortensen, College of Education

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  • Latest COVID-19 relief package includes $39.6 million for higher ed

    March 16, 2021 01:20 pm On Thursday, March 11, President Joe Biden signed into law the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, a nearly $1.9 trillion package to provide another round of COVID-19 relief funding.   The legislation was developed and passed through the budget reconciliation process, which directed authorizing committees to draft sections of a budget reconciliation bill based on President Biden’s COVID-19 relief proposal released shortly after his inauguration. The American Rescue Plan Act includes $39.6 billion in additional funding for the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF). The bill also includes a House-passed provision that proposes changes to the 90/10 rule, which expands the 90 percent cap on revenue for-profit colleges can receive from the government to include all types of federal assistance. Also included in the measure is $100 million for the Institute of Education Sciences for research to address learning loss due to the pandemic and $135 million for the National Endowment for the Humanities. A new provision in the bill would ensure that any type of student loan forgiveness passed over the next five years is tax-free. National associations representing the UO and the full spectrum of higher education institutions wrote letters to House and Senate leaders expressing their strong support the legislation. The letters noted that while the $40 billion included in the measure for higher education relief falls short of the $97 billion needed to address student and institutional needs, it “represents the largest federal effort so far to address the crippling impact of the pandemic on colleges and universities.” Under HEERF, UO is expected to receive approximately $43 million with a required minimum distribution in direct grants to students of at least half the award. Total HEERF awards still fall far short of the university’s reported new costs and losses. For more, read the Association of Public & Land-Grant Universities (APLU) analysis of the legislation here.

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  • UO researchers help create virtual reality diversity training

    First published in Around the O on March 15, 2021. College of Education faculty members Heather McClure and Dane Ramshaw have partnered with Shift Bias, a virtual reality training development company, to create a new curriculum for diversity, equity and inclusion training. “The course is augmented with an immersive, lifelike virtual reality experience that guides the learner to discover disparities and inequities in action and to develop the motivation to change behaviors and, thus, outcomes,” McClure said. Participants begin with an online equity assessment that establishes a knowledge baseline to begin learning from. Once the assessment is complete, participants can move on to the course curriculum, which is designed to be completed in eight weeks. It is approximately 3½hours long, broken up into 15-minute intervals. The VR practice scenario occurs in week seven of the training. “The course is designed to help education professionals on their journey towards understanding and embracing equal justice and belonging, and achieving equitable student outcomes,” McClure said. McClure worked with Shift Bias to help generate ideas for the curriculum and provide feedback on content from other contributors. Ramshaw set up the technology infrastructure of the program to ensure the content could be delivered at a large scale. “The COVID-19 pandemic has driven the demand and understanding of virtual reality forward by years, and there is now a greater need for training using this technology,” said Shift Bias founder Wendy Morgan, a former College of Education program manager. “We have already developed a five-course series to train in infection prevention specific to COVID-19.” A study by PwC, the brand name for PricewaterhouseCoopers, found that learning through virtual reality leaves participants 275 percent more confident in applying learned skills after the training and that programs are completed four times faster than they would be in traditional classroom settings.   The diversity, equity and inclusion training has already received interest from organizations across the United States. The World Health Organization expressed interest in deploying the training to developing nations, and contracts currently exist with The University of Pennsylvania, a leadership group convened by Lane Workforce Partnership, and other workforce boards across Oregon. Learn more about how Shift Bias is using virtual reality to change the way people learn on the company’s website.  —By Meghan Mortensen, College of Education

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  • 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

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  • 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.

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  • 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 

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  • 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.

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