Latest news from the UO

  • 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

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  • 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

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  • 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.

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  • Updated Oregon Impact map break down UO's effect by county and district

    February 8, 2021 10:34 am  Oregon Impact 2021 is an interactive map tells the story of the University of Oregon’s impact in every Oregon county, legislative district, and congressional district. The tool displays data about UO students, alumni, and other interesting details in a customized and informative way. This Oregon Impact map was recently updated with the latest data about the number of students, alumni, employees and local vendors doing business with the UO in each geographic area. Statewide UO students received $133 million in federal, state, and institutional financial aid, and the map breaks down these allocations by district and county. Also featured from each jurisdiction is the number of students participating in Pathway Oregon, UO’s program that ensures that academically qualified Pell Grant-eligible Oregonians will have their tuition and fees paid through a combination of federal, state and university funds. Statewide 2,385 students are Pathway Oregon participants. The map also shows the number of placements over the last five years of the UO’s Resource Assistance for Rural Environments (RARE) AmeriCorps program. This program, administered through the UO’s Institute for Policy Research and Engagement, is an interdisciplinary institute that assists Oregon communities by providing planning and technical assistance to help solve local issues and improve the quality of life for Oregon residents. The Oregon Impact map is a collaboration between the UO Campus GIS & Mapping team, the Department of Geography’s InfoGraphics Lab, the Office of Institutional Research, the Institute for Policy, Research and Engagement, and Government and Community Relations.

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  • Trustees approve housing project and get legislative update

    First published in Around the O on February 3, 2021. The University of Oregon Board of Trustees approved the second and third phases of the Housing Transformation Project and received an update on federal and state legislative affairs for the university at its Feb. 2 meeting. The three-phase housing project will replace two of the university’s older residence complexes, Hamilton and Walton, with three new buildings with a combined capacity of around 1,800 students. The project is a key component in the university’s drive to expand student enrollment. The new buildings will include a prospective student recruitment and welcome center, and a reimagined and expanded green space. The UO broke ground on the project in late 2019 and work is progressing well, Roger Thompson vice president for student services and enrollment management told the trustees. The first new residence hall will be ready for students this fall. “It’s coming along splendidly,” Thompson said. “It’s on time and on budget.” The second and third phases of the project involve building two residence halls to replace Walton Hall, and replacing Hamilton Hall with a new green space. The total anticipated cost of those phases is a combined $130 million and will be funded by issuing revenue bonds to be repaid directly from University Housing’s stand-alone budget. Given the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic, Thompson and UO Housing Director Michael Griffel walked the trustees through various scenarios of occupancy in the residence halls at the start of the 2021-22 academic year and their corresponding financial implications. Thanks to healthy financial reserves the housing unit has built up, Thompson said that, even in the worst-case occupancy scenarios for next year, the project remains financially prudent.   “Our total reserves never get to a point that is concerning for me, even when we look at the downside scenarios,” he said. Jamie Moffitt, vice president for finance and administration, noted that UO housing’s finances are hit harder by a down enrollment year than the university overall, but they recover more quickly, due to the fact that the vast majority of students in the residence halls are first-year students. The trustees voted without dissent to move forward with the final two phases of the project. The project is slated to be complete in summer 2024. Betsy Boyd, the UO’s associate vice president for federal affairs, and Hans Bernard, associate vice president for state affairs, briefed the trustees on legislative issues and priorities. Boyd noted that Congress included funding for institutions of higher education in two of the four COVID-19 relief package it approved in 2020. The combined relief packages of $38 billion provided to all higher education institutions and their students was significantly less than the estimated financial losses of almost $170 billion those schools experienced last year, Boyd said.  “While we are grateful for the support we have received, we know that it is far less than what we have lost and the new costs our students and institutions are facing,” she said. Boyd said the UO will continue to advocate for additional COVID-19 relief funding and increased financial aid support for students, as well as research appropriations, in 2021. Bernard, meanwhile, recapped the three special sessions the Oregon Legislature held in 2020, which included several UO priorities receiving support. Lawmakers approving state funding for renovating Huestis Hall, for the build-out of the UO’s ShakeAlert earthquake early warning system, and to replace the ocean-going research vessel for the UO’s Oregon Institute of Marine Biology. Looking ahead to the 2021 legislative session, Bernard said the UO is working to secure a $900 million allocation for public universities in the upcoming two-year state budget, which would represent a small increase from the current budget cycle. Gov. Kate Brown proposed keeping higher education funding flat in her proposed 2021-23 budget late last year, which would represent an effective budget cut for all universities. Oregon lawmakers will debate the state budget over the next five months, based on the state’s updated revenue forecasts. President Michael Schill said he is hopeful lawmakers will recognize the vital role universities will play in a healthy recovery from the current economic recession. “Any cut whatsoever in state funding is going to be very difficult for us,” Schill said. “We are seeing the value of research universities right now. It’s research universities that are working with companies to come up with the vaccine. It’s research universities like ours that are working with Lane County Public Health to organize mass vaccination events. It’s research universities like ours that are doing more COVID-19 asymptomatic testing than anyone else.”

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  • Biden executive orders impact universities

    February 1, 2021 02:18 pm National associations representing the UO and the full spectrum of higher education institutions are requesting at least $97 billion for a Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF) in the next COVID-19 supplemental appropriations package. While the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations (CRRSA) Act provided $22.9 billion  was very helpful, the level of funding provided falls far short of the $125 billion that higher education leaders estimated as necessary to meet 2020-21 losses and new costs  as a direct result of the pandemic due to a sudden loss of revenue and the emergency expenses incurred to prioritize safe operations.    A coalition of higher education associations, including the American Council on Education (ACE), the Association of American Universities (AAU) and the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU), sent a letter to U.S. House and U.S. Senate leadership at the end of January asking for at least $97 billion for HEERF.  APLU also created a fact sheet detailing the financial hit its 199 public research institutions have incurred due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  Survey results indicate the 199 public research universities that comprise APLU’s membership collectively face a $15.1 billion funding gap due to the pandemic. In addition APLU, AAU, ACE, and the Association of American Medical Colleges sent a letter to congressional leaders renewing a call for $26 billion for federal science agencies in the next COVID relief package to support scientists and research operations critical to beating the pandemic, supporting communities, and revitalizing the economy. The request is consistent with the bicameral bipartisan RISE Act, which was approved by the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee last Congress. To date, no pandemic relief package has provided across-the-board research relief. President Biden announced a proposal last week that includes $34 billion for public institutions of higher education. Senate Republicans offered a proposal on Monday February 1 that makes no provision for higher education. The legislative path forward for a fifth relief package is uncertain as the Democratic majorities look toward a simple majority procedural vote on “budget reconciliation” as a vehicle for passage. In related activity, shortly following his inauguration last week, President Biden issued a series of executive orders (EO) repealing a number of Trump administration policies impacting higher education, including the following actions of interest to the higher education community. The President: withdrew the EO restricting diversity training for federal contractors and grantees; extended student loan relief through September; directed the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to take appropriate measures to fortify DACA and to ensure DACA recipients are protected from deportation;  rescinded the travel bans; and revoked the EO excluding undocumented populations from the census. Announced pandemic-related executive orders, including a call for greater guidance for higher education institutions.  APLU released a statement hailing the executive orders while noting interest in working with the administration to strengthen the mission of public universities.

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  • Speaker to discuss racial injustice and criminal justice system

    First published in Around the O on February 1st. UO advising and inclusion leader Kimberly Johnson will address how racial injustice in the criminal justice system leads to mass incarceration and excessive punishment, and its broader implications for social justice action in an online address. Johnson’s talk, “How Far Do You Have to go for Justice? Acting Beyond the Vote,” is part of the African American Workshop and Lecture series and will take place virtually Feb. 9 from 5:30 to 7 p.m. Johnson is the UO assistant vice provost for advising and director for the Center for Multicultural Academic Excellence and is a UO alumna.  Johnson is the author of the critically acclaimed young adult novel “This is My America,” which is the current UO Common Read selection. “This is My America” tells the story of 17-year-old Tracy Beaumont in a race against time to seek justice for her father, wrongly accused and sentenced to death row, while her brother, a promising track star, is unjustly accused of killing a young white woman. Provost Patrick Philliips said he is inspired by Johnson’s work at the university and in her new novel. “While we are inspired by all our speakers and what lessons and wisdom they bring, particularly during these challenging times, it’s also critical for us to realize the wisdom and inspiration we have here at the UO,” he said. “Johnson has long been a guide, a role model and a leader for our students, as well as for our staff and faculty. With her new book out in the world, others are getting to see the insight, courage and compassion that she brings to all she does. We hope many will come hear her.” An RSVP is required by Feb 8. For more information see the Division of Equity and Inclusion website. —By tova stabin, University Communications   https://around.uoregon.edu/content/speaker-discuss-racial-injustice-and-criminal-justice-system

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  • Blumenauer introduces bill to study the impact of autonomous vehicles

    January 31, 2021 10:14 am On January 21, 2021 Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) reintroduced a bill to study community-wide influences of autonomous vehicles. The Preparing Localities for an Autonomous and Connected Environment (PLACE) Act would create a federally funded clearinghouse to examine the secondary influences of autonomous vehicles and new mobility.  New mobility includes innovations such as rideshare, car-share, microtransit, bike-share, and scooter-share.  The PLACE Act would create a clearinghouse to be housed at a higher education institution. These facilities would be required to collect, conduct, and fund research to help understand how autonomous vehicles and new mobility can influence land use, real estate, transportation, municipal budgets, urban design, the environment, and social equity. The proposed clearinghouse is funded at $2 million annually and would be chosen by the Secretary of Transportation within 180 days of enactment. The Urbanism Next Center at the University of Oregon does leading research well aligned with these topics and is well positioned to compete for the national clearinghouse.  Urbanism Next has been building a body of work over the last five years around AV and new mobility impacts, works with public and private sector partners around the globe on these topics, and has been a leader in developing this area of research through its reports, yearly conference, and their NEXUS web-based resource.  Even if housed elsewhere, the clearinghouse would speed the dissemination of research by programs like the Urbanism Next Center. Last Congress, the PLACE Act was included in Section 5303 of the Moving Forward Act, which passed the U.S. House of Representatives on July 1, 2020. The Moving Forward Act passed with leadership from Congressman Peter DeFazio (D-OR), chair of the US House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee. In a 2019 press release on the bill, Congressman Blumenauer remarked that “done right, autonomous vehicles can increase mobility, improve social equity, and solve some of the country’s most vexing problems. Done wrong, we may repeat the mistakes of the past. The PLACE Act will allow us to have the research at our disposal to create more livable communities for all.” Follow the PLACE Act as it moves through the current Congress here.

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  • Employee donations during food drive help fight student hunger

    First published in Around the O on January 29th. The annual Governor’s State Employees Food Drive gets underway this week, and UO employees can make a very local impact by bringing nonperishable items to the Student Food Pantry every Wednesday in February. According to the Oregon Food Bank Network, hunger has doubled across Oregon in the past year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This is reflected in the UO student population as well; food insecurity on campus has increased since last March, when the coronavirus emerged. During the pandemic FOOD for Lane County, which stocks the shelves for the Student Food Pantry, has been unable to hold their largest canned food drives. Donations from food drives usually provide variety in food options that the agency relies on to offer well-rounded, nourishing meals to pantry users. To address that need, the UO Food Drive Steering Committee has partnered with the UO Food Security Task Force, as well as Oregon Cheerleading, to host a series of canned food drives every Wednesday throughout the month of February. University volunteers and members of Oregon Cheerleading will accept nonperishable food donations in-person at the Student Food Pantry each Wednesday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Donations that the student pantry can’t store immediately will go to FOOD for Lane County’s central warehouse for distribution to the Lane County community.  To highlight some of the most-wanted foods, each day has been themed to encourage donation of these foods:   Feb. 3: Shelf-stable proteins like nut butters, legumes and canned tuna or chicken. Feb. 10: Culturally appropriate foods, including dried lentils or beans, curry paste and spices. Feb. 17: Meal building blocks, such as hearty soups, plant-based milks, cereals and cooking oils. Feb. 24: Canned fruits and vegetables, including low-sugar dried fruit.  Masks are required. Only nonperishable, in-date food items will be accepted. For more information and a more complete list of desired foods, visit the food drive website or email [email protected] https://around.uoregon.edu/content/employee-donations-during-food-drive-help-fight-student-hunger

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