Latest news from the UO

  • Astronomy Research: An Asteroid Revealed

    First published in around the O, As dusk creeps over the high desert of central Oregon on a cool September evening, a small but fiercely enthusiastic group of University of Oregon students can hardly contain their glee. Obsessed by stars, gaga over galaxies, drawn to the infinite mysteries of the universe, they are planning to stay up all night at the UO Pine Mountain Observatory.

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  • October abounds with art and entertainment options

    First published in Around the O. With campus abuzz at the start of a new academic year, you won’t have to look far for fall art and culture. Straddling the months of September and October is Latinx Heritage Month. Be sure to check out the many events celebrating this rich culture, including the “Common Seeing” exhibition that complements the 2019-20 Common Reading of “Under the Feet of Jesus” by Helena Maria Viamontes. Take a break from class and do some coloring at Freebie Friday in the Erb Memorial Union, check out the legendary “gonzo” artwork of Ralph Steadman at the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art or enjoy an array of music events on tap this month.

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  • UO is leading an effort to speed up tsunami warnings

    First published in Around the O. A sea change may be coming in the way tsunami warnings are issued worldwide, and University of Oregon researchers are steering the effort — with a project using GPS in the Cascadia subduction zone — to deliver them within five minutes of an earthquake.

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  • 'Dreamer' campaign raises matching funds for scholarships

    First published in Around the O on September 17th. The Supreme Court will hear arguments on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program in November, but the Dreamers Working Group at the University of Oregon isn’t waiting to take action.

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  • UO provost awarded $1.8 million to study evolutionary genetics

    First published in Around the O on September 10th, 2019. Patrick Phillips, professor of biology and the UO’s recently named provost, has received a $1.8 million Outstanding Investigator Award from the National Institutes of Health.

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  • Football and school tie for the lead in Justin Herbert's playbook

    First published in Around the O on September 18th 2019. Even casual Oregon fans are familiar with the outlines of the Justin Herbert story. A three-sport star at Eugene’s Sheldon High School, he was the first freshman to start at quarterback for the Ducks in more than 30 years. Last spring, he passed on a chance to be a first-round NFL draft pick so he could come back and play one more year at Oregon. Now a senior, he’s a Heisman hopeful with an NFL body and movie star hair who leads a powerful Oregon squad aiming for a Pac-12 title and more. But what’s less well known about Herbert is that he is something of a nerd — a biology nerd specifically — and an academic star. Now in his fourth season as the Ducks quarterback, the 6-foot-6, 237-pound Herbert has already completed his degree requirements and walked in last spring’s commencement ceremonies. He earned a degree in biology and finished with a 4.01 grade-point average, and his list of academic accomplishments rival his on-field feats. He’s a two-time Academic All American first-team honoree and the reigning Google Cloud Academic All-America Team Member of the Year. He’s twice been named to the Pac-12 All-Academic first team. As a sophomore, he tutored fellow students in a demanding biology class. Herbert said he’s proud of his academic achievements and attributes them to good study habits fostered by his parents. “I think it’s pretty cool,” he said. “It’s a good product of all the hard work I’ve put in.” Herbert is dedicated to football, but biology might be his first love. “It really explains a lot of things that go on around us,” he said. “It explains how you breathe and how your cells work together. It explains everything, and I think it’s really cool to have an understanding of how things work.” Growing up in Eugene, biology was always in the background, and in the backyard. “I really grew up around biology,” he said. “My grandfather was a biology teacher and my father was a biology teacher.” His paternal grandfather, Roger Herbert, was a biology teacher for 34 years at Sheldon High School, where he was also the track and field coach. His maternal grandfather, Rich Schwab, was a leading receiver for the Ducks in the early 1960s, and went on to coach football at Sheldon, Churchill and Marist high schools. “He always had biology activities around the house,” Herbert said of his grandfather. “Growing up, we’d spend a lot of time over there just hanging out and learning from him.” Herbert and his brothers, Mitch and Patrick, raised a veritable Noah’s ark of animals in their grandfather’s backyard, including but not limited to hermit crabs, parakeets, quail, chickens, lizards and yes, ducks. When he got to the UO, “I wanted to study something I was interested in, and biology was the best choice,” he said. As a sophomore, Herbert served as a teaching assistant for Biology 212, a challenging class covering plant and animal physiology and development. Herbert had previously taken the class, and that spring he would attend classes and hold office hours twice a week to help fellow students understand some of the challenging concepts. “It really helped me understand and master the stuff we talked about,” he said. “It was fun and I met some good people and really enjoyed the experience.” It’s not easy playing quarterback for a Pac-12 school while also excelling in a demanding major, but Herbert said he’s figured out how to make it work. “It’s really tough, but fortunately having these good (study) habits before coming to college was really helpful,” he said. “It’s football and school, those are the top two priorities here and everything else has to come after that.” Herbert’s academic leadership extends to the football team as well. He’s known to compete with teammates for the best grades on the team. “We definitely have a battle when it comes to team GPA and stuff like that,” said offensive lineman Calvin Throckmorton, a human physiology major and aspiring surgeon. “We compete.” Senior tackle Brady Aiello roomed with Herbert last year and saw first-hand the work he puts in. “I knew he was an amazing student, but living with him I actually saw what he does off the field and how much work he really puts in toward his studies and it’s very impressive,” he said. “He’s just grinding in his office. … Justin is very, very into his studies.” Defensive tackle Drayton Carlberg said he appreciates Herbert’s leadership on the field and off. “I’m not sure how he does it,” he said. “I’m pretty good in the classroom and for him to be a biology student and be a 4.0, that blows my mind. So I know that sets a standard for me, and I know it’s affecting everybody else on the team. He improves our culture as far as academics.” With the bulk of Herbert’s academic rigors behind him, he can concentrate on playing football this fall, something he does very well. He began this season having thrown a touchdown pass in 28 straight games, the longest such streak in the nation. His 63 career touchdowns at the start of the season placed him fifth in the nation among active players. The Ducks enter the season with great expectations, and Herbert is expected to carry much of the load for a team aiming for a Pac-12 title and beyond. “There’s going to be some times this year where a guy like that is going to have to take over a football game,” head coach Mario Cristobal said. Herbert has matured not just as a player but also as a team leader, his teammates say. As a freshman, he led by example but didn’t speak up much. “Each year, he’s becoming more and more confident,” senior lineman Shane Lemieux said. “He’s always been a leader by example, but now he’s a vocal leader too. He’s assertive now.” “He’s a guy that everybody respects and listen to when he opens his mouth,” Throckmorton said. —By Tim Christie, University Communications

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  • Five UO researchers recognized with prestigious NSF awards

    First published in Around the O on September 3rd. Five UO faculty members have received one of the most highly competitive grants offered by the National Science Foundation, the prestigious Career Awards. Recipients are historian Melissa Graboyes, biophysicist Michael Harms and earth scientists Leif Karlstrom, Amanda Thomas and James Watkins. NSF Career Awards fund research and education activities for five consecutive years. The foundation grants the awards once a year and they are among the most sought-after grants awarded by the agency. An assistant professor the Clark Honors College who examines history and ethics of global health initiatives, Graboyes received a Career Award to pursue her research project “A Case Study of Malaria Elimination Efforts with Relation to Vernacular Knowledge, Expertise and Ethics.” Graboyes’ project will examine the attempts to eliminate malaria in sub-Saharan Africa and on the island of Zanzibar over the past century. She will conduct archival, ethnographic and oral research in Africa, Europe and the U.S. Her findings will contribute to global health discussions about malaria elimination attempts in Africa and will share information about historical case studies and often-overlooked ethical questions. She will integrate African understanding of malaria and its elimination — vernacular knowledge — into larger conversations of global health agencies, African studies and science and technology studies literature. “The award is exciting for how it allows me to not only pursue research on an important topic —malaria elimination campaigns — but also for how it allows me to involve Clark Honors College students in every step of the process,” Graboyes said. “These students will learn how to conduct archival research and gain valuable experience for graduate school and future careers.” Harms, an assistant professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry and the Institute of Molecular Biology who studies the relationship between the biophysical properties of proteins and their evolution, will use his Career Award to support his research project, “Protein Evolution in High-Dimensional Sequence Space.” Harms’ project uses biophysical studies to try to predict protein evolution. His lab is doing experiments to figure out how fluorescent proteins in corals evolved their unique colors and using the information to develop computer programs that predict protein evolution, with the goal of applying the software to many different proteins. His research has potential future applications for a range of different societal problems related to protein evolution, including antibiotic and pesticide resistance and engineering more efficient industrial enzymes for use in everything from food to drugs to laundry detergent. “Some aspects of evolution are unpredictable,” Harms said, “like how the environment of an organism might change. But some aspects are likely predictable. This is because proteins are governed by the laws of physics, putting some pretty strong constraints on evolution. We’re hoping to identify some of the physical ‘rules’ of evolution and then use them to make predictions.” An assistant professor in the Department of Earth Sciences who studies fluid mechanics applied to volcanoes, glaciers, and landscape evolution, Karlstrom will use the award to pursue his project “Long-term Controls on Short-term Patterns of Magmatism.” Karlstrom’s project will further the understanding of volcanic eruptions and the associated societal hazards by studying the pathways of magma through time as it moves towards the Earth’s surface. He will study the eruptions of the Columbia River flood basalts that occurred 15 million years ago and now blanket much of Eastern Oregon and Washington with frozen remnants of massive basaltic lava flows. He will focus on the exposed network of fissures that fed the largest eruptions and develop mathematical models to understand how the eruptions occurred. The research is relevant both to predicting active volcanic processes and interpreting past eruptions. Thomas will use her award to pursue her research project, “Using the Rattlesnake Ridge landslide as a natural laboratory to study repeating earthquake evolution and development of operational repeating signal detectors” An assistant professor in the Department of Earth Sciences, Thomas studies the physical properties of faults, seismotectonics, crustal deformation and the mechanics of earthquakes and faulting. Thomas’ project will improve the understanding of landslide dynamics and the processes controlling a diversity of behaviors to reduce the effect of landslides on people and infrastructure. She will examine data from the Rattlesnake Ridge landslide near Yakima, Washington, detecting and analyzing small earthquakes that occurred as the landslide developed to better understand evolution of the slide body and how fault geometry influences seismicity character. Thomas’ proposed research also includes applying data mining techniques to continuous seismic records in the Pacific Northwest to discover small earthquakes that have eluded detection by the regional seismic network. Identifying such small earthquakes will help researchers better understand regional seismicity and its relationship to large subduction zone earthquakes. Watkins will use his award to pursue his research project, “Toward an inorganic calcite reference frame for interpreting the stable isotope composition of biogenic carbonates.” An associate professor in the Department of Earth Sciences, Watkins studies stable isotope geochemistry and experimental petrology. Watkins’ project involves the study of carbonate rocks, which provide an archive of changes to the environment through geologic time. Deciphering the geologic record can be difficult, Watkins said, due to the interference caused by different environmental variables. Researchers will carry out a detailed set of experiments in which carbonate crystals are grown in the laboratory under controlled conditions, enabling the team to determine how each environmental variable gets imprinted in minerals precipitated from aqueous solutions. “The results will improve our ability to extract paleoenvironment information from carbonate rocks and could potentially lead to better forecasts of how the earth will respond to ongoing anthropogenic inputs of carbon dioxide to Earth's atmosphere,” Watkins said. According to the National Science Foundation, Career Awards support early career faculty members who “have the potential to serve as academic role models in research and education and to lead advances in the mission of their department or organization.” Career projects should “build a firm foundation for a lifetime of leadership in integrating education and research.” “The NSF Career Award is among the most competitive grants handed out by the National Science Foundation, and it’s a great honor that our institution received five of them,” said David Conover, vice president for research and innovation. “We congratulate these promising early career researchers and look forward to the new knowledge and exciting discoveries that will result from these important projects.” Career award proposals must address the broader effects of the projects, which requires investigators to link their research to societal impacts and include in their projects educational or outreach activities that benefit society. Karlstrom’s project will engage new audiences by bridging science to the arts and developing techniques for exploring scientific data through sound. He will use the process of sonification — rendering data audible — to produce tools for exploring volcanic data through sound, which will be used to teach fundamentals of data science. A classically trained violinist, he also plans collaborations with other musicians to produce outreach presentations and recordings that engage general audiences in volcano research. “The creative process is an integral part of generating new scientific ideas, just as it is for creating compelling art,” Karlstrom said. “This project will work to demonstrate the connections between active research and new music.” Graboyes’ project will provide mentoring and training to female UO students in science, technology, engineering and math classes in broadening their understanding of what a scientist is and furthering their understanding of the history and social studies of science. Another goal of the project is to expose and train students to use social science research methods in their future careers. Watkins’ research will be integrated with teaching and hands-on outreach activities that introduce crystal growth and paleoclimate concepts to K-12 students and the capstone course for undergraduate seniors majoring in geology. Thomas’ project will include several outreach components. Because the Rattlesnake Ridge landslide occurred on Yakama Nation lands, Thomas plans to present her findings to the Yakama Nation Tribal Council and other community stakeholders. The project will also include designing and leading field trips for students at Heritage University and the tribal school to understand landslide hazards in the region. Harms’ project will expand public understanding of evolution by improving high school evolutionary biology education. His lab will host high school science teachers from local rural schools as summer researchers. He and his lab members will then collaborate with the teachers to develop a new high school curriculum that incorporates their research findings to teach evolutionary biology to high school students. “For a lot of people, science knowledge is handed down from ‘on high’ by experts,” Harms said. “I’m excited to pull back the curtain a bit, to expose students to the process by which scientific progress is made. These high school teachers will get to bring back their experiences in the lab — even the stuff that doesn’t work — into the classroom. I hope that the high school students can get a glimpse of how exciting and hard and, well, human, scientific research is.” —By Lewis Taylor, University Communications

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  • Rep. DeFazio hosts passenger rail roundtable at 510 Oak downtown

    On August 26, U.S. Congressman Peter DeFazio convened a roundtable of Lane County-area decision makers along with state and federal officials to discuss the status and needs of the Amtrak Cascades passenger rail service along the I-5 corridor between Eugene and Portland. The event was held at UO’s new College of Design School of Art and Design’s research studios downtown near the Eugene Amtrak station. The tracks are owned by Union Pacific and their representatives joined the meeting. Senior Associate Vice President for Research Cass Moseley welcomed participants and spoke to the benefits to the University of Oregon from frequent and reliable rail service. Following the roundtable, Interim Dean of the College of Design Laura Vandenburgh led attendees on a tour of the newly renovated 510 Oak building. The group discussed topics including the Cascade’s on-time performance, infrastructure needs, and other performance challenges. Roundtable participants included State Representatives Nancy Nathanson and Marty Wilde, Eugene Mayor Lucy Vinis, and Lane County Commissioner Heather Buch. Union Pacific officials noted that discussions are already underway with the Oregon Department of Transportation and Amtrak about managing conflicts between freight and passenger rail service during the 2021 Track and Field World Championships. Frequent, reliable and timely Amtrak service between Eugene and points north is a long held institutional priority for the University of Oregon and local governments. UO faculty, students and staff use both Amtrak rail and bus service frequently. The growing relationship between UO and OHSU faculty and researchers will continue to continue to increase the demand for the ability to travel quickly and dependably between Portland and Eugene, alleviating the need to contend with I-5 traffic. Dave Reesor, UO Director of Parking and Transportation Services, joined the meeting and manages Amtrak’s access to campus for its daily bus service.

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