UO State Affairs News

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Read More
  • Governor announces legislative push to fund Oregon ShakeAlert

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

    Read More
  • OR Senate Confirms Sandoval as LC&D Commissioner

    On December 2, the Oregon Senate confirmed Professor Gerardo Sandoval as a commissioner on the Land Conservation and Development Commission (LCDC). During his term, which began December 1, 2019, and ends November 30, 2023, Sandoval will represent the Willamette Valley region. “This is tremendous for [the State of] Oregon,” said Director Jim Rue in the committee’s press release. “Dr. Sandoval’s research, experience, and perspective will help ensure our work benefits all Oregonians.” The commission, assisting the Department of Land Conservation and Development (DLCD), adopts state land-use goals and implements rules, assures local plan compliance with the 19 statewide planning goals, coordinates state and local planning, and manages the  coastal zone program. The commission is also tasked with implementing rules on issues as wide-ranging as wildfire planning and urban growth boundaries to re-zoning for “missing middle” housing and the push to allow breweries on hops farms. Sandoval is an associate professor in the School of Planning, Public Policy and Management (PPPM) at the University of Oregon. His work and research focus on the intersection of planning, immigration, and community change.   

    Read More
  • Oregon offers tax credit on gifts to venture development fund

    First published in Around the O.Across the UO campus, researchers from myriad disciplines make discoveries that lead to inventions, patents and spinoff businesses. Recent examples include Ksana Health, a new company cofounded by UO psychology professor Nick Allen that’s creating digital platforms to turn smartphones into wireless wellness tools.

    Read More
  • Innovative cell therapy research boosted by state funds

    First published in Around the O. An innovative new research project from UO’s Robert Guldberg has captured the attention of Oregon’s economic development agency Business Oregon and the UO’s Office of the Vice President for Research and Innovation. Guldberg’s $1.2 million project, which zeroes in on one of the central challenges of the fast-growing cell therapy industry, is the first to tap into the University Innovation Research Fund. The new state fund is designed to support research at Oregon universities that drives innovation and economic development.

    Read More
  • Legislators get firsthand look at the UO's aging research boat

    First published in Around the O. The University of Oregon’s Institute of Marine Biology hopes  the Oregon Legislature’s 2020 session will lead to smoother sailing for its many students.

    Read More
  • TallWood Design Institute Opens Timber Research Facility

    First published on at https://archenvironment.uoregon.edu. On Oct. 10, the TallWood Design Institute—a partnership between the College of Design and the OSU Colleges of Forestry and Engineering—hosted the grand opening of the A.A. “Red” Emmerson Advanced Wood Products Laboratory on the OSU campus.

    Read More