OUS Snags Cash For New Engineering Building (+Blog status update)

Dear reader,

We apologize for the inactivity. Our GetReal staff is hard at work creating special K–12 lesson plans for teachers in Oregon to use. These special lesson plans integrate engineering into regular science lessons, giving young students a chance to learn more about engineering from a younger age. It’s a very exciting project, and we’re giving it our all—as a result, we’ve put the blog on the back burner for a bit. Keep checking for updates!


Enrollment at OSU has risen by over 30% in the last few years, and the College of Engineering is running out of space. In order to address this issue, they plan on constructing a new engineering building that will cost $40,000,000. Forty million bucks.

That’s a lot, even for a university. To help with it, several folks have donated some pretty hefty lumps of cash to help pay for it—and many chose to remain anonymous:

  • $10 million from one anonymous donor.
  • $7 million from OSU engineering graduate Peter Johnson, who now owns a huge company called Tekmax, Inc.
  • $3 million from other anonymous donors.

Oh, and the kicker: the state of Oregon may be matching these donations. If they do, OSU will already have enough money to cover the new building.

The College of Engineering hasn’t named the building yet, but plans on using it to host inter-disciplinary students studying chemical, biological and environmental engineering. The students will work together with faculty to tackle global issues that affect human health, energy, and the environment.

If you’re looking to study engineering—especially if you care about the environment, energy, or human health—this new building means OSU will be even better-prepared to give you a great engineering education.

Read on:

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Custom-made microbes can save the world—if you make them.

M

icrobial genetic engineering is quickly proving to be one of the most important fields in the world. Bacteria makes up at least half of the world’s biomass, so being able to manipulate and control what those bacteria do, for example, would prove to be a very powerful ability.

These wheat seeds are treated with an artificial bacteria, which is used in agriculture today to protect it from harmful fungi.

Plus, viruses and bacteria do this one minor thing: free self-replication. Make one working prototype and set the rest loose. Obviously that can prove dangerous, but that’s why we need engineers doing the work, who will think about the consequences as all good engineers do.

So what recent events have shown just how world-saving microbial genetic engineering can be? Let’s look at a few:

So how’s it done? Well the obvious work is modifying existing DNA by replacing it with synthesized genes, chemically altering it in a lab (mutagenesis).The real science of it, the guts of microbial genetic engineering, comes from mapping the bacteria or virus’s genome, making links to which bits of DNA are related to what behavior or effect, and learning to manipulate it. This is done experimentally, and experiments are being carried out all the time.

Read about an Oregon native who uses computer science with biology to fight HIV. Computer science is actually one of the closest-links with genetic engineering, since DNA is basically a giant chunk of data and the quickest way to work with huge amounts of data is through computers. The hybrid field of CS and biology is called bioinformantics.

Linus Pauling Science Center almost as awesome as Linus Pauling

Linus Pauling was a lot of things to a lot of people. Now he's got an OSU building named after him.

…though that would be hard to do. Linus Pauling is the world’s only person to have gotten two unshared Nobel prizes, after all. One was the peace prize (cool, since he was an author and advocated nuclear disarmament), but the other was for chemistry (awesome, since he studied chemical bonds and molecular structures). And he’s straight out of Oregon, too: born in Portland and an OSU graduate.

Here's LPSC as seen by OSU's live webcam feed of the building.

LPSC opened at OSU about a week ago, and is a 105,000-square-foot, 62.5-million-dollar research and educational facility. A big upgrade for OSU’s science branch—it’s now OSU’s biggest academic building! And it’s even considered its own institute: the Linus Pauling Institute moved from California to the just-opened LPSC, and conducts its work there.

Linus Pauling was a passionate guy who cared a lot about life, that’s why LPI does health research. He came from humble roots and became a face that the whole world recognized because of his achievements and contributions—twice. It’s a different world now, and we know a lot more about chemistry and the like, but one thing is the same: if you have a passion for life as well as a passion for science, you can make a lot of great things happen.

How gamers might have cured AIDS

…or at least struck a big blow in the fight on HIV/AIDS.

There’s an online gaming group called Foldit that lets users fold protein molecules, given a few guidelines, into whatever they want. You get more points for doing it ‘better’, as per their Science Info Page. The folded models are then used by scientists doing research on these new proteins.

The structure of one protein in HIV has kept scientists stumped for quite a while, and has been an obstacle in treating, curing and preventing AIDS. But once it hit the Foldit gaming community, the players found its pattern in just three weeks.

Check out this video of Foldit, and learn more about how the game works and scores you.

Pretty interesting way of gaming. Like a puzzle game.

One of several cool parts is that you are doing some really complex spatial puzzles, and can compete with many other people. Another is that knowing the rules of protein molecules’ folding patterns will help, so knowing the kung-fu of organic chemistry will help you out. Yet another is that it’s, you know, helping make the world better.

Go to the Foldit website, become a member, game away, and save the world.

Bionics, engineering’s awesome friend

Bionics is a portmanteau of biology and electronics. It’s basically the practice of taking people and making them better using engineering. Typically it’s used to help fix people with medical issues, to either replace a lost body part, or improve a damaged one.

Read about a 15-year old girl who became the youngest person in Europe with a bionic hand. It’s a pretty cool story, and there are a couple videos at the end of the post.

Bionic parts are rarely used by people who could otherwise have a perfectly functioning normal part. But that’s because the bionic limbs and parts we have today are still primitive compared to our naturally growing ones. We’ve yet to make the bionic limbs better than ours. What happens when we do that?

Here’s a halfway point: this guy lost his real eye, but since he can’t actually replace or improve it, he decided to get an upgrade in another way…

Wireless video transmission. Hello, CIA. I’d like to work for you.
No, I don’t have qualifications, but I do have a camera for an eye.
Yeah, I can start Monday.

It’s also worth noting a cool videogame which came out very recently, up this same vein. It’s a sci-fi shooting game called Deus Ex: Human Revolution. And it’s a creative investigation about what might happen if bionics could improve people. Check out the Deus Ex: HR cinematic trailer.

Bionics is actually a pretty wide term, tied in with Biomimetics, the practice of miming what happens in nature. Velcro is considered to be a kind of Biomimetic, since it copied nature. But here, we’re referring to bionics used in medicine.

It’s a very interesting field that could be fun for a lot of people. If you like engineering, but want to mix it with another interest (like medicine, for example), bionics might be for you!

Read more:

MIT makes a leaf to power your house

Looks like a leaf. Sits in a bucket. Powers your house.

The idea of science emulating nature has been around for a long time. Don’t fix what ain’t broke, right? If something has had millions of years to evolve, why try to find a design better?

Well, MIT followed this school of thought and made an artificial leaf, which generates electricity using photosynthesis. Artificial leaves have been around for a long time but have not really been useful; they either didn’t last long, didn’t do much, or were made out of rare materials.

This one is made out of common materials, like silicon, and lasts a lot longer than other artificial leaves. On top of that, it can produce enough power to keep a home lit for a day, if you just give it one gallon of water. But it’s extremely unlikely that it can generate the day’s worth of power in a day.

So if you, say, had lots of these, and lots of gallons of water—maybe 365 of them and 365 gallons of water—you’d generate enough to power a home for a year, and it would generate it fast enough to actually do it.

MIT has been enlisted by a company in India called Tata Group to make small, refrigerator-sized power plants (ohohoho) out of these.  You might guess that India would want to use these to raise the quality of life for their poor.