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:


Four things Cloud Atlas can tell us about the future of engineering

This is the city of Nea So Corpros, as shown in the new Cloud Atlas movie.


loud Atlas is a novel in six separate parts, where each story takes place long after the last, and where the story from each one somehow intertwines with the next. Recently, a film adaptation came out which is getting mixed reviews. But that’s not why we’re talking about it.

Whether it lives up to the novel, or whether the story is even good, is irrelevant to the fact that its depiction of the future may be far more accurate than we’d like. Here are four issues Cloud Atlas brings up which we think engineers will have to face—or already are:


The ethics of genetic engineering: In Cloud Atlas‘s city of Nea So Copros (called Neo Seoul in the movie), cloned servants called ‘fabricants’ are created to serve at restaurants and cafes. These fabricants are engineered to be good and obedient, but more important here is the idea that clones are being created at all. This has been an ethical issue biological and genetic engineers have had to struggle with for a long time. And it’s actually being considered today in California, where a bill is up for vote which would require genetically-engineered foods to be more explicitly labeled.

Fabricants are genetically engineered servants in Nea So Copros, which are recycled and used for food.

With plants it’s one thing, but the issue for humans is this: genetic engineering could help fight (or even totally prevent) diseases like allergies, cancer and Alzheimer’s—but could be easily misused to create people which are all the same, and might encourage discrimination against ‘inferior’ traits. How does an engineer deal with an issue like this?


Food: In Nea So Copros, fabricants are eventually recycled into food for new fabricants. Gross and morbid factor aside, this brings up an important issue which engineers also face today: how can we feed everyone in a growing world? There are places in the world where hunger is incredibly common, and we’re lucky enough  not to live in such a place—no matter what, you’ve probably got it better than someone in a 3rd-world country. And with a rapidly-growing world population, this issue is only going to get bigger. That’s why we’re looking into things like vertical farming for solutions, and why vegetarianism is encouraged to save food (growing meat takes a lot of grain which humans could eat).

You can see in this action scene how crowded the city is. Housing will be harder to find in big cities, unless engineers can come up with a solution.

One answer is the genetic engineering of plants (see how these issues intertwine?), as approached by people like Nobel Prize winner Norman Borlaug. Borlaug has traveled around the world to find ways to enhance crops for less-fortunate countries, and as a result has helped feed millions (if not billions) of people.


Global climate change: This issue is highly visible in Nea So Copros as well. In Cloud Atlas it is depicted as global warming, though both warming and cooling are possible outcomes depending on what happens. We can see in Nea So Copros that the city is slowly being submerged in water, and is only protected by massive dams. And the melting of those ice caps is probably caused by the greenhouse effect, which is amplified by the world’s output of carbon, methane, and other gases, into the atmosphere.

You can see the thick cloud over in the post-apocalyptic part of the movie. Thick, permanent clouds will become the norm if climate change is allowed to progress.

Climate change is something which humans have definitely helped cause, but also something that Earth does naturally. To help limit our contribution (which could potentially throw the world’s ecosystem totally out of whack) we invest in clean energy and try to limit emissions wherever we can, by making electric cars and improving manufacturing practices. All of these solutions require engineers to actually make the solutions happen. Pretty straightforward.


Housing: While not explicitly brought up by the movie, housing clearly is an issue, as we see in Nea So Copros. It appears that the standard living space is a technologically-advanced concrete room, which crams all of the things important for life into a tiny space, and uses technology to make it prettier than concrete is.

In a massive city like this, housing will become a problem very quickly.

We don’t necessarily have to worry about engineering technologically-advanced concrete, but it’s clear that, with a growing population, any engineer who can find a way to reduce one’s required living space (without detracting from comfort!) will be a successful engineer.

Especially as the world population slowly gravitates towards urban environments: in 1800, only 3% of the world’s population lived in urban areas. In 1950, it was over 30%. Now it’s even higher. When everyone lives in a tiny space, of course we need to engineer good housing!

These are issues engineers face today, and ones which will likely continue to be issues for engineers for years to come. Engineers definitely face some tough questions, and it’s up to you as an engineer to find the best answers you can.

Greengineering needs you behind it

Whether you want to become an engineer absolutely dedicated to sustainable engineering or not is aside the fact that all of our future engineers are going to need to be a lot more environmentally conscious.

In a recent climate change panel held at PSU, some Oregon climate scientists discussed global warming. And 90% of the audience agreed that humans are the main cause.

The biggest contributing factor is, of course, the creation of greenhouse gases by burning fossil fuels. But there’s not a ton we can do about this that we’re not already doing.

What you’ll have to be conscious of in the future isn’t the creation of greenhouse gas. You’ll have to deal with the high cost of materials, since the high cost of gasoline will lead to a rise in transportation costs, affecting any goods.

Here’s what you might expect in the future:

  • An increase in demand for computer scientists working on increasing efficiency of existing systems. It sounds vague because it will apply to anything you can imagine, which could be made more efficient with computerization. Things like traffic lights, cruise control, website servers, air conditioning and so forth will all need to be made as efficient as possible.
  • Greengineering being applied to everything. Even if you work on designing things you wouldn’t expect to have to be efficient, you will inevitably have to deal with high materials prices. Therefore, the most efficient designs will be prized. (Even for things like pavement, chairs, carpeting and windows may need to be reimagined for efficiency, meaning materials engineers will be in high demand)
Climate change will affect us in ways you might not expect. It’s highly unlikely that Earth will turn into a giant desert and we will all burn up, but it’s entirely plausible that fresh water will be an expensive commodity.

OSU lab simulates giant waves “for the lulz”

Okay, that’s a fake quote. But someone somewhere was definitely thinking about how cool it would be to learn about these waves. Hopefully without planning to use them for war, but maybe for a waterpark.

Quick crash course on giant destructo waves: there are real tsunamis which are caused by shifts in tectonic plates, and then there are the ‘tsunamis’ triggered by landslides, which are pretty impressive themselves. Scale: the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami went as high as 100 feet in some places. But the biggest landslide tsunami, in Lituya Bay, Alaska, went as high as 1,720 feet.

These guys rode the same kind of wave that OSU can recreate in their lab:
a landslide tsunami.


You think something like this might be a little scary? We definitely do. Watch the simulation of the Lituya Bay tsunami. The Lituya Bay tsunami only killed 2 people, while the Indian Ocean tsunami killed over 200,000, but imagine if the Lituya Bay tsunami happened in a place like Hong Kong.

Here's OSU's small-scale tsunami simulation in action. Image from the Gazette Times

One could only hope that the unlucky people, wherever it hit, were prepared.

The folks behind this project, at Oregon State University’s Hinsdale Wave Research Laboratory, are civil and environmental engineers who are concerned that something like this will happen in a populated area. The point of the study is to learn more about these kinds of waves, so engineers can figure out where they’re likely to happen, and what to do in order to defend against them.

And while this research would be cool for a new waterpark, it’s probably a bit more productive that it’s being used to keep people safe.