Science

RICHLAND, Wash. – The progress and future of cleanup efforts at the Hanford Site will be the focus of a presentation by Tom Fletcher, deputy manager of the Department of Energy’s Richland Operations Office, 3-4 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 8, in the WSU Tri-Cities East Auditorium.

This is the fourth in a series of lectures focusing on the Hanford Site and is cohosted by Washington State University Tri-Cities and the U.S. Department of Energy.

Fletcher, a WSU alumnus, will focus on the Richland Operation Office’s priorities for continuing the Hanford Site cleanup while strictly adhering to safe, environmentally-acceptable and responsible management practices.

The Richland Operations Office has an annual budget of approximately $1 billion. It oversees multiple contractors working on the cleanup project that stretches over the 580-square-mile site.

“We are pleased to welcome Mr. Fletcher and his expertise” on the Hanford cleanup project, said Akram Hossain, vice chancellor for research, graduate studies and external programs at WSU Tri-Cities. “This is an exceptional opportunity for our students, faculty and all of the community to learn what is currently happening at the Hanford Site, as well as how this is accomplished from an operations perspective.”

Fletcher became deputy manager of the Richland Operations Office in December 2016. He oversees daily operations, program planning, project execution, budgeting and compliance with the Hanford Federal Facility Agreement and Consent Order. He has more than 20 years of experience managing nuclear operations, construction, deactivation, demolition and environmental remediation projects.

Fletcher holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in civil engineering from WSU.

 

Contacts:

Tish Christman, WSU Tri-Cities administrative assistant, 509-372-7683, tish.christman@wsu.edu

Maegan Murray, WSU Tri-Cities public relations specialist, 509-372-7333, maegan.murray@wsu.edu

By Maegan Murray

Wine is a $2 billion industry in Washington state, but many students will not be exposed to the science behind the field as a possible career option until they reach college. Thanks to the Partners in Science program, however, one high school teacher had the opportunity to shadow and complete research alongside a renowned wine science researcher and professor at Washington State University Tri-Cities – the science behind the experience, of which, he is now introducing to his high school students.

Fred Burke, science teacher at Chiawana High School, sets up equipment for a smoke taint trial at the WSU Prosser Research Extension vineyards. He was paired with Tom Collins, assistant professor of wine science at WSU Tri-Cities, to complete wine research the last two summers at WSU Tri-Cities as part of the Partners in Science program.

Fred Burke, a teacher at Chiawana High School, had the opportunity to shadow and complete research with Tom Collins, wine science researcher and assistant professor of wine science at Washington State University Tri-Cities.

“This experience has allowed me to show my students how the nature of science is more than what they experience through a text book and allow them to experience the techniques and capabilities of it in a real-world setting,” Burke said. “It has not only allowed me to participate in research that will have an impact in the wine industry today, but it also it makes doing science a lot more fun for my students.”

Through the Partners in Science program, which is supported by a $15,000 grant from the MJ Murdock Charitable Trust, high school teachers are paired with a university professor in their field and the pair spends two consecutive summers completing research. During the end of each summer experience, the teachers prepare a presentation on their research and how they plan to implement what they learn into their classroom setting. The university professors also get the value of an additional hand in the lab and in the high school teacher’s second summer, an experienced lab researcher to help with their studies.

As part of his research experience, Burke worked with Collins to characterize wine grape varieties using sophisticated research techniques known as gas chromatography and mass spectrometry. For the techniques, the researchers use devices that allow researchers to look into the intricate chemical and other properties of each type of grape for classification and categorization. Burke also had the chance to work with Collins to start a study analyzing the impact of wildfire smoke on wine grapes, which could hinder the taste and overall quality of the wine.

Tom Collins, assistant professor of wine science at WSU Tri-Cities, prepares smoking equipment for a smoke taint trial to evaluate the effect of smoke on wine grapes at the WSU Prosser Research Extension vineyards.

“Both projects are relevant to the classes we’re teaching,” Burke said. “In environmental science, we’re able to look at how the smoke impacts not only the wine grapes, but also the chemical components and properties of the wine.”

The study of the impact of wildfire smoke on wine captured the interest of the Washington wine industry, with Collins stating that since they announced they were completing the research, he gets calls throughout the year on updates for the research, results they’ve tabulated and generally how they can protect wine grapes from the exposure. The interest grows each year as the summer wildfire seasons commence.

“We got three calls today, alone, regarding smoke taint,” Collins said. “The fact that Fred has been able to be a part of this project provides him with a great in-depth look at how lab and field research have a substantial impact on industry. The Washington wine industry increases exponentially year, with the mid-Columbia region being a hub for the industry. So this research is crucial for our area’s winemakers.”

Last summer during Burke’s first of two summers working with Collins in the lab, the duo set up experiments at the WSU Prosser Research Extension to test different amounts of smoke on grape vines. They are now in the process of analyzing samples collected from that experiment. Collins plans on continuing the study for at least the next several years.

“Just being able to look at all the parts that go into a real-life field of scientific study has been immensely beneficial,” Burke said. “I get to share that with my students and they benefit from that real-world application. Within their science classes, our students have to conduct procedures, collect data and analyze that data through labs and lessons. This real-world experience allows me to show them that what they’re practicing in class can be applied out into the field, as well as provide them with concrete examples of stuff we’re actively doing in the labs.”

Burke also had the opportunity to bring some of his classes out to the Ste. Michelle Wine Estates WSU Wine Science Center to see how the research is conducted and get an idea of how a research lab operates.

“Science in agriculture is kind of one of those unknowns for many of my students,” he said. “They see people planting and watering, but they don’t know the science behind it. This provides them with an in-depth look. It’s a career option that most of my students probably have never even considered.”

Burke plans to apply for a supplemental grant from the Partners in Science program, which would extend his research partnership time frame with Collins and provide Burke with dollars for science equipment for his classroom.

“It would provide us with more money for use in the classroom, which would allow my students to conduct some research of their own,” he said. “It’s a great opportunity.”

By Maegan Murray, WSU Tri-Cities

RICHLAND, Wash. – A method of converting a biofuel waste product into a usable and valuable commodity has been discovered by researchers at Washington State University and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

Converting algae to biofuels is a two-step process. The first, developed by PNNL, applies high pressure and high temperature to algae to create bio oil. The second converts that bio oil into biofuel, which can replace gasoline, diesel and jet fuel.

It’s that first step, called hydrothermal liquefaction, that produces waste — approximately 25 to 40 percent of carbon and 80 percent of nutrients from the algae are left behind in wastewater streams.

Bionatural gas and fertilizer

The wastewater is generally hard to process because it contains a variety of different chemicals in small concentrations, said Birgitte K. Ahring, professor at WSU Tri-Cities’ Bioproducts, Sciences and Engineering Laboratory. But Ahring and her team have found that adapting anaerobic microbes — microbes that live without oxygen — to break down the remaining residue is a viable option. Through this process, the material becomes degradable and gets transformed into a bionatural gas without the use of harsh chemicals. The solid material that remains can also be applied as a fertilizer or recycled back into the hydrothermal liquefaction process for further use.

Birgitte Ahring, left, with his research team
WSU Professor Birgitte Ahring, center, points to test sample, with her research team

The results of the team’s research are published this month in Bioresource Technology. The team also consists of:

  • Keerthi Srinivas, WSU postdoctoral research associate
  • Sebastian Fernandez, WSU research assistant
  • Andrew Schmidt, of PNNL’s chemical and biological processes development group
  • Marie Swita, of PNNL’s chemical and biological processes development group

Don’t waste waste

“It has always been my mantra that we shouldn’t waste waste,” Ahring said. “We had an idea that we could turn this waste product into something useful, such as a fertilizer. Our findings revealed that we could use this waste product as something much more.”

The ability to convert a waste product into a usable commodity provides algal biorefineries with a solution to a large problem, Ahring said.

“After removing the solids, about 10 percent of the output is bio oil, with the remaining 90 percent being a waste byproduct,” Schmidt said. “The fact that we’ve developed an alternative method to recycle or treat the leftover material means it’s more economical to produce the bio oil, making the potential for commercial use of the process more likely.”

Sewage sludge and wastewater

Ahring said the team’s results were so promising that they are now partnering with PNNL on its conversion of sewage sludge to fuel using a similar strategy for the wastewater.

“Today, sewage sludge is found throughout the world,” Ahring said. “Creating a process to produce biofuels, bio-natural gas, and nutrients from this material would be of major importance. The current study has demonstrated that nothing should ever be regarded as a waste, but instead as a resource.”

Schmidt said PNNL’s partnership with WSU allowed each team to focus on different aspects of the biomass conversion.  The collaboration is further enhanced by the Bioproducts, Sciences and Engineering Laboratory, a facility PNNL and WSU built together on the WSU Tri-Cities campus nearly a decade ago.

“PNNL and WSU researchers interacted frequently on the project,” said Schmidt.   “While PNNL engineers focused on converting the algae to bio oil, the WSU team was able to delve deeply into fundamental research of wastewater conversion with microbes, which included taking advantage of unique analytical capabilities on the PNNL campus.”

A WSU alumnus himself, receiving both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from WSU, Schmidt said he’s excited to team on additional programs and projects aligned with goals to grow the collaboration between PNNL and WSU.

 

Contacts:

By Maegan Murray, WSU Tri-Cities

tricities_career_fair_RICHLAND, Wash. – A career fair will be hosted by Washington State University Tri-Cities, 10 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 28, in the Consolidated Information Center and Student Union Building.

The career fair is free and open to WSU Tri-Cities students, alumni and the public. The event allows organizations to discuss employment opportunities with potential employees. WSU Tri-Cities students are encouraged to connect with industry representatives to learn more about prospective employment and internships.

tricities_career_fair
WSU Tri-Cities Career Development panel discussion begins at 8 a.m., with career fair to follow at 10 a.m.-2:30 p.m.

Beginning at 8 a.m., the WSU Tri-Cities Career Development will host the “State of the Tri-Cities Workforce” panel discussion, a new program to the career fair. The forum enables panelists to provide a strategic and professional analysis of the local workforce. Panelists will present their understanding of the behaviors and resources that help maintain and strengthen the Tri-Cities area economy. Those interested in attending should RSVP at careers@tricity.wsu.edu

The event also will feature a career development student spotlight program that allows students to practice and deliver their one-minute resume pitches to on-site recruiters.

For more information about the WSU Tri-Cities career fair, visit http://tricities.wsu.edu/careerdev/careerfair.

 

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By Maegan Murray

An immersive experience at Washington State University Tri-Cities has Amy Verderber, a biology teacher at Kamiakin High School, performing research that has tie-ins to medicine.

Verderber studied biology in college before certifying to become a teacher, but she never got the opportunity to explore the field’s full research potential. Within the last two summers through the Partners in Science program, however, Verderber found herself working directly beside university biology faculty, completing research that has potential to improve what is known about human skull deformities and diseases.

Amy Verderber

Amy Verderber, a teacher at Kamiakin High School in Kennewick, Wash., got the opportunity to complete biological sciences research at Washington State University Tri-Cities through the Partners in Science program.

Through the Partners in Science program, which is supported by a $15,000 grant from the MJ Murdock Charitable Trust, high school teachers are paired with a university professor in their field and the pair spends two consecutive summers completing research. During the end of each summer experience, the teachers prepare a presentation on their research and how they plan to implement what they learn into their classroom setting. The university professors also get the value of an additional hand in the lab and in the high school teacher’s second summer, an experienced lab researcher to help with their studies.

Verderber is working with Jim Cooper, assistant professor of biological sciences, and Elly Sweet, clinical assistant professor of biology, in researching the impact of thyroid hormone on the development of jaw shape and jaw biomechanics in the zebrafish. The researchers hope their research will shed light on how the abnormal thyroid hormone levels during development can lead to human skull deformities.

Verderber continues to use the experience to provide her students with real-world opportunities and outlooks in science. She has applied what she’s learned to her lessons and often brings discussion of her experience into her labs and instruction.

Elly Sweet (left) talks with Amy Verderber about their research on the thyroid hormone in zebrafish.

WSU Tri-Cities professor Elly Sweet (left) talks with Amy Verderber about their research on the thyroid hormone in zebrafish.

“It’s been a great experience,” Verderber said. “To my students, it is more than just reading out of a textbook. I’m able to bring what is happening all around them into a practical classroom experience. It provides them with a look into the lab setting. I am not just a teacher who went to school and studied the subject. I now can say I’ve worked in a real lab and am doing scientific research with real-world applications.”

Throughout the two summers, Verderber recorded zebrafish feeding mechanics using a high-speed video camera, determined the effects of both an overabundance and a deficiency of thyroid hormone on jaw mechanics and performed research on the genetic controls of fish skull development.

“We’re trying to identify how thyroid hormone activates or deactivate genes in the fish’s head to determine whether they develop really moveable or jaws or jaws capable of only limited motion,” Cooper said. “There are also a large number of human birth defects associated with abnormal thyroid hormone production that causes malformation of the skull. The research can therefore answer both evolutionary questions and medical questions.”

Verderber said her students were very receptive to both what she learned in the lab, as well as what she brought in to the classroom through her teaching. She said she hopes to raise zebrafish in her classroom this year so the students receive that additional hands-on, real-world application.

WSU Tri-Cities professor Jim Cooper (left) chats with Amy Verderber about their research on the impact on varying amounts of thyroid hormone in zebrafish

WSU Tri-Cities professor Jim Cooper (left) chats with Amy Verderber about their research on the impact on varying amounts of thyroid hormone in zebrafish. The research could lead to advancements in medicine.

“My students are learning something outside of a textbook,” she said. “It’s been really rewarding seeing not only how I’ve been able to apply what I’ve learned for their benefit, but in seeing how they’ve reacted to that material.”

Sweet said she is excited about how Verderber’s experience in the WSU Tri-Cities lab will open the eyes of students to the possibilities of careers in the biological sciences, as well as project upward what high school students are learning today.

“Not only will it help with the research aspect of things, it will also be helpful to know what students are currently learning about in high school, be able to have some input into the possibilities of projects they could work on, as well as have the opportunity for us to come into the high school classrooms to give presentations,” she said. “Even though many students majoring in the biological sciences are interested in pre-health, there are many other career options out there. This provides a great partnership on that end.”

Included in the Partners in Science program is the option of applying for a supplemental grant, of which the funds go toward classroom equipment like microscopes, pipettes and other supplies. Verderber said she plans on applying and that it will provide a great resource for her students if she receives the grant.

“I hope other professors see the value of this program and the many benefits that come out of it,” she said.

Cooper and Sweet agreed.

“The amount of time that we have invested in collaborating with Amy we have gotten back many times,” Cooper said. “It’s a gain in resources and a huge win for both the lab at the university.”

RICHLAND, Wash. – Five local freshman at Washington State University Tri-Cities are among the university’s latest class of STEM Scholars.

As part of earning the distinction, where STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics, the students are honored with a $8,400 per year scholarship and will join the university’s STEM Learning Community. The community consists of a cohort of students that pursue a range of extracurricular opportunities and activities in the STEM fields.

WSU Tri-Cities STEM Scholars – (from left) Louis Theriault, Aaron Engebretson, Jared Johnson, Destiny Ledesma and Diamond Madden

The students awarded include:

  • Aaron Engebretson – Liberty Christian High School
  • Jared Johnson – Richland High School
  • Destiny Ledesma – Hanford High School
  • Diamond Madden – Southridge High School
  • Louis Theriault – Mid-Columbia Partnership

In order to be eligible for the program, students must have a minimum high school grade-point average of 3.75 based on a 4.0-scale, officially pursue a STEM-based major available at WSU Tri-Cities, be enrolled as a full-time student at WSU Tri-Cities, as well as actively participate in STEM Learning Community activities offered through the campus. Undergraduate majors eligible include: civil engineering, computer science, electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, environmental sciences, general biological science, general mathematics and general physical sciences.

“The students selected display an incredible work-ethic and strong potential for careers in the STEM fields,” WSU Tri-Cities Chancellor Keith Moo-Young said. “We’re excited to offer them a variety of resources to propel them into their respective STEM majors, which will encourage them to lead their fellow students within those majors, pursue prominent research at WSU Tri-Cities, as well as inspire future students to follow in their footsteps.”

Kate McAteer, WSU Tri-Cities assistant vice chancellor of academic affairs, said the research component of the experience will provide the students with a solid foundation for their academic futures.

“These STEM Scholars have the opportunity to conduct undergraduate research right from the beginning of their academic careers,” she said. “It provides them with an early start on building a solid foundation of skills required to be successful scientists and engineers.”

Aaron Engebretson

Aaron Engebretson

Engebretson

Engebretson plans to major in engineering. In high school, he served as class president during his senior year and was his class valedictorian. He was a member of Key Club where he served as the vice president of the club. He received the Northwest Nazarene Bridge Academy Scholar Award for taking 15 or more college credits while in high school and maintaining a 3.5 or higher GPA. He also received the Essence of Liberty Scholarship from Liberty Christian School. He hopes to one-day join Engineers Without Borders, which works with developing countries to find solutions for water supply, sanitation, agriculture and civil works. He also hopes to explore research in nuclear science while attending WSU Tri-Cities.

“The STEM Scholars program is very important to me,” he said. “It will surround me with fellow students that are driven, intelligent and interested in STEM … STEM careers are on the forefront of modern-day advancements and research. From the future of cars, to the future of modern medicine, STEM Careers provide solutions to a variety of different problems and challenges.”

Johnson

Jared Johnson

Jared Johnson

Johnson plans to major in electrical engineering. He is currently finishing his associate’s degree through Columbia Basin College’s running start program where he continues to receive high honors and is a member of the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society. At Richland High School, he earned Summa Cum Laude. Additionally, Johnson gives back to the community through his role with the National Honor Society, as well as helping with Second Harvest food distribution, tutoring high school math and assisting with various elementary school functions. He said he is looking forward to exploring the variety of research opportunities at WSU Tri-Cities.

“With a STEM education, there will be many job opportunities and career advancements,” he said. “STEM subjects have always been interesting to me in school. WSU Tri-Cities provides a wonderful university experience, while still having small classrooms for personalized education. WSU Tri-Cities is also a high-ranking STEM university.”

Destiny Ledesma

Destiny Ledesma

Ledesma

Ledesma plans to major in biology. In high school, she participated in the running start program at WSU Tri-Cities, in addition to serving as her class senator during her junior and senior years. It is with that role that she and her fellow peers brought back the “Every 15 Minutes Program,” a two-day event that sheds light on drinking and driving. Ledesma also gives back to the community by volunteering every year with the Tri-Cities Union Gospel Mission where she makes dinner boxes for the homeless with her family. She also volunteers at the Tri-Cities Water Follies, where she has served in various roles throughout the last few years. She hopes to attend medical school and pursue either a career as a reconstructive surgeon or dermatologist. She looks forward to pursuing research opportunities at WSU Tri-Cities, as well as getting involved with campus student government.

“It’s been such an honor and a blessing to have been able to receive such a prestigious scholarship,” she said. “I have been truly blessed with this opportunity to further my education … It will help prepare me to take on professional life after college and into the workforce. This program has truly changed my life.”

Madden

Diamond Madden

Diamond Madden

Madden plans to major in the physical sciences, with possibly an emphasis in chemistry. She earned 38 credits from Central Washington University’s running start program while she played softball, basketball and track and field for Southridge High School. Additionally, she played cello, violin and piano with the school’s orchestra, served in the school debate club, worked part-time for Tropical Sno and participated in the school’s Ignite program, which helps incoming freshmen transition to high school. She also volunteers occasionally with a local food bank. She hopes to pursue a career as a research scientist at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, which has been a dream of hers for years.

“Words can’t even describe how much the STEM Scholars program means to me and my family,” she said. “Being the second youngest of seven children in a single-income family, this gives me the assurance that I can continue and complete my education for a degree in the sciences … I believe WSU is a remarkable college, with Tri-Cities being the perfect location for me and given the fact that the university partners with PNNL.”

Louis Theriault

Louis Theriault

Theriault

Theriault plans to major in civil engineering. In high school, as a home-schooled student, he participated in the WSU Tri-Cities running start program, which is what helped him decide on attending WSU Tri-Cities for his undergraduate degree. Over the years, he volunteered to help the Academy of Children’s theater put on its summer camps, helped at his home school program’s “Camp Invention” and continues to serve as a camp counselor for numerous camps, including for the upcoming STEM Camps at WSU Tri-Cities this July. He hopes to participate in WSU’s engineering study abroad opportunity at the Zurich University of Applied Sciences while earning his undergraduate degree at WSU Tri-Cities. After graduation, he hopes to serve as a civil engineer, working possibly around the United States or for an international engineering firm.

“The STEM Scholars Award means the world to me,” he said. “I didn’t believe that I would be one of the chosen people when I signed up. It is going to help me pay for almost all of my college and help me save money for my future … I want to pursue a career in the STEM fields because I want to be able to make a difference in the world.”

By Maegan Murray, WSU Tri-Cities

RICHLAND, Wash. – The U.S. Transuranium and Uranium Registries, operated by Washington State University, signed a memorandum of understanding with Kyushu Environmental Evaluation Association of Japan May 16 at WSU Tri-Cities in Richland to partner for research opportunities, student experiences and the general sharing of knowledge.

WSU's USTUR partnering with Japanese company for radiochemistry opportunities

USTUR Director Sergei Tolmachev poses for a photo with KEEA President Noriyuki Momoshima after signing a memorandum of understanding to partner for research opportunities, student experiences and the general sharing of knowledge.

KEEA’s radioanalytical section has been involved with Japan’s environmental monitoring following the 2011 accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plants. The purpose of KEEA is to contribute to the conservation and maintenance of the environment in Japan, and  protect the health and life of the local community.

In addition to signing of the memorandum of understanding, representatives from KEEA will tour the U.S. Transuranium and Uranium Registries (USTUR) facilities in Richland and discuss collaboration projects, in addition to current and future research efforts.
“From an academic environment, it is a tremendous opportunity,” Tolmachev said. “Through partnerships like these, there are great research possibilities, especially on a global scale. We will have the capability to share materials available at the registries and further our research reach.”Sergei Tolmachev, director of the USTUR, said partnering with KEEA presents a great opportunity for the global sharing of knowledge and research. WSU’s USTUR is a research program that studies actinide elements, such as plutonium, americium and uranium, that have been deposited within the human body – more specifically in persons with measurable, documented exposures to those radioactive elements.

WSU's USTUR partnering with Japanese company for radiochemistry research

The U.S. Transuranium and Uranium Registries, operated by Washington State University, signed a memorandum of understanding with Kyushu Environmental Evaluation Association of Japan on May 16 at WSU Tri-Cities in Richland to partner for research opportunities, student experiences and the general sharing of knowledge.

Noriyuki Momoshima, president of KEEA, said his organization is excited about learning the techniques on radiochemical analysis of transuranium elements in humans from the USTUR.

“The technique is attractive because the KEEA has limited experience on biological sample analysis,” he said. “The technique will improve our analytical skill and will expand our business.”

Tolmachev said the USTUR will benefit from sharing testing materials that will allow them to broaden their scope of research, as well as provide them with additional testing capabilities for projects that have been put on hold due to larger-scope projects.

“It’s a unique partnership for KEEA because there aren’t a lot of academic environments that have a fully running radiochemistry lab,” he said. “We both have a lot to learn and gain from one another.”

 

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