Washington State University Tri-Cities Tag

RICHLAND, Wash. – A team from Washington State University recently took home top honors in the research poster competition at the Worldwide Distilled Spirits Conference in Glasgow, Scotland, for research on a technique typically used to evaluate the characteristics of wine.

To determine the characteristics and compounds in wine, researchers combine a wine sample with a mixture of water and octanol, which is a fatty alcohol. As a result, different compounds from the wine separate and enter into two phases: octanol and water. The relative separation of the compounds into the two phases is known as the beverage’s hydrophobicity.

These two phases are then analyzed using mass spectrometry, a sophisticated technique that identifies the individual compounds within those phases. The identified compounds can help determine the astringency, or mouth feel, of the wine as well as the color and other sensory factors.

Wine scientists expand applications

WSU distilled spirits evaluation research team
Jim Harbertson, Caroline Merrell and Tom Collins (l-r) display some of their major findings in distilled spirit analysis application.

The WSU Tri-Cities team, which consisted of wine science postdoctoral researcher Caroline Merrell, associate professor of enology Jim Harbertson, and assistant professor of wine science Tom Collins, decided to analyze distilled spirits using the same process.

“It started off as ‘let’s see what happens when we apply this technique to a product other than wine,’” Collins said. “Spirits make sense for this analysis not only because of their similarities to wine, but also their differences. We expected to extract different things from the barrels for spirits than for wine, and I think we clearly see that with our findings.”

A measurement in wine is used primarily to evaluate phenolic composition, Harbertson said. The phenolic composition, derived from the grapes and barrels, affects the taste, color and mouthfeel of wine.

“But in spirits, the phenolics are only derived from the barrel, so the process provides an interesting piece of the puzzle,” he said.

Whiskey, tequila, rum, cognac

In their research, team members examined a range of distilled spirits including American whiskey (bourbon), Scotch whiskey, Irish whiskey, tequila, rum, cognac and Armagnac. The barrel type used in the aging process for these spirits significantly impacted the identified compounds, Merrell said.

“For instance, all the bourbons separated out together as part of the statistical analysis,” she said. “Bourbon is made in new, heavily charred barrels. Because bourbons use newly charred barrels, there is more extraction of different phenolic and flavor compounds during aging. All the other spirit types age in previously used barrels, which have already had substantial amounts of phenolic and flavor compounds extracted.”

Barrel selection insights

Their initial research shows the importance of barrel selection in making distilled spirits. The hope is that it will give the industry more tools for making alcohol, Merrell said.

“Our research gives the industry more insight into the effects of barrel selection for different types of spirits,” Collins said. “We had a fair amount of interest from distilleries after the presentation, and we look forward to opportunities to collaborate and explore these effects in more detail.”

The team hopes to expand their research beyond commercially available products. The plan is to acquire distillation equipment at the Ste. Michelle Wine Estates WSU Wine Science Center to prepare, develop and analyze their own spirits.

To his knowledge, this is the first time anyone has used the hydrophobicity technique to examine the components of distilled spirits, Collins said.

 

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RICHLAND, Wash – WSU Tri-Cities is launching a series of workshops to prepare engineers for the professional engineering exam.

Participants choose their engineering discipline – chemical, civil, electrical or mechanical. They then receive 42 hours of classroom-based exam review focused on solving theory and high-probability practice problems. Participants also learn exam day techniques, strategies and complete a simulated practice exam.

The first two workshops are:

  • Civil, electrical and mechanical engineering, June 22-Oct. 19
  • Chemical engineering, Oct. 12 – Feb. 16

The workshop costs $975. To register and for more information, visit https://tricities.wsu.edu/pdce/peprepworkshop. Individuals can also contact the Professional Development and Community Education office at 509-372-7174 or pdce@tricity.wsu.edu.

RICHLAND, Wash. – David Isley, a recent Washington State University Tri-Cities alumnus (education, ‘17), received a rare opportunity in his beginnings as a teacher this year — the opportunity to student teach with his own first-grade teacher.

Janelle Rehberg (right) and David Isley

Janelle Rehberg (right) and David Isley

At WSU Tri-Cities, students are required to complete a number of volunteer hours in a classroom setting before being admitted into the undergraduate education degree program. Isley decided to seek out his own first-grade teacher, Janelle Rehberg, to complete his volunteer work at Cottonwood Elementary School. After the experience, Rehberg invited Isley to complete his student teaching in her classroom during his senior year at WSU Tri-Cities.

“We hit it off right away, although it did take him a long time to get him to call me Janelle, instead of Mrs. Rehberg,” she said with a laugh. “David is a natural in the classroom. He’s great with the kids and it’s obvious that he loves teaching.”

Rehberg said she has never heard of another teacher and former student working together years later as a mentor and mentee in student teaching.

“It really is rare, but that made it all the more special,” she said.

From student to teacher

As a first-grade student, Rehberg said she never imagined Isley would become a teacher. Isley was an outgoing, passionate young student who had a passion for science and dinosaurs, she said.

“I would have thought he’d go on to be a scientist,” she said.

Isley said even to this day, he still thinks dinosaurs are the greatest, but instead of studying their history as a career, he plans on using them to educate a new generation of students.

“I’m excited to introduce them to my own students,” he said. “I do plan to feature dinosaurs in some of my lessons.”

Since his own days as first-grade student, Isley said the grade level has seen a lot of changes. For one, technology has advanced rapidly, and students use iPads, advanced computers and more to complete their work, innovate and create, he said. Rehberg said students are also expected to know a lot more.

“When I was in the first-grade, we learned the alphabet,” Rehberg said. “Now, that is usually learned in Preschool before they get to kindergarten. From the public’s point of view, I’m not sure people realize the amazing achievements of young little kids these days. Every generation seems to move along more rapidly than the previous one. The reading performance of today’s first graders is impressive.”

Isley said he’s up to the challenge for educating the talented youngsters.

“I’m excited to jump in and work with these amazing kids,” he said. “One of the best things I’ve learned from Janelle is that you have to know your kids and meet them where they are. That’s something I plan to use in my own career as a teacher. That, and you have to make learning fun.”

Foundational learning for use in the real-world

Isley said he appreciates that WSU Tri-Cities requires so much real-world work in the classroom, as that’s the business that teachers are in – working with children and inspiring in them a passion for knowledge.

“Being able to apply what I’ve learned through my professors and textbooks at WSU to the real-world setting in the elementary school classrooms is invaluable,” he said. Rehberg agreed.

“You don’t learn nearly as much as when you are right here in the trenches,” she said. “That first-hand experience is the best.”

Looking toward the future, Isley said he plans to take what he learned through both his coursework and professors at WSU Tri-Cities, and what he learned from Rehberg, to educate a whole new generation of students.

Isley recently accepted a kindergarten teaching position at Washington Elementary School in the Kennewick School District. He’ll also have a piece of Rehberg in his future classroom to remember his student teaching experience with his first-grade teacher, mentor and now colleague. Rehberg said she made a giant sculpted dinosaur for a class project and plans to give it to David to hang in his future classroom.

“It really has all come full-circle,” Isley said.

Rehberg said she’ll miss Isley teaching alongside in her classroom, but that she’s excited for his future.

“Since I had David in my classroom, I’ve missed him terribly,” she said. “I loved having David student teach in my class. But I know he’ll be successful wherever he goes.”

By Maegan Murray, WSU Tri-Cities

The United States power grid is connected by more than 450,000 miles of high-voltage transmission lines to provide electricity to more than 300 million people. But as the saying goes, with great power, comes great responsibility.

Yousu Chen – PNNL

With the increase of renewable energy sources, the growth of the increasingly complex system and increases in terrorist threats, engineers have to come up with new methods to protect the power grid.

Yousu Chen (WSU Tri-Cities MS, environmental engineering), staff research engineer at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, is using high-performance computing techniques to safeguard the electrical grid against potential threats and outages.

“The power grid is the largest man-made machine in the world,” he said. “It is the most important infrastructure, and we need it daily for almost all of our daily activities. I’m always eager to know what I can do in this fast-growing area to solve new problems.”

During his time as a student at WSU Tri-Cities, Chen got his first internship at PNNL. He also learned skills in simulation and modeling that have proven invaluable to his career.

He has been involved in the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, increasing opportunities for current students.

Solving problems before they happen

Chen‘s work focuses primarily on modern computing techniques that both simulate potential hazards and provide ways for monitoring information within the grid. Through the advancement of high-performing computing techniques, he and his team at PNNL are developing simulations to predict and combat problems before they occur.

Chen’s computing systems utilize complex algorithms to measure power flow, identify potential problem areas, simulate possible outcomes if there were to be an outage or a catastrophic event, as well as provide solutions in how to deal with those potential problem areas.Power pole

“For example, if we want to evaluate the impact of newer smart grid technologies on the power grid, we use our simulation techniques to prepare for the event before we apply those new technologies to the grid,” he said. “Using our simulation, we could determine how that issue would impact the grid, and as a result, how we can prevent that from occurring.”

Chen said he and his team are always developing newer computing techniques to run simulations at a faster rate, which will be crucial in the event of a major outage or disruption.

“Some systems will take minutes, depending on the system, to run a limited number of contingencies,” he said. “My code is able to run 1 million contingencies in less than 30 seconds. That is a major achievement.”

With all of the data generated through advanced computing methods, Chen and his team are also always looking take the massive data caches and efficiently turn them into something usable and visual.

“Because high-performance computing systems can create a lot of data, it is challenging to digest that data in the short-term,” he said. “We develop advanced visualization tools, which allow us to view that data in real time and provide a quick response for potential events.”

Giving back to the future of engineering

Even though Chen has achieved much in his career as an engineer, he has used his position to increase opportunities for disseminating knowledge of his field into the community, as well as create pathways for other students to follow in his footsteps.

Chen realized early in his higher education career just how valuable mentorship and extracurricular learning experiences could be to his own growth as an engineer. In addition to utilizing university resources to connect him with an internship at PNNL, he also sought advice for how to improve his resume, his interview skills and more through the university’s career development center. After landing a full-time position of his own at PNNL, he wanted to keep paying forward what he learned, using his connections in engineering and computer science to provide resources and mentoring to aspiring engineering students.

Chen has since volunteered his time through a variety of capacities for the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. He serves as chair for the IEEE’s distinguished lecture program and formerly served as the regional representative of the IEEE Power & Energy Society and the regional chair for the IEEE Power Energy Society’s scholarship plus program. He also serves as the editor for two professional journals where he helps edit and review articles for publication pertaining to the smart grid.

As a result of his efforts, Chen was recently awarded the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers’ Leadership Award for the contributions he has made to IEEE activities and the leadership he’s displayed through IEEE at the local, regional and national levels. In a congratulatory letter, Wai-Choong Wong, vice president of the member and geographic activities at IEEE, stated that Chen has set a great example in carrying forward the goals and objectives of the IEEE MGA board.

Chen said he is grateful for all he learned in his education at WSU Tri-Cities, as well as what he has been able to accomplish since then by means of his work at PNNL, as well as through his involvement with the IEEE.

“These opportunities changed my life,” he said. “I’ve been fortunate to accomplish a lot in my career as an engineer and I believe it is my responsibility to not only increase the capabilities of the power grid, but to also increase the potential for the world’s future engineers who will solve many of these energy-related problems.”

By Maegan Murray, WSU Tri-Cities

RICHLAND, Wash. – Researchers at Washington State University Tri-Cities and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory have found a new way to define the molecular structure of cellulose, which could lead to cheaper and more efficient ways to make a variety of crucial bioproducts.

For the first time, researchers revealed the differences between the surface layers and the crystalline core of cellulose by combining spectroscopy processes that use infrared and visible laser beams to analyze the structure of molecular components. The findings appear this month in Scientific Reports, an online open-access journal produced by the Nature Publishing Group (http://www.nature.com/articles/srep44319).

The spectroscopy processes are known as Total Internal Reflection Sum Frequency Generation Vibrational Spectroscopy (TIR-SFG-VS) and conventional SFG-VS.

Making biofuels, bioproducts cost-competitive

Bin Yang, co-author and WSU Tri-Cities associate professor of biological systems engineering, said cellulose is one of the most abundant organic compounds on Earth. Understanding the cellulosic biomass recalcitrance, or resistance to degradation, at the molecular level is a key step toward overcoming the fundamental barrier to making cellulosic biofuels cost-competitive, he said.

“Cellulose is commonly known as a product that is difficult to break down and convert into other useful products,” said co-author Hongfei Wang, former chief scientist in the physical sciences division at PNNL and current professor of chemistry at Fudan University in Shanghai. “Using our nonlinear vibrational spectroscopic technique, we can resolve some questions associated with the recalcitrance of cellulosic biomass and, in turn, more efficiently convert the product into a usable commodity.”

Yang said that although plant cell walls are complex and dynamic, recent advances in analytical chemistry and genomics have substantially enhanced understanding of cellulosic biomass recalcitrance while simultaneously highlighting the remaining knowledge gaps.

Understanding structure opens industrial possibilities

“This discovery is significant because it not only challenges the traditional understanding of cellulose materials, it provides further insight into the surface and bulk chemistry of cellulosic fibers, building on a novel spectroscopic tool to characterize such structural differences,” said Arthur J. Ragauskas, Governor’s Chair in biorefining for Oak Ridge National Laboratory and at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. He is an expert on the subject, but not involved in the research.

He said the discovery of the nonuniformity and the structure of cellulose in the study can improve the efficiency of industrial application of cellulose.

“The discovery may lead to modification of the current definitions of the different types of cellulose structures,” he said. “This discovery represents yet another instance of the importance of spectroscopic observations in transformative advances to understand the structure of the cellulosic biomass.”

Libing Zhang

Libing Zhang, co-author and postdoctoral researcher at WSU Tri-Cities, called it a privilege to participate in such a significant discovery while utilizing such advanced technology, especially knowing that it could have a profound impact on the advancement of bioproducts.

“We can use the application of this technology to fundamentally understand the conversion process of nearly every cellulose-based product in the future,” she said.

Researchers at WSU and the Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory at PNNL collaborated on the study. Yang’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency Young Faculty Award and the SFG capability and expertise at EMSL, an Office of Science user facility of the Office of Biological and Environmental Research of the U.S. Department of Energy, made the study possible. It is DOI:10.1038/srep44319.

Zhang, Yang, Li Fu, a William Wiley Distinguished Postdoctoral Fellow formerly at EMSL, and Wang conducted the research.

 

News media contacts:
Bin Yang, WSU Tri-Cities biological systems engineering, 509-372-640, binyang@tricity.wsu.edu
John Nicksich, EMSL communications, 509-375-7398, john.nicksich@pnnl.gov
Maegan Murray, WSU Tri-Cities public relations, 509-372-333, maegan.murray@tricity.wsu.edu

By Maegan Murray

Stemming from his background growing up in Ethiopia, Yonas Demissie views water as a commodity more valuable than oil.

In the nation of more than 94 million people, just 42 percent have access to clean water in Ethiopia. That is why the WSU Tri-Cities assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering has directed his research efforts toward the monitoring, exploration and evaluation of the resource that is vital in sustaining life.

Yonas Demissie, WSU Tri-Cities assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering, reviews data pertaining to his research in water-related issues.

“Here in the U.S., we take water for granted,” Demissie said. “Our daily water use here is as much as 10 times than that of a person in other countries where water is in limited supply.”

Demissie said he has personally never experienced not having access to clean water, because he grew up in Ethiopia’s capital city of Addis Ababa where infrastructure is more advanced than other parts of the nation. But that doesn’t mean the issue doesn’t hit close to home.

“I may have grown up in the city, but the water scarcity issue and famine in the country are regular news,” he said. “It always bothered me to see images of starving children. There is no excuse for a child to get hungry. As a society, we should all be responsible for that. I want my research in water to be my contribution to society. Water is a very critical resource that needs to be accessible, protected and properly managed.”

Demissie is currently working on a myriad of research projects at WSU Tri-Cities that focus on various aspects of water-related issues.

“In terms of overall impact, any study on understanding and properly managing water resources is key,” he said.

Climate research on Department of Defense facilities

Demissie is currently half-way through a four-year project studying the impact of climate change on military infrastructure, focusing specifically on whether defense infrastructure and facilities could handle increased flooding and abnormal increases and fluctuations in precipitation. His research is funded as part of a $1 million contract with the U.S. Department of Defense.

Yonas Demissie, WSU Tri-Cities assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering, and his research team at WSU Tri-Cities.

“DOD has many facilities across the globe and many of those installations are close to coastal areas,” he said. “They are worried about sea level rise, increased extreme storms and how that will affect their facilities and operations. Our research is to assess flooding risk with the DOD facilities’ existing storm water management system and whether it is sufficient or needs to be upgraded.”

Demissie said when there is an increase in the temperature, there is an increase in the atmosphere’s ability to hold more water, which increases the chance of heavy rainfall. He said he and his team are currently analyzing the historical climate data to see if precipitation has increased over the years, whether storms now last longer and whether there has been an increase in the intensity, frequency and duration of the precipitation.

A change in precipitation caused by climate change and/or other factors, Demissie said, could also have drastic impacts in other areas such as agriculture.

“In our regions, for example, how snowfall on the Cascade Mountains is going to be affected due to climate change will be an important issue in determining future agriculture productions,” he said. “Even though the total amount of annual precipitation may not be affected, there may be a shift in when that precipitation may occur.”

Instead of most of the precipitation occurring in the winter and early spring, as it is now, Demissie said it may occur mostly in winter, or even in the fall. He said farmers may not have the water when they need it for their crops and that the timing shift could have a significant negative effect.

In a similar study funded by the state’s water center, Demissie recently completed evaluating and updating decades-old design standards used to construct water related infrastructure, such as culverts, bridges and dams, for all the counties in Washington state.

Additionally, he and his team were also recently awarded funding from the state’s water center to study drought characteristics in the Yakima basin and to evaluate effectiveness of a $4 billion water management plan currently under consideration for tackling drought in the region.

“Climate change is one of our generation’s major issues that we are going to have to deal with,” he said.

Reducing effects of nitrates and phosphors stemming from biofuels industry on Gulf of Mexico

Researchers are making significant strides in the biofuels industry, creating fuels for jet airplanes, cars and more that help reduce the United States’ carbon footprint. WSU is leading the industry in research for biofuels with its Northwest Advanced Renewables Alliance (NARA). But increases in the crops in the Midwest required to make certain biofuels may be having a damaging effect on ecosystems in the Mississippi River and Gulf of Mexico.

Sediment in the Gulf of Mexico – Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Demissie is studying the impact of increased nitrates and phosphors from farming practices related to the biofuels industry in Midwest on the Mississippi River and Gulf of Mexico, and how they can minimize those issues.

“In the Midwest, they are making biofuels from corn, which requires increased nitrogen and phosphors applications, which end up in the streams,” he said. “Increased nitrate and phosphors lead to algal bloom, which eventually prevents vegetation and fish from growing in lakes and other water bodies.”

Demissie said increased algae prevents the natural process of photosynthesis from happening in the water as the sun can’t reach the lower levels and life essentially ceases from occurring. Because the Gulf of Mexico is connected to the Midwest through the Mississippi River, those nitrates and phosphors run directly into the gulf, causing algae bloom that currently covers areas as large as Connecticut and Rhode Island, combined.

“The Gulf of Mexico is one of the important regions for fishing,” he said. “We are growing more corn in the Midwest to meet demands of biofuels, but at the same time, we could end up killing an important industry downstream. We want to make sure that doesn’t happen.”

Monitoring groundwater contamination at Hanford

Hanford B Reactor building

Hanford B Reactor building

Since he started at WSU Tri-Cities in 2012, Demissie has consistently worked with Hanford Site contractors and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory staff in monitoring and modeling the groundwater flow from the site to ensure there is no radiation and other toxic contamination with vital sources such as aquifers and reservoirs used for human daily water use.

Contamination from the Hanford Site stems back to the facilities’ production of plutonium from World War II and the Cold War. Chemicals were released, both planned and unplanned, into the soil around the site. Scientists have since worked to develop and improve upon models that are used to predict the flow, as well as determine which areas they should treat.

“We are consistently monitoring groundwater contamination for Hanford, using various monitoring and modeling projects to tell where it’s flowing and how fast it is traveling,” he said.

“We’re always working to improve methods and models for doing so,” he said. “We’ve made significant strides in reducing the contamination from those early years.”

Researching means to open access for Nile River

Demissie is presently working with a team of people to examine current flow patterns and allocations of the Nile River, and how they can more effectively be shared by all African countries associated with the river.

Map of the Nile River

Map of the Nile River – Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

The Nile River is the world’s longest river, flowing 6,700 kilometers through 10 countries in eastern Africa, where water is mostly scarce. Demissie said any water project in the upstream tributaries of the Nile has been under political contention, as countries like Egypt and Sudan use the river as their main source of water and electric power generation.

Ethiopia, where 80-90 percent of the Nile water originates, historically was not using the river despite being hit by regular famines caused by highly variable rainfall in the region. However, Ethiopia is now constructing the largest dam in Africa on the Blue Nile, the main tributary of the Nile River, for electric power generation. Political officials in Egypt are worried that it would limit their access to the river, which they said they have a natural right to two-thirds of the resource, as indicated in The Nile Waters Agreement that was signed in 1959, which Ethiopia never signed.

Demissie and his colleagues Gabriel Senay, Naga Manohar Velpuri, Stefanie Bohms and Mekonne Gebremichael completed a study in 2014 that integrated satellite data and modeling to detail the variability of water sources in the Nile Basin. Their study revealed that about 85 percent of runoff generated in the equatorial region (Ethiopia, Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda) is lost along the river pathway that includes the Sudd wetlands, which has an area approximately twice the size of Maryland. This proportion is higher than the literature reported loss of 50 percent.

In addition, their study found that the expected average annual Nile flow at the Aswan Dam in Egypt is 13 cubic kilometers greater than the reported amount of 84 cubic kilometers originally reported. Demissie said that means there is a flow amount that equates to more than half of Colorado River of water each year that was not accounted for during the 1959 water agreement.

Demissie said the loss in runoff and flow volume at different sections of the Nile River, however, tend to be more than what can be explained by evaporation losses, suggesting a potential recharge to deeper aquifers that are not connected to the Nile channel systems. He said the study indicated the need for increased instrumentation detailing the hydrometeorology of the basin.

“Our knowledge regarding water availability in the Nile Basin and how much and where water is lost in the system is limited,” he said. “But our analysis shows that we get more water into the system than what was originally estimated. There is extra water that Ethiopia can use.”

Demissie said he hopes his group’s initial research will lead to bigger developments in assessing the direction, flow and amount of water from the Nile, which could lead to positive legislation among the African countries that may help lead to an agreement that would benefit all.

“Having a good understanding of water as a resource and coming up with a better management strategy I believe is critical for most societies,” he said.