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OSU online engineering programs ranked in top five nationally
GradSource has ranked online master’s engineering programs at Oklahoma State University fifth in the nation among public universities. The College of Engineering, Architecture and Technology (CEAT) at OSU currently offers three online graduate degree programs in electrical and computer engineering, engineering and technology management, and industrial engineering and management. Enrollment in both the online graduate degree programs and online undergraduate degree courses continues to increase at an average growth rate of 35 percent each year. “CEAT’s rigorous programs, distinguished faculty and state-of-the-art technology result in the perfect combination for top-notch, high-quality online courses,” said Kristi Wheeler, engineering distance education manager. “Flexibility and affordability are an extra, added bonus to the programs and courses offered.” To see the full rankings and specs, go to or go to, click on online master’s degrees, and then on engineering. For more information on CEAT’s online master’s of engineering programs, visit is popular destination for top online graduate schools, programs and a post-college career outlook.
Fri, 24 Mar 2017 10:45:30 -0500
OSU Pete’s Pet Posse gets moving with dog walking app
 Pete’s Pet Posse, a pet therapy program at Oklahoma State University, is hoping a popular app will help expand and equip users to support it while they exercise. The Walk for a Dog app allows users to make a difference and support their favorite animal cause anytime they go for a walk, run or a bike ride. The more people who exercise for Pete’s Pet Posse, the more funds the organization will receive. “We are hoping the community will consider Pete’s Pet Posse the next time they step out the door for a walk,” said Kendria Cost, executive assistant to OSU’s First Lady. “Since we are a self-funded program, many of the organization’s expenses go to new leashes, collars, t-shirts for the Ruff Rider team and other items to help educate students about the program and the variety of pet visits available.” When going on a walk or run with the Walk for a Dog application, users can walk their own dogs or walk with a virtual pet from Pete’s Pet Posse to raise funds for the organization. You can even exercise without a dog. “More walks equal more dollars for the program,” said Cost. “It is an easy thing to do. Just download the app, select Pete’s Pet Posse and start exercising.” The application can be used anywhere and at any time and is available in the App Store and Google Play. OSU First Lady Ann Hargis logs on every time she walks with her dog, Scruff, who is a part of the Pete’s Pet Posse program. “It is wonderful how people can use it wherever they are,” Hargis said. “I love that something as simple as logging exercise time can be of benefit to the program and it ties in perfectly to our wellness initiatives as America’s Healthiest Campus.” Hargis is also pleased that the app generates a map at the end of her walk so she can track her distance. “It gives you incentive to stretch a little farther, walk a little farther and be outdoors a little more, all for a good cause.” Story by Sage Watson PHOTOS:
Fri, 31 Mar 2017 09:43:06 -0500
Local Technical Assistance Program at CLGT recognized for achievements
The Oklahoma Association of Technology Centers recently recognized Douglas Wright, director of the Center for Local Government Technology (CLGT), and Michael Hinkston, manager of CLGT’s Local Technical Assistance Program (LTAP), at its annual business and industry day. Both CLGT and LTAP are outreach and extension functions in Oklahoma State University’s College of Engineering, Architecture and Technology. Wright and Hinkston received the Partners for Progress award for partnering with the Eastern Oklahoma County Technology Center (EOC). Over the last six years, the LTAP and EOC presented 24 individual courses in 15 subject areas that provided training to over 2,000 individuals. The courses included pavement technology classes, civil engineering design, and first responder training, with titles such as Best Practices for Longitudinal Joint, Designing Pedestrian Facilities for Accessibility, and Wildland Fire Training for Equipment Operators. “Michael and Doug are well-deserving of this award; the programs they’ve provided not only benefit those from this region, but people from all over the state as well,” says EOC Superintendent Terry Underwood. “This is a win-win situation for everyone involved, and we look forward to working with them in the future.” For more information on the EOC, visit: For more information on the LTAP, visit:
Fri, 24 Mar 2017 09:37:27 -0500
OSU doctoral student to conduct research in Iceland
Christina Anaya, a doctoral student at Oklahoma State University, has been awarded a Fulbright-National Science Foundation Arctic Research grant to study parasites and their hosts in Iceland during the 2017-2018 academic year. The Fulbright program places U.S. students in schools around the world where they act as an ambassador for the United States, work with research advisers in the host country, and learn about its people and culture. “I am thrilled with this opportunity to establish international collaborations that will strengthen my professional career, allow me to apply the skills I’ve developed as a field biologist, and maintain a strong connection to nature and conservation issues,” said Anaya. “This is made possible with the research knowledge I’ve gained in the Department of Integrative Biology and with the help of my adviser and mentor, Dr. Matt Bolek. I am truly excited and honored to represent the department and OSU in an international context.” Anaya is a graduate of Fallbrook High School in Fallbrook, Calif. She earned her bachelor’s and master’s ­degrees from California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo, Calif. OSU doctoral student Christina Anaya collects samples for her research on parasites and their hosts. She’ll soon travel to Iceland to apply her skills in a very different environment. During the rigorous Fulbright application period, Anaya developed and submitted a proposal to study parasites in Iceland, titled “Freshwater and Marine Snails as Parasite Biodiversity Indicators in Iceland.” “Snails are the perfect organisms to gauge which parasites live in an area because many parasites use snails as a host. Snails are often collected for specific parasites, but no studies have used snails as field study indicators of all the parasites in an area, which is what I intend to do in Iceland,” explained Anaya. She wrote her Fulbright proposal in response to the 2014 Arctic Biodiversity Assessment that urged baseline data be required for parasites in Arctic regions since the effect of climate change on parasite populations could negatively influence ecosystem health and may have consequences for the people in Arctic regions. “Iceland is a unique area of study because its small size and location make it more susceptible to drastic temperature changes, compared to other northern landmasses,” said Anaya. “It is called the ‘land of fire and ice’ due to its unique geothermal activities, which create a variety of warm and cold habitats where parasites can colonize.” Anaya’s research experience and course work at OSU emphasize invertebrate and parasite systems, equipping her with specific skills for this type of field work. She’s studied a diverse group of parasites that use snails as dead-end or intermediate hosts in the Bolek lab at OSU, including trematodes, nematodes, nematomorphs, and acanthocephalans. A portion of her dissertation also examines the distribution of hairworm stages in snail hosts by asking how species have co-evolved. Some of the data she collects in Iceland will be used in her dissertation to provide a comparative component. If you’re interested in following Anaya’s progress, she will have a blog called An American Scientist in Iceland to share more information about her research project as well as thoughts about the people, their lifestyle, and the landscapes she encounters, starting in December 2017. The Fulbright U.S. Student Program is the country’s largest student exchange program, offering opportunities to students and young professionals for graduate study, advanced research, university teaching, and primary and secondary school teaching worldwide. More than 360,000 individuals from the United States and other countries have participated in the program since its inception in 1946. Funded by an annual congressional appropriation to the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, the program was initiated by Senator J. William Fulbright for the promotion of international good will through the exchange of students in the fields of education, culture and science.
Fri, 24 Mar 2017 09:21:44 -0500
The Broader Impact of Scientific Research
Chemistry professor Charles Weinert. PHOTO/GARY LAWSON A few years after arrive at Oklahoma State University in 2004, associate professor of chemistry Charles Weinert began using his own money to develop a summer research program to recruit American Indian students to STEM careers. “American Indian students are underrepresented in the sciences,” Weinert says. “With nearly 40 tribes in Oklahoma, the opportunity to reach this group of students is higher here than in most places.” Weinert visited 10 Oklahoma high schools in the spring of 2008 to recruit students for the summer program’s first run. After his visit to Frontier Public Schools in Red Rock, Oklahoma, student Julia “Hope” Conneywerdy emailed Weinert to express her interest in the program. “She was a little timid when she first came here, but very excited,” Weinert says. “I think she was surprised we let her do most of the work on her own, even letting her use a million-dollar NMR (nuclear magnetic resonance) spectroscopy. It did a lot for her confidence in the lab.” In the summer of 2008, Weinert was working with a high school student in his lab for the first time and applying for an NSF career grant, which helps junior faculty develop their careers. He was able to use Conneywerdy’s achievements to demonstrate a successful track record for this proposed program, which strengthened his request. Weinert adapts the program to each student’s goals and interests. One summer, he even had a third-grader participate, which involved lab demonstrations rather than actual research projects. However, when the students do take on research projects, they help with components of Weinert’s current research, often completing a stein in the overall puzzle of his investigations of the element germanium. Conneywerdy and others have helped with integral parts of his research and have been named as contributors on published academic papers. After Weinert’s NSF career grant expired in 2015, he received a $390,000 three-year renewable NSF research grant. With this grant, he specifically requested funding for the summer research program because he had shown how it fulfilled the grant’s “broader impact on society” requirements. Weinert and Conneywerdy, now an OSU graduate student, reunite on campus more than seven years after they first worked together. PHOTO/GARY LAWSON The NSF funding allowed Weinert to cover such participant costs as housing, transportation and even a stipend. Because this latest grant is renewable, he hopes to continue funding for years to come. “As long as we continue to be successful and show that people are interested, I’m hoping someday this might turn into an even bigger program,” Weinert says. “In fact, we already have someone verbally committed to coming next summer.” Researching Silicon Alternatives Most smartphone or computer chip technologies are made with silicon-based materials. Weinert and his team are busy synthesizing oligomers of germanium, which could lead to more effective chip technology. “Germanium lies below silicon on the table of elements,” Weinert says. “By studying the structure of germanium and understanding its properties, we hope to synthesize oligogermanes [shorter, finite versions of longer germanium molecular chains] that can surpass the semi-conductivity of related silicon-based materials.” Weinert’s research with germanium is widely known in the field of synthetic chemistry. As part of a three-day European lecture tour last summer, he was invited to speak at the University of Freiburg in Germany, where Clemens Winkler discovered germa-nium in 1886. On the fast track When Conneywerdy was a sophomore at Frontier Public Schools, she had seen pictures of microscopes in science textbooks, but had never used one. “I always knew I wanted to go into the medical field,” Conneywerdy says. “The summer program was the first time I was in a lab setting, and I finally got to use a microscope. I was hooked!” After high school, Conneywerdy went to North-western Oklahoma State University on a golf scholar-ship and majored in biochemistry. When she was getting ready to graduate in December 2014, she considered getting her master’s degree while she waited to start physician’s assistant school. Wanting to return to OSU, she found a fast-track master’s program that was similar to a pre-medical option with OSU’s Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics. Conneywerdy began classes before she was offi-cially accepted and recently completed in her first full semester as an OSU graduate student. She is set to grad-uate with her master’s in May 2016. “I have to give a big thanks to Dr. Weinert and his summer program,” Conneywerdy says. “It really sparked my interest in science, and I’m so glad to be back at OSU.”  Story by Jamie Hadwin
Wed, 22 Mar 2017 11:46:04 -0500
Shining the Light on Research
Bruce Benjamin. PHOTO CREDIT/THE OSU CENTER FOR HEALTH SCIENCES Oklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences has focused on becoming the premier biomedical research institution in northeastern Oklahoma because research is the lifeblood of a university environment, lending vitality and richness that is absent without academic exploration. “Research is at the core of learning. This search for knowledge is learning in its purest sense,” says Bruce Benjamin, OSU-CHS vice provost for graduate programs, associate dean for biomedical sciences and associate professor of physiology. “Such exploration stimulates the mind and is necessary for finding answers to important questions.” Faculty with the Center for Health Sciences in Tulsa who have been featured in the Research Spotlight video series James Hess To showcase that research as part of the university’s land-grant mission, Research Spotlight, an ongoing video series, highlights the diverse spectrum of faculty research at OSU-CHS. Each video focuses on an individual researcher’s work. Videos are posted to the OSU Center for Health Sciences’ website along with accompanying stories and are featured on OState.TV. “A strong research program enables faculty to be engaged in and aware of the latest knowledge in their respective fields and generates enthusiasm that benefits students and faculty,” Benjamin says. “This series offers a glimpse into all of the important work going on at OSU-CHS and the potential this research has to improve lives and help us live healthier, safer lives.” Faculty with the Center for Health Sciences in Tulsa who have been featured in the Research Spotlight video series Rashml Kaul Each researcher is faced with a challenge: Take a complex project and break it down for viewers into a short, easily understood presentation. Most begin with a quest to find an answer to a specific question: How can we better predict cardiovascular disease? How can snake antivenom be improved? What do the lives of dinosaurs millions of years ago tell us about animals today? Each of those questions, representing a line of research at OSU-CHS, has been highlighted in Research Spotlight. Charles Sanny, chair of the OSU-CHS Department of Biochemistry and Microbiology and biochemistry professor, found out first-hand how expansive the outreach series has been. Faculty with the Center for Health Sciences in Tulsa who have been featured in the Research Spotlight video series Gerwald Koehler His research into the effectiveness of snake antivenom that could lead to improved treatment options for those bitten by a poisonous snake was featured in the series. In a state with seven types of venomous snakes, including the diamondback rattlesnake, cottonmouths and copperheads, Sanny’s work hit a nerve. Stories about his research were widely disseminated throughout Oklahoma through various media outlets. “Anyone visiting the OSU-CHS website is able to get understandable and informative introductions to our research by the actual scientists themselves,” Sanny says. “The Research Spotlight series is a great way to showcase the many exciting research efforts that are going on here at OSU-CHS.” Rashmi Kaul, whose research has garnered more than $150,000 in support from a local cancer charity, has been featured in Research Spotlight for her efforts to determine the link between hepatitis C and liver cancer. “Research is a creative endeavor that brings innovative ideas to solve a problem. And for that purpose, universities serve as temples of education for our future generation but also incubators of innovation,” she says. “Globally, it is becoming increasingly important that research is the best system for educating the next generation of innovators and scientists.” Faculty with the Center for Health Sciences in Tulsa who have been featured in the Research Spotlight video series Charles Sanny  Kaul believes the series informs the public about valuable, innovative research underway at the university and raises awareness about diseases that may prompt valuable feedback from community members with these conditions. “The Research Spotlight series can identify community members with a personal interest for further research in a particular disease or condition,” she says. “They can become community champions, create awareness and facilitate funding support for the research.” Research topics cover medicine, biomedical sciences, forensic sciences, paleontology, health care administration and athletic training. Examples of the series include: Faculty with the Center for Health Sciences in Tulsa who have been featured in the Research Spotlight video series Kathleen Curtis •  James Hess, chair and director of the OSU School of Health Care Administration, discussing research on new business models to help insurance companies operate successfully within a changing health care economy. •  Associate professor of microbiology Gerwald Koehler, shared his research on the trillions of microorganisms living in the human digestive tract and how they affect the central nervous system. •  Associate professor of physiology Kathleen Curtis, discussed how estrogen influences the brain and affects physiology and behavior, building on her years of research on human hormones. OSU-CHS continues to encourage research through collaboration with the community and engagement with faculty and students. “Research shapes our understanding of the world. It adds to the accumulation of knowledge and provides a source for new ideas and innovation across a range of multi-disciplinary areas,” Benjamin says. “Solutions to problems and cures for disease have all come about as a result of research. Sharing our work could lead to important breakthroughs that will potentially impact the lives of millions.” The Research Spotlight series is developed and produced by OSU Marketing and Communications Services in Tulsa. To learn about research projects underway at OSU-CHS, visit the Research Spotlight website at Story by Kim Archer
Wed, 22 Mar 2017 11:13:47 -0500
Probiotics in Poultry
The FAPC team are (from left) Alejandro Penaloza, visiting assistant professor, Zorba Hernandez, post-doctoral visiting scientist, and Patricia Rayas, FAPC cereal chemist. PHOTO/MANDY GROSS Sales of probiotic-fed chicken products in the United States have increased 34 percent in the last year due to the demand for antibiotic-free poultry. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Tyson Foods, the country’s largest chicken processor, announced it would eliminate the use of human antibiotics and use only probiotic-fed chickens in its operations by September 2017. This trend has researchers at Oklahoma State University’s Robert M. Kerr Food and Agricultural Products Center, a part of the Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources, studying the implementation of probiotics in chicken feed. “The reason for the study was to help the food industry produce a healthier bird,” says Patricia Rayas, FAPC cereal chemist. “When the probiotics are ingested, they try to outweigh the bad bacteria.” Garnering results Probiotic strains are optimized and taken from a bioreactor. PHOTO/MANDY GROSS Rayas, along with Alejandro Penaloza, visiting assistant professor, and Zorba Hernandez, postdoctoral visiting scientist, began studying probiotics in November 2014. Other members of the team were graduate students Sabitri Gautam, Sudhir Pasupuleti, Thiago Montaigner Souza and Pryscila Velazco, as well as Ali Beker, poultry senior research specialist for OSU’s Department of Animal Science. The research team received 300 broiler chickens, which were housed at the OSU poultry farm for 42 days. The broilers were split into four test groups to try different preparations of probiotics.  The team fed the chickens probiotics as a supplement by using a mixture of probiotic strains created by Penaloza and a standard feed diet. Probiotics are used to boost the immune system and serve the microbiota in defending bacteria. “Our hypothesis was that the probiotics would improve the community of microbes in the gut of the chicken,” Rayas says. “The broilers were then fed the probiotics two different ways – mixed in the feed and liquid administration.” The final step of the study was to process the chickens in FAPC’s processing facility. Data was collected to calculate feed efficiency, and ground samples of the broilers were taken to the Cereal Chemistry Laboratory for further research. Results showed in the first two weeks that the broilers receiving probiotics had an increased weight gain and lower death rate. When a broiler gains weight, it gains muscle mass and produces more food, which increases potential profit and quantity. “When the main objective is reached, the isolated probiotics may be useful for the poultry to produce chicken that is free of antibiotics and better feed efficiency,” Hernandez says. Research has shown probiotics give broilers protection for intestinal integrity and help defend the immune system from unwanted bacteria. Finding probiotic strains FAPC’s Cereal Chemistry Laboratory housed the collection of the probiotic strains, which was sourced from wheat. Penaloza isolated the strains and selected those with high production of exoenzymes. “The advantage of using these strains of probiotics is that it helps improve the use of nutrients in the feed,” Penaloza says. “The strains also will stabilize the micro-organisms in the gut of the broilers.” Hard wheat, flour and water were fermented to enrich the microorganism’s spores, Penaloza says. The strains of probiotics were isolated, and those with high production of enzymes of interest were placed under intense heat to ensure they would survive when cooking the food pellet. The research team is working with OSU’s Technology Development Center to patent mixtures of probiotic strains for particular uses. TDC, which helps with the development of new products, the integration of new technology and the increase of capital investments, also funded this research. Future research Hernandez says further research is needed to evaluate other strains of probiotics and acquire more knowledge to measure the benefits of using probiotics in the poultry industry. “This research can bring health benefits to chickens and people by maintaining healthy microbial community in the intestine of the chickens,” he says. “This would maintain healthier chickens and reduce the use of antibiotics. Additionally, the use of probiotics also can generate ecological benefits and increase the efficiency of feed conversion of the broilers.” Rayas says the team has high hopes for future research projects. “Our hypothesis for the next research project is to use a spore-based probiotic that supports the balance of the micro ecology by simulating the colonization of beneficial bacteria,” she says. “This will improve the broilers intestinal health and enhance growth performance. In the future we hope to create a mixture so the industry can maintain a healthier intestine for the chickens.” The ultimate goal is to help the poultry industry continue to provide a safe product to its consumers. Story by Brittany Gilbert
Wed, 22 Mar 2017 10:49:16 -0500
Opening Prison Doors to Compassion
Jinks works with students Davelle Turner, Shawn McLaughlin and D.J. Grigsby on an ArtsAloud performance. PHOTO/BRIAN PETROTTA Many Americans see people who live on the margins of society as deserving of where they are. Not Jodi Jinks. One message that Jinks, an assistant professor of acting at Oklahoma State University, wants to get across to her students, and people in general, is the idea behind the old expression, “There by the grace of God go I.” Jinks started a theater program called ArtsAloud several years ago. In 2012, as a tenure-track professor, she brought it to OSU. In the program, now called ArtsAloud-OSU, Jinks goes into prisons and works with the incarcerated who write biographical stories, which are turned into plays performed by the prisoner-authors and OSU students. Empathy, humanity and compassion — that’s what Jinks says she is trying to accomplish working with prisoners in John Lilley Correctional Center, a men’s minimum-security prison in Boley, Okla. Jinks, through ArtsAloud-OSU, wants to show that people in prison are human beings just like anyone else, except they’ve made mistakes and are paying the price. Jodi Jinks, Department of Theatre Jinks leads classes of prisoners where participants write based on prompts or topics related to their lives that allow them to share who they are — stories of childhood, parents, choices and the circumstances that led them to where they are.  “Anything is valid. I allow for anything to be written about,” says Jinks. “They’re learning through the stories that their experiences are universal. I’ve heard them say they feel like human beings in the ArtsAloud classes.” The stories are performed by the prisoners for their fellow inmates in the prison’s general population. Jinks also shares the stories with her students at OSU who adopt the roles of the men and rehearse the performances on campus. Then Jinks takes them to John Lilly where they “give back” the stories by performing them for the inmates who wrote them. In her TEDxOStateU talk in 2015, Jinks described the give-back through the experience of one of her students who was asked by a prisoner if it felt dangerous to be there and perform their stories. The student replied that they were scared, but only because they didn’t want to mess up the life stories entrusted to them. “The prison students see their stories come to life through the OSU students,” Jinks told her TEDx audience. “And the students recognize the prisoner’s humanity and understand how razor-thin the line between incarceration and freedom can be.” Jinks has explored that line through ArtsAloud from the time she started the prison theater program in 2005 while teaching in Austin, Texas. There, she worked with female prisoners and often asked herself what the difference was between these incarcerated women and herself? What allowed her to pursue her dream of being an artist while these women were denied the opportunity to follow their own dreams? Because of that experience, Jinks dedicated her career to giving a voice to the incarcerated through theatrical performance. She has tried to introduce the program in women’s prisons in Oklahoma, but so far has by denied access been the state Department of Corrections. A group of students poses for a photo before a performance at an Oklahoma minimum-security prison. Photography is not allowed in Oklahoma prisons. PHOTO/BRIAN PETROTTA Jinks is practicing what is called applied theater — applying theater practices in nontraditional situations and venues, such as a prison. The concept is global; Jinks tells the story of a man from Manchester, England, who uses theater as conflict resolution between warring groups in Africa. This summer, Jinks traveled to Italy to spend time with Vito Minoia, a professor at the University of Urbino, who created a prison theater alliance there that works with the incarcerated and the mentally ill. Participants perform plays with local actors and students in surrounding communities. “I saw this amazing piece of theater written and performed by prisoners who were released for the evening and who worked with a group of actors,” says Jinks. “It was beautiful.” Inspired by the experience, Jinks said she returned to Oklahoma to continue her work to “reveal the soul of the prisoner.” Jinks and many others believe allowing the incarcerated to express themselves creatively can ease their transition back into society and reduce recidivism. She is working with OSU psychology professor Shelia Kennison on a survey of prisoners involved in ArtsAloud to collect data about self-compassion. They are waiting for Department of Corrections approval to conduct the survey. “Performance is a way to talk about being human,” Jinks said in her TEDx talk. “I believe that connection with one another leads to empathy and with increased empathy and self-respect, it becomes more difficult to hurt others or yourself.” Jinks hopes to one day expand ArtsAloud to all prisons in the state, but she needs more trust and confidence among prison administrators for that. She also wants to work with released prisoners and their families and continue to tell their stories in performances done in public spaces such as parks, schools and libraries, and at community events like festivals. “I’m trying to educate and inform so that people in Oklahoma, which has the fourth-largest prison population in the country, can experience how similar so many prisoners are to themselves regardless of skin color and economic status,” Jinks says. For more information, visit Story by Jeff Joiner
Tue, 11 Apr 2017 17:01:48 -0500
Movement in Aging
DeFreitas observes a subject’s musculoskeletal evaluation while Ph.D. students (from left) Zachary Pope, Ryan Colquhoun and Michelle Miller watch. As humans age, our motor function decreases, leading to a higher risk of falls and injuries, which can have devastating results. An ongoing study led by Oklahoma State University exercise physiology assistant professor Jason DeFreitas is researching what physiological changes cause the decline of motor function in aging. DeFreitas noted strong evidence in recent studies that suggests muscle spindles, sensory receptors found in vertebrate muscles, have a more direct role in motor function than previously believed. He designed a study to specifically test if losses in muscle spindle function are responsible for, or at least play a significant role in, age-related losses in motor function.   The study challenges existing paradigms about motor control, hypothesizing that age-related sensory losses precede motor losses and may actually cause them. Jason DeFreitas, College of Education. PHOTO/GARY LAWSON “We think that spindles may have a significant influence on motor control during every movement. However, this isn’t what is currently being taught,” DeFreitas says. DeFreitas joined Oklahoma State University in 2013 and brought with him an expertise in neuromuscular physiology and a passion for research.   “This is my first aging study. I’m taking my background in the neural control of movement, the spinal cord, and the neuromuscular system and applying it to the aging population,” he says. “I like solving puzzles, especially those that require creative solutions, (much like) designing a research study to answer the unknown.” In 2014, DeFreitas received funding from the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology (OCAST). Research funded by OCAST investigates causes, diagnosis, treatment and prevention of human diseases and disabilities and facilitates the development of innovative health care products and services. The funds, renewable for up to three years, have supported the initial phases of DeFreitas’ study, allowing him to purchase new equipment and hire research assistants. DeFreitas and his team test subjects ranging in age from 18 to 98 years old.  To date, more than 100 subjects have been tested. “We have tested a lot of healthy, college-age individuals, as well as older subjects who have severe motor and sensory deficits (over the age of 75). We’re working to add more subjects in the 30- to 60-year-old range to better define the aging process.” If they are able, participants visit the Applied Musculoskeletal and Human Physiology Laboratory on the Stillwater campus. The lab is one of only six in the United States and 25 worldwide equipped with the most recent advancement in motor unit technology, called surface dEMG. The system uses a non-invasive surface sensor to detect and measure the neural activity during voluntary movements. “The brain controls muscles through the use of neurons, and this state-of-the-art system allows us to non-invasively detect the activity and behavior of those neurons,” DeFreitas explains. During a lab visit, subjects’ balance is evaluated using a Biodex Balance System. Static measures, such as how much a person sways while standing, and dynamic measures, such as the ability to adjust to movements, are recorded. “Balance requires a unique integration of both our sensory and motor systems.  These assessments allow us to determine which of these systems, if any, has a deficit that could affect balance and fall risk,” DeFreitas says. The research team also gathers information about participants’ muscles, the force they produce and how the properties change under conditions such as fatigue and aging. Participants’ reflexes are tested with patellar tendon taps using a small reflex hammer (much like what is done during a physical). Ultrasound images of the thigh are also taken, to reveal the size and quality of the leg muscles, during the visit to the lab. If older individuals are unable to go into the lab, a mobile version of the tests can be performed. DeFreitas and his team have recruited study participants at the Stillwater Senior Center and visited assisted living centers and nursing homes in the area with their mobile testing center. Why it matters DeFreitas’ study is in the second phase of a five-phase plan. In the coming year, he is working on a proposal seeking funds from the National Institutes of Health that would support his work as it enters phase three. If, as DeFreitas hypothesizes, a strong relationship can be found between losses in muscle spindles and age-related motor losses, the next step is a long-term longitudinal study that will solidify the cause and effect relationship. Ultimately, DeFreitas would like to design training interventions and do outreach to educate retirement communities about what can be done to delay age-related losses in motor control.  While research is DeFreitas’ passion, he genuinely enjoys mentoring graduate students. His efforts in working with OSU graduate students were recognized in 2015 when he was named the Phoenix Faculty Award winner. The award is student-nominated and presented by the OSU Graduate and Professional Student Government Association. DeFreitas spends time with his doctoral students daily, including frequent brainstorming meetings. He involves them with manuscript peer-reviews, study design, grant writing and more. “I want to give my doctoral students experience that will help prepare them to be successful faculty members in the future. I learn from them as much as they learn from me. It’s a very active relationship and we all benefit from it. The Phoenix Award was a validation for me that I’m doing things the right way and that the extra work I put in is appreciated.”  Story by Christy Lang
Wed, 22 Mar 2017 10:26:05 -0500
Interdisciplinary, International and Intertwined
After being separated for a time by faculty positions 600 miles apart, Wouter Hoff Alhua Xie are together as researchers and teachers at OSU. PHOTO/BRIAN PETROTTA Wouter (“VOW-ter”) Hoff and Aihua (“A-wah”) Xie met at an international conference in Leiden, the Netherlands, in 1994.  Two years later, he was receiving the Netherlands’ Society of Biophysics award for best Ph.D. thesis (given every two years) and she was at the ceremony, for she was conducting experiments using an International Infrared Free Electron facility in the country.  Eventually they settled in at Oklahoma State, with offices next door to each other, though “settling” is not a word often associated with Hoff and Xie.  In fact, both came to the United States because they were unable to quiet the rumblings of academic pursuits in their home countries.    Xie was fortunate enough to be part of the first wave of Chinese students admitted to a higher education institution following a decadelong nationwide suppression of formal education brought on by the Cultural Revolution. The odds of admission were microbial, yet there was Xie, only six months removed from secondary school, admitted with — and above — those up to 10 years older. She further proved to be among the best of the best when she earned inclusion into a new international exchange program, which allowed her to study physics in the United States. Hoff also came to the United States in search of opportunity. In 2014, The Netherlands showed a population of just under 17 million people, somewhere between the populations of Illinois and New York. Though he was able to remain in his hometown of Amsterdam all the way through the completion of his thesis, he knew he would have to leave to continue his research. Speaking generally of his home country, Hoff says, “If you want to stay in science, you go abroad.” Xie’s Fourler Transform Infrared Spectroscopy (FTIR) research laboratory holds great promise for future research. PHOTO/GARY LAWSON And that is precisely what Hoff and Xie did. Hoff landed the prestigious Damon Runyon-Walter Winchel Foundation post-doctoral fellowship at the University of Houston while Xie took a faculty position at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York. In 1997, she came to OSU as an assistant professor of physics. Hoff spent two years as a post-doc at OSU before taking a full-time faculty position at the University of Chicago. He would not return to OSU until 2005. “For a number of years, we commuted 600 miles between Stillwater and Chicago, then the opportunity arose where we could both work at OSU, and that was a great solution to our ‘two-body’ problem,” Hoff says. The OSU Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics offered him an associate professorship in 2005 and a full professorship in 2011. He also serves as an adjunct faculty member in the Department of Chemistry and heads the graduate program in Microbiology/Molecular and Cell Biology. Xie was named a full professor in 2006. Today, Hoff and Xie are separated by fewer than 600 millimeters, with offices side-by-side in the Henry Bellmon Research Center. The beautiful, state-of-the-art facility houses, among other things, Xie’s Fourier Transform Infrared Spectroscopy (FTIR) research laboratory, which has commanded approximately $1.6 million in outside research funding. She believes the NSF MRI funding for this Advanced FTIR Lab is greatly enhanced with the multidisciplinary environment created by the HBRC. “This building really capitalizes on collaborations, particularly interdisciplinary collaborations,” Xie says. She was a member of the planning committee, architect committee and the user committees for the HBRC and dreams of its expansion, or even a second building, on campus. Her enthusiasm for this emerging technology is palpable for she has just scratched the surface of its applications. Think of FTIR as an Xray, only at the chemical level. FTIR research could make life-changing discoveries in biomedical, bioenergy, and agricultural sciences. It has also been used to assess the authenticity of paintings by Leonardo DaVinci. Hoff sits across a table from Xie and it quickly becomes apparent the two still share a freshman’s excitement for each other. Though both are internationally respected researchers, th ey become almost embarrassed when discussing their own achievements, so one must fill in the blanks for the other. Twenty-six seconds after Hoff begins to tell of his journey to the United States, Xie interrupts. “Let me just add two things about Wouter,” she interjects. With deep fondness she mentions his thesis awards and adds another important fact he missed: Hoff discovered one of six known chromophores (molecules that detect color in nature) while at the University of Amsterdam. “I forgot all that stuff,” Hoff laughs. “It’s good to have such a great fan.” This discovery of P-coumaric acid has led to Hoff’s work being quoted more than 2,000 times in international research. Better still, it provided a springboard to the Cancer Research Foundation honoring him with its Young Investigator Award in 1999. Research is a passion for both Hoff and Xie but it is not their only passion. They are also dedicated to teaching and serving an international audience. Hoff is excited about a current program funded by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. The program involves the creation of a Life Sciences Freshman Research Scholar cohort, which consisted of 32 OSU students in its first year, and Hoff’s involvement, which is directing students in his introductory microbiology course to conduct real, authentic research by isolating new strains of bacteria. The first wave of research resulted in three publications for three genomes isolated by first-year students. The idea of combining research with instruction is carried on by Xie with her upper-level and graduate physics students. She believes it is the best way to cure what has been described as the STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) “crisis” in the United States. “I think we’re both trying to do two themes,” Hoff says of their teaching methods. “Tone is active learning, not just looking at a PowerPoint. The second theme is ‘authentic.’ It is not a fake exercise. It is really something useful, relevant, and interesting.” Another key to success in the classroom is simply to listen to the student, Xie notes. “If you just tell the student, ‘Do exactly this,’ that’s when we bore them to death,” Xie says. “When you learn for yourself, you are motivated.” Along with research and teaching, Hoff feels the third pillar of their success is service. He became the graduate program coordinator for microbiology and revamped the first-year graduate curriculum in microbiology and created an accelerated master’s program. Additionally, Hoff serves as the editor of the highly respected Journal of Biological Chemistry. A turning point for Xie came in 2005 when she helped organize a National Science Foundation-funded workshop for professional skill development for women physicists in 2005. The program has become a yearly event, and Xie still uses its skills today. Xie continues to take down stereotypes about women in physics, culminating in her election as chair of the Biological Physics Commission of the International Union of Pure and Applied Physics in 2015. The commission, known as C6, promotes international cooperation in biological physics from both developing and developed countries. She is already organizing a meeting in Brazil for the summer of 2016. She will be joined by 10,000 physicists.   “So, what are you going to do next?” Hoff jokes. The punch line may be on us. Armed with industrial-sized beakers full of ideas — and already having shown the ability to bring their ideas to life — Hoff and Xie actively search for the next thing and have little interest in repeating an experiment. “What we are striving to do is to make a new step — boldly go where no one has gone before,” Hoff says. As large as their imaginations may be, it is unlikely Hoff and Xie could have predicted they would settle in Stillwater. At OSU, they found the perfect place to build upon their three pillars of research, teaching and service. Story by Brian Petrotta            
Wed, 22 Mar 2017 10:17:30 -0500