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WSU Tri‑Cities prof receives Fulbright Distinguished Chair Award

By Maegan Murray, WSU Tri‑Cities

Bin Yang, an associate professor of biological systems engineering at Washington State University Tri‑Cities, has been selected for the Fulbright Distinguished Chair Award — the most prestigious appointment in the Fulbright Scholar Program.

Fulbright currently awards approximately 8,000 grants annually. Of those, 40 are selected for the Fulbright Distinguished Chair Award. Yang marks the first professor in WSU history to be selected for the Fulbright Distinguished Chair in Energy and Sustainable Use of Natural Resources Award.

Beginning in August, he will serve for six months through the Fulbright program at Aalto University in Finland, while on sabbatical leave from WSU. While in Finland, he will teach and conduct research. In addition, he will continue to manage his research team at WSU.

His research at Aalto University will focus on the development of novel lignin-based compounds that do not resemble an existing petroleum-derived compound in structure. Lignin is a material comprised in the cell wall of plants and is one of the largest waste products in the bioproducts industry because it is so hard to break down and process. Yang, however, aims to use the material to create a range of bioproducts.

Yang said he is elated to expand his research and to communicate the scientific achievements of WSU’s Bioproducts, Sciences and Engineering Laboratory (BSEL) in the bioproducts sector, learn more about bioproducts research achievements and processes in Europe, as well as learn about the Finland’s educational structure, which is a world leader.

“I’m excited about the dialogue between our two universities and two countries,” he said. “I believe this outcome will allow me to work with professors and students at Aalto University in order to apply my expertise in bioproducts and biofuels technologies. I am grateful that both Aalto University and WSU are willing and able to accommodate this desire so graciously, and I believe it will work to everyone’s best interests.”

Juming Tang, chair of the biological systems engineering department at WSU, said Yang is an outstanding contributor for the graduate program of biological systems engineering, which is ranked 14th in the nation by U.S. News and World Report.

“Fulbright support will further increase the visibility of our department, BSEL and WSU,” Tang said.

As a Fulbright chair, Yang will address two key challenges:

  • Developing breakthroughs in science and technologies for production of high‑value bioproducts from biomass.
  • Fostering next‑generation leaders on the opportunities, challenges and benefits of biofuels and bioproducts.

Yang has served as a faculty member at WSU since 2009. He has dedicated most of his career to the development of renewable energy technologies, with particular emphasis on production of biofuels and bioproducts from cellulosic biomass feedstocks and other sustainable resources.

His major research interests include:

  • Understanding fundamental mechanisms of bioprocessing technologies for advanced biofuels.
  • Advancing cutting‑edge technologies and facilitating the commercialization process.
  • Improving knowledge of emerging technologies to meet near‑ and long‑term needs worldwide.

He has authored more than 100 peer‑reviewed papers and book chapters and has five patents. He is a recipient of the DARPA Young Faculty Award of 2011. He also serves as an advisory editor board member for many leading biorefinery journals.

Yang’s research has been supported by the:

  • Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (U.S. Department of Defense)
  • U.S. Department of Energy
  • National Science Foundation
  • Sun Grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation
  • National Renewable Energy Laboratory
  • Seattle‑based Joint Center for Aerospace Technology Innovation

He has a joint appointment with Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. He also serves as a faculty senator and an entrepreneurial faculty ambassador at WSU Tri‑Cities.

The History of Innovation at WSU: Honoring the land grant mission by recognizing our innovators

Written by Brian Kraft, Assistant Vice President for Innovation and Research Engagement

“The land-grant university system is being built on behalf of the people, who have invested in these public universities their hopes, their support, and their confidence.” -Abraham Lincoln

WSU, as a land grant university, was founded on the principle that we can improve our society through research and the dissemination of knowledge. We have a long and rich history of doing research and knowledge dissemination. It should be celebrated. The individuals’ whose insights, discoveries, and activities have made an impact on the world should be recognized.

Looking around both the university and our externally facing programs, it is self-evident that the public perceptions of our outputs heavily weigh toward our students. The general narrative of WSU and universities, more generally, is student training. While it’s a major part of what we do, the imbalance in the public perception is harmful to the larger mission of land grant universities generally and WSU specifically. We need a new narrative that leverages our existing strengths in student transformation and federal grant funding to realize returns for our regional constituents.

Transferring the products of our research to the public is a core principle of the land grant mission, yet this principle is only discussed in theory and is often divorced from the research operations occurring on campus. As one who has been deeply engaged in both research and efforts to move the results into practical use I have a pretty rounded view of what is needed to improve our performance.

A Path Less Traveled
“The science of today is the technology of tomorrow.” -Edward Teller

I started my professional life as a researcher. This began in my undergraduate days and led to successes in graduate school and a postdoctoral appointment in a national lab. Over this period, I put little thought into my career path: The next steps always just felt natural. As a child I was always pushing boundaries and exploring new territory, in research I felt I had found my niche, so I just kept taking the next professional steps.

It was not until the latter years in my tenure as a graduate student that I began to think in detail about my professional path forward. I loved research. I genuinely enjoyed the scientific discovery process, but could not see myself fitting into the mold of a tenure track academic. While, with the benefit of hindsight, this was a distorted view, I did not believe I could spend a career soliciting agencies for funding to deeply probe some narrow, obscure topic. I had deep respect for the folks who could follow that path, but I knew this was not for me.

So, I got to work doing my own research about what I might do for a living and landed in the relatively young field of “Technology Transfer.” Technology Transfer is a term that emerged with the passage of the Bayh-Dole act in 1980: A piece of federal legislation that allowed for universities to claim ownership of inventions developed with federal funding. This function is not specific to land grants—it is a general function that all research universities employ. It is distinct from traditional land grant functions in that it focuses on inventions with the potential for revenue generation. For these reasons it is not often associated with the land grant mission despite the fact that the net result is the same: It serves to move an idea into a product or service that is available to the public. On paper this looked like a great path, but in practice it became a process of discovery that sent me in a different direction.

Technology transfer is a relatively new field that looks like a random game of collision that occasionally sends something into the stratosphere. Being the scientist that I am, I spent months compiling the data, making the comparisons, looking for trends. I got nowhere. It was random. No one had a robust solution to this complex problem. Disenchanted with this course, I decided it was time to try something new and took a role in an academic college. At this point in my career, I had gained a reputation as a problem solving deal-maker and was asked to frame out a new role that focused on building partnerships with the private sector.

The Root of the Problem
A very interesting chapter in my professional evolution occurred in 2012 that continues to this day. Working for an academic dean within a college is a very different environment than serving in a purely administrative reporting line. The motives and intended outcomes are totally different. While Deans want to promulgate the land grant mission and the associated technology transfer activities, what they need is funding: Grant dollars and enrollment. Outcomes like disclosures and patents, quite simply, did not matter (unless they could yield income, which most cannot). What mattered was income and student successes. It is clear why we place an emphasis on our students as our principle product. The problem is we miss a significant portion of our organizational value proposition—research and innovation, that pertains to our core Land-Grant mission. This is the root of the problem and why we need a new narrative.

I have built a career around the importance of helping the public realize a return on investments in research. We need to tell our story. The university is about more than just student training, we bring new things into the world. This is a powerful function in our society and one that has led to great prosperity. It should be celebrated. The time is right to revisit our land grant roots and focus on how our research can have a positive public impact. The Entrepreneurial Faculty Ambassadors need your help collecting information about the history of innovation at WSU. Please help the effort by telling us stories you know about the history of innovation at WSU.

Please take 5 minutes of your time to fill out this survey and describe what you think is the most important innovative work that has been done at WSU.

September Pub Talk Event

Science Pub: Doing Better Science Through The Other ‘F’ Word
Sept 11th, 2018 | 6:00 – 7:00 p.m.
Paradise Creek Brewery’s Downtown Restaurant – 245 SE Paradise Street
Free Admission – $5.00 suggested donation (all donations support the Palouse Discovery Science Center)

Sip your favorite brew, while you learn a thing or two! Science Pub is an opportunity to enjoy learning about science in an informal atmosphere; no scientific background necessary! Just bring your curiosity and a thirst to learn.

Topics and presenters are arranged by the Palouse Discovery Science Center (PDSC) and WSU’s Entrepreneurial Faculty Ambassador (EFA) Program. All Donations support PDSC. Click here for more information.

This month’s speakers:

Amy Mazur, a Claudius O. and Mary W. Johnson Distinguished Professor in political science at WSU and an associate researcher at the Centre d’Etudes Européennes at Sciences Po, Paris, and Samantha Noll, assistant professor in The School of Politics, Philosophy, and Public Affairs, will map out the different feminist approaches that are used in current research. In addition to discussing the gaps in established scientific practices, they will present one specific area of feminist political science that has an integrative, comparative feminist agenda.

“Feminism in today’s `me too’ world often conjures up images of war of the sexes and man hating. For us, two feminist scientists whose work is situated in the social sciences and the humanities, the notion of feminism provides a fundamental starting point to make science more scientific,” said Mazur. “Taking a feminist approach to research also has the promise of making science more meaningful and better suited to solve today’s wicked problems.”

Amy MazurDr. Amy G. Mazur has been making science more scientific for nearly three decades. Her research, publications and teaching interests focus on comparative feminist policy issues with a particular emphasis on France. She is currently co convening the Gender Equality Policy in Practice Network (GEPP), a 100 member research group studying whether gender equality policy works in post industrial democracies. Mazur has published extensively and has received research grants from the National Science Foundation, the European Science Foundation, the French Ministry of Social Affairs and the Norwegian National Science Foundation. She also has been an expert for the United Nations and has been consulted by the European Union, the World Bank and the Obama Administration. For more on her record, go to http://pppa.wsu.edu/amy-mazur/

Samantha NollDr. Samantha Noll’s research and teaching focuses on applying tools coming out of philosophy of science to questions that arise in agriculture. In particular, she publishes widely on topics such as how values impact consumer uptake of agricultural products, local food movements, and the application of genomics technology. Noll contributes to the fields of bioethics (ethics of biotechnology), philosophy of food, and environmental philosophy.

May Pub Talk Event

Last May’s Pub Talk Event:

Science Pub: Let’s Fly in A Flammable Bubble
May 15, 2018 | 6:00 – 7:00 p.m.
Paradise Creek Brewery’s Downtown Restaurant – 245 SE Paradise Street
Free Admission – $5.00 suggested donation (all donations support the Palouse Discovery Science Center)

Sip your favorite brew, while you learn a thing or two! Science Pub is an opportunity to enjoy learning about science in an informal atmosphere; no scientific background necessary! Just bring your curiosity and a thirst to learn.

Topics and presenters are arranged by the Palouse Discovery Science Center (PDSC) and WSU’s Entrepreneurial Faculty Ambassador (EFA) Program. All Donations support PDSC. Click here for more information.

This month’s speakers:

Jacob Leachman, associate professor in the School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering at WSU, and Squeak Meisel, associate professor of Fine Art at WSU, will connect art and science through their Science Pub talk titled, “Let’s Fly in a Flammable Bubble.” The two speakers will highlight how hydrogen bubbles are used to model the engineering of aerospace vehicles.

Jacob LeachmanJacob Leachman is an Associate Professor in the School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering at Washington State University (WSU). He initiated the Hydrogen Properties for Energy Research (HYPER) laboratory at WSU in 2010 with the intent to advance the Technology Readiness Level (TRL) of cryogenic hydrogen systems. He earned a B.S. degree in Mechanical Engineering in 2005 and a M.S. degree in 2007 from the University of Idaho. His master’s thesis “Fundamental Equations of State for Parahydrogen, Normal Hydrogen, and Orthohydrogen,” has been adopted as the foundation for hydrogen fueling standards and custody exchange, in addition to winning the Western Association of Graduate Schools Distinguished Thesis Award for 2008. He completed his Ph.D. in the Cryogenic Engineering Laboratory at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2010 on the visco-plastic flow of hydrogenic materials for the fueling of fusion energy machines. He is the lead author of the reference text “Thermodynamic Properties of Cryogenic Fluids: 2nd Edition.

 

Squeak MeiselSqueak Meisel spent his youth riding around on Kansas dirt roads in his grandfathers fuel delivery truck spitting cherry seeds at road signs. His adventures often took him near badger caves or running from wild turkeys. Squeak playfully addresses the daily struggles of life through immersive works that invite his viewers to participate in their own inner spelunking. He is an Associate Professor of Fine Art at WSU in Pullman, WA. In addition to having several permanently sited public works in the a Seattle area he has exhibited his temporary site based works both nationally and internationally. He was one of 28 finalists for the Portland art Museum’s 2013 Contemporary Northwest Arts Awards and was added to the Washington State Arts Commission’s roster of artists for 2013-18. He received public art of the year award from Americans for the Arts Public Art Network 2013 year in review for his work begin.

March Pub Talk Event

March Pub Talk Event:

Science Pub: Nature or Nurture – What’s Genetics Got To Do With It?
March 6, 2018 | 6:00 – 7:00 p.m.
Paradise Creek Brewery’s Downtown Restaurant – 245 SE Paradise Street
Free Admission – $5.00 suggested donation (all donations support the Palouse Discovery Science Center)

Sip your favorite brew, while you learn a thing or two! Science Pub is an opportunity to enjoy learning about science in an informal atmosphere; no scientific background necessary! Just bring your curiosity and a thirst to learn.

Topics and presenters are arranged by the Palouse Discovery Science Center (PDSC) and WSU’s Entrepreneurial Faculty Ambassador (EFA) Program. All Donations support PDSC. Click here for more information.

This month’s speakers:

Jon Oatley pictureDr. Jon Oatley is the Director of the Center for Reproductive Biology and an Associate Professor in the School of Molecular Biosciences at Washington State University. Dr. Oatley received a Bachelor of Sciences degree in Animal Sciences from the University of Nevada-Reno, a Master of Science and Doctor of Philosophy degree from Washington State University, completed a Postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Pennsylvania, and has been on the faculty at Washington State University since 2011. Over the course of nearly two decades, Dr. Oatley’s research has focused on understanding how germ cells develop which are the eternal link between parents and their offspring. Dr. Oatley’s research also focuses on engineering the genetics of farm animals. Dr. Oatley has authored more than 60 scientific research papers, book chapters, and news articles on the areas of germ cell biology and animal genetic engineering. His research accomplishments have been recognized with numerous awards from professional scientific societies and he is a recognized voice for the application of biotechnology in food animal production.

 

 

Amit DhingraAmit Dhingra worked for his Ph.D. at the University of Delhi, India and Rutgers University, New Jersey supported by fellowships from the University Grants Commission and The Rockefeller Foundation, USA, respectively. After his post-doctoral training at Rutgers, University of Central Florida and University of Florida, he joined Washington State University in 2006 where he is currently an Associate Professor of Genomics and Biotechnology and also serves as the Chair of the Entrepreneurial Faculty Ambassadors Program, a presidential level task force. The Dhingra research program investigates important biological processes in plants. The knowledge gained is translated to crop improvement through various approaches. He has published more than 50 papers in high impact peer reviewed refereed journals. He serves on the editorial board of four internationally reputed plant science journals, and has been awarded two US and one NZ patents on regulating ripening in fruits to reduce post-harvest wastage. Dr. Dhingra’s research has been featured in the New York Times, The Atlantic, BBC, The Times of London and several other news outlets. Amit is the Founder of Phytelligence Inc. (www.phytelligence.com), an agriculture biotechnology spin off out of Washington State University that is revolutionizing the way food crops are grown. Additional information about Dr. Dhingra’s research activities at WSU can be obtained by visiting https://genomics.wsu.edu/category/news/

Communication Workshop with Dr. Allison Coffin

February 2, 2018 | Research Communication Workshop with Dr. Allison Coffin
Pullman Campus

Dr. Allison Coffin is an Assistant Professor of Neuroscience at Washington State University Vancouver, where she studies acoustic communication and hearing loss. She has more than 10 years of experience teaching communication workshops to a variety of scientific and professional audiences and was the Audience Choice winner at the 2014 U.S. FameLab Finals, a science communication competition hosted by NASA and National Geographic. Dr. Coffin runs the science communication website communicatalyst.com and is a long-time member of Toastmasters International.

She led a small group workshop (max 24) on improving your science communication skills, from eliminating jargon to creating compelling presentations. This workshop was open to all students, faculty and communications staff.

If you are interested in more workshops like this, contact Rachelle Rozsonits, to be put on the mailing list.