CORVALLIS, Ore. - An increasing number of Oregon companies, both large and small, are taking advantage of the chance to work with Oregon State University engineering students on projects ranging from applied research to product development.

This year many small Oregon companies and startups have teamed up with students on topics such as optimizing solar panel performance or developing devices for the treatment of type-one diabetes. VAL Avionics of Salem, Ore., sponsored a project that resulted in a new navigational system for airplanes that is already on the market.

Such university-industry partnerships sometimes produce a marketable product, and sometimes just improve efficiency or add new capabilities. Inspired Light, a small startup in Corvallis, Ore., sponsored a project to store, monitor, and display output from solar panels that will help them more easily monitor the performance of their panels.

"We definitely have gained value that will help us start more quickly this summer on implementation of the final product, where their work will be utilized," said Jim Dickie, research and development manager at Inspired Light.

Projects range in technical complexity and potential impact. Other examples include:

  • A group of seniors from the Department of Nuclear Engineering and Radiation Health Physics is working on a heat removal analysis and design for NuScale Power, a Corvallis-based company that is developing small modular reactor designs. The goal is to determine if the NuScale design can withstand Fukushima-type accidents without core damage.
  • Students are creating an "Oregon Ale Trail" Facebook and mobile apps. The goal is an online community that celebrates more than 170 breweries by sharing brewery experiences. As users visit breweries they create their very own ale trail, with a goal of visiting them all.
  • Energy systems engineering students at OSU-Cascades designed a "purge system" to prevent embrittlement of the film in a fuel cell hydrogen generator during loss of power or controlled shutdown for maintenance, thereby significantly extending the life of the materials.
  • Students redesigned a water distribution system to pump irrigation water from the Columbia River to 125-acre circles owned by Madison Farms in eastern Oregon. The computer model and optimized water distribution saved roughly 8 percent of energy use for a growing season, and may be applied for other farm irrigation systems.
  • Students created an ergonomic assessment and scoring tool for truck cabs of the Oregon Department of Transportation to use in purchasing decisions. The tool has been licensed and will be used to justify buying $10 million worth of trucks for herbicide applications.
  • One senior project is developing a membrane that will improve the performance of an integrated sensing catheter used in monitoring blood glucose levels and managing type-one diabetes.

"It's a win-win model," said John Parmigiani, assistant professor in the School of Mechanical, Industrial, and Manufacturing Engineering at OSU.

"Students gain real-world engineering and project management experience in a classroom environment," he said. "Sponsors receive a deliverable that would have otherwise been expensive and/or difficult to obtain. The outcome is a great educational opportunity for students and satisfied sponsors who return to Oregon State for additional projects."

A new initiative at OSU, the Oregon State University Advantage, is also taking an organized approach to developing more partnerships between OSU business, industry, students and faculty, through such programs as the Venture Accelerator and the Industry Partnering Program.

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Story By: 

Thuy Tran, 541-737-6020


John Parmigiani, 541-737-7023