Wood Science and Engineering
Feature: Fungi Studies Make Progress
Since the late 1990s, people with health concerns related to mold have filed thousands of lawsuits worth billions of dollars, says Jeff Morrell, Professor of Wood Preservation and Biodeterioration (and recently named OSU Distinguished Professor). While there is a great debate about the health risks associated with molds, there is little doubt that many buildings are excellent environments for their growth. Modern building techniques have created airtight structures that may not allow for sufficient air exchange, so moisture builds up and creates a friendly environment for fungal growth.
In addition, molds and wood-staining fungi can cause substantial economic loss. These fungi don't damage or weaken the wood, but can discolor it. These fungi grow quickly on freshly cut lumber and can degrade the lumber's value if not controlled promptly.
Traditional solutions to eliminate these fungi include kiln drying the lumber or applying fungicides shortly after cutting the tree. Drying the lumber can be costly and works only if the wood is not exposed to moisture again during its lifespan. Until recently, many mills had stopped using fungicides because of concerns about potential liability and worker exposure, says Morrell. However, now that public awareness has centered on health concerns related to molds, some mills have returned to chemical treatment methods.
OSU has long been involved in helping manufacturers develop control measures for stain and mold fungi, including assessing chemical treatments, identifying methods for removing mold, and identifying nonchemical methods for limiting fungal attack. Adam Taylor, PhD candidate in Wood Science, recently tested the effectiveness of a number of commercial treatments for removing mold from wood. None of the treatments Taylor tested, including bleach (which is recommended most often), were effective in preventing the regrowth of mold. His results showed that the most effective method for eliminating this damage was to brush the affected area with dilute bleach, then remove the sources of moisture so that fungi could not grow on the wood. In addition to the laboratory studies, the group has also worked with an industrial hygienist to develop easily interpreted information on mold in housing and its effects (go to www.wwpa.org).
Biocontrol is one potential alternative for preventing fungal attack of freshly sawn lumber. This method introduces a beneficial fungus or bacteria to wood to prevent the growth of the stain and mold fungi. So far, Morrell's research team has been able to control fungi in the lab, but has had little success in the field. "Understanding why we fail can help us to develop effective field treatments," he says.
One of the major obstacles to this research was that the potential control agent is transparent and does not look all that different from other fungi in the wood, making it difficult to study. Shelly Xiao, PhD candidate in Wood Science, was able to make the target fungus visible among the many fungal species colonizing wood by inserting a green fluorescent protein gene. The gene, developed by Professor Lynda Ciuffetti of Botany and Plant Pathology, makes the fungus visible under a fluorescent microscope. Using this technique, she has been able to study how stain fungi and the biocontrol agents interact, which will help to identify the causes for the field failures and, hopefully, lead to more effective nonchemical control agents.
Back from Boston: Engineer Shares Stories from the Real World
Milan Vatovec, Professional Engineer and Senior Project Manager with Simpson Gumpertz & Heger, Inc. (SGH), returned to the College of Forestry as a guest speaker in Wood Science and Engineering in May. Vatovec, who completed a PhD in Forest Products/Civil Engineering at OSU in 1995, has been with the internationally renowned consulting firm near Boston since 1996.
In the well-attended morning seminar,Vatovec gave an overview of the problem of biodeterioration in wood piles and the various options for detection and repair, finishing with a discussion of possibilities for future research.Wood piling foundations are predominantly used in areas with soft top soils, such as peat or fill, where buildings cannot be supported directly on the ground.The piles are used to transfer the loads deeper to more solid layers of soil (like clay or rock).The wood piles must remain submerged or they may begin to rot, potentially causing structural problems to the building above.Vatovec has worked on several large projects in the Boston area, where, as groundwater levels have changed, biodeterioration of wood piles has become an increasing concern.
For the afternoon session geared primarily toward graduate students,Vatovec presented a medley of different jobs he has been involved with at SGH. As he led students through a slide-show tour of projects, from the United First Parish Church in Quincy, Massachusetts, the oldest church in the Boston area and burial place of the John Adams family, to Atlanta, San Francisco, and finally, the World Trade Towers site in New York,Vatovec also took them along on his personal journey as a young engineer.His aim was to share some of the challenges he faced early in his career, and to offer both encouragement and a little practical advice.
The College provided him with a solid foundation, he says."Here I learned the basics, and I was able to apply that knowledge. But problem solving — I learned that on the job." As a new engineer with SGH,Vatovec's experience was not unique."Regardless of where you come from, you go through a 2-year period where you do anything and everything so you learn how to apply knowledge gained in school." Many of the projects he worked on were not wood related, and he had to 'think outside the box' to find creative solutions to problems he encountered. He continues to work on a broad variety of assignments involving different types of structures, often with their own unique sets of problems. As it turns out, he says,"a big source of work is people making mistakes in design."
Vatovec has learned some unexpected lessons over the past eight years."Why make things complicated when you can make things simple — that's one of the biggest lessons I've learned," he says. He also quickly discovered the practical importance of being able to communicate his findings, whether on paper or before an audience."Not only do you have to be a good engineer, you have to be a good salesman for your ideas," he says.
As part of his job,Vatovec is occasionally called upon to testify as an expert witness in court cases. He acknowledges that he sometimes must make difficult decisions, such as whether a historic building can be saved or should be torn down.When asked how he feels about taking sides on such issues, however,Vatovec doesn't hesitate."The overall concern must always be public safety," he says with a smile,"because that's the oath you take when you become an engineer!"
He concludes with a more sobering description of one of his most difficult tasks. In the aftermath of September 11, 2001,Vatovec went with a team of engineers from SGH to assist with debris removal at Ground Zero.The engineers were working only a few feet from where rescue workers were trying to find survivors.The experience made a great impression on him, changing the way he thought about his profession and reshaping the way he viewed himself as an engineer."Before, I was trying to do my job, not thinking of the big picture, trying to make myself a better engineer," he says."Now, I think more about making a contribution to the field, to help ensure that these things don't happen."
As for those students who will soon be facing 'the real world' as engineers themselves,Vatovec hopes they will be creative, challenge themselves, and strive to get the most out of their jobs—and "have fun," he says, the twinkle back in his eyes."This really is a great career."
Children and Adults Learn About Wood
Faculty, staff, and students in the Department of Wood Science & Engineering are finding ways to teach Oregon's elementary school children about wood science in fun and engaging ways through Oregon Wood Magic. Each Fall, the Department plays host to over 1,300 third and fourth graders, who visit campus for a 3-hour lesson about wood in their lives. This session is repeated in the spring at the Forest Discovery Center (formerly World Forestry Center) in Portland in May for around 600 students.
The Department also participated in Oregon AgFest in April and Kids Day in September. More than 7,000 parents, grandparents, and elementary aged children visited the WS&E display at Oregon AgFest. This event focuses on educating children about the products derived from Oregon's agricultural, marine, and forest resources. Representatives of the College talked about forest products, wood anatomy, general forestry, and the WS&E undergraduate program. Kids Day was a first-time event at the Benton County fairground coordinated by Starker Forests and attracted over 800 children, who learned about various environmental education programs in the county. Our participation in these events is part of our effort to ensure that school-age children receive a balanced message about natural resources and wood in particular.
Successful Wood Science and Engineering Students — Congratulations!
Roy C. Anderson, PhD "An analysis of consumer response to environmentally certified, ecolabeled forest products"
Claudia M. T. Eiden, MS "Nonlinear dynamic analysis of heavy timber frame structures including passive damping devices"
David Brian DeVallance, MS "Influence of veneer roughness, lathe check, and growth rate characteristics on glue-bond performance of Douglas- fir plywood"
Forestry Communications Group, Peavy Hall 256