Friday, October 19, 2018

Water activist honored with OU International Water Prize

Martha Gebeyehu, coordinator for Ethiopia’s Water Expertise and Training Centre, was recently named the recipient of the 2019 International Water Prize. A panel of water experts from around the world selected Gebeyehu for her ongoing commitment to empowering and training people to manage their own water and sanitation. 

“Martha is serving some of the world’s poorest in some of the most rural and remote regions of Ethiopia,” said Shauna Curry, chief executive officer of the Centre for Affordable Water and Sanitation Technology. “Her belief in the power of people to bring change to their own homes led to her work in the area of household water treatment. This quickly broadened to the entire area of water, sanitation and hygiene with low-cost technology that people can implement themselves.” 

While pursuing a master’s degree in business administration, Gebeyehu became the first water quality analyst for the Ethiopian Kale Heywet Church Development Commission implementing safe testing practices and procedures. Her growing knowledge, coupled with an eagerness to share her expertise, led her to initiate the development of a laboratory and facilitate the first water quality workshops. She has personally educated and trained over 1,000 individuals for the WET Center. Now she serves as WET Center coordinator, guiding WAter, Sanitation and Hygiene projects from conception and implementing research projects to effectively link government water policy to rural communities. 

“I became interested in working with WASH through a strong understanding of the technical aspects of water quality and a drive to share my knowledge with others,” says Gebeyehu. “Ultimately, I am dedicated to serving those in need so that they can reach their full potential and well-being.” 

Sponsored by the University of Oklahoma Water Technologies for Emerging Regions Center, the International Water Prize is one of the first and largest prizes dedicated solely to the field of water supply and sanitation in remote areas of emerging regions. The award-winner is selected through a nomination process and honors an individual that has made significant contributions in these areas, particularly communities in rural or remote regions. 

Gebeyehu will formally receive the OU International Water Prize and give the plenary lecture at the sixth Biennial OU International WaTER Conference, scheduled for Sept. 16-19, 2019. The conference includes local and international speakers, breakout sessions and poster and paper sessions in the fields of social entrepreneurship, behavior change, water technologies, climate change and hydro-philanthropy in the developing world. For more information about the OU International Water Prize and the conference, visit

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

OU Researcher Determines Catalytic Active Sites Using Carbon Nanotubes

University of Oklahoma researcher Steven Crossley and his team have devised a novel method to determine the cause of catalytic activity.

NORMAN – Catalytic research led by University of Oklahoma researcher Steven Crossley has developed a new and more definitive way to determine the active site in a complex catalyst. His team’s research was recently published in Nature Communications.

Catalysts consisting of metal particles supported on reducible oxides show promising performance for a variety of current and emerging industrial reactions, such as the production of renewable fuels and chemicals. Although the beneficial results of the new materials are evident, identifying the cause of the activity of the catalyst can be challenging. Catalysts often are discovered and optimized by trial and error, making it difficult to decouple the numerous possibilities. This can lead to decisions based on speculative or indirect evidence.

“When placing the metal on the active support, the catalytic activity and selectivity is much better than you would expect than if you were to combine the performance of metal with the support alone,” explained Crossley, a chemical engineer, Teigen Presidential Professor and Sam A. Wilson Professor within the Gallogly College of Engineering. “The challenge is that, when you put the two components together, it is difficult to understand the cause of the promising performance.” Understanding the nature of the catalytic active site is critical for controlling a catalyst’s activity and selectivity.

Crossley’s novel method of separating active sites while maintaining the ability of the metal to create potential active sites on the support uses vertically grown carbon nanotubes that act as “hydrogen highways.” To determine if catalytic activity was from either direct contact between the support and the metal or from metal-induced promoter effects on the oxide support, Crossley’s team separated the metal palladium from the oxide catalyst titanium by a controlled distance on a conductive bridge of carbon nanotubes. The researchers introduced hydrogen to the system and verified that hydrogen was able to migrate along the nanotubes to create new potential active sites on the oxide support. They then tested the catalytic activity of these materials and contrasted it with the activity of the same materials when the metal and the support were in direct physical contact.

“In three experiments, we were able to rule out different scenarios and prove that it is necessary to have physical contact between the palladium and titanium to produce methyl furan under these conditions,” Crossley said.

The carbon nanotube hydrogen highways can be used with a variety of different bifunctional catalysts.

“Using this straightforward and simple method, we can better understand how these complex materials work, and use this information to make better catalysts,” Crossley said.

Crossley and his OU team are working in collaboration with Jeff Miller, a chemical engineering professor at Purdue University. This work was supported by the National Science Foundation CAREER award 165393.


Wednesday, October 3, 2018

OU Radar Team Developing Mobile Radar Testbed for U.S. Navy

By Jana Smith, Director
Strategic Communications for R&D
University of Oklahoma

NORMAN—The University of Oklahoma Advanced Radar Research Center is developing an all-digital polarimetric phased array mobile radar testbed with a $5.4 million grant from the U.S. Department of Defense, Office of Naval Research, to address significant near-term obstacles and fulfill many operational missions. The ARRC team is providing a mobile radar testbed that can demonstrate multiple radar modes that increase public safety outcomes, such as weather monitoring and air traffic surveillance and control.

“The University of Oklahoma is the only university developing a system like this one,” said Mark Yeary, OU ARRC team leader and professor of electrical and computer engineering, OU Gallogly College of Engineering. “The ARRC has been successful in attracting the attention of the U.S. Navy and other agencies by building a team of experts that includes both meteorologists and engineers.”

Yeary and ARRC team members Robert Palmer, Caleb Fulton, Hjalti Sigmarrson, Jorge Salazar Cerrano and Nathan Goodman are working with Redmond Kelley, Matt McCord and John Meier, ARRC engineers on the project. The team is responsible for all aspects of the project, including electrical and mechanical design, mechanical assembly, thermal designs, data and processing control, a chiller system, truck with factory integrated generator, array positioner, enclosure and truck modifications.

“The all-digital radar can do what most radars cannot do, which is why the U.S. Navy is extremely interested in the capabilities of this mobile radar testbed. We are fully engaged in the research and development the U.S. Navy is doing and are addressing their needs with this project,” said Caleb Fulton, professor of electrical and computer engineering, Gallogly College of Engineering.

The funding from the U.S. Navy was made possible by foundational work on the so-called Horus all-digital polarimetric phased array radar done in collaboration with NOAA’s National Severe Storms Laboratory for the weather applications. The new system will build upon this work with NOAA and is defined by its flexibility and the software is easily reconfigured to address the challenges the U.S. Navy will face in the future.

This is the second grant the ARRC team has received from the ONR this year for developing new technologies that will advance the U.S. Navy’s mission. For more information, contact Yeary at or visit the ARRC website at

OU Engineering Professor Receives DARPA Young Faculty Award

Andrea L'Afflitto and Michel Fiddy, DARPA Young Faculty Award Program Manager
Funding goes toward development of military drones

Andrea L’Afflitto, an assistant professor at the School of Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering at the University of Oklahoma, has received the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s Young Faculty Award for his proposal to develop autonomous drones for tactical operations.

“We are at dawn of new technology as drones continue making great strides,” said L’Afflitto. “However, there’s still a lot more to explore with how this technology can be advantageous to our lives.”

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency award will fund the development of unmanned aerial systems such as drones. Existing technology, such as quadcopters or machines with robotic arms, move laterally. L’Afflitto’s research focuses on teaching drones to act in a tactical manner while mimicking human movements and thoughts, specifically among the armed forces. He proposed ground troops would use drones during warfare, transportation and reconstruction so that risk of detection is minimized. The goal is to utilize drones as a relatively cost-effective way to perform duties without sacrificing personnel.

Although the drone market is increasing rapidly, there are valid arguments regarding ethics. L’Afflitto said it’s important to evaluate regulations, including key factors such as height limits, designated restricted zones such as civilian areas and consistent oversight with surveillance.

“There’s definitely a moral responsibility related to interacting with drones,” said L’Afflitto. “Safety should always be a top priority. Effective countermeasures can help prevent accidents and liability.”

DARPA Young Faculty awards identify and engage rising stars in junior faculty positions in academia and researchers at nonprofit research institutions with the aim of addressing national security challenges and advancing fundamental research in diverse disciplines.