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Antique photo of Kidder Hall on a rainy afternoon

Oregon State Science: The many “firsts” in 150 years

By Katharine de Baun

Kidder Hall, the Oregon Agricultural College Library, 1919

Note: this article is part of a series on the distinguished tradition of scientific research pertaining to ocean and space to mark the occasion of Oregon State’s 150th anniversary. Read more: 150 years of science for sea and space (Introduction), On the shoulders of giants, The significance of OSU’s sea-, space-, sun- and land-grant designations.

Mathematics and science have been at the heart of Oregon State University since its designation as a land-grant college in 1868. For example, early records show that a liberal arts curriculum at OSU (then Corvallis College) included three years of mathematics along with a rigorous course of study in Latin and Greek. Mathematician Joseph Emery was one of three faculty in the first decade of the College’s founding. From its earliest days, science at OSU has supported gender equality and wider access to education. In 1890, Corvallis College was one of just three land-grant institutions in the nation to offer scientific courses to women.

Today, mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology and other fundamental sciences form the basis for some of OSU’s most innovative and advanced research and academic programs. The sphere of influence that fundamental science wields at the university is vast. It permeates and shapes 
every discipline from agriculture to oceanography, atmospheric sciences, business, art, history and engineering while creating an intricate blueprint for the future.

The College of Science is proud to have pioneered many “firsts” in its 150-year history:

1868: Science starred in the land-grant college’s first collegiate-level curriculum, with a general “Scientific Course,” “Geology of Oregon,” and courses in chemistry considered “the cornerstone of Scientific Agriculture.”

1870: Corvallis College’s first class of three, one woman and two men, all graduated with bachelor of science degrees, the first granted by a state-assisted college in the western United States. One of them, Robert M. Veatch, gave the College’s first valedictory address titled “Utility of Science.”

1922: First radio transmitter on campus was built by physics professor Jacob Jordan.

1935 Three of the four first Ph.D. recipients at OSU were in science: Herbert L. Jones in physics, Alfred Taylor in zoology and Karl Klemm in chemistry.

1941: First woman to receive a Ph.D. at OSU was Chung Kwai Lui, who emigrated from China to earn a doctorate in physics. She was involved in the top-secret Manhattan Project to develop the first atomic bomb. Her legacy lives on through the Wei Family Foundation Scholarships.

1957: Math professor Arvid Lonseth was instrumental in bringing the first electronic computer to campus, the giant, room-sized Alwac III-e, used for research in mathematics and science. He inspired his student Judith Allen to become the first and only woman in the first computer programming class on campus. She became a pioneer in the 1960s computer industry, driving around Oregon in a bread truck converted into a computer lab, building and selling computers.

1957: Chemistry professor Wendell Slabaugh, a popular teacher who broadcast his chemistry class on TV, could lay claim to being OSU’s first long-distance educator.

1972: Harold J. Evans, professor of plant physiology and biochemistry, was the first OSU faculty member elected to the National Academy of Science (NAS). Two of the three NAS members at OSU today are in the College of Science.

1984: Alumnus Milton Harris (’26) established the first endowed faculty chair at OSU: the Milton Harris Chair of Materials Science.

1987: Microbiology alumnus Knute Buehler (’86) became OSU’s first Rhodes Scholar.

1993: The First MacArthur Fellowship at OSU was awarded to marine biologist Jane Lubchenco for her foundational contributions to marine conservation biology, environmental research and policy.

2009: Chemist Mas Subramanian discovered the first inorganic blue pigment in more than 200 years.

2017: The first-ever 3-D virtual microscope developed and launched by biologist Andrew Bouwma, Ecampus and others won three national awards recognizing innovation in educational technology and bringing the lab experience to online students.

Read more:

Science at OSU has always been a trailblazer, continuing a tradition of outstanding ocean and space research.

The College of Science shines a light on some of the giants who have made ground-breaking contributions to the scientific enterprise.

Find out what it means for OSU to have Land-,Sea-, Space- and Sun-Grant designations.