We engage the Portland, Oregon scientific and technical community to enhance the health of the scientific research enterprise, provide opportunities for the next generation of scientists and engineers, and promote the public's understanding of science and technology. We are comprised of faculty and students from several colleges and universities in the Portland area, as well as colleagues in local business, industry, federal and state agencies, and medical centers. We focus many of our programs on enhancing the experiences of students at all levels. Many of our members are retired scientists and engineers who have relocated to the Portland area and find a community of interests through the activities of the chapter.

Sigma Xi events

14-17 Nov 2024: Sigma Xi International Forum on Research Excellence, Washington DC.

Other science/engineering events

Sigma Xi Columbia-Willamette goes all-in at the last AAASPD conference

Although the AAAS Pacific Division officially disbanded after 104 years of annual meetings, there was no lack of excitement and enthusiasm among the 400 attendees at the final conference, which was held at the University of San Diego, 17-20 Jun 2024. Sigma Xi Northwest and Southwest regions had co-sponsored the meeting since the 2012 event in Boise, and four representatives from SX C-W held up the flag in San Diego.

The three marine biologists, Dr. Linda Mantel, Dr. Melissa Steinman, and MS Carey Sweeney, started their adventure with a visit to the Birch Aquarium in La Jolla, on the UC San Diego campus. We admired Grandpa Spiny Lobster, Grandma Loggerhead Turtle, La Jolla Beach, and the Touch Tank.

Grandpa spiny lobster

Grandma loggerhead

La Jolla Beach

Touch Tank

SX C-W science began the next day, with a presentation by Carey Sweeney on her MS project, Predation of Appendicularians on Prochlorococcus, featuring a video of tiny gelatinous animals feeding on tinier plankton. Later, our fourth colleague, Dr. Heejun Chang, talked about Convergence of convergence research: lessons from sustainable regional systems projects, which reviewed several of the multi-institutional projects he is involved with.

Finally, Melissa Steinman discussed her doctoral research on The influence of a Ubiquitous Filter Feeder on Coastal Microbial Communities, showing how a very distant relative of ours may affect the population of important marine microbes. 

We celebrated the successful scientific presentations with a dinner at Blue Water Seafood Market and Grill, where we sampled sashimi, scallop tacos, ahi salad, calamari, and yellowtail, all fresh from the sea and beautifully served.

Carey Sweeney

Melissa Steinman

Blue Water Seafood

The conference concluded with a major poster session featuring the work of 135 students and faculty, the most ever, and an outdoor farewell party. We said goodbye to the beautiful campus and finished up with ice cream at our hotel. An excellent and worthwhile experience, with many new friends and important contacts.

Farewell to beautiful campus

Nothing like ice cream

2024 Chapter Annual Meeting and Banquet

Jeff Ovall

Josh Hootman

Tamara Phillips and George Anim

Sigma Xi Columbia-Willamette held its annual meeting on Friday 14 June 2024 at Portland State University. The chapter initiated new Sigma Xi members. The chapter also recognized local students who've earned Sigma Xi Grants-In-Aid of Research, students who've won awards at PSU's recent Student Research Symposium, and outstanding faculty researchers. The honorees gave brief descriptions of their research. Co-president Aaron Wootton gave the chapter's annual report, and officers and directors for 2024-2025 were elected. The festive banquet was accompanied by a selection of wines provided by Scott Burns.

Will Pazner and the next generation

Anne Thompson and Melissa Steinman


Sigma Xi holds a worldwide competition for research grants to students in March and October every year. The next deadline to apply for a grant is 15 Oct 2024. New funding focuses on more grants to women and under-represented minority students.

Recent GIAR awards to local students

George Anim, Geology/Planetary Science: Shock thermal processing of shergottites using evidence for pressure, temperature, and deformation gradient. Mentor: Alexander Ruzicka, Portland State University. (Mar 2023) 

Mars is a key focus for studying planetary evolution and future space exploration. Currently, martian meteorites are the only physical samples available until the Perseverance rover returns with rock samples in 2031. Most martian meteorites are shergottites, which resemble terrestrial basalts.

Shergottites reach Earth through intense asteroid impacts on Mars, leading to changes in the rock known as shock metamorphism. This process obscures the primary textures and chemistry of the rocks, resulting in mineral deformation, the transformation of plagioclase into a glass called maskelynite, molten areas known as shock melt pockets, and the formation of new high-pressure minerals.

Our research uses optical and scanning electron microscope (SEM) techniques to study these shock metamorphic features. Understanding shock metamorphism in these meteorites is crucial for estimating the size of the impact events that ejected them from Mars. Additionally, this knowledge helps us reconstruct the primary textures and features of the rocks, providing a more detailed understanding of the geology and evolution of Mars.

Daniel Sheikh, Geosciences: Electron Backscatter Diffraction (EBSD) Study of Pink Spinel Anorthosite (PSA) Clasts in Lunar Dimict Breccia Northwest Africa (NWA) 15500: Constraints on PSA Petrogenesis and Shock Deformation History. Mentor: Alex Ruzicka. (2024 Mar)

Michelle Ozaki, Cell biology/biochemistry: Postpartum liver fibroblasts in driving liver metastasis in young women’s breast cancer. Mentor: Pepper Schedin, OHSU. (2024 Mar)

Tin-Long Yiu, Physiology/Functional Morphology: The Role of Cerebellar Climbing Fibers in Sensory Discrimination. Mentor: Haining Zhong, OHSU. (2023 Oct)

Sky Button, Cell biology: Using aquatic eDNA to inform the conservation of a rare and secretive terrestrial amphibian. Mentor: Jonah Piovia-Scott, Washington State University Vancouver. (2021 Oct)

Geoff Szafranski, Ecology: Contaminant analysis of coastal mangrove ecosystems across different environmental conditions in Hawaii and Florida. Mentor: Catherine de Rivera, Portland State University. (2021 Oct)

James Frye, Physics and Astronomy: Applications of EBSD Techniques to Constrain Thermal Parameters of Ureilites During Catastrophic Collision. Mentor: Alex Ruzicka, Portland State University. (2021 Oct)

Malcolm Peavy, Systematics / Evolutionary Biology: Vitamin D exploration of the mTOR pathway in Austrofundulus Limnaeus. Mentor: Jason Podrabsky, Portland State University. (2021 Mar)

Robyn Dove, Ecology: The root-nodule microbiome: Implications for invasive legume management. Mentor: Daniel Ballhorn, Portland State University. (2020 Oct)

The Sigma Xi Grants-in-Aid of Research (GIAR) program has funded research by undergraduate and graduate students since 1922. Of the 810 proposals received by the 1 Oct 2018 deadline, grants were earned by 97 applicants from 6 countries, including 17 undergraduate students, 24 master’s students, and 56 doctoral candidates. Collectively, the students received $87,696.

Previous GIARs have been earned by students at Portland State University, University of Portland, Washington State University Vancouver, Willamette University, and Oregon Health & Science University.  We encourage students at all academic institutions in the Portland area to apply. Membership in Sigma Xi isn't required, but 75% of the grants are reserved for student members and advisees of faculty who are members.

A Night Out with the Neandertals

Fred H. Smith,
Illinois State University
Sigma Xi Distinguished Lecturer

Thursday 09 May 2024, 7:00 pm PDT

Cramer Hall 171 (approach through south entrance)

Portland State University

1825 SW Broadway, Portland OR

The lecture is free and open to the public.

For those unable to attend, the lecture will be remotely accessible via Zoom:


Telephone commands: *6 mute/unmute; *9 raise hand

Abstract: Neandertals have long been considered the epitome of the dumb cave man. Early ideas emphasized not only their physical, but also their perceived behavioral and intellectual, inferiority compared to modern humans.  Among the differences emphasized were those relating to language, symbolic behavior, technology and morphology. Recent discoveries find no evidence to assume inferiority in intelligence on the part of Neandertals. We now know that Neandertal morphology reflects adaptation to the harsh, cold environs of western Eurasia during the Pleistocene rather than primitive inferiority. Both the Neandertals’ morphology and behavior provide insight into why these well-adapted people were ultimately replaced by early modern humans.

Fred H. Smith is a paleoanthropologist who has studied Neandertals, other archaic people, and the origins of modern humans for more than 50 years. Trained in zoology, anthropology and German as an undergraduate at the University of Tennessee, he received his Ph.D. in biological anthropology from the University of Michigan in 1976. Currently, he is University Professor of Anthropology and Biological Sciences Emeritus at Illinois State University and an Adjunct Professor of Anthropology at the University of Colorado at Boulder. His primary research has focused on Central Europe, where he began work when much of this area was behind the “Iron Curtain.” However, he also has carried out extensive research on fossil humans from other areas of Europe, West Asia and Africa.

The author of some 300 scholarly articles, chapters, books and monographs, Smith is an AAAS, Alexander von Humboldt, and Fulbright Fellow and has received awards for his work from several institutions in the U.S. as well as in Croatia, Germany, and Ireland. He has taught at the University of Tennessee, Northern Illinois University, Loyola University Chicago, ISU, and internationally at the Universities of Hamburg, Tübingen and Zagreb.

Dr. Smith will also present Visiting the Ancestors – Archaic Africans, Neandertals and the Beginnings of People Like Us, on Wednesday 08 May, at 4:30 pm, Parsons Gallery, Room 212, Urban Center, Portland State University, 506 SW Mill St., Portland OR, hosted by the Association of Anthropology Students.

Abstract: Genetic and genomic data show conclusively that modern humans first emerged in Africa and then radiated out into Eurasia and ultimately the Americas. While the genetic evidence generally takes center stage, the fact is that morphological studies of fossil human (hominin) and archaeological material demonstrated this pattern first and remains a robust indicator of the pattern of modern human origins and migrations. We will review this evidence, particularly the fossil human record, and discuss the contributions this non-genetic data make to the understanding of human evolution. Although the fossils clearly show the African origin of modern people, they also demonstrate that Eurasian archaic humans, like the Neandertals, contributed to early modern humans in Eurasia. The genetic/genomic data subsequently supported the morphological evidence. So while modern humans are primarily derived from an African ancestry, Neandertals are our ancestors, too!

As part of Women’s History Month, Sigma Xi announced the establishment of the Linda H. Mantel Next Generation Women's Leadership Award. The award includes a $2,500 honorarium and is awarded biennially to an early-career STEM leader who identifies as a woman. The award reflects Dr. Mantel’s legacy of service, generosity, and leadership within Sigma Xi and the research enterprise.

Linda H. Mantel  has been a Sigma Xi member since 1964. She spent 25 years at City College of the City University of New York, as a faculty member, chair of the Department of Biology, and assistant provost for Research and Graduate Studies. During this time she was a research associate in the Department of Invertebrates at the American Museum of Natural History. She has served as dean of the faculty and professor of biology at Reed College, as interim vice-president for Academic Administration at Willamette University, as assistant vice-president for Technology Services at the University of Portland, and as associate research professor at Portland State University. 

Following her official retirement in 2002, Mantel joined the board of the multi-institutional Columbia-Willamette Chapter of Sigma Xi, where she served as secretary from 2004-2008, and completed 10 years as president. The chapter has won three awards for Excellence and Programs in the last eight years. Mantel joined the Sigma Xi Board as a member of the Diversity Committee in 2003, and was active as a chapter delegate to both the Northwest Region and the Multi-institutional (MI) Constituency. In 2009, Mantel was elected director of the Northwest Region and served two terms, until 2015. 

In 2022, in recognition of her distinguished service to our chapter and to the larger organization, Dr. Mantel was designated a Sigma Xi Fellow.

Sigma Xi Chapter of Excellence Award

Chapter of Excellence Awards are bestowed by Sigma Xi annually for "exceptional chapter activity, innovative programming, and true community leadership." In 2021, the Columbia-Willamette Chapter earned the first-place award; in the past 8 years, the chapter has won 3 awards for excellence or for its programs.

Leroy Sibanda with research poster at Madison

Megan and Nacho with poster at Sigma Xi Stem + Art & Film Festival

November 2019: Sigma Xi Columbia-Willamette provided partial travel support to students Vusumuzi Leroy Sibanda, Megan Hanley, and Dr. Ignacio (Nacho) de la Higuera, enabling them to attend Sigma Xi's Annual Meeting and Student Research Conference in Madison, Wisconsin. In the Conference, Leroy won the first prize, in Chemistry-Graduate Students, for his poster, A mechanistic investigation of peptide S-nitrosation by nitric oxide moieties: implications for biological function. He also represented our chapter as delegate to the Annual Meeting, and later on the same trip, he presented his work at the NOBCChE meeting in St. Louis, Missouri.

Nacho presented his poster Crucifiction: an evolutionary story at the interface between DNA and RNA viruses. Inspired by that research, Megan and Nacho collaborated on a poster and a video at the meeting's STEM + Art & Film Festival.

June 2019: Sigma Xi Columbia-Willamette was pleased to help sponsor Leroy Sibanda's attendance at the AAAS Pacific Division/Sigma Xi joint meeting in Ashland on 19 June 2019. Leroy is a Ph.D. candidate in the Simoyi research group in Portland State University's Chemistry Department, and he won the top student award in Chemistry and Biochemistry for his poster, Vasoactive hormones identified as efficient Nitric Oxide donors: implications for enhanced opioid induced antinociception. Linda Mantel wrote, "As a physiologist myself, I found the poster most enlightening and greatly appreciated Leroy's thorough explanation of the work." 

Leroy received this support from SX CW because he won a graduate first place award at our 15th Annual Student Research Symposium in November 2018.

June 2018: the Chapter provided partial travel support for three students to present their research at the Sigma Xi NW/SW + AAAS Pacific Division Student Research Conference, at Cal State Pomona. Brie Tripp won first prize in the Pacific Division's Education Section; Tetiana Korzun won an honorable mention in the Cell and Molecular Biology Section; and Emmanuel Abdul  found the  Conference "very enriching and a tremendous opportunity to learn what other people are doing. It certainly was an eye-opener and a great learning experience for me as I gained insight into possible applications of my work on Vertically aligned polymer nanostructures functionalized by magnetron sputtering. Sigma Xi made the experience and professional networking with fellow growing scientists possible for me and for this, I am very grateful." 

Brie Tripp lecturing at AAASPD/SX meeting

Tetiana Korzun with poster at AAASPD/SX meeting

Similar awards earned earlier by local students at regional and national Sigma Xi meetings are listed in Student Travel Awards.