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This is a fantastic, tremendous, INCREDIBLE betting line March 27, 2020

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Donald Trump providing a fantastic Coronavirus briefing. Photo by Evan Vucci/AP/Shutterstock

One of the fascinating things about watching the daily Coronavirus briefings from President Trump is anticipating certain words or phrases he says repeatedly. “Fantastic. Tremendous. We’re doing a great job.”

Unless you are wearing a Make America Great Again cap, you realize it’s all bluster and BS.

Now, I’ve discovered that I can actually wager on the number of times he repeats some of my favorite words or phrases. My friend Ed forwarded an email to me with betting odds on some of Trump’s favorite words and phrases he uses when he has no real information to relay. It made me laugh out loud.

Thanks, Ed, for brightening my day. Now, I’ll watch the briefings even closer to see how close Trump hits the betting line.

I’ll take the over on all of these.

Here’s the list of words and phrases and their odds from an outfit called SportsBettingDime.com. Enjoy:

PRESIDENT TRUMP DAILY PRESS BRIEFING OVER/UNDERS

Fantastic +Incredible + Amazing + Tremendous 24.5
Great 11.5
Big/Bigger/Biggest 10.5
More Tests than any other Country 9.5
Fantastic 8.5
Incredible 6.5
Amazing 5.5
Tremendous 5.5
Best 5.5
I/We’ve been treated unfairly 3.5
I/We inherited a broken system 3.5
Working Very Hard 2.5
We’re doing a great job 2.5
Not our fault 2.5

OSU’s New Product Development Center supports Oklahoma’s innovators with prototyping services March 23, 2020

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Editor’s Note: Along with colleague Debbie Cox from the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology, I recently toured the fabrication lab at the Tulsa campus of Oklahoma State University’s New Product Development Center.  Here is my report:

By Jim Stafford

TULSA – Evan Pratt, a design engineer at the Oklahoma State University – Tulsa campus location of OSU’s New Product Development Center (NPDC), held a small plastic device in front of me for inspection and challenged me to guess its purpose.

I didn’t have a clue. New computer mouse? Fancy salt shaker? Home security device?

Wrong, wrong and wrong.

Pratt was actually showcasing a “bottle grabber” assembly used by a Tulsa area manufacturer to keep the bottle filling and shipping process flowing smoothly.

“What this does is it fits on a conveyer system that is in their bottling system that helps them move and transport bottles from one conveyer system to another,” Pratt said.

The bottle grabber assembly was designed and created at the NPDC lab on a 3D printer to replace an original design and mesh perfectly with the client’s manufacturing process.

“This piece recently became unsupported by the original manufacturer,” Pratt said. “So, under a pay-for-service contract, we reverse engineered this bottle grabber assembly and created a 3D-printed prototype for them to test.”

The New Product Development Center was founded by OSU in 2002 to provide Oklahoma inventors and entrepreneurs with market research, prototype development and grant writing assistance to advance their concepts, said Jessica Stewart, assistant director.

Along with the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology (OCAST), i2E Inc., the Tom Love Innovation Hub at the University of Oklahoma and the Oklahoma Manufacturing Alliance, the NPDC is a key element in the Oklahoma Innovation Model that supports Oklahoma’s innovation economy. Robert Taylor is NPDC executive director.

As Debbie Cox from OCAST looks on, Evan Pratt displays a tray of ‘bottle grabbers’ designed and produced by OSU’s New Product Development Center

The bottle grabber assembly was created as part of a $399,000 grant awarded in 2017 to NPDC by the federal Economic Development Administration through its “i6 Challenge” program. Launched in 2014 the ongoing i6 Challenge has awarded $42 million with $54 million in matching funds that are supporting 88 projects across 36 states, according to the EDA website.

“The EDA i6 grant is basically set up to assist small businesses, inventors, startups and some manufacturers with a working first prototype to be able to get them further along in their product development,” Stewart said.

On this mid-January day, Pratt and Stewart gave me and OCAST colleague Debbie Cox a tour of their fabrication shop that features 3D printing capabilities along with tools to engineer and create just about any prototype to the specifications sought by manufacturers or inventors.

The EDA grant led to a unique collaboration between the OSU organization and OU’s Tom Love Innovation Hub, which expanded the array of services offered Oklahoma innovators through the grant.

“The Tom Love Innovation Hub has been excellent in providing services to our inventor community to create prototypes that we don’t have the capacity to do here,” Stewart said.

Added Tom Wavering, executive director of OU’s Innovation Hub: “When jobs come in, and they come to us and need some help, we figure out if we can help them or OSU can help them and send them to the right spot. Jessica and Robert do the same.”

At its Tulsa location, the NPDC provides both a mechanical and electrical engineer who provide design expertise and prototyping services like that of the bottle grabber assembly.

“We are probably Tulsa’s best kept secret,” Stewart said of the NPDC. “We invite inventors, small businesses and manufacturers to call us to see if we can provide resources and move them forward.”

Jim Stafford writes about Oklahoma innovation and research and development topics on behalf of the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science & Technology (OCAST).

In search of elusive ‘Seniors Hour’ grocery shopping March 20, 2020

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Shoppers stand in line at 7 am this morning to check out at Crest in Edmond

The idea of a “seniors only” hour of grocery shopping lured me to Crest Foods in Edmond this morning.

Turns out the tip I received from my wife last night was a bit of fake news. Crest doesn’t filter shoppers by age at 7 am,  despite what she may have read on social media.

“We don’t limit shopping to seniors because we’re open 24 hours a day,” the Crest employee who scanned my groceries at the checkout counter told me. “We’ve discussed it, but it would be difficult to limit it to just seniors.”

Here’s what went down for me when I rolled into the Crest parking lot at 6:57 this morning.

First, I was surprised to see the parking lot was already loaded with cars in the predawn darkness. After finding a parking spot, I walked into the store, passing several shoppers who were decades younger than me on the way in.

Inside, it could have been prime grocery shopping hour – say, 4 p.m. on any given Sunday – because the store was swirling with shoppers. Carts were at a premium, but I snagged one as I walked in. Sorry, lady.

The large crowd made it difficult to maintain proper social distance. We also had to negotiate aisles that were full of cardboard boxes as Crest workers were working to restock shelves as the day began.

The bread aisle reminded me of Broadway Extension at 5 p.m. when lanes are packed and traffic inches along. The bread shelves were mostly bare.

Checkout lines were the longest I’ve seen at Crest, which normally moves people out at an efficient pace.

But there was a positive to this morning’s experience. Toilet paper! The store had a virtual wall of toilet paper available at 7 a.m. So we early birds got the TP worm on this morning.

By the way, Homeland Stores in the OKC area ARE providing a seniors-only shopping hour beginning at 7 am each day. Here is a story in today’s edition of The Oklahoman that talks about the senior hour at Homeland and other venues.

Stay safe out there!

Women in STEM conference highlights career possibilities for school aged participants March 9, 2020

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Northeastern State University education student Destiny May shows a pair of middle school girls how to program a table to remotely operate a robot at the Oklahoma Women in STEM conference.

Editor’s note: I was invited to attend the recent Oklahoma Women in STEM conference on the Broken Arrow campus of Northeastern State University by my friends at the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology (OCAST). This is my report from the engaging science, technology, engineering and math activities for young women I saw during the conference. Check out the terrific OCAST video shot at the conference. 

By Jim Stafford

BROKEN ARROW – A group of middle school and high school aged young women gathered at the base of a stairwell in a building on the Broken Arrow campus of Northeastern State University and collectively looked up.

Standing on a step about 10 feet above them, another young woman held out a trash bag connected by string to a Styrofoam cup that held a single egg.

It was a homemade parachute, constructed during an aerodynamics and engineering workshop as part of the recent Oklahoma Women in STEM conference at NSU.

The contraption dangled over the crowd for a moment as a voice counted down “3, 2, 1.” Then it dropped. The trash bag filled with air and turned into a parachute, floating to the ground.

The egg survived unbroken.

Xan Black, executive director of conference co-sponsor Tulsa Regional STEM Alliance, led the aerodynamics workshop and counted down each parachute drop. It was an exercise designed to showcase the benefits of teamwork, persistence and perhaps even spark some future career interest in STEM — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — she said.

“My real hope is that they will all consider a career in aviation or aerospace,” Black said. “Oklahoma has such a rich tradition in those industries, and I want those girls to know you absolutely have a place in the aerospace industry.”

Co-sponsored by the Oklahoma Manufacturing Alliance and NSU, the conference drew about 150 middle school and high school girls from areas surrounding Tulsa, as well as teachers and industry mentors. It concluded with a luncheon where organizers honored about 30 women who work in STEM professions across Oklahoma.

Dr. Kayse Shrum, a physician and president of the Oklahoma State College of Osteopathic Medicine, as well as Oklahoma’s Secretary of Science and Innovation, served as keynote speaker.

She urged the young women in her audience to set goals and pursue their dreams.

“My message today was really about walking in your own shoes,” she said. “It’s really being your authentic self. If you set a goal for yourself, you can achieve it, even if everyone around you thinks that’s a ridiculous goal or that’s not achievable.”

As Shrum spoke, an accompanying slide showed how under-represented women are in STEM fields. According to the National Science Foundation, women comprise only 28 percent of the science and engineering workforce.

Shrum used her own example of pursuing a STEM career. She grew up in the community of Coweta, OK, and went to college as a softball player. A professor noticed her math and science abilities and encouraged her to pursue a medical career.

“I had no idea I was capable of becoming a physician until my professor empowered me by saying ‘I think you can,’” she said.

The Women in STEM conference at NSU’s Broken Arrow campus featured a demonstration of a working robotic arm.

Kinnee Tilly, vice president of Business Development for the Oklahoma Manufacturing Alliance, also addressed the luncheon audience, emphasizing the importance of expanding the number of women involved in STEM careers in Oklahoma.

“The workforce pipeline is very important to the success of our state, and we need all of you to look at what your career opportunities are,” she said.

The conference also showcased robotics, computer programming, math skills and matched young women with career mentors.

“I hope the girls take away from this conference that within the realm of STEM, there are so many interesting fields and so many interesting problems and challenges, that they will think about that and say ‘I just might take that extra math class or join that robotics club,’” Black said. “And I hope these girls look around and see 150 other young girls here, all of whom are interested in STEM. That’s very important.”

Jim Stafford writes about Oklahoma innovation and research and development topics on behalf of the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science & Technology (OCAST).

Educational consortium designs intern program to help turn Tulsa into bioscience ‘hub’ March 6, 2020

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Editor’s note:  My friends at the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology invited me to this week’s Bioscience Networking Luncheon in Tulsa, where I heard an interesting presentation on internship opportunities in the Tulsa area.  This is what I wrote about the event.

Kathleen Curtis, Ph.D., addresses audience at OCAST-sponsored Bioscience Networking Luncheon at the OSU Center for Health Sciences in Tulsa.

By Jim Stafford

TULSA – The eight member organizations of the Tulsa Area Bioscience Education and Research Consortium (TABERC) have aspirations to make Tulsa a “hub” of bioscience education and research, Kathleen Curtis, Ph.D., told a recent bioscience networking luncheon here.

Curtis was among speakers at the 2nd Annual Bioscience Networking Luncheon on the Oklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences (OSU-CHS) campus. The event was presented by the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology (OCAST) for about 60 Tulsa area bioscience professionals.

Curtis is a professor of physiology and interim chair of the Department of Pharmacology and Physiology at OSU-CHS and chair of the Tulsa area research consortium.

TABERC has developed a vibrant internship program to help bioscience research flourish in Tulsa, Curtis said. Student interns gain hands-on skills by working on real world research projects in participating laboratories

“I was just sitting here counting on my fingers about the number of interns we have placed over the last 13 years,” Curtis said during her presentation. “I’m thinking it’s somewhere between 60 and 70 research interns in just 13 years that we’ve provided hands-on bench experience with bioscience research.”

Educational institutions that compose TABERC are Northeastern State University, OSU-Center for Health Sciences, Oral Roberts University, Rogers State University, Tulsa Community College, Tulsa Technology Center, the University of Oklahoma-Tulsa, and the University of Tulsa.

“All of these internships are completely funded by dues paid by our member organizations,” Curtis said.

Internships are also a key element of OCAST’s mission to grow and diversify Oklahoma’s economy through technology development. Its Intern Partnership Program is a cost-share initiative that places Oklahoma college students in laboratories and business across the state.

For instance, the Oklahoma Life Science Fund, an early stage venture capital fund that focuses on biotech opportunities, has been awarded three past grants to employ interns through the OCAST program.

Fund manager William Paiva, Ph.D., was in the audience as Curtis pitched the TABERC program. Internships provide students with experiences that they can’t gain on campus, he said.

“Our interns spent 50 percent of their time looking at new deals, new investment opportunities doing the due diligence, doing the valuations, structuring the deals, helping raise the co-investors into the deals,” Paiva said. “The other half of their time I would actually loan them out to the CEOs of our portfolio companies to work on specific projects for the companies.”

“It wasn’t stuff you learn in the classroom,” Paiva said. “It was real world experience.”

Paiva said he recently submitted an application for a fourth OCAST Intern Partnership grant.

Meanwhile, TABERC’s Curtis wrapped up her presentation with an appeal to the networking luncheon audience.

“If you know of opportunities to place students or money to fund students, please talk to us,” she said. “We’ll put it to good use to train students and advance the research that will help make Tulsa a hub for bioscience.”

Other speakers at the bioscience luncheon included Dr. Kayse Shrum, president of OSU Center for Health Sciences and Oklahoma Secretary of Science and Innovation; Carol Curtis, Ph.D., with i2E, Inc.; Bill Murphy with the Tulsa Regional Chamber; and Paul Gignac, Ph.D., associate professor of Anatomy and Cell Biology at OSU-CHS.

Jim Stafford writes about Oklahoma innovation and research and development topics on behalf of the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science & Technology (OCAST).

Tulsa’s AAON makes it rain – and snow – in high tech Norman Asbjornson Innovation Center March 5, 2020

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Editor’s note: This report was written after I toured the AAON manufacturing campus in Tulsa at the invitation of my friends at the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology (OCAST).

By Jim Stafford

TULSA – Mark Fly can make it rain at the massive Norman Asbjornson Innovation Center on the manufacturing campus of Tulsa’s AAON Inc. And snow.

Fly is executive director of AAON’s new R&D laboratory, a 134,000 square foot building that opened in 2019, and was a key designer of the facility. The Norman Asbjornson Innovation Center (NAIC) consists of 10 testing chambers, some of which can simulate heat, cold, rain, snow, wind and humid or arid conditions to test the durability of AAON’s industrial heating and air conditioning equipment in the most brutal of conditions.

“In our extreme environmental chamber, it can snow up to two inches an hour or rain eight inches an hour and do so with a simulated wind of 50 miles per hour,” Fly told me and colleagues from the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology (OCAST) as he recently led us on a tour of the NAIC.

Mark Fly with AAON takes us through a tour of the company’s manufacturing and warehouse floor

“Our environmental chambers can be controlled to minus 20 degrees or up to 130 degrees, and humidity from 10 percent well into the 90 percent range,” Fly said. “We can simulate any outdoor environment in the world.”

AAON is a publicly traded (NASDAQ: AAON) manufacturer of commercial and industrial air conditioning and heating units. It employs approximately 1,900 people who work in 1.5 million square feet of manufacturing space at its Tulsa headquarters.

Named after company co-founder Norman Asbjornson, the NAIC provides AAON with testing capabilities that are unequaled in the industry, said Gary Fields, AAON’s president.

AAON employs 47 engineers among its 125-person R&D division affectionately known as “Area 51.”

“The innovation that we are noted for here at AAON is very much accentuated in this laboratory,” Fields said. “R&D has been the core value of AAON since the beginning.”

AAON was founded in 1988 when Asbjornson and partners purchased the heating and air conditioning division of the John Zink Company. Asbjornson is AAON’s CEO and chairman of the board.

Today, AAON employs 2,400 people across the company that also includes locations in Longview, Texas, and the Kansas City, Mo., area. Annual revenue is approximately $500 million from a diverse customer base.

“One of our premier customers that would be noteworthy would be the Jacob Javits Convention Center in Manhattan, N.Y.,” Fields said. “We shipped 26 units that were as much as 77 feet long; each unit took two truckloads to get to the facility.”

Nike Inc., on the west coast, is another premier AAON customer, Fields said.

OCAST has supported AAON’s R&D over the years with Oklahoma Applied Research Support (OARS) projects involving computer modeling on energy measurement and prediction, as well as controls, Fly said. The company also has been a participant in the OCAST Intern Partnerships program that places promising Oklahoma college students in real world work environments.

“Oklahoma has always been a very manufacturing-friendly state,” Fly said. “It is very supportive from both a tax and incentive standpoint, which includes programs like OCAST.”

Fly eventually led us into AAON’s sound test chamber that featured 12-inch thick concrete walls adorned with rectangular metal plates designed to echo sound.

“Customers want to know how much noise the equipment makes, because it may be going into a concert hall or a school,” Fly said as his voice reverberated back to us. “The sound is virtually the same everywhere in this room because of the echo.”

AAON performs acoustical, air flow and thermal testing simultaneously in the sound test chamber, Fields said.

“This capability exists nowhere else in the world,” he said.

Now that’s making it rain.

Jim Stafford writes about Oklahoma innovation and research and development topics on behalf of the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science & Technology (OCAST).

The people’s choice in convenience store poll reflects shifting OKC market January 18, 2020

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OnCue store under construction at Western and Edmond Road

When I saw this story in The Oklahoman that the OKC 7-Eleven franchise had sold to the much larger Irving, Texas-based 7-Eleven Inc., my first thought was that the emergence of OnCue in the OKC market prompted this transaction.

OnCue is the shiny new toy in the convenience store market, and people naturally gravitate to what is new, clean and offers a bigger selection. OnCue is all those things, and it seems to be building new stores in every neighborhood across the metro. There is even one set to open in just a few weeks at the intersection of Western and Edmond Road, right across from the neighborhood we live in.

I won’t embarrass myself by admitting how giddy I was when I first saw the sign more than a year ago that OnCue was going to build at that location. Ask my daughter.

I figure that the sale of the OKC 7-Eleven franchise is similar to newspaper owners who see where the publishing industry is headed and sell their property while it still has value. They get out while they can.

All of that prompted me to run a poll on Twitter, where I asked readers to vote on which was their “go-to” convenience store brand: 7-Eleven, OnCue, QuikTrip or Love’s Travel Stops/other. I figured it would be neck-and-neck between 7-Eleven and OnCue.

Turns out it wasn’t close.

OnCue lapped the field, claiming 58 percent of 189 votes. Compare that to the 19 percent that 7-Eleven received, a smaller share than what QuikTrip got, and it has no stores in the OKC area.

I wasn’t surprised that Love’s Travel Stops trailed the field because most of its stores are convenience stops for highway travelers across the nation. It is our family’s go-to stop when we hit the highway.

Anyway, I was quite surprised by how OnCue ran away with this unscientific poll. For decades, 7-Eleven has been the destination of choice for people who need a late-night six-pack or an early morning cup of Joe on their way to work.

But that’s where today’s market is headed, even if 7-Eleven has remodeled its local stores and is building in new locations. We’ll see if new ownership can impact the trend.

Meanwhile, we noticed there is a sign in an empty lot at the intersection of Western and Danforth, just north of our neighborhood. “Coming soon: 7-Eleven.”

Bring ‘em on.

Art and The Unexpected at Stillwater’s HostBridge Technology January 3, 2020

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Warhol signed print collection in HostBridge Technology’s special events space

In my hometown of Fort Smith, Ark., there’s a downtown art project in which giant murals of contemporary urban art are painted on the sides of historic buildings. It is called The Unexpected.

The Unexpected came to mind when I stumbled across some of the world’s greatest art recently while in Stillwater to interview technology entrepreneur Russ Teubner, founder and CEO of HostBridge Technology. The ground floor of HostBridge’s unassuming downtown Stillwater headquarters is a virtual art gallery, highlighted by five large signed Andy Warhol original screen prints that are part Warhol’s Cowboys and Indians series created in 1986.

It was certainly The Unexpected for me and a highlight of my trip.

Russ Teubner poses with Warhol print of Teddy Roosevelt

Teubner placed the five Warhol paintings in a special events venue he created in what once was a shipping area for his previous company, Teubner and Associates, which was located on the same property. LED lighting highlights each print.

“I was lucky enough to source a number of very unique works of art, original Warhol screen prints that would not only define this space from a color and design standpoint, but tell the history of Oklahoma,” Teubner told me and my colleague, Debbie Cox, from the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science & Technology (OCAST), as we first walked through the space.

Across one wall there was Native American legend Geronimo, along with Annie Oakley, Gen. George Armstrong Custer and a painting that depicted the Trail of Tears. A small sign above them read “Warhol.”

Along another wall hung a Warhol painting of Teddy Roosevelt, as well as a portrait of Warhol himself.

“Geronimo died in Oklahoma, Annie Oakley performed in Oklahoma, Custer fought in Oklahoma, the Trail of Tears ended in Oklahoma, and, of course, Teddy Roosevelt signed the state into existence,” Teubner said. “All those images not only remind us of the vibrance of a master artist, but also root us in our history.”

Russ Teubner in the HostBridge Technology art space

Teubner created the special events center as a community meeting space and for regular receptions hosted by his company. He was inspired to create an events center by Oklahoma State University President Burns Hargis, who renovated a downtown Stillwater building to serve as the OSU Art Museum.

The HostBridge Technology events center features a large bar area running down one side, and one of the world’s unique “wine cellars” along the back wall that was once Teubner’s computer server room.

“What do you do with an empty room that has five tons of air conditioning, world class fire suppression and very secure,” he said. “Well, that’s wine storage, right? Obviously. I took my old Dell storage cabinets, reengineered them and lit them up as wine storage cabinets.”

The wine “cellar” is highlighted by art pieces, and in adjoining rooms there are many other pieces of art, such as robots made from everyday objects, an old English telephone booth and a collection of drawings with humorous captions made by a former airline pilot.

We finally got around to our interview, but my day was made by Russ Teubner’s version of The Unexpected.

Tin soldiers and Nixon coming December 6, 2019

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Air Force One sits on the tarmac at the Fort Smith Municipal Airport on December 6, 1969; Winthrop Rockefeller (white hat in left photo), and Richard Nixon shook hands with the crowd before departing for Fayetteville.

On December 6, 1969, President Richard Nixon flew into Fort Smith, Ark., on Air Force One as he traveled to Fayetteville and the “Game of the Century” between the Arkansas Razorback and Texas Longhorns.

That makes today a huge personal anniversary for me.

I was among the approximately 2,000 people who greeted Nixon at the airport 50 years ago today. I was 16 and living in Fort Smith with my mom and sister while my dad served a tour of duty in Vietnam.

But I wasn’t there to protest the war. I was there to see history in the person of a sitting President arrive in Fort Smith, no matter how brief the visit.

I borrowed my mom’s car and drove out to the airport a full two hours before Air Force One arrived and snagged a great spot by the rope barrier that had been set up. Security was pretty light. No one frisked us or questioned us as we ran onto the tarmac area in an attempt to beat the crowd to the best viewing spot.

When Nixon finally arrived, I don’t remember any actual remarks, although there was a podium set up. But I do remember that he came down the line of people along the rope to shake our hands. He was accompanied by Arkansas Gov. Winthrop Rockefeller (white cowboy hat in left photo above).

When the President got about two people from me, someone apparently suggested that it was time to board the helicopter that would complete the trip to Fayetteville. Nixon turned away and took a step toward the waiting helicopter. The crowd let out a collective groan, and the President immediately turned back and resumed shaking our hands (mine, too!). He continued shaking hands down to the high school bands that were playing, where he shook hands with some of the young musicians.

It was a highlight of my youth, despite the fact that Nixon turned out to be, well, Richard Nixon. Watergate and the corruption of his administration surfaced years later.

Two memories stand out from that day.

One was shaking the President’s hand.

The second memory occurred before Nixon arrived. A guy holding a small Instamatic-type camera climbed on top of one of the barrels set up to hold the rope barricade and immediately drew sharp reprimands from the security detail. The camera guy was incensed as he climbed down, and yelled “come the revolution, you’re going to get yours!”

It was a sign of the times, even in a small Southern city like Fort Smith.

OU showcases Stephenson Cancer Center at End2Cancer conference December 3, 2019

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A scientists presents his findings at the End2Cancer conference at the Samis Education Center on the OU Health Center campus

By Jim Stafford

The University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center and the NCI-Designated Stephenson Cancer Center delivered an academic doubleheader for about 200 cancer research scientists at the recent 2019 END2Cancer conference at the Samis Education Center on the Health Center campus.

For the main event, scientists came to share their research or hear presentations given by counterparts from across the country who are pursuing breakthrough discoveries in the area of cancer treatment. At the two-day conference, the scientists focused on emerging nanotechnology and cancer drug delivery applications.

At the same time, OU showcased its renowned Stephenson Cancer Center on the Health Sciences Center campus, said Rajagopal Ramesh, Ph.D., conference chair and professor, Department of Pathology at the University of Oklahoma College of Medicine.

“The whole idea in organizing this conference for the third consecutive year – beyond the science – was to put Oklahoma on the map and have the Stephenson Cancer Center recognized for the great science that we do in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer,” Ramesh said. “We have eminent speakers coming in from all over the country, and the majority of them have never been to the state of Oklahoma or to the Stephenson Cancer Center.”

The NCI-Designated Stephenson Cancer Center ranks in the top 50 in the nation for cancer care in the 2019-2010 U.S. News & World Report ranking and currently ranks No. 1 among all cancer centers in the nation for the number of patients participating in clinical trials.

“They were highly impressed,” Ramesh said. “The first thing I hear when they come in is ‘Wow, I never knew such an outstanding cancer center with top-notch research infrastructure exists.’ We wanted them to come in and have the opportunity to go to the Stephenson Cancer Center and look at some of the cutting-edge clinical trials we are doing at the center.”

Ramesh pursues his own cutting-edge research at the Stephenson Cancer Center, developing nanoparticles that can deliver drugs specifically to tumors and minimize the toxicity that is often a cancer treatment side effect. He specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of lung cancer.

Ramesh recently received a grant from the U.S. Department of Defense to explore a means by which tumor cells may be avoiding immunotherapy in lung cancer. The study is unique in that it is being conducted on lung cancer patients in real time while they are on a clinical trial receiving an immunotherapy medication.

The Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology (OCAST) also supports Ramesh’s lung cancer research with a $135,000 Health Research grant.

“OCAST has been beneficial not only to my lab but across the entire state of Oklahoma,” Ramesh said. “The whole idea of OCAST is to bridge the transition from academic research to an industry setting in the state of Oklahoma. By receiving funds from OCAST, we are able to generate new ideas and test them first in the lab.”

Wei Chen, Ph.D., professor and dean of the College of Mathematics and Sciences at the University of Central Oklahoma, is another OCAST-supported scientist who moderated an END2Cancer panel discussion and presented findings from his own nanotech-based research at the conference.

“Ending cancer is everybody’s dream,” Chen said. “So everybody in this conference and many researchers around the world are contributing to the fight against cancer. We are making good inroads both in terms of nanotechnology and other methodologies. But cancer is a very tough enemy, as we know. Therefore, we still have a long way to go.”

Jim Stafford writes about Oklahoma innovation and research and development topics on behalf of the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science & Technology (OCAST).