Skip to main content
Rusty Root standing next to a sign about hand washing

ChemStores manager at the Root of pandemic problem-solving

By Steve Lundeberg, OSU News

Rusty Root: Coordinator of building services, Department of Chemistry, Gilbert Hall

Years at OSU: Four

City of residence: Philomath

For Rusty Root, trekking a few miles off campus to Printing and Mailing three mornings a week to retrieve the mail for the College of Science isn’t drudgery.

It’s just one of many things a Beaver does to help his community.

“It’s a meaningful job, saving all of those people from having to go all the way out to Research Way and congregate there for their mail,” said the fourth-generation alum, whose great-grandfather, Herb Root, captained the 1906 Oregon Agricultural College football team. “Me getting the mail helps everyone in our college and beyond maintain social distancing.”

Root, who has continued to work in his Gilbert Hall office each day of the pandemic, has also arranged for the building’s loading dock to be a central FedEx and UPS delivery spot for packages for neighboring colleges and units in addition to the Department of Chemistry.

“I prop our building’s interior doors open to reduce contact points,” he said. “The building is open so people can get to ChemStores, which sells lab supplies and equipment to all departments throughout campus. We’re making sure we are staying stocked with things like dry ice and liquid nitrogen, supplies the researchers need to keep their labs going.”

ChemStores, of which Root is the de facto general manager, was an early leader in the pandemic by making hand sanitizer and surface sanitizer for the college and other OSU units when Corvallis-area stores began to run out.

“We’ve sold a lot,” said Root, who still has a student employee working 10 hours a week producing the sanitizers. “We went through 200 gallons of ethanol, then switched over to isopropyl alcohol and went through 90 gallons of that. Then we ran out of the aloe that we use in the hand sanitizer so I’ve been buying all that I can find from any vendor I can find. We’ve been picking up the spray bottles we use for our products hundreds at a time.”

In addition to running ChemStores and the department’s electrical and machine shops, Root is the chemistry department’s general purchasing agent.

“All purchases from the researchers come through me, and the orders have gone from 10 per day to two per week – which gives me more time to shop for the few things we do buy, “ he said. “When we first went to remote teaching, we needed a lot of cameras, tablets, headsets, things like that.”

Root praises Roy Haggerty, dean of the College of Science, and Mike Lerner, head of the Department of Chemistry, for empowering Root and his staff of classified and student workers with the free rein needed to work effectively.

“No one knew for sure what we were getting into, and they gave us a lot of flexibility,” he said. “Being able to remain flexible has been a big key to our success.”

This story is a part of an OSU series called "Unsung Heroes," highlighting faculty, staff and students who are going above and beyond to assist with the pandemic response in their roles at OSU or in their communities from Corvallis to Bend to Newport and throughout the state. To read more stories like this, go here.

Read more stories about: news, faculty and staff, chemistry