All posts by Sue Hill

SYP Students Visit MFF

MFF SYPMichigan Tech’s Microfabrication Core Facility (MFF) was host to 15 students, ages 12-14, from the Summer Youth Program (SYP) Tuesday (July 18, 2017).

The students learned about the fabrication of silicon-based devices and how silicon wafers are produced. Additionally, they had hands-on experience in the cleanroom and used the photolithography process to transfer a pattern on a photomask to a silicon wafer. The pattern had a scale on it from 100 um (diameter of a human hair) to 1 um (diameter of bacteria) to allow the students to understand the scale that MFF users work at.

The students also hand cleaved silicon wafers to produce dies of gold Michigan Tech logos as a keepsake for their time in the MFF. A similar event is planned for another SYP group this Tuesday (July 25).

By Electrical and Computer Engineering. Read more at the Microfabrication Core Facility, by Chito Kendrick.


Fridays with Fuhrmann: Why Do We Teach?

Why Do We Teach?
Why Do We Teach?

In my last post, I raised the question of why we do research in a university setting.  My main point, which I hope I made clear enough, is that we should have research programs because we are passionate about the work itself, and not for some other reason such as supporting a PhD program.  While PhD programs are an important part of what we do, I believe strongly that we cannot be effective advisors and mentors for PhD students—training our replacements, essentially—unless we are good at research in the first place, in our own right.

Having addressed that question, an obvious companion question came to mind—why do we teach?  At first, my motivation for addressing this was only out of symmetry.  Normally, when I realize I am about to do something for that reason, I remember the old adage “foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds” and then go ahead and do it anyway.  In this case, however, raising the question itself was an opportunity for me to explore some of my own life choices.  This was one of those cases where, having decided on a topic, I was not entirely clear on the points I was going to make until I was done writing! Hopefully you will find a little more clarity below, and if not I hope this might stir any readers who are teachers to ask the same question of himself or herself.

By way of context, I should mention that I come from a long line of teachers, including several math teachers.  My grandfather on my father’s side was a farmer in Oklahoma and Kansas, and in the 1910s and 1920s his primary income came from teaching in a one-room schoolhouse in western Oklahoma.  The handbell he used to call students to class after lunch and recess still sits on the piano in my home.  My grandmother on my mother’s side taught grade school in a white community adjacent to an Indian reservation in eastern Washington, during World War I, before she married my grandfather and moved to Oklahoma.  My mother took up teaching as a second career in the 1970s, and was a math teacher in the Tulsa public school system and later at Tulsa Junior College.  I have one cousin who teaches high-school math in a suburban Tulsa school district, and another who recently retired from teaching high-school math in Fremont, California.  I have a nephew who is a faculty member in math at Glendale Community College, in Los Angeles, a niece who taught high-school math in Niwot, Colorado, a niece who teaches middle-school English in Norman, Oklahoma, and is married to the high school debate coach, and the wife of a nephew who taught elementary school in another Tulsa suburb.  I guess it’s in my DNA.

This is as good a place as any to mention that my father was an electrical engineer and my mother was a math teacher, and for the past five years I have put a lot of effort into teaching a large freshman class called “Essential Mathematics for Electrical Engineering.”  Sometimes the universe does offer up beautiful symmetries, if we are paying attention.

But back to the question of why we teach in the first place. Here is my top 10 list.

1. We are good at it.  Some people just have a knack for communication and connecting with others, for organizing and presenting their ideas clearly and concisely, for showing that what they are trying to do really matters.  I have heard it said that “before someone cares what you know, they have to know that you care.”  Teachers who can pull this off have found the right line of work.

2. Someone pays us to do it.  This often goes along with #1 above.  If there is something that we do reasonably well, and others are willing to pay us for it, chances are it is something that we find enjoyable and rewarding.  At the very least it gives us a reason to get out of bed and put one foot in front of the other.  A paycheck might not be world’s best motivation, but it is not the worst one either.

3. It keeps us young.  This was something I noticed when I first entered graduate school—all of my professors seemed younger than their counterparts at the same chronological age in industry.  There has to be something about the constant contact with those from an earlier generation that allows us to continue seeing the world with fresh eyes.  This doesn’t really address the problem of the ever-widening gap between my generation and that of our students, but I don’t think anyone is going to solve that one.  Time’s arrow moves in one direction.

4. Benefits to the individual students. At a place like Michigan Tech, our teaching programs are built around improving the lives of our individual students, giving them the skills and the knowledge that they need to be successful, personally, professionally, and financially.  Of course we have to hold our students to a high standard; otherwise our efforts are meaningless.  At the end of the day, however, our placement rates and starting salaries speak for themselves.  We aim as well to provide students with the means for lifelong learning and an ability for critical thinking that will serve them well in all aspects of life.

5.Workforce training and economic development.  Going hand-in-hand with the benefits to our own graduates, as individuals, is the benefit that those graduates bring as newly trained engineers to our state, our region, and the nation as a whole.  As I have pointed out before, Michigan Tech is unique in Michigan in that our obligation to the welfare of the various industries in the state is called out in our founding legislation. Placing properly educated engineers in positions of responsibility is a big part of what we do. The economic situation in Michigan has had its ups and downs, but right now things are looking up, and we need to do our part to continue moving in the right direction.

6. Benefits to society at large.  The benefits of a college education to society have long been recognized. Thomas Jefferson noted that democracy and self-government could not function without an educated populace capable of making well-reasoned decisions, and he used that as an argument for education reform in our new nation.  Benefits that go beyond economics in modern society are well-documented, see e.g. the recent report by the College Board entitled “Education Pays 2016.” A college degree is associated with a healthier lifestyles, regular exercise, reduced healthcare costs, greater engagement with family members, community volunteer activity, and higher voting rates. It’s hard not to want to be a part of that.

7. It’s the best way to learn a new topic. This is one of those academic truisms that gets played out all the time.  If a faculty member wants to steer his or her research or scholarship in a new direction, the first thing we try to do is teach a new course in that area.  This forces us to learn the subject thoroughly, in an organized way, and we are put on a schedule with a weekly deadline where we have to stand up in front of a classroom and defend what have learned.  One does not understand a subject until one can explain it clearly to someone else.

8. Fundamentals are important.  Just like teaching a new course is good way to learn a new topic, it is also true that teaching a familiar topic is a good way to maintain a healthy intellectual discipline.  This is an important message to carry to those outside of academia with whom we work, as well as our graduates about to enter the workforce.  We sometimes hear this narrative that material taught in the classroom is irrelevant, and that the “real” technical knowledge is what one learns on the job.  I emphatically reject that notion.  While an industrial perspective can be quite valuable for our educational programs, I have also seen situations in which technical projects go awry when engineers lose sight of the very foundations of their field.  In engineering, just like in baseball, the fundamentals never go out of style, and the most successful companies and organizations know that.

9. We have nothing better to do.  It goes without saying that this is the absolute worst reason to teach. Unfortunately, it can happen that faculty members who are unproductive in other areas find themselves with increased teaching responsibilities. In the worst-case scenario these responsibilities are assigned as a form of punishment. (I do not subscribe to this management philosophy!)  It is as if teaching is the fallback position, our “day job” as it were, like waiting tables or driving for Uber. (I hasten to add that here is absolutely nothing wrong with waiting tables or driver for Uber if that is what brings satisfaction or what one needs to do to make ends meet.)  In a future post I hope to take up the relationship between teaching and research, but for now I will just say that this assumption—that we can always teach—does not help to counter the myth that research is more important than teaching.  Our academic workload models tend to be built around the notion that we do as much research as we can find support for, and whatever time is left over is then devoted to teaching.  Part of me wishes that faculty had to compete for the right to teach courses (and get paid for it), the same way we have to compete to do research through writing grant proposals and the like.  The good news, at least in the ECE department at Michigan Tech, is that this sort of default teaching is pretty rare.  It is true that we have a few faculty members who are not research active, but most are outstanding teachers and would win hands-down any competition that would earn them the right to teach as much as they do.

10. We want to make the world a better place.  This is my half serious, half glib, reason that encompasses a lot of the other good reasons I give above, and I add it here because I really did not want to end with #9.  It is the same reason that I gave in my last post about why we do research.  In teaching we make the world a better place through leverage, by giving large numbers of young people the tools that they need to go out and improve life for themselves and for everyone around them.  I will admit, this is the viewpoint of the eternal optimist, but that is a criticism I can live with.

Although not utilized very often, this blog post does have a comment feature.  Teachers out there, I would love to hear from you.  Why do you teach?

– Dan

Daniel R. Fuhrmann
Dave House Professor and Chair
Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering
Michigan Technological University


Air Force Funding for Jeremy Bos

Jeremy Bos
Jeremy Bos

Jeremy Bos (ECE/RICC) is the principal investigator on a project that has received a $106,032 research and development grant from the US Department of Defense, Air Force Office of Scientific Research.

The project is titled “Imaging Theory and Mitigation in Extreme Turbulence-Induced Anisoplanatism.”

This is the first year of a three-year project potentially totaling $331,550.

By Sponsored Programs.


Shiyan Hu Delivers Keynote in China

Shiyan Hu
Shiyan Hu

Shiyan Hu (ECE) delivered a keynote talk at the 2017 IEEE International Conference on Energy Internet in Beijing, China. Hu gave the talk “Smart Energy Cyber-Physical Systems: Big Data Analytics and Security” that builds off his work in smart energy cyber-physical systems.

He is an ACM Distinguished Speaker, an IEEE Systems Council Distinguished Lecturer, an IEEE Computer Society Distinguished Visitor, an invited participant for US National Academy of Engineering Frontiers of Engineering Symposium and a recipient of a National Science Foundation (NSF) CAREER Award.

Hu is a Fellow of IET and the editor-in-chief of IET Cyber-Physical Systems: Theory & Applications. He is also the chair for IEEE Technical Committee on Cyber-Physical Systems. More information about his keynote speech can be found online.


Kyle Ludwig on Pitching Looma

Kyle Ludwig CMU NVC
Kyle Ludwig at CMU NVC

Kyle Ludwig, a fourth-year computer engineering student from Traverse City, Michigan, comments on the recent Central Michigan University New Venture Competition business pitch for funding.

We competed in CMU NVC business pitch competition for funding. If you’ve ever seen Silicon Valley on HBO, it’s like a the student version of TechCrunch Disrupt. Outside the satire, there are opportunities for us to meet investors, other entrepreneurs, and compete for $80,000 in funding. For almost two years, I’ve been beginning my startup Looma to automate meal planning to eat consistently healthy without the worry of time, depriving, or unsuccessful outcome. We’ve asked for a lot of direction from people, books, blogs and more to be systematic in our company intent and product development. Michigan Tech has helped not only with advice and resources through the Pavlis Honors College, but with continuous support we’ve gained from students and faculty as we get ready to launch our app.

According to Ludwig, Michigan Tech has helped not only with advice and resources through the Pavlis Honors College, but with continuous support the venture group gained from students and faculty as they get ready to launch their app. There are challenges to overcome in entrepreneurship:

When you want someone’s advice, don’t ask for it. Ask for the tools on how to learn what they know. Books are more valuable than quick responses.

The event took place on March 24, 2017.


Jacob Staniszewski on Job-Stealing Robots

Jacob Staniszewski
Jacob Staniszewski

This story is the second in a four part look at ‘Robots and Michigan.’ Check back next week, when we’ll bring you part three.

Jacob Staniszewski is always looking for trouble.

I strongly believe that within the next 20 to 30 years, everything that can be automated, will be,

Staniszewski says.

Armed with an electrical engineering degree from Michigan Tech, he’s signed on to his first post-college gig with FANUC (FAN-uck) – the juggernaut Japanese company behind most of the industrial robots on American assembly lines today. Now it’s Staniszewski’s duty to stir up trouble with the factory-working robots of the future.

A born-and-raised Michigander, Staniszewski’s one of a growing number in the Great Lakes State looking towards a future in industrial robotics.

Read more at Forbes, by Hilary Brueck.


Senator Stabenow Learns About Robotics and Autonomous Vehicles

stabenow-visit-RSE

HOUGHTON — U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-Michigan) heard from Michigan Tech faculty and students about projects related to the Great Lakes during her April 1, 2017, visit to the university’s Great Lakes Research Center (GLRC) in Houghton.

Cameron Burke, Michigan Tech student in computer engineering, said he was excited to be working with the robotics program and autonomous vehicles and would probably focus on these in graduate school in the future. For example, he noted some of the experiments include sending the vehicles out into the snow or rain to determine how they could be safer than a regular car.

Read more and watch the videos at Keweenaw Now, by Michele Bourdieu.


Joan Becker is a Lean Facilitator

Joan Becker
Joan Becker

Michigan Tech’s new Lean facilitators were recognized April 11, 2017. These new facilitators completed a six-month training program with classroom learning and work-related projects. They received in-depth training on team building, conflict management, organizational change, facilitating techniques and Lean methods and tools. They are now ready to join the current Lean facilitators and will spread continuous improvement using Lean thinking across the University.

Among the graduates is Joan Becker, ECE Graduate Program Coordinator.

For more information about the Lean facilitator training, contact improvement@mtu.edu.

Original story by the Office of Continuous Improvement.

Joan Becker
Joan accepts her certificate of completion.


High Resolution ToA Estimation via Optimal Waveform Design

ToA PaperThis paper introduces a novel method to improve the Time of Arrival (ToA) estimation resolution for a fixed available bandwidth in the presence of unknown multipath frequency selective (MPFS) channels. Significant desire on utilized bandwidth reduction in wireless technologies endorses exploiting this technique to increase ranging resolution and/or time synchronization while low bandwidth signal are exploited. Exploiting this method would have extensive impact on variety of technologies which enjoys ToA as ranging technique such as radar, wireless communications and etc.

By Mohsen Jamalabdollahi, Student Member, IEEE, and Seyed (Reza) Zekavat, Senior Member, IEEE.

Published in: IEEE Transactions on Communications ( Volume: PP, Issue: 99 )

DOI: 10.1109/TCOMM.2017.2654240