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Engineering Fundamentals

Michigan Tech Society of Women Engineers Students Attend WE17 Conference

WE17

Fourteen members and an adviser of the Michigan Tech Society of Women Engineers (SWE) Section attended the annual National SWE WE17 Conference from October 25-29, 2017, in Austin, Texas.

Participants attended sessions on a variety of topics, networked with company representatives at the Career Fair with over 300 STEM based companies and celebrated women in Engineering. Michigan Tech members volunteered at Invent It! Build It! (an outreach activity for middle and high school girls).

Gretchen Hein, SWE Section adviser and faculty in Engineering Fundamentals, presented on two topics: the results of a survey of SWE Women in Academia members and whether or not there are gender differences in student performance first-year engineering courses.

Whether it was learning about making SWE more inclusive to women of color or learning to be a grateful leader in the workforce, the conference provided members with a variety of opportunities. They eagerly anticipate another opportunity to grow, network and celebrate women in STEM at SWE WE18 Conference next fall in Minneapolis.


Vital signs—Powering heart monitors with motion artifacts

Electrocardiogram research Ye Sarah Sun

More than 90 percent of US medical expenditures are spent on caring for patients who cope with chronic diseases. Some patients with congestive heart failure, for example, wear heart monitors 24/7 amid their daily activities.

Ye Sarah Sun
Ye Sarah Sun, Mechanical Engineering-Engineering Mechanics

Michigan Tech researcher Ye Sarah Sun develops new human interfaces for heart monitoring. “There’s been a real trade-off between comfort and signal accuracy, which can interfere with patient care and outcomes,” she says. Sun’s goal is to provide a reliable, personalized heart monitoring system that won’t disturb a patient’s life. “Patients need seamless monitoring while at home, and also while driving or at work,” she says.

Sun has designed a wearable, self-powered electrocardiogram (ECG) heart monitor. “ECG, a physiological signal, is the gold standard for diagnosis and treatment of heart disease, but it is a weak signal,” Sun explains. “When monitoring a weak signal, motion artifacts arise. Mitigating those artifacts is the greatest challenge.”

Sun and her research team have discovered and tapped into the mechanism underlying the phenomenon of motion artifacts. “We not only reduce the in uence of motion artifacts but also use it as a power resource,” she says.

Their new energy harvesting mechanism provides relatively high power density compared with traditional thermal and piezoelectric mechanisms. Sun and her team have greatly reduced the size and weight of an ECG monitoring device compared to a traditional battery-based solution. “The entire system is very small,” she says, about the size of a pack of gum.

“We not only reduce the influence of motion artifacts but also use it as a power resource.”

Ye Sarah Sun

Unlike conventional clinical heart monitoring systems, Sun’s monitoring platform is able to acquire electrophysiological signals despite a gap of hair, cloth, or air between the skin and the electrodes. With no direct contact to the skin, users can avoid potential skin irritation and allergic contact dermatitis, too—something that could make long-term monitoring a lot more comfortable.

Ye Sarah Sun self-powered ECG heart monitor
Sun’s self-powered ECG heart monitor works despite a gap of hair, cloth or air between the user’s skin and the electrodes.

Where rubber becomes the road—Testing sustainable asphalt technologies

Zhanping You research team
A Michigan Tech research team led by Zhanping You tests a new, cooler way to make rubberized asphalt.

Over 94% of the roads in the United States are paved with asphalt mix. Each year, renovating old highways with new pavement consumes about 360 million tons of raw materials. It also generates about 60 million tons of old pavement waste and rubble.

Zhanping You, Civil & Environmental Engineering
Zhanping You, Civil & Environmental Engineering

Recycling these waste materials greatly reduces the consumption of neat, unmodified asphalt mix and lowers related environmental pollution. But blending recycled asphalt pavement (RAP) with fresh asphalt mix presents several challenges, potentially limiting its usefulness.

Not to Michigan Tech researcher Zhanping You. “One noticeable issue of using RAP in asphalt pavement is the relatively weaker bond between the RAP and neat asphalt, which may cause moisture susceptibility,” he explains. “Modifying the asphalt mix procedure and selecting the proper neat asphalt can effectively address this concern.”

You tests a variety of recycled materials to improve asphalt pavement performance. Crumb rubber, made from scrap tires, is one such material. “Crumb rubber used in asphalt reduces rutting and cracks, extends life, and lowers noise levels. Another plus—building one mile of road with crumb rubber uses up to 2,000 scrap tires. Hundreds of millions of waste tires are generated in the US every year,” he adds.

Adding crumb rubber to asphalt mix has its own share of problems. “When crumb rubber is blended into asphalt binder, the stiffness of the asphalt binder is increased. A higher mixing temperature is needed to preserve the flowability. Conventional hot-mix asphalt uses a lot of energy and releases a lot of fumes. We use a foaming process at lower temperatures that requires less energy and reduces greenhouse gas emissions.”

“Building one mile of road with crumb rubber uses up to 2,000 scrap tires. Hundreds of millions of waste tires are generated in the US every year.”

—Zhanping You

You and his team integrate state-of-the-art rheological and accelerated-aging tests, thermodynamics, poromechanics, chemical changes, and multiscale modeling to identify the physical and mechanical properties of foamed asphalt materials. With funding from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, they have constructed test sections of road in two Michigan counties to monitor field performance.

Another possible solution is asphalt derived from biomass. You’s team used bio oil in asphalt and found it improved pavement performance. They’re also investigating nanomaterial-modified asphalt. “Soon we’ll have mix recipes to adapt to all environmental and waste supply streams,” he says.


The holy grail of energy storage—Solving the problems of lithium anodes

Samsung exploded phone
A damaged Samsung Galaxy Note 7 after its lithium battery caught fire. Photo Credit: Shawn L. Minter, Associated Press

State-of-the-art mechanical characterization of pure lithium metal, performed at submicron-length scales, provides signifcant physical insight into critical factors that limit the performance of next generation energy storage devices.

Erik Herbert, Michigan Tech
Erik Herbert, Materials Science & Engineering

Compared to competing technology platforms, a pure lithium anode potentially offers the highest possible level of volumetric and gravimetric energy density. Gradual loss of lithium over the cycle life of a battery prevents the full fruition of this energy technology.

Michigan Tech researchers Erik Herbert, Stephen Hackney, and their collaborators at Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the University of Michigan are investigating the behavior of a lithium anode accessed through, and protected by, polycrystalline superionic solid electrolytes. Their goals: Mitigate the loss of lithium; prevent dangerous side reactions; and enable safe, long-term, and high-rate cycling performance.

“We want to maintain efficient cycling of lithium in a battery over many cycles, something that’s never been done before,” says Herbert. “The fundamental challenge is figuring out how to maintain a coherent interface between the lithium anode and the solid electrolyte. Defects formed in the lithium during cycling determine the stability and resistivity of the interface. Once we see how that happens, it will reveal design rules necessary to successfully fabricate the solid electrolyte, and the battery packaging.”

The team is launching parallel efforts to address these issues. Herbert, for his part, wants to learn exactly how lithium is consumed on a nanoscale level, in real time. “We want to know why the interface becomes increasingly resistive with cycling, how the electrolyte eventually fails, how defects in the lithium migrate, agglomerate, or anneal with further cycling or time, and whether softer electrolytes can be used without incursion of metallic lithium into the electrolyte,” he says. “We also want to learn how processing and fabrication affect interface performance.”

“We want to maintain efficient cycling of lithium in a battery over many cycles, something that’s never been done before.”

Erik Herbert

polycrystalline lithium film
Surface of the polycrystalline lithium film, with over 100 residual impressions from targeted test sites

To answer these questions, Herbert conducts nano-indentation studies on vapor-deposited lithium films, various sintered solid electrolytes, and lithium films in fully functional solid-state batteries.

“The data from these experiments directly enable exam-ination of the complex coupling between lithium’s micro-structure, its defects, and its mechanical behavior,” says Herbert. “So far we’ve gained a better understanding of the mechanisms lithium utilizes to manage pressure (stress) as a function of strain, strain rate, temperature, defect structure, microstructural length scale, and in-operando cycling of the battery.”


Three Student Teams Chosen for Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition

3D PrintingThree Michigan Tech student teams have been chosen to compete in the Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition in Detroit on Nov. 16, 2017. The student teams will compete for a total of $21,000 in funding.

Statewide, 27 teams were selected through submission of a one-minute video and a brief write-up about the company product or service, revenue model and team capabilities.

The Tech student teams are Looma, Makerhub and FitStop. Looma is a food and nutrition app that helps users eat healthier by providing preference-based recipe suggestions with integrated calendaring for preparation time and grocery lists for shopping. Makerhub is a web application that connects individuals who own 3-D printers with others who need 3-D printed parts. FitStop is a web application that connects people who are traveling for business or leisure with gyms or fitness centers in the city they are traveling to.

Three Michigan Tech-affiliated start-ups will also participate in the competition. They are StabiLux Biosciences, Goldstrike Data and Orbion.

By Jenn Donovan.


The Secrets of Talking Nerdy, Part 2

Libby Titus Presentation
Libby Titus Presents Her Communication Secrets

More than 1,200 first-year engineering and computer science students learned the “Secrets of Talking Nerdy” from Michigan Tech Alumna Elizabeth (Libby) Titus ’96 at Michigan Tech’s annual First-Year Engineering Lecture on September 6.

According to Titus, engineering and computer science are group activities: it won’t matter how smart you are if you can’t communicate your ideas. She offers these writing tips for engineers and scientists:

Be clear. “First thoroughly understand the subject yourself, then be a filter and interpreter for your audience. Strip away all complexity so others can understand with minimal effort.”

Make it attractive. “Organize your writing for the reader’s benefit. Use lots of white space. Make it easy to skim. Be consistent with your style choices for format and punctuation, and stick to one or two fonts at the most.”

Proofread. “Your boss or client should never have to correct your writing. Grammar police are everywhere, and we will scrutinize what you write! You will be earnestly judged. No matter how tight your deadline is, you have to proofread!”

Focus on your reader. “If your reader feels smart, you win. Use simple language, so your audience can understand the first time. Any reader might not read past the first two sentences.

Get to the point. Keep it brief. Words don’t bleed. Cut them!”

Don’t write the way you talk. “If you do that, you’ll add too many words. No one likes that. Ask yourself. How can I make it easier for my audience? The answer is simple: Get to the point.”

Creature comforts are crucially important. “To write well, you have to put yourself in a state of deep work. The cost of distraction is high, and it’s about the switch itself. For instance, switching from your project to check texts then back again, no matter how quickly, taxes your productivity much more than the duration of the time spent distracted. I used to think writing was persecution, then I realized I needed to have a grateful attitude. Make sure you have everything you need. Clear space. Natural light. Solitude, or with others working diligently. Ice water in a cup. Everyone’s different. Regular exercise helps me.”

Motivate yourself. “When I feel unmotivated, I remind myself why my work is important. I once had a job watching potatoes on a conveyor belt. All day long.”

Be grateful it’s not fiction! “As technical writers, we should all be grateful of the gift of content.”

Break up the writing into small chunks. Give yourself a deadline for each chunk. Just get started. After a break, it’s much easier to get back to something, rather than a blank page.

Remember, every first draft sucks. In your first draft, you’re just telling yourself the story.

Follow the Growth Mindset (Carol Dweck)
Embrace challenges.
Persist in the face of setbacks.
See effort as the path to mastery.
Learn from criticism.
Find lessons and inspiration in the success of others.

Keep yourself in the chair. You need willpower until the clock runs out, or your document is perfection! Staying in the game is a huge part of winning the game.

Get feedback. Tell lots of people. Crowdsource for ideas. See criticism as a gift. Try rejection therapy to desensitize. (She recommends googling “rejection therapy” to find a game invented by a Canadian Entrepreneur).

DO read user manuals! And more—read everything and skim everything you come across.

Tips for conciseness:
Try not to verbalize the scientific method.
Lead with the conclusion.
Keep sentences and paragraphs short.
Drop unnecessary words.
Write nothing longer than a page.
Read it one last time to slash as many words as possible.


Titus’s lecture was part of the Visiting Women and Minority Lecturer/Scholar Series (VWMLSS), funded by a grant to the Office of Institutional Equity from the State of Michigan’s King-Chavez-Parks Initiative. The event was sponsored by Novo Nordisk, and Michigan Tech’s College of Engineering, Department of Engineering Fundamentals, Department of Geological and Mining Engineering and Sciences, and Department of Computer Science.


The Secrets of Talking Nerdy, Part 1

Libby Titus Giving the First-Year Lecture
Libby Titus Giving the First-Year Lecture, Fall 2017

Are you an engineer or a scientist? Then you’re a writer and communicator, too. Libby Titus tells how to be an amazing geek who can also write.

More than 1,200 first-year engineering and computer science students learned the “Secrets of Talking Nerdy” from Michigan Tech Alumna Elizabeth (Libby) Titus ’96 at Michigan Tech’s annual First-Year Engineering Lecture on September 6. Here are some highlights from her talk.

It was 1990. Libby Titus was deciding where to go to college. She knew she wanted to get as far away from home as possible without incurring out-of–state tuition. That put Michigan Tech, a 12-hour drive, into the running. “Also, at the time, the only person in my family who had gone to college was my uncle Bob, and he had gone to Michigan Tech. After graduation, he was happily designing kegerators and brewing craft beer. I like beer, so I chose Michigan Tech,” Titus admits.

It turned out to be a much bigger decision than she realized. Titus met her former husband, the father of her two children, while walking across campus the very first day. She earned two bachelor’s degrees from Michigan Tech in 1996—one in environmental engineering and the other in scientific and technical communication.

After graduation, Titus packed up a U-Haul and headed West, taking a job in Salt Lake City for ASARCO, a mining company. “I was the first entry-level engineer and the only woman in the group. I quickly discovered that my ability to communicate equaled survival,” she recalls.

The job felt like torture. A friend, also an engineer, said to her, “Engineering is the easy part. Dealing with people is the hard part.”

She had read that for her resume to be taken seriously, she needed to stay in her first job for three years. “I made it three years and one day.” That’s when Titus moved to Seattle, where she lives now, to begin a new career as a consultant, helping clients with their environmental, health, and safety (EHS) obligations.

“I feel lucky,” she says. “My work is important, I feel appreciated, and I like my colleagues.” Titus currently manages EHS regulatory compliance for Novo Nordisk, a biopharmaceutical research center founded 9 years ago. Her job is to ensure her group of 120 Seattle researchers–Novo Nordisk has over 6,000 worldwide–meet all its compliance obligations for federal, state, and local EHS regulations and permits. She does a lot of training, and a lot of writing.

I decided to become a licensed professional engineer solely so I could command respect as a writer.”
Libby Titus

Professional engineers typically spend at least half of their day communicating, notes Titus. With 20 years of substantive experience now under her belt, she offers important advice for anyone entering the field.

“Engineering and science are group activities. It’s very rare for someone to be by themselves on a project,” she says. “No one wants to work with someone who can’t communicate.”

While at Michigan Tech, Titus took an improv class. “We all formed a circle and had to introduce ourselves and pass around some object made of air. It was pure hell, but it helped me. Take every chance you can get to engage with other people,” urges Titus. “Engineers are known for avoiding opportunities to connect with people. If you are not a confident writer or are afraid of public speaking, more writing and more speaking are the only solutions,” she says. “Confidence comes from practice!”

Adds Titus, “In business, written communication is often more important than what you say verbally. Writing is the greatest engineering challenge of all. It’s amazing how much business effort is wasted to fix poor writing. In one of my previous consulting jobs, we called our product ‘The BHB’, which stands for ‘Big Honking Binder’. The longer it takes to write, the more it costs the client.”

Clients are known to fire engineering consultants who cannot write well. “No matter how smart you are, your great ideas mean nothing until they can be effectively communicated. People will judge you by how well you speak and write.”


More Than 350 Companies Recruiting Engineers

Career Fair Fall 2017
Blizzard at Career Fair Fall 2017

Thousands pack MTU for annual Career Fair

HOUGHTON, Mich. (WLUC) – Michigan Tech was packed with students and business alike as they hosted their annual Fall Career Fair.

More than 350 companies from across the country were recruiting engineers from Michigan Tech University Wednesday. Hundreds of them were from lower Michigan or other parts of the Midwest.

“It was my first choice to come here. I was so happy when I was accepted,” said Bioengineer Student Alex Undlin. “This is well-known as one of the best engineering schools in the country.”

I would not trade my experience here for anything. Alex Undlin

Read more and watch the video at TV6 FOX UP, by Eric DoBroka.

MTU students network with 340 companies

“Today, we have 340 recruiting organization, over 1,100 recruiters and students are here in troves. Here at Michigan Tech, we are a STEM-focused university, so these companies are looking for students in science, technology, engineering and math,” said Assistant Director for Experimential Learning & Career Development Kirsti Arko.

MTU hosts two career fairs annually. Wednesday’s turnout makes this the third largest Campus Career Fair in the country.

Read more and watch the video at ABC 10 News, by Lee Snitz.

Employers seek ‘best’ at Tech’s Career Fair

While engineering dominated the event, companies sought a diverse field of interests. According to Tech’s Career Services department, more than 30 companies were seeking business administration majors, more than 60 are looking for students in computer science, and at least 25 companies were looking for students in mathematics.

Infinity Machine and Engineering was looking for jobs including electrical and mechanical engineers, programmers and service technicians.

Read more at the Mining Gazette, by Garrett Neese.


First-Year Engineering and First-Year Computer Science Lecture Fall 2017: Libby Titus

First Year Lecture

First year engineering and computer science students attended a lecture on September 17, 2017, in the Rozsa Center for the Performing Arts. This year’s speaker was Libby Titus, Environmental Health and Safety Specialist at Novo Nordisk. She is a ’96 Michigan Tech alumna, with a BS in Environmental Engineering and BS in Scientific and Technical Communication.

Her talk was entitled Secrets of Talking (and Writing) Nerdy. The talk was introduced by Jon Sticklen, Chair, Engineering Fundamentals, and Wayne D. Pennington, Dean, College of Engineering. There was a reception after the lecture.

Elizabeth (Libby) Titus is a licensed professional engineer who assists companies with identifying, understanding, and adhering to the environmental, health, and safety rules that apply to their operations. With 20 years of substantive experience, Libby knows that the key to moving projects forward is often effective communication of technical knowledge across the primary stakeholders. Solid engineering designs and high intelligence are irrelevant without good communication skills.

Due to venue capacity, the event was open only to first year engineering and computer science majors.

Sponsored by Visiting Women and Minority Lecturer/Scholar Series (VWMLSS), Novo Nordisk, College of Engineering, Department of Engineering Fundamentals, Department of Geological and Mining Engineering and Sciences, and the Department of Computer Science.

Funded by a grant to the Office of Institutional Equity from the State of Michigan’s King-Chavez-Parks Initiative.

VIEW THE PHOTO GALLERY

Students in the audience at Rozsa
The lecture takes place in the James and Margaret Black Performance Hall of the Rozsa Center for the Performing Arts.
Students in audience
Engineering and computer science students are in attendance.
Wayne Pennington
Wayne Pennington, Dean of the College of Engineering, introduces the speaker.
Libby Titus
Libby Titus is an EHS Specialist at Novo Nordisk.
Libby Titus Lecture
Libby Titus lectures on Secrets of Talking Nerdy.
Engineering Faculty
Engineering and CS faculty are among the attendees.

Phosphorus eaters—Using bacteria to purify iron ore

eiseleresearchMany iron ore deposits around the world are extensive and easy to mine, but can’t be used because of their high phosphorus content. Phosphorus content in steel should generally be less than 0.02 percent. Any more and steel becomes brittle and difficult to work. 

Tim Eisele
Tim Eisele
Chemical Engineering

Beneficiation plant processing, which treats ore to make it more suitable for smelting, only works if the phosphorus mineral grains are bigger than a few micrometers in size. Often, phosphorus is so finely disseminated through iron ore that grinding and physically separating out the phosphorus minerals is impractical.

Tim Eisele is developing communities of live bacteria to inexpensively dissolve phosphorus from iron ore, allowing a low-phosphorus iron concentrate to be produced. “For finely dispersed phosphorus, until now, there really hasn’t been a technology for removing it,” he says.

Phosphorus is critical to all living organisms. Eisele’s experiments are designed so that organisms can survive only if they are carrying out phosphorus extraction. He uses phosphorus-free growth media.

“We’ve confirmed that when there is no iron ore added to the media, there is no available phosphorus and no bacterial growth.”

Tim Eisele

Eisele is investigating two approaches, one using communities of aerobic organisms to specifically attack the phosphorus, and another using anaerobic organisms to chemically reduce and dissolve the iron while leaving the phosphorus behind. He obtained organisms from local sources—his own backyard, in fact, where natural conditions select for the types of organisms desired. Eisele originally got the idea for this approach as a result of the high iron content of his home well water, caused by naturally-occuring anaerobic iron-dissolving organisms.

On the right, anaerobic bacteria dissolve iron in the ferrous state. On the left, recovered electrolytic iron.
In the beaker on the right, anaerobic bacteria dissolve iron in the ferrous state. On the left, recovered electrolytic iron.

Eisele cultivates anaerobic and aerobic organisms in the laboratory to fully adapt them to the ore. “We use mixed cultures of organisms that we have found to be more effective than pure cultures of a single species of organism. Using microorganism communities will also be more practical to implement on an industrial scale, where protecting the process from contamination by outside organisms may be impossible.”