PECASE Winner Colleen Mouw in D.C. This Week

By Allison Mills | Published 12:30 PM, May 3, 2016

Colleen Mouw double-checked to make sure the email wasn’t spam. Who gets a personalized message from the White House anyway? The correspondence was indeed real—and an early step to Mouw winning one of the prestigious Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE) this spring.

PECASE Award Winner Colleen Mouw

Mouw has helped bring oceanography to the Great Lakes for which the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) nominated her for the PECASE Award. She will be in Washington, D.C. during early May.

Specializing in remote sensing, Mouw is an assistant professor of oceanography in the Department of Geological and Mining Engineering and Sciences at Michigan Technological University and a scientist in the Great Lakes Research Center. Mouw’s work focuses on the big picture of some of the world’s smallest life forms.

“I’ve done quite a bit of work determining phytoplankton functional types from space,” she says, explaining photosynthesizing free-floating plants that make up the bottom of the food chain produce nearly half of the world’s oxygen and affect global carbon and nutrient cycles.

By connecting the world’s smallest and largest scales, Mouw hopes to help grow understanding of how aquatic ecosystems are responding to environmental change and what this means for water resources that people rely on in the Great Lakes and around the globe.

For her innovative work, Sen. Gary Peters joins in congratulating Mouw on her award, which he says is a true testament to her commitment to marine science and pursuit of innovative research.

“Mouw’s efforts to keep the Great Lakes safe are profoundly benefiting the millions of Michiganders that rely on the Lakes for clean drinking water and as drivers of economic growth through tourism, recreation, shipping, and so much more.”

The Salty Divide

Mouw says that in her research journey she has walked with two communities—people who study ocean systems and people who study lakes.

“Unfortunately, oceanography and limnology don’t cross each other as much as you’d think they would,” Mouw says, adding that fellow researchers have called this the “salty divide.”

Mouw is bridging the divide. The Great Lakes, while freshwater, are large enough to be seas, and their physical processes affect the lives and location of phytoplankton and other organisms. To better understand these complex relationships, Mouw is using oceanography tools and techniques to improve remote sensing data for the Great Lakes.

Paula Bontempi is the NASA program manager who nominated Mouw for PECASE. She says that Mouw’s contributions to oceanography—from research on ocean plants in the Bering Sea to public health issues in Wisconsin lakes—reflect her ability to link water, land and atmosphere in a complex, changing climate.

“Mouw does a superb job of putting her research in the context of the ocean’s role in the earth system and its dynamics. She has active projects at many scales, ranging from the global ocean to the Great Lakes.”Paula Bontempi

There’s extra motivation to gather more data as well. Unlike oceans, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reports that the lakes are a source of drinking water for about 40 million people.

Human Health and Algae Blooms

One part of Mouw’s research is monitoring and analyzing toxic algae blooms. In the case of Lake Erie, there is one main culprit: the cyanobacteria Microcystis. Both satellite observations and continuous monitoring with moored sensors enables Mouw and colleagues to look at change over time along with in-water parameters. Understanding the conditions affecting Microcystis and phytoplankton communities may lead to better predictions for algae blooms.

“Being able to record continuously has truly helped us understand ecosystem processes,” Mouw says.

John Gierke, Chair of the Department of Geological and Mining Engineering and Sciences at Michigan Tech, is especially appreciative of all of Mouw’s contributions to both human health and ecology.

“The PECASE recognizes Mouw as an outstanding researcher and a great scholar, who nationally sets the standard for young faculty in oceanography.”John Gierke

Gierke adds that he especially admires Mouw as an effective professor who inspires undergraduate and graduate students in the program. She also co-leads a national program called Mentoring Physical Oceanographers to Increase Retention that supports early career female researchers.

As Seen from Space

Phytoplankton contain different pigments—and from a satellite’s perspective that means they reflect light differently at various wavelengths. Mouw works with this reflectance data from water bodies collected by satellites. Of the light that enters a water body, reflectance is all about measuring the spectral characteristics of light radiating back. Different constituents in water scatter or absorb light, radiating back distinct spectral signals.

Additionally, the size of the phytoplankton changes that reflectance. Small phytoplankton tend to absorb light more efficiently than larger cells. These small changes in reflectance enable Mouw to identify different kinds of phytoplankton.

“We look at these microscopic cells from space and it’s not just about figuring out where they are, but who is there,” Mouw says.

The challenge in this work is sorting out the signal attributed to various constituents that have an optical signal. In addition to phytoplankton, Mouw also has to account for suspended sediments and colored dissolved organic matter—think how tea changes water color and the leaves might be floating in the cup.

The algae blooms in Lake Erie are a unique example because the Microcystis signal is loud (and visually very green on maps). More often, the signals from different phytoplankton are subtler, making it difficult to sort out other constituents that also contribute to the surface reflectance observed by satellites. Mouw and her students have spent a significant amount of time categorizing and labeling different reflectance signals in Lake Superior and the other Great Lakes.

“This effort has really improved our understanding of systems, such as Lake Superior, that are difficult to access in the winter due to ice cover,” Mouw says.

The data comes from several satellites. Much of Mouw’s historical data comes from the SeaWiFS and MODIS satellite sensors. She and her team are looking forward to expanded capability of the next generation satellite sensor, called PACE.

Mouw’s PECASE Award reflects both the breadth and depth of her efforts to expand satellite observations in the Great Lakes and phytoplankton groups in the oceans.

Library Wins Prestigious Award by Opie and Van Pelt Library

Michigan Tech’s Van Pelt and Opie Library has received the H.W. Wilson Award from the American Library Association.

The award is given to the “library organization whose application demonstrates greatest merit for a program of staff development designed to further the goals and objectives of the library organization.”

In making the announcement, the awards  jury unanimously believed that Tech’s program is, “Empowering Library Staff to lead confidently and plan effectively.”

The committee went on to say “the desire to embed the Lean culture into your organization, will provide an enriched learning environment by which staff will certainly prosper. It was also noted that your willingness to include other local libraries in your training exemplifies your dedication to library services within your entire community.”

In addition to being named the sole winner, the library will receive a citation and $3,500.

The proposals authors and leaders were Laurie Stark, departmental coordinator; Lindsay Hiltunen, senior archivist; and Jenn Sams, instruction and learning librarian and student engagement coordinator.
The library sends a special thanks to Ruth Archer for her continued support of the library’s Lean knowledge and skills.

President Obama Honors Colleen Mouw

by Jenn Donovan

President Barack Obama has named 106 researchers—including Assistant Professor Colleen Mouw (GMES)—as recipients of the Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers.

It is the highest honor bestowed by the US government on science and engineering professionals in the early stages of their independent research careers. “These early-career scientists are leading the way in our efforts to confront and understand challenges from climate change to our health and wellness,” President Obama said.

“We congratulate these accomplished individuals and encourage them to continue to serve as an example of the incredible promise and ingenuity of the American people.”

Nominations come from federal agencies who support the young scientists and engineers’ research. Mouw was nominated by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

“I’m very humbled to be recognized in this way,” Mouw said.  “I’ve been fortunate to have worked with many fantastic colleagues over the years who undoubtedly deserve this recognition just as much as myself.”

The awards were established by President Clinton in 1996. Awardees are selected for their pursuit of innovative research at the frontiers of science and technology and their commitment to community service as demonstrated through scientific leadership, public education or community outreach. The winners will receive their awards at a Washington, DC ceremony this Spring. You can read the announcement here.

Dual Career

Tasks in process.

  • Telephone survey of Search Chairs regarding current practice.  I expect results any day now.
  • An electronic survey has been drafted for Deans and Chairs to determine current state centered around interview and negotiation phase.  This will be going out soon.
  • Patty Sotirin will be holding some focus groups for partners currently slated for early March.
  • A Kaizen has been proposed to standardize process for partners of tenure track faculty who desire a faculty appointment.

Climate Survey

Michigan Tech desires to hold another University Climate SURVEY of which Jill Hodges and Beth Lunde are the leads. This will include all faculty, staff (union and non-union), and students. The committee is leaning toward hiring externally to do this study and based upon discussions held in the Unit Climate Group (AMP-UP) is also leaning toward a confidential survey instead of an anonymous survey. A confidential survey will get at the unit issues in a way that an anonymous survey will not.

AMP-UP: Current Status

The Advance Matrix Process-University Programs (AMP-UP) teams have been established and there has been two rounds of meetings held for the Initiative teams and one round for the Process Teams. A google web-site has been established to assist these team with agendas, minutes, reference materials, and task management.

All teams have discussed the importance of setting data standards (i.e. define how to group STEM departments, define reporting of Faculty, Academic Administrative, Tenure and Non Tenure, etc). The University Climate Study Committee and the Unit Climate AMP-UP team met together to begin coordinating their efforts. The Programs Team is starting to create an inventory of internal department level programs in each of the three areas (Scholarship/Research, Climate, Dual Careers) as well as benchmark with programs at other universities. The Continuous Improvement Team has three requests in place. One for a dual career focus group, one for dual career data collection, and another to hold a kaizen to standardize the administration of data for research, teaching, and other.