Category: Research

Can Engineers Save the Word?

Rose Turner by the solar panels on the Michigan Tech campus

“At Michigan Tech, we don’t just talk about sustainability, we incorporate sustainability in all aspects of the educational experience,” said Audra Morse, chair of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Michigan Technological University.

Morse points to environmental engineering student Rose Turner, who followed her passion for sustainability by joining Michigan Tech’s Alternative Energy Enterprise soon after she joined the university.

There are 24 Enterprise teams on campus, each working on real projects for real clients.

“They invent products, provide services, and pioneer solutions. It’s an award-winning program entirely unique to Michigan Tech, and it provides an absolutely invaluable experience for our students,” said Morse.

Self-sustaining homes and solar farms: Student projects that make a real-world difference

Turner and fellow team members retrofitted an existing 5,000 square foot house on Michigan Tech’s campus, turning it into a net-zero energy, self-sustaining home.

Named the Michigan Tech Sustainability Demonstration House, it now provides students with first-hand experience in designing systems to reduce the use of energy, water and water in homes.

Due to her hard work and dedication, Turner was selected to live there, serving as house coordinator. Her role was to identify and launch internal projects, plan public outreach events, and seek donations and sponsorships from companies.

Michigan Tech
Rose Turner in front of the Sustainability Demonstration House

“Michigan Tech equipped me with tools, resources, and knowledge,” she said. “I was able to design and construct an aquaponics indoor gardening system, a raised-bed outdoor garden, and a smart rainwater collection and distribution system — all for the house.”

Taking her environmental engineering education further, Turner won a summer internship at Westwood Professional Services, an environmental engineering consulting firm. As an intern, she designed multi-megawatt commercial solar and wind farms across the US, including a 15 MW solar farm in Ulupalakua, Hawaii.

“It was incredibly rewarding to have an opportunity to design clean energy systems to help power our country,” said Turner.

Turner learned about the internship through Michigan Tech Career Services, meeting up with representatives from Westwood for an interview right on campus. Her internship also led to a full-time role there, working on Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy permits for a 300 MW wind farm design for Isabella County, Michigan.

“Michigan Tech’s Career Services does more than help students find a job, they help us find and launch our careers,” said Turner.

She recently returned to campus to earn an MS in Environmental Engineering. Her goal is to pursue a PhD or work in industry. “Either way, I am looking forward to using my sustainability knowledge to make a difference,” she said.

Where sustainability is central to your studies

The “Sustainability and Civil Engineering Practice” course is essential to Michigan Tech’s civil engineering program.

This course introduces students to the tools that engineers use in sustainable design such as “LEED” and the Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure Envision “rating tool,” as well as state-of-the art sustainability practices in design and construction.

Sustainability also serves as the cornerstone of Michigan Tech’s environmental engineering degree program. Professor Judith Perlinger teaches “Sustainable Engineering,” another course that plays a vital role in the curriculum.

“Students learn about the triple bottom line, the consideration of profit, people, and the planet, and essential tools they’ll use to advance sustainability from a systems approach,” said Perlinger.

Dr. Judith Perlinger

All courses in both programs include important sustainability components, Morse added.

“But the true strength of a Michigan Tech education is the solid foundation in engineering and science. This knowledge is what allows for the incorporation of sustainability in design.”

Sierra Braun, a senior completing her Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering, jumped at the opportunity to make sustainability in design come to life.

She joined the Green Campus Enterprise, which focuses on reducing the university’s carbon footprint, when she heard they were planning planned to design and build a tiny house.

“Not only has it allowed me to explore my passion of design and construction, I am able to build a tangible example of sustainability right on our campus through the Tiny House Build project.”

Braun and her fellow team members analyzed sustainable design practices for maximizing thermal performance during the design phase of the Tiny Build project. In construction, they’ll optimize materials to reduce global warming potential. They also seek to increase longevity and minimize environmental impact.

Undergraduate research opportunities like no other

Undergraduate research is another learning opportunity at Michigan Tech.

In the Sustainable Pavement Lab, directed by Professor Zhanping You, students conduct research to find out if traditional asphalt mixed with rubber from scrap tires could make better roads.

Students test recycled asphalt materials to maximize the recyclability of materials, work with  biomass to produce variations of a new asphalt-like material called bio asphalt, and use recycled waste — plastics and glass— in other road applications.

They work in labs and in the field at road construction sites in Michigan collecting data and evaluating material field performance.

Many graduates continue their work in Dr. You’s lab while earning their graduate degree at Michigan Tech or other institutions. Others go on to work in the transportation industry, applying sustainability practices in their job each day.

“Working in Dr. You’s lab has allowed me to understand the bigger picture, and be part of it, too,” said civil engineering major Kagan Griffith.

“This applies to the natural world and the engineered materials we combine to advance society. As we move forward in time, I’ve learned the importance of using new technology —and new understanding — to construct the built world in a safe and sustainable way.”

As for Turner, she is now working to create an even greater shift towards sustainability on campus:

“I have a very strong desire to reduce the production of waste, so one of things I’ve been doing lately is to work with a group of fellow students to establish a full recycling programme for our residence halls.”

Michigan Tech
Results of the Waste Reduction Drive

So, do engineers save the world?

“Absolutely,” said Turner, “Michigan Tech has truly helped to cultivate my love for the earth and my passion for educating others on the importance of sustainability in daily life.

“I will forever be grateful for the plethora of sustainability-related opportunities I’ve experienced at Michigan Tech — as well as the freedom the university has given me to make my dreams a reality.”

Michigan Tech is taking all precautions necessary to keep their community safe from the threat of COVID-19.

For the latest updates, please visit the MTU Flex website.

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US Engineering schools that drive sustainability forward


Michigan Tech Rail Transportation Program Hosts Midwest Virtual Rail Conference 2020

MRC Midwest Rail Conference

On Aug. 11-12, The Michigan Tech Rail Transportation Program, in cooperation with the NURail Consortium and TRB Committee AR040, hosted the Midwest Rail Conference on a virtual platform.

Originally planned for Schoolcraft College, the conference was forced to an on-line platform by the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. In spite of the issues, the conference moved forward with a slate of more than 30 speakers, covering issues from across the rail industry.

The final tally included nearly 300 participants. Trains Magazine produced an article recognizing the conference and one of the 10 conference sessions.

Given the short time to switch from a live to virtual format, this conference was a huge success.

By David Nelson, Civil and Environmental Engineering.


NSF Funding for Daniel Dowden on Seismically Resilient Mass-Timber Buildings

Daniel Dowden
Daniel Dowden

Daniel Dowden (CEE) is the principal investigator on a project that has received $204,514 research and development grant from the National Science Foundation.

The project is entitled, “NHERI Tailwood 10-Story Test Building Shake-Table Payload Research Project: Low-Damage Uplift Friction Damper for Seismically Resilient Mass-Timber Buildings.” This is a two year project.

Extract

This award will investigate a low-damage solution for cross-laminated timber (CLT) seismic force-resisting systems (SFRSs) using a novel uplift friction damper (UFD) device for seismically resilient mass-timber buildings. The UFD device will embrace the natural rocking wall behavior that is expected in tall CLT buildings, provide stable energy dissipation, and exhibit self-centering characteristics. Structural repair of buildings with these devices is expected to be minimal after a design level earthquake. Although CLT has emerged as a construction material that has revitalized the timber industry, there exists a lack of CLT-specific seismic energy dissipation devices that can integrate holistically with the natural kinematics of CLT-based SFRSs.

Project data will be archived and made available publicly in the NSF-supported NHERI Data Depot.


Built World Enterprise Team Wins National Competition

Built World Enterprise logo.

A Michigan Tech team, Built World Enterprise (BWE), earned first place in the Transportation Research Board’s Airport Cooperative Research Program (ACRP) student design competition. The team’s winning submission in the Runway Safety/Runway Incursions/Runway Excursions design category was “Runway Intersection Marking.” 

In making the announcement, the ACRP said “The students’ innovative design brought many technologies together in an affordable system for mid-size and general aviation airports.”

The selection was made from 63 entries by a panel of industry, FAA and academic experts. For its winning entry, BWE will receive a $3,000 award which will be divided among the student team members.

First-place teams will receive their awards and present their work at the Keck Center of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine in Washington, DC, October 19, 2020. The students will also present their designs at the Airport Consultant Council’s Airport Technical Workshop as a keynote presentation. In addition, they will be given the opportunity to present their winning proposal at an industry professional conference or workshop in fall 2020.

Additionally, Michigan Tech received a second-place award in the Airport Environmental Interactions Challenge, with a $2,000 prize. A list of all winners can be seen on the ACRP website.

BWE addresses challenges typically solved by civil and environmental engineers, including designing infrastructure and solving waste management problems. The team’s advisor is the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering Chair Audra Morse.

Morse said the win was a strong start for the new Enterprise team and for the University

“All BWE teams strove to create realistic design alternatives to address airport issues; however, this team excelled in understanding the true root causes of runway incursions. The winning team members, Lindsey Anderson, Skylar Callis and Kaitlyn Wehner, moved beyond purely technical to incorporate human factors into their design, which is why I believe their design was so well received. Thanks to Bill Sproule, Kelly Steelman, and Brett Hamlin for assisting the team on their win. They could not have done it without their help.”

The Transportation Research Board is a program unit of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine — private, nonprofit institutions that provide independent, objective analysis and advice to the nation to solve complex problems and inform public policy decisions related to science, technology, and medicine.


NSF Research Funding for David Watkins on COVID-19 Project

David Watkins
David Watkins

David Watkins (CEE/SFI) is the principal investigator on a project that has received a $190,764 research and development grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF).

The project is titled “RAPID: COVID-19, Consumption, and Multi-dimensional Analysis of Risk (C-CAR)“. Chelsea Schelly (SS/SFI), Robert Handler (ChE/SFI) and Charles Wallace (CS/SFI) are co-PIs on this one-year project.

By Sponsored Programs.

Extract

The COVID-19 pandemic has transformed household dynamics and dramatically changed food, energy, and water consumption within the home. Stay-at-home orders and social distancing has caused U.S. households to shift to working and schooling from home, curtail outside activities, and stop eating in restaurants. Furthermore, as many households face job loss and increasing home utility and grocery bills, U.S. residents are experiencing the economic impacts of the crisis, while at the same time assessing and responding to health risks. The project team has a unique opportunity to study these shifting household consumption and behavioral responses and quantify the associated economic and environmental impacts. The team will collect household food, energy, and water consumption data as well as survey response data from 180 participating households in one Midwestern county and compare it to data collected before the stay-at-home orders were put in place.

Read more at the National Science Foundation.


Minakata Group on Reverse Osmosis for Potable Reuse of Water

Environmental Science and Technology

Daisuke Minakata (CEE) and his students with his collaborator, Kerry Howe, at the University of New Mexico published their research findings and a predictive model in Environmental Science and Technology, a premium journal in environmental science and engineering field.

The study developed a group contribution method to predict the rejection of diverse organic chemicals through commercially available Reverse Osmosis membranes for potable reuse of wastewater. Minakata states that this is a significant step to predict the permeability of many diverse organic compounds through membrane technologies based on only given structural information of organics. The paper provides an MS Excel spreadsheet that allows anyone to download and use for the prediction as supporting information.

Minakata comments that the model is useful for water industries, policymakers and regulators that consider the contaminants under the future regulations, water treatment utilities, and educators who can implement this tool in class. From Minakata’s group, one graduate and three undergraduate researchers worked on this project with the support from WateResearch Foundation and internal Michigan Tech Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) by Pavlis Honors College. 

https://doi.org/10.1021/acs.est.9b06170


How to Succeed as a Freshman

Michelle Jarvie-Eggart

Michelle Jarvie-Eggart, a Michigan Tech graduate and a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Engineering Fundamentals, along with environmental engineering students, Amanda Singer and Jason Mathews, discuss the transition for first year students and tools that can make the transition easier.

Jarvie-Eggart, M. E., & Singer, A. M., & Mathews, J. (2019, July), Advice from a First Year Paper presented at 2019 FYEE Conference , Penn State University , Pennsylvania. https://peer.asee.org/33674

Extract

Much attention is paid to the transition from high school to college. Students who have recently gone through this transition may have some of the best advice to offer in-coming first year students.

Themes which emerged in this study, which corroborate other research include: time management, utilizing resources, hard work, class attendance, social activates and persevering through lower grades.


Faculty and Graduate Students Attend Triennial 2020 Borchardt Conference

Environmental engineering MS student Rose Turner presenting her poster on PFAS

Environmental Engineering graduate students, Rose Turner, John P Harron, and Benjamin Mohrhardt, along with Dr. Daisuke Minakata attended and presented their research findings at the 25th Triennial 2020 Borchardt conference on Feb. 25 and 26 at University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI.   Dr. Minakata presented his talk about RO membrane for potable reuse application and his student Rose Turner presented her poster about PFAS prioritization for remediation technology. John P Harron from Dr. Jennifer Becker and Dr. Eric Seagren‘s research group presented a talk about the laboratory-scale evaluation on pathogen and indicator organism in biosolids.  The conference brings together a diverse group of engineers, scientists, public health specialists and students to discuss the latest issues and advances in water and wastewater technology. 


Becker Elected Chair of the Association of Environmental Engineering and Science Professors Foundation

Dr. Jennifer G. Becker, Associate Professor of Environmental Engineering, was elected Chair of the Association of Environmental Engineering and Science Professors Foundation (AEESP Foundation). Becker was elected to the AEESP Foundation Board of Directors in 2019, and her three-year term as Chair of the Foundation began in January, 2020.

The Association of Environmental Engineering and Science Professors (AEESP) is an international organization with over 800 members, most of whom are environmental engineering and science professors. The AEESP Foundation supports and encourages excellence in environmental engineering and science education, outreach, and scientific research by sponsoring a distinguished lecturer series, awarding K-12 educational and outreach grants, and endowing and administering award programs for professors and students.

Becker has a distinguished record of service to the environmental engineering community. She served as a member of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Science Advisory Board’s Environmental Engineering Committee from 2016 until the committee was retired in 2018. She was elected by her environmental engineering and science academic peers to the AEESP Board of Directors in 2010. While on the AEESP Board of Directors, Becker was also elected to several AEESP officer positions, including President of AEESP (2013-2014).

Becker is one of several current and former Michigan Tech faculty members who have been recognized by the AEESP and the AEESP Foundation for their outstanding achievements in research, education, and/or professional service. The list of awards given to current and former Michigan Tech faculty by the AEESP/AEESP Foundation and/or Environmental Engineering Science (the official peer-reviewed journal of AEESP) include:

C. Robert Baillod (deceased)
2012 Perry L. McCarty AEESP Founder’s Award (received posthumously)


Jennifer G. Becker
1993 AEESP Master’s Thesis Award (First Place, Student with advisor David L. Freedman)
2006 AEESP Master’s Thesis Award (Second Place, Advisor with student Ilisa A. Tawney)
2010 AEESP Distinguished Service Award for Outstanding Service as Chair of the AEESP Awards Committee
2014 AEESP Distinguished Service Award for Outstanding Service as AEESP President and AEESP Board Member


John C. Crittenden (Now at Georgia Institute of Technology)
2000 AEESP Outstanding Publication Award (for Crittenden, J.C., Hand, D.W., Arora, H., and B.W. Lykins, Jr., “Design Considerations for GAC Treatment of Organic Chemicals,” J. Amer. Water Works Assn. 79 (1) 74-82, 1987.)


David W. Hand (Emeritus Professor)
2000 AEESP Outstanding Publication Award (for Crittenden, J.C., Hand, D.W., Arora, H., and B.W. Lykins, Jr., “Design Considerations for GAC Treatment of Organic Chemicals,” J. Amer. Water Works Assn. 79 (1) 74-82, 1987.)
2006 AEESP Award for Outstanding Teaching in Environmental Engineering & Science


James R. Mihelcic (now at the University of South Florida)
1988 Paul V. Roberts/AEESP Outstanding Doctoral Dissertation Award (Student with advisor Richard G. Luthy)
2002 AEESP Award for Outstanding Environmental Engineering & Science Education
2011 AEESP Master’s Thesis Award Advisor with student Cynthia Shafer) 2018 Charles R. O’Melia Distinguished Educator Award


Judith A. Perlinger (Professor)
2017 Environmental Engineering Science Editors’ Spotlight (for Blaney L., Kandiah R., Ducoste J.J., Perlinger J.A., Bartelt-Hunt S.L. “Trends in Population and Demographics of U.S. Environmental Engineering Students and Faculty from 2005 to 2013,” Environmental Engineering Science. 2016, 33(8): 578-590.)


Eric A. Seagren (Professor) 1995 AEESP Outstanding Doctoral Dissertation Award (Student with advisor Bruce E. Rittmann)