Category: Research

NSF Graduate Research Fellowship for Tyler LeMahieu

Two Michigan Tech graduate students, Tessa Steenwinkel and Tyler LeMahieu, have been awarded National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowships, and one undergraduate student, Jenna Brewer, has been given an honorable mention.

The oldest STEM-related fellowship program in the United States, the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP) is a prestigious award that recognizes exceptional graduate students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines early in their career and supports them through graduate education. NSF-GRFP fellows are an exceptional group; 42 fellows have become Nobel Laureates and about 450 fellows are members of the National Academy of Sciences.

The fellowship provides three years of financial support, including a $34,000 stipend for each fellow and a $12,000 cost-of-education allowance for the fellow’s institution. Besides financial support for fellows, the GRFP provides opportunities for research in national laboratories and international research.

The Graduate School is proud of these students for their outstanding scholarship. These awards highlight the quality of students at Michigan Tech, the innovative work they have accomplished, the potential for leadership and impact in science and engineering that the country recognizes in these students and the incredible role that faculty play in students’ academic success.

Tyler LeMahieu

LeMahieu is an environmental engineering MS student under advisor Cory McDonald. LeMahieu’s proposal was titled, “Understanding Wild Rice Site Suitability in a Changing Climate.”

LeMahieu writes: “I plan to dedicate my career to bridging gaps between the scientific body and land managers. I would like to manage public and rural lands for the farmer, the logger and the hunter while managing those same lands for improved water and ecological health into perpetuity. Because fundamentally, rural land managers have the same goal in mind as those studying the environment — a useful, productive and sound ecosystem which will support and be supported by the next generation. That common ground is not always evident to both parties, but I am equipped to act as an intermediary with a foot in both worlds.”

By the Graduate School.

A Graduate Internship Experience

Bailey Papes, Environmental Engineering MS student.

Living next to the world’s largest freshwater lake, it’s easy to forget that not everyone is as fortunate. 

Bailey Papes, a master’s student in Environmental Engineering, is completing a research project that started in summer 2021 through an internship at the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s Brackish Groundwater National Desalination Research Facility (BGNDRF) in Alamogordo, NM. The facility focuses on pilot-scale testing of innovative water treatment processes for the desalination of brackish and impaired groundwater. During the internship, Bailey conducted her own research project focusing on the removal of per and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) from brackish groundwater using different types of biochar produced from halophytes and cow bone. Biochar may be a sustainable alternative to powdered activated carbon (PAC) or granular activated carbon (GAC) for PFAS adsorption from aqueous solutions. The results of the experiments showed that PFAS do adsorb to biochars. However, compared to PAC, approximately ten times more biochar must be added to water to effectively remove PFAS, and a cost-benefit analysis is needed to determine if biochar is an economically viable option for PFAS adsorption.

The internship at BGNDRF exposed Bailey to a wide range of drinking water treatment technologies and gave her experience addressing PFAS contamination, which is a growing concern throughout the world. It also opened her eyes to how serious water scarcity issues are within the U.S.  Prior to attending Michigan Tech, Bailey earned her undergraduate degree in Chemical Engineering from Western Michigan University. Subsequently, she served in the Peace Corps as an education volunteer in Sierra Leone, West Africa, where she taught chemistry, biology, and physics at the local high school. During her service, the well in her community dried up, and Bailey was forced to send a motorcycle five miles away to fetch drinking water. After experiencing water scarcity firsthand, she decided to pursue her master’s in environmental engineering. In addition to completing an internship at BGNDRF during her M.S. studies, Bailey worked with Dr. David Watkins to develop models of the wastewater collection systems in Houghton-Hancock that can be used in conjunction with SARS-CoV-2 concentrations to describe COVID-19 dynamics in these communities. She also is conducting research in the laboratory of Dr. Rebecca Ong (Chemical Engineering), and is completing graduate certificates in Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) and Engineering Sustainability and Resilience. Dr. Jennifer Becker is Bailey’s graduate advisor. Upon graduation, Bailey will work for a water and wastewater engineering consulting firm to help ensure that everyone has access to clean and safe drinking water. 

Judith Perlinger is an ISR Faculty Research Fellow

Judith Perlinger
Judith Perlinger

The Tech Forward Initiative on Sustainability and Resilience (ISR) is happy to announce the selection of two Sustainable and Resilient Communities Faculty Research Fellows!

Judith Perlinger is a professor in the Department of Civil, Environmental, and Geospatial Engineering (CEGE) and an established scholar working in the realm of sustainability and resilience.

Ana Dyreson is an assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering-Engineering Mechanics (ME-EM) who works in the realm of energy systems transitions and the energy-water-climate nexus.

Perlinger and Dyreson will both be relieved of one course for the fall 2022 semester in order to focus on developing and submitting research funding proposals that will enhance Michigan Tech’s leadership in impactful sustainability and resilience research.

Perlinger will be working on new proposals for the National Science Foundation (NSF) Coastlines and People (CoPe) program, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. Dyreson will be working on proposal submissions for NSF programs, including the NSF CAREER award program, and for the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

With this fellowship program, ISR aims to support researchers in developing new collaborations and opportunities to grow research activities that address contemporary research challenges in sustainability and resilience. This program will propel research leaders at Michigan Tech to pursue new opportunities and increase impactful research activities. ISR is delighted to support these dedicated scholars through the Faculty Research Fellows program.

For more information or with any questions, please contact Chelsea Schelly at cschelly@mtu.edu

By Tech Forward Initiative for Sustainability and Resilience.

C2E2 Awards for Dai and Seagren

The Vice President for Research Office (VPR) has awarded Century II Campaign Endowed Equipment Fund (C2E2) awards at the recommendation of the C2E2 Committee. In Civil, Environmental, and Geospatial Engineering, the recipients were:

Qingli “Barbara” Dai (CEGE) — Purchase of Freeze-Thaw and Internal Frost Damage Test System

Eric Seagren (CEGE) — The VisiSens TD System for 2-D In Situ Measurement of O2, CO2, and pH Using Optical Chemical Sensors: Opportunities for Research and Education

Qingli Barbara Dai
Qingli Barbara Dai
Eric Seagren
Eric Seagren

Summer Research Opportunities for Undergraduates

Nick Kampfschulte
Undergraduate researcher Nick Kampfschulte hard at work “His past experience as a competitive rower was an asset in the field” – Dr. Cory McDonald

CEGE Undergraduates Awarded Summer Research

Five Michigan Tech civil and environmental engineering undergraduate students were selected to participate in undergraduate research over the summer.  The students selected were awarded funding with a 1:1 match from the Department and their faculty advisor.  All of the applicants considered were outstanding in advancing new research as well as providing an exceptional research opportunity for our undergraduate students.  The following were selected: 

Michelle Bollini, advised and nominated by Dr. Judith Perlinger – Michelle worked with her research advisors and mentors Dr. Judith Perlinger and graduate student Enid Partika on the convergence research project, “Bridging Knowledge Systems and Expertise for Understanding the Dynamics of a Contaminated Tribal Landscape System (TLS)”. She assisted in developing methods for the analysis of concentrations of polychlorinated biphenyl compounds and other persistent organic pollutants in fish collected from Lake Superior and Upper Peninsula inland lakes.

Nicholas Kampfschulte, advised and nominated by Dr. Cory McDonald  – Nick worked on a paleolimnological study to understand the effects of anthropogenic nitrogen deposition on aquatic ecosystems.  They collected sediment cores from three remote lakes in the Huron Mountains in May, and Nick has been performing a variety of laboratory analyses to measure radionuclides and stable isotopes in these samples.  Nick and Dr. McDonald are using this data to reconstruct the history of these lakes.  Nick is continuing his work in the lab during the academic year.  Nick says of the experience:  “The opportunity to visit the Huron Mountains was truly a once in a lifetime experience and the knowledge/ experience I’ve gained in the area of radiometric dating is not only invaluable to me as it has grown into a new personal interest of mine, will also be invaluable to me in my career search

Bobbi Hulce, advised and nominated by Dr. Qingli Dai – Bobbi conducted mechanical performance tests of both recycled plastic-rubber modified and tire steel fiber-reinforced plastic-rubber modified mortar samples. Recycled plastic-rubber aggregates, with mesh sizes from #10 to #18 partially replaced the fine aggregates with three-volume percentages of 10%, 15%, and 20%. Control mortar, mortar with recycled plastic-rubber, and mortar with tire steel fiber reinforcement and recycled plastic-rubber were prepared. The compressive and indirect tensile strength were measured and compared. Fracture strength and fracture energy were measured with the single-edge notched beam test to evaluate the effects of recycled plastic-rubber aggregates and tire steel fibers. The mortar test results will be further improved and connected with the durability performance evaluation. This study will facilitate the recycling of plastics and tire rubbers with concrete production.

Other undergraduate students conducting research this summer were Emily Bergstrom, advised and nominated by Dr. Jake Hiller and Joshua King, advised and nominated by Dr. Zhanping You.

MICUP Program

In addition to the above awards, George Vicente, a civil engineering student at Penn State University, participated in flood hazard mitigation research with Professor David Watkins.  Specifically, George tested the flood hydrology tools in FEMA’s HAZUS software to evaluate the ability to simulate the impacts of local flooding, such as the damage resulting from the 2018 Father’s Day Flood.  George’s program was co-sponsored by the Office of the Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion, and during his time on campus, he also participated in a course and activities with students in the Michigan College/University Partnership (MICUP) Program.

Lake Superior Stewardship Initiative provides place-based professional learning for teachers this summer

Photo credit: George Stockero

The Inland Seas schooner facilitated western UP teachers exploring the geoheritage of the Keweenaw Waterway and learning to use 360° cameras to create virtual tours to share with their students this school year.

Since 2008, the Lake Superior Stewardship Initiative (LSSI) has brought together schools and community partners in a 5-county area of the western Upper Peninsula to prepare K-12 students to become knowledgeable citizens concerned about the Lake Superior watershed and actively engaged in stewardship projects in their community. A partnership between Michigan Tech’s Center for Science and Environmental Outreach and the Copper Country Intermediate School District (CCISD), LSSI has provided place-based professional learning opportunities for teachers. This summer, a 2021 NOAA B-WET grant awarded to the Lake Superior Stewardship Initiative, in partnership with the Western UP MiSTEM Network and others, afforded meaningful watershed educational experiences for K-12 teachers at schools in the western Upper Peninsula.


In July, two outdoor professional learning experiences for teachers – a K-8 Project Learning Tree Workshop and Assessing Forest Health (for middle and high school educators) –provided participants with hands-on, interdisciplinary activities and resources for learning about ecosystems, food webs, invasive species, soils, water cycle, tree physiology, and environmental impacts.


Another July event provided an opportunity for teachers and community partners to participate in a scientific excursion aboard the Inland Seas schooner, to explore the geoheritage of the Keweenaw Waterway. The exploration focused on significant natural and anthropogenic features of the waterway while sailing to the Jacobsville sandstone cliffs at the South Entry. Another local partner, the Regional Education Media Center, provided instruction on how to record place-based experiences using 360° cameras and images. Participants also received training on how to use photos and information from the schooner trip to create virtual tours through RoundMe. These virtual tours will be shared with classes during the school year and become models for future geo-investigations created by students.


In August, teachers and community partners participated in a workshop to gain strategies and lessons for integrating gardening into their curriculum led by expert teachers and extension educators.

The Lake Superior Stewardship Initiative (LSSI) is part of the statewide Great Lakes Stewardship Initiative (GLSI). Over the past 15 years, many Michigan Tech faculty and students in CEGE, as well as, other departments and colleges at MTU, have provided expertise, conducted professional learning, made classroom presentations, and provided resources that have helped school-community teams to accomplish their stewardship projects and contributed greatly to LSSI’s success.

By Lloyd Wescoat, K-12 Educator, Michigan Tech Center for Science & Environmental Outreach

Freeze Thaw Project Wins AASHTO Sweet Sixteen Award

Zhen Liu
Zhen Liu

Congratulations to Zhen Liu (CEGE) for his MDOT Freeze Thaw project winning an American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) Sweet Sixteen Award.

According to the press release, the Sweet Sixteen Award highlights high-value research from four regions across the country, with four awards possible per region. 

The Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) received the award for Liu’s research project, “Develop and Implement a Freeze Thaw Model Based Seasonal Load Restriction Decision Support Tool.”

fact sheet and video summary of Liu’s project are available on the AASHTO award page.

By Civil, Environmental, and Geospatial Engineering.

Play Research: Develop/Implement Freeze-Thaw Model Decision Support Tool – AASHTO RAC 2021 Sweet 16 MDOT video
Preview image for Research: Develop/Implement Freeze-Thaw Model Decision Support Tool - AASHTO RAC 2021 Sweet 16 MDOT video

Research: Develop/Implement Freeze-Thaw Model Decision Support Tool – AASHTO RAC 2021 Sweet 16 MDOT

Michigan Tech: Where Global Changemaking Engineers are Made

student working in lab

At Michigan Technological University, each researcher strives to design and apply solutions to society’s most pressing problems. Take the recipient of the 2019 Michigan Tech Research Award, Zhanping You. As a professor of transportation engineering, one of his most impressive projects involves turning old tires into new roads.

“You’s funding record underscores the impact of his work in civil engineering materials and his publication record further demonstrates his ability to communicate to a wide range of audiences, to advance the use of asphalt and bituminous materials in civil engineering applications,” says Audra Morse, chair of the Department of Civil, Environmental, and Geospatial Engineering.

Dave Hand and Zhanping You

You has hosted 30 international scholars in his lab so far, earning a reputation as a great mentor for undergraduates and graduates alike. “More than 90% of my papers include undergraduate and graduate authors; they can be a part of these research endeavors because I am making sure they get the coding experience and software skills they need to be successful professionals and researchers,” You shares.

For example, students are helping monitor his scrap tire innovation, which is being tested on local roads and highway tracks. They have been gathering results and samples from different testing sites over the past two years, enabling You to prove how the new asphalt mix improves road performance. In this way, each Michigan Tech student gets to play a part in engineering the future — one that they will soon inherit.

Paving the way for a smarter, sustainable future

It’s no secret that sustainability drives the development and application of critical research today, including in connected and autonomous vehicles. Associate Professor Kuilin Zhang knows that smart cities require more than self-driving cars; hence he studies vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communication to optimize road safety using real-time data.

Michigan Tech

“In my vision of the future, we have more predictable, more robust, and safer transportation systems — and it’s based on being connected and the data we can gather,” Zhang shares. “The whole idea of cooperative driving automation is that the signals in the intersection tell your car what’s happening ahead. The sensor at the intersection can benefit all connected vehicles passing through the intersection. The automated eco-driving algorithm improves the driving decisions of the connected and automated vehicles.”

His transformative work has earned him the National Science Foundation’s CAREER Award, which grants US $500,000 over a five-year span. Zhang uses model predictive control (MPC) and congestion games to study vehicle communication in the lab, then tests his findings in Michigan Tech’s robust mobility testing facilities. His research extends beyond campus to five traffic signals in Houghton, facilitated by industry collaborations with the Michigan Department of Transportation, APS Labs, and HERE Technologies.

Amlan Mukherjee in class

Another leader in Michigan Tech’s lineup of expert faculty members is Associate Professor Amlan Mukherjee, a renowned figure in professional bodies. Not only did he help write the National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP) guidelines for sustainable highway construction practices, Mukherjee also founded a company called Trisight LLC that commercializes his research outcomes. It was the first in the highway construction industry to develop an online system for generating ISO-compliant Type III Environmental Product Declarations for the North American asphalt mixtures industry.

Civil and environmental engineers make a genuine difference to the world through scientific observation and mathematical modeling. Source: Michigan Tech

Understanding and optimizing natural processes

Given its proximity to the Great Lakes and coastal oceans, Michigan Tech is at the forefront of aquatic research, too. Associate Professor Pengfei Xue is on a mission to help save these wells of life; his research in the Great Lakes region applies machine learning techniques to analyze atmosphere, lake, ice, wave, sediment, land surface, and biological components. Xue uses data assimilation techniques to predict how the lakes respond to climate stressors, modeling on Michigan Tech’s high-performance computing infrastructure, Superior.

“The beauty of data assimilation is to use the information of the misfits between the model results and observations, which are only known at limited observation locations, to correct model bias in a 3D space beyond the observation locations. Hence, it improves model accuracy for the entire simulation field,” he explains. Xue’s work optimizes sampling locations, thus supporting the Great Lakes Operational Forecast System.

In the same way that civilizations have grown from rivers and lakes, modern life relies on the effective treatment and management of water. Since most water treatment facilities in the US cannot remove chemicals from pharmaceutical and personal care products, such as opioids, dioxins, pesticides, flame retardants, and plastics, Associate Professor Daisuke Minakata developed a tool to trace and remove organic chemicals from the water we use everyday.

By investigating how these harmful chemicals are rejected in reverse osmosis and advanced oxidation processes, Minakata is able to optimize water reuse — which is especially critical for communities in dry, arid regions of the world, as well as astronauts at the International Space Station. Over the past few years, his research team has included nine undergraduate research assistants, all supported either through their own research fellowships or Minakata’s research grants.

Minakata has also created a sunlight simulator at the university, which benefits multidisciplinary research beyond his area of aquatic photochemistry. “By encouraging and enabling undergraduate students to pursue research, Dr. Minakata is helping to develop a vibrant intellectual community among the students in the College of Engineering,” opines College of Engineering Dean Janet Callahan.

Michigan Tech

Launch your transformative career at Michigan Tech

As much as research is future-focused, the science being practiced at Michigan Tech also helps us better navigate current concerns. Associate Professor Jennifer Becker’s project is one prime example: it tracks and treats the COVID-19 coronavirus in human waste.

Her team works with local wastewater treatment facilities to ensure SARS-CoV-2 virus particles are no longer infectious when spread in biosolids. “We all think of food and water as being essential to life. They are, but waste is also a critical part of life. If any of the virus particles stay in the wastewater stream during treatment, what happens when wastewater is discharged to the environment?” she asks.

Solving such issues are key to the educational experience at Michigan Tech. With over 7,000 students from 54 countries, the university’s Upper Peninsula campus is home to a vibrant community of changemakers with a global, multidisciplinary outlook on scientific innovation. Every day, their discoveries in one of the numerous research centers and institutes bring mankind one step closer to progress.

Keen to launch a career in civil, environmental, and geospatial engineering? Apply now to begin your undergraduate degree or graduate degree in 2021-22.

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Changing with the Times: The Department of Civil, Environmental, and Geospatial Engineering

Michigan Tech’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering is now officially the Department of Civil, Environmental, and Geospatial Engineering.

The name change reflects the inclusion of two degrees in the department: the Bachelor of Science in Geospatial Engineering (formerly Surveying Engineering) and the Master of Science in Integrated Geospatial Technology. Additionally, the department welcomed faculty primarily associated with those degrees — Jeffery Hollingsworth, Joseph Foster and Eugene Levin — two years ago when the programs moved from the School of Technology to the department.

“The undergraduate and graduate geospatial programs and associated faculty bring together the essential knowledge and skills needed by our graduates to design and create the world we live in,” said Morse. “The inclusion of ‘geospatial’ in the department name is a symbol of the integrated relationship that will benefit our students’ education and the research we conduct now and in the future.” – Department Chair, Audra Morse

The name change process was initiated by faculty members and included student, staff and alumni stakeholders.

Funding Opportunity for Rail Transportation/Railroad Engineering Research

Rail

The Federal Railroad Administration recently released a Broad Agency 2021 Announcement (BAA) research program opportunity. Michigan Tech researchers from several departments have had great success in these projects in the past. To date, we’ve received over $2 million in funding for five projects. In addition, the three proposals from BAA 2020 listed below are expected to be awarded in near future.

  • Railroad Crossing Vehicle Warning (RCVW) Application Demonstrations with Connected Vehicles ($380,705)
  • An Integrated and Automated Decision Support System for Ground Hazard Risk Mitigation for Railway ($694,922)
  • Expanding Summer Youth Programs through Virtual Learning and a National Campus Network ($474,695)

Anyone interested in expanding their research portfolio to railway research topics is encouraged to:

  • Review the topics of interest by the FRA (Appendix C)
  • Watch a short video on the program by Pasi Lautala, Director of Michigan Tech’s Rail Transportation Program here (passcode: FRA-BAA2021)
  • Contact Pasi Lautala to discuss potential topic ideas and/or
  • Develop a brief, max. one page idea summary and send it to Lautala ASAP, but no later than April 30

We will send all project ideas to FRA for an early feedback and submit full concept papers (max. five pages) on those recommended by the FRA. After review, FRA will request full proposals on those concept papers they are interested in funding.

Feel free to contact Lautala if you have any questions or need additional clarifications … and feel free to distribute this information to your colleagues who might be interested.

By Pasi Lautala.