Category: Research

New Faculty Spotlight: Ishi Keenum

Ishi Keenum is a bioinformatician, an engineer, and an environmental microbiologist.

Assistant Professor Ishi Keenum comes to Michigan Tech from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), where she completed her postdoctoral research. She earned a BS in at the University of Michigan, and an MS and PhD at Virginia Tech, all in Environmental Engineering. She serves as the lead of the bioinformatic working group for the International Microbiome and Multi’omics Standards Alliance (IMMSA). 

What drew you to Michigan Tech?

My hometown is Knoxville, Tennessee but with lots of family in Houghton. I grew up coming here for the summers! When I visited the CEGE faculty were incredibly welcoming and I was really drawn by the people who would be my colleagues. I also love the accessibility to the outdoors and the water!

What is your primary area of research and what led you to it?

My focus is on the dissemination and treatment of antibiotic resistance through our wastewater and water systems. More broadly, I examine the microbiology of water systems. I got involved in environmental biotechnology as an undergraduate researcher at the University of Michigan. I was drawn to this type of work because I like to think of how a better understanding of environmental microbiology in engineered systems can help prevent exposures to things like opportunistic pathogens and antibiotic resistance. I really like that my work has a close public health benefit. 

“I am passionate about creating safe water for human consumption.”

Dr. Ishi Keenum

Can you share a little more about your research and what you like about it?

I examine how our wastewater treatment systems and agricultural systems currently address antibiotic resistance throughout the treatment process. I also work on generating standards for how we make measurements of microbial communities. I get to use a variety of different microbial methods to try to answer these questions. I like the diversity of methods I use in my work. It means we can answer a variety of different questions about our engineered systems.
I also love that I get to work on some of the most pressing world problems facing our society. For instance, waterborne disease and antibiotic resistance cost millions of dollars in the US to treat at healthcare facilities, and we need to better understand where people are exposed.

What do you consider an important long-term goal for your research, teaching, or outreach?

I am looking forward to building and joining a strong environmental microbiology program at Michigan Tech. I am looking forward to understanding the microbiology and challenges in our surrounding community and am hoping to get involved in both outreach and research.

What do you hope to accomplish, as an educator, over the next few years?

I am looking forward to connecting with Michigan Tech students as a teacher and faculty member. I hope we can have fun and engaging classroom discussions around issues we all currently face working in the field of environmental engineering.

“Try getting involved in student organizations that do what you’re interested in doing.”

Advice to incoming students, from Dr. Ishi Keenum

What do you like to do in your spare time?

I love running and hiking and I’m excited to get into cross country skiing! You can also find me with my dog, Monty!

Any advice for incoming students?

I am here to help. I want to work with you to be successful!

Dr. Keenum did her postdoc at NIST. Michigan Tech recently entered into an agreement with NIST, as a NIST PREP University.

New Faculty Spotlight: Bo Xiao

Bo Xiao

Assistant Professor Bo Xiao comes to Michigan Tech from Hong Kong Polytechnic University, where he worked as a research assistant professor. He earned his BEng in Civil Engineering, at Xi’an University of Architecture and Technology in China, his master’s degree from Concordia University in Canada, and his PhD at the University of Alberta, Canada. Dr. Xiao and his team conduct research in his Computing and Construction Robotics Lab (CaRC) at Michigan Tech.

What drew you to Michigan Tech?

Michigan Tech’s Tech Forward Initiative attracted me. My long-term career goal is to build autonomous and intelligent systems in the construction industry. I believe Michigan Tech is the place where I can achieve my dream. Houghton is also a place of four-season recreation, with picturesque scenery—all the numerous lakes, forests, and rolling hills. As an outdoor enthusiast, I look forward to trying it all—hiking, fishing, boating, and skiing.

What is your primary area of research and what led you to it?

My primary research goal is to advance the digital transformation of the construction industry by adopting automated technologies, including artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, and digital twinning. Automation, digitalization, and robotics technologies are the key success factor for the fourth construction industry revolution (aka Construction 4.0). I believe it has the potential to enhance the efficiency, productivity, accuracy, and safety of the construction industry, and help solve some of the complex problems surrounding our cities, environment, and the planet. 

“Learn outside the classroom.”

Dr. Bo Xiao’s advice for incoming students.

Can you share a little more about your research and what you like about it?

Specifically, my research focus is divided among two fields. The first involves using robots to build modular homes. Modular construction offers significant time savings compared to traditional on-site construction methods. Since the building components are fabricated in a controlled factory environment concurrently with site preparation, construction timelines can be significantly reduced. This faster construction process allows for quicker project completion, reduced financing costs, and faster occupancy or utilization of the building. I am developing robots that can build modular components automatically. Robotics allows for the precise and accurate assembly of these components, leading to higher quality and consistency in the final product and better fitting and alignment of modular elements. My second research focus involves vision-based monitoring of construction sites. Construction video footage contains important information about safety, productivity, and site planning. By using computer vision and generative AI to analyze construction sites, efficiency and safety can be improved.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

My favorite pastimes are playing basketball and downhill skiing.

Any favorite spots on campus, in Houghton, or in the UP?

Copper Harbor is my favorite!

Copper Harbor is just about an hour’s drive from the Michigan Tech campus.

Any advice for incoming students?

Learn outside the classroom. Classroom learning provides a foundation of knowledge, but real-world experiences will allow you to apply that knowledge in a practical context. You’ll see how concepts and theories translate into real-life situations. This will enhance both your understanding and your problem-solving skills.

New Faculty Spotlight: Mazi Erfani

Mazi Erfani

Assistant Professor Abdolmajid “Mazi” Erfani comes to Michigan Tech from the University of Maryland, College Park, where he earned his PhD in Civil Engineering. He earned his BS in Civil Engineering and his MSc, in Construction Engineering and Management at the University of Tehran in Iran. Welcome, Dr. Erfani!

What drew you to Michigan Tech?

I spent my formative years in Iran, where I was the middle child among three siblings. Being raised in a family where both my parents were educators greatly influenced my decision to pursue a career as a teacher and researcher. Michigan Tech’s exceptional reputation in engineering, hands-on learning opportunities, cutting-edge research facilities, collaborative environment, and appealing campus setting all make this an ideal place for me to pursue my academic and research interests in civil engineering.

What is your primary area of research and what led you to it?

Contributing to the development of sustainable and equitable infrastructure is my primary goal. This spans smart construction, data analytics, and the application of artificial intelligence in construction management, and data-driven infrastructure management. My recent work with the USDOT Build America Center involved assisting public and local agencies in securing federal funding and successfully implementing substantial, equitable infrastructure projects. My research extends to equitable workforce development, too, including workforce and diversity equity in the airport and construction industries.

What do you consider an important long-term goal for your research, teaching, or outreach?

I want to build a dynamic bridge between academia and industry, fostering a flow of innovative ideas and practical solutions back and forth. Many of my current research topics are directly related to industry needs. And I want to equip students for success both academically and professionally—with an emphasis on adaptability and innovation.

“Immerse yourself in Michigan Tech’s vibrant campus life. Seize every chance to get involved in campus activities.”

Advice for incoming students, from Dr. Mazi Erfani

What do you like to do in your spare time?

My family activities include hiking, shopping, and watching movies and television series together. I also have a passion for music, particularly rock music. Another is travel. I’ve been able to discover and explore 26 different states within a mere four-year period here in the US!

Any advice for incoming students?

My primary advice is this: I firmly believe that with dedicated hard work, you have the potential to achieve anything you set your mind to. Beyond academics, I encourage you to immerse yourself in MTU’s vibrant campus life. Building a robust network of professors and fellow students can open doors to collaborations, mentorships, and friendships. While you are here, seize every chance to get involved in campus activities. Expand your horizons, and relish your rewarding journey at Michigan Tech!

Zhanping You on Recycling Tires for Pavement

Zhanping You interviewed by WLUC TV6.
Zhanping You interview by WLUC TV6.

Zhanping You (CEGE) was quoted by WLUC TV6 in a story about an upcoming road paving project in Dickinson County that will use recycled glass and tires from across the Upper Peninsula.

The Dickinson County Road Commission will use recycled glass and tires from across the U.P., compared to standard asphalt, to redo two sections south of Vulcan going toward the Menominee County line.

“The rubber from tires is actually a really good material to work with asphalt. They like each other because they are both from petroleum oil,” said Zhanping You.

Read more at WLUC TV6, by Clint McLeod.

Zhanping You (CEGE/MTTI) is the principal investigator (PI) on a project that has received a $100,000 research and development grant from the Dickinson County Road Commission.

The project is titled “Tire Rubber Asphalt and Recycled Glass for County Road Paving.”

Qingli Dai (CEGE/MTTI) is a co-PI on this potential 22-month project.

Related

Zhanping You Appointed to EGLE Scrap Tire Advisory Committee

Michigan Tech: Where Global Changemaking Engineers are Made

Daisuke Minakata Recognized for Professional Excellence, Impact on Michigan Water

Daisuke Minakata
Daisuke Minakata

Daisuke Minakata (CEGE) has been selected as a recipient of the 2023 Professional Excellence-Individual Award by the Michigan Section of the American Water Works Association. The award recognizes Minakata for his contributions to and impact on the water in the state of Michigan.

Through this distinguished award, the Michigan Section aims to pay tribute to individuals, organizations, companies and project teams who have made remarkable contributions to the water industry. This award acknowledges outstanding endeavors in safeguarding public health, advocating for safe drinking water, fostering innovative and creative ideas and demonstrating exceptional leadership qualities.

Minakata will receive formal recognition for his achievements at the Michigan Section’s Annual Conference & Exhibits (Ml-ACE), planned September 12–15, 2023, at the Blue Water Convention Center in Port Huron, Michigan.

By Civil, Environmental, and Geospatial Engineering.

Built World Enterprise Teams Compete at WERC Design Competition

Two student teams from Michigan Tech competed in the WERC Environmental Design Contest at New Mexico State University from April 16–19, 2023. In the 33rd year of the competition, student teams set out to solve challenges facing society today. The teams were composed of environmental engineering majors who are members of the Built World Enterprise.

The first team, which included Jenna Cook, Morgan Halberg, Francine Rosinski, Nadia Stauffer, and Eden Traub, participated in Task 1: Sustainable Communities: Wastewater Reuse for Rural Communities. The task was to design a low-energy and low-maintenance wastewater treatment system so that rural communities in the southwest United States could reuse lagoon effluent to meet water needs.

The second team, consisting of Clark Fadior, Jake McDowell, Allison Olson, and Avery Reno, participated in Task 4: Detecting and Quantifying Microplastics in Reservoirs. For the task, they designed a portable system to detect and quantify microplastics in natural aquatic systems in real time.

Both teams had to create a bench-scale prototype of their design and a business plan, and deliver oral and poster presentations, including a four-minute flash talk.

The Task 1 team:

  • won first place overall for their task
  • won first place in the flash talks
  • earned the Pollution Prevention Award
  • will be invited to be published in IEEE Xplore.

The Task 4 team won second place in the flash talk.

Over 20 schools from across the country participated across the contest’s six tasks. Sponsors of the competition include EPA, Freeport-McMoRan, El Paso Electric Company and many more.

Congratulations to both teams!

By Civil, Environmental, and Geospatial Engineering.

The WERC Environmental Design Contest is a unique design competition that brings industry, government, and academia together in search for improved solutions to today’s environmental challenges in ALL fields of engineering.

W-E-R-C formerly stood for “Waste-management Education Research Consortium,” but we are broadening our scope. In addition to managing waste, students are now focusing their designs on minimizing energy & waste and conserving & recycling resources, including water, energy, and natural resources. We will reveal the new meaning of the W-E-R-C acronym this Spring.

Read more at WERC Design Contest, New Mexico State University.

2023 GLRC Grants for Novitch and Harazin

Please join the Great Lakes Research Center (GLRC) in congratulating the winter and spring 2023 GLRC Student Research and Travel Grant recipients.

The GLRC student grants are intended to provide undergraduate and graduate students advised by GLRC members an opportunity to gain experience in writing competitive grants, perform research they would not be able to attempt due to funding limitations or travel to a professional conference to present a poster or paper about their research.

Student grants also provide seed research data for advisors to use in pursuing externally funded research support, and travel grants help amplify areas of research expertise at Michigan Tech. Funded students are expected to participate/volunteer for at least one GLRC activity during the grant period.

Student Research Grants

  • James Juip, Ph.D. student — Social Sciences
    GLRC member advisor: Donald Lafreniere
    Research proposal: “Using Deep Maps and Spatial Narratives as a tool for Community Heritage Making”
  • Jacob Novitch, M.S. student — Civil, Environmental, and Geospatial Engineering
    GLRC member advisor: Jennifer Becker
    Research proposal: “Modeling of Lagoon Wastewater Treatment Systems in Small Communities”
  • Caitlyn Sutherlin, Ph.D. student — Social Sciences
    GLRC member advisor: Angie Carter
    Research proposal: “Identifying Community Connections to Nature in California, El Salvador with Photovoice”
  • Cassandra Reed-VanDam, M.S. student — College of Forest Resources and Environmental Science
    GLRC member advisor: Valoree Gagnon
    Research proposal: ““Restoration is repairing relations” manoomin (wild rice) restoration study in KBIC homelands”

Student Travel Grants

  • Leah Harazin, B.S. student — Civil, Environmental, and Geospatial Engineering
    GLRC member advisor: Stephen Techtmann
    Attending: 45th Symposium on Biomaterials, Fuels and Chemicals
    Presentation: “Stability of Terephthalate Degrading Microbial Consortia for Plastic Upcycling”
  • Anna Kavanaugh, B.S. student — Social Sciences
    GLRC member advisor: Mark Rhodes
    Attending: 2023 American Association of Geographers Annual Meeting
    Presentation: “The Continuation of Exclusionary Landscapes: Accessibility of Public Transportation in Urban America”
  • Zoe Ketola, M.S. student — Social Sciences
    GLRC member advisor: Chelsea Schelly
    Attending: World Social Science Association 65th Annual Conference
    Presentation: “Energy Service Security for Public Health Resilience: An energy services framework for health facility planning in Michigan’s Western Upper Peninsula”
  • Maya Klanderman, B.S. student — Social Sciences
    GLRC member advisor: Mark Rhodes
    Attending: 2023 American Association of Geographers Annual Meeting
    Presentation: “A Settler Scholar Perspective on Applying Indigenous Methodology in Undergraduate Research”
  • Laura Schaerer, Ph.D. student — Biological Sciences
    GLRC member advisor: Stephen Techtmann
    Attending: 45th Symposium on Biomaterials, Fuels and Chemicals
    Presentation: “Ecological interactions of specialist and generalist species within mixed plastic derivative-utilizing microbial communities”

GLRC Student Travel Grant applications are accepted anytime and will be reviewed on the last Friday of each month. Applications must be submitted at least two weeks in advance of travel. GLRC Student Research Grant applications are accepted three times each year — Nov. 1, March 1 and July 1.

By Great Lakes Research Center.

Zhanping You Appointed to EGLE Scrap Tire Advisory Committee

Zhanping You (CEGE/MTTI) has been appointed to the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) Scrap Tire Advisory Committee.

Section 16911(3) of Part 169, Scrap Tires, of the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act, 1994 PA 451, as amended, states:

“The director of the department shall appoint a scrap tire advisory committee of individuals interested in the management of scrap tires to advise the department on the implementation of this part. In addition to such other issues as the department may request the committee to consider, the committee shall advise the department on the report required by subsection (2) and the relevance of a national standard or specification under section 16901(1)(f).”

By Civil, Environmental, and Geospatial Engineering.

Daniel Dowden on Earthquake Resistance in Mass Timber Construction

Daniel Dowden
Daniel Dowden

Daniel Dowden (CEGE) was credited by DBusiness in a story about the benefits and potential of mass timber in the construction industry. Dowden provided info on mass timber buildings’ ability to withstand earthquakes.

Cited by National Geographic as the sustainable material with which future cities could be built, mass timber is an engineered wood that architects and builders increasingly see as a structural alternative to steel and concrete.

According to Dowden, steel and mass timber buildings can be built to respond in an equivalent manner to an earthquake of the same magnitude, but a mass timber structure built with cross-laminated timber walls that are designed to resist lateral forces must also be designed to withstand larger forces because wood is a brittle material compared to steel.

Read more at DBusiness, by Tom Beaman.

Ricardo Eiris, Josiane Isingizwe Receive Best Paper Award

Ricardo Eiris
Ricardo Eiris
Josiane Isingizwe
Josiane Isingizwe

Ricardo Eiris (CEGE) and PhD student Josiane Isingizwe (civil engineering) have been awarded the Best Paper Award for the Associated Schools of Construction (ASC) Conference Proceedings for papers published in 2023.

They received the award for a paper titled “Where Do Minority Serving Institutions Stand Today in U.S. Construction Education?”

The paper will be presented at the 59th Annual ASC International Conference in Liverpool, U.K., on April 3–5, 2023. Eiris and Isingizwe’s achievement will be celebrated during the award presentation.