Powering the Moon—with Microgrids

MOON POWER — An artistic rendering of what a resilient microgrid for a lunar base camp might look like. Sandia engineers are working with NASA to design the system controller for the microgrid. (Illustration by Eric Lundin)

Professor Wayne Weaver and Research Professor Rush Robinett III were mentioned in a Sandia LabNews story, “Powering the moon: Sandia researchers design microgrid for future lunar base.”

The article details Sandia National Labs’ partnership with NASA to design a reliable and resilient microgrid for the moon. Weaver and Robinett are “heavily involved” in developing controller software to maintain an even voltage level on the grid, according to the story.


Three Michigan Tech Alumni Elected to the National Academy of Engineering

Congratulations to Dr. Sam Jenekhe, Boeing-Martin Professor of Chemical Engineering at the University of Washington; Dr. Sarah Rajala, former James L. and Katherine S. Melsa Dean of Engineering at Iowa State University; and Dr. Bill Hammack, William H. and Janet G. Lycan Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at the University of Illinois. All three have been elected to the National Academy of Engineering, among the highest professional distinctions accorded to an engineer. New members of the NAE will be formally inducted in October at the NAE’s annual meeting.

Dr. Sam Jenekhe

Samson A Jenekhe ’77 is honored for discovery and understanding of conjugated materials for organic light-emitting diodes (OLEDs) widely used in the commercial sector. A professor of chemistry and the Boeing-Martin Professor of Chemical Engineering at the University of Washington, Jenekhe studies the fundamental physical and chemical properties of semiconductor materials, as well as their practical applications. Research topics have included organic and flexible electronics, the use of organic light-emitting diodes for lighting and displays, energy storage and conversion systems, semiconducting polymers and polymer-based photovoltaic systems.

Dr. Sarah Rajala

Sarah A. Rajala ’74 is honored for “innovations in engineering education: outcomes assessment, greater participation and retention of women in engineering, and an enhanced global community.” Rajala is an internationally-known leader in the field of engineering education and a ground breaker for women in engineering. She serves as a role model for young women and is passionate about diversity of thought and culture, especially in a college environment.

Dr. Bill Hammack

William S. Hammack ’84 is honored for innovations in multidisciplinary engineering education, outreach, and service to the profession through development and communication of internet-delivered content. As an engineer, Hammack’s mission over the last 25 years has been to explain engineering to the public. His media work — from his work in public radio to his books to his pioneering use over the last decade of internet-delivered video— has been listened, read, or viewed over seventy million times. He also recorded more than 200 public radio segments that describe what, why and how engineers do what they do. Hammack’s videos (The Engineer Guy) have more than 1.2 million followers on YouTube.


Michigan Tech Teams Win at CMU’s 10th Annual New Venture Challenge

Congratulations to these Michigan Tech New Venture Challenge 2022 Award Winners! L to R: Husky Innovate Program Manager Lisa Casper, students Jordan Craven, Bayle Golden, Ali Dabas, Rourke Sylvain, Jakob Christiansen, and Husky Innovate Co-Director Jim Baker

Central Michigan University (CMU) and Michigan Tech collaborate each year to offer Michigan Tech students a chance to compete in CMU’s New Venture Challenge (NVC). This showcase event provides an opportunity for students at both universities to present their businesses and network with prospective investors, mentors and partners. Student participants at NVC compete for a total of $60,000 in prizes and in-kind services.

On Friday (April 22), four Michigan Tech student teams pitched their ideas and businesses in person at Central Michigan University in Mount Pleasant. Michigan Tech Husky Innovate co-director Jim Baker and program manager Lisa Casper attended the event to support teams, as well as strengthen innovation and entrepreneurship connections.

Michigan Tech engineering management student Bayle Golden presents her pitch for her new wearable child safety device, SafeRow, at the CMU New Venture Challenge.
Michigan Tech construction management student Jakob Christiansen delivers his two-minute pitch for his new supply chain e-commerce platform, ProBoard.

Students had an opportunity to compete in either the two-minute pitch competition or the seven-minute business model competition. There was also a gallery competition, where teams had tables with individual displays and took questions from attendees.

The competition took place out of town during the last hectic week of spring semester at Michigan Tech. But in the end, all their hard work paid off: Michigan Tech teams brought home $21K in prizes for their ideas.

“Congratulations to our Husky Innovate student teams—your ideas have the potential to change the world.”

Lisa Casper, Husky Innovate Program Manager

Michigan Tech’s New Venture Challenge award winners:

Two-Minute Pitch Competition

  • Jakob Christiansen (construction management) won first place and received $4,000. Christiansen pitched “ProBoard,” an e-commerce platform to solve issues in the construction material supply chain.

Seven-Minute Pitch Competition

  • Bayle Golden (engineering management) won first place in the Social Mission category and received $10,000. Golden pitched “SafeRow,” an innovative wearable device designed to keep children safe when every second counts.
  • Rourke Sylvain and Ali Dabas (both biomedical engineering) won second place in the High Tech High Growth category, receiving $5,000. Their pitch was “imi (integrated molecular innovations),” an electrochemical biosensor for T4 detection.
  • Jordan Craven (management information systems, minoring in computer science) won third place in the High Tech High Growth category and received $2,000. Craven pitched “Tall and Small Designs,” a technology company that provides software as a service to retailers who sell clothes online.

“The results speak to the tireless efforts of our students—and the impact of the programs provided by Husky Innovate and its partners.”

Jim Baker, Husky Innovate Co-Director
Michigan Tech biomedical engineering students Ali Dabas and Rourke Sylvain discuss their electrochemical biosensor start-up, “imi”

In preparing for the New Venture Challenge, Michigan Tech students participated in a number of Husky Innovate workshops and review sessions. They also benefited from resources and expertise available within MTEC SmartZone, the local state-funded technology business incubator, and the Upper Peninsula Regional Small Business Development Center, which is hosted by Michigan Tech’s Office of Innovation and Commercialization in collaboration with the College of Business.

“Thanks go out to our distributed team of mentors and our sponsors at Michigan Tech, including the Pavlis Honors College, Office of Innovation and Commercialization, College of Business, College of Engineering, Biomedical Engineering, and Civil Engineering,” said Casper. “We also thank Central Michigan University, and especially Julie Messing, director of the Isabella Bank Institute for Entrepreneurship, for the collaboration and congenial hospitality.”

Michigan Tech management information systems student Jordan Craven pitched “Tall and Small Designs,” a new kind of software for retailers who sell clothes online


Student Awards Announced for Michigan Tech’s 2022 Design Expo

More than 1,000 students in Enterprise and Senior Design showcased their hard work last Thursday at Michigan Tech’s 22nd Annual Design Expo event. As we’ve come to expect, the judging for Design Expo is often VERY CLOSE. This year we had several ties. 

Teams competed for cash awards totaling nearly $4,000. Judges for the event included corporate representatives, community members and Michigan Tech staff and faculty.

The Enterprise Program and College of Engineering are proud to announce the award winners. Check them out here, or visit the Design Expo website, at mtu.edu/expo, where you can view videos and project info submitted by all the teams who took part. Congratulations and a huge thanks to everyone for a very successful Design Expo!

ENTERPRISE AWARDS (Based on video submissions)

First Place (2-way tie)
CinOptic Communication/Media
Team Leaders: Matthew Brisson, Communication, Culture, and Media; Julianna Humecke, Scientific and Technical Communication
Advisor Erin Smith, Humanities
Sponsors: Isle Royale National Park, NSF CAREER Grant
Video

Velovations
Team Leaders: Jorge Povich and Eamon McClintock, Mechanical Engineering
Advisor Steve Lehmann, Biomedical Engineering
Sponsors: Cleveland Cliffs, Senger Innovations, Enterprise Program
Video

Second Place (2-way tie)
Aerospace Enterprise
Team Leaders: Nolan Pickett and Kyle Bruursema, Mechanical Engineering
Advisor: L. Brad King, Mechanical Engineering-Engineering Mechanics
Sponsors: Auris: Air Force Research Laboratory, Stratus: NASA
Video

Supermileage Systems Enterprise
Team Leaders: Luis Hernandez, Mechanical Engineering and Olivia Zinser, Electrical Engineering
Advisor: Rick Berkey, Manufacturing and Mechanical Engineering Technology
Sponsors: General Motors, Aramco Americas, A&D Technology, Dana Inc., SAE International, Halla Mechatronics, Meritor, Oshkosh Corporation, Ford Motor Company, John Deere, Caterpillar, Henkel, BRP Inc., RapidHarness, Wetherington Law Firm, Danaher, Watermark, Top Flight Automotive, Shipley Energy, TEAMTECH, Gamma Technologies, Velocity USA, Enterprise Manufacturing Initiative funded by General Motors
Video

Third Place: 
Clean Snowmobile Challenge
Team Leaders: Katy Pioch and Daniel Prada, Mechanical Engineering
Advisor: Jason Blough and Scott Miers, Mechanical Engineering-Engineering Mechanics
Sponsors: GM (General Motors), Aramco, A&D, Dana, Milwaukee Tool, Caterpillar, Meritor, Oshkosh, Ford, John Deere, BRP (Ski-Doo), Kohler, Mahle, Yamaha, Castle, Gamma Technologies, Quincy Compressor, Shipley Energy, Top Flight Automotive, Superior Graphics
Video

Honorable Mention: 
Formula SAE
Team Leaders: John Herr and Luke Quilliams, Mechanical Engineering
Advisor: James DeClerck, Mechanical Engineering-Engineering Mechanics
Sponsors: General Motors, Aramco Americas, A&D Technology, Dana Inc., SAE International, Yamaha, Halla Mechatronics, Meritor, Oshkosh Corporation, Ford Motor Company, John Deere, Caterpillar, Henkel, BRP Inc., RapidHarness, Wetherington Law Firm, Danaher, Watermark, Top Flight Automotive, Shipley Energy, Superior Graphics, TEAMTECH, Gamma Technologies, Enterprise Manufacturing Initiative funded by General Motors
Video

SENIOR DESIGN AWARDS (Based on video submissions)

First Place
IoMT Device Security
Team Members: Jacson Ott, Stu Kernstock, Trevor Hornsby, and Matthew Chau, Cybersecurity
Advisor:Guy Hembroff, Applied Computing
Sponsor: Dept. of Applied Computing
Video

Second Place
MR Compatible Transseptal Needle with Integrated System for Confirming Left Atrial Access
Team Members: Lydia Ragel Wilson, Natalie Reid, Jared Martini, Braxton Blackwell, and Aydin Frost, Biomedical Engineering
Advisor: Hoda Hatoum and Jeremy Goldman, Biomedical Engineering
Sponsor: Imricor
Video

Third Place
Britten Water Filtration System
Team Members: Nika Orman and Nick Hoffebeck, Electrical Engineering, Matt Zambon, Kyle Clow, Luke Schloemp, and Gabby Sgambati, Mechanical Engineering, and Evan McKenzie, Computer Engineering
Advisor: Tony Pinar, Electrical and Computer Engineering
Sponsor: BoxPop powered by Britten, Inc.
Video

Honorable Mention 1
Locomotive Pinion Cutter Feed System
Team Members: Seth Jensen-Younk, Sam Barwick, Matt Krause, Nick Sand, and Stephen Mleko, Mechanical Engineering
Advisor: Cameron Hadden, Mechanical Engineering-Engineering Mechanics
Sponsor: Dr. Pasi Lautala, Civil, Environmental, and Geospatial Engineering
Video

Honorable Mention 2
Rapid Corrosion Screening of Engineered Structural Fastener Coating Systems for Treated Lumber
Team Members: Sophie Mehl, Isabelle Hemmila, and Kendal Kroes, Materials Science and Engineering and Luke Owens, Mechanical Engineering
Advisor: Paul Sanders, Materials Science and Engineering
Sponsor: Altenloh, Brinck & Company US, Inc
Video

Honorable Mention 3
Cycle Time Improvements in Medical Device Manufacturing – Laser Welding
Team Members: Abigail Martin, Hannah Loughlin, Zachary Alesch, and Megan Cotter, Biomedical Engineering
Advisors: Jeremy Goldman and Chunxiu (Traci) Yu, Biomedical Engineering
Sponsor: Boston Scientific (BSC)
Video

Honorable Mention 4
Stromberg Carlson Electric Tongue Jack Redesign Phase 2 Application Development
Team Members: Dustin Duclos, Sean Parker, and Shane O’Brien, Computer Engineering
Advisors: Trever Hassell and Mark Sloat, Electrical and Computer Engineering
Sponsor: Stromberg Carlson
Video

DESIGN EXPO IMAGE CONTEST (Based on image submitted by the team)

First Place: 
Aerospace Enterprise — “Physical Model of Auris Spacecraft.”

Physical Model of Auris Spacecraft. Photo credit: Aerospace Enterprise

Second Place: 
Blizzard Baja Enterprise — “Blizzard Baja Competition Vehicle.” Photo credit: Andrew Erickson

Blizzard Baja Competition Vehicle. Photo credit: Andrew Erickson

Third Place
Dollar Bay School SOAR — “A member of the SOAR team troubleshoots one of the service grade ROVs.”

A member of the SOAR team troubleshoots one of the service grade ROVs. Photo credit: Dollar Bay Soar High School Enterprise

DESIGN EXPO INNOVATION AWARDS (Based on application)

First Place
Lydia Ragel Wilson, MR Compatible Transseptal Needle with Integrated System for Confirming Left Atrial Access, Department of Biomedical Engineering
Sponsor: Imricor

Second Place
Veronika Orman, Britten Water Filtration System, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering
Sponsor: Britten, Inc.

Third Place
Jerod Warren, HACK Cybersecurity Kit, Department of Applied Computing 

DESIGN EXPO AUDIENCE CHOICE AWARD (Based on receiving most text-in voting during Design Expo)

Enterprise
Consumer Product Manufacturing
Video

Senior Design
Britten Water Filtration System
Video

ENTERPRISE STUDENT AWARDS

Rookie Award: Brian Geiger, CFO, Multiplanetary Innovation Enterprise (MINE)

Innovative Solutions: Pete LaMantia, ITOxygen

Outstanding Enterprise Leadership: Brooke Bates, Consumer Product Manufacturing

ENTERPRISE FACULTY/STAFF AWARDS

Behind the Scenes Award: Tania Demonte Gonzalez, PhD Student Researcher, Department of Mechanical Engineering-Engineering Mechanics. 

Outstanding Enterprise Advisor: Tony Rogers, Associate Professor and Faculty Advisor, Consumer Product Manufacturing, Department of Chemical Engineering


Dean’s Teaching Showcase: David Labyak

David Labyak
David Labyak

Dean Janet Callahan has selected David M. Labyak, assistant professor in the Department of Manufacturing and Mechanical Engineering Technology (MMET), for this spring’s Deans’ Teaching Showcase.

Labyak will be recognized at an end-of-term luncheon with other spring showcase members, and is a candidate for this summer’s CTL Instructional Award Series.

Labyak brings his 23 years of professional industry experience to life in the classroom. He relates engineering project examples from General Motors in manufacturing and process engineering; Copper Range Company and Raytheon Missile Systems in project engineering; and Great Lakes Sound and Vibration in simulation analysis. All offer students an endless supply of practical applications to help understand engineering theory.

Labyak first developed new assignments and restructured machine design courses MET 3242 and MET 3451. Then, he developed new graduate courses: MET 5800 and MET 5801 for the mechatronics M.S. and online course MFGE 5200 for the manufacturing engineering graduate certificate.

In these courses, Labyak relates course theory to industrial applications of sheet metal design and fabrication, mining facility maintenance, and missile assembly processes. In addition, he uses examples from his family-owned farm in Ontonagon, where he maintains tractors and farm equipment. Vibrations, reliability and fatigue in mechanical components such as bearings, gears, drive systems, clutches and brakes provide examples students can easily grasp.

Labyak’s ability to explain where and how students will utilize the course content in their careers also makes him a great recruiter and advisor. “David often volunteers to meet with prospective students and their families,” says John Irwin, chair of MMET. “His industry knowledge in terms of engineering needs provides insight to guide MET students throughout their career paths.”

MET alum Mickala Kohtz ’21 explains how Labyak was effective in teaching MET 4660 CAE and FEA Methods. “He took the time to understand the way that I learned best and would walk me through difficult concepts. Dave was always willing to help his students, whether it was after class, the weekends, and even to lend a listening ear about job offers or Senior Design help.”

Likewise, former student Joshua Olusola says Labyak is very friendly and open to students anytime you find him available, even on Saturdays. “He gave sufficient in-class practice questions to ensure that the concept was understood before he assigned homework.” MET 5801 was Olusola’s first encounter with the Simulink software, but he transitioned smoothly using instructional labs prior to lab assignments. “I would say almost every student who had a course with Dave always jumped at an opportunity to take another with him due to his exceptional teaching technique and friendly personality. These traits indeed made students more open to learning.”

Dean Callahan recognizes Labyak’s ability to connect with students. “The personal relationships that Dave is able to develop with his students demonstrates the best parts of the high-tech, high-touch education that is Michigan Tech’s trademark. He is an inspiration to us all.”


Michigan Tech SWE Section travels to Wisconsin for ‘Spring Forward’ Professional Day

Michigan Tech SWE section members and alumnae gather for a photo at Spring Forward 2022.

Nine student members of Michigan Tech’s section of the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) and their advisor, Gretchen Hein (MMET), recently attended Spring Forward, a professional development day in Kohler, Wisconsin, hosted by the SWE-Wisconsin.

Laura Kohler, Senior Vice President of Human Resources, Stewardship and Sustainability at Kohler Company gave the keynote address. She spoke about her career path, the importance of diversity, and leadership. 

Michigan Tech SWE Section members toured the Kohler Design Center after attending SWE-Wisconsin Spring Forward 2022

Mechanical Engineering alumna Jackie (Burtka) Yosick ‘14 also works at Kohler. She was on hand to discuss her work with engines and generators.

“We were also pleasantly surprised to meet Helene Cornils, director of the Advanced Development Kitchen and Bath Group at Kohler and the parent of a current Michigan Tech biomedical engineering student,” said Hein.

Two former Michigan Tech SWE Section presidents, Katie Buchalski ’19 and Andrea (Walvatne) Falasco ’12 were also present at the event. Buchlaski is an environmental engineering alumna now working at Ruekert-Mielke, where she designs municipal road and utility projects with a focus on modeling the stormwater runoff from individual sites to city-wide studies. Falasco, a mechanical engineering alumna, is lead mechanical engineer at Kimberly Clark, where she designs new equipment to make products that include Kleenex, Huggies, and Kotex. 

Numerous Michigan Tech students won SWE awards at the event, as well. One of those was biomedical engineering major Kathleen Heusser, who won a first place scholarship from the GE Women’s Network.

“Receiving the first-place 2022 GE Women’s Network Scholarship was an incredible honor,” said Heusser. “In addition to the tuition assistance it provides, the scholarship affirms my confidence in the value of my resume, my education, and my professional references, as well as my scholarship essay on what being an engineer means to me,” she explains. “The last paragraph in my essay shares how my work as an engineer will be motivated by my love of others in order to work hard–creating solutions to the problem of an individual, a company, or a society.

Michigan Tech biomedical engineering student, Kathleen Heusser, receives the GE Women’s Network Scholarship

Another highlight of the day: Michigan Tech’s SWE section received the SWE-Wisconsin President’s Choice Award.

After the conference, each Michigan Tech student in attendance reflected on their participation and what they learned:

Aerith Cruz, Management Information Systems: “It was a great opportunity for Michigan Tech SWE members to bond and connect with one another. Being able to travel as a section and experience professional development together is a fulfilling experience. We are able to share learning opportunities and build long-lasting connections with one another. It is also incredibly fun getting to know each other while exploring the area.”

Kathryn Krieger, Environmental Engineering: “It was inspiring to hear the paths of various women, and the impacts they have made. I really enjoyed hearing about modern, female-centered design that benefits women in impactful ways–rather than the stereotypical ‘pink and shrink’ method.”

Natalie Hodge, Electrical and Computer Engineering (dual major): “Laura Kohler shared this quote in her presentation, attributed to Cassie Ho: ‘Don’t compare yourself to others. It’s like comparing the sun and the moon. The sun and the moon shine at their own time.’” 

Katherine Baker, Chemical Engineering: “I especially enjoyed attending the session, ‘Navigating Early Stage Careers: The First 10 Years’. It had a great panel that gave a ton of advice on how to advance as an engineer in the workplace.”

Maci Dostaler, Biomedical Engineering: “Women are necessary when it comes to inclusive design, which was covered during one of the sessions, ‘Breaking the Glass Ceiling’”.

Alli Hummel, Civil Engineering: “Laura Kohler talked about the importance of making time for your personal life and how that is necessary to succeed at work. She is a great example of a woman who succeeds in prioritizing both work and family life.”

Lucy Straubel, Biomedical Engineering: “I really enjoyed the whole experience. It was great to hear all the advice everyone else could give me. And making friends and memories was a bonus, too.”

Amanda West, Mechanical Engineering: “One of the things I liked most about the conference was keynote speaker Laura Kohler’s speech, where she mentioned the importance of having and maintaining relationships with your mentors, an important part in developing your career and professional skills.”

Kathleen Heusser, Biomedical Engineering: “In one session called Navigating Early Stage Careers: The First 10 Years, Tess Cain of DSM, among others, gave insightful tips about saying ‘no’ to a project or demand from management that’s just not feasible. She pointed out that how others accept your ‘no’ depends a lot on how you say it. You should use a response that includes ‘I can’t/Here’s why/Here’s what I would need to make this work’ in order to go in a doable direction with the project. And another inspiring quote, overheard during the Nonlinear Careers and the Versatility of Engineering Degrees panel, was that ‘100 percent of candidates are not 100 percent qualified.’ Raquel Reif of Kohler, in particular, stressed that already having expertise in a job field is not a necessary prerequisite to apply for the job you want.”


Tom Werner: Butterflies, Moths, and Fruit Flies in the Keweenaw

Butterly or moth? Find out during Husky Bites!

Thomas Werner shares his knowledge on Husky Bites, a free, interactive Zoom webinar this Monday, April 4 at 6 pm ET. Learn something new in just 30 minutes (or so), with time after for Q&A! Get the full scoop and register at mtu.edu/huskybites.

Dr. Thomas Werner

What are you doing for supper this Monday night 4/4 at 6 ET? Grab a bite with Dean Janet Callahan and Biological Sciences Associate Professor Thomas Werner. Joining in will be one of his former students, alumna Tessa Steenwinkel.

Steenwinkel earned her BS in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and her MS in Biology/Biological Sciences, all at Michigan Tech. She works now as an Educational Assistant at Madison Country Day School near Madison, Wisconsin, and she will start a PhD program at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas, this fall.

During Husky Bites, they will share the most beautiful butterflies, moths, and fruit fly species of the Keweenaw Peninsula. And we’ll learn much more about their Encyclopedia of North American Drosophilids. Be sure to bring your questions!

Dr. Werner started studying insects as a childhood hobby, at age 10, when a beautiful butterfly flew in the window of his family’s 9th floor apartment in Erfurt, in East Germany. Many years later, his interest in insects is still strong, as he leads a fruit fly research lab at Michigan Tech. 

Tessa Steenwinkel

Werner’s research bridges the miniscule and the massive in an effort to better understand the mechanisms behind several unique features of fruit flies, such as the developmental genetics of color pattern formation as well as those of mushroom toxin resistance, among several other questions. Some of their research questions aim to provide insight into human cancer development.

For being so small, fruit flies have had a large impact on genetic research, thanks in great part to Dr. Tom Werner at Michigan Tech.

Werner also teaches courses on general immunology, introduction to genomics, developmental biology, and he used to teach genetics and with a genetic techniques lab. He’s been bestowed with the state-wide Michigan Distinguished Professor of the Year Award 2021 and won Michigan Technological University’s Distinguished Teaching Award twice (both in the non-tenured and the tenured categories).

Callout quote:

“Thinking about the long winters here, I would call teaching a powerful antidepressant.”

Dr. Thomas Werner

“Werner is the epitome of the scholar-teacher. His enthusiasm in the classroom is remarkable, as is his devotion to mentoring more than 100 undergraduate researchers,” says David Hemmer, dean, College of Sciences and Arts.

Steenwinkel started at Michigan Tech in the fall of 2017 by joining the Pavlis Honors College. She majored in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology-Biological Sciences with a minor in Pharmaceutical Chemistry. Originally from the Netherlands, Steenwinkel has lived in the United States since she was 12 years old.

“On Michigan Tech’s annual Preview Day in March 2017, Tessa visited my lab at Michigan Tech as a high school student,” Werner recalls. “I offered her a job on the spot, because I felt that she would become the best student I have ever mentored. And I was correct about that: As my undergraduate research assistant and master’s student, she has published two books and 10 papers with me, while she won 8 university-wide and national awards!”

Tessa at work in the Werner Lab

“When I walked into the lab, I knew that this could be the place for me,” adds Steenwinkel. “After getting started at Tech, I immediately reconnected with Dr. Werner and essentially started working in the lab the next day. I worked there for over four years, working alongside grad students, leading my own project, and managing the lab even when Dr. Werner went on sabbatical in Singapore. I was always so grateful to have Dr. Werner as a mentor.”  

During her first year, Steenwinkel went from assisting in Werner’s research lab to becoming a co-author on his book, Drosophilids of the Midwest and Northeast, with John Jaenike, a professor of biology at the University of Rochester. The three later published a second book together “Drosophilids of the Southeast”, published under the umbrella name “The Encyclopedia of North American Drosophilids.” Both books welcome researchers, teachers, and young students alike into the amazing world of flies and the diversity of their potential use in research.  

The Encyclopedia of North American Drosopholids, Vol 1: covers the Midwest and Northeast.

The books also include a significant outreach component that speaks to young children about science and nature in the form of a bedtime story about fruit flies written by Steenwinkel. Open-access books, they can be downloaded for free here and here.

The trio’s second book covers the Drosophilids of the Southeast.

While at Michigan Tech, Steenswinkel became the first recipient of the Soyring Foundation Scholarship. John Soyring, Tech alumnus and Pavlis Honors College External Advisory Board member, established the scholarship for Pavlis Honors students expressing interest in research and innovation related to water quality management, renewable energy, or solutions to prevent and cure cancer. 

Prof. Werner, what sparked your interest in biology, fruit flies and genetics?

I am a biologist by heart. It all started in former East Germany when a butterfly entered my bedroom on the ninth floor in the middle of the city. On that July morning in 1981, I started collecting butterflies as a 10-year-old boy. This moment defined my life, and today I am associate professor of genetics and developmental biology.

Family?

I have a wife Megan, a daughter Natalia (10), and two sons: Oliver (7) and Oscar (5).

Any hobbies? Pets? What do you like to do in your spare time?

As a hobby, I collect and rear butterflies and moths. I like camping (and collecting fruit flies on these trips for my next field guides). I also have a dog named Frosty, who also likes camping.

Tessa, what sparked your interest in science?

My brother with Down Syndrome first got me interested in biology. From there, I started to learn about genetics, development, and diversity. This is what brought me to Michigan Tech and to start working in Dr. Werner’s lab, where he was using fruit flies to model human cancer. When I started working there, he had just published his first book on fruit flies, and I was immediately fascinated by the beauty and diversity of these small bugs. 

Hometown, family?

I’m originally from the Netherlands. I grew up there with my parents and two younger brothers. In 2012, we moved to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, before moving to Madison, Wisconsin, in 2014. In 2017, I decided to start college at Michigan Tech, where I obtained my undergraduate and master’s degrees.

Any hobbies or pets? What do you like to do in your spare time?

When I’m not in the lab, I enjoy running outside and teaching ski lessons to the local kids. When you live in Houghton, you have to make the best out of it. I’m currently getting ready to start my PhD. I currently have two very enthusiastic turtles. 


Fernando Ponta: The Wind Beneath My Wings/Sails/Turbines

“Since the emergence of the first windmill in ancient times, through the windmills of the middle ages, to the high-tech wind turbines of today, there has been an intimate relationship between the evolution of wind rotors and sailing rigs,” says Fernando Ponta.

Fernando Ponta shares his knowledge on Husky Bites, a free, interactive webinar this Monday, 3/28 at 6 pm. Learn something new in just 30 minutes or so, with time after for Q&A! Get the full scoop and register at mtu.edu/huskybites.

Fernando Ponta

What are you doing for supper this Monday night 3/28 at 6 ET? Grab a bite with Dean Janet Callahan and Fernando Ponta, the Richard and Elizabeth Henes Professor of Wind Energy. Joining in will be one of Dr. Ponta’s mechanical engineering PhD students, Apurva Baruah, who brings industrial experience to his research with Dr. Ponta. Baruah is also a member of the crew on Dr. Ponta’s J-80 sailboat, the Avanti Bianc.

“There’s no better way to understand the wind than trying to harness its power on sails,” says Baruah.

During Husky Bites, Ponta and Baruah will explain the evolution of wind power technology from its beginnings until the current development of next-generation, advanced, mega-scale wind turbines. One aspect of their research involves modeling the wakes of many wind turbines operating in a huge wind farm. They’ll discuss the importance of understanding and modeling these wakes in order to optimize both offshore and inland wind farm performance.

Apurva Baruah

“We’ll also share a brief review of our collaborative work with Sandia National Labs,” adds Baruah. “That includes the novel, aeroelastic-vortex-lattice codes we use to study cutting-edge wind energy technologies.”

At Michigan Tech, Ponta’s research team seeks to understand the detailed physics of a wind-turbine–from the rotor structure and aerodynamics, to turbine control and drivetrain electromechanics. 

The Avanti Bianc: “I’ve been Apurva’s boat skipper since 2015, and his PhD advisor since 2017,” says Dr. Fernado Ponta. “We’re both part of Michigan Tech’s ‘Wind-Warriors’ team.”

“Since the emergence of the first windmill in ancient times, through the windmills of the middle ages, to the high-tech wind turbines of today, there has been an intimate relationship between the evolution of wind rotors and sailing rigs,” he says. “Ancient windmill designs used the principle of aerodynamic drag to produce the forces acting on the blades in the same manner that square rigs used drag to propel ships.”

Rembrandt’s The Mill, year 1645-48. Oil on Canvas. National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC

“In a period of several centuries, sailing rigs progressively evolved into the use of sail arrangements that propel ships via the generation of lift force, which not only give ships the great advantage of going faster in the same conditions, but also of sailing partially into the wind,” adds Ponta. “All this technological experience translated into the evolution of wind rotors that also use lift as their physical mechanism for torque and power generation. In the case of a wind rotor, it has resulted in a dramatically higher efficiency of the conversion process from the kinetic energy of the wind, into mechanical power on the shaft.”

Wind turbine blades average almost 200 feet long, and turbine towers average 295 feet tall—about the height of the Statue of Liberty.

This parallel development was fundamental to the evolution of current wind energy technology, says Ponta. “The basic concept of the lift-driven wind rotor, conceived in the late middle-ages, is essentially the same as the high-tech wind turbines of today. The inherent energy efficiency of the lift generation process versus the generation of drag—with all its associated frictional losses—is the physical underpinning of this fundamental progress.”

In modern times, a similar parallel can be traced between the optimization of the kinds of aerodynamic surfaces used in aeronautics, and the refinements of the latest generations of high-tech wind turbines, notes Ponta.

Comparison between velocity patterns measured by SNL’s LiDAR at SWiFT facility in Lubbock, Texas, and MTU’s DRD-BEM-GVLM simulation results at spherical surfaces at distances of (a) 2, and (b) 5 five rotor diameters downwind. Dr. Ponta and Apurva promise to interpret and explains these models for us during Husky Bites.

Over a period of years Ponta has developed a novel aeroelastic model for optimizing the rotor blades used in “smart” turbines and the collective control strategies of mega wind farms. The resulting modeling tool is now being applied by Sandia National Labs (SNL) for the study of the advanced lightweight rotors of their National Rotor Testbed (NRT) project. The result is a complete picture of how a wind turbine behaves under various conditions. Ponta’s modeling can be used to design blades and simulate the interaction of multiple wind turbine wakes in a wind farm, as well—particularly, the thousands of meters long wakes of the utility-scale megawatt turbines of today, and the super-turbines of tomorrow. 

Vortex lattice (rear view), in a two-turbine scenario of a typical night-time wind profile, part of the National Rotor Testbed project conducted in partnership with Sandia National Lab’s SWiFT facility in Lubbock, Texas.
Dr. Ponta and his daughter enjoy skiing at Mont Ripley, Michigan Tech’s own ski area.

Dr. Ponta, how did you first get into engineering? What sparked your interest?

I’ve always been fascinated with science and technology, even when I was a kid. In my high school years, I attended what in my country of origin is called an industrial college, with a specialty in electronics. I started as a naval and mechanical engineering student, and then I decided to switch to a full career in mechanical engineering. With the years, I focused more and more into computational and theoretical fluid mechanics, in particular as they apply to the study of wind turbines and other renewable energy systems.

Hometown?

I was born in the city of Buenos Aires, Argentina, even though my family lives now in the Patagonia region. Curiously, they live at the same latitude that we are here in Houghton, but in the southern hemisphere. That is, the same temperatures but with a six-month shift! 

The Avanti Bianc, on Traverse Bay

What do you like to do in your spare time?

In summer, sailing and swimming. I own a sailboat which I skipper regularly in the regattas of the Onigaming Yacht Club, of which I’m a member of the directory board. In winter, I ski a lot at Mont Ripley. Alpine skiing is my favorite sport, and I’ve been skiing since I was in my teens in the Andes range in Patagonia. I lift weights all year round.

The skyline of of Mumbai

Apurva, how did you first get into engineering? What sparked your interest?

I’ve been fascinated with aircraft from a very young age. I had an amazing physics teacher throughout grade school and figured engineering was the path forward in order to work with airplanes.

Apurva is passionate about aviation, too. “Since 2017 I’ve been visiting the EAA AirVenture, a summer air show and gathering of aviation enthusiasts in Oshkosh, Wisconsin at Oshkosh.”

During my undergrad years, I just naturally ‘flowed’ towards fluids and aerodynamics. After a few years working in industry, I decided to pursue a graduate degree at Tech. Our research in wind turbines and their wakes in a wind farm is a perfect blend of my interests.

Hometown?

I was born and raised in Mumbai, India. My mom’s terrified yet excited to visit the Keweenaw! She frequently catches our blizzard-y days by watching the HuskyCam feeds!

Apurva’s Wind Group lab setup. Note the paper plane!

Any hobbies?

Thanks to Dr. Ponta, I’ve found an immense passion for sailing. It’s an important aspect of our summer ‘research’. I also frequent Michigan Tech’s Student Development Center, aka “the SDC” for racquet sports, including tennis, badminton, and table tennis, and the shooting range. I’m the range safety officer for Michigan Tech’s Competition Rifle team.

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Open Water


Engineering Study Abroad: Cosmo Trikes

While traveling abroad during the pandemic may seem difficult to some, others navigate this landscape with relative ease. Especially if you’ve got the attitude of Cosmo Trikes, an electrical engineering student at Michigan Tech. Challenges and adversity are no stranger to Trikes, but when presented the opportunity to study abroad nothing could have stopped him!

Cosmo Holding a Husky Flag
Cosmo Trikes

A Bit About Cosmo Trikes

In a Michigan Tech “Humans of Tech” interview last year, Trikes describes himself like this: “A lot of people say I bring a good energy to places. I’m excited about life and I love to help. I want to make things better, to learn as much as I can. I try to be remembered and get involved anywhere I go.” His mindset of sticking to his values–even in times of uncertainty–and his moral character both speak volumes for the person he is.

How did you get interested in Studying Abroad?

When I first visited Michigan Tech as a prospective student, I went to a study abroad info session, probably at the encouragement of my mother who did a study abroad in Zimbabwe as an undergrad. Before I started college, I had already traveled to Iceland, Africa, the Bahamas, and across the US. So I knew I wanted to continue traveling. I also knew that it was a rare opportunity to travel abroad for three months in the way you can while studying abroad. Being immersed in a college environment, taking a light course load, traveling around wherever and whenever. It can’t be done at any other time in your life.

“It’s easy to be optimistic and positive when things are going well. But when things go awry, when we encounter obstacles, only then is when we truly have an opportunity to demonstrate the strength of our virtues.”

Cosmo Trikes
Cosmo in Front of Curtin University
In Perth at Curtin University

Where did you study and live?

I attended Curtin University, an Australian public research university located in Bentley, Perth, in Western Australia. I lived in a flat neighborhood. A flat is basically an apartment. The neighborhood was a gated community, with a front desk building, and common areas where everyone could get together. Each building was three stories tall, and each level was a flat that housed six people. It was great to be surrounded by a community like that! Nearby there was a little mall with a market and a few other shops. I think I might have loved that the most. It was convenient to simply walk over and get groceries, especially since I didn’t have a car.

Why did you choose Australia? 

Since my second year started, I had a plan. I would go to a career fair, get a co-op, work for the summer and fall, and instead of coming back to MTU in the winter, I would study abroad and then return for the following school year. Even though I got injured, I still followed through with my plan. I never considered where I would go until the time came to choose. I wanted somewhere warm, of course, and somewhere accessible. Turns out Australia was the place to go. And even though Australia doesn’t have an equivalent to the American Disabilities Act (ADA) that the US has, it was actually more accessible than Michigan Tech, which made my time with friends and exploring a lot of fun!

What was your academic experience like in Australia? 

Cosmo and Other Study Abroad Students in their living space.
With his flatmates and friends in Bentley

Academically speaking, I learned a lot but at the same time I didn’t. A few weeks after I arrived in Australia the COVID-19 lockdown first began. I had hardly started my courses when they were switched to online. We all got called back to Michigan Tech. 

First, Curtin University is enormous, in terms of both campus and student body size. The entire university and facilities were so modern, with automatic doors throughout and so many cool things integrated into the campus that I spent many days just exploring. Even before the pandemic, the lectures were already being recorded with a camera in the back of the class. As a result, my transition to remote learning was not as hard, but in regard to the missing out on the labs–the lack of a learning environment, and enduring the isolation–it was a struggle. The experience shrunk from thousands of students for me to meet and interact with, to pretty much just me. I took engineering classes, and they went well. The teaching style in Australia was very different and I liked it a lot. I didn’t learn as much as I would have back at Tech, but that also wasn’t my only focus. While there, exploring and traveling were also in the forefront of my mind!

Cosmo Skydiving.
Skydiving in Australia!

What was the best part of the experience?

Well I made a lot of friends, explored as much as I could, and read a lot, but I think what I came away with the most was a lot of personal growth. With the short time we isolated, I had a lot of time for introspection. I started my blog during that time, and every Sunday I would write a multiple page summary of the past week with a lot of detail. I sent it out to a select few people as a weekly email to keep them updated on what I did and how I felt. 

What was the most challenging part of the experience?

Definitely the most challenging part of any traveling or just anything in general is using a wheelchair. Although the campus was really accessible, there were a lot of hills and many things I couldn’t do, like going sand surfing, for example. Luckily I had my friends to help out a bit, so I still did a lot, regardless.

Did you visit any other cities or countries?

Perth, Australia is one of the most remote locations in the world. While there, I was maybe going to travel to Bali or somewhere similar, but then COVID struck. Perth does have other cities nearby, such as Fremantle and some others, but I visited Rottnest Island off the nearby coast where I went skydiving! It was a small island with a lot of great views, and a ton of fun wierd little animals called quokkas.

Cosmo with a quokka.
Cosmo with a quokka.

When will you graduate, and what are your plans for the future?

I will graduate at the end of April 2022. After that I’ll be going to Colorado to work as a software engineer for Oracle. I found that job through Disability:IN, when I joined one of their programs.


Dean’s Teaching Showcase: Christopher Middlebrook

Christopher Middlebrook
Christopher Middlebrook

College of Engineering Dean Janet Callahan has selected Christopher Middlebrook, professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE), as our ninth Dean’s Teaching Showcase member of spring 2022.

Middlebrook will be recognized at an end-of-term event with other showcase members, and is also a candidate for the CTL Instructional Award Series.

Middlebrook was selected for growing his work with printed circuit board (PCB) design into something extraordinary. He recognized a training need for electronic design engineers and put all the pieces in place to address a national security problem and offer employment opportunities for Michigan Tech students.

Like most great things, it started small. Middlebrook had an idea that if students like building electronic circuits, they might enjoy designing the printed circuit boards as well. His involvement with the Institute for Printed Circuits (IPC), a trade association founded to standardize assembly and production of electronic equipment, led to an IPC student chapter being formed in ECE. He gathered free materials and used equipment from local and national suppliers and launched an undergraduate course in PCB design. It was a huge hit. Local PCB manufacturer Calumet Electronics Corporation worked closely with him to offer the students an in-depth view of the design process from schematic capture to tested and accepted final product. Calumet Electronics Director of Engineering Services Rob Cooke describes Middlebrook as a “key strategic partner.” Cooke says: “Chris continually pushes to get feedback from our company about what students need to learn to be successful. He believes, as do we, that being able to see, touch and work with materials and processes is a key to being able to design and build.”

The industry connection did not stop there. Plexus Corporation, a dominant force in the electronics manufacturing industry, has a strong interest in the strength of the electronic system design education. Christina Jufliak, Michigan Tech alumna and a manager at Plexus, learned of Middlebrook’s efforts through the department’s External Advisory Committee. She saw a benefit to both her employer and the University. In her words: “As a Michigan Tech student, I saw firsthand the school’s efforts to provide relevant and hands-on experiences for students to prepare them for their careers.”

Middlebrook worked with Jufliak, the Michigan Tech Office of Advancement and the Plexus Corporation Charitable Foundation to secure $150,000 to create the Plexus Innovation Center on the sixth floor of the Electrical Energy Resources Center (EERC). Jufliak summarizes: “I am very excited that the Plexus Innovation Lab will continue supporting these efforts, preparing students to take on internships and full-time positions within their respective fields.”

This professional-grade makerspace has become a lighthouse for the design, fabrication and testing of electronic systems for researchers, Senior Design and Enterprise projects across the campus. Dean Callahan comments: “Middlebrook’s educational leadership has made a difference to what students are able to design and build, right here in the EERC.”