Robert Nemiroff: NASA’s Best Space Images

A detailed view of the Cat’s Eye Nebula. Observations suggest that each ring, or dust shell, around this nebula took about 1,500 years to form. Credit: NASA, ESA, HEIC, and The Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA).

Robert Nemiroff shares his knowledge on Husky Bites, a free, interactive webinar this Monday, November 22 at 6 pm ET. Learn something new in just 20 minutes (or so), with time after for Q&A! Get the full scoop and register at mtu.edu/huskybites.

Michigan Tech University Physics Professor Robert Nemiroff

What are you doing for supper this Monday night 11/22 at 6 ET? Grab a bite with Dean Janet Callahan and Robert Nemiroff, University Professor of Physics at Michigan Tech. He’s a leading researcher both nationally and internationally in the field of gravitational lensing and gamma-ray bursts (GRBs). Joining in will be Alice Allen, Faculty Specialist in the Department of Astronomy at the University of Maryland, College Park. 

During Husky Bites, Nemiroff and Allen will share stories and science behind the best space images and videos on one of NASA’s most popular websites: APOD: Astronomy Picture of the Day.

“I like this amazing image of the F ring of Saturn,” says Allen. Cassini spacecraft image of Saturn’s moon Prometheus, having perturbed the planet’s thin F ring, moves away as it continues in its orbit. [Prometheus Creating Saturn Ring Streamers / Credit: Cassini Imaging Team, ISS, JPL, ESA, NASA]

Nemiroff co-created and leads APOD, which is translated by volunteers into 20 languages daily, accessed over 1 million times per day on average and has a massive number of followers on Facebook (about 400,000), Instagram (about 800,000) and Twitter (about 1 million). 

Back when the site was launched in 1995, Allen quickly became a fan. “Alice used to send in interesting email comments to APOD,” Nemiroff recalls. “She then volunteered to help out and soon took expert care of APOD’s discussion board and Facebook page.” It was something she did in her spare time, evenings and weekends—in addition to her day job as an IT expert working in Washington, DC.

“This is one of my favorite astro images,” says Allen. It’s a Wolf-Rayet star (WR 124). Judy’s image of it is particularly stunning.” Visible at the center and spanning six light years across, the star creates the surrounding nebula. Credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA/Judy Schmidt

About four years after starting APOD, Nemiroff co-created the Astrophysics Source Code Library (ASCL), an open repository of astro research software housed at Michigan Tech. It now lists over 2,500 codes.

“Alice agreed to take over the editorial duties of the Astrophysics Source Code Library in 2010, as editor in chief,” adds Nemiroff. “She has done a fantastic job—growing the ASCL into a major force for transparent science in astrophysics.”

Before coming to Michigan Tech, Nemiroff worked at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland. That’s when Nemiroff and NASA astrophysicist Jerry Bonnell first started APOD on the NASA website. “We did it partly to provide accurate information about the multitude of astronomical images that were circulating on the Internet, partly just for the fun of sharing the wonder of the cosmos,” Nemiroff says. Back then, “NASA didn’t bother much with the web.” For their work on APOD, Nemiroff and Bonnell won the Astronomical Society of the Pacific’s Klumpke-Roberts Award in 2015 “for outstanding contributions to public understanding and appreciation of astronomy.”

“During the Fall 2020 semester, the first student to see the cat in my Zoom background during a lecture was eligible to receive a free KitKat bar,” say Prof. Nemiroff.

APOD and ASCL are side gigs for Nemiroff, as well. He, too, has his day job as a University Professor of Physics at Michigan Tech. Early in his tenure, Nemiroff led a group that developed and deployed the first online fisheye night sky monitor, called CONCAMs. They deployed later models to most major astronomical observatories around the world. Through Nemiroff’s efforts, Michigan Tech acquired one of the largest telescopes available exclusively for student use, too.

Today, Nemiroff is perhaps best known scientifically for predicting recovered microlensing phenomena, and for first showing, along with others, that gamma-ray bursts are consistent with occurring xx at cosmological distances. “Microlensing uses the mass of stars to act as giant gravitational telescopes on randomly-aligning background stars and quasars. Much has been learned from microlensing—for example, about the mass distribution in the universe,” Nemiroff explains.

Another one of his current research interests involves limiting attributes of our universe with distant gamma-ray bursts (aka GRB). “Gamma-ray bursts are the most powerful explosions known and it is now established that they are the only explosions that can be seen in the early universe,” he says. Nemiroff uses GRBs to probe how known local properties of physics hold up along these great distances.

As for Allen, one of her first jobs out of college was as a programmer. She stayed in IT her whole career and retired four years ago. “I missed science, however, and a few years before retiring is when I drifted into working in astronomy in my free time,” she says. Allen’s hobby soon turned into a faculty appointment in the Astronomy department at the University of Maryland.

Join us at Husky Bites to learn more. Everyone’s welcome. Be sure to bring your questions, too! Both Prof. Nemiroff and Ms. Allen are looking forward to the Q&A.

What creates a STEVE (a Strong Thermal Emission Velocity Enhancement, not an aurora)? This one is over Copper Harbor, Michigan. We’ll find out during Husky Bites. Image Credit & Copyright: MaryBeth Kiczenski

Prof. Nemiroff, how did you first get involved in science? What sparked your interest?

I have been interested in physics and astronomy since grade school. In second grade I demonstrated my interest by saying the names of the planets faster than anyone else in my class—back then that included Pluto!

Prof. Nemiroff and his family enjoy a hike along the Sturgeon River, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan

Hometown and family?

I grew up in Upper Moreland and Abington, both suburbs of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. My wife Holly works in the Portage Lake District Library. My daughter Eva studies writing at Sarah Lawrence College just north of New York City. 

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

I am a frequent player of noontime basketball in the SDC, known informally as “noonball”. (By coincidence, two other noonballers also spoke on Husky Bites this semester.) I am also a perennial season ticket holder to Michigan Tech’s basketball games. As far as pets go, our family has had as many as three cats, but now we are down to one.

“The hobby I spend the most time on is astronomy,” says Alice Allen. “We have the BEST solar system!!” (Pictured, Alice at her previous job in IT.)

Ms. Allen, how did you first get involved in science? What sparked your interest? 

My father worked at NASA, so there was space program talk at home, and my engineer-by-birth older brother was probably an early influence, too. Explosions that blow out the basement windows kind of catch a little sister’s attention. The natural world and science in general were always interesting to me. My academic background is actually biology. When I was a kid, I’d spend my Christmas money on models of the human body/body parts (including one similar to this Pumping Heart). I took all the bio I could when in high school, including microbiology and genetics. I had a chemistry set, and I begged for a telescope and eventually got one. 

Family and hometown?

I was born in Washington, DC and live in the Maryland suburbs of DC. I have one son; he lives in the Virginia suburbs of DC and is a senior software engineer.

Now this is one very cute tuxedo cat.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

The hobby I spend the most time on is astronomy; APOD is a fantastic resource for viewing and learning about the universe and really cool things we can all see just by looking up! In addition to working on the Astrophysics Source Code Library (ASCL), I’m involved in various efforts to improve research software and restore openness to science. I also like biking, reading, classical music, bird and nature-watching, and travel. I currently have one very cute tuxedo cat. 

Read more: 

The Best of the Best: 15 Years of the Astronomy Picture of the Day

The code librarian

In Search of … Time Travelers

Toward a continuous record of the sky


Engineering Graduate Students Place in 2021 3MT

This year’s Three Minute Thesis competition organized by the Graduate Student Government (GSG) of Michigan Tech had great participation both in person at The Orpheum Theater and virtually over Facebook Live. Twenty-eight participants competed at the MUB Ballroom for a place in the finals, held at The Orpheum Theater on Nov. 4.

After a very close competition, Priyanka Kadav, a PhD student from the Department of Chemistry, won first place.

Kadav’s presentation was titled “Capture and Release (CaRe): A novel protein purification technique.” She will go on to represent Michigan Tech at the regional levels of the competition.

The runner-up was Emily Shaw, a PhD student from the Department of Civil, Environmental, and Geospatial Engineering, with a presentation titled “Toxicity in Fish Tissue: Redefining our Understandings by Quantifying Mixture Toxicity.”

Yue (Emily) Kang from the Department of Mathematical Sciences department won the People’s Choice award with her presentation, titled “Robust numerical solvers for flows in fractured porous media.”

Other finalists were:

Each presentation was scored by a panel of judges from diverse academic backgrounds. The judges for the finals were:

  • Wallace Southerland III, Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students
  • Jim Baker, associate vice president for research administration
  • Marie Cleveland, a Michigan Tech alumna who was awarded the Alumni Association Outstanding Service Award in 2014

This year’s finals were also streamed live on GSG’s Facebook page and can be watched online.

GSG would also like to thank all the volunteers and The Orpheum Theater for making this event possible.

By Graduate Student Government.

Emily Shaw presenting at 3MT.
Emily Shaw presenting at 3MT.
Sunit Girdhar presenting at 3MT.
Sunit Girdhar presenting at 3MT.
Arman Tatar presenting at 3MT.
Arman Tatar presenting at 3MT.
Michael Maurer presenting at 3MT.
Michael Maurer presenting at 3MT.


Bo Chen: What’s next, NEXTCAR?

Bo Chen shares her knowledge on Husky Bites, a free, interactive webinar this Monday, November 15 at 6 pm ET. Learn something new in just 20 minutes (or so), with time after for Q&A! Get the full scoop and register at mtu.edu/huskybites.

Bo Chen is a Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Electrical Engineering at Michigan Tech. She’s been a visiting Professor at Argonne National Laboratory, and was named ASME Fellow in 2020.

What’s next, NEXTCAR? What are you doing for supper this Monday night 11/15 at 6 pm ET? Grab a bite with Dean Janet Callahan and Bo Chen, Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Electrical Engineering at Michigan Tech.

During Husky Bites, Prof. Chen and one of her former students, alum Dr. Joe Oncken, will share how engineers go about designing and creating the crucial elements of an all-electric vehicle ecosystem. Oncken earned his PhD at Michigan Tech—he’s now a postdoctoral researcher at Idaho National Lab.

Chen and her research team at Michigan Tech envision an all-electric future. They develop advanced control algorithms to build the nation’s electric vehicle charging infrastructure and highly efficient hybrid electric vehicles, integrating with advanced sensing technologies that allow for predictive control in real time. These technologies enable the kind of vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communication that will reduce our nation’s energy consumption. 

Drs. Chen and Oncken among the fleet, outside at the APSRC.

Throughout her career Chen has made major contributions in the field of embedded systems, developing cutting-edge applications for hybrid-electric and electric autonomous systems. 

One of Chen’s courses at Michigan Tech, Model-based Embedded Control System Design, is regularly in high demand, not only by ME students but also EE students. “This is a testament to her teaching ability and the importance of the topic,” says ME-EM department chair Bill Predebon.

Chen’s Intelligent Mechatronics and Embedded Systems Lab is located on the 5th floor of the ME-EM building. But she spends a good deal of time working on NEXTCAR research at the Advanced Power Systems Research Center (APSRC), located a few miles from campus near the Houghton Memorial Airport.

“Vehicles that are both connected and automated—two paradigm-shifting technologies—will soon become vital for the improvement of safety, mobility, and efficiency of our transportation systems.”

Bo Chen

In 2016 the Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects-Energy (ARPA-E) awarded $2.5M to Michigan Tech for NEXTCAR research. The project—led by ME-EM Professor Jeff Naber as PI and Co-PIs Chen, Darrell Robinette, Mahdi Shahbakhti, and Kuilin Zhang—developed and demonstrated their energy reduction technologies using a fleet of eight Gen II Chevy Volt plug-in-hybrid vehicles (aka PHEVs).

The team tested the fleet on a 24-mile test loop to showcase energy optimization, forecasting, and controls—including vehicle-to-vehicle communications.

“The rich information provided by connectivity—and the capability of on-board intelligent controls—are shifting the old way (reactive and isolated vehicle/powertrain control) to the new way (predictive, cooperative, and integrated vehicle dynamics and powertrain control),” Chen explains.

Michigan Tech’s NEXTCAR research delivers direct implementation of engineering solutions, tested within the realities of on-road conditions.

Oncken is a hands-on engineer, but not all of his graduate research at Michigan Tech was done under the hood of a hybrid-electric vehicle. In an effort to maximize fuel efficiency in the fleet’s Chevy Volts, he worked with Chen where the car’s digital and mechanical parts meet—powertrain control. He looked at future driving conditions, such as changing traffic lights, and modified the vehicle’s powertrain operation to use the minimum amount of fuel.

Working in Chen’s lab, Oncken used Simulink software to develop a model, specifically looking at predictive controller design. That means when a traffic signal turns red, a self-driving vehicle not only knows to stop, but also gets directions on the best way to slow down and minimize fuel use. 

All in a day’s work for Dr. Joe Oncken

Oncken would simulate this in the Simulink model, embed the program into the Chevy Volt, then test it using five upgraded traffic signals in Houghton that rely on dedicated short-range communication (DSRC) to talk directly to the car’s programming.

By the end of the NEXTCAR project, the Michigan Tech team had achieved a 21 percent reduction in energy consumption.

Dr. Chen with her graduate students at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

Now, with new funding from ARPA-E for NEXTCAR II, the team shifts to a broader application of vehicles with level 4 and 5 of autonomy. They will seek to reduce energy consumption by 30 percent this time in the hybrid Chrysler Pacifica and further apply the savings to the RAM 1500 and the Chevy Bolt—while also considering level 4 and 5 automation to gain efficiencies. 

Naber and Chen, along with Grant Ovist, Jeremy Bos, Darrell Robinette, Basha Dudekula and several more graduate students now work together on NEXTCAR II with another round of funding worth $4.5M. They’ll maintain vehicles in multiple locations, both on the Michigan Tech campus and at American Center for Mobility (ACM) for road testing. ACM is a partner in the project, along with Stellantis and GM.

Prof. Chen, how did you first get into engineering? What sparked your interest?

I was attracted by the power of automation and controls. It is currently affecting every aspect of our lives. I want to make contributions specifically to advance the automation technologies.

In her spare time, Dr. Chen likes to work out and travel. Here she’s in Horseshoe Bend, Arizona

Hometown, family?

I was raised in Shaoxing, Zhejiang province in China. I lived in Davis, California for 8 years while earning my PhD at the University of California-Davis. My daughter loves snowboarding and lives in New Jersey.

Dr. Oncken, where did you grow up?

I grew up with my parents and two sisters in Grand Forks, North Dakota. I earned my BS in Mechanical Engineering at the University of North Dakota in 2016. I came to Michigan Tech to earn my PhD soon after, and graduated in 2020.

How did you first get into engineering? What sparked your interest?

There wasn’t any one moment that made me decide to get into engineering. It was more of a process throughout my childhood. Growing up, I was always interested in how things work. My dad is very mechanically inclined so he was alway fixing things around the house and woodworking, so that launched my interest as a young kid. At that time he worked for John Deere, so I got to spend time sitting in tractors and combines, something that will spark any 5 year old’s interest in mechanical things. 

In high school, I also worked for a John Deere dealer. Another job I had involved the technical side (lighting, sound, and set building) of theater and concert productions. While these may seem like two different worlds, they both gave me a behind-the-scenes look at how machinery and large technical systems operate. Together they made me want to pursue a career where I’d be the one designing how things work. 

Finally, living in a university town, there were lots of opportunities to tour the University of North Dakota’s engineering school and see what students got to work on, opportunities that cemented my desire to go into engineering myself.

Joe, out on the Tech Trails.

Any hobbies? Pets?

My main hobby is anything outdoors. I spend my free time mountain biking in the summer, skiing in the winter—and hiking when I’m not doing one of the previous two things.

I also really enjoy cooking and wood working. I don’t currently have any pets, but I did grow up with dogs. I will have a dog of my own sooner rather than later!

Read More

Power Grid, Powertrain and the Models that Connect ThemMichigan Tech Automotive Energy Efficiency Research Receives Federal Award of $2.8 Million from US Department of Energy


Michigan Tech SWE Members Attend WE21 Conference

Student members of Michigan Tech’s section of the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) traveled to Indianapolis, Indiana, for the Society of Women Engineers WE21 Conference, held Oct. 21-23. 

MTU SWE attendees included Aerith Cruz, Lisa Downie, Sophie Owen, Katy Pioch, Veeraja Sohoni, Grace TenBrock, Julia Westfall, Abby Woodford and Conny Yang. They were accompanied by SWE advisor Gretchen Hein (MMET) and two SWENexters, Jenna Beaudoin and Chloe Daniels of Lake Linden-Hubbell High School.

The group members attended sessions on professional development and the Career Fair and enjoyed meeting with other professional and collegiate members.

Cruz was a workshop panelist for the “Zoomed In! Inspiring Youth through Virtual Programming” session, where she discussed how our SWE section held virtual outreach during the COVID pandemic.

Beaudoin and Daniels, along with Devon Ginn from the Madam Walker Legacy Center, held a workshop titled “Madam Walker: Entrepreneur and Woman of Color” on the life and achievements of Madam C.J. Walker, one of the first woman millionaires and an advocate for women and African Americans.

Hein was the moderator of a panel titled “Finishing Grad School? Need Assistance Obtaining an Academic Position?” where graduate students could get advice and feedback about their transition from graduate school to academia.

The SWE members also hosted a Tech alumni event for Huskies at the conference. Janet Callahan, dean of the College of Engineering, and Marney Kloote, director of advancement, attended as well.

Pioch said the conference was “one of the best experiences” she has had in SWE. “To be surrounded by so many successful, strong and encouraging women creates an atmosphere like no other,” Pioch said. “I had the chance to listen to women from many walks of life share their stories, career paths and advice over the course of three days.”

Meeting Tech alumni who have succeeded in their careers because of the experiences and knowledge they gained at Tech was another highlight for Pioch. “I really enjoy getting to know people who’ve been in our shoes and are excited to see the next generation of engineers and bright minds Tech is producing,” she said.

The closing keynote of the SWE conference was an inspiring talk by Patti Poppe, CEO of Pacific Gas & Electric. The keynote was the best part of the conference for Sophie Owen, MTU’s section president. “It was so inspiring to hear from a woman that is highly influential in the electric power industry, since this is the field I am interested in,” Owen said. “I also enjoyed getting to bond with my SWEsters over the weekend.”

“I want to also extend a thank-you to our generous corporate sponsor, Gerdau,” added Owen. “Without their support, attending this conference would not have been possible.”

According to Hein, Gerdau’s support allowed the nine women to attend the conference, meet with other people in technical fields and mentor two SWENexters during the trip.

By Gretchen Hein, Manufacturing and Mechanical Engineering Technology.


Sunit Girdhar, Steven Whitaker Receive 2021 INCE Awards

Two Michigan Tech graduate students were honored by The Institute of Noise Control Engineering (INCE) at their annual honors and awards ceremony recognizing outstanding service, research and activity in noise control.

Sunit Girdhar,
Sunit Girdhar

Sunit Girdhar, doctoral student in mechanical engineering-engineering mechanics, won both the inaugural INCE Student Scholarship and the Martin Hirschorn IAC Prize – Student Project.

Steven Whitaker, an electrical and computer engineering graduate student, received the 2021 Leo Beranek Student Medal for Excellence in Noise Control for Deep recurrent network for tracking an anthropogenic acoustics source in shallow water using a single sensor.

Dana Lodico, INCE-USA vice president, Honors and Awards Committee, applauded the winners. “This year’s winners should be incredibly proud of their achievements in noise control,” said Lodico. “Entries for INCE-USA Honors and Awards were very competitive, and we look forward to seeing how each winner continues to advance the noise control industry in their careers.” 

Read more about the awards on the INCE website.


Greg Odegard: Manned Mars Missions—New Materials

As NASA shifts its focus from low-earth orbit to deep space exploration, the agency is going to need building materials for vehicles, habitats, power systems and other equipment that are lighter and stronger than those available today. Pictured: NASA’s Curiosity Mars image at Mont Mercou, a rock outcrop that stands 20 feet tall. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Greg Odegard shares his knowledge on Husky Bites, a free, interactive webinar this Monday, November 8 at 6 pm ET. Learn something new in just 20 minutes (or so), with time after for Q&A! Get the full scoop and register at mtu.edu/huskybites.

What are you doing for supper this Monday night 11/8 at 6 pm ET? Grab a bite with Dean Janet Callahan and Greg Odegard, Professor of Mechanical Engineering-Engineering Mechanics at Michigan Tech. 

Dr. Greg Odegard is the John O. Hallquist Endowed Chair in Computational Mechanics at Michigan Tech.

It’s a bit of a conundrum. When sending humans into space for long periods of time, a significant amount of mass (food, water, supplies) needs to be put on the rockets that leave Earth. More mass in the rocket requires more fuel, which adds more mass and requires more fuel. Current state-of-the-art structural aerospace materials only add more mass, which requires—you guessed it—more fuel. 

During Husky Bites, Professor Greg Odegard will share how his team of researchers at Michigan Tech go about developing new ultra-light weight structural materials to significantly cut fuel costs for sending humans to Mars—and beyond.

Dr. Bill Predebon is the J.S. Endowed Department Chair in Mechanical Engineering–Engineering Mechanics at Michigan Tech

Joining in will be ME-EM department chair Bill Predebon. Dr. Predebon has been at Michigan Tech since 1975. That’s 46 years, and 24 years as department chair. He plans to retire this summer.

“Bill Predebon has been my mentor since I came to Michigan Tech in 2004. I have enjoyed working for him, and I am not ready for him to retire,” says Odegard. “I was extremely impressed with him during my job interview in 2003, which is one of the biggest reasons I came to Michigan Tech.”

In addition to teaching classes and mentoring students at Michigan Tech, Odegard leads the charge in developing a new lighter, stronger, tougher polymer composite for human deep space exploration, through the Ultra-Strong Composites by Computational Design (US-COMP) Institute.

The NASA-funded research project brings together 13 academia and industry partners with a range of expertise in molecular modeling,manufacturing, material synthesis, and testing, now in the final year of the five-year project. 

Pictured: Pre-machined fragments of a polybenzoxazine high-performance polymer in Dr. Odegard’s lab at Michigan Tech. This polymer can be used with carbon-nanotubes to form ultra-strong composites for deep-space applications.

US-COMP’s goal is to develop and deploy a carbon nanotube-based, ultra-high strength lightweight aerospace structural material within five years. And US-COMP research promises to have societal impacts on Earth as well as in space, notes Odegard. Advanced materials created by the institute could support an array of applications and benefit the nation’s manufacturing sector.

The material of choice, says Odegard: carbon. He specifically studies ultrastrong carbon-nanotube-based composites. But not all carbon is equal, notes Odegard. Soft sheets of graphite differ from the rigid strength of diamond, and the flexibility and electrical properties of graphene.

“In its many forms, carbon can perform in many ways. The tricky part with composites is figuring out how different materials interact,” he explains. 

Odegard and his research team use computational simulation—modeling—to predict what materials to combine, how much and whether they’ll stand up to the depths of space. “When we began developing these ultra-strong composites, we weren’t sure of the best starting fibers and polymers, but over time we started to realize certain nanotubes and resins consistently outperformed others,” says Odegard. “Through this period of development, we realized what our critical path to maximize performance would be, and decided to focus only on that, rather than explore the full range of possibilities.”

“I have the most fun working with my students and the broader US-COMP team. Our whole team is excited about the research and our progress, and this makes for some of the best research meetings I have experienced in my career.”

Dr. Greg Odegard

The challenge when working with carbon nanotubes is their structure, says Odegard. “Under the most powerful optical microscope you see a certain structure, but when you look under an SEM microscope you see a completely different structure,” he explains. “In order to understand how to build the best composite panel, we have to understand everything at each length scale.” 

The US COMP Institute has created dedicated experiments and computational models for the chosen carbon nanotube structure, something that must be done for each length scale, from the macro to the atomic.

As their project comes to a close, they’ve zeroed in how just how polymer can be used with carbon-nanotubes to form ultra-strong composites.


NASA’s Mars Curiosity rover took this mosaic image, looking uphill at Mount Sharp.

US-COMP PARTNERS

  • Florida A&M University
  • Florida State University
  • Georgia Institute of Technology
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • Pennsylvania State University
  • University of Colorado
  • University of Minnesota
  • University of Utah
  • Virginia Commonwealth University
  • Nanocomp Technologies
  • Solvay
  • US Air Force Research Lab
Professor Odegard up on Mt. Meeker, in Colorado where he grew up and earned his degrees.

“As a group we have been able to push the envelope way beyond where we started in 2017—expanding the performance in a very short time period,” says Odegard. “This was made possible through remarkable collaboration across the institute.”

Before Predebon convinced him to join the faculty at Michigan Tech, Odegard worked as a researcher at NASA Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia. Odegard’s research has been funded by NASA, the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, Mayo Clinic, Southwestern Energy, General Motors, REL, and Titan Tires. As a PI and co-PI, he has been involved in externally funded research projects totaling over $21 million. Odegard was a Fulbright Research Scholar at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology. In 2019 he was elected a Fellow of ASME, in recognition of his significant impact and outstanding contributions in the field of composite materials research.

The Odegard family enjoying their time together

Prof. Odegard, how did you first get into engineering? What sparked your interest?

Growing up, I always knew that I would be an engineer. I was always interested in airplanes and spacecraft. 

Hometown, family?

I grew up and went to college in the Denver area. I was already accustomed to snow when I moved to Michigan. 

Any hobbies? What do you do in your spare time?

In the summer, I enjoy running, mountain biking, hiking, basketball, and soccer. In the winter, I like cross-country skiing and downhill skiing. I also enjoy cooking, traveling, and anything fun with my family.

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

During my childhood my dad introduced me to model trains. We had a large 8ft x 4ft board with Lionel trains. I learned how they work and how to set it up. That sparked my interest in engineering.

Bill and Peter at Winter Carnival

Hometown, family?

I was born in Trenton, New Jersey. I had one brother, Peter, who is deceased now.  

What do you like to do in your spare time?

For most of my career at Michigan Tech my hobby has been my work. My work has absorbed my life, by choice. I have a real passion for our program. However, I do enjoy exercising, repairing things, and organic gardening. My wife, Maryanne, is very good; I just help. We have a peach tree, we have grown watermelon, we’ve grown cantaloupes, we’ve grown potatoes, her passion is pumpkins so we grow these large pumpkins—150 pounds.

“The way I look at my role is to nurture the growth of my faculty and staff, right along with our students. I want to help them all reach their potential.”

Dr. Bill Predebon

Read More:

Q&A with MTU Research Award Winner Gregory Odegard
NASA Taps Tech Professor to Lead $15 Million Space Technology Research Institute


External Research Awards More Than Triple for MTU Chemical Engineering

Negative-stained (false-colored) transmission electron micrograph (TEM) depicts the ultrastructural details of an influenza virus particle, or “virion”. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Using a three-year, $1.5 million R01 grant from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Michigan Technological University and Johns Hopkins University will create an “Integrated and Continuous Manufacturing of an Influenza Vaccine.” Michigan Tech Chemical Engineering Professor Caryn Heldt is PI on the project.

Professor Caryn Heldt

Current influenza vaccines are matched to strains circulating in the Southern hemisphere about 8 months prior to the North American flu season. “The approach we plan to take will allow the vaccine to better match the circulating strains in the US and be adaptable to change quickly, as needed,” Heldt explains. “The vaccine will also be safer, as it will not be made in eggs and could be taken by people with egg allergies.”

Heldt is a co-PI on another $ 1.4 million collaborative project with the University of Massachusetts and Clemson University, funded by NSF:DMREF, the National Science Foundation: Designing Materials to Revolutionize and Engineer our Future. The project, “A Computationally-driven Predictive Framework for Stabilizing Viral Therapies,” will provide insight into how to stabilize vaccines and reduce the need to store and transport vaccines at cold temperatures. Heldt is the James and Lorna Mack Endowed Chair of Cellular and Molecular Bioengineering at Michigan Tech.

Professor David Shonnard

Chemical Engineering Professor David Shonnard was recently awarded funding in the amount of $917,000 by the US Department of Energy’s Reducing EMbodied-Energy and Decreasing Emissions (REMADE) Manufacturing Institute. Shonnard is the Robbins Chair in Sustainable Use of Materials at Michigan Tech. The project, “Dynamic Systems Analysis of PET and Olefin Polymers in a Circular Economy” provides funding through the Sustainable Manufacturing Innovation Alliance.

“The total funding amount is cost-shared between REMADE and Michigan Tech, along with partners Idaho National Laboratory, Yale University, Chemstations Inc., and Resource Recycling Systems,” Shonnard explains. The project is expected to result in multiple positive impacts, including:

  • New process models and datasets for systems analysis of a circular economy for plastics
  • Optimized plastics circular economy designs to minimize emissions and costs
  • Case study applications to plastics circular economy designs for the state of Michigan
Dr. Pradeep Agrawal

“Along with my Michigan Tech colleagues, Robert Handler, Utkarsh Chaudhari, and David Watkins, and our external partners, we are excited to receive this award from REMADE,” adds Shonnard.

“Michigan Tech’s Chemical engineering program has external funding through a number of federal agencies, including DARPA, ARPA-E, DOE, NSF, NIH/FDA, EPA, and NASA,” says Pradeep Agrawal, chair of the Department of Chemical Engineering. “Our research facilities, including equipment and support staff, are on par with top-tier research universities across the country. Michigan Tech provides the flexibility needed to engage in collaborative research both internally as well as externally,” notes Agrawal. “A combination of individual PI grants and multi-PI grants has put the chemical engineering program on a strong research trajectory.”

Janet Callahan, Dean, College of Engineering at Michigan Tech

“The Chemical Engineering department has more than tripled their external research awards over the past four years, and is actively hiring faculty at all levels,” says Janet Callahan, Dean of the College of Engineering at Michigan Tech. “We are building a culturally-diverse faculty committed to teaching and scholarship in a multicultural and inclusive environment, and we seek faculty members and academic leadership who share these values.”

Michigan Technological University is a public research university founded in 1885 in Houghton, Michigan, and is home to more than 7,000 students from 55 countries around the world. Consistently ranked among the best universities in the country for return on investment, the campus is situated just miles from Lake Superior in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, offering year-round opportunities for outdoor adventure.


Michigan Tech Engineering Students at COP26

Six Michigan Tech students and three alumni will help lead events and a press conference at the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) in Glasgow, Scotland.

As part of the Youth Environmental Alliance in Higher Education (YEAH), a multidisciplinary research and education network of students and faculty from 10 universities across four continents, MTU representatives will help showcase the “Voices of Optimism, Agents of Change” event and exhibit. They will also participate in a press conference Nov. 3 at 11:30 a.m. ET.

Participating engineering students are:

Read more about engineering students at COP26 in Michigan Tech Press Releases.


Richelle Winkler: The Sustainability Demonstration House

Michigan Tech student residents of the Sustainability Demonstration House work side by side with Michigan Tech’s student-run Alternative Energy Enterprise to showcase sustainable living. It’s extraordinarily rewarding, successful, and fun (even with several feet of snow on the ground).

Richelle Winkler shares her knowledge on Husky Bites, a free, interactive webinar this Monday, November 1 at 6 pm ET. Learn something new in just 20 minutes (or so), with time after for Q&A! Get the full scoop and register at mtu.edu/huskybites.

What are you doing for supper this Monday night 11/1 at 6 pm ET? Grab a bite on Zoom with Dean Janet Callahan and Richelle Winkler, professor of Sociology and Demography—and advisor to students living in Michigan Tech’s Sustainability Demonstration House (SDH for short). “I took over as faculty advisor for the SDH just this fall,” she says. “I worked with Jay Meldrum (then executive director of sustainability at Michigan Tech) to start the House back in 2016 and 2017. I’m excited now to be more involved.”

Professor Richelle Winkler

Michigan Tech’s Sustainability Demonstration House is a residential learning environment where students test and practice sustainability in their daily lives. The SDH began in 2016 as a project by the student-run Alternative Energy Enterprise, with the goal of retrofitting the Kettle Gundlach house, a three-floor abode, built in 1953 by Herman “Winks” Gundlach (and a former residence for past presidents of Michigan Tech) into a net-zero energy, zero-waste house. 

In 2017 Michigan Tech students took residence and started retrofitting the three-floor abode to make it more sustainable. The SDH mission is to constantly innovate and design new additions that reduce the environmental impact of the house while also educating the MTU campus and larger community on sustainability.

Abbey Herndon: “This is my third semester living in the sustainability house. Some of my main sustainability interests are reducing waste and educating others on sustainability habits. I love finding new and creative ways to avoid waste or repurpose it.“

During Husky Bites, two current residents will take us on a tour of the house. Abbey Herndon ‘23, a sustainable bioproducts major and SDH coordinator, and Kendra Lachcik ’23, an environmental engineering major and SDH resident—will share improvements they’ve made, how living in the SDH impacts their lives, and what they’ve found to be opportunities and challenges for reducing our residential environmental footprints.

That includes toothbrush recycling. Community outdoor yoga sessions. An annual Earth Day dinner. Vertical hydroponics. Volunteering at local farms. Bird window strike prevention. Practicing Eco Sabbaths—and much more.

Kendra Lachcik: “This is also my second semester living in the SDH. I enjoy collaborating (and goofing off) with my housemates, upkeeping all of the house systems, and making my own improvements to the house. Sustainability, especially on a small-scale, is all about being creative.””

Over the past four years the house has been equipped with a 8.6 kWh solar array, two composting systems, aquaponics, hydroponics, a rain barrel, energy-efficient appliances, low-flow faucets, LED lights, and a bee hive. In addition, the tenants of the house strive to educate the community on sustainability through open houses, workshops, tours, the Waste Reduction Drive, and many other initiatives.

A beehive in the SDH backyard

“I’ve been extremely passionate about environmental issues for a very long time,” says Lachcik. “I’ve been on a journey to reduce my environmental impact as much as possible, while encouraging those around me to do the same. The SDH has served as an amazing opportunity to do both of those things.”

When she’s not advising SDH, Prof. Winkler’s teaching and research include migration, community-engaged scholarship, and environmental sustainability.

“Most of my work here at Michigan Tech is guided by a concern about spatial inequalities—the fact that life and well-being is better in some places than others,” says Winkler. “I see these things as interrelated. Social and environmental well-being complement one another. Migration is both a cause and a consequence of socio-ecological well-being. People move toward places they see as good, or at least better than where they are coming from. So migration can serve as a sort of indicator of where things are going well. At the same time, both in-migration and out-migration can impact community development in positive and negative ways. It’s a circular pattern.”

Community-engaged research just puts the whole pattern into practice, says Winkler. “I really enjoy seeing how these things play out on the ground and working directly with community groups who are working to improve conditions.”

Dr. Winkler gives a community presentation on the US Census. Photo credit: Garrett Neese/Daily Mining Gazette

Prof. Winkler, When was the moment you knew sociology was the field for you?

When I went to college, I didn’t know what I wanted to do for my career. I was curious about just about everything. I took a sociology class and learned that it was possible to study just about anything from a sociological perspective. This meant I didn’t have to choose! I also wanted a career where I could help people and make a positive difference in the world, and it seemed to me then (and still) that sociology is a field where I could focus on that.

Hometown, family?

I grew up in Rush and Shelby counties in Indiana, between Indianapolis and Cincinnati. Most of my cousins, aunts and uncles still live in that area today, and it still feels like home. My immediate family and I (husband and two kids, ages 9 and 12) have lived in Houghton for over a decade now, and we love it here. 

Any hobbies? What do you do in your spare time?

I love exploring natural areas across the Keweenaw and beyond, mostly hiking, visiting beaches and rock hunting, and mountain biking with my dog (Opal) and with family and friends. I also love sports, especially volleyball which I’ve played and coached for almost my entire life. I cheer on my alma mater (the Wisconsin Badgers!) and have grown pretty attached to the Packers, spending the last twenty years in Wisconsin and the UP. 

SDH hosts a community yoga session.

Abbey, how did you first get into sustainability? What sparked your interest?

My family has a few engineers. Growing up they told me I always had a problem-solving mindset and I enjoyed engineering topics so I pursued it. However, during my second year studying engineering I switched to Sustainable Bioproducts. This course of study strongly fits my career goals. So far, I have thoroughly enjoyed my new path and am excited for what I will be able to do with it. 

Hometown, family?

I grew up in Appleton, Wisconsin with one older brother. I’ve always had a small family, which I enjoy because I get to see everyone often. 

What do you like to do in your spare time?

I enjoy traveling, trying new things, and various forms of creating art. In my free time I like to be outdoors getting exercise. I’ve also got four cats and a pug named Dave.

SDH invites campus to an Earth Day Special Dinner each year.

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

I’m a very hands-on person and science has always been my favorite school subject, so engineering seemed like a natural fit. In high school, I participated in a program called “Science Olympiad.” Two of my favorite events involved constructing a wind turbine and building a Rube Goldberg machine. Engineering is all about applying science and technology to the real world, which I think is pretty darn cool. 

Hometown, family? Hobbies?

I’m originally from Chicago, IL and have two younger brothers. I’m into figure skating, dancing, running, exploring places, cooking vegan food, and doing all those things with lovely people.

Michigan Tech students have transformed a former residence for past presidents into the ever-evolving, net-zero energy, zero-waste Sustainability Demonstration House.

Read more:

This Old House Teaches U.P. Residents, and an Appliance Manufacturer, New TricksMaking it Personal: Richelle Winkler Wins Distinguished Teaching Award


Alumni Gift of Advanced 3D Metal Printer Now Up and Running at Michigan Tech

One of the first test prints on Michigan Tech’s new 3D metal printer: intricate little fish.

A gift from Alumni, Michigan Tech’s highly-advanced 3D metal printer—a 3D Systems ProX350—arrived last March. It’s now up and running, able to process 11 unique metals, including bio-grade titanium (for biomedical applications), cobalt and chromium, several types of stainless steel, and more. With a resolution of 5 microns, this new large printer is state-of-the-art. 

Obtaining the new 3D printer was made possible by the generosity of Michigan Tech alumni. ME-EM Department Chair Bill Predebon received a 20 percent discount on the $875K system from Scarlett Inc. The owner of Scarlett Inc, Jim Scarlett, is a mechanical engineering alumnus. 

In addition to Scarlett, several other alumni donors pitched in. One anonymous donor provided over $600K , and five others have made up the difference to meet the full cost of $673K. Those five are: Ron Starr, John Drake, Frank Agusti, Todd Fernstrum, and Victor Swanson.

ME-EM department chair Bill Predebon and mechanical engineering alum Jim Scarlett

“Very few universities have a 3D metal printer of this quality and versatility,” says Predebon. “It is one of the most accurate metal 3D printers available. With approximately a 1-ft. cube size billet, which is an impressive size billet, you can make a full-size or scaled-down version of just about anything,” says Predebon.

“We can use our own metal powders, as well,” adds Predebon. “That’s a huge plus. Michigan Tech researchers, particularly those focused on materials development, can use the printer to deposit experimental metal compositions to produce unique metal alloys customized specifically for the 3D printing process.”

Faculty and graduate students at Michigan Tech will have access to the 3D metal printer for research projects. Undergraduate students working on senior design projects and student-run Enterprise teams will, too.

The process is direct metal printing, or DMP, and it’s a type of additive manufacturing, Predebon explains. “You start with metal powders, and from those you create the final metal part. You’re adding a material—in this case, metal—bit by bit. Traditional manufacturing is all about subtracting: taking metal away to make a part. This is the inverse, and it’s a game changer. You can do so much more this way.”

“For many industries—including medical, automotive and aerospace—3D metal printing is a game changer. Here on campus it will be a game changer for Michigan Tech faculty and students, too.” 

William Predebon, Chair, Mechanical Engineering-Engineering Mechanics

Very few universities yet have a system with this sophistication and quality, notes Predebon. 

The benefit for Michigan Tech students, Predebon says, is competitive advantage. “When our students interview for a job, they will be able to communicate how they’ve been able to produce parts in a way very similar to what industry is doing. Some companies have metal 3D printers worth millions of dollars. In industry, engineers can use one of those to print out an entire engine block,” he says. “When Michigan Tech graduates see one on out in industry, the 3D metal printer might be larger, but they will already be familiar with the type of system.”

According to Materials Science and Engineering Professor Steve Kampe, development of additive manufacturing of metals represents a huge opportunity that will be prominent in manufacturing for generations to come. “It is a transformative technology in engineering,” says Kampe. “Using 3D printing to create metallic components poses huge challenges; but the potential benefits are enormous.”

“Metal additive manufacturing along with polymer additive processes are industry 4.0 topics included in Michigan Tech’s online graduate certificate in Manufacturing Engineering,” adds Professor John Irwin, chair of the Department of Manufacturing and Mechanical Engineering Technology. “It is very fortunate for us to have this metal 3D printer here on campus. We’ll use it to demonstrate additive manufacturing design principles and view product purpose: form, fit, and function. 

Michigan Tech’s new metal 3D printer is located on campus in the Minerals and Materials Engineering (M&M) Building. The location in Room 117, is near several other 3D polymer printers. For more information on using the new printer, contact MSE Research Engineer Russ Stein.

Take A Virtual Tour of Our 3D Metal Printer

https://www.mtu.edu/unscripted/2021/10/be-brief-metal.html