Author: Kim Geiger

Meet Brett Hamlin, Engineering Fundamentals Interim Department Chair

Brett Hamlin, a Michigan Tech mechanical engineering alumnus, now leads the Department of Engineering Fundamentals

The College of Engineering at Michigan Technological University is pleased to announce Dr. Brett Hamlin as interim chair of the Department of Engineering Fundamentals.

Hamlin grew up in Stillwater, Minnesota, and earned a BS in Mechanical Engineering and a PhD in Mechanical Engineering, both at Michigan Tech.

He first joined Michigan Tech as a lecturer in the Department of Engineering Fundamentals in 1998. He is a senior lecturer as well as previous assistant chair in the department.

Hamlin’s teaching interests include graphics, visualization, solid mechanics, design, and thermo sciences. His research interests include educational methods, spatial visualization, heat transfer, and biomechanics. 
 

“I’m excited about this opportunity. I hope to continue to work with the dedicated faculty of the department and continue to push the boundaries of excellence in engineering education.”

Brett Hamlin, Interim Chair, Engineering Fundamentals


“I am delighted that Dr. Hamlin will be Interim Chair of Engineering Fundamentals, joining the leadership team of the college,” added Janet Callahan, Dean of the College of Engineering. “His passion for first year teaching and learning, and his administrative experience strongly prepare him for this leadership role.”

Hamlin serves as faculty advisor for Michigan Tech’s student-run GEAR Enterprise team. The focus of GEAR (General & Expedition Adventure Research) is to design, model, test, prototype, and manufacture a wide variety of goods and equipment used in recreational outdoor and commercial expedition endeavors. Hamlin was a longtime advisor for Michigan Tech’s SAE Baja Enterprise. He also serves as an instructor in the Department of Kinesiology and Integrative Physiology—teaching Outdoor Emergency Care.

A former top Nordic skier, Hamlin is a senior level member of the Ski Patrol, qualified on both snowboard and Alpine skis. He is active in the local mountain biking scene, and on any given weekend you will find the entire Hamlin family out and about, either biking, skiing, hiking, camping, or climbing.

“I like to solve problems and brainteasers, and engineering is just like solving brainteasers in real life.”

Brett Hamlin

Previous department chair, Associate Professor Jon Sticklen, returns to faculty ranks. His focus has broadened to include STEM education research and teaching. He also plans to collaborate with Michigan Tech’s Department of Cognitive Learning and Sciences in its effort to develop a new undergraduate major, Human Factors.

Interested in meeting or talking with Prof. Brett Hamlin? Feel free to reach out via email or stop by his office at 112 Dillman.


Gordon Parker: Control Systems—Math in Motion

Three meters wide x 10 meters long. Eight paddles One-sided glass panel for easy visibility. Can you guess what this is?

Gordon Parker shares his knowledge on Husky Bites, a free, interactive webinar this Monday, August 3 at 6 pm EST. Learn something new in just 20 minutes, with time after for Q&A! Get the full scoop and register at mtu.edu/huskybites.

What do machines that move all have in common? Control systems that coordinate the machines. 

Can you recognize a control system when you see one? How about a controlled dynamic system? Well, after 20 minutes with Professor Gordon Parker, John & Cathi Drake Endowed Chair in Mechanical Engineering, you will. And then some…

“My most important and satisfying professional objective is sharing my passion for dynamics and controls with students,” says Dr. Gordon Parker.

“I’ve been working on control system theory and design for (gulp) 32 years with applications such as rockets, spacecraft, ships, cranes, ground vehicles, microgrids, wave energy converters, and more,” says Gordon. “I love working with students and colleagues to field control systems—the bigger, the better.”

Last April, our own Gordon Parker became one of just four instructors at Michigan Tech to receive the inaugural Provost’s Award for Sustained Teaching Excellence. The award brings special recognition to instructors who have been nominated as finalists for the Distinguished Teaching Award four or more times.

Mike Agostini knows firsthand Parker’s effective teaching and mentoring. Nowadays, Agostini is a senior manager of application engineering at The MathWorks in Boston. Back in 2001, he was a graduate student working with Parker to design control strategies for large boom cranes mounted on ships at sea.

“The goal was to minimize vibration from inputs,” explained Agostini. “Inputs could come from operator commands or from ship motion. We injected crane commands on top of the ship-induced motion to minimize vibration of the payloads. The payloads could be 30-plus tons, in containers 40 feet on a side. The chance for uncontrolled swing to damage property or lives was significant. It is for this reason that ship cranes traditionally have been limited to operating in very calm seas,” he says.

Example of a crane operation on a ship.

“The most enjoyable aspect was the tool building,” adds Agostini. “We had both a ship crane (on the ship) as well as a scale model crane at Sandia National Labs. But the utility of using them for day-to-day research was limited. They were simply too expensive and difficult to access regularly. So we built high-fidelity models, and took the algorithms we built and tested in software to the hardware.

“It was and incredible feeling to be on a crane ship rolling back and forth 14 degrees and see a huge 35 meter boom crane automatically actuating to compensate. So much steel and hardware under command of software and algorithms you helped design,” says Agostini. “But better than that was working with Dr. Gordon Parker. He really helped me mature as an engineer. His mentoring has helped make me the person I am today.”

Nowadays, Parker still specializes in control system design, and a key area of his research is the optimal control of microgrids. A microgrid is a local energy grid with control capability, which means it can disconnect from the traditional grid and operate autonomously, or independently.

Underwater robots and autonomous vehicles rely on battery power. When working in the middle of the ocean or other large body of water, charging sources aren’t readily available. Parker is developing a solution for this problem, tapping into the energy that comes from ocean waves.

Parker and his research team work on providing an energy source through a floating microgrid system, or a marine energy grid. “We’re developing control strategies that bridge the gap between the theoretical models and the realistic conditions you find on the ocean,” Parker explains.

Using the wave tank on the Michigan Tech campus, Parker pairs machine learning with model predictive control to help engineers measure key parameters accurately and predict wave energy converter (WEC) behavior. (Hey, and Yes, there is a wave tank in the basement of the R.L. Smith Building, with state-of-the-art instrumentation for WEC studies. Wave tanks create reproducible wave fields to aid the understanding of the motion of submerged and partially submerged bodies, such as underwater vehicles, ships, and WECs.

Michigan Tech’s Wave Tank research facility is located in the Department of Mechanical Engineering-Engineering Mechanics. Among its key uses: developing control systems for wave power, capturing the energy of waves in the ocean, or other large bodies of water.

“There’s a spectrum of wave energy converter systems in development right now. And there’s an opportunity in controlling these systems in interesting and sophisticated ways,” says Parker.

How? “In a control scheme, we look up a device, harmonize with the wave field, and resonate. With reinforcement learning, we can look at what is happening in the wave field and other wave energy converters in the array and try different controls. Our system is penalized if it doesn’t perform well and rewarded if it does,” says Parker.

Wave Energy Converters (WECS) are devices with moving elements directly activated by the cyclic oscillation of waves to harvest energy from ocean waves. Power is extracted by converting the kinetic energy of these displacing parts into electric current.

“We are analyzing the potential of exploiting the interactions between converters in compact arrays. After small scale tank testing we could potentially look at testing in the Great Lakes,” says Parker. 

Michigan Tech students are heavily involved in the research through senior design projects—developing a wave tank testing model of a wireless WEC. And a research team in Parker’s research lab, the Intelligent Systems and Control Laboratory, is creating a WEC array that extracts maximum power.

Another look at the Michigan Tech Wave Tank. Want to see and hear it? Check out the video link at the end of this post.

“These control schemes and marine energy grids have applications beyond refueling unoccupied underwater vehicles,” says Parker. “They can be applied to environmental sensing, too.” That includes monitoring meteorological conditions, sea-water chemical/physical properties, tsunamis and storm surges, fish and other marine life, coastal and sea-floor conditions.

There are microgrids on land, too, of course, and space. Parker is an expert on microgrids of all kinds. At Michigan Tech, he co-founded the Agile and Interconnected Microgrid (AIM) Center to bring together faculty from across campus—Computer Science, Mathematics, Cognitive Sciences and Learning, Electrical and Computer Engineering and Mechanical Engineering—to form an interdisciplinary team. AIM now has 18 researchers spanning seven academic units whose customers include NSF, ONR, NAVSEA, ARL, TARDEC, AFRL, DOE, and Sandia National Laboratories.

When he’s not teaching undergraduates, advising senior design teams, or mentoring graduate students, Parker is creating content for his popular, 64 segment, open source, video series on control system analysis and design. The series is used internationally by students on YouTube.

Before coming to Michigan Tech, Parker was a research fellow at Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where he developed systems for large angle spacecraft reorientation and fault-tolerant robots. He also worked as an aerospace engineer for General Dynamics Space Systems in San Diego, California, designing trajectories for new launch vehicle systems.

Parker earned a PhD in Mechanical Engineering at SUNY Buffalo, an MS in Aerospace Engineering at the University of Michigan, and a BS in Systems Engineering at Oakland University.

Dr. Parker, when did you first get into engineering? What sparked your interest?

My passion for control systems first occurred in a single, identifiable moment. I was in the third year of my undergrad studies in a class similar to a course at Michigan Tech, Dynamic Systems (MEEM 3750). This is where we learned about differential equation modeling of mixed physics systems—motors, masses, and springs. I was looking out the window at the tree branches swaying in the breeze. (Okay, perhaps I should have been paying attention to the Prof., but the truth is what it is.) That’s when it clicked. The motion of the branches, vibration, was similar to what we were learning—and it could be modeled with math and then controlled.

At that point I was hooked on the notion of using math to predict how things respond to being poked—including machines, the stock market, etc.—and then devising control systems to make them do what you want. By the way, in theory, this should work with people, but I’ve not cracked that nut.

Hometown, Hobbies, Family?

My most important and satisfying professional objective is sharing my passion for dynamics and controls with students—from application-focused undergraduate courses to theory-laced graduate-level material. Hopefully some of that sticks, and is multiplied through their achievements, both professionally and personally.

I’ve been at Michigan Tech for 24 years now, while raising two wonderful kids with my wife, Karen. We now live in the woods outside of town enjoying the wildlife (not the wild life), fitness (usually followed by physical therapy), baking bread, and exploring the esoteric features of MATLAB/Simulink.

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Michigan Technological University Compact 3D Wave Flume



Audra Morse: Two Triangles Don’t Make a Right

Dr. Audra Morse is focused on water, especially the fate of microplastics in water. When she’s not busy leading the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Michigan Technological University, that is.

Are you heading to college soon to study engineering, or thinking about it? Please join us tonight, Tuesday, July 28 at 6 pm EST for Tips and Tricks from Three Chairs and a Dean, our free interactive Zoom short course. We’d like to show you all the tips and tricks we wish someone had shown us, back when we were all starting out. 

This week the focus is on triangles. Dr. Audra Morse, chair of the Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering at Michigan Tech will be talking triangles. “High school geometry topics you never knew you needed will be put into context to solve engineering problems,” she says. “I’ll provide more engineering survival tips along the way.”

Join us at FB Live on the College of Engineering FB page, or go to the Zoom session (so you can participate in the Q&A).

Grab some supper, or just flop down on your couch. Know someone who might be interested? Feel free to bring or refer a friend. Everyone’s welcome! Get the full scoop and Zoom link at mtu.edu/huskybites.

The Morse Family! They once lived in Texas. Now Dr. Audra Morse (Civil and Environmental Engineering) and Dr. Steve Morse (Department of Mechanical Engineering) make their home at Michigan Tech.

Dr. Morse, when did you first get into engineering? What sparked your interest?

I chose to pursue engineering because I like science. I knew I did not want to be a doctor or a nurse. I did not think a biology or chemistry degree was for me. Engineering allowed me to combine my love of science with math, and make a difference in the world we live in.

Hometown, Family, Hobbies?

I grew up in Spring, Texas, which is just north of Houston. I attended Texas Tech and worked there before moving to Houghton. I have two boys and a wonderful husband. In my spare time I like to paint and walk my loving vizsla and a rowdy german short hair. My hero is Mary Poppins. 


Steve Kampe: Hey, there’s MSE in Your Golf Bag!

True or false: When it comes to golf, it’s not the swing that matters the most—it’s the materials used to make the club. (Ah, unfortunately, false.)


Steve Kampe shares his knowledge on Husky Bites, a free, interactive webinar this Monday, July 27 at 6 pm EST. Learn something new in just 20 minutes, with time after for Q&A! Get the full scoop and register at mtu.edu/huskybites.

“The sporting goods industry has a history of using materials as an enticing means to market new products and breakthroughs,” says Steve Kampe, Franklin St. John Professor and Chair of the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at Michigan Tech. “I’m always interested in what materials they uncover, and the marketing strategies they use.”

Kampe likes to use clubs in his golf bag as examples of how materials are designed, and how they work. “There’s fun in finding material science in everyday objects. Everything has to be made out of something,” adds Kampe. “The question is out of what—and how do we make it?”

“Where there are breakthroughs in new products and solutions, chances are an MSE is hard at work, often behind the scenes, at its root source,” says Steve Kampe, professor and chair of the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at Michigan Tech.

These are the questions engineers at Michigan Tech have been asking since the university’s founding in 1885, and the task that graduates from the (MSE) department have excelled at since its inception as one of the two founding departments at the Michigan School of Mines in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. 

Back then, the department was known as Metallurgy, and its focus was on ways to extract valuable metals, such as copper or iron, from their naturally occurring states within minerals and underground deposits.  

Today, the discipline of materials science and engineering finds ways to use the fundamental physical origins of a material’s behavior in order to optimize its properties. “The invention of a new material could turn out to be a vital part of the solution to many of the challenges we now face,” notes Kampe.

“Since the beginning of recorded history, materials have been used to define our civilizations—and the evolutionary milestones associated with quality of life,” he explains.

“From the stone age to the bronze and iron ages, the materials and the human innovations that addressed the world’s challenges during those time periods, have been inextricably linked. Even today, our ability to address global challenges are heavily reliant on the materials that define our current generation,” he says.

“A lot hinges on the wisdom we possess in implementing in use of materials, and, increasingly, in their re-use.”

Contemporary materials science engineers (MSE’s) not only work with metals and alloys, but also with ceramics and glasses, and with polymers and elastomers. They work with composites, materials for electronic, magnetic and optical applications, and many other emerging materials and processes such as 2-D graphene, nanomaterials and biomaterials. Emerging materials include those for 3D printing (or additive manufacturing), smart materials, specialized sensors, and more.

A ceramic crucible in the Michigan Tech Foundry, containing molten
iron at approx. 1200°C.

“For example, MSEs are prominent in the conception and development of new battery technologies, as well as new lightweight materials that make cars and airplanes more fuel-efficient and reduce their CO2 footprint. MSEs are also involved in the development of new materials for the hydrogen economy, photovoltaics for sustainable solar energy, and materials that can convert kinetic energy into electrical and/or magnetic energy.

“The materials we use in our lives have a huge impact on our long term quality of life—and a huge impact on our ability to someday attain a circular economy and a sustainable world,” adds Kampe.

“Right now, today, we have the tools and data we need to make more intelligent decisions about the materials we use⁠ — to decide which materials, even some not yet invented, that would make the biggest difference. Our goal is to reduce or eliminate our dependence on unsustainable solutions.”

Despite its central importance to all engineering endeavors, MSE as a discipline is relatively small compared to other engineering disciplines such as mechanical, electrical, civil, and chemical engineering. 

Polished surface of ductile cast iron. Micrograph by MSE graduate Dan Frieberg.

“It’s one of the best aspects of being an MSE,” says Kampe. “Class sizes are small, so students are able to build strong networks with classmates, faculty, staff—and with like-minded colleagues from other universities and companies from around the world. Our small size also enables collaborative environments with lots of personal interaction and one-on-one mentoring.”

Not only is Kampe a member of the Michigan Tech faculty, he is also an alumnus, earning a Bachelor’s, Master’s and a PhD in Metallurgical Engineering, all from Michigan Tech. He joined academia after working in the corporate research laboratory for a major aerospace company where scientists and engineers developed new products and technologies for the company’s future. He spent 17 years as an MSE professor at Virginia Tech, before coming full circle back to Michigan Tech.

Microstructure of demagnetized neodymium iron boron (Nd2Fe14B) alloy showing magnetic domain contrast within individual grains; an optical micrograph using polarized illumination. Micrograph by MSE graduate Matt Tianen.


At Michigan Tech, the MSE department manages the university’s suite of scanning electron and transmission electron microscopes, including a unique, high resolution scanning transmission FEI Titan Themis, which all students use, even as undergraduates.

Can you guess what this is? Hint: it’s not a snowflake. A dendrite in an as-cast Zn-Ag alloy. Micrograph by Ehsan Mostaed, post-doctoral research associate.


Have you ever put one of your own golf clubs under a high-powered microscope? Would you ever allow a student, a Michigan Tech alum, or even a community member to do something like that?

Sure. Bring one in. We’ll chop it up and take a good look at it.

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

I grew up in Williamston, outside of East Lansing, downstate Michigan. My dad had degrees in agricultural and mechanical engineering, so life on Trailmark Farm was pretty much a hands-on engineering operation. For as long as I can remember, getting an engineering degree was pretty much a given for me—I just didn’t know where it would be from. My two older brothers went to Michigan Tech for engineering and really liked it, so Tech became the obvious destination for me, too. My individuality was manifested by my choice to pursue metallurgical engineering, which has close ties to chemistry and the sciences, my favorite subjects in high school. Perhaps I was also influenced by all the fracture surfaces I created during my time growing up on the farm.

Family and Hobbies?

All four siblings in my family (two brothers, a sister, and me) went to Tech. From those original four, there have been eight additional Huskies from the Kampe clan—three spouses including Associate Provost Jean Kampe; our son, Frank (BS Marketing); a niece and nephew, and two first cousins.

I enjoy spending time outdoors hiking, biking, snowshoeing, and especially tending to the chores on the small farm up near Quincy Mine in Hancock where Jean and I live— growing flowers and harvesting the fruit. In winter, I follow the Huskies, both hockey and basketball. I also skate twice a week in (faculty-rich) hockey gatherings.

And yes, I enjoy golfing but have been denied this passion for the past few years due to a prolonged shoulder injury.

Read more

Universities the World Needs: Michigan Tech MSE
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Advanced Metalworks Enterprise
MakerMSE


Remembering Roger Kieckhafer


By Glen Archer, Interim Chair, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering

Roger cared deeply for his students, his family, and his profession. I think that may be the source we can draw upon to comfort our own sense of sadness and grief. The impact he had on hundreds of lives will shine on.

Professor Roger Kieckhafer was an inventor, engineer, researcher, educator, veteran and valued faculty member at Michigan Technological University. He died on Friday, July 17 in a tragic vehicle-bicycle accident. He was 69.

The loss to the faculty and staff in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and the College of Engineering is immense. We will not recover quickly from the shock of his death.

Roger received his Bachelor’s degree in nuclear engineering from the University of Wisconsin Madison in 1974 and earned his Master’s and PhD in electrical engineering from Cornell University in 1982 and 1983, respectively. The years between were spent in service to the United States Navy as a Nuclear Officer aboard the Trident missile submarine USS Abraham Lincoln. He also supervised the construction of the USS Indianapolis. His time in industry was also well spent, producing several patents that were licensed to Allied Signal, now Honeywell Corporation.

Roger was fond of classical music, particularly opera, and sang in the Copper Country Chorale, often accompanied by his daughter, Maggie, on organ. He also sang in the prestigious Pine Mountain Music Festival, including the premiere of the opera Rockland, based on the story of the 1906 miner strike in Rockland, Michigan.

Roger was instrumental in creating the computer engineering degree program at Michigan Tech. Working with Linda Ott in the Department of Computer Science in the College of Sciences and Arts, he bridged the gap between two departments in two separate colleges, crafting a program that educated hundreds—a new breed of engineer steeped in both worlds.

Even after the development of the computer engineering program, Roger’s collaboration with the Department of Computer Science continued. “We worked together on a strategic hiring initiative, multiple curricular issues, reorganization discussions and countless other issues,” said Dr. Linda Ott, Chair of the Department of Computer Science. “Roger was always supportive. He clearly believed that we would have stronger programs working together rather than competing.”

Roger was a strong advocate for the ABET accreditation process in the ECE department. He led the initial ABET accreditation of the Computer Engineering program. The procedures and processes he set in place then are still in play nearly 20 years later, guiding the department’s subsequent accreditation for both its electrical engineering and computer engineering degrees.

In the words of Computer Engineering faculty member Kit Cischke, “For Roger, it always boiled down to what was best for our students. The content of our classes. The things our students needed to know to get good jobs. The assignments. The kinds of things they needed to do in the real world. Students were forever contacting Roger after graduation, saying, ‘Thanks for teaching me that. I’m using it every day in my job.’”

Over the past few days, Roger’s former students have reached out to express their grief and sadness. They have shared how much Roger meant to them during their time at Michigan Tech and how well he prepared them for the success they enjoy today. One of those students was Joseph Rabaut. In his words, “I can’t tell you how devastated I am. Dr. Kieckhafer was an amazing person and one of the best professors at Tech. He helped me a lot throughout the past few years, giving me advice and recommendations, and helping me understand computer engineering. I don’t really know what else to say, because words can’t really describe losing him.”

Roger cared deeply for his students, his family, and his profession. I think that may be the source we can draw upon to comfort our own sense of sadness and grief. The impact he had on hundreds of lives will shine on.

As we move forward, his legacy will live on. As suggested by several people, a scholarship fund will be set up in Roger’s memory.

Roger is survived by his wife, Patricia Kieckhafer; son, Alexander Kieckhafer (Mallika Lavakumar) and thoroughly adored granddaughters, Ananya Kieckhafer and Ishani Kieckhafer of Cleveland, Ohio; daughter, Katherine Kieckhafer of Boston, Massachusetts; and Maggie Kieckhafer (Tahmoures Tabatabaei) of Greensboro, North Carolina.

Roger’s obituary can be read here.

If you have memories of Dr. Roger Kieckhafer, please feel free to post them in the comments section below.


Joe Foster: Through the Looking Glass! Geospatial Wizardry

Joe Foster shares his knowledge on Husky Bites, a free, interactive webinar this Monday, July 13 at 6 pm EST. Learn something new in just 20 minutes, with time after for Q&A! Get the full scoop and register at mtu.edu/huskybites.

What if you had a high-tech job, but spent your work day outside, enjoying nature and fresh air each day? If you like computing, and the great outdoors, you need to learn more about what it takes to become a geospatial engineer.

Joe Foster is a professor of practice in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Michigan Tech. He teaches courses in the elements of land surveying. He has served as a Principal for successful Land Surveying companies in both Minnesota and Michigan, directing and overseeing a wide range of projects. “I’m also an old Michigan Tech alum, with a Bachelor’s degree in Forestry, and a second Bachelor’s degree in Surveying, both from Michigan Tech,” he notes.

Joe Foster is a professor of practice in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Michigan Tech.

Studying geospatial engineering is both an adventure and a learning experience, says Foster. A lot of learning⁠—and geospatial wizardry⁠—takes place outdoors, in the field.

“Surveyors are experts at measuring,” Foster explains. “A myriad of equipment have been used over the years to accomplish the task, tools of the trade, so to speak. Over time, Surveying has evolved to become more, known now as Geospatial Engineering.”

Surveyors, now known as Geospatial Engineers, measure the physical features of the Earth with great precision and accuracy, calculating the position, elevation, and property lines of parcels of land. They verify and establish land boundaries and are key players in the design and layout of infrastructure, including roads, bridges, cell phone towers, pipelines, and wind farms.

And they are in demand. “There is an ongoing need for Surveyors,” says Foster. “Jobs are open and can’t be filled fast enough. We have a great need for those with an interest and aptitude for the profession.”

All land-based engineering projects begin with surveying to locate structures on the ground,” says Foster. Numerous industries rely on the geospatial data and products that geospatial engineers provide. With advances in technology, the need is increasing, too⁠—from architectural firms, engineering firms, government agencies, real estate agencies, mining companies and others.

Geospatial engineering students at Michigan Tech use satellite technology GPS and GIS to determine locations and boundaries.

Out in the field, Geospatial Engineers peer “through the looking glass” using numerous tools. “Robotic total stations, GPS receivers, scanners, LiDAR, and UAVs only scratch the surface of what is available in the toolbox,” says Foster.

Three theodolites on campus at Michigan Tech

Advances in GPS technology have led to the use of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) for mapping, as well as geospatial data capture and visualization technologies. Geospatial engineers also use virtual reality integration, Structure from Motion (a technique which utilizes a series of 2-dimensional images to reconstruct the 3-dimensional structure of a scene or object, similar to LiDAR), and unmanned aerial vehicle systems (drones). At Michigan Tech, students learn to use these tools, too.

Geospatial engineering students choose from two concentrations, says Foster. “Professional Surveying prepares students to become state-licensed professional surveyors. Students learn to locate accurate real property boundaries, conduct data capture of the natural/man-made objects on the Earth’s surface⁠—and conduct digital mapping for use in design or planning.” 

Geospatial engineers use drones, too.

The second concentration is Geoinformatics. “Students learn to manage large volumes of digital geo-information that can be stored, manipulated, visualized, analyzed, and shared,” he adds. “Students use more Geographic Information Science (GIS) tools, remote sensing, big data acquisition, and cloud computing.”

Do you love math + computing+ the great outdoors? Geospatial engineering combines all those things.

Once you’re working as a geospatial engineer, you could end up using both concentrations. “Land surveying and geographic information systems (GIS) are complementary tools,” he says.

Foster is excited about the growth of opportunities in the profession. During his own career, Foster worked as a principal for successful land surveying companies in both Minnesota and Michigan, directing and overseeing a wide range of projects, including boundary, county remonumentation, and cadastral (USDA-FS) retracement surveys; topographic, site planning, and flood plain surveys; mine surveys (surface and underground); plats and subdivisions; and both conventional and GPS control surveys. He’s managed contracts with the USDA-Forest Service, mining companies in Northern Minnesota, the State of Michigan, and more. 

Foster is also a member of the Michigan Society of Professional Surveyors (MSPS). At Michigan Tech, he’s advisor to the Douglass Houghton Student Chapter of the National Society of Professional Surveyors (DHSC). Last year the group continued their tradition with the annual General Land Office (GLO) Workshop. Sponsored by DHSC and conducted by Pat Leemon, PS, retired U.S. Forest Surveyor from the Ottawa National Forest, it is a search/perpetuation of an original GLO corner. “That’s a once in a lifetime experience for a Surveyor,” says Foster.

Brockway Mountain, Copper Harbor, Keweenaw County. Getting there will take you on the highest above sea-level drive between the Rockies and the Alleghenies. The peak is the highest point in Michigan.

When did you first get into surveying? What sparked your interest?

I first got interested in Surveying while studying forestry at Michigan Tech.  Surveying was one of the courses in the program. That’s where I learned there could be an entire profession centered on surveying alone.  I was hooked.  It incorporated everything I had come to enjoy about forestry; working outside, using sophisticated equipment, drafting, and actually putting all the math I had learned to practical use. After earning my first bachelor’s degree in Forestry, I decided to get a second bachelor’s degree in Surveying and to pursue that as my career.  

Tell us about your growing up. What do you do for fun?

I was born and raised in Michigan and have worked in the forest product industry and surveying profession for over 25 years. Work has taken me to just about every corner of Northern Minnesota and Michigan’s Copper Country. I came to know my wife, Kate at Fall Camp at Alberta, at Michigan Tech’s Ford Forestry Center. We made our home in the Keweenaw, where we both have strong family ties.

Lake Superior is our first love, and one that we share. Here’s a little known fact….Keweenaw County has the highest proportion of water area to total area in the entire United States, with 541 square miles of land and 5,425 square miles of water. Nearly 90 percent of Keweenaw County is under the surface of Lake Superior!


Janet Callahan Named ASEE Fellow

Janet Callahan, dean of the College of Engineering and professor of materials science and engineering at Michigan Technological University, was initiated on June 24, 2020 as a Fellow of the American Society of Engineering Education.

A global society founded in 1893, ASEE is the preeminent authority on the education of engineering professionals, advancing innovation, excellence and access at all levels of education for the engineering profession.

Callahan was cited for contributions to ASEE and the engineering education community via outstanding leadership, educational scholarship, teaching effectiveness and championing diversity and inclusion within the community. Callahan has (co)authored over 50 ASEE and education publications. She has served in numerous positions in the society, contributes to multiple divisions, and currently serves as Chair of the Women in Engineering Division. 

“I am pleased and honored to join a distinguished community of ASEE Fellows who support engineering education and who have dedicated their careers in support of that purpose,” said Callahan. 

Callahan is among 9 fellows selected this year. The grade of fellow in ASEE is reserved for members with extraordinary qualifications and experience in engineering or engineering technology education or an allied field who have made important individual contributions. No more than one-tenth of one percent of individual ASEE membership may be elected fellow in any given year.


Tips and Tricks from Three Chairs and Dean

Embarking soon on your college career? Or, still pondering embarking? Then this is for you. A free, interactive Zoom short course , “Tips and Tricks from Three Chairs and a Dean,” starts this Tuesday (July 7).

“We’ve added an extra chair, so now it is technically “Tips and Tricks from Four Chairs and a Dean,” says Janet Callahan, dean of the College of Engineering at Michigan Technological University. “We’ve created this short course for future college students. Both precollege students, and anyone who might be still be just considering going to college,” Callahan. “We want to give students leg up, and so we’re going to show all the tips and tricks we wish someone had shown us, back when we were starting out. That includes helpful strategies to use with your science and engineering coursework, as well as physics, chemistry, and math.”

The first Tips and Tricks session began on Tuesday, July 7 via Zoom at 6pm EST. If you missed it, no problem. Feel free to join the group during any point along the way. Catch recordings at mtu.edu/huskybites if you happen to miss one.

Each session will run for about 20 minutes, plus time for Q&A each Tuesday in July. The next is July 14, then July 21, and July 28. You can register here.

The series kicked off with Dean Janet Callahan and Brett Hamlin, interim chair of the Department of Engineering Fundamentals (July 7 – Tips and Tricks from Three, no, Four Chairs and a Dean).

Next up is John Gierke, past chair of the Department of Geological and Mining Engineering and Sciences (July 14 – Reverse Engineering: How Faculty Prepare Exam Problems).

Then comes Glen Archer, interim chair of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering (July 21 – Tips for the TI-89).

Last but not least is Audra Morse, chair of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering (July 28 – Two Triangles Don’t Make a Right).

“Even some middle school students, eighth grade and up, will find it helpful and useful,” adds Callahan. “Absolutely everyone is welcome. After each session, we’ll devote time to Q&A, too. I really hope you can join us, and please invite a friend!”

Get the full scoop and register at mtu.edu/huskybites.


Jeremy Bos: What’s next after FIRST?

“This could be you,” says Michigan Tech ECE assistant professor Jeremy Bos. “Our AutoDrive team brought home the second most trophies at competition last year.”

Jeremy Bos shares his knowledge on Husky Bites, a free, interactive webinar this Monday, July 6 at 6 pm EST. Learn something new in just 20 minutes, with time after for Q&A! Get the full scoop and register at mtu.edu/huskybites.

FIRST®. You might know it as First Robotics—an international organization dedicated to motivating the next generation to understand, use and enjoy science and technology. Founder and inventor Dean Kamen describes FIRST as “using robots to build kids. “It’s not about the robots,” he said. “FIRST is transforming the way kids see the world.”

FIRST now has more than 67,000 teams around the world, and has given over $80 million in college scholarships. At Michigan Tech, at last count, there are close to fifty FIRST scholarship recipients.

So, for high school seniors now embarking on their college careers, what’s next after FIRST? How do you enter the field of robotics?

What’s more, how do you know if robotics could be the right career for you?

Jeremy Bos: “When I have time I bike, ski, hike, kayak, and stargaze. I spend time with my dog, Rigel, on the Tech Trails nearly every day.”

“Many first year students considering engineering, science, and technology are introduced to these fields from FIRST robotics and similar high school competitions,” says Jeremy Bos, an assistant professor of electrical engineering at Michigan Tech. “In fact, one of the most common questions I hear from new students is ‘What is there at Michigan Tech that’s like FIRST?’ and ‘What major should I choose to have a career in robotics?’”.

Bos is a Michigan Tech alum, having earned his BS in Electrical Engineering at Michigan Tech in 2000 and his PhD in Electrical Engineering and Optics in 2012. He worked at GM on short range wireless product development, and spent several years at the Air Force Research Laboratory on Maui before coming back to Tech as an assistant professor.

Like most things in life there is no one answer that applies to everyone, says Bos. He helps students take their FIRST-inspired passion for robotics and find a place for it Michigan Tech. “What are your affinities? Knowing those, I can help point you in the right direction,” he says.

“One thing I can do is to share an overview of careers in robotics.” says Bos. Hint: it involves the “M’s” the “E’s” and the “C’s”. (Listen to the overview during his live session on Husky Bites to learn more, or catch the Zoom video later.)

Bos is advisor and manager of several robot platforms on campus, including the Robotic Systems Enterprise team, part of Michigan Tech’s award-winning Enterprise program. “It’s one of the best places on campus to learn robotics,” says Bos.

The team’s many projects come in many shapes and sizes, from designing a vision system for work with a robotic arm, to an automatic power management system for weather buoys. Clients include Ford Motor Company and Michigan Tech’s Great Lakes Research Center.

In 2010, as an electrical engineering PhD student at Michigan Tech, Bos organized the investigation of the Paulding Light mystery, working with students in the University’s student chapter of SPIE, the international society of optics and photonics. “We were looking for a project that would be both fun and educational. I thought, ‘What about the Paulding Light?’”

“We use more than just the skills and talents of computer science, electrical engineering, and mechanical engineering majors,” adds Bos “All majors are welcome in the enterprise.”

The team’s main focus is the SAE AutoDrive Challenge, where college teams compete to develop and demonstrate a fully autonomous driving passenger vehicle. Michigan Tech is one of eight universities selected to participate in the 3-year AutoDrive Challenge, sponsored and hosted by GM and SAE International.

Bos mentors the AutoDrive team of 40 undergraduate and graduate students along with Darrell Robinette, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering-engineering mechanics.

The team out started with a Chevy Bolt, named it Prometheus Borealis, and then turned it into a competition vehicle outfitted it with sensors, control systems and computer processors so that it could navigate an urban driving course in automated driving mode.

The team took Prometheus Borealis on a trip to GM’s Desert Proving Ground in Yuma, Arizona in 2018 for an on-site evaluation in the SAE AutoDrive Challenge.
A closer look at some of the LiDAR hardware atop Prometheus Borealis. LiDAR = Light Imaging Detecting and Radar
Snow tires + winter weather = data for the Michigan Tech SAE AutoDrive Challenge team. “Roughly, this is an overhead perspective shot of the what the LiDAR mounted on Prometheus Borealis ‘sees’. The car is not visible but is at the center of the image heading north on US-41 from the Houghton Memorial Airport towards the town of Calumet,” Bos explains. “The clutter visible on the left of the image near the center/car is caused by snow. The ‘V’ notch in the center/top of the image is a dead zone caused by ice build up on the front on the LiDAR unit, a problem we’ve been working to solve.”


Bos accompanies students to the SAE AutoDrive Challenge competitions.
The next one is coming up this October in East Liberty, Ohio. Teams are judged in a variety of areas—Object Detection, Localization, MathWorks, and Simulation, to name a few. His expertise in autonomous vehicles and vehicular networks, as well as industrial automation and controls makes Bos an ideal mentor for the students.

My own contribution to this effort is called ‘Autonomy at the End of the Earth.’ My research focuses on the operation of autonomous vehicles in hazardous weather. Specifically, the ice and snow we encounter on a daily basis between November and April.

Jeremy Bos


Bos says he is excited about the brand new Robotics Engineering degree program at Michigan Tech. It will be offered for the first time this fall in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. “Robotics Engineering will cover all the skills you need for developing autonomous vehicles. It’s a unique set of skills now in heavy demand, with a little bit of everything—all the letters (M’s, E’s and C’s) and a little bit more—with a focus on learning the cutting edge.”

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

My Dad ran a turn-key industrial automation and robotics business throughout most of my childhood. In fact, I got my first job at age 12 when I was sequestered at home with strep throat. I felt fine, but couldn’t go to school. My Dad put me to work writing programs for what I know now are Programmable Logic Controllers (PLCs); the ‘brains’ of most industrial automation systems.

Later, I was involved with Odyssey of the Mind and Science Olympiad. I also really liked these new things called ‘personal computers’ and spent quite a bit of time programming them. By the time I was in high school I was teaching classes at the local library on computer building, repair, and this other new thing called ‘The Internet’. A career in STEM was a certainty. I ended up in engineering because I like to build things (even if only on a computer) and I like to solve problems (generally with computers and math).

Tell us about your growing up. What do you do for fun?

I was born in Santa Clara, California just as Silicon Valley was starting to be a thing. I grew up in Grand Haven, Michigan where I graduated from high school and then went to Michigan Tech for my undergraduate degree. I liked it so much I came back twice. I now live in Houghton with my wife, and fellow alumna, Jessica (STC ’00). We have a boisterous dog, Rigel, named after a star in the constellation Orion, who bikes or skis with me on the Tech trails nearly every day.

When I have time I also like to kayak, and stargaze. I’ve even tried my hand at astrophotography at Michigan Tech’s AMJOCH Observatory. It’s a telescope, but hopefully, soon it will be a robot, too.

Learn more:

@MTUAutonomy winter driving data set test 1

Look Ma, No Driver

Huskies Hit the Road

Creativity and Cool Gizmos: Dean Kamen at Michigan Tech

Just in time for Halloween, Michigan Tech Students Solve the Mystery of the Paulding Light

It’s Out There, Return of the Paulding Light


Aleksey Smirnov is the new Chair of Geological and Mining Engineering and Sciences

Aleksey Smirnov is the new chair of the Department of Geological and Mining Engineering and Sciences at Michigan Tech

The College of Engineering at Michigan Technological University is pleased to announce that Aleksey Smirnov has accepted the position of chair of the Department of Geological and Mining Engineering and Sciences, beginning July 1, 2020.

Smirnov joined Michigan Tech as an assistant professor of geophysics in 2007, teaching undergraduate and graduate courses in Plate Tectonics and Global Geophysics, Planetary Geology and Geophysics, and Fundamentals of Applied and Environmental Geophysics. 

His research interests include the long-term evolution of the Earth’s magnetic field and its geological and geodynamical implications. Deciphering the early history of our planet—including the early history of its geomagnetic field—represents one of the great challenges in Earth science.

Smirnov seeks to substantially increase the amount of reliable data on the Precambrian field by applying new experimental approaches to investigate the fossil magnetism of well-dated igneous rocks around the globe. He also investigates geodynamics and global plate tectonics, magnetism of rocks, minerals, and synthetic materials, environmental magnetism, and develops new techniques and instruments for paleomagnetic and rock magnetic research. His work on the early magnetic field history has been supported by several NSF grants including a 2012 CAREER award. 

“I am delighted that Dr. Smirnov will be Chair of GMES and looking forward to him joining the leadership team of the college,” states Dean Janet Callahan. “His experience as a faculty member and long-term perspective of the department will be something he can strongly leverage as he works to grow the research profile of the department and student enrollment.”

Professor John Gierke led the department as chair for two terms, or six years. “We are grateful for Dr. Gierke’s leadership,” says Callahan. He is also a tremendous teacher and researcher, and is looking forward to giving both his full attention once again.”

After receiving his BS in Geophysics from Saint-Petersburg State University (Russia) in 1987, and his PhD in Geophysics from the University of Rochester in 2002, Smirnov conducted postdoctoral studies at the University of Rochester, and at Yale University. At Michigan Tech, he is also affiliated with the Department of Physics.

What first brought you to Michigan Tech?

Our University has been renowned for its geophysical research, including my own field of paleomagnetism, for many years. The opportunity for collaboration with such an accomplished academic community played an important role in my decision. In addition, Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and the surrounding regions have a rich geologic history with some of the oldest rocks on Earth. This makes it a prime geological location to study the evolution of the early Earth’s geomagnetic field, which is one of my main research interests. After 13 fruitful years at Michigan Tech, I know I made the right choice. 

What do you enjoy most about your research and teaching?

I have established a robust research program that involves worldwide collaborations and has yielded some important results. However, the most enjoyable part of both my scientific research and classroom teaching at Michigan Tech has been my interaction with students. My research activities provide excellent opportunities for student research and academic instruction, and I have been able to work together with very talented graduate and undergraduate students. 

What are you hoping to accomplish as chair?

I envision a vibrant and diverse department that is nationally and internationally recognized for its excellence in education and research. I intend to assure our position as a proactive, efficient, and respected participant in the efforts of both the College and the University as we strive towards our shared strategic goals, including student enrollment, research, diversity, and external recognition.

Our department has evolved over time to meet the needs of our ever-changing world, but it has been and remains an integral part of Michigan Tech since its foundation in 1885. As chair, I will be honored to uphold this legacy of excellence and distinction into the future.