Author: Kim Geiger

Bill Rose: Forged in Fire, Sculpted by Ice—Keweenaw Geostories

Erika Vye and Bill Rose on the shore of Agate Harbor, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.
Prof. Bill Rose has been studying Central American volcanoes for almost six decades.

Research Professor Bill Rose, Geological and Mining Engineering and Sciences at Michigan Tech, shared his knowledge on Husky Bites, a free, interactive Zoom webinar on Monday, 11/21. Check out the Zoom recording and register for future sessions at mtu.edu/huskybites.

Everyone loves a great geoheritage stories (geostories for short)—and Prof. Bill Rose has many of them. Joining in, colleague, friend and former student, Erika Vye, Geosciences Research Scientist at Michigan Tech’s Great Lakes Research Center.

Together they co-created Keweenaw Geoheritage, an organization that focuses on education and opportunities for sustainable tourism based on significant geologic features and our relationship with them.

Erika Vye works at the Great Lakes Research Center (“and she is GREAT,” says Prof. Bill Rose.)

During Husky Bites, Rose and Vye will share the geostory about Le Roche Vert (the green rock). It’s the legend of a turquoise vein of rock that projected from the shoreline at Copper Harbor into Lake Superior, making for a spectacular site. It was located near the current site of the Copper Harbor Lighthouse, where travelers rounded the Keweenaw on their way westward. Known by Native Americans for centuries, the green rock was widely exaggerated and extolled by certain Voyageurs, who were French Canadian trappers and violent wild explorers. This led to the fame of copper and the public awareness of the possible riches of the Keweenaw, Isle Royale and Lake Superior.

They will also share a geostory about one theory concerning the Keweenaw Fault—the result of an important discussion and argument by geologists, done when geology was a very young science, full of uncertainty (it still is!). And they’ll tell the geostory of Billy Royal, Ed Hulbert and the wild boar—and how they found the C & H Conglomerate in 1868.

An underground concert at Delaware Mine that Bill Rose and Erika Vye organized as a geoheritage event.
“The best geoscientists have seen the most rocks,” he says. He started the Bill Rose Geoscience Student Travel Fund with $100K of his own hard-earned cash.

Vye is dedicated to developing sustainable economic opportunities and enriched relationships with the natural environment through formal and informal place-based education. “The emphasis is on broadening Earth science and Great Lakes literacy through interdisciplinary research and learning, community partnerships, and traditional knowledge,” notes Vye.

“Erika is my friend and she heads up geoheritage awareness efforts. She works with teachers, and is linked with Native Americans, environmentally-relevant groups. She works at the Great Lakes Research Center—she is GREAT,” says Rose.

“Bill is a great friend, mentor, and like family to me,” says Vye.

The two met many years ago at a conference when Vye was working in Munich, Germany. “I’d heard great things about the work he was doing here at Michigan Tech related to natural hazards, Earth science education, and social geology,” she says. “After meeting and learning more, I moved to Houghton a few years later to pursue my PhD with Bill (as his last PhD student!). We have since worked together on advancing geoheritage at the local, regional, and national scale.

“We are all connected by our relationships with geology.”

Erika Vye

“I have buckets of gratitude to work so closely with Bill on this beautiful work that we hope helps our community to thrive.”


“Life on the Keweenaw shore—come and visit paradise.”

Bill Rose

Prof. Rose, how did you first get into engineering?

I am not an engineer. I never got into it. When I arrived in Houghton as a young professor. I had a dual major in geography and geology, but the chance to work as a faculty member in an engineering department sounded good to me. It gave me a chance to go outside, working hands-on in the field, rather than being stuck in the lab. I chaired that engineering department for over eight years.

Prof. Bill Rose and his kin at a recent family feast!

Hometown, family?

Corrales, New Mexico. I have  two sons, five grandchildren. One son is a math teacher, the other a geoenvironmental engineer.

The incredible view from Bill and Nanno Rose’s deck overlooking Lake Superior and the north half of Silver Island.

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

I have dozens of hobbies, but no pets. As a retired faculty my favorite pastime is no meetings, no deadlines, just creative communications and being outdoors.

“I love being outside,” says Dr. Erika Vye.

Dr. Vye, how did you first get into geology? What sparked your interest?

I started my undergraduate studies at Dalhousie University in the theater department. I needed a science elective and fell into geology; I was hooked and switched majors. I am fascinated by the ways rocks and landscapes share stories about Earth’s history, providing us a window to learn about deep time and how our geologic underpinnings are the foundation for our sense of place, our identity. We are all connected by our relationships with geology.

Learning about Lake Superior and geology on the Inland Seas schooner tour.

Hometown, family?

I grew up on the east coast of Canada, just outside of Halifax, Nova Scotia—I’ve moved from one beautiful peninsula to another! My parents still live there, and I have a brother, niece and nephew that live in New York City. I now live in Copper Harbor with my partner Steve; a small town of 100 folks in the winter is very much another beautiful family I am grateful to be a part of.

Water Walkers walking to Copper Harbor from Sand Point lighthouse

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

I love gardening, trail running, and am working toward my 200-hour yoga certification to deepen the practice for myself. I am honored to participate in local Water Walks held annually in our community. This Anishinaabe water ceremony is generously shared with our community by KBIC Water Protectors to raise awareness about the importance of water and the need for protection and healing of our water relationships.

Geostory Videos

Read More

Sniffing Volcanoes from Space

EARTH Magazine book review: “How the Rock Connects Us” shares copper country geoheritage

Forged in Stone and Fire

Carolyn Duncan: Free Falling

When it comes to preventing falls. we can learn a few things from penguins, says Dr. Carolyn Duncan at Michigan Technological University.
Carolyn Duncan, Michigan Tech Assistant Professor, Kinesiology and Integrative Physiology, Michigan Tech

Carolyn Duncan shares her knowledge on Husky Bites, a free, interactive Zoom webinar this Monday, 11/14 at 6 pm ET. Learn something new in just 30 minutes or so, with time after for Q&A! Get the full scoop and register at mtu.edu/huskybites.

What are you doing for supper this Monday night 10/14 at 6 ET? Grab a bite with Carolyn Duncan, assistant professor, Kinesiology and Integrative Physiology at Michigan Tech.

Joining in will be Sarah Aslani, PhD student in Cognitive and Learning Sciences and a member of  Prof. Duncan’s MTU Balance and Functional Mobility Lab, who will share just how balance is studied in the lab.

Falls are a major cause of serious injury and death in our society. So how can we prevent them? 

Sarah Aslani, a biomedical engineer is earning her PhD in Cognitive and Learning Sciences at Michigan Tech.

“We need greater understanding of exactly what affects our ability to regain our balance when we lose it,” Duncan explains. “Not all risk factors affect balance in the same way. There are many unanswered questions, and that’s where our research comes in,” she says.

“Some major culprits, though: clutter and poor lighting.”

During Husky Bites, Prof. Duncan will explore what is currently known on how we regain our balance, share some things we can do to improve our balance and prevent falls, and discuss her ongoing research on balance control and fall prevention.

Duncan earned her BSc in Kinesiology and MSc in Occupational Biomechanics, both at the University of New Brunswick, and her PhD in Mechanical Engineering with a focus on biomechanics at Memorial University of Newfoundland. She was a postdoctoral fellow in Neuroscience at the University of Waterloo in the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute, then taught engineering ergonomics courses at Virginia Tech before joining the faculty at Michigan Tech in 2018.

Are wide stairs safer or more dangerous? And what does the “run length” have to do with it? Pictured here: stairs up to the viewing platform at  Porcupine Mountains State Wilderness Park.

After obtaining her doctorate in mechanical engineering, Prof. Duncan spent time working as an ergonomist and fall prevention specialist before she became a researcher. Her work has spanned from fall prevention in offshore industries to developing fall prevention safety programs for workplaces. These experiences give her valuable real-world insights in the fall-related challenges people face in everyday life.

How do we anticipate falling? And what happens if we are distracted?

Balance control research in Prof. Duncan’s MTU Balance and Functional Mobility Lab at Michigan Tech

At Michigan Tech, Duncan investigates factors that influence successful balance recovery—from lighting, load-carrying, and aging, to cognitive, neurological, and physical disorders and musculoskeletal injury. She also works with the design of built environments for older adults and special populations. 

Her work studying balance recovery in moving environments—such as the wave motion encountered in maritime settings—involves asking questions, such as “would dancers have better balance on a boat?” 

(Prof. Duncan found that while dancers demonstrated significantly fewer stumbling events when on a simulated boat than novices during the first trial, dancers did not perform as well as individuals with offshore experience.)

Arriving recently from the warmer climate of Tehran to earn her PhD in Cognitive Learning Sciences in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, Aslani has not yet experienced a Houghton winter, or, thankfully, ever slipped on the ice and snow. She is co-advised by Prof. Duncan and Kevin Trewartha, an assistant professor with joint appointment in CLA and KIP. They’re already preparing Aslani for what to expect when the snowflakes start to fly and temperatures dip.

“Sarah has a background in biomedical engineering, and just started this semester,” says Duncan. “She will be doing her PhD research on factors that influence our ability to recover our balance. I look forward to furthering this area of research with her in the upcoming years. And we look forward to teaching her how to snowboard and ski as part of our Lab bonding time, too.”

“I was looking for a research project that would cover both of my interests—biology and neuroscience—when I saw Dr. Duncan’s profile on the Michigan Tech website,” adds Aslani. “So I sent her an email. Then, in our first meeting, it felt right. I knew this would be a place where I’d really fit in.”

“Mountain biking and alpine skiing are my passions, so the Upper Peninsula is a great place to live all year around,” says Dr. Duncan.

In the lab, Duncan, Aslani and other members of the team perform balance control research. “Type 2 Diabetes is a big challenge facing many older adults, with devastating effects on balance,” Duncan says. “My team is excited to start examining low-cost group exercise programs, including Tai Chi, to see how effective they are for improving balance and decreasing risk of falls. We’ll be working in collaboration with Dr. Kevin Trewartha and physical therapists Dr. Cameron Williams and Dr. Lydia Lytle.”

“Dim lighting is often associated with falls in the home,” Duncan adds. “We’re currently looking into how lighting specifically affects balance recovery. We hope this knowledge will be used to develop guidelines on optimal lighting in homes and built environments in our community  to decrease risk of falls.”

During Husky Bites, Prof. Duncan promises to offer some takeaways for all of us. She’ll provide exact details on the best kinds of shoes, railings, and stairs to prevent falls. 

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

Cats can teach us about reactive balance ability. This is Brady, Dr. Duncan’s kitty!

I first got into Engineering when I decided that pursuing a PhD in mechanical engineering would best suit my long-term goals of being a researcher in biomechanics. My previous undergraduate and Masters degrees in Kinesiology and Science with focuses in biomechanics and ergonomics had sparked a desire to learn more advanced biomechanical modeling techniques. A PhD in Mechanical Engineering allowed me to learn these advanced biomechanical modeling techniques while also gaining the foundational knowledge in mechanical and human factors engineering to pursue this career.

Hometown, family?
I’m originally from Rothesay, New Brunswick, Canada, about 45 minutes east of Maine. My parents were both public school teachers, and my grandparents were all healthcare professionals or engineers. I have one younger brother who is currently an electrician in Vancouver, British Columbia. 

What do you like to do in your spare time?

I’m a member of the Mont Ripley Ski Patrol and Copper Harbor Bike Patrol. I’ve recently taken up Nordic skiing and disc golf. When I’m not outside I love to cook and am an avid indoor gardener. I have a two-year old ginger tabby cat named “Brady the Tomcat,” in honor of Tom Brady (I’m a lifelong New England Patriots fan). I found Brady at Copper Country Humane Society right here in Houghton. 

“I always enjoy chatting with my friends,” says Aslani.

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

Growing up, I was always trying to figure out my real passion, some area in which I am really talented, so I could direct all my attention and power toward it.

I tried out many things, including painting and playing piano. But, they were never enough for me. After getting admitted to the Iranian Biology Olympiad (IrBO) at age fourteen, and then, a year later, to the Iranian’s national Mathematics Olympiad, I started to realize that I may be good at both those things (biology and math). That is why a couple of years later, I chose to pursue a biomedical engineering degree.

Hometown, family?
Until recently, I lived in Tehran, Iran. It is the capital of Iran. Very crowded, but it is very beautiful, with lots of countryside spots to go on picnics, like Chitgar Lake. Plus, there are some great places to go hiking.

Hiking is one of Aslani’s passions. She’s excited to get out and start exploring the UP!

We are a small family. I have a younger brother who also chose the engineering field. My dad is an agricultural engineer. My mum is a biotechnology researcher. 

What do you like to do in your spare time?
The first thing is that I love hiking. When I was in Iran I used to go hiking every few weeks.

Another thing I am crazy about is learning new languages. I learn by watching movies and listening to music. Recently I started learning Spanish. I love Spanish music, so I memorized the lyrics and tried them out with karaoke!

Last but not least, I love chatting with my friends. Sometimes when I want to clear my head and not think of anything, I’ll go hang out with a friend. 

John Vucetich: Restoring the Balance—Wolves and Our Relationship with Nature

Wolves on a wilderness island illuminate lessons on the environment, extinction, and life. Photo credit: John Vucetich

John Vucetich shares his knowledge on Husky Bites this Monday, November 7 at 6 pm ET. Learn something new in just 30 minutes (or so), with time after for Q&A! Get the full scoop and register at mtu.edu/huskybites.

Michigan Tech Distinguished Professor John Vucetich leads the the longest running predator-prey study in the world.

Restoring the Balance: What are you doing for supper this Monday 11/7 at 6 pm ET? Grab a bite on Zoom with Dean Janet Callahan and John Vucetich, Distinguished Professor, College of Forest Resources and Environmental Science at Michigan Tech.

Prof. Vucetich studies the wolves—and the moose that sustain them—of the boreal forest of Isle Royale National Park. It’s something he’s done for more than a quarter century. He joined Michigan Tech’s Isle Royale Wolf-Moose study in the early 1990s as an undergraduate student majoring in biological science. He went on to earn a PhD in Forest Sciences at Tech in 1999.

Three years later Vucetich began leading the study along with SFRES research professor Rolf Peterson, who is now retired. This year will be the study’s 66th year monitoring wolves and moose on Isle Royale—the longest running predator-prey study in the world. (Their project website is isleroyalewolf.org.)

“Much of my work is aimed at developing insights that emerge from the synthesis of science and ethics,” says Vucetich. “Environmental ethicists and environmental scientists have a common goal, which is to better understand how we ought to relate to nature,” he adds. “Nevertheless, these two groups employ wildly different methods and premises.”

During Husky Bites, Vucetich will read from his book, Restoring the Balance: What Wolves Teach Us About Our Relationship with Nature, published by Johns Hopkins University Press in 2021. 

Restoring the Balance : What Wolves Tell Us About Our Relationship with Nature, by John Vucetich (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2021).

“It’s a book about wolves,” he says, simply, “and how humans relate to wolves.”

It’s also an exhilarating, multifaceted, thought-provoking read. Vucetich combines environmental philosophy with field notes chronicling his day-to-day experience as a scientist. Examining the fate of wolves in the wild, he not only shares lessons learned from these wolves, but also explains their impact on humanity’s fundamental responsibilities to the natural world.

“Science can never tell us what we ought to do or how we ought to behave,” says Vucetich. “Science only describes the way the world is. Ethics by itself can’t tell us what to do, either. Ethics needs science—facts about the world—to be properly informed.”

“John is a real field man, a dauntingly quantitative biologist, and a dedicated student of logic:  the coalescence of this whole emerges as a leading conservation ethicist,” writes David W. Macdonald, professor of wildlife conservation at Oxford University, in the foreword of Restoring the Balance. “In this book, John Vucetich asks you to imagine yourself as a young wolf, dreaming of attempting to kill your first moose, ten times your size, using only your teeth,” adds Macdonald. “He asks the big question (bravely, for a hard-nosed quantitative biologist in a profession neurotic about anthropomorphism) what is it like to be a wolf? He thinks, as do I, that this is a more sensible question than you might suspect, in part because it turns out there’s so much similarity between us and them.”

“The island is Isle Royale, a wilderness surrounded by the largest freshwater lake in the world. I make these observations from the Flagship, an airplane just large enough for a pilot and one observer. After the flight, questions hack their way through the recursive web of dendrites that is my consciousness. What is the life of a wolf like? What is it like to be a wolf? Those questions are too presumptuous. The first questions should penetrate down to the foundation: Of all the millions of species on planet Earth, why wolves, why not some other?” 

John Vucetich, Restoring the Balance

Joining in: Becky Cassel grew up in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. She teaches Earth Sciences in Pennsylvania.

Joining in during Husky Bites will be Becky Cassel. She teaches Earth science and environmental science to ninth graders at a high school outside of Hershey, Pennsylvania  (Lower Dauphin School District).

“I have not met Dr. Vucetich in person. As a teacher, I have spent many years using the Isle Royale Wolf-Moose study to talk about populations and predator/prey relationships in my classroom,” says Cassel.  

“For Christmas last year I gave my father a copy of Restoring the Balance. When he was done reading it, both my husband and I read it. It was riveting. I emailed Dean Callahan to suggest inviting Dr. Vucetich onto Husky Bites. The Michigan Tech Wolf-Moose study is found in every biology textbook used today. I knew many Husky Bites watchers would be familiar and interested in the topic.”

The view from Flagship, over Lake Superior.

Excerpt

Prof. John Vucetich at work on Isle Royale. “What does a healthy relationship with the natural world look like? Are humans the only persons to inhabit Earth—or do we share the planet with uncounted ‘nonhuman persons’?’

During Husky Bites, Prof. Vucetich will read passages from Restoring the Balance. The passage below is taken from the book’s first chapter, “Why Wolves?”

February 18. We saw what they smelled—a cow moose and her calf, who had themselves been foraging. It didn’t look good for the cow and calf right from the beginning. The calf was too far away from her mother, and they may have had different ideas about how to handle the situation. The wolves rushed in. The cow turned to face the wolves, expertly positioned between the wolves and her calf, but only for a second. The calf bolted. After a flash of confusion’s hesitation, the cow pivoted and did the same. Had she not, the wolves would have rushed past the cow and bloodied the snow with her calf. The break in coordination between cow and calf put four or five wind-thrown trees lying in a crisscrossed mess between the cow and her tender love. The cow hurled herself over the partially fallen trunks that were nearly chest-high on a moose. She caught up with her frantic calf before the wolves did. Then the chase was on, led by the least experienced of them all—the calf. The cow, capable of running faster, stayed immediately behind the calf, no matter what direction the terror-ridden mind of that calf decided to take. Every third or fourth step the cow snapped one of its rear hooves back toward the teeth of death. One solid knock to the head would rattle loose the life from, even, a hound of hell. After a couple of minutes and perhaps a third of a mile, the pace slowed. By the third minute everyone was walking. The calf, the cow, and the wolves. The stakes were high for all, but not greater than the exhaustion they shared. Eventually they all stopped. Not a hair’s width separated the cow and calf, and the wolves were just 20 feet away. The cow faced the wolves. A few minutes later the wolves walked away. By nightfall Chippewa Harbor Pack had pushed on another six miles or so, passing who-knows-how-many-more moose. Their stomachs remained empty.

Praise for Restoring the Balance:

“John Vucetich creates a masterful blend of memoir, science, and ethics with a message that is both timely and timeless.” — Michael Paul Nelson, Professor of Environmental Ethics and Philosophy, Oregon State University

“This exhilarating book is a remarkable triumph―beautifully crafted.” — David W. Macdonald, Professor of Wildlife Conservation, University of Oxford

“This book is juicy with field notes―the stories of charismatic individual wolves like the Old Gray Guy, and complex science made understandable and seductively enticing to the reader with even the tiniest interest in wolf survival and natural history.” — Nancy Jo Tubbs, Chair, Board of Directors, International Wolf Center

Becky visited Isle Royale.

Becky, how did you first get into teaching? What sparked your interest?

I taught sailing lessons as a summer job in Escanaba, Michigan, while pursuing a degree at Miami of Ohio. After graduating and working for a year I realized that I really enjoyed teaching much more than my chosen career. I decided to go back and earn my Earth science teaching certification.

As a self-professed “outdoor girl”, I love all things Earth science. I was amazed how much I enjoyed every single Earth science class I needed to take in order to earn my science teacher certificate. I had been working in Pennsylvania at the time, so I earned my teacher certificate in Pennsylvania, and then was hired to teach there, too. I met my husband, Craig, and we decided to stay in Pennsylvania. Of course we travel to Escanaba every summer to get my UP fix!

Hometown, family?

My hometown is Escanaba, Michigan; however my parents are from the Philadelphia area. My father chose Michigan Tech for college (Tech Alum ’59) and fell in love with the area. The Cliff Notes version is that he returned to the East, married my mother, and convinced her to move to the UP.  I was 2 months old at the time. I have an older sister (also a teacher) who lives in central Maine.

Craig and Becky Cassel enjoy bicycle touring in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (the UP).

My husband Craig is a biology and anatomy teacher, and we met while teaching in the same school. We’ve driven into school together every day since then. He just retired at the end of last year, so now I drive in on my own.

We have two children. Our son, Elliot, just graduated from Virginia Tech last year and returned to college this year to earn his Earth science teacher certificate. Our daughter, Avery, chose to go to Michigan Tech like her grandfather, and entered the environmental engineering program. She has found her “outdoor people” at Michigan Tech.

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

I guess my biggest hobby is bicycle touring, but we also hike, run, and spend time outdoors. I grew up sailing in Esky, but sailing in Pennsylvania is NOT like sailing on the Great Lakes so I don’t do much of that except when I return to Escanaba.

My husband’s family owns a farm outside of Hershey, Pennsylvania, and we live on one end of the farm. This has allowed us to raise our children as outdoor lovers. We also have a beagle (Henry) and several chickens and rabbits. The farm itself is a thoroughbred racehorse farm, operated by my in-laws. We aren’t involved in horse training; instead, we grow grapes. We planted and opened a vineyard and winery in 2008, so that’s our other “hobby”.

Read more:

Preparing To Live With Wolves, By John Vucetich, January 16, 2012, The New York Times

Ecologist Ponders Fairness To Wildlife And The Thoughts Of Moose, By Rachel Duckett, December 21, 2021, Great Lakes Echo

What Wolves Tell Us about Our Relationship with Nature, by Marc Bekoff Ph.D., October 21, 2021, Psychology Today

Isle Royale Winter Study: Good Year for Wolves, Tough One for Moose, by Cyndi Perkins, August 24, 2022 Michigan Tech News

Walt Milligan: Kitchen Metallurgy

Trick, or treat? At first glance these almost look edible! (Sand molds, filled with molten metal castings, sit on a cooling rack in the Michigan Tech foundry.)

Walter Milligan shares his knowledge on Husky Bites, a free, interactive webinar this Monday, 10/31 at 6 pm. Learn something new in just 30 minutes or so, with time after for Q&A! Get the full scoop and register at mtu.edu/huskybites.

Dr. Walt Milligan

What are you doing for supper this Monday (Halloween) night 10/31 at 6 ET? Grab a bite with Dean Janet Callahan and Walt Milligan, chair of the Department of Materials Science Engineering at Michigan Tech. 

It’s Halloween, and during Husky Bites, we’re going to learn a few things about knives! If you ever wondered what “tempered” means in a steel product, or have seen videos of people quenching red-hot steel into water or oil and wondered why, Prof. Milligan will explain. 

Just how do they make the high performance carbon and stainless steels that are used for kitchen knives? There’s a bit of nanotechnology involved. During Husky Bites we’ll learn about the different kinds of stainless steel.

“How do you store your knives?” asks Professor Milligan. “You don’t want them banging around in the drawer,” he says.

But why not?

Lightsaber? Nah. This is annealed copper at 900°C.

Have you ever wondered why some stainless steel items in your kitchen stick to a magnet, and why some don’t?

Or what kind of steel is used to make an extraordinarily sharp knife, or an ultra-strong knife? During Husky Bites, Prof. Milligan will teach us about all this, and a lot more. 

In the photo to the right, Prof. Milligan teaches his Intro to MSE class at Michigan Tech how annealing, a heat treatment process, alters the physical and sometimes chemical properties of metal to increase its ductility and reduce its hardness, making it more workable.

After he grabs a copper bar out of the furnace that was annealed at 900°C for roughly an hour, Prof. Milligan holds the copper bar, about to demonstrate to the class how its ductility increased (and strength decreased) by having a student easily bend the previously unbendable rod with just their hands.

Milligan began his academic career at Michigan Tech in 1989, and for 17 years he taught MSE and conducted interdisciplinary research on high-performance structural materials. In 2006, he took on a new challenge, and was appointed as Michigan Tech’s first Chief Information Officer, and was tasked with building a robust, campus-wide information technology organization. He held that position until 2015 when he returned to the faculty, and then, a few years later, served as the interim department chair in the (then) brand new Department of Manufacturing and Mechanical Engineering Technology at Michigan Tech. He became chair of the Department of Materials Science and Engineering in July 2021.

“Cold working is the process of strengthening a metal through plastic deformation. Annealing is the process of heat treating a metal to increase its ductility and decrease its strength.”

Walt Milligan
Yes, the MSE classrooms are equipped with metallurgy furnaces!

Prof. Milligan earned a BS in Metallurgical Engineering from the University of Cincinnati, as well as MS and PhD Degrees in Materials Engineering from Georgia Tech. He has worked for GE Aircraft Engines, Carpenter Technology Corporation, NASA—Glenn Research Center, the Nuclear Research Center in Grenoble, France, and the University of Science and Technology in Trondheim, Norway. He is a Fellow of ASM International and a Distinguished Life Member of Alpha Sigma Mu, and has served on the Boards of Directors of TMS and ABET.

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

My father was a skilled machinist in the forging industry, so I was aware of manufacturing.  I was good at math and science, and those subjects interested me, so I decided to study engineering at the University of Cincinnati.  

Are those some cat ears behind that foundry crucible!?!

Hometown, family?

I grew up in a blue-collar neighborhood in the city of Cleveland, Ohio, the oldest of 6 children.  I have been married to my wife Sheila, who is a Teaching Associate Professor of Accounting at Michigan Tech, since 1984.  We met at school in Cincinnati.  We got married and moved to Atlanta, where I received my PhD from Georgia Tech.

The Milligans relax after a holiday ice hockey rental with friends and family. Left to Right: Walt’s son, Patrick Milligan, wife Sheila Milligan, associate teaching professor of accounting at Michigan Tech. Walt. Walt’s other son, Brian Milligan.

We have two adult sons. Patrick, age 31, received a BS in Materials Science and Engineering and an MS in Energy Systems Engineering, both from the University of Michigan. He works as a consultant in the electric power generation industry. Patrick is expecting his first child in March, so I’ll be a grandfather soon, which is hard to believe. He currently lives in Louisville, Kentucky.

Brian, age 27, received BS and PhD Degrees from the Colorado School of Mines in Metallurgical and Materials Engineering, and is currently a postdoctoral researcher at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Washington. All on his own, Brian became obsessed with high-quality knives in middle school and high school. So he welded together a home-made coal stove from junkyard parts, bought a used anvil on Craigslist, and started forging knives. He also has quite a collection of $200-$300 pocket knives from the likes of Benchmade and Spyderco.  

Walt with an MSE student, in his early days at Michigan Tech. He’s been a member of the Michigan Tech faculty for over 33 years!

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

Shortly after I moved to Houghton in 1989, I started playing ice hockey. Now, 32 years later, I am still playing (as a goalie, no less!) 2 to 3 times per week, 6 months per year.  I also was very involved in coaching kids’ hockey and am still involved in maintaining websites and leagues for kids hockey across the UP.

Academy for Engineering Education Leadership Inducts Three New Members

Sheryl Sorby, William Predebon, and Debra Larsen were inducted into the Michigan Tech Academy of Engineering Education Leadership on October 28, 2022.
Dr. Debra Larson

On Friday, October 28, the Michigan Tech community gathered to learn from, celebrate, and induct three outstanding educators into the Academy for Engineering Education Leadership. Janet Callahan, dean of the College of Engineering, hosted the induction ceremony.

Inductees were Debra Larson, PhD, Provost & Vice President for Academic Affairs, California State University-Chico; William Predebon, PhD, ME-EM Emeritus, Michigan Technological University; and Sheryl Sorby, PhD, Professor of Engineering Education, University of Cincinnati.

Dr. Bill Predebon

Creating pathways for all students to succeed is a primary focus for Debra Larson. She is a highly effective problem solver and resilient leader who respects shared governance and the diversity of experiences. She is passionate about innovating and delivering high-quality and hands-on education that prepares each generation of graduates for success and well-being. Dr. Larson earned her BS and MS in Civil Engineering from Michigan Tech, and her PhD in Civil Engineering from Arizona State University.

Encouraging faculty, staff and students to innovate, push boundaries, take risks, and be entrepreneurial was a daily activity for Bill Predebon while serving as ME-EM department chair for 25 years. Under his watch, the ME-EM department made tremendous strides in conducting interdisciplinary research, growing the doctoral program, expanding research funding and labs, and advancing the curriculum. Dr. Predebon earned his BS in Engineering Science at University of Notre Dame, and his MS and PhD in Engineering Mechanics from Iowa State University.

Dr. Sheryl Sorby

Serving as founding chair of the Department of Engineering Fundamentals at Michigan Tech, Sheryl Sorby developed and delivered a highly supportive first-year program—a legacy effort that remains to this day. Her groundbreaking research and outreach, focused on helping people across age groups and cultures to develop their 3-D spatial skills, has enabled educators to develop the capacity of students worldwide. Her curriculum is used by nearly 30 engineering programs in the United States. Dr. Sorby earned her BS in Civil Engineering, MS in Mechanical Engineering, and PhD in Engineering Mechanics, all at Michigan Tech.

The Academy for Engineering Education Leadership was established in 2018 by the College of Engineering. Two alumni, Sarah Rajala and Karl Smith, were inaugural inductees.

Yixin Liu: Sensing Smells

Dogs can potentially detect human diseases—including cancer and diabetes—from smell alone. At Michigan Tech, Yixin Liu, an assistant professor Chemical Engineering, develops “electronic noses” that can rival even the best dog nose.

Yixin Liu shares her knowledge on Husky Bites, a free, interactive webinar this Monday, 10/17 at 6 pm. Learn something new in just 30 minutes or so, with time after for Q&A! Get the full scoop and register at mtu.edu/huskybites.

Prof. Yixin Liu

What are you doing for supper this Monday night 10/17 at 6 ET? Grab a bite with Yixin Liu, assistant professor of Chemical Engineering at Michigan Tech. Joining in will be Riley Smith, the first undergraduate student researcher to join Prof. Liu’s Smart Chemical and Biological Sensing Laboratory at Michigan Tech. Liu develops chemical sensors and biosensors, electronic noses/tongues and sensor data analytics.

During Husky Bites, Prof. Liu will share how she goes about developing an “electronic nose” using an array of gas sensors and a data-analyzing algorithm. The result is a device that can mimic our biological olfactory system, able to sense smells in various applications, such as gas pollutants and breath analysis for medical diagnosis.

The ideal electronic nose is capable of sensing far better than even the best human nose ( more like a dog nose). “Dogs have a superior sense of smell. With training, dogs can sniff out bombs and drugs, pursue suspects, search and rescue lives, and potentially detect human diseases—including cancer and diabetes—from smell alone,” Liu says.

Prof. Liu uses nanofibers (seen here on the nanoscale) as sensing material to create electrochemical sensors. Coupled with machine learning techniques, the device turns into a smart nose with a number of superpowers.

Liu joined the faculty of the Department of Chemical Engineering as an assistant professor in 2020. She earned her PhD in Chemical Engineering from the University of Connecticut and her bachelor’s degree in Polymer Material Science and Engineering from Zhejiang University in China. 

Riley Smith

“Riley was the first undergraduate student to join my lab at Michigan Tech,” says Liu. He reached out to me last year after my brief presentation to the Michigan Tech AIChE student group, indicating his interest in undergraduate research. 

“Riley is highly motivated and proactive,” adds Liu. “After training on the lab’s electrospinning machine for nanofiber fabrication, he took the initiative to come up with a detailed operation manual with pictures. Riley’s manual has helped many students in my lab to learn how to use the machine.”

“Once I heard Dr. Liu’s AIChE presentation, I reached out to learn more,” Smith adds. “I started working with Dr. Liu, and now I work along with many more students who have joined the team as the lab continues to grow.”

Liu’s interdisciplinary lab combines advanced nanostructured materials, device design, and data-driven approaches to develop high performance chemical and biological sensing technologies. Liu and her collaborators already have 4 US patents granted, with another six patent applications pending.

The Liu Research Group at dinner.

At Michigan Tech Liu and her research group work together to develop electrochemical sensors coupled with machine learning techniques. “The knowledge gained from our research leads us to other new low-cost biosensing devices and manufacturing processes,” says Liu. 

Control panel for the electrospinning machine in Dr. Liu’s Smart Chemical and Biological Sensing Lab.

Recently she was awarded an Engineering Research Initiation (ERI) grant from the National Science Foundation to develop a nanocomposite sensor for the simultaneous detection of glucose and cortisol.

“People with diabetes are 2-3 times more likely to have depression,” note Liu. “In addition, symptoms of depression and anxiety are often associated with elevated cortisol (the ‘stress hormone’) which can lead to the onset of type 2 diabetes. If we could monitor both glucose and cortisol levels in a cost-effective and effortless way, that could help manage both diabetes and stress—it could also prevent pre-diabetes from progressing to full-blown type 2 diabetes,” Liu says.

The needle that generates the nanofibers.

“One of my long-term research goals is to develop a low-cost, easy-to-manufacture and high-performance biosensing technology based on e-MIPS—electropolymerized Moleculary Imprinted Polymers. I think e-MIPS could become an important platform for detecting biomarkers in human biofluids,” she says. “This would allow for ‘decentralized diagnostics’—rapid medical testing that can take place outside a hospital setting. Testing could be done at a satellite lab, doctor’s office, or even at home.”

Developing a reliable sensor that can detect polluting gas in real time, at an early stage, even in aggressively high heat, is another one of Liu’s research projects.

“Monitoring and control of combustion-related gases, including oxygen, carbon monoxide and hydrocarbons, are a top priority in many industries,” she says. “To be effective, though, sensors must be operate at 800~1000 ◦C. Right now, very few sensors have been able to detect gases above 600 ◦C, even in a laboratory setting.”

Once achieved, though, Liu says real-time, high-heat monitoring could save energy and help reduce pollution emissions.

Some of Prof. Liu’s beautiful acrylic paintings!

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

My father is a mechanical engineer, and I have always watched him fix things and build new things at home since I was very young. I liked math, hands-on experiments, and exploring new technologies when I was in high school. It was quite natural for me to choose an engineering major when I went to university.

Hometown, family?

I grew up in Sichuan, China (hometown of spicy foods and the panda.) I was the only child of my parents (no siblings). My husband and I have a 4-year-old son.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

I have liked painting for years, and still do acrylic paintings in my spare time. I started to learn piano 5 years ago, and now I’m still learning, practicing, and having fun.

“Riley’s manual has helped many students in my lab to learn how to use the electrospinning machine,” says Prof. Liu.

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

I first got interested after having a conversation with my chemistry teacher in high school. I thought that engineering would be a fitting job—I knew I wanted to do something that required some type of problem-solving. After talking with a family friend who works in chemical engineering, my interest solidified. I finished my associate degree in science at a community college and started looking into four-year technological universities. 

Hometown, family?

I am from Kalamazoo, Michigan. My family consists of my mom, a younger brother who is in his junior year of high school, an older sister who is getting married in October, and my dad who works in consulting.   

What do you like to do in your spare time?

I like to spend a lot of time outdoors, whether hiking, kayaking, or hammocking. I have a small poodle mix who accompanies me on many of my outdoor ventures. I also like to work with my hands, on either woodworking projects or refinishing furniture.

Mike Roggemann: Mixing Lasers with the Atmosphere

“A mirage is light from the sky that is refracted back to your eye, with turbulence thrown in to make it shimmer,” says Michigan Tech Professor Emeritus Mike Roggeman. Image of ship on horizon, taken in Dubrovnik. Credit: Thriol, Flickr.

Mike Roggemann shares his knowledge on Husky Bites, a free, interactive webinar this Monday, 10/10 at 6 pm. Learn something new in just 30 minutes or so, with time after for Q&A! Get the full scoop and register at mtu.edu/huskybites.

Michigan Tech Professor Emeritus Mike Roggemann

What are you doing for supper this Monday night 10/10 at 6 ET? Grab a bite with Associate Dean Leonard Bohmann and Mike Roggemann, professor emeritus of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Michigan Tech. The two worked together for many years as colleagues in the ECE Department.

Note: Dr. Bohmann will fill in as host for Husky Bites on Monday, October 10. He is Michigan Tech’s associate dean for academic affairs in the College of Engineering, and also a professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering.

According to the National Weather Service, turbulence is an irregular motion of the air resulting from eddies and vertical currents, associated with fronts, wind shear, and thunderstorms. It can be chaotic, irregular, random, and swirling. “That’s the mechanical form of turbulence,” notes Roggemann. “I’m interested in the optical effects of turbulence,” he says.

Leonard Bohmann is associate dean for academic affairs in the College of Engineering at Michigan Tech

“Think back to a hot summer day, when you’ve seen a car driving down a road that’s shimmering in the heat,” he says. “There are some really interesting atmospheric optic effects. A huge amount of work has been done to understand the nature of these effects and how to mitigate them—due to the practical impact on a huge number of things we really want to work.”

Over the years at Michigan Tech, Roggemann has put Michigan Tech’s north woods location on Lake Superior to great use for his research. One of his goals: to extend the range and understand the performance of imaging and laser systems in any kind of weather. 

“We’ve got it all here—remote locations, blizzards, thunderstorms, heat waves,” he says. “The UP is uniquely suited to the job.” 

Data from some of Dr. Roggemann’s previous research.

Roggemann and his research team at Michigan Tech developed a laser communications testbed to evaluate adaptive optics algorithms, installing it atop an eight-story building in the nearby city of Hancock. The system directed a laser beam 3.2 kilometers to a receiver located on the roof of the Dow Building on campus. They spent several years monitoring atmospheric turbulence, scattering, and weather to understand how such factors fluctuate in the real world. 


A Swiss F-5E Jet shimmers in the heat at RAF Fairford in England.

Free space laser communications systems send lasers through air. One challenge is that it’s not really free space—it’s air. “Atmosphere changes and turbulence can make the laser beam wander,” says Roggemann.  “Some technologies exist to partially mitigate these effects, but none are perfect,” he says.

Channel fading is one problem, and sometimes deep channel fading. If it goes down too low, the communication link can be broken. Roggemann and his research team of students designed and tested various ways of solving this problem to make laser communications more stable and reliable—and be able to achieve the highest possible channel capacity.

One thing they tried: using adaptive optics (AO) on the transmitter, to steer and focus the laser beam on the receiver aperture. The result was less fluctuation, which reduced fading. They discovered another benefit—an increase in received optical signal power.

A fellow of Optica (OSA) and fellow of SPIE, Roggeman is coauthor of the book “Imaging Through Turbulence,” and has authored or coauthored over sixty journal articles and over fifty conference papers, many relating to laser communication. Some of his other research interests include optical remote-sensing system design and analysis, and signal and image processing.

“Lasers and the atmosphere don’t mix all that well.”

Mike Roggemann

Before joining the faculty at Michigan Tech, Roggemann was an associate professor of engineering physics at the Air Force Institute of Technology, Wright-Patterson AFB, in Ohio. 

He earned a BS in Electrical Engineering at Iowa University, and an MS and PhD in Electrical Engineering at the Air Force Institute of Technology. Along the way he worked as an electro-optics program manager at Wright Laboratories, Wright-Patterson AFB, in Ohio, and an imaging researcher at the Phillips Laboratory, Kirtland AFB, in New Mexico. 

When you spot this sign, you’re in the right place to witness the Paulding Light.

Prof. Roggemann mentored and advised countless electrical engineering students over the years, many of whom earned their doctorate degrees. In addition to conducting research and teaching in photonics and optics, Prof. Roggeman served as the ECE department’s graduate director, no small feat. At any given time, the ECE department has about 50-plus PhD students and 140-plus MS students. 

In 2011, a group of Roggemann’s research students at Michigan Tech, led by then PhD student Jeremy Bos, examined the mysterious Paulding Light phenomena taking place in Paulding, Michigan. Their goal: separate fact from fiction.

Spoiler Alert: “The Paulding Light can be explained as a refraction of headlights from an inversion over the valley,” says Roggemann.

“If not for the students, why are we here?”

Leonard Bohmann
Free space laser communication is being tested and developed by NASA. At Michigan Tech, Dr. Roggemann is an expert on another kind: near ground laser communication. Credit: Laser Communications Relay Demonstration payload, NASA.

Dr. Bohmann was serving as interim ECE department chair when the position for the College of Engineering associate dean opened up. “I kind of like the administrative side of things, so I applied for the job,” he says.

It gives him the chance to participate in professional service, including volunteering as a program evaluator for ABET, the organization that accredits engineering programs (including Michigan Tech’s). He’s an ABET commissioner, working with ABET for close to 20 years now. 

But how did Dean Bohmann end up at Michigan Tech in the first place? The year was 1988, early October. 

“Janeen and I decided to make the long drive to Houghton to see what it was like at Michigan Tech,” he recalls. “That night we stayed at McLain State Park campground. We got up in the morning, looked out of the tent, and saw snowflakes in the air.” 

The rest is history. “We decided to move to the Great North Woods, to live near the shore of Lake Superior. This August it will have been 33 years!” 

The Paulding Light. Note: the small green light is a star. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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

I was fascinated by the space program as a boy in the 1960s and 1970s, and resolved to go to college and major in science or engineering to be a part of it.

Hometown?

I was born and raised in a small town in Iowa. After high school I went to Iowa State, and entered the Air Force upon graduation. I had some interesting assignments while on active duty, and got both my MSEE and PhD. I spent my last five years on active duty as a professor at the Air Force Institute of Technology. Upon retiring from the Air Force I joined the faculty at Michigan Tech, in the ECE department. I retired from academic life in June 2022.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

Quite a few hobbies:  hunting, fishing, exercise, reading, shooting replica firearms from the 1800’s, boating, traveling (more now that I’m not tied down by the academic calendar!), snowmobiling, snowshoeing, moving snow in the winter, and hiking. Never a dull moment. We have two lovable dogs, Fritz and Penne.  

Dr. Bohmann at Design Expo, Michigan Tech’s Annual showcase of Enterprise and Senior Design student projects.

Dr. Bohmann, what is your advice for new students? 

“It is important to study hard, but also important to play hard. If you are going to come to Michigan Tech you need to embrace the outdoors, because it’s here.”

Hometown?

Cincinnati, Ohio. “I went to college in Dayton, and graduate school in Madison. I just kept moving north until I ran into water—Lake Superior—and then I stopped.”

Family?

Janeen and Nick. Before that, I grew up in a family of 10.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

I like to snowshoe to and from work.

What is the most rewarding aspect of your job?

“Realizing that I am impacting students all across the college. Although I am more removed from day to day interactions, I have a chance to make sure they are getting a great education.”

Read More:

It’s Out There: Return to the Paulding Light

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Unraveling the Paulding Light mystery.

How to Mend a Broken Heart? Flow Dynamics.

Brennan Vogl and Dr. Hoda Hatoum test heart valves for overall performance and energetics, turbulence generated, sinus hemodynamics, plus ventricular, atrial, pulmonic, and aortic flows.
Brennan Vogl

Assistant Professor Hoda Hatoum conducts cardiovascular research with a team of students in her Biofluids Lab at Michigan Tech. One of those students, Brennan Vogl, first started at Michigan Tech as an undergraduate student studying biomedical engineering. Brennan is now pursuing his PhD, with Dr. Hatoum serving as his advisor. Brennan’s research focus is cardiovascular hemodynamics, the study of how blood flows through the cardiovascular system.

Prof. Hatoum, Brennan and her research team—six students in all—research complex structural heart biomechanics, develop prosthetic heart valves and examine structure-function relationships of the heart in both health and disease.

Dr. Hoda Hatoum

To do this, they integrate principles of fluid mechanics, design and manufacturing with clinical expertise. They also work with collaborators nationwide, including Mayo Clinic, Ohio State, Vanderbilt, Piedmont Hospital and St. Paul’s Hospital Vancouver.

“It is a great pleasure to work with Brennan,” says Dr. Hatoum. “He handles multiple projects, both experimental and computational, and excels in all aspects of them. I am proud of the tremendous improvement he keeps showing, and also his constant motivation to do even better.”

“When a student first joins our lab, they do not have any idea about any of the problems we are working on. As they get exposed to the problems, they begin to add their own valuable perspective. The student experience is an amazing one, and also rewarding,” she says.

“One of my goals is to evaluate and provide answers to clinicians so they know what therapy suits their patients best.”

Hoda Hatoum

Prof. Hatoum earned her BS in Mechanical Engineering from the American University of Beirut and her PhD in Mechanical Engineering from the Ohio State University. She was awarded an American Heart Association postdoctoral fellowship, and completed her postdoctoral training at the Ohio State University and at Georgia Institute of Technology before joining the faculty at Michigan Tech in 2020. Brennan was the first student to begin working with Dr. Hatoum in her lab.

One important focus for the team: studying how AFib ablation impacts the heart’s left atrial flow. Hatoum designed and built her own pulse duplicator system—a heart simulator—that emulates the left heart side of a cardiovascular system. She also uses a particle image velocimetry system in her lab, to characterize the flow field in vessels and organs.

AFib, or Atrial fibrillation is when the heart beats in an irregular way. It affects up to 6 million individuals in the US, a number expected to double by 2030. More than 454,000 hospitalizations with AFib as the primary diagnosis happen each year.

Another focus for Dr. Hatoum and her team: developing patient-specific cardiovascular models. The team conducts in vitro tests to assess the performance and flow characteristics of prosthetic heart valves. “We test multiple commercially-available prosthetic heart valves, and our in-house made prosthetic valves, too,” says Hatoum.

From the Biofluids Lab website: a wide array of current commercial bioprosthetic transcatheter mitral valves.

“Transcatheter bioprosthetic heart valves are made of biological materials, including pig or cow valves, but these are prone to degeneration. This can lead to compromised valve performance, and ultimately necessitate another valve replacement,” she notes.

To solve this problem, Hatoum collaborates with material science experts from different universities in the US and around the world to use novel biomaterials that are biocompatible, durable and suitable for cardiovascular applications. 

Look closely at this photo to see the closed leaflets of an aortic valve.

“Every patient is very different, which makes the problem exciting and challenging at the same time.”

Hoda Hatoum

The treatment of congenital heart defects in children is yet another strong focus for Hatoum. She works to devise alternative treatments for the highly-invasive surgeries currently required for pulmonary atresia and Kawasaki disease, collaborating with multiple institutions to acquire patient data. Then, using experimental and computational fluid dynamics, Hatoum and her team examine the different scenarios of various surgical design approaches in the lab.

“One very important goal is to develop predictive models that will help clinicians anticipate adverse outcomes,” she says.

“In some centers in the US and the world, the heart team won’t operate without engineers modeling for them—to visualize the problem, design a solution better, improve therapeutic outcomes, and avoid as much as possible any adverse outcomes.”

Hoda Hatoum

Dr. Hatoum, which area of research pulls your heartstrings the most?

Transcatheter aortic heart valves. With the rise of minimally-invasive surgeries, the clinical field is moving towards transcatheter approaches to replace heart valves, rather than open heart surgery. I believe this is an urgent field to look into, so we can minimize as much as possible any adverse outcomes, improve valve designs and promote longevity of the device.

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

As a high-school student, I got the chance to go on a school trip to several universities and I was fascinated by the projects that mechanical engineering students did. That was what determined my major and what sparked my interest.

Hometown, family?

I was raised in Kab Elias, Bekaa, Lebanon. It’s about 45 kilometers (28 miles) from the Lebanese capital, Beirut. The majority of my family still lives there.

‘My niece took this image from the balcony of our house in Lebanon, located in Kab Elias. It shows the broad landscape and the mountains, and the Lebanese coffee cup that’s basically iconic.”

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

I first got into engineering when I participated in Michigan Tech’s Summer Youth Program (SYP) in high school. At SYP I got to explore all of the different engineering fields and participate in various projects for each field. Having this hands-on experience really sparked my interest in engineering.

Hometown, family?

I grew up in Saginaw, Michigan. My family now lives in Florida, so I get to escape the Upper Peninsula cold and visit them in the warm Florida weather. I have two Boston Terriers—Milo and Poppy. They live with my parents in Florida. I don’t think they would be able to handle the cold here in Houghton, as much as I would enjoy them living with me.

Paul van Susante: Multiplanetary INnovation Enterprise (MINE)

Dr. Paul van Susante’s Planetary Surface Technology Development Lab (PSTDL) at Michigan Tech, home of the Dusty Thermal Vacuum Chamber. It’s about as close to moon conditions as one can get on Earth!

Paul van Susante shares his knowledge on Husky Bites, a free, interactive webinar this Monday, 10/3 at 6 pm. Learn something new in just 30 minutes or so, with time after for Q&A! Get the full scoop and register at mtu.edu/huskybites.

Paul van Susante

What are you doing for supper this Monday night 10/3 at 6 pm ET? Grab a bite with Dean Janet Callahan and Paul van Susante, Assistant Professor, Mechanical Engineering—Engineering Mechanics at Michigan Tech. Joining in will be several of his current Michigan Tech students, all members of MINE, the Multiplanetary INnovation Enterprise: electrical engineering majors Brenda Wilson and Gabe Allis; and mechanical engineering major Parker Bradshaw.

Wilson, Allis and Bradshaw—along with about 50 other student members of the MINE team—design, test, and implement robotic technologies for extracting (and using) local resources in extreme environments. That includes Lunar and Martian surfaces, and flooded subterranean environments here on Earth. Prof. van Susante helped launch the team, and serves as MINE’s faculty advisor.

The award-winning Enterprise Program at Michigan Tech involves students—of any major—working in teams on real projects, with real clients. Michigan Tech currently has 23 different Enterprise teams on campus, working to pioneer solutions, invent products, and provide services.

“As an engineer, I’m an optimist. We can invent things that allow us to do things that now seem impossible.”

Paul van Susante
Students in the Huskyworks Lab at Michigan Tech work on the T-REX rover (Tethered permanently-shadowed Region Explorer). The T-REX lays down lightweight, superconducting cable connected to a lander, and it won NASA’s top prize—the Artemis Award.

MINE team members build and test robotic vehicles and technologies for clients in government and the private sector. They tackle construction and materials characterization, too. It all happens in van Susante’s Planetary Surface Technology Development Lab (PSTDL) at Michigan Tech, a place where science fiction becomes reality via prototyping, building, testing—and increasing the technology readiness and level of tech being developed for NASA missions. The PSTDL is also known as Huskyworks.

Prior to coming to Michigan Tech, Prof. van Susante earned his PhD and taught at the Colorado School of Mines, and also served as a NASA Faculty Fellow. He has been involved in research projects collaborating with Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, SpaceX, TransAstra, DARPA, NASA Kennedy Space Center, JPL, Bechtel, Caterpillar, and many others.

Prof. van Susante created the PSTDL’s Dusty Thermal Vacuum Chamber himself, using his new faculty startup funding. It’s a vacuum-sealed room, partially filled with a simulated lunar dust that can be cooled to minus 196 degrees Celsius and heated to 150 degrees Celsius—essentially, a simulated moon environment. In the chamber, researchers can test surface exploration systems (i.e., rovers) in a box containing up to 3,000 pounds of regolith simulant. It’s about as close to moon conditions as one can get on Earth.

Students in the PSTDL move a testbox into position for testing in the Dusty Thermal Vacuum Chamber.

The NASA Artemis program aims to send astronauts back to the moon by 2025 and establish a permanent human presence. Building the necessary infrastructure to complete this task potentially requires an abundance of resources because of the high cost of launching supplies from Earth. 

“An unavoidable obstacle of space travel is what NASA calls the ‘Space Gear Ratio’, where in order to send one package into space, you need nearly 450 times that package’s mass in expensive rocket fuel to send it into space,” notes van Susante. “In order to establish a long-term presence on other planets and moons, we need to be able to effectively acquire the resources around us, known as in-situ-resource utilization, or ISRU.”

“NASA has several inter-university competitions that align with their goals for their up-and-coming Artemis Missions,” adds van Susante. 

Huskyworks and MINE have numerous Artemis irons in the fire, plus other research projects, too. We’ll learn a lot more about them during Husky Bites.

LUNABOTICS

A peek at the integrated system of MINE’s Lunabotics rover.
Six members of the Michigan Tech Astro-Huskies (plus Dr. van Susante) at NASA Kennedy Space Center Visitor Center, during the 2021-22 Lunabotics competition

Electrical engineering undergraduate student Brenda Wilson serves as the hardware sub-team lead of the Astro-Huskies, a group of 25 students within MINE who work on an autonomous mining rover as part of NASA’s Lunabotics competition. It’s held every year in Florida at the Kennedy Space Center with 50 teams in attendance from universities across the nation. This is the Astro-Huskies’ third year participating in the competition, coming up in May 2023. 

This year the Astro-Huskies are designing, building, testing, and competing with an autonomous excavation rover. The rover must traverse around obstacles such as mounds, craters, rocks; excavate ice to be used for the production of rocket fuel, then return to the collection point. By demonstrating their rover, each team in the competition contributes ideas to NASA’s future missions to operate on and start producing consumables on the lunar surface. 

DIVER

Mechanical engineering undergraduate student Gabe Allis is manager of the MINE team’s DIVER project (Deep Investigation Vehicle for Energy Resources). The team is focused on building an untethered ROV capable of descending down into the Quincy mine to map the flooded tunnels and collect water samples. The team supports ongoing research at Michigan Tech that aims to convert flooded mine shafts into giant batteries, or Pumped Underground Storage for Hydropower (PUSH) facilities.

What it looks like beneath the Quincy Mine in Hancock, Michigan. Illustration courtesy of Michigan Tech’s Department of Geological and Mining Engineering and Sciences.

“Before a mine can be converted into a PUSH facility it must be inspected, and most mines are far deeper than can be explored by a conventional diver,”Allis explains.

“This is where we come in, with a robust, deep-diving robot that’s designed for an environment more unforgiving than the expanse of outer space, and that includes enormous external pressure, no communication, and no recovery if something goes wrong,” he says.  

“Differences in water temperature at different depths cause currents that can pull our robot in changing directions,” adds Allis. “No GPS means that our robot may have to localize from its environment, which means more computing power, and more space, weight, energy consumption, and cooling requirements. These are the sort of problems that our team needs to tackle.”

TRENCHER

During Husky Bites, Bradshaw will tell us about the team’s Trencher project, which aims to provide proof-of-concept for extracting the lunar surface using a bucket ladder-style excavator. “Bucket ladders offer a continuous method of excavation that can transport a large amount of material with minimal electricity, an important consideration for operations on the moon,” Bradshaw says. “With bucket ladders NASA will be able to extract icy regolith to create rocket fuel on the moon and have a reliable method to shape the lunar surface.” Unlike soil, regolith is inorganic material that has weathered away from the bedrock or rock layer beneath.

Parker Bradshaw, also a mechanical engineering student, is both a member of MINE and member of van Susante’s lab, where he works as an undergraduate researcher. “Dr. van Susante is my boss, PI, and Enterprise advisor. I first worked with him on a MINE project last year, then got hired by his lab (the PSTDL) to do research over the summer.”

Bradshaw is preparing a research paper detailing data the team has gathered while excavating in the lab’s Dusty Thermal Vacuum Chamber, with a goal of sharing what was learned by publishing their results in an academic journal.

The PSTDL’s field-rover HOPLITE gets ready for field-test last winter.

“An unavoidable obstacle of space travel is what NASA calls the ‘Space Gear Ratio’, where in order to send one package into orbit around Earth, you need nearly 10 times that package’s mass in expensive rocket fuel to send it into space, and even more for further destinations,” van Susante explains. “So in order to establish a long-term presence on other planets and moons, we need to be able to effectively acquire the resources around us, known as in-situ-resource utilization, or ISRU.”

In the world-class Huskyworks lab (and in the field) van Susante and his team work on a wide variety of projects:

Paul van Susante served as a mining judge during the 2018 Regolith Mining Competition at the NASA Kennedy Space Center Visitor Center

NASA Lunar Surface Technology Research (LuSTR)—a “Percussive Hot Cone Penetrometer and Ground Penetrating Radar for Geotechnical and Volatiles Mapping.”

NASA Breakthrough Innovative and Game Changing (BIG) Idea Challenge 2020—a “Tethered permanently shaded Region EXplorer (T-REX)” delivers power and communication into a PSR, (also known as a Polarimetric Scanning Radiometer).

NASA Watts on the Moon Centennial Challenge—providing power to a water extraction plant PSR located 3 kilometers from the power plant. Michigan Tech is one of seven teams that advanced to Phase 2, Level 2 of the challenge.

NASA ESI Early Stage Innovation—obtaining water from rock gypsum on Mars.

NASA Break the Ice—the latest centennial challenge from NASA, to develop technologies aiding in the sustained presence on the Moon.

NASA NextSTEP BAA ISRU, track 3—”RedWater: Extraction of Water from Mars’ Ice Deposits” (subcontract from principal investigator Honeybee Robotics).

NASA GCD MRE—Providing a regolith feeder and transportation system for the MRE reactor

HOPLITE—a modular robotic system that enables the field testing of ISRU technologies.

Dr. van Susante met his wife, Kate, in Colorado.

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

Helping people and making the world a better place with technology and the dream of space exploration. My interest came from sci-fi books and movies and seeing what people can accomplish when they work together.

Hometown and Hobbies?

I grew up in The Netherlands and got my MS in Civil Engineering from TU-Delft before coming to the USA to continue grad school. I met my wife in Colorado and have one 8 year old son. The rest of my family is still in The Netherlands. Now I live in Houghton, Michigan, not too far from campus. I love downhill and x-country skiing, reading (mostly sci-fi/fantasy), computer and board games, and photography.

Dr. van Susante has been a huge help—not just with the technical work, but with the project management side of things. We’ve found it to be one of the biggest hurdles to overcome as a team this past year.

Brenda Wilson

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

My dad, who is a packaging engineer, would explain to me how different machines work and how different things are made. My interest in electrical engineering began with the realization that power is the backbone to today’s society. Nearly everything we use runs on electricity. I wanted to be able to understand the large complex system that we depend so heavily upon. Also, because I have a passion for the great outdoors, I want to take my degree in a direction where I can help push the power industry towards green energy and more efficient systems.

Hometown, family?

My hometown is Naperville, Illinois. I have one younger brother starting his first year at Illinois State in general business. My Dad is a retired packaging engineer with a degree from Michigan State, and my mom is an accountant with a masters degree from the University of Chicago.

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

I am an extremely active person and try to spend as much time as I can outside camping and on the trails. I also spend a good chunk of my time running along the portage waterfront, swing dancing, and just recently picked up mountain biking.

I got involved in the DIVER project in MINE, and have enjoyed working with Dr. van Susante. He’s a no nonsense kind of guy. He tells you what you need to improve on, and then helps you get there.

Gabe Allis
Gabe Allis

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

I first became interested in engineering when my great-uncle gave me a college text-book of his on engineering: Electric Circuits and Machines, by Eugene Lister. I must have been at most 13. To my own surprise, I began reading it and found it interesting. Ever since then I’ve been looking for ways to learn more.

Hometown, family?

I’m from Ann Arbor, Michigan, the oldest of nine. First in my family to go to Tech, and probably not the last. 

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

I like to play guitar, read fiction, mountain bike, explore nature, and hang out/worship at St. Albert the Great Catholic Church.

“Doing both Enterprise work and research under Dr. van Susante has been a very valuable experience. I expect to continue working in his orbit through the rest of my undergrad degree.”

Parker Bradshaw
Parker Bradshaw

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

I was first introduced to engineering by my dad, who manufactured scientific equipment for the University of Michigan Psychology department. Hanging around in his machine shop at a young age made me really want to work with my hands. What I do as a member of MINE is actually very similar to what my dad did at the U of M. I create research equipment that we use to obtain the data we need for our research, just for me it’s space applications (instead of rodent brains).

Hometown, family?

I grew up in Ann Arbor Michigan, and both of my parents work for the University of Michigan Psychology department. My dad is now retired.

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

I have a variety of things to keep me busy when school isn’t too overbearing. I go to the Copper Country Community Art Center Clay Co-Op as often as I can to throw pottery on the wheel. I also enjoy watercolor painting animals in a scientific illustration style. Over the summer I was working on my V22 style RC plane project.

Michigan Tech MINE team photo (taken last year). The constraints of the pandemic complicated some of their efforts, yet brought out the best in all of them.

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Beyond Measure: Nucor Metrology Center at MTU Hosts Donor Appreciation Event

“We want to see our students use their hands for physical engineering, and that happens in measurement,” said Rachel Store, Michigan Tech research engineer and head of the Nucor Metrology Center. The new center is located on campus in the RL Smith Building. Photo credit: Matt Monte

09/20/2022

Michigan Technological University’s Department of Mechanical Engineering-Engineering Mechanics (ME-EM) officially opened the Nucor Metrology Center on Tuesday, Sept. 20, with a donor appreciation event recognizing Nucor Corporation for its generous support of the Center.

University and department officials also recognized Milwaukee Tool and Nexteer for their equipment donations to the Center.

“We thank Nucor for their very generous donation of $100,000 to establish the Nucor Metrology Center in the ME-EM department here at MTU,” said Jason Blough, interim department chair. “We would also like to thank Milwaukee Tool, Nexteer and Richard Crosby for their assistance in enhancing the capabilities of the facility. Industry support has always allowed us to offer outstanding experiences to our students and to grow our research portfolio and capacity in ways that would not otherwise be possible.”

“Huskies are ready to tackle the next problem and help create the future with innovative solutions.”

Kate Amar-Fox, melt shop metallurgist, Nucor

“Nucor is excited to be a part of expanding the on-hand and lab experiences with the funds for the metrology lab,” said Kate Amar-Fox, melt shop metallurgist at Nucor. “We believe that powerful partnerships create powerful results and are looking forward to these partnerships for years to come.”

The Nucor Metrology Center provides students with the resources to make highly accurate measurements for their project components, advancing the Michigan Tech College of Engineering’s objective to provide world-class undergraduate and graduate education to support a diverse workforce and societal needs. 

“We want to see our students use their hands for physical engineering, and that happens in measurement,” said Rachel Store, Michigan Tech research engineer and head of the Nucor Metrology Center. “The students will take data to document their product performance, all while better understanding their product quality through metrics.”

The lab features both traditional and leading-edge, industry-standard equipment, including calipers, micrometers, a flexible arm coordinate-measurement machine (CMM), optical microscope, microhardness testers, tachometers, strobometers, and infrared and thermal scanners.

“Nucor’s donation allowed us to purchase a Leica DVM6 motorized digital microscope and a Hexagon Metrology absolute measurement arm, giving us the ability to do high-quality metrology measurements for part inspection,” said Blough. “We are already using this technology in one of our research programs and in one of our undergraduate courses.”

Store says the Center gives students exposure to the equipment they will see in industry when they graduate. “We know familiarity and fluency strengthen their hands-on, intensive experience,” she said. “Confidence is built on reality.”