Category: Features

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Paleomagnetism: Deciphering the Early History of the Earth

Rock samples in Smirnov’s lab are 2-3 billion years old.

Although it makes up about seven-eighths of the Earth’s history, the Precambrian time period is far from figured out. Key questions remain unanswered.

The Precambrian—the first four billion years of Earth history—was a time of many critical transitions in Earth systems, including oxygenation of the atmosphere and emergence of life. But many of these processes, and the links between them, are poorly understood.

Data can be obtained from fossil magnetism—some rocks record the Earth’s magnetic field that existed at the time of their formation. However, for very old rocks (billions of years old) the conventional methods of obtaining fossil magnetism do not work well.

Professor Aleksey Smirnov, Chair of the Department of Geological and Mining Engineering and Sciences

Michigan Tech Professor of Geophysics, Aleksey Smirnov, seeks to substantially increase the amount of reliable data on the Precambrian field. Smirnov investigates the fossil magnetism of well-dated igneous rocks from around the globe using new and experimental processes to help fill in the blanks. His work on the early magnetic field history is supported by several National Science Foundation grants including a National Science Foundation CAREER award.

“Deciphering the early history of our planet, the early history of its geomagnetic field, represents one of the great challenges in Earth science,” says Smirnov. “Available data are scarce, and key questions remain unanswered. For instance we still don’t know how and when the Earth’s geomagnetic field began.”

Smirnov and former student Danford Moore
drill rock samples in the Zebra Hill region, Pilbara Craton, Western Australia.

“How did the geomagnetic field evolve at early stages? How did it interact with the biosphere, and other Earth system components—these are all largely unanswered questions. There is also disagreement on the age of the solid inner core, ranging between 0.5 and 2.5 billion years,” note Smirnov.

Scientists largely believe the Earth’s intrinsic magnetic field is generated and maintained by convective flow in the Earth’s fluid outer core, called the geodynamo.

Smirnov’s research has broad implications for Earth science including a better understanding of the workings and age of the geodynamo.

Earth cutaway. Credit: Lawrence Livermore Lab

“Crystallization of the inner core may have resulted in a dramatic increase of the geomagnetic field strength preceded by a period of an unusually weak and unstable field,” he explains. “If we observe this behavior in the paleomagnetic record, we will have a much better estimate of the inner core age and hence a better constrained thermal history of our planet.”

Knowing the strength and stability of the early geomagnetic field is also crucial to understanding the causative links between the magnetic field and modulating the evolution of atmosphere and biosphere,” notes Smirnov.

An illustration of the Earth’s magnetic field. Credit NASA.

Today, the Earth’s magnetic field protects the atmosphere and life from solar and cosmic radiation. “Before the inner core formation, the geodynamo could have produced a much weaker and less stable magnetic field. An attendant weaker magnetic shielding would allow a much stronger effect of solar radiation on life evolution and atmospheric chemistry.”

Both graduate and undergraduate students work with Smirnov to conduct research, logging hours in his Earth and Environmental Magnetism Lab, traveling the world to collect specimens.

The Earth and Environmental Magnetism Lab at Michigan Tech: If you drop a metal object on the floor there, the shielding properties of the room can be lost.

“The primary (useful) magnetizations recorded by ancient rocks are usually very weak and are often superimposed by later (parasitic, secondary) magnetizations,” Smirnov explains. “In order to get to the primary magnetization, we have to remove the secondary magnetizations by incremental heatings of the samples in our specialized paleomagnetic furnaces. The heatings must be done in a zero magnetic field environment. This is one reason why we have the shielded room, which was specially built for our paleomagnetic lab. There are other shielded rooms around the country, but ours is the only one at Michigan Tech,” he notes.

“The second reason for having our instruments in the shielded room is that the magnetizations we measure are weak and our instruments are so sensitive that the Earth’s magnetic field can interfere with our measurements. In fact, in addition to the shielded room, each instrument inside has an additional magnetic shielding.”

Note that the shielded room was built before I came, by my predecessors Profs Jimmy Diehl and Sue Beske-Diehl.

Students in this photo (some now graduates) are performing liquid helium transfer into one of our cryogenic magnetometers. “We need to constantly keep the sensors at a very cold temperature (only a very few degrees above the absolute zero temperature) to provide their ultra-sensitivity,” says GMES professor and chair, Aleksey Smirnov. “It is based on the principle of superconductivity.”

On one month-long trip to the Pilbara Craton in northwest Western Australia, Smirnov and a student gathered 900 samples of well preserved, 2.7 to 3.5 billion year old Precambrian rocks. 

Smirnov stepped into the role of chair of the Department of Geological and Mining Engineering and Sciences last fall, but that won’t keep him too far from his research. “Any interested student should feel free to get in touch to learn more about research positions,” he says.

Investigations in Smirnov’s lab are not limited to the ancient field. Other interests include the application of magnetic methods for hydrocarbon exploration, magnetic mineralogy, magnetism of meteorites, biomagnetism, and plate tectonics.

Learn more

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

Clues To Earth’s Ancient Core


Chee-Wooi Ten: Ahead of the Cybersecurity Curve

The Night Lights of the United States (as seen from space). Credit: NASA/GSFC.

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

What are you doing for supper this Monday night 2/22 at 6 ET? Grab a bite with Dean Janet Callahan and Chee-Wooi Ten, Associate Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Michigan Tech. His focus: power engineering cybersecurity.

Associate Professor Chee-Wooi Ten at Michigan Tech

“For many years as a power system engineer, we referred to ‘security’ as the power outage contingency subject to weather-related threats,” says Ten. “The redefined security we need today, cybersecurity, is an emerging field on its own, one that works synergistically with security systems engineers.”

Joining in will be Electrical Engineering Assistant Professor Junho Hong from the University of Michigan Dearborn. He is a power engineer, and a cybersecurity colleague and a longtime friend of Dr. Ten’s.

In an era of cyberwarfare, the power grid is a high-voltage target. Ten and Hong both want to better protect it. 

At issue are electrical substations, which serve as intersections in the nation’s power system. Because they play such a key role in our infrastructure, substations could be attractive targets. 

Assistant Professor Junho Hong, University of Michigan Dearborn. His research areas include Artificial Intelligence, Cybersecurity, Power Electronics, and Energy Systems.

A physical attack could damage parts of the grid, but a cyberattack to interconnection substations could cripple the entire system simultaneously. 

Some power companies remain reluctant to fully implement electronic control systems because they could compromise security. “This is a controversial issue for most utilities,” said Ten. “If the substation network is compromised, the grid will be vulnerable. If hackers know what they are doing, that could result in a major blackout.“

With better security from cyberattacks, companies could use Internet Protocol (IP) communications to manage electronic control systems. “It would be faster, more efficient, and more economical, too,” says Ten. 

However, IP has a disadvantage: hackers are notoriously resourceful at breaking into IP networks, even when they are protected by firewalls.

Still, solutions to IP problems can be found, says Ten.

“Let’s say you check your front door once a day to make sure it is locked. Does that mean your house is secure? Probably not. Just because your door is locked doesn’t mean someone can’t get in. But if you put a camera in front of your house with incoming motion data to determine if there is movement around your house, you have more data so security can be better assessed.” 

““The key word, says Ten: “Interconnected.”

The power grid is too big, so we need to simulate cyberattacks to see what happens, adds Ten. “When it comes to power system research, data is really sensitive, and cybersecurity clearance requirements make it hard to get data. That is why simulations are important. We try to make simulations as close as possible to real systems. That we can ‘try out cyber attacks’ and see the impacts.

Running simulations saves utility companies time and money, and helps them prepare for the cascading effects of such an event, adds Ten. “We can emulate the real world without constructing the real thing, something called the ‘digital twin’.”

“We can solve the problems of cybersecurity by understanding them first. Then, we can apply analytical methods to deal with those problems.”

– Chee-Wooi Ten

Ten works with government agencies, power companies, and the vendors that provide products used to strengthen substations’ cybersecurity framework. By collaborating with all the stakeholders, he aims to transform the energy industry by improving efficiency, reliability and security, both in the power grid and cyberspace. No single vendor can do everything; it has to be synergistic,” says Ten.

It’s true: hypothetical impact analysis scenarios are a lot like one scene in the movie, Avengers. Dr. Ten will explain at Husky Bites!

Professor Ten, how did you first get involved in engineering. What sparked your interest?

I actually did not do well academically in high school. I was obsessed with computers. My dad had some money to sponsor my studies in the US. And since computers were invented in the US, I wanted to be part of that, so I went to Iowa State University. In Fall 1997, the Asian economic crisis hit and affected my studies, so I changed my major to power engineering, in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. When I look back, I have billionaire George Soros to thank. (Many people feel his aggressive Asian currency trades were to blame.) The power engineering program at Iowa State was one of the most historically established programs in the US. I was able to get involved in undergraduate research, with mentoring from a professor who taught me a great deal.

Family and hobbies?

I was born in Malaysia and was recently naturalized as a US citizen. My ethnicity is actually Chinese. My grandparents came to Malaysia from China early in the 20th century due to war and hunger, to pursue happiness. My brother is an engineer, too. My dad didn’t finish his university studies. I am the only one in our family with a doctorate degree.  My parents sent me to a foreign country to get a taste of life. (Imagine, I did not know how to speak English and had to relearn everything in the US!) I would not be who I am today had I stayed in Malaysia.

I’ve been living in Houghton now for about 11 years. My newest hobby is downhill skiing with my daughter. She’ll be turning 9 soon. Our ski hill, Michigan Tech’s Mont Ripley, is just 10 minutes from down the road.

Professor Hong, how did you first get involved in engineering? What sparked your interest? 

“In South Korea, two years of military service is a requirement after graduating from high school,” says Dr. Junho Hong. “Before going to college I served two years in the Navy, and learned a lot about technology on Navy ships.”

When I got to college, computer science was a hot topic but I wanted to better understand electricity. Without electricity how can we have technology? So, I chose electrical engineering. After graduation, I started looking at the much bigger work going on outside my country. I decided to earn my PhD. That’s how I met Chee-Wooi. We both studied at the University College Dublin in Ireland. We had the same doctorate advisor, Professor Chen-Ching Liu.

Dr. Hong (r) with his graduate advisor at Washington State University, Dr. Chen-Ching-Liu (l). Dr. Liu was also Dr. Ten’s PhD advisor at Washington State University. A world traveler, Dr. Liu is now at Virginia Tech. He was recently named a member of the US National Academy of Engineering in 2020 for his contributions to computational methods for power system restoration and cybersecurity.

Family and hobbies?

Before the pandemic, I used to go swimming at least once a day. Right now I’m doing a lot of training, instead. I’ve got equipment in my home—for cycling, weight training and working out. My wife and two kids are in South Korea for the time being. Early in the pandemic, my wife had some medical issues, and with hospitals here in Southeast Michigan overwhelmed with Covid patients, she had to go back home for medical treatment. It’s been hard to endure. I miss them greatly! My son and daughter are 9 and 6. 


Simon Carn: Sniffing Volcanoes from Space

Lava Lake on Mount Nyiragongo, an active stratovolcano in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Photo credit: Simon Carn

Simon Carn shares his knowledge on Husky Bites, a free, interactive webinar this Monday, February 15 at 6 pm ET. Learn something new in just 20 minutes, 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 2/15 at 6 ET? Grab a bite with Dean Janet Callahan and Volcanologist Simon Carn, Professor, Geological and Mining Engineering and Sciences (GMES).

Also joining in will be GMES Research Professor Bill Rose, one of the first in volcanology to embrace satellite data to study volcanic emissions and is a well-recognized leader in the field. 

Professor Simon Carn in the field at Kilauea volcano (Hawaii) in 2018 (with lava in the background).

Prof. Carn studies carbon dioxide and sulfur dioxide emissions from volcanoes, using remote sensing via satellite.

His goal: improved monitoring of volcanic eruptions, human health risks and climate processes—one volcanic breath at a time.

“Volcanology—the study of volcanoes—is a truly multidisciplinary endeavor that encompasses numerous fields including geology, physics, chemistry, material science and social science,” says Carn.  

Carn applies remote sensing data to understand the environmental impacts of volcanic eruption clouds, volcanic degassing, and human created pollution, too.

“Sulfur dioxide, SO2, plays an important role in the atmosphere,” he says. “SO2 can cause negative climate forcing. It also impacts cloud microphysics.” 

Professor Bill Rose

Many individual particles make up a cloud, so small they exist on the microscale. A cloud’s individual microstructure determines its behavior, whether it can produce rain or snow, for instance, or affect the Earth’s radiation balance.

“During Husky Bites I’ll discuss volcanic eruptions and their climate impacts, he says. “I’ll describe the satellite imagery techniques, and talk about the unique things we can measure from space.”

Carn was a leading scientist in an effort to apply sensors on NASA satellites, forming what is called the Afternoon Constellation or ‘A-Train’ to Earth observations. “The A-Train is a coordinated group of satellites in a polar orbit, crossing the equator within seconds to minutes of each other,” he explains. “This allows for near-simultaneous observations.”

Volcanic glow in Ambrym, volcanic island in Malampa Province in the archipelago of Vanuatu. Photo credit: Simon Carn

The amount of geophysical data collected from space—and the ground—has increased exponentially over the past few years,” he says. “Our computational capacity to process the data and construct numerical models of volcanic processes has also increased. As a result, our understanding of the potential impacts of volcanoes has significantly advanced.”

That said, “Accurate prediction of volcanic eruptions is a significant challenge, and will remain so until we can increase the number of global volcanoes that are intensively monitored.”

Carn is a member of the International Association of Volcanology and Chemistry of the Earth’s Interior, and the American Geophysical Union. He served on a National Academy of Sciences Committee on Improving Understanding of Volcanic Eruptions.

Here’s another look at Ambrym. Photo credit: Simon Carn

Carn has taught, lectured and supervised students at Michigan Tech since 2008 and around the world since 1994 at the International Volcanological Field School in Russia, Cambridge University, the Philippines Institute of Volcanology and Seismology and at international workshops in France, Italy, Iceland, Indonesia, Singapore and Costa Rica.

“After finishing my PhD in the UK, I worked on the island of Montserrat (West Indies) for several months monitoring the active Soufriere Hills volcano. This got me interested in the use of remote sensing techniques for monitoring volcanic gas emissions. I then moved to the US for a postdoc at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, using satellite data to measure volcanic emissions.

Dr. Carn during a research trip to Vanuatu in 2014. The Republic of Vanuatu is an island nation in the South Pacific Ocean, home to several active volcanoes.

While there, I started collaborating with the Michigan Tech volcanology group, including Dr. Bill Rose.”

Rose, a research professor in the Department of Geological and Mining Engineering and Sciences at Michigan Tech, was once the department chair, from 1991-98.

 “Houghton, where Michigan Tech is located, is really an important place for copper in the world,” he says. There is a strong relationship between the copper mines here and volcanoes. We live on black rocks that go through the city and campus, some jutting up over the ground. Those rocks, basalt, are big lava flows, the result of a massive volcanic eruption, a giant Iceland-style event.”

“Arguably, Michigan Tech owes its beginning to volcanic activity, which is ultimately responsible for the area’s rich copper deposits and the development of mining in the Keweenaw,” he says.

“I was very much aware of the volcanic context when I arrived in Houghton as a young professor,” adds Rose. “I had a dual major in geography and geology, but the chance to work in an engineering department sounded good to me. It gave me a chance to go outside, working hands-on in the field.”

Rose did everything he could to get his students to places where they could be immersed in science. For many geology graduates, those trips were the highlight of their Michigan Tech education.

“This is a view of our helicopter landing in the crater at El Chichon, Mexico,” says Prof. Bill Rose. “Simon asked me to share this image and talk about it during Husky Bites.”

“I always took students with me on trips,” says Rose. “That was my priority. After all, the best geoscientists have seen the most rocks. We went all over the world, looking at volcanoes, doing research, and going to meetings,” he says. “I usually took more students with me than I had money for.”

“Back in the late 1980s, this photo was taken in the field in Guatemala (note the chicken!). I was talking to a witness from and eruption in 1929, and showing him photos I had of that event,” says Rose.

Not all students could afford to travel, however. So when Bill (partially) retired in 2011, he decided to do something about that. “My dream was to create a quarter-million- dollar fund for student travel,” he says. He launched the Geoscience Student Travel Endowment Fund with a personal donation of $100,000.

Students take part in one of the hundreds of field studies led by Dr. Bill Rose.

In 2004 Rose started the Peace Corps Master’s International Program at Michigan Tech, now  a graduate degree in Mitigation of Geological Natural Hazards, a program with strong connections with Central American countries and Indonesia. He also developed Keweenaw Geoheritage, in hopes of broadening geological knowledge of the region and of Earth science in general.

His work during his 50 years at Michigan Tech includes volcanic gas and ash emission studies, including potential aircraft hazards from volcanic clouds.

Prof. Rose and then graduate student Taryn Lopez, now Assistant Research Professor at University of Alaska Fairbanks Geophysical Institute.

Prof. Rose, what accomplishment are you most proud of?

“My students. I treasure the time I have spent with them. I am laid back. I have been able to work with wonderful students every day of my 45 years at Michigan Tech, thousands of students. My style with these fine people is to give them hardly any orders. I encouraged them to follow their nose and network with each other.”

Last winter Dr. Carn and his kids built a ‘snowcano’ in their yard!

Professor Carn, when was the moment you knew volcanology was for you?

“The first active volcano I encountered was Arenal in Costa Rica during my travels after finishing high school. However, I think the point that I first seriously considered volcanology as a career was during my MS degree in Clermont-Ferrand, France. The first field trip was to Italy to see the spectacular active volcanoes Etna, Stromboli and Vesuvius.”

Simon Carn on Yasur volcano, Vanuatu in August 2014. “We were measuring the volcanic gas emissions from Yasur, one of the biggest sources of volcanic gas on Earth.We were specifically interested in measuring the emissions of carbon dioxide from the volcano, to improve estimates of global volcanic CO2 emissions”

What do you like most about volcanology?

“Studying volcanoes is undeniably exciting and exotic. We are lucky to visit some spectacular locations for fieldwork and conferences. New eruptions can occur at any time, so there’s always something new and exciting to study. We are also fortunate in that it is relatively easy to justify studying volcanoes (e.g., to funding agencies), given their potentially significant impacts on climate, the environment and society.”

Q: Tell us about this photo of your grandfather. Was he a volcanologist, too?

“My grandfather (John Gale) at Vesuvius in 1943.”

“My grandfather is standing at the foot of Mt. Vesuvius. He wasn’t a volcanologist, though he was a high school science teacher and a conservationist. The photo of Vesuvius was always one of his favorites, from a time when photographs were quite rare, and he often showed it to me in my youth.”


Russ Alger: Snow 101

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

Snowy crop circle of some sort? No, it’s part of the test course at Michigan Tech’s Keweenaw Research Center.

What are you doing for supper this Monday night 2/8 at 6 ET? Grab a bite with Dean Janet Callahan and Russ Alger, Director of the Institute of Snow Research at Michigan Tech.

Alger knows about snow. He’s one of the world’s top go-to guys on cold climate roads and driving, with 45 years of experience and counting. During Husky Bites, he’ll talk about the natural properties of snow as well as some of the ways that snow can be used for engineering purposes.

Russ Alger: “Growing up in the Copper Country helped to make me like snow for sure.”

Also joining in will be Toby Kunnari, Test Course Manager at the Keweenaw Research Center. The KRC’s test course is spread out over 1,000 acres just a few miles away from campus at Michigan Tech.

Ever since earning his BS and MS in civil engineering Michigan Tech, Alger has been working with vehicles and terrains. If there’s a way to alter strength and friction parameters on the surface of a terrain to enhance mobility, Alger can make it happen.

Whether it involves mobility in snow, or the development of pavements made entirely from snow, Alger and other Michigan Tech engineers and scientists at the Institute of Snow Research are ready to tackle the problem. They are also experts in winter maintenance of roads and runways—both anti-icing and deicing.

A tank makes its way through a custom test course at Michigan Tech’s Keweenaw Research Center.

“The unique weather conditions on Michigan’s Keweenaw Peninsula, coupled with our large array of equipment and facilities, makes the Institute the right place to bring your research questions,” he says.

Alger studies the deformation of soil and snow particles under vehicle loads. He has characterized these terrains using standard physical property measurement techniques as well as through the use of bevameters, automated penetrometers, calorimeters, high speed imaging, and a number of other methods to extract data in harsh environments. (He’ll explain his toolbox during Husky Bites).

Alger holds a patent on a method he invented to “manufacture” snow pavements by mechanically altering the internal snow properties and developing high strengths in the snow pack.

Between 1994 and 2016 Alger took six trips to Antarctica, as part of a team that successfully scouted and created the first trail to the South Pole, needed as an alternative to flying in supplies. Every crevasse they discovered in the route had to be exposed and filled so tracked vehicles could safely pass over.

Alger took this image during one of his research trips to the South Pole. Pictured above: project leader John Wright works on the snow bridge above a crevasse nicknamed “Mongo”. The South Pole traverse team discovered the crevasse, and later filled it with snow. Mongo measured 32 feet wide, 82 feet deep with a snow bridge 25 foot deep.

During his last trip to Antarctica in 2016 Alger went to make one snow road better—a fifteen-mile stretch from Scott Base (New Zealand’s research center) to the Pegasus runway, where supplies and people arrive in cargo jets.

He used a special groomer he and his colleagues developed at the KRC. Called a snow paver, it has the near-magical ability to turn snow into solid roadway.

“The paver works by first chewing up the snow with a miller drum, which smashes the ice crystals so they will stick together,” Alger explains. “Then comes a vibrating compactor, to get all the air out of the snow. That action compresses it enough to make a pavement.”

At Michigan Tech Alger also invented a product called SafeLane, an epoxy-aggregate mixture that is applied to roads, bridge decks, walkways and parking lots to improve traction and safety during hazardous winter conditions. Now marketed by Cargill, the product is widely used.

It’s busy season at the Institute of Snow Research, but Alger took time from his hectic schedule to answer a few questions for us in advance of Husky Bites.

Have any snow questions of your own? Alger will answer questions live via Zoom on Monday Feb. 8 during his session. Join early at 5:45 for some extra conversation, or stay after for the Q&A.

Q: Are there any best practices for preparing roadways in winter?

A: Road supervisors and crews rely heavily on the weather forecast. Air temp, pavement temp, temperature trends, precipitation rates and total amounts, wind, time of day, and more all play into the decision making process. For example, if it is going to be below 15 degrees F, it is likely that crews would consider adding something like calcium chloride to the mix since it is better at colder temps. They might just use sodium chloride above that temp since it works well and is much cheaper. The amount of deicer needed also increases as temperature decreases and there is a point where it doesn’t pay to use deicer at all except for maybe as a “kicker” for sand applications.

Imagine doing your job on a snowmobile! That’s a pretty typical day for Russ Alger, director of Michigan Tech’s Institute for Snow Research.

Here in the UP, combining salt and stamp sands seems to work pretty well to help us get around amid all the snowfall. In most of Houghton County, stamp sand is used. It’s abundant, and the County owns some stamp sand property. On top of that, stamp sand is actually a pretty good ‘grit’ for this purpose. The grain size is right to result in traction, which is the purpose of sand. It isn’t too dusty, and most importantly, it is crushed rock, so it is angular. That means it has sharp edges that help it dig into icy pavements and grip tires.

The addition of a small amount of deicer helps the stamp sand piles from freezing up. It also helps the sand particles melt into the surface of the road and stick, making a layer that acts like a piece of sandpaper. This is a pretty effective way to increase grip of tires on the surface, which is the end goal of this operation.

Russ Alger knows snow. Join us at Husky Bites to learn from one of the world’s top experts.

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

A: I became interested in engineering at a very young age and have always loved my job and profession. My father, George Alger, was a civil engineering professor at Michigan Tech for many years. His expertise was in ice-covered rivers and cold regions engineering in general. Growing up in Dollar Bay and working with him on outdoor projects, as well as being an outdoorsman myself, pointed me down that path at a young age. In 1976, my Dad, along with Michigan Tech civil engineering professors Ralph Hodek and Henry Sanford established a new curriculum at Michigan Tech, Cold Regions Engineering. I started with them that very first year. Growing up in the Copper Country helped to make me like snow for sure.

Q: Hometown, hobbies, family?

A: I have lived outside of Dollar Bay, Michigan for most of my life. I love being outdoors and especially love hunting, fishing and cooking outside. I live with my wife and one of my sons—and enjoy doing things with all of my sons, daughters and grandchildren.

Read More

Snow Going for Road-Building Engineers in Antarctica


Jeremy Goldman: Stents—How to Stunt Stenosis

Microscopic image of an aorta containing a degradable zinc implant within the arterial wall at 4 months. Blue indicates cell nuclei, smooth muscle cells are red, and green is the media (middle) layer of the artery. Photo credit: Roger Guillory, Michigan Technological University

Jeremy Goldman shares his knowledge on Husky Bites, a free, interactive webinar this Monday, February 1 at 6 pm ET. Learn something new in just 20 minutes, 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 2/1 at 6 ET? Grab a bite with Dean Janet Callahan and Biomedical Engineering Professor Jeremy Goldman. He’ll explain why traditional cardiac stents need an upgrade, and how zinc alloys may be part of the solution.

Also joining in will be Biomedical Engineering Assistant Professor Roger Guillory, one of Goldman’s former students at Michigan Tech. He grew up in Houston, Texas, then earned his BS, MS, and PhD in Biomedical Engineering at Michigan Tech, working in Goldman’s research lab all the while. He returned to Tech last year as a faculty member.

Every year, more than 900,000 Americans will have a heart attack. To reduce the chance of having a heart attack in the first place, or preventing another one from happening, a permanent stent, a small expandable metal tube, is implanted in a coronary artery.

Dr, Jeremy Goldman

These tiny mesh tubes prop open blood vessels that are healing from procedures like balloon angioplasty. After about six months, most damaged arteries are healed and stay open on their own. The stent, however, is there for a lifetime.

But stents can be harmful later on. The tiny metal segments that make up the stent can break and end up poking the arterial wall in the heart. They may cause blood clots or inflammation. The stent itself begins to create more problems than it solves.

Goldman, his team of students and his research partners at Michigan Tech are the minds behind a smarter stent that gradually—and harmlessly—dissolves after the blood vessel is healed. “You could have all the early beneficial characteristics, but none of the harmful later ones, and you’d be left with a natural artery,” says Goldman.

Dr. Roger Guillory II

“Ours is a zinc-based bioabsorbable stent,” he explains. “Zinc works better and with fewer side effects than iron or magnesium, the materials most studied for stents,” Goldman explains.

“Pure zinc isn’t strong enough to make a stent that will hold an artery open as it heals, so we did additional experiments. Those studies suggest alloying zinc with other materials could propel the research over that hurdle.”

The team performed biocompatibility studies of zinc’s breakdown products and is now testing stents made from the most promising zinc alloys to understand how those stents might work in a human body. 

“So far, our bioabsorbable zinc alloy metal harmlessly erodes within the desired timeframe, 1-2 years. It really has demonstrated superiority to current materials,” says Goldman.

Biodegradable zinc heart stent, engineered to dissolve in place after a specified amount of time. Photo credit: Jaroslaw Drelich, Michigan Technological University

As a first year student at Michigan Tech, Guillory first read about Goldman’s research on the Michigan Tech website, and then went to see him after hearing him speak at a first-year seminar class. Goldman soon offered Guillory a job in his lab.

Guillory started out by performing histological analysis—cutting extremely thin cross-sections of an extracted artery (around 10 micrometers) frozen in liquid nitrogen in a machine called a cryostat. After obtaining these tiny cross sections, he stained them, looked at them with a light microscope, and interpreted the data.

Roger Guillory worked as an undergraduate researcher in the Goldman Lab starting in his first year at Michigan Tech. This photo was taken in 2014.

“Analyzing specimens with histochemical techniques is sort of like taking a picture of a huge party with lots of people,” says Guillory. “From that one picture we can figure out who is there (cell morphology), how they got there (tissue derived or cell migration), and why they came to the party (immune response, or injury response). We can also see from those pictures who is sick, (necrosis), as well as who has been there for a while (development of fibrous barrier).”

Guillory grew up in Houston, Texas. “I knew I wanted to pursue an advanced degree many years ago,” he says. “I was attracted to the idea of probing the unknown. I have always wanted to learn more about what has not been explored, and pursuing an advanced degree allowed me to do just that.” 

In 2017, as a biomedical engineering doctoral student at Michigan Tech, Guillory won a prestigious National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship. He used the funding to continue his research on degradable metals (zinc-based) for cardiovascular-stent applications. His coadvisors were Goldman and Jaroslaw Drelich, a distinguished professor in Michigan Tech’s Department of Materials Science and Engineering.

After postdoctoral studies at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, Guillory returned to Michigan Tech as an assistant professor last spring.

“An unbelievable amount of data and studies have been done on multiple aspects of our project, but I can say what we have achieved thus far at Michigan Tech has never previously been done,” adds Guillory.

Prof. Guillory, how did you first get interested in engineering?

Dr. Guillory hard at work in the lab. In his spare time he likes to go fishing.

“I think I’ve always been this person who loves science. At my first Michigan Tech graduation, for my undergraduate degree, my mom pulled out a photo to show me. It was a picture of me at age 8 or 9, wearing a white lab coat and holding a clipboard. I wanted to be a scientist even then. In Houston, I attended a magnet school—a high school focused on STEM. One of the teachers urged us all to apply to Michigan Tech. She’d been to campus and thought it was a great place to study engineering. Well that day we all pretty much said, “Michigan??!? No way!” But then I decided to apply. I was up for the adventure, willing to take a risk.”

Any hobbies?

“I’m into cooking, savory things. I do a lot of grilling and smoking. I also play basketball at the SDC, often with Prof. Goldman. Last but not least, I love to fish. I go trout fishing, but honestly I’ll fish for anything. I’ll be going ice fishing this weekend.”

Prof. Goldman, How did you first get into engineering? What sparked your interest?

Dr. Goldman almost became a medical doctor.

“All through high school I was set on becoming a medical doctor. In college, I took pre-med courses and volunteered at different hospitals. At that time, there were big changes happening in the healthcare industry. Some of the doctors I talked to actually encouraged me not to become a doctor. That’s when I started thinking about biomedical engineering. I liked math and technology, and it seemed like a good way to combine my interests. We didn’t have biomedical engineering at my undergraduate university, so I took as many related courses as I could in addition to my major, which was chemical engineering. Then, in graduate school for my PhD, I finally took my first class in biomedical engineering. Right away it connected deeply in me. That was when I knew: this is it. This is what I really want to do.”

Pictured above: a bunch of lifesavers—especially that one in the center!

What do you like to do in your spare time?

I like to play chess! I’ve been playing ever since I was a little kid. I played chess with my dad, and I played chess with my grandfather. When I was in second or third grade I started the school’s first chess club. And I was captain of the chess team in high school. Now, in the Covid age, I’m playing chess more than ever, including some amazing tournaments online. I also like running outside (even in the winter).

Read More

Doing Fulbright Research in a War Zone

The Healing Stent


Guest Blog: The Importance of Teamwork

Hurricane Frederic at peak intensity near landfall on Dauphin Island on September 12, 1979.
Credit: The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

In his guest blog, Michigan Tech mechanical engineering alumnus Patrick Parker ’75 tells the story of working in a power plant during Hurricane Fredric, a Category 4 with sustained winds of 155 mph. It happened just four years after Pat graduated from Michigan Tech.

“Teamwork is the fuel that allows common people to attain uncommon results.” — Andrew Carnegie

“Every Bad situation is a blues song waiting to happen” — Amy Winehouse

“In teamwork, silence isn’t golden, it’s deadly.” — Mark Sanborn

“Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence win championships.” —Michael Jordan

“Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much!” — Helen Keller

Early in my career, I was a maintenance supervisor at a 7-unit power station just north of Pensacola, Florida. I had a crew of 15 people—electricians, mechanics, and welder/mechanics. We maintained equipment throughout the plant, and made repairs when any operational issues arose, to help avoid a power outage on one or more of the units.

While living on the Gulf Coast, I had heard many stories of hurricane events, most of which involved the loss of property due to the high winds, tremendous rainfall (often over 20 inches) and if you were close to the beach, the storm surge could have waves over 10 feet washing ashore. I heard stories of lost friends and family, stories that usually ended with “I told them to “move up north till this is over!’”

Michigan Tech Alumnus Patrick Parker, BSME ’85

In early September of 1979, we began watching closely a tropical storm off the southern tip of Florida moving North by NW, directly toward us. After a couple of days, its gusts were often much higher.

Our plant manager had lived through several events like this and began issuing instructions that would prepare us for the worst, while we prayed for the best. We began with a thorough clean up of the plant for anything important to be moved somewhere it would be safe. We paid special attention to any of our safety equipment, fire fighting gear, tools, rigging, and anything that could be useful in dealing with fire,collapse of structures, flooding, or any first aid. We also moved anything hazardous such as flammables, gases, or anything that could cause harm if it got out into the area around the plant. As that went forward, our Plant Manager made our staffing plans for the upcoming event.

Our operations department in the downtown office sent us instructions to put all seven of our units into service, to help ensure some redundancy in the event we start tripping units off line, due to storm damage. In order to do that we called in our operators who were skilled in the use of oil and natural gas for combustion. We finally worked it out, so all our operators were here (half were sleeping) as well as all our maintenance staff to address needs as they arose. We had also arranged for a good store of water, food, and sleeping arrangements for those workers who were staying overnight. All our employees all wanted to stay, but there were some with responsibilities that forced them to go home.

The coal yard would be another concern due to its size and proximity to a river that dumped into the Gulf. We received coal usually by barge which was less than 50 feet from the river. Our people who worked there began constructing a dike made of coal that would minimize any spillage into the river as strong winds and rain began. (Two years later they built a concrete dike about 2 feet thick by 8 feet tall around the portion of the coal pile adjacent to the river.)

As the storm approached, we began making final preparations for the high winds and rain by closing all doors and reinforcing them with steel beams/braces. The windows were covered with plywood and canvas sheets, and the smaller windows near walkways were covered with duct tape to minimize shattering and spreading glass.

Anything that was likely to get airborne during the wind and rain was moved off the site, such as contractor trailers, port-a-johns, and unnecessary equipment. The concern was to protect the transmission lines and support poles from being knocked down or shorted out. We did a thorough final walk around of all plant space, paying special attention to the area outside to check for anything else. Then the hard part began—WAITING!

We were on our feet almost nonstop, walking around, looking, checking and listening for anything that might indicate a problem. Many of us laid down somewhere and slept as we had been working almost 30 hours straight.

On September 12, 1979, in the early evening hours, Hurricane Fredric’s eye came ashore as a category 4 with sustained winds of 155 mph. It was located about half way between Pensacola Florida, and Mobile, Alabama. That landfall put us in the northeast quadrant of the storm, which typically is the worst part of the storm due to a hurricane’s counter clockwise rotation.

After 40 years I still have many images of what happened that week and the aftermath that followed for many weeks. I’ll share just a couple: I remember going to the top floor that was still inside the boiler structure with the Plant Manager (about 9 stories up) to look south toward Pensacola. I was expecting to see light coming from the city as usual, but there was none.

About every 3 to 5 minutes there was a large BOOM and a large flash of orange light coming from several miles south. I didn’t know what was happening, and it made me more than a little apprehensive. I imagined some industrial plant nearby exploding and burning. I asked the Manager what he thought it was, and he said, “Oh that’s just the pole mounted transformers blowing up. There will be a lot of overtime work for the Division Linemen to do when this is all over!” Was he ever right!

“There is a practice that still goes on today that couldn’t speak more clearly about the importance of working together. When the rain and wind subsided, hundreds of trucks from Line Departments of other power companies came from all over the southern states, converging on Pensacola and all the way to Mobile—bringing manpower, power poles, lights, transformers, and miles of conductor wire to assist with our repairs, all around the city and neighboring counties.”

Patrick Parker, BSME ’75


The division manager for the area around Pensacola came to the Plant and asked if he could “borrow” some of our people, especially electricians to assist in the walk down of all the “radials” as everyone he had was busy with the repairs. Our plant manager gave him almost all our electricians, and a couple of our engineers to help.

When electric power leaves the power plant, it passes through a Generation Step-Up transformer (GSU) which raises the voltage to transmission power levels (typically 345 KVA). The transmission line then carries the power to a ‘substation’ which lowers the voltage to typically 25 KVA and then sends the power in different directions around the city/county on the wooden power poles commonly seen. Each separate circuit is called a “radial”.

The trouble is there are many hundreds of miles of radials, which are very vulnerable to storms due to the high winds, lightning and heavy rain. Plus, the radials will not call and tell where the damage is; you must go out looking for them! Someone must walk each radial from one end to the other, and radio the Lineman Dispatcher, informing them what damage was found, and where it is located. Then they can dispatch people, parts, and equipment to make the repairs, thus hoping to save a lot of time with more people out looking. It works very well.

At the plant we had only one significant event during the storm. The plant had been built 75 feet into the ground to minimize the stress on the structure during high winds. The ‘pump room’ (75 feet down) was cooled, thankfully, by several large fans (12 feet in diameter) that pulled air in from outside. The problem was that the duct work for the fan also provided a perfect route for rainwater to flow in. We had all seven units running, when one of our staff noticed one of the large 480 Volt busses was on fire. As things happen in life, one of the cooling fans was right over the buss. We found a perfect example why water and electricity don’t mix well, as it was spitting sparks, flashes, and fire from the top of the buss.

Some of our firefighting group stretched out a fire hose and charged it up. I learned an important lesson that night. It seems it is sometimes possible to put out an electric fire with water. Instead of spraying the buss directly with the stream of water (inviting electric shock), they aimed the fire hose steeply upward, bouncing the stream of water off the flooring of the deck above the buss. A heavy downpour descended on the buss which eventually put the fire out.

The other unfortunate detail lay right above the buss in a large cable tray which routed most of the control wiring for the plant substation. As it burned and shorted out, almost all the switch yard breakers opened (for safety sake, they default open), which tripped 6 of the 7 units. We managed to keep unit 6 running at 300 megawatts. I guess the “good news” for us was even if we had all the units running, the transmission lines and distribution system was out of service due to the storm. We had no way of sending our power anywhere. It took us about a week to rewire the substation controls, the 480-volt buss, and other damage that was surprisingly minimal. I give our plant manager the credit for that. We had no injuries during the event or in the time that followed.

I learned several very important lessons during that experience:

1. Prepare, Prepare, Prepare! I believe that was the key to minimizing damage and preventing any injury.

2. Contain any Hazardous Materials—if they get loose, it doesn’t end well!

3. When someone asks for help GIVE IT. Work Together. You will need help one day, so make friends when you can.

4. NEVER, NEVER spray water on an energized electric buss! It usually doesn’t end well! I think we were very, very lucky!

5. When a hurricane approaches, the smartest thing to do is evacuate, sooner than later!

Most residents feel that as soon as the power company has all their wiring ‘hot’ again, all they must do is close their house breaker to restore power. Actually, the power company will deliberately open the wiring at the top of each power pole going to homes or businesses to prevent people from electrocuting themselves, and/or setting their house on fire due to internal damage to their home as a result of the storm. Before the power company will rewire the pole for you, they must see an inspection report of your home or business from a licensed electrician to make sure it is okay to activate power. As you might imagine, this frustrates the owners, particularly business owners. But the risks outweigh a few extra days without air conditioning.

About the Author

Pat Parker grew up in Ferndale, Michigan and went on to graduate from Michigan Technological University in 1975 with a BS in Mechanical Engineering.

His mom was from London, England. She was 14 during the London ‘blitz’ of WWII. His dad, from west Tennessee, flew for the Army Air Force in B-17s as a recon photographer. His dad met his mom while on leave in London, by pretending he was lost!

Pat first grew interested in mechanical engineering with the influence of an elderly neighbor by the name of John Pavaleka, who came to the US in the early 1920s from Czechoslovakia. John graduated from Yale with an ME degree. After graduation, he went to work for Boeing Aircraft, designing hydraulic systems in the WWII bombers—all the hydraulic systems that operated the gun turrets, landing gear, and flight controls. John was incredibly talented, and had his own hand-carved collection of airplanes of numerous designs including one with forward-swept wings.

While at Michigan Tech, Pat did well in Heat Transfer, Fluid Mechanics, and Thermodynamics courses. A classmate, Rick Sliper, encouraged Pat to go into the power generation field. So after graduation, Pat went to work for a company that built large power-generation boilers—doing construction, commissioning, and ongoing maintenance. Beginning as a first line supervisor, Pat moved up to power plant manager at two locations.

Tired of all the travel (living largely in motels) and wanting to start a family, Pat changed jobs, in order to establish a home. Still, over 42 years, Pat and his family managed to live in six states.

Some of Pat’s work-related accomplishments include a great safety and environmental record; lowering operating costs; and improving availability. He also won an award from the State of Florida for helping two elementary schools with their education goals and their Christmas celebrations.

Reluctantly retiring for health issues, Pat now spends time woodworking, writing, camping—and spoiling his two granddaughters!


Ski – Score – Spike! Student Athletes at Michigan Tech

The 2019-2020 Women’s Basketball team at Michigan Tech. Core Values: Integrity. Passion. Appreciation. Unity.

Three Michigan Tech Head Coaches and Athletic Director Suzanne Sanregret share their knowledge on Husky Bites, a free, interactive webinar today, Monday, January 25 at 6 pm ET. Learn something new in just 20 minutes, with time after for Q&A! Get the full scoop and register at mtu.edu/huskybites.

Ski – Score – Spike! What are you doing for supper tonight 1/25 at 6 ET? Grab a bite with Dean Janet Callahan and three fantastic head coaches for the Michigan Tech Huskies: Tom Monahan Smith (Nordic), Sam Hoyt (women’s basketball) and Matt Jennings (volleyball). Joining in will be Suzanne Sanregret, Michigan Tech’s Director of Athletics. 

Student athletes at Michigan Tech are high academic achievers. How? What’s it like to be both an athlete and a student at Michigan Tech? 

During Husky Bites, they’ll describe a day in the life of a Michigan Tech athlete, talk about recruiting, academic/mental wellness, and more—including how Michigan Tech athletes and (and their coaches) cope with COVID-19 challenges, too. 

Tom Monahan Smith is head coach of the Nordic ski teams and assistant coach with the cross country teams at Michigan Tech.

A native of Bend, Oregon, Monahan Smith came to Houghton after serving as the Head Postgraduate Program Coach of the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation in Ketchum, Idaho. 

Tom Monahan Smith, Head Coach, Nordic Skiing, Michigan Tech

Monahan Smith was a gold medalist in the freestyle sprint at the U.S. Junior Nationals in 2007 as well as being a six-time Junior All-American. He was also a prolific skier in high school, claiming the Oregon High School Nordic State Champion title three times. And he comes from a skiing family with his parents, brother, sister, and cousins all racing at the collegiate level.

Monahan Smith graduated from the University of Utah in 2013 with a bachelor’s degree in Environmental and Sustainability Studies and also a bachelor’s degree in International Studies.

Read more:

Houghton-Bound: Tom Smith Hired as Michigan Tech Nordic Coach

Matt Jennings became the seventh volleyball coach in Michigan Tech history in 2012.

Jennings is also an instructor for the Department of Kinesiology and Integrated Physiology. He is currently teaching Sports Psychology and has taught various co-curricular courses for the department. He currently represents the GLIAC on the NCAA Regional Advisory Committee (RAC) for the Midwest Region and is a member of the American Volleyball Coaches Association.

Matt Jennings, Head Coach, Volleyball, Michigan Tech

Before making the move to the U.P., Jennings served as an assistant coach and recruiting coordinator at the University of Pittsburgh.

Jennings earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration and political science from Augustana College (Illinois) in 2003 and received his master of business administration (MBA) from St. Ambrose in 2006.

Read more:

Jennings Hired to Lead Volleyball Program

Suzanne Sanregret has been Michigan Tech’s athletic director since 2005.

Her vision within the Huskies’ athletic programs and work on conference and national committees has positioned Michigan Tech as a leader in collegiate athletics.

Suzanne Sanregret, PhD, Athletic Director, Michigan Tech

A veteran of working within Michigan Tech athletics, Sanregret started in 1993 in the equipment room. She moved to business manager, then to compliance coordinator, and finally to assistant athletic director for business and NCAA compliance prior to taking over as athletic director.

Sanregret attended Michigan Tech and graduated in 1993 with a bachelor’s degree in business administration. She finished her master’s degree in business administration at Tech in spring 2006 and was inducted into the Michigan Tech Presidential Council of Alumnae in 2007. In March 2017, she completed her doctorate in higher education administration from the University of Phoenix.

Read More:

Q&A with Diversity Award Winner Suzanne Sanregret

Sam Hoyt became the ninth head coach of the Michigan Tech women’s basketball program in 2018.

Hoyt returned to Michigan Tech from the University of Sioux Falls where she served as an assistant coach. 

Sam Hoyt, Head Coach, Women’s Basketball, Michigan Tech

She earned a BS in Math at Michigan Tech in 2013. As a student, Hoyt was a standout player for the Huskies, helping lead the program to the 2011 NCAA Division II National Championship game as well as garnering multiple individual awards, including All-American Honorable Mention honors

Coach Hoyt, how did you first get into coaching? What first sparked your interest?

I have been a basketball fan ever since I could walk!  My dad was a coach growing up, so I was in the gym all the time.  Our family is really competitive, so I loved that about basketball.  I’ve also always had an inclination to help others learn and grow, and coaching basketball has given me the opportunity to develop a variety of areas in the young ladies lives that I get the pleasure to work with.

Q: What did you want to do when you graduated high school?

A: I was going to be a math teacher so I could coach basketball. All the coaches I knew growing up were teachers. Coach Barnes reached out to me about a graduate assistant position at Youngstown after I graduated from Tech, and I thought that was a great opportunity because all I really wanted to do was coach basketball. All the doors have opened for me, and I’m blessed with how it’s played out.

Hometown, Hobbies, Family?

I was born and raised in Arkansaw, Wisconsin. I went to school at Michigan Tech and have now been coaching here for 3 years.  I live about 5 miles from campus with my golden retriever, Remi.  We love to go on hikes and enjoy the beauty of the UP!

#Believe

Coach Sam Hoyt, Michigan Tech

Read more:

Q&A: Home Court Advantage



Husky Bites Returns! Join us Monday, Jan. 25 at 6 p.m. (ET).

Looking good!

Craving some brain food, but not a full meal? Join us for a Bite!

Grab some dinner with College of Engineering Dean Janet Callahan and special guests at 6 p.m. (ET) each Monday during Husky Bites, a free interactive Zoom webinar, followed by Q&A. Have some fun, learn a few things, and connect with one another as Huskies and friends. Everyone is welcome!

Husky Bites Spring 2021 series kicks off this Monday (January 25) with “Ski – Score – Spike! Student Athletes at Michigan Tech,” presented by three head coaches: Tom Monahan Smith (Nordic), Sam Hoyt (women’s basketball) and Matt Jennings (volleyball). Joining in will be Suzanne Sanregret, Michigan Tech’s Director of Athletics. They’ll be talking about the tremendous quality of our student athletes, recruiting, academic/mental wellness, share a day in the life of an athlete, and tell us how they cope with COVID-19 challenges, too.

“We created Husky Bites for anyone who likes to learn, across the universe,” says Dean Callahan. “We aim to make it very interactive, with a ‘quiz’ (in Zoom that’s a multiple choice poll), about every five minutes. Everyone is welcome, and bound to learn something new. Entire families enjoy it. We have prizes, too, for attendance.” 

The series features special guests—engineering professors, students, and even some Michigan Tech alumni, who each share a mini lecture, or “bite”.

This spring, topics include Backyard Metals, Cybersecurity, Enterprise, Fishing, Music, Lake Superior, the Mackinac Bridge, Migratory Birds, Snow, Sports, Stents, and Volcanoes.

During Husky Bites, special guests also weave in their own personal journey in engineering, science and more.

Have you joined us yet for Husky Bites? We’d love to hear from you. Join Husky Bites a little early on Zoom, starting at 5:45 pm, for some extra conversation. Write your comments, questions or feedback in Chat. Or stay after for the Q&A. Sometimes faculty get more than 50 questions, but they do their best to answer them all, either during the session, or after, via email.

“Grab some supper, or just flop down on your couch. This family friendly event is BYOC (Bring Your Own Curiosity).”

Dean Janet Callahan

Get the full scoop and schedule at mtu.edu/huskybites. Check out past sessions, there, too. You can also catch Husky Bites on the College of Engineering Facebook page.

Want a taste of Husky Bites? Check out a few comments from special guests, heard during past sessions:

I have always been interested in building things — long before I knew that was called “engineering.” I don’t recall when I became fascinated with space but it was at a very early age. I have embarrassing photos of me dressed as an astronaut for halloween and I may still even have an adult-sized astronaut costume somewhere in my closet — not saying. The desire to explore space is what drives me. Very early in my studies I realized that the biggest impediment to space exploration is propulsion. Space is just so big it’s hard to get anywhere. So I dedicated my professional life to developing new space propulsion technologies. There is other life in our solar system. That is a declarative statement. It’s time that we find it. The moons of Jupiter and Saturn hold great promise and I’m determined to see proof in my lifetime.

Prof. Brad King, Mechanical Engineering-Engineering Mechanics

I loved watching a beautiful image of planet Earth, one with a very clear sky and blue water, during my high school days. However, as I began to learn how life on Earth suffers many difficult environmental problems, including air pollution and water contamination, I also learned that environmental engineers can be leaders who help solve the Earth’s most difficult sustainability problems. That is when I decided to become an engineer. In my undergraduate curriculum, the water quality and treatment classes I took were the toughest subjects to get an A. I had to work the hardest to understand the content. So, naturally, I decided to enter this discipline as I got to know about water engineering more. And then, there’s our blue planet, the image. Water makes the Earth look blue from space. 

Prof. Daisuke Minakata, Civil and Environmental Engineering

I was born and raised in the City of Detroit. I went to Detroit Public Schools, and when I went to college I had to work to make ends meet. I got a job as a cook in the dorm, and eventually worked my way up to lead cook. I was cooking breakfast for 1,200 people each morning. One of my fellow classmates was studying engineering, too. He had a job working for a professor doing research on storm waves and beaches. I had no idea I could be hired by a professor and get paid money to work on the beach! I quit my job in the kitchen soon after, and went to work for that professor instead. I had been a competitive swimmer in high school, and the beach was where I really wanted to be. When I graduated with my degree, having grown up in Detroit, I went to work for Ford. I have to thank my first boss for assigning me to work on rear axle shafts. After about two months, I called my former professor, to see if I could come back to college. My advice for students just starting out is to spend your first year exploring all your options. Find out what you really want to do. I had no idea I could turn a mechanical engineering degree into a job working on the beach. Turns out, I could⁠—and I’m still doing it today.

Prof. Guy Meadows, Mechanical Engineering, Great Lakes Research Center

I first became interested in engineering in high school when I learned it was a way to combine math and science to solve problems. I loved math and science and thought that sounded brilliant. However, I didn’t understand at the time what that really meant. I thought “problems” meant the types of problems you solve in math class. Since then I’ve learned these problems are major issues that are faced by all of humanity, such as: ‘How do we enable widespread access to clean energy? How do we produce sufficient amounts of safe vaccines and medicine, particularly in a crisis? How do we process food products, while maintaining safety and nutritional quality?’ As a chemical engineer I am able to combine my love of biology, chemistry, physics, and math to create fresh new solutions to society’s problems. One thing I love about MTU is that the university gives students tons of hands-on opportunities to solve real problems, not just problems out of a textbook (though we still do a fair number of those!). These are the types of problems our students will be solving when they go on to their future careers.

Prof. Rebecca Ong, Chemical Engineering

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). 

Prof. Jeremy Bos, Electrical and Computer Engineering

The factors that got me interesting engineering revolved around my hobbies. First it was through BMX bikes and the changes I noticed in riding frames made from aluminum rather than steel. Next it was rock climbing, and realizing that the hardware had to be tailor made and selected to accommodate the type of rock or the type or feature within the rock. Here’s a few examples: Brass is the optimal choice for crack systems with small quartz crystals. Steel is the better choice for smoothly tapered constrictions. Steel pins need sufficient ductility to take on the physical shape of a seam or crack. Aluminum cam lobes need to be sufficiently soft to “bite” the rock, but robust enough to survive repeated impact loads. Then of course there is the rope—what an interesting marvel—the rope has to be capable of dissipating the energy of a fall so the shock isn’t transferred to the climber. Clearly, there is a lot of interesting materials science and engineering going on!

Prof. Erik Herbert, Materials Science and Engineering

Raymond Shaw: Lake Superior in My Driveway—Lake Effect Snow in the Keweenaw

Photo credit: Aaron Burden, Unsplash.com

Raymond Shaw shares his knowledge on Husky Bites, a free, interactive webinar this Monday, December 7 at 6 pm ET. Learn something new in just 20 minutes, 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 12/7 at 6 ET? Grab a bite with Dean Janet Callahan and Raymond Shaw, Distinguished Professor of Physics and Director of the Atmospheric Sciences program at Michigan Tech.

Dr. Raymond Shaw is a Distinguished Professor of Physics at Michigan Tech.

During Husky Bites, Prof. Shaw will describe the simple—and some of the not-so-simple—science of lake effect snow, and what makes the Keweenaw an ideal spot for epic snowfalls.

Also joining in, Will Cantrell, associate provost and dean of Michigan Tech’s graduate school. Dean Cantrell is also a professor of physics. His research focuses on atmospheric science, particularly on clouds. 

Lake effect snow bands, as seen from space. Photo courtesy of NOAA.

So how can it be clear and sunny in one place, while 5 miles away it’s snowing cats and dogs? Shaw is ready to explain during Husky Bites. He is a world expert on cloud physics, atmospheric turbulence, and ice nucleation. 

“Snow itself doesn’t just materialize out of thin air,” Shaw says.  “For a snowflake to form, first a particle of dust, a nucleus, is needed. Water molecules attach themselves to this particle and then freeze as they’re carried high in the atmosphere by winds.”

Photo Courtesy Michigan Tech Archives

“Yet, within a few hours, you basically purge the atmosphere of all those particles,” adds Shaw, “So how can it snow for days on end?” 

Clouds are an integral part of the Earth’s environment—providing the water we drink, cleaning the air we breathe, and influencing the climate in which we live. “We want to understand the clouds,” he says.

To study clouds, Shaw and his team of researchers sometimes go inside, using holography and an airplane lab, or by dropping a pendulum-type device from a helicopter. He’s also studied clouds on a mountain top, where the most valuable tool is patience. “It can be very frustrating seeing a cloud hover fifty feet above you, but when it descends and you’re inside the cloud it is definitely worth the wait.”

Luckily, Shaw, Cantrell, and other atmospheric science researchers at Michigan Tech don’t cross their fingers and hope for cooperative weather—the University’s innovative Pi Cloud Chamber allows them to head into the lab and make their own.

“This unique chamber is used for investigating aerosol and cloud processes relevant to weather and climate. To make a cloud, the environment has to have a relative humidity above 100 percent,” Shaw explains. 

Michigan Tech on first day of Career Fair 2013.

“In the lab that’s a tricky thing to achieve because water condenses on any available surface. The MTU Pi cloud chamber gets around that by generating clouds through turbulent mixing,” he says.

“The Pi cloud chamber allows us to study a wide variety of research questions,” adds Shaw, “For example, how do clouds respond to clean versus polluted conditions?” 

And for us, here in Michigan’s Keweenaw Peninsula, home of Michigan Tech, it helps answer one of our most vexing questions: “How does Lake Superior end up in my driveway?

“In nature you take what the cloud gives you,” Shaw says. “With the cloud chamber you create the cloud you need.

After earning his PhD at Penn State, Shaw was a postdoc research fellow at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Boulder, Colorado. He joined the faculty at Michigan Tech and soon earned a National Science Foundation CAREER award and then a NASA New Investigator Program award. As part of his research he collaborates with NCAR and international scientists at the Institute for Tropospheric Research in Leipzig, Germany, Peking University in Beijing, China, and the Max Planck Institute for Dynamics and Self Organization in Göttingen, Germany.

While Shaw finds research personally rewarding, there is ultimately a higher purpose. “Of course, the ultimate hope is that what my students, colleagues and I learn will somehow contribute to humanity, to our collective understanding and to our well being.”

Dr. Raymond Shaw. One of his favorite hobbies: snow biking!

Prof. Shaw, when did you first get into physics? What sparked your interest?

Physics captured my attention because it was possible to solve so many different types of problems with just a few simple truths. Physics is a good subject for someone with a poor memory!

How did you make the leap to atmospheric physics?

I remember earning my weather badge as a cub scout, and really disliking all the memorization of cloud types, like stratocumulus and cirrus. But I was fortunate to grow up around people who were interested in ideas rather than nomenclature, and eventually I became fascinated with what makes ice crystals grow in different shapes. I loved physics as an undergrad, and the ice crystal question was enough of a nudge to search for a graduate program in which I could combine physics with the atmosphere.

Hometown, Hobbies, Family? 

I was raised in Fairbanks, Alaska. I’ve been living “down south” in the Keweenaw for over 20 years. My family and I love the snow… most of the time. Cross country skiing and snow biking are two of our favorite winter activities. 

Research is inspiring, nature is so profoundly beautiful and subtle, it’s a privilege to spend so much of my time trying to understand bits and pieces of it.

Raymond Shaw

Dean Cantrell is a member and former director of the Earth, Planetary and Space Sciences Institute, which promotes research and education in interdisciplinary areas spanning Earth, its ecosystems, and intergalactic space. 

Dr. Will Cantrell is Michigan Tech’s associate provost and also dean of the Graduate School. “I always tell my students, ‘don’t do what I did.'” See the full details below!

As Dean of the Graduate School, Cantrell emphasizes that graduate education at Michigan Tech is a unique combination of the questions “Why?” and “How?” with theory and practice. 

“That’s a powerful combination, and our students are valued by industry and by other academic institutions because of it,” he said.

Dean Cantrell, how did you first get into Physics, and then Atmospheric Science?

When I started my undergraduate studies, I intended to get degrees in Physics and engineering. (I hadn’t decided just what kind of engineer yet.) But I started taking Physics classes first and decided to just do that. When I graduated, I didn’t want to do any of the “traditional” routes like solid state or atomic and molecular, so I branched off into Atmospheric Science.

“I always tell my students, ‘don’t do what I did.’ I was young, single, with no dependents, so I thought, why not go to Alaska? Though, actually, it turned out to be a very good decision—and it really prepped me for Michigan Tech, too (we get a lot of snow here in Houghton each year).

I never had to shovel my roof in Fairbanks, but there were times when it would warm up to -20 degrees F and it actually felt warm. In Fairbanks, if it’s been -40 for a few weeks, and then it goes up to -20—when you go outside, you undo the top button on your coat!”

Dr. Cantrell has always loved teaching and outreach. “Will does not just cover the material, but to tries hard to inspire his students,” said fellow Physics professor, Alex Kostinski. “I am reminded of an old adage: ‘A student’s mind is not a goose to be stuffed, but a torch to be ignited’.”

Hometown and Hobbies?

I grew up on a small farm just outside of Hendersonville Tennessee. I’ve lived in St. Louis Missouri; Fairbanks Alaska; Seattle, Washington; Bloomington Indiana; and Houghton, Michigan. In the summer, I fly fish and occasionally tie some of my own flies.

Read more:

Six Questions with Distinguished Professors Raymond Shaw

Rainmakers: The Turbulent Formation of Cloud Droplets

Shaw Wins Research Award

Why it Snows so Much in the Frozen North

Teamwork: New Graduate school Dean Begins Duties

Watch more:

“The Pi Chamber is so named because it has an inner, working volume of 3.14 m3 (when we select a cylindrical wall boundary, with a diameter of 2 m and a height of 1 m). It also happened to be delivered to MTU on March 14, pi day, but that was a coincidence.”

Cloud Chamber Research at Michigan Tech


Pengfei Xue: Severe to Extreme: Modeling Climate Change and Coastal Hazards on the Great Lakes

Great Lakes meteotsunami: These photos of the Ludington North Breakwater on Lake Michigan were taken just 10 minutes apart on Friday, April 13, 2018. Photo by Todd and Brad Reed Photography, featured on MLive.com.

Pengfei Xue shares his knowledge on Husky Bites, a free, interactive webinar this Monday, November 30 at 6 pm ET. Learn something new in just 20 minutes, with time after for Q&A! Get the full scoop and register at mtu.edu/huskybites.

What are you doing for supper this Monday night 11/30 at 6 ET? Grab a bite with Dean Janet Callahan and Civil and Environmental Associate Professor Pengfei Xue, Director of the Numerical Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Lab at Michigan Tech’s Great Lakes Research Center.

Associate Professor Pengfei Xue on campus at Michigan Tech

Catch a glimpse of the future during his session, “Severe to Extreme: Modeling Climate Change and Coastal Hazards on the Great Lakes.”

The Great Lakes are more like inland seas. From the cold depths of Lake Superior fisheries to the shallow algae blooms of Lake Erie, the bodies of water differ greatly from one another. Yet they are all part of one climate system. Together they contain one-fifth of the world’s surface freshwater.

Xue uses mathematical modeling to analyze and predict the short-term and long-term responses of that system to climate stressors. During Husky Bites, he’ll introduce the regional earth-system model he uses to understand and predict how the Great Lakes system responds to weather extremes and coastal hazards. 

Joining in as co-host for Husky Bites is Guy Meadows, who collaborates with Prof. Xue on the work.

We’ll get to see three modeled visualizations of the same storm passing by on Lake Superior. In each scenario, they’ll show and explain what could happen along the coast.

“The Great Lakes exert a strong influence on the physical, ecological, economic, and cultural environment in the region, across the nation, and internationally,” says Xue. “Human activities expose the system to multiple stressors. Climate change creates new risks and exacerbates existing vulnerabilities,” he adds.

Cuyahoga River Plume

“This is a simulation of a numerical tracer released from the Cuyahoga River near Cleveland, Ohio. It shows how a river plume goes into Lake Erie and mixes with the lake water,” says Dr. Pengfei Xue.


“In my lab, we analyze and predict short-term events. We also project the long-term influence of climate change on the Great Lakes ecosystem. Our goal is to help inform decision-making and management. One of the important concepts in climate change, in addition to knowing the warming trend, is understanding that extreme events become more severe,” Xue says. “That is both a challenge and an important focus in regional climate modeling.”
It takes a supercomputer to run the calculations. Xue uses Superior, the supercomputer housed in the Great Lakes Research Center, to build high-fidelity models and detailed simulations for a region where more than 30 million people rely on the Great Lakes for water and other resources. 

“I do the science part, but I also want to apply my findings.”

Pengfei Xue

With his next generation numerical predictive models for the Great Lakes, Xue seeks answers to many “what-if” questions. “How will projected future climate change impact water levels, wave energy, sediment transport and shoreline damage?”

He also looks at short-term, episodic events like algal blooms and weather patterns.

His current research focuses on an Integrated Regional Earth System Model (IRESM, for short) for the Great Lakes region. The model consists of coupled atmosphere, lake, ice, wave, sediment, land surface, and biological components, and includes data assimilation and machine learning techniques. 

The bottom line: Xue seeks to better understand the processes in the Great Lakes and their impact on people.

Guy Meadows is Robbins Professor of Sustainable Marine Engineering in the Department of Mechanical Engineering-Engineering Mechanics at Michigan Tech. He joined Michigan Tech in June of 2012, to help establish the new GLRC. “This is a unique, amazing place. The future of Great Lakes research is based right here.”

“We are extremely fortunate to have Professor Xue at Michigan Tech and the Great Lakes Research Center,” says Professor Guy Meadows. “He has built very strong bridges both within the University and with our government research partners. Thanks to these partnerships, we have modeling of the Great Lakes running on Superior at a resolution not previously thought possible.

Meadows joined Michigan Tech in June of 2012, to help establish the new GLRC. “This is a unique, amazing place. The future of Great Lakes research is based right here.”

A bit more about Pengfei Xue

Prof. Xue’s modeling research experiences in other regions include Massachusetts Coastal Waters, Gulf of Maine, East China Sea, the Maritime Continent in Southeast Asia, and the Persian Gulf.

Prof. Xue recently joined Argonne National Lab as a joint appointee Scientist in the Environmental Science Division. His joint appointment will expand the already deep capabilities of both institutions. Michigan Tech’s GLRC Director Andrew Barnard agrees. “Dr. Xue’s collaborative work with Argonne will result in cutting-edge science and engineering solutions in predictive hydrodynamics.”

Pengfei Xue arrived at Michigan Tech from MIT in 2013. Note the bare walls. He skipped the ritual of decorating his new office at first, preferring instead to immerse himself in the Great Lakes.

Prof. Xue, when did you first get into engineering? What sparked your interest?

I liked math when I was a little kid. I was very much influenced by my father. He was a high-school physics teacher and would often pose math- or physics-related questions to challenge me for fun.  Later when I was in college, I majored in mathematics and became very interested in how to apply math to helping answer some real-life questions. That’s how I got interested in numerical modeling and ended up what I am working on now.

Hometown, Hobbies, Family? 

After finishing my doctoral study at UMASS-Dartmouth and post-doctoral work at MIT, I moved to Tech seven years ago. I live with my wife and two cute kids in Houghton. We enjoy spending time reading and playing together. You may see me up at Michigan Tech’s Student Development Complex working out or swimming, or out on the trails skiing—to relax and take my mind off work.

Read more:

Environmental Science Division of Argonne National Lab Welcomes Pengfei Xue

Weather the Storm: Improving Great Lakes Modeling

Guy Meadows: Shipwrecks and Underwater Robots

Where Modeling Meets Observations: Improving the Great Lakes Operational Forecast System

Video:

Building a Better Great Lakes Observational System

Building a Better Great Lakes Forecasting System