Category: Features

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Q&A with Xin Xi: Uncovering Global Dust-Climate Connections

Dr. Xin Xi: “Surface weather observations are worth a refreshed look and can be used for improving our dust-climate modeling capability.”

GMES Assistant Professor Xin Xi’s new open-source dataset, duISD, is featured in Michigan Tech’s Unscripted Research blog. Here, he tells us more about it.

Q: How did you get started studying dust and desertification? 

XX: I grew up in humid southern China and had no experiences with dust storms when I was young. When I started college in Beijing, I had personal encounters with the “yellow dust” or Kosa (in Korea and Japan). The sky turned murky yellow every spring, while the whole city was shrouded in a cloud of dust blown from northwestern China. 

When I started graduate school at Georgia Tech, atmospheric aerosols emerged as a central theme in climate research, largely because they are capable of counteracting the warming effect of greenhouse gasses and play a crucial role in the hydrological cycle. Like many others, I became interested in my research due to the positive influence of my Ph.D. advisor, an expert in atmospheric aerosols, particularly mineral dust. 

Q: Why did you decide to revisit the use of horizontal visibility? 

XX: Primarily because of the long timespan of the visibility record from surface weather stations. It is by far the longest instrumental data record of dust, including regions near the dust source where modern-day satellites have difficulties providing reliable observations. 

Long-term, uninterrupted data records are paramount for understanding the variability of dust in response to climate and land use changes. I believe the visibility record has not been used to its full potential, so I took on the effort to develop a homogenized dust-climate record.

Q: Who do you imagine will get the most use from your new dataset? How would a researcher make use of it, and why? 

XX: This new dataset is an initial version of the dust-climate dataset I have been working on. Currently it consists of monthly records of the ambient dust burden at more than 10,000  weather stations worldwide. It is presented in an easy-to-read format, so anyone familiar with spreadsheets can use it. Dust researchers may find it useful, because they can avoid the tedious preprocessing steps with the raw data and are presented with summary statistics to help them pick the stations for their region of interest.

Dr. Xi used the dataset to characterize dust variability and climate connections around the world. The results of his study are featured in an article in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres

Q: Do you intend to update with future versions? 

XX: Definitely. I plan to conduct data fusion by combining the surface observations with additional climate and land information from satellites or models.

Q: What are the most unique and noteworthy aspects of this research? 

XX: It is a climate data record development project, and the ultimate goal is to create a quality-controlled dataset for the climate community to study trends, variability and relationships about dust and climate. In addition, I believe the dataset can offer other insightful information about the deficiency of current climate models. 

Q: What do you plan to research next? 

XX: I plan to take on the next step of updating the initial dataset I created, and develop new analytic results, which can convince myself — and, hopefully, the climate community — that surface weather observations are worth a refreshed look and can be used for improving our dust-climate modeling capability.

Xi’s open-source dataset, duISD, can be accessed online

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lisa Casper, Husky Innovate Program Manager

Michigan Tech’s New Venture Challenge award winners:

Two-Minute Pitch Competition

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

Seven-Minute Pitch Competition

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

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

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

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

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

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

Student Awards Announced for Michigan Tech’s 2022 Design Expo

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

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

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

ENTERPRISE AWARDS (Based on video submissions)

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

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

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

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

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

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

SENIOR DESIGN AWARDS (Based on video submissions)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Physical Model of Auris Spacecraft. Photo credit: Aerospace Enterprise

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

Blizzard Baja Competition Vehicle. Photo credit: Andrew Erickson

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

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

DESIGN EXPO INNOVATION AWARDS (Based on application)

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

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

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

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

Enterprise
Consumer Product Manufacturing
Video

Senior Design
Britten Water Filtration System
Video

ENTERPRISE STUDENT AWARDS

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

Innovative Solutions: Pete LaMantia, ITOxygen

Outstanding Enterprise Leadership: Brooke Bates, Consumer Product Manufacturing

ENTERPRISE FACULTY/STAFF AWARDS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Butterly or moth? Find out during Husky Bites!

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

Dr. Thomas Werner

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

Tessa Steenwinkel

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

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

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

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

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

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

Callout quote:

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

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

Dr. Thomas Werner

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

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

Tessa at work in the Werner Lab

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

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

The Encyclopedia of North American Drosopholids, Vol 1: covers the Midwest and Northeast.
The trio’s second book covers the Drosophilids of the Southeast.

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

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

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

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

Family?

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

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

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

Tessa, what sparked your interest in science?

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

Hometown, family?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fernando Ponta

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

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

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

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

Apurva Baruah

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wind turbine blades average almost 200 feet long, and turbine towers average 295 feet tall—about the height of the Statue of Liberty.
Comparison between velocity patterns measured by SNL’s LiDAR at SWiFT facility in Lubbock, Texas, and MTU’s DRD-BEM-GVLM simulation results at spherical surfaces at distances of (a) 2, and (b) 5 five rotor diameters downwind. Dr. Ponta and Apurva promise to interpret and explains these models for us during Husky Bites.

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

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

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

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

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

Hometown?

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

The Avanti Bianc, on Traverse Bay

What do you like to do in your spare time?

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

The skyline of of Mumbai

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

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

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

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

Hometown?

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

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

Any hobbies?

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

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Open Water

Sarah Green: Glasgow—Michigan Tech Agents of Change

Michigan Tech delegation, colleagues and friends at COP26 in Glasgow

Sarah Green shares her knowledge on Husky Bites, a free, interactive Zoom webinar this Monday, March 21 at 6 pm ET. Learn something new in just 30 minutes (or so), with time after for Q&A! Get the full scoop and register at mtu.edu/huskybites.

Dr. Sarah Green: “The ultimate challenge to understanding how things work is to consider the whole Earth as a system of physical, biological and human processes.”

What are you doing for supper this Monday night 3/21 at 6 ET? Grab a bite with Dean Janet Callahan and Professor Sarah Green, interim chair and professor of Chemistry. Last November, six Michigan Tech students and three alumni helped lead events and a press conference at the 26th United Nations COP26 event in Glasgow, Scotland. The group was accompanied by Green, whose interests include all aspects of environmental chemistry, from molecular analytical methods to global climate change. 

The group’s effort was part of the Youth Environmental Alliance in Higher Education (YEAH), a multidisciplinary research and education network involving 10 universities. Formed in 2019 with support from the National Science Foundation, YEAH prepares students to engage on climate-related issues across disciplines and cultures—and to be part of the climate solution as scientists and emerging leaders. 

On the trip were Jessica Daignault, who earned her PhD in Environmental Engineering at Michigan Tech in 2021, and current mechanical engineering PhD student Ayush Chutani. During Husky Bites we’ll hear about their experiences at COP26—and what comes next.

Daignault is now a professor civil engineering at Montana Tech. Chutani is conducting doctoral research at Michigan Tech, testing new solar panel coatings designed to shed snow.

We’ll also get a head start in celebrating United Nations World Water Day, coming up on Wednesday March 22, 2022. At Michigan Tech, World Water Day celebration at the Great Lakes Research Center for a week!

Ayush Chutani: “For me, finding solutions to global problems is as important as our approach to finding them.”
Dr. Jessica Daignault: “There must be transparency and accountability in the negotiation process, and the voices of minority populations must be heard.”

“We are linked to our environment by flows of atoms, and some of them are causing planet-wide changes,” notes Green. “Chemical flows help visualize the big picture of climate change and the human impacts. The ultimate challenge in understanding how things work is to consider the whole Earth as a system of physical, biological and human processes,” she says.

Green first joined the Department of Chemistry at Michigan Tech in 1994, then served as department chair for the next nine years. Her research includes carbon cycling in the Lake Superior basin; origin and fate of organic carbon in terrestrial, lake, and marine environments, response of aquatic systems to climate change; integration of biological, geological, physical, and chemical data for understanding of global cycles, and the communication of climate change science.

At Michigan Tech Green was instrumental in several major climate-related environmental monitoring efforts, beginning with KITES, an NSF-funded project that spawned many subsequent environmental monitoring efforts in the upper Great Lakes. The work continues today with the Army Corps of Engineers, the Alliance for Coastal Technologies and NOAA’s Great Lakes Observing System (GLOS). 

In 2013 she was named a Jefferson Science Fellow by the US State Department, and spent a year working in the Bureau of East Asia-Pacific Affairs. Then, from 2015-2019, Green served as co-chair for the Scientific Advisory Panel on the Sixth Global Environmental Outlook (GEO-6), United Nations Environment Programme.

Part of the MTU delegration at COP26 in Glasgow

Green’s work with the State Department and with UN Environment has given her direct experience at the science-policy interface. “Perhaps the most important aspect of policy is listening carefully to identify the key concerns of all players,” she says. “My work with policy has also exposed me to a few of the many smart and dedicated people who are striving to improve the world.”

Green has brought both experiences back to her teaching, especially in her Climate Science and Policy course at Michigan Tech. She also teaches a course on Green Chemistry. 

“I first met Dr. Sarah Green while I was a student in her climate policy course during graduate school,” says Daignault. “Since then I have had the privilege of attending two United Nations COP meetings with her and other MTU delegates.”

“I was a student in Dr. Green’s course on climate policy last semester,” adds Chutani. “I was fortunate to attend COP26 in person last year. I hope to go next year as a part of the MTU delegation.”

“We have the technology to drastically slow global warming,” says Dr. Sarah Green.

“Climate change is an enormously multifaceted problem,” says Green. “Many actions are urgent, so removing impediments to action may be the most critical starting point. Innumerable opportunities are emerging and many would flourish if obstacles were removed.”

“We have the technology to drastically slow global warming,” she says. “The best case scenario is that we collectively commit to deploying that technology, and that we skillfully manage potential economic and social disruption that can result from such large scale changes. The faster we act, the better the chance of keeping global temperatures within tolerable limits.” 

Adds Green: “The worst-case scenarios are bad—and unpredictable. Humans have no experience with a climate warmer by 2 degrees Celsius than the one where civilization developed.”

“Imagine taking the entire population of Earth to a new planet with unknown weather patterns, unknown ecology, new disease pathways and unpredictable crop yields.” 

Dr. Sarah Green

“People can contribute to climate solutions by working on myriad fronts, including new energy systems, cultural change, modern materials, ecology, art, hydrology, communication, transportation systems, philosophy, chemistry and especially cross-disciplinary exchanges.”

Dr. Green, how did you first get interested in chemistry and Earth system science?

I have always wanted to understand how things work. My dad encouraged me to take things apart to figure them out. In college, I spent a few months replacing the engine in my car and saw how mechanical, electrical and chemical processes all join in a coherent system.

Chemical reactions are themselves tiny systems that work when atoms and molecules line up in the right places with the right energies and electron arrangements to transform.

My graduate work focused on carbon-containing molecules in the ocean, which led me toward what is now known as earth system science.”

What do you like best about your work now?

I really like collaborating with people from diverse fields because I always learn new perspectives on the world, new tools to understand it and new connections between its parts.

“Climate change cannot be addressed without considering social justice, gender equality, capitalism, freshwater and ocean resources and impacts to biodiversity.”

Dr. Jessica Daignault

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

Michigan Tech’s Leading Scholars program was my gateway. I wasn’t sure which specific engineering discipline I was going to pursue until I got to campus my first year, where I discovered Environmental Engineering. I was excited to find a program that combined my aptitude for math and science with the physical, chemical, and biological processes related to the environment. 

Hometown, family?

I grew up in Marquette, Michigan on a small hobby farm. I have a deep love for the Upper Peninsula. I have a dog named Smith and a horse named Diams. 

What do you like to do in your spare time?

I love to get outside and adventure on horseback, bicycle, or foot. 

I am interested in energy equity and just transitioning towards a sustainable future.

Ayush Chutani

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

My engineering interests stem back to a young age from watching Nat Geo and Discovery Channel shows. I always wanted to be a creator and inventor and pretty much started with mechanical engineering; my journey started with aerospace engineering. Still, I later transitioned to renewable energy, sustainability, and climate change during my masters. For me, finding solutions to global problems is as important as our approach to finding them. Also, I am interested in energy equity and just transitioning towards a sustainable future. 

Hometown? And what do you like to do for fun?

I grew up in Faridabad, India, in the National Capital Region. I like to draw, sketch and cook in my free time. I also spend considerable time enjoying popular fiction, including movies and games. I try to look out for unique foods and interesting local stores when I travel.

Read More

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Reflection and Perspectives from Inside COP25

Caryn Heldt: The Making of a Vaccine

Caryn Heldt shares her knowledge on Husky Bites, a free, interactive Zoom webinar this Monday, March 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

“Our goal is to bring biotherapies to market faster,” says Dr. Caryn Heldt.

What are you doing for supper this Monday night 3/14 at 6 ET? Grab a bite with Dean Janet Callahan and Chemical Engineering Professor Caryn Heldt, to learn how different vaccines are made. Heldt, the James and Lorna Mack Endowed Chair of Cellular and Molecular Bioengineering, will talk about the different types of vaccines, how they are created and designed, and the FDA approval process. 

Caryn Heldt

Joining in will be one of Dr. Heldt’s former students, Dylan Turpeinen, who worked as an undergraduate and graduate researcher in the Heldt Bioseparations Lab at Michigan Tech. Dr. Turpeinen earned his BS in 2016, and his PhD in 2020, both in Chemical Engineering at Michigan Tech. He’s now a downstream process development scientist at the Florida-based biopharmaceutical company Resilience (formerly Ology Bioservices). In his role, Dr. Turpeinen operates and optimizes purification unit operations to produce vaccines.

Heldt is an alumna, as well. She graduated from Michigan Tech in 2001 with a Bachelor’s degree in Chemical Engineering and Chemistry. She earned a Masters in Chemical Engineering in 2005 and her PhD in Chemical Engineering in 2008, both from North Carolina State University. After post-doctoral studies in chemical engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in 2010, she joined the chemical engineering faculty at Michigan Tech. Then, in 2015, Heldt won a prestigious NSF CAREER Award, which boosted her efforts and focus on vaccine research and development. She’s a member of the American Chemical Society, the American Institute of Chemical Engineers, the Society of Biological Engineers, and the Biophysical Society.

Pictured: the ultrastructural details of an influenza virus particle, or “virion”. Dr. Heldt is PI on a joint research project with Johns Hopkins University, funded by the FDA, “Integrated and Continuous Manufacturing of an Influenza Vaccine.”

Heldt teaches both undergraduate and graduate classes at Michigan Tech. Her lab, the Heldt Bioseparations Lab, is busier than ever, with seven graduate and five undergraduate students and two postdocs⁠—her vaccine research dream team. “Our lab focuses on the science of viral surface interactions and applies it to vaccine manufacturing and purification,” she explains. “We are interested in how viruses interact with different surfaces and chemistries. This could be important in how viruses infect cells, but we focus on how we can change surfaces to improve purification and manufacturing of viral therapies.”

Dylan Turpeinen

Turpeinen started out in the lab with Dr. Heldt as undergraduate researcher, fabricating and testing graphene-based electrochemical biosensors for rapid protein detection. He shared his enthusiasm for biosensors with middle and high school students the summer after he graduated with his BS, teaching at Michigan Tech’s Summer Youth Program (SYP) and then started work on his master’s degree, conducting graduate research on biosensors to detect malaria.

We are interested in how viruses interact with different surfaces and chemistries.

Turpeinen’s research then shifted to developing and testing a gold nanoparticle aggregation assay for virus detection, which could be used to ensure surface cleanliness on cruise ships, at hospitals or doctor’s offices between patients. His doctoral dissertation was entitled, “Development of Detection and Purification Strategies for Viral Products,” successfully defended (virtually due to the Pandemic) in July 2020.

Observing these chemical reactions in a test tube sometimes reminded him of a sunset: “The gold nanoparticles are the sun that start above the lake displaying a red-ish pink color and as the sun begins to set behind the lake, the color changes to a deep purple. When the sun is set, only the crisp blue color of Lake Superior is left behind.”

“Integrating graduate and undergraduate training in the lab inspires and guides the next generation of engineers. It also enhances our research.”

Caryn Heldt
A day in the life in the Heldt Bioseparations Lab

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

Ever since grade school, I planned on being an engineer. At first, I wanted to work at mission control at NASA. Later, I wanted to make a difference in people’s lives. My mom and sister are nurses, and while I didn’t want to be a medical doctor, making medicines really intrigued me. Now as an engineer I can still make a difference without working directly with patients. 

“A few years ago my son had the Grand Champion chicken in the Houghton county Fair!”
Looking good!
Dr. Heldt is a quilter!

Hometown, family?

I grew up in Pinconning, Michigan. My dad dropped out of school in 8th grade to help on the family farm and my mom has an associate’s degree in nursing. They instilled in me the importance of education and pushed me to get a bachelor’s degree. They were a little surprised when I took it so far as to get a doctorate degree. 

What do you like to do in your spare time?

I live in Atlantic Mine with my husband Gary and our three children. At home we have about 25 chickens (give or take a few) that give us fresh eggs. I enjoy quilting in my spare time. I’ve even started quilting viruses and microscopes, so my love for science is bleeding over into my hobbies. As a family, we downhill ski, snowshoe, and camp. I’ve also served on the Michigan Tech Preschool board, and was a FIRST Lego League coach, too.

“Gold nanoparticle size increase reminds me of a sunset over Lake Superior.”

Dylan Turpeinen, spoken as a chemical engineering PhD student at Michigan Tech

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

As a kid, I was always using Lego blocks to build anything I could imagine—houses, planes, and spaceships. When I got older, I found myself thinking about how and why something worked. I knew I needed to learn techniques to figure out how. When I visited Michigan Tech in high school, the professors I talked to made me very excited about Chemical Engineering.They explained how it was the “jack of all trades” of engineering. I knew pursuing an engineering degree would teach me the techniques I needed in order to figure out most things at a base level. To this day I deep-dive into any project I am interested in to understand how it works.

Ellie and Momo: they get along great!

Hometown, family?

I was born in Orlando but grew up in Houghton where I stayed for almost 15 years. I currently live in sunny Gainesville, Florida with my wife LiLu Funkenbusch and our two fur babies, Ellie (dog) and Momo (cat).

Any hobbies?

I like woodworking, PC gaming, and visiting local breweries to enjoy any and all IPAs (aka India Pale Ales). I also enjoy making various improvements to our new house.

Watch

Play How Vaccine Manufacturing is a Bit Like Making Salad Dressing video
Preview image for How Vaccine Manufacturing is a Bit Like Making Salad Dressing video

How Vaccine Manufacturing is a Bit Like Making Salad Dressing

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Q&A with Bhakta Rath Award Winners Pratik Umesh Joshi and Caryn Heldt

TECH SCEnE Offers the Best of Both Worlds in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula

Keweenaw Bay Indian Community tribal members share their knowledge, wisdom, and culture with TECH SCEnE REU students. Apply for TECHSCEnE Summer 2022 by March 15 at https://www.techscene.mtu.edu. Tentative program dates are June 3, 2022- July 29, 2022. Tribal college, community college or university students, women and students from underrepresented backgrounds are all encouraged to apply.

What are you doing this Summer 2022? Want to combine cutting-edge engineering research with direct community involvement and impact? With a generous stipend, travel allowance, plus all expenses paid for 8 weeks?

Samantha Haynes, future biomedical engineer, spent 8 weeks as a TECH SCEnE REU researcher last summer.

Biomedical engineering student Samantha Haynes decided to immerse herself in something entirely new via TECH SCEnE, a National Science Foundation Undergraduate Research Experience (REU) at Michigan Technological University. Haynes came all the way from Arlington, Virginia, where she studies biomedical engineering at Virginia Tech.

The 8-week, all-expense paid program offered at Michigan Tech is called TECH SCEnE (short for Technology, Science and Community Engagement in Engineering). Haynes stayed on campus, went on outdoor trips throughout the Keweenaw Peninsula, guided by the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community, and conducted hands-on research in campus labs alongside a faculty mentor.

TECH SCEnE research projects include water quality testing for heavy metal contamination, smart adhesives for underwater applications, remote monitoring and mobile robots, simulating daylight for hatcheries, and in vitro modeling of the impact of heavy metals.

Samantha is seventh from the left. TECH SCEnE stands for Technology, Science and Community Engagement in Engineering

In addition to hands-on laboratory experience, Haynes and her fellow students took plenty of field visits to the beautiful lakeshores of Lake Superior and Keweenaw Bay. Application deadline for Summer 2022 is March 15. Tentative program dates are June 3, 2022- July 29, 2022.

This year is forecast to be outstanding for viewing the Northern Lights in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Located just 20 minutes or so from the Michigan Tech campus, McLain State Park on Lake Superior is a great potential viewing spot!

Haynes pioneered research on heavy metal contamination in the soil and wild rice beds around the Keweenaw last summer as an undergraduate researcher taking part in TECH SCEnE. She also worked alongside members of the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community (KBIC), her fellow REU students, and other volunteers to plant over 75 trees, build hoops houses, harvest foods, and upkeep a large community garden, the tribe’s People’s Garden.

Wild rice, known as manoomin, the good berry, is both a spiritual and nutritional staple of the Keweenaw Indian Community.

Samantha, what did you like most about TECH SCEnE?

I applied to TECHScENE REU because I thought the internship was very unique. I was excited to have the opportunity to work in Michigan and learn about the local Indian community. I personally value diversity and learning about different communities very much, so I appreciated that this type of internship existed. I’m also passionate about creating positive social change, helping to protect the environment, and using science to bridge gaps in education and educate the public on pressing issues.

What was the best part?

Samantha and fellow volunteers tending to plants in one of the many Hoop Houses of the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community People’s Garden

Out of all the experiences activities we did throughout TECH ScENE, building relationships with my fellow peers, mentors, and the Native American community was my favorite part.

What was the most challenging aspect?

The unlearning process of everything I thought I knew about Native Americans. We participated in weekly workshops to unlearn false, preconceived ideas and to learn factual information about Native American tribes and tribal members, especially those we were working with as part of TECH SCEnE. 

“Boozhoo! Welcome to our wellness trail,” says this sign, located on Keweenaw Bay Indian Community tribal land. Take a moment to learn a few words of the Ojibwe language. “Miikaans means “trail”. “Aki” means Earth. And “boozhoo!” means “greetings!” or “hello!”

What next? What are your future plans?

Currently I am a junior in biomedical engineering, so the next step is to secure another internship for summer 2022, in order to gain more experience. Once I graduate, I plan to start working and possibly consider graduate school after a year or two.

Samantha’s final presentation, with her TECH SCEnE research mentor, Professor Rupali Datta

Are you an adventurous college student? Want to learn how to use science and technology to benefit both the community and the environment? Apply to TECH SCEnE by March 15. Tribal college, community college or university students, women and students from underrepresented backgrounds are all encouraged to apply. Learn more and apply for free at techscene.mtu.edu.

Hajj Flemings: Looking Deeper

Hajj Flemings earned his BS in Mechanical Engineering in 1996 and his MBA at Lawrence Tech in 2003: “The educational experience gave me an appreciation for adapting and prepared me for the future.”

When Hajj Flemings looks at a city, he sees more than the streets and buildings. Blessed with an uncanny gift for looking deeper into places, people, and cultures, Flemings invites those around him to bring their light and search with him for the essential. 

When he graduated from Michigan Tech with a bachelors degree in mechanical engineering, Flemings was well prepared to adapt to his new work environment on the factory floor at Ford—and begin refining the key concepts for his future endeavors. He went on to start Brand Camp University, an educational platform that is preparing people for the future of work, and Rebrand Detroit, a civic design and brand project and multi-disciplinary collaboration with the residents, community stakeholders, and local government to change cities—starting with his home city of Detroit.

At Ford Flemings was a quality engineer responsible for 20 percent of their aftermarket parts, including remanufactured engines and catalytic converters. 

“I was giving instructions to people who worked on the line longer than I had been alive, but it was through that role I gained an appreciation for making complex concepts simple, while learning to communicate with people who knew more about the core job than I did,” he shares. “It helped me prepare to pivot on my career when the time was right.” 

“I knew on day one that I didn’t want to be an engineer my whole life, but I also knew the degree taught discipline and trained you on how to solve problems.”

Hajj Flemings 

Being a creative at heart, Flemings was writing a branding book and establishing his business while preparing for an exit plan from Ford. “Quality engineering continues to influence what I do today to think beyond aesthetics. It means creating something that works, makes business sense, and is accessible and sustainable,” he explains. “In everything I do, I am thinking about the entire design process journey and how the product meets reality.” 

There is a seasonality of products and people. Products have a lifecycle just like people who leave their positions, notes Flemings. “When creating, we need to ensure we have everything on the ground needed to create it, know how to put it in the hands of the consumer, and make sure there is a documentation trail, so we can hand it off to the next person.”

The grit and determination he gained working through challenging coursework at Michigan Tech has enabled Flemings to lead rebranding efforts for cities across the country and also in Haiti. Looking back on his career successes, Flemings says he feels inspired.

 “The greatest opportunity I have in my role is to learn from others’ stories, develop relationships, and to be able to write the stories of businesses and cities to impact their culture.” 

Hajj Flemings