Category Archives: Features

When you mark something as “Features” you are forcing it to the top of the news page on news and events.

Lift Bridge Wins Award, Snags Trailer⁠—Built to Last 

Portage Lake Lift Bridge is a double-deck, vertical lift bridge, the only one of its type in Michigan. Here shown with a blue sky and summer day in the background.
The monumental Portage Lake Lift Bridge—a double-deck, vertical lift bridge—is the only one of its type in Michigan.

The Portage Lake Bridge, or more commonly known as the Lift Bridge, was designated in May, 2019 as an American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) Michigan State Historic Civil Engineering Landmark of the Year. Built in 1959, the bridge provides a key role in connecting the Keweenaw’s local industries to the nation, and uses a first-of-its-kind intermediate lift span position. It also was an early example of accelerated bridge construction. 

The Lift Bridge is a double-deck vertical lift bridge⁠—the only one of its type in Michigan and uncommon nationwide. While the lower deck was originally used by trains; these days, snowmobiles roar through the lower deck in winter. This riveted steel bridge was built to support the Keweenaw’s copper mining and logging industries and to serve the nation’s need for copper and timber. So you might say, it’s built to carry heavy loads!

the Caterpillar motor in the boat Janet was in
One of two Caterpillar engines on Don’s boat.

I was invited one recent Friday to meet one of our civil engineering alumni from the class of ‘66, Donald R. Anderson. He was docked in Hancock, just east of the Lift Bridge, traveling with his son, up from Grand Haven. They were in town waiting for the extended family, to arrive and spend a few weeks together on the boat as they worked their way through the Apostle Islands area. We were chatting, taking a look at the engines, and enjoying some local cider when BAM! A very loud boom sounded from the Lift Bridge. We all turned to watch as a tandem trailer loaded with trailers pulled to a halt. Over the next hour, inspections of the rig, and bridge seemed to happen while we looked up from below with high-tech binoculars and speculated about the impact. We figured that being in tandem, one of the trailers rocked up just as the truck pulled through and snagged that edge a bit. The truck eventually pulled down and around and took time to do a safety check just behind the marina.

A section of the lift bridge is shown with a tandem trailer loaded with trailers inside
A tandem trailer loaded with trailers comes to a halt on the Lift Bridge

On my way home, pedaling across the bridge I stopped and took a few images. You can see how there is a bit of battered metal at the leading edge on the Houghton side. No easy way to tell what marks are new or old from down on the ground (and I am a metallurgist). My assessment⁠—that bridge was built to last. I bet it will still be in use for its 100th anniversary. They build things to last up here in the Keweenaw. And remember your metallurgy: steel can plastically deform and even strengthen as a result of the increased number of dislocations.

underside of Portage Lake Lift Bridge
Lift Bridge wear and tear 

Dr. Tess Ahlborn, professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Michigan Technological University, working with two recent civil engineering masters of science graduates Emma Beachy and Michael Prast, submitted the application of Lift Bridge for Historic Civil Engineering Landmark Award at both the state and national levels. While Lift Bridge has now won the state ASCE Landmark of the Year award, the jury’s still out on the national level award. You can read more about the Lift Bridge here.

Thank you Tess, Emma and Michael, and the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, for the 300 pages of historical content that supported the nomination.

Dr. Tess Ahlborn, Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Director of the Center for Structural Durability at Michigan Tech

Mining Engineering: The Best of Both Worlds

Julie (Varichak) Marinucci earned her Bachelor of Science in Mining Engineering at Michigan Tech in 2002. She is now Mineral Development Specialist at St. Louis County Land and Minerals Department in Hibbing, Minnesota.
Julie (Varichak) Marinucci earned her Bachelor of Science in Mining Engineering at Michigan Tech in 2002. She is now Mineral Development Specialist at St. Louis County Land and Minerals Department in Hibbing, Minnesota.

After a 15-year break, Mining Engineering officially returns to Michigan Tech, with BS, MS, and PhD degree programs and cutting-edge research. Learn more online

Julie Marinucci earned her Bachelor of Science in Mining Engineering from Michigan Tech in 2002. She knew early on that mining would enable her to work globally, but also return home someday to northern Minnesota and have a good career there, too. Turns out, she was right.

What fostered your own path to studying and working in mining?
Mining Engineering kind of landed in my lap. I knew I wanted to be an engineer of some type and that I wanted to work outdoors. Civil Engineering seemed like the most likely choice, but then I met Murray Gillis, a mining engineering instructor at Michigan Tech. Murray was at a local college fair and he sparked my curiosity, not just in Michigan Tech, but also in Mining Engineering. My campus visit, and spending the summer after high school working in a mine, sealed the deal!

Describe some challenges that you face in your work.
The biggest challenge is the general misunderstanding of the mining industry. Many people do not understand the amount of care that goes into extracting minerals for the conveniences and protections we as a society have come to expect. Mining considers the full lifecycle of the land, careful consideration of the environmental conditions prior to mining, efficient extraction of the minerals of interest, and thoughtful reclamation with the next generation of land use in mind. I have always thought a big part of my job is to ensure the general public understands the efforts taken in developing a mine.

What has changed the most in mining engineering over the course of your career?
The continuous evolution of technology in mine planning has been fun to watch. Operations are now utilizing drone technology and laser scanning to manage pit operations, blast efficiency, ore grading, and more. I had the opportunity to work with engineers early in my career who had the large map tables and boxes of colored pencils. Fast forward now to laser scanners, drones, remote equipment monitoring, and more!

What changes do you expect to see in the future of mining?
I expect to see the way we work in mining to evolve, and look to more flexible work arrangements that will bring in a more diverse workforce. The days where you must be at your 1950’s steel desk working from 6 am to 6 pm will evolve into the ability to work remotely. It will allow for a different type of operational accessibility while providing for better balance in life.

What is your most surprising experience as a mining engineer to date?
When I started down the journey to become a mining engineer, I envisioned working my way through an operation in a very technical role. Through the years, I found that my degree has allowed me to reinvent myself many times over.

I started my career with Caterpillar in a marketing position. It was completely unexpected, but Cat was looking for someone who could understand the equipment, understand the mining industry, and effectively communicate with clients. What a great job! I went on to enjoy many roles at Cleveland Cliffs iron mining operations, where I learned to be an engineer, manage operation crews in the pit, and had the great learning experience of working at a greenfield operation in Canada (with a language barrier!). When I decided to leave Cliffs, I discovered the contacts I had made, along with understanding of mining operations, positioned me well for a career in consulting. My time with Short Elliott Hendrickson Inc. working in business development for mining and heavy industry taught me how to assemble a team to help solve problem and deliver a successful project.  Then came my current role, with St. Louis County—a brand new position created to ensure that the vast mineral wealth held within the county was protected. The chance to define the job and lay out the mining and mineral strategy for the county was too good to pass up. St. Louis County holds world class iron, copper and nickel deposits, to name a few, and has a long mining history of over 130 years. As Mineral Development Specialist, I work closely with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, and local mining and exploration companies and communities, to ensure we are responsibly moving mining forward for the benefit of the region and the Tax Forfeited Land Trust.

Why do you think it was important to reinstate the mining engineering degree program at Michigan Tech?
Michigan Tech was founded as a mining engineering school and the demand that was created in 1858 still holds true today. Michigan Tech is positioned strategically near two large mining districts with growing interest in mineral development. The need for qualified mining professionals to move these project forward is great. The alumni network is willing to support these students through their education to ensure they have the best start possible.

Why should a student enter the field of mining engineering now?
The need for skilled mining engineers that love our region and want to stay, work and raise a family is strong, while the nationwide and global demand continues to grow. Mining in not for the faint of heart, but if you can weather the storm it’s a fulfilling career with many ways to leverage a mining engineering degree.

What are the greatest rewards and challenges mining engineers face now, and will face in the future?
Mining engineers should be proud to know that they are part of the fabric that maintains our quality of life, helps to grow our food, provides the materials for our ever-expanding tech advances, and keeps our families safe. This role in our modern life is not well-understood, but it’s a very important role. The future has great potential to continue to move our industry into next levels of efficiency, safe production, beneficial reuse of waste streams—and maybe mining the moon! The stars are the limit!

What’s next in your career?
I look forward to continuing to explore the opportunity to manage the land for mineral development, while planning for beneficial reuse of the land and the residuals. The ability to make an impact in my backyard is exciting and I look forward to evolving the role and myself over the years.


Guest Blog: Circumnavigating Lake Superior

Lake Superior. Photo credit: Nathan Fertig

In his guest blog, Michigan Tech electrical engineering alumnus Charles L. Hand ’62 tells the story of his journey around the largest freshwater lake, by surface area, in the world.

Chuck Hand stands at the waterfront on a low bluff
The author, Chuck Hand ’62

On September 10, 2018, via private automobile, I completed circumnavigating Lake Superior. It only took fifty-six years, a fascinating journey of over 1,300 miles. I made this adventure over five decades, in several cars, at numerous times, and with diverse friends and relatives. Come join me exploring this fascinating body of water.

The attraction of the immense Great Lakes is irresistible. During the first eighteen years of my life, I lived within thirty miles of Lake Erie in Tecumseh, in the southeastern corner of the Lower Peninsula of Michigan. Having a picnic on its shores and swimming in its crystal-clear cool waters was always a treat.

For the next fifteen years, I lived and worked within a mile of the shores, first of Lake Superior, then Lake Michigan. Witnessing gigantic freighters, called “lakers”, transporting their precious cargoes of iron ore, coal, and grain from Duluth at the western tip of Lake Superior to markets in eastern United States and the rest of the world, intrigued me. Riding the ferry carrying railroad cars, automobiles, and other passengers on a four-hour journey across Lake Michigan was a unique pleasure.

As a young lad, my first exposure to Lake Superior was with my parents while on vacation from our home in southeastern Michigan. We traveled across the Straits of Mackinac via car ferry to the Upper Peninsula cities of Sault Saint Marie, Marquette, Houghton, and Copper Harbor. Little did I know this initial excursion would lure me back again and again to the largest surface area freshwater lake in the world.

Vacationland, a car ferry in the Straits of Mackinac, going between Mackinac City and St. Ignace.

In my senior year of high school, I answered a Michigan College of Mining and Technology (now Michigan Technological University) recruiter’s invitation. He convinced me to spend the next four years of my life at the snow-blanketed engineering monastery in Houghton. Not only was I studying and learning a profession, but was experiencing the Scandinavian heritage of the Keweenaw Peninsula, the death knell of the booming copper mining era, and the lake’s climatic effect as it creates gigantic snow packs.

Photo from the Daily Mining Gazette, August 1958 of a billboard in Houghton that says "Welcome to the Copper Country. You are now breathing the purest, most vitalizing air on earth."
Photo from the Daily Mining Gazette, August 1958

After graduation in 1962, my chosen profession took me physically, although never emotionally, away from Lake Superior to Milwaukee, Chicago, and finally Southern California. I never forgot my college years in Houghton. Several times I returned to visit my alma mater, sometimes stopping at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Agawa Canyon in Ontario, or witnessing the great bulk cargo lakers ply their way through the Soo Locks in the St. Mary’s River. The best way to view this mighty parade of ships is first hand, cruising the St. Mary’s River on the deck of an excursion boat being raised and lowered twenty-one feet between Lake Huron and Lake Superior. Since 1957, the Straits of Mackinac could be crossed on one of the longest suspension bridges in the world.

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Lake Superior, between the dunes.
Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Lake Superior
Agawa Canyon, Ontario
Agawa Canyon, Ontario
The Indiana Harbor makes its way through the Poe Lock, Soo Locks, Sault Ste. Marie
Lit up at night is the Mackinac Bridge in the Northern Lights. Photo credit: Jason Gillman
Mackinac Bridge in the Northern Lights. Photo credit: Jason Gillman

Asking to identify my favorite spot is like asking which of my children I love the most, but I will try.

In 1997, while living in Southern California, an opportunity to complete another portion of the circumnavigation adventure occurred. I was selected as a member the staff of the Ninth Canadian National Jamboree, hosted by Scouts Canada. It was scheduled for Thunder Bay, Ontario, but where was Thunder Bay? After some research, I discovered that the city was 100 miles, by water, directly north of Houghton. During the early 1960s it had been two cities, Fort William and Port Arthur, the largest grain shipping ports in the world at that time. With fellow scouting friends, I flew to Minneapolis then carpooled to the Jamboree along the spectacular scenic northwest shore of the lake, by way of Duluth and Grand Portage. My task was to introduce the Scouts to the wonders of the Great Lakes and its commerce. Part of the introduction was boarding a docked laker. After the Jamboree, we ventured eastbound through the forested solitude of the lake’s far north shore, driving through Nipigon and Wawa to the the lake’s eastern tip. Upon reaching Sault Saint Marie, a second major portion of the circumnavigation was complete.

The mighty MV Wigeon tied up at the dock at dawn, in Thunder Bay, Ontario. Photo credit: Thunder Bay Shipping
The MV Wigeon at dawn, in Thunder Bay, Ontario. Photo credit: Thunder Bay Shipping
Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada showing water, cliffs of rocks and green forest
Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada. Photo credit: Joseph Gatto
Lake Nipigon, Ontario

The leg of the circumnavigation adventure between Duluth and Houghton still needed to be completed. During the summer of 2008, my beautiful wife Doris, a native of Milwaukee, and I decided to vacation in areas of northern Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan that neither she nor I had ever visited. Again, we flew into Minneapolis, rented a car, and headed north. From Duluth at the western tip of Lake Superior with its international harbor, we turned east. After a stop to explore the archipelago called Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, my circumnavigation, upon reaching Houghton, was complete.

Apostle Islands Maritime Cliffs Wisconsin showing red orange cliffs, aqua blue green water, and trees growing from the cliff
Apostle Islands Maritime Cliffs, Wisconsin
first edition book cover of Paddle-to-the-Sea, by Holling Clancy Holling, © 1941, renewed © 1969, Houghton Miffin showing an illustration of a Native American paddling a canoe in the aqua lake with a yellow variegated sky above.
Paddle-to-the-Sea, by Holling Clancy Holling, © 1941, renewed © 1969, Houghton Miffin
“Our famous Canada goose,” photo credit: Municipality of Wawa

Asking to identify my favorite spot is like asking which of my children I love the most, but I will try. There is Houghton and Michigan Technological University, where four years of my life was spent launching a successful career in electrical power engineering. There is Sault Saint Marie and the gigantic Great Lake freighters carrying their cargos to the industrial centers of the United States and the world. There is Nipigon where the imaginary miniature toy canoe in the book, Paddle-to-the-Sea, started its epic journey through all five of the Great Lakes and on into the Saint Lawrence, crossing the Atlantic, culminating its journey along the shores of France. There is Wawa and their memorable, huge Canadian goose guarding the entrance to the city. For scenic beauty, both the north shore and the south shore are exquisitely picturesque, each in their own way.

But, Michigan Technological University (MTU) in Houghton has to be my favorite spot since it had a major positive influence on my entire life. Someday, I hope to return to Lake Superior and complete a second circumnavigation, although this second trek will probably be completed in slightly less time.

Lake Nipigon, Ontario
Orange sunset over Lake Superior on Agawa Bay, Ontario. Photo credit: Helena Jacoba
Agawa Bay, Ontario. Photo credit: Helena Jacoba
Proton arc, a rare, red type of aurora, over lake Superior. As the name indicates, proton arcs are caused not by electrons but by more massive protons that bombard the Earth's atmosphere following an energetic event on the Sun. Image won second place in the 2015 NOAA Weather in Focus Photo Contest. Photo credit: Ken Williams
Proton arc, a rare type of aurora, over lake Superior, with the yellow city lights of Marquette, Michigan in the distance. Photo credit: Ken Williams
Michigan Technological University looking south over Portage Canal.

Michigan Tech—at the Intersection of Engineering and Medicine

Undergraduate research in the Biomedical Optics Laboratory at Michgan Tech
Undergraduate research in the Biomedical Optics Laboratory at Michgan Tech

There’s a lot of cutting-edge, health-focused research going on at Michigan Tech, in areas that engage undergraduates in hands-on research. This is because we care deeply about improving the human condition, and we teach this “first-hand.”

If you are interested in medicine, possess a desire to help others, and enjoy creative problem solving, read on. Michigan Tech researchers tackle genetics, cardiovascular disease, and cancer, just to name a few. Still more areas focus on improving health, fitness, clean water, sleep, medical imaging, and more.

In the College of Engineering alone, we have over 30 faculty—in biomedical engineering, chemical engineering, electrical and computer engineering, environmental engineering, materials science and engineering, and mechanical engineering—who engage in health-aligned research, engaging both undergraduates as well as graduate students in research.

Catching Viruses in the Lab
For example, in Chemical Engineering, students in Prof. Caryn Heldt’s lab “catch” viruses by understanding their sticky outer layers. The complex structures making the surface of a virus are small weaves of proteins that impact they way a virus interacts with cells and its environment. A slight change in protein sequence makes this surface slightly water-repelling, or hydrophobic, causing it to stick to other hydrophobic surfaces. Using this knowledge, they are finding new ways to detect and remove viruses before they make people sick, and also reduce cost and development time for new vaccines.

“I’m interested in how water around a virus can be controlled to decrease the cost of making vaccines and other medicines,” says Caryn Heldt. Her team conducts research using parvovirus because it’s small and chemically stable.

Accelerated Healing
In Biomedical Engineering, students in Prof. Rupak Rajachar’s lab are developing a minimally invasive, injectable hydrogel for achilles tendinitis, one of the most common and painful sports injuries. “To cells in the body, a wound must seem as if a bomb has gone off,” he says.  The team’s hydrogel formula allows tendon tissue to recover organization by restoring the initial cues that tendon cells need in order to function. Two commonly prescribed, simple therapies—range of motion exercises and applying cold or heat—boost the effectiveness of the hydrogel. Even a single injection can accelerate healing.

Prof. Rajachar and his team culture tendon cells with a bit of their injectable hydrogel in a petri dish, then watch under a microscope to see just how tendon cells respond over time. “In the presence of the hydrogel, cells of interest (called tenocytes) maintain their tendon cell behavior,” he says.

Human-Centered Monitoring
In Mechanical Engineering, students in Prof. Ye Sun’s Human Centered Monitoring Lab are turning embroidered logos into wearable electronics. Health monitoring devices like FitBit, apps on cell phones, and heart monitors are seemingly everywhere, but what if embroidery on clothing could replace these devices altogether? By using conductive thread and passive electronics‚ tiny semiconductors, resistors and capacitors‚ Prof. Sun and her team do it with stitching—lightweight, flexible, and beautiful embroidery. They’re also building a manufacturing network and cloud-based website for ordering.

Ye Sarah Suns hands are show holding a prototype of a flexible electronic circuit, where the stitches themselves become the circuit.
“I hope flexible, wearable electronics will interest a new generation of engineers by appealing to their artistic sides,” says Dr. Ye Sarah Sun. She is holding a prototype of a flexible electronic circuit, where the stitches themselves become the circuit.

Fighting Cancer with Fruit Flies
And in Biological Sciences, students in Prof. Thomas Werner’s lab perform transgenics, where they insert pieces of foreign DNA into fruit fly embryos, to determine the role genes play in the pigmentation of fruit flies. Biologists use fruit flies to study wing spots, metabolism, and aging. This is important because the same genes and major metabolic pathways in fruit flies affect cancer and other diseases in humans.

five fruit flies with striped bodies are shown. The genes that govern abdominal colors and patterns in fruit flies may provide insight into human cancer genes.
“There are a few hundred toolkit genes that all animals share and they build us as embryos and continue to help us as we develop,” says Prof. Werner. “But the differences in their regulation—when and where and how much they function—brings about the diversity of life.”

Engineers Go to Medical School
In case you are a student who is considering medical school, engineering majors stack up very well in acceptances to medical school, especially when considering research experiences and the associated research publications that our students co-author. In our Department of Biomedical Engineering alone, in 2017-18, BME majors had an 86% acceptance rate to med school.

I Followed My Heart
As a personal anecdote, my first university degree was a Bachelor of Science in Chemical Engineering. My curiosity about materials (especially metals) led me to a PhD in Materials Science. This multidisciplinary background led me to start a company with a cardiologist who needed my expertise. He had a vision for an improved angioplasty device to treat restenosis, which is when heart stents become narrow or blocked. Our company was based on my invention, related to applying tiny doses of radiation to a blockage to help in-stent restenosis. In all my career, this two years of work on this angioplasty device—it captured my imagination, my attention, and my heart (no pun intended). This intersection of engineering and medicine—it’s a life-changing experience to get personally engaged.

Now, if you’re interested in health care or working in a research lab, and you want to know more, please let me know—Callahan@mtu.edu

Janet Callahan, Dean
College of Engineering
Michigan Tech


Eight Years of Awesome—NSBE Alternative Spring Break in Detroit

Portrait of the Michigan Tech NSBE students who traveled to Detroit
University students from the Michigan Tech NSBE chapter devoted their spring break to inspire, encourage and teach high school and middle school students in Detroit. From L to R: Christiana Strong, Jalen Vaughn, Andrea Smith, Bryce Stallworth, Kylynn Hodges, Stuart Liburd, Rebecca Spencer, Jemel Thompson. Not pictured: Logan Millen

In March, students from the Michigan Tech Chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) traveled to the Motor City, visiting middle and high school classrooms as part of the chapter’s 8th Annual NSBE Alternative Spring Break trip in Detroit. Their goal—to engage, inspire, and encourage diverse students to consider careers in STEM—science, technology engineering and math.

Nine Michigan Tech engineering students participated: Christiana Strong (biomedical engineering); Jalen Vaughn (computer engineering); Andrea Smith (chemical engineering and pharmaceutical chemistry); Bryce Stallworth (mechanical engineering); Kylynn Hodges (computer science); Stuart Liburd (mechanical engineering and materials science and engineering); Rebecca Spencer (mechanical engineering); Jemel Thompson (environmental engineering); and Logan Millen (chemical engineering).

During the day, the NSBE students gave classroom presentations at middle and high schools. After school, they conducted Family Engineering events for K-8 students and their families with fun, hands-on activities.

“Having the NSBE Alternative Spring Break program at our school has sparked new conversations in classes and hallways about the reality of attending a university after graduation,” said Matthew Guyton, a robotics, coding, and math teacher at Communication and Media Arts High School, and a graduate of Michigan Tech’s Teacher Education Program (‘07).

“The high school students have a lot of questions specifically about applying to college,” said Stuart Liburd, president of Michigan Tech’s NSBE chapter. “We also share our own experiences as college students. For instance, while living in the Virgin Islands, I realized that I wanted to develop technology that would help people in their everyday life,” he said. “I applied to a lot of schools but settled on Michigan Tech because I wanted to get out of my comfort zone. It was located in a place I’d never been, and I heard they got a lot of snow. I had never seen snow before coming to Michigan Tech!”

This was Liburd’s third alternative spring break in Detroit. “I want to make a positive impact,” he adds. “To put it simply, I want to live up to the NSBE motto—’to increase the number of responsible Black engineers who excel academically, succeed professionally, and positively impact the community.’”

“It was so great to have the NSBE members share their experience with our students. They opened up my students’ vision of possibilities for the future. Particularly in Detroit, engineering is typically discussed in the context of automotive so it was helpful that the broad scope of engineering was presented,” said Nicole Conaway, a science teacher at the Communication and Media Arts High School. “The students’ personal stories were especially important for our students to hear in order for them to see themselves as future engineers. A few weeks after the visit, one of my seniors proudly brought me his letter of acceptance from Michigan Tech—it was so exciting!”

“Each year, the NSBE Alternative Spring Break provides an opportunity for community-building between the Michigan Tech NSBE student chapter, and our school and parents,” said Tracy Ortiz, a middle school science teacher at Clippert Academy. “We appreciate their time and dedication. Families gain an appreciation of the STEM concepts required for engineering careers, and both parents and children engage in collaboration and teamwork to solve engineering challenges. It was awesome to have the NBSE students share their college experiences and have my students come away with the idea that engineering can be a career path for them,” added Ortiz.

“They helped me to see that you can do anything you want with your life,” said Tiara Carey, a student at Communication and Media Arts High School. “When Michigan Tech came to visit CMA, it opened my eyes to just how many different branches of engineering exist,” said fellow student Caleb Bailey.

“The students from Michigan Tech helped me understand more about myself by playing a game with all of us,” adds CMA high school student, Kayleon Anderson-Jordan. “They showed us how important it is to listen and to be very specific. They had us follow directions and understand how one small thing can mess up a larger goal, so be careful with planning.”

“NSBE Alternative Spring Break provides an opportunity for our students to see people who look like them, studying for careers that they, too, can attain,” said Kwesi Matthews, a science teacher at Ben Carson High School. “Even if they don’t go into engineering or a STEM field, we have introduced them to a group of college students who are accessible to them, and like themselves.”

“I’d like to personally thank our Michigan Tech NSBE members for taking time in their spring break and investing it to help inspire, and encourage diverse students to consider STEM-intensive careers,” remarked Dr. Janet Callahan, Dean of Engineering at Michigan Tech. “When our middle and high school students hear directly from college students about the different majors in STEM, and about how they chose those majors, it’s inspirational.”

Additional comments from the students at Communication and Media Arts High School include:

“I learned about many kinds of engineering that I didn’t know existed until the Michigan Tech visit.”
Jada Williams

“They helped me understand how important and critical proper teamwork is—without good communication, errors can potentially result.”
Angel McLaurin

“I learned that there are more kinds of technology than I thought, such as the technology in the fashion industry associated with making jeans.”
Alexandria Johnson

“They expanded my knowledge of career choices in engineering and even in the field of engineering education. Engineering is one of my potential career choices, so it’s reassuring to know that colleges welcome all future engineers in every aspect.”
Davion Stinson

General Motors funded their effort, along with the Office of Admissions and College of Engineering at Michigan Tech, in partnership with Detroit Public Schools Community District. The effort was coordinated by the Michigan Tech Center for Science & Environmental Outreach.


Western UP Science Fair this Tuesday at Tech: Free, fun, hands-on activities for K-8 students

Prepare to be amazed! Here, a member of Michigan Tech Mind Trekkers hand out samples of “shattered” graham crackers frozen with liquid nitrogen. Not pictured: the exciting result. Eat a small bite, exhale, and poof! You’ve got ‘dragon breath’!

The Western UP Science Fair and Science & Engineering Festival will be on campus at Michigan Tech, on Tuesday, March 19, from 4:30-7:30 pm.

All students in the Western Upper Peninsula of Michigan— kindergarten through the 8th grade, and their families—are invited to attend the Science & Engineering Festival from 4:30-7:30 pm, Tuesday, March 19 in the Memorial Union Building Commons (ground floor) at Michigan Tech. 

More than 60 Michigan Tech students from 15 Michigan Tech student organizations will engage participants in fun, hands-on engineering, physics, and chemistry activities, including Remotely Operated Vehicles, Fish Tank Fiber Optics, a K’NEX Wind-powered Water Lift, and Tracks & Trains. Design an egg package with toothpicks and marshmallows. Design and shoot a straw rocket! Make some Gel-o that mimics human tissue! Make art with glow in the dark paints! How about glitter slime and popsicle stick flashlights? More than 30 different fun things to try!

Schedule & Event Flyer

4:30-7:30 pm   Activity Stations open to the public (K-8 students and families)

5:00-6:00 pm    Public viewing of science fair projects in the Ballroom (2nd floor)

2019 STEM Festival-FLYER 031919

Don’t miss this super-fun event! The stellar list of Michigan Tech student organizations include:

  • FIRST Robotics Houghton Middle School
  • Society of Physics Student Chapter
  • Engineering Ambassadors                                         
  • Railroad Engineering Activities Club
  • Materials United – Materials Science Engineering
  • Women in Natural Resources
  • Society of Women Engineers
  • MTU Sustainability House
  • Dollar Bay SOAR
  • Mind Trekkers
  • Society of Environmental Engineering
  • Optics & Phototonics Society
  • Biomedical Engineering
  • Keweenaw Rocket Range
  • Tau Beta Pi

For more information: Joan Chadde, 906-487-3341 or jchadde@mtu.edu

Michigan Tech Hosts STEM Festival & Science Fair

Hundreds of Keweenaw area students visited the campus of Michigan Tech Tuesday as they took part in all sorts of fun and games, and all in the name of “Science.”

“We have some new organizations: the Keweenaw Rocketry Club, Biomedical Engineering is here, the Society of Physics students always come out and they have a lot of fun,” said Chadde.

Read more at the Keweenaw Report.

Michigan Technological University hosts 21st Annual Western Upper Peninsula Science Fair and STEM Festival

“What we want the students to see is how much fun science, technology, engineering, and math are,” said MTU Center for Science and Environmental Outreach director Joan Chadde. “They’re also interacting with some great role models.”

Projects from the fair that earn enough points will receive gold, silver, or bronze ribbons. All ribbon winners will be able to present their project at the Carnegie Museum in Houghton this April.

Read more and watch the video at Upper Michigan’s Source, by Tyler J. Markle.

Science Fair: Michigan Tech hosts 21st annual festival

“At this event we want to get kids interested in rocketry. That’s actually one of our mission statements for the organization,” said Dan Faber, vice president of the Keweenaw Rocket Range.

Younger students who want to join an organization before college were welcome to talk to the FIRST Robotics team, a robotics group for K-12 students.

Read more at the Mining Gazette.


Making a Difference in Motor City: Alternative Spring Break

Michigan Tech Alumnus Bruce Brunson during NSBE Alternative Spring Break in Detroit last year. Brunson earned BS degrees in Biomedical Engineering and Mechanical Engineering in 2018. He now works as an associate design engineer for Ethicon Endo-Surgery Inc. in Cincinnati, Ohio.

While some students travel for adventure during spring break, others travel for the greater good. The Michigan Tech Chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) will head to Motor City to spread the message of STEM.

Ten Michigan Tech engineering students will visit six middle and high schools to encourage students to consider college and a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) careers as part of the chapter’s 8th Annual NSBE Alternative Spring Break trip to Detroit from March 11-13, 2019.

During the school day, the Michigan Tech students will make classroom presentations to middle and high school students encouraging them to continue their education after high school, consider going to college or community college, and choose a STEM career path. The NSBE students will also conduct evening Family Engineering events at three K-8 schools.

The goal of the NSBE classroom presentations and Family Engineering events are to engage, inspire, and encourage diverse students to learn about and consider careers in engineering and science through hands-on activities. These programs are designed to address our country’s need for an increased number and greater diversity of students skilled in STEM (math, science, technology, and engineering).

NSBE School Presentation Schedule ~ Monday-Wed, March 11-13, 2019
Morning High School Classroom Presentations (first 3 periods):
  • Western International High School
  • Communications and Media Arts HS
  • Ben Carson High School
Afternoon Middle School Classroom Presentations (2 periods after lunch) and K-8 Family Engineering Nights (3-5 pm):
  • Ronald Brown Academy
  • Thurgood Marshall K-8 School
  • Clippert Academy
This outreach effort is funded by General Motors, and the Michigan Tech Office of Admissions and College of Engineering, in partnership with Detroit Public Schools Community District. The effort is coordinated by the Michigan Tech Center for Science & Environmental Outreach.
High school students at these schools will also be encouraged to apply to participate in a 6-day Engineering & Environmental Science Exploration at Michigan Tech from July 20-27, or a 5-day Summer STEM Internship at Michigan Tech from July 15-19. Each participating student will be supported by a $700 scholarship. Application information is available here.
For many other students at Michigan Tech, For Michigan Tech students, spring break is a time to take the dedication, innovation and tenacity they bring to the classroom to a different venue. Read more about the wide range of alternative spring breaks taking place this year.

Safe Winter Roads, Explained by a Michigan Tech Snow Scientist

It’s the first week of March and so far we’ve had 175 inches of snow in Houghton County, with another couple of feet expected before the spring thaw. Despite all the snow, we manage to get around pretty well (most of the time). Snow scientist Russ Alger ’80, ’81 explains just what goes into the UP’s ‘secret sauce’ for safe winter roads.

Russ Alger, Chief Snow Scientist, Keweenaw Research Center

Russ Alger knows about snow. The head of Michigan Tech’s Institute of Snow Research is one of the world’s go-to guys for research on cold climate driving issues, with more than 25 years of experience and counting. Since earning his BS and MS in Civil and Environmental engineering Michigan Tech, Alger has developed a snow grader that can “pave” snow trails in Antarctica, and a product called SafeLane, an epoxy-aggregate mixture that is applied to roads, bridge decks, walkways and parking lots to give the surfaces better traction by reducing snow and ice. SafeLane is now marketed by Cargill and used widely, saving untold lives.

You are a snow scientist. How did you come to choose this path, or did it choose you?  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 curriculum on Cold Regions Engineering. I started with them that very first year.

Are there best practices for using salt on roadways in winter? 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 15o 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.

Combining salt and stamp sands seems to work pretty well to help us get around amid all the snowfall here in the UP.  What all goes into it? Each maintenance entity uses a sand that is easiest in their operation. It depends on availability, and cost—where cost is actual material cost and transportation to the central staging areas. As it turns out, 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, mainly NaCl and CaCl2 liquid helps the sand piles from freezing up, but is also very effective at helping the sand particles to stick on the ice surface. A small amount of deicer makes the sand particles melt into the surface and stick, making a layer that acts like a piece of sand paper. This is a pretty effective way to increase grip of tires on the surface, which is the end goal of this operation.

 “Winter road maintenance is a science in itself, a very complicated undertaking. Each geographic location has its own challenges and ways of doing things that have evolved over the years. That said, there really is no miracle method.”

Are any elements of winter road prep unique to this area? As you drive across the UP and into Wisconsin and Lower Michigan it is evident that each entity has its own way of doing things.  Driving west through Twin Lakes and into Ontonagon County this is also quite evident. Each group has its own way of using deicers and each has a unique type of friction course (sand) that they use. The northern UP is also quite unique, as we get so much snow. Heavy snow areas are sometimes difficult areas in which to use deicers, since it takes so much chemical to keep up with the amounts of snow.

Within Houghton County a number of different entities perform our snow removal operations. MDOT takes care of the State and Federal trunklines, Houghton County takes care of all secondary roads, and some of the larger cities in the area take care of their own streets. Each of these entities have their own way of doing things. In fact, across the UP, there are counties that even take care of their own State and Federal Roads. There are some major difference in operations as you drive across the UP in a storm event.

Do you see any room for improvement?  There are always ways to improve, but in my experience traveling across the US and Canada through numerous storm events, our local entities have gotten really good at dealing with the extreme amounts of snow that we get. It always amazes me how well we can move around the Copper Country during and very shortly after a snow event. Hats off!!

Why does it seem that so many places elsewhere in the country are unprepared and shut down when even a few inches of snow falls? In areas that don’t get much snow, and not very often, it is hard to justify spending a lot on winter equipment and supplies. That has been a big problem this year since so much of the country is getting record snows.  On the other side of the coin, some areas, including some wealthier Detroit suburbs, the public has pushed for roads to be bare pavement at all times. These areas spend a lot of money on snow removal.

Could our method(s) be replicated and shared with other cities and towns? As researchers we always want to share or work and ideas with others. I’ve done a lot of deicer research over the years, some of which is public domain and some is for private companies.  We have also done a lot of work on methods over the years such as when to put deicers out, how to put them out, how much, how often, how to predict, and more.

 


Les Cayes, Haiti: Engineering World Health

Five engineering students from Michigan Tech’s chapter of Engineering World Health visited Les Cayes, Haiti in May 2018. Making the trip were electrical engineering student Megan Byrne, biomedical engineering students Gina Anderla and Kiaya Caspers, mechanical engineering student Brooke Breen, and materials science and engineering student Anna Isaacson.

Early last summer, five undergraduate engineering students from the Michigan Tech chapter of Engineering World Health took a trip to Les Cayes, Haiti. They were led by Megan Byrne, an electrical engineering undergraduate who organized the trip. They describe the experience as nothing short of life-changing.  

Engineering World Health inspires, educates and empowers young engineers, scientists and medical professionals to use their engineering skills to improve global health in the developing world.  The Michigan Tech chapter of EWH is now in its second year.

Along with Byrne on the trip were biomedical engineering students Gina Anderla and Kiaya Caspers, mechanical engineering students Lidia Johnson and Brooke Breen, and materials science and engineering student Anna Isaacson. To get to Haiti, the Michigan Tech engineering students bagged groceries, plus each spent $1,500 of their own to cover travel costs. A non-profit organization operating in Haiti, HUT Outreach, provided lodging for the Michigan Tech team during their stay, and invited them to help teach STEM subjects to a class of 7th graders in the new HUT Outreach secondary school.

Students in Haiti often drop out of school in the sixth grade, with a diminishing retention rate thereafter. HUT Outreach is trying to break that statistic. During their visit to Les Cayes, the Michigan Tech team tried to change how the high school students viewed education and experienced learning.

Kiaya Caspers teaches students about electrical circuits in Les Cayes, Haiti

“Project-based learning is a concept where students learn some theory, but also how to apply it outside the classroom, in the real world,” says Breen. “Our three day curriculum was focused around allowing Haitian students to think outside the box, being really inquisitive with hands-on learning projects. Our purpose was not only to expose them to a new way of thinking, but also to help HUT Outreach reform a new generation of Haitians who will be catalysts in creating a new way of approaching education in their country. Michigan Tech also gives us these tools and abilities—to be able to really hone in our leadership skills, and innovate ways to help create a better community around us, on a local-to-global spectrum.”

“Our EWH team wanted the students to learn the theory of series and parallel circuits, forces to build bridges, first aid, and how to build water filters,” says Byrne. “This was a challenge, because the students had not been exposed to any of these topics or hands-on learning, and they also spoke a different language.” Byrne is a peer mentor in the Learning with Academic Partners (LEAP) program for first-year engineering students in the Department of Engineering Fundamentals at Michigan Tech, which also provided support for the Haiti trip. Byrne was able put her LEAP experience to good use in Haiti.

“Thanks to our Haitian translator, Wesley, I was able to use a creative twist to help the students gain understanding of the difficult lessons in a way that would be impactful for them,” she says. “As a matter of fact, the lessons we taught in Haiti were very similar to LEAP sessions I have facilitated for first year engineering students at Michigan Tech.”

Using creativity, resourcefulness and critical thinking, EWH students from Michigan Tech repaired a broken oxygen concentrator, one of only two in the public hospital pediatric ward in Les Cayes, Haiti.

The Michigan Tech team also visited a local hospital, where they fixed a broken oxygen concentrator, one of only two in the hospital pediatric ward. They also discovered a potential fire hazard at the hospital—auto headlight bulbs used as replacement bulbs on medical lamps. And they noticed a lack of surge protectors to protect medical equipment during power outages.

The EWH team wants to return to Haiti this year to continue to help prepare the next generation of Haitian students, and provide support to the small community where we served. They also want to provide the woman’s center in Les Cayes with its first portable ultrasound machine.

“We really bonded with the community in Les Cayes,” says  Isaacson. “We want to help in any way possible to make their lives better. I think we can all agree that all the people of Haiti became our second family the minute we stepped into the country.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Bruce Lee: Smart Biomaterials Inspired by Mussel Chemistry

Self-healable and moldable nanocomposite gel as fit-to-shape sealant.
Bruce Lee exploits the ability of a Dopa, a unique catechol-based amino acid found in mussel adhesive proteins, in a new fit-to-shape sealant. It initially exhibits the ability to be remolded and adhered to the convex contour of a tissue surface. With time, the hydrogel is fixed in its new shape.

Bruce Lee, an associate professor of biomedical engineering at Michigan Tech, focuses on smart adhesives and biomaterials inspired by nature. More specifically, the natural glues made by mussels that anchor them to rocks, boats and docks. His past work on hydrogels and tissue adhesives led him to look more closely at what makes these adhesives work underwater—and how people could use them.

Lee’s research team exploits the ability of Dopa, a unique catechol-based amino acid found in mussel adhesive proteins. He currently has three active, federally funded research projects.
Bruce Lee, Associate Professor of Biomedical Engineering, Michigan Tech
Bruce Lee, Associate Professor of Biomedical Engineering, Michigan Tech

Smart Adhesive

As a participant in the Office of Naval Research (ONR) Young Investigator Program, Lee delves into not only what makes mussels sticky but also how to reverse that adhesion with an electrical charge. The YIP grant is awarded to scientists and engineers with exceptional promise for producing creative, state-of-the-art research that appears likely to advance naval capabilities. “There is no smart adhesive out there that can perform underwater,” he says. “The chemistry that we can incorporate into the adhesive, causing it to reversibly bond and de-bond, is quite new.”
Fit-to-Shape Sealant
Lee is also designing an injectable sealant and bioadhesive, funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Lee and his research team developed a moldable nanocomposite hydrogel. “This material initially exhibits the ability to be remolded and adhered to the convex contour of a tissue surface,” says Lee. “With time, the hydrogel is fixed in its new shape and functions as a fit-to-shape sealant.” Their hydrogel uses no cytotoxic crosslinking reagent, and needs no mixing tip for mixing precursor solutions. It also demonstrates burst pressure potentially suited for sealing renal vein and even intestinal anastomosis. “One very valuable quality of this synthetic glue is its versatility,” adds Lee. “We can change the chemistry to make it as rigid or flexible as we need — while still maintaining its overall strength and durability.”
Smart Antimicrobial Microparticles
Lee just received new funding from the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health (OASDH) to design smart microparticles from mussel-derived catechol. “The particles are pathogenic and able to promote healing,” Lee says. “Simply hydrating the microparticles in water causes them to generate hydrogen peroxide that can kill bacteria and inactivate viruses. This material can potentially function as a lightweight and portable disinfectant for a wide range of applications.”
Visit Lee’s research group online to learn more about their bio-inspired approach to the design of advanced functional materials.