Category: Features

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Jeff Thompson: Making Skis

Shaggy’s Copper Country Skis are custom designed and built in Michigan, using classic craftsmanship and the most modern technology. 

Jeff Thompson, mechanical engineering alum and partner/engineer/cofounder of Shaggy Skis, joins Dean Janet Callahan on Husky Bites, a free, interactive Zoom webinar Monday, 1/30 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.

Jeff Thompson and his family named Shaggy’s Copper Country Skis for their great-uncle Shaggy, and for the former mining region of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula where Thompson attended Michigan Tech.

What are you doing for supper Monday night 1/30 at 6 ET? Grab a bite with Jeff Thompson, Michigan Tech alum and cofounder of Shaggy’s Copper Country Skis. Joining will be Dr. Iver Anderson, senior metallurgist at Ames Lab. He’s an inventor, and fellow Michigan Tech alum.

During Husky Bites, Thompson will share how he started making skis as a kid, continued while still a student at Michigan Tech, and where he is now—creating custom skis for a living.

headshot of Ivar
Ivar Anderson

Thompson and his brother Jonathon started building skis as a hobby in 2005. Three years later the Thompson family released the first line of Shaggy’s skis to the public.

Today they still handcraft every pair of skis in their own small factory in Boyne City, Michigan. Each pair of Shaggy’s Skis are custom designed and built with a passion for skiing and craftsmanship combined. At least 80 processes go into making a ski, and Jeff will share much more about them during Husky Bites.

Thompson grew up in South Lyon, Michigan in a family of “makers”—his father was a carpenter. Growing up he and his brother were fortunate to have a workshop to build many things, “from toys to go-carts, and everything in between,” he says.

Testing new skis!

“We were also a ski racing family,” Thompson recalls. “One day after a race, my dad thought it would be cool to put skis on my bike and take it downhill. A few weeks later, he gave me some old skis to cut apart and use for my bike. When I cut them down, I immediately observed how each piece was put together. I thought, ‘Hey, I can make this!’ From that point on, I lured in my brother, Jonathon, and together we started building the tools we needed to start building skis.”

Thompson’s grandparents were from Kearsarge, so he spent a lot of time in the Keweenaw growing up. “I knew from fourth grade on that I would attend Michigan Tech for mechanical engineering,” he says. He now lives in Petoskey, Michigan with his wife, Stephanie Thompson. She earned her BS in Chemical Engineering at Michigan Tech in 2013.

We combine our passion for skiing and craftsmanship so you can make the most out of every day on the snow; whether you’re ripping down perfect corduroy, chasing morning powder, or slashing in the trees.”

Jeffrey Thompson ’12, Shaggy’s Copper Country Skis
Shaggy Skis are known for their fine craftsmanship

Joining Thompson during the Husky Bites session will be fellow MTU alumnus Iver Anderson ’75, a lifelong skier with a keen interest in the making of skis from a materials standpoint. Anderson grew up in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, in a city located just across the Portage Canal from Michigan Tech, Hancock.

Anderson appreciates all the craftsmanship that goes into Shaggy Skis. “My father was observant and very particular, for instance, about making furniture and cabinetry. He taught me how to look for quality, the mark of a craftsman, how to sense a thousandth of an inch. I carry that with me today.”

Anderson is a Michigan Tech alum and senior metallurgical engineer at Ames Lab, a US Department of Energy National Lab. A few years ago, he was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame, for inventing a successful lead-free solder alloy, a revolutionary alternative to traditional tin/lead solder used for joining less fusible metals such as electric wires or other metal parts, and in circuit boards. As a result, nearly 20,000 tons of lead are no longer released into the environment worldwide.

Jeff Thompson (R) and his brother Jonathan Thompson (L)

Jeff, what do you like to in your spare time?

I obviously love to ski! Stephanie and I are currently teaching our two year old daughter to ski (on her own custom skis).

I also love to build things. I just finished building our house with my dad this past summer, from pouring the footings, to setting trusses, and finishing. We did it all.

Ivar Anderson skiing up on Mammoth Mountain, California.

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

I grew up in Hancock, Michigan, in the Upper Peninsula. Right out my back door was a 40 acre wood that all the kids played in. The world is a beautiful place, especially nature. That was the kind of impression I grew up with. 

Ivar enjoys quality time with his grandson in Columbus, Ohio

I earned a Bachelor of Science in Metallurgical Engineering in 1975 from Michigan Tech. It laid the foundation of my network of classmates and professors, which I have continued to expand.

I went on to earn my MS and PhD in Metallurgical Engineering from University of Wisconsin-Madison, and the joined the Metallurgy Branch of the US Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, DC.

One of my goals was to return to the Midwest, so later I took a position at Ames Lab in 1987. I’ve spent the balance of my research career there, and at Iowa State, ever since.

Husky Bites Returns for Spring Semester 2023

Looking good!

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

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

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

The Husky Bites Spring 2023 series kicks off Monday (Jan. 23) with “Sliding into the Future of Mont Ripley,” presented by Nick Sirdenis, General Manager, Mont Ripley Ski Area. He will be joined by Dan Dalquist, ski Instructor for the Mont Ripley Ski & Snowboard School, and Josie Stalmack, student president of the Mont Ripley Ski patrol. We’ll hear about some new features at Mont Ripley currently in the planning stage, plus one now in the works. 

“Grab some supper, or just flop down on your couch. Everyone is welcome!”

Dean Janet Callahan

Additional topics and speakers coming up this spring semester include Making Skis (Jeffrey Thompson ‘12); Winter Carnival Geospatial Imagery (Joe Foster); Digging it—Volleyball at MTU (Matt Jennings); Solar Energy in Cold Climates (Ana Dyreson); Money Matters and MTU’s Applied Portfolio Management Program (Dean Johnson); Enterprise—Consumer Products Manufacturing (Tony Rogers); Bio-inspired Designs (Bruce Lee); the A.E. Seaman Museum—120 Years (John Jaszczak); and Birdwatching—Quality of Life (David Flaspohler). 

“We created Husky Bites for anyone who likes to learn, across the universe,” says Dean Callahan. “We aim to make it very interactive, with a ‘quiz’ (in Zoom that’s a multiple choice poll), about every 5-10 minutes. You’re bound to learn something new. We have prizes, too, for attendance.” 

You can also catch Husky Bites each Monday night at 6 pm ET via livestream on our College of Engineering Facebook page.

Get the full scoop and register! Check out recordings of all past sessions, too.

Heard on Husky Bites…

The desire to explore space is what drives me. Very early in my studies I realized that the biggest impediment to space exploration is propulsion. Space is just so big it’s hard to get anywhere. So I dedicated my professional life to developing new space propulsion technologies. There is other life in our solar system. That is a declarative statement. It’s time that we find it. The moons of Jupiter and Saturn hold great promise and I’m determined to see proof in my lifetime.

Prof. Brad King, Mechanical Engineering-Engineering Mechanics

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. I grew up in Pinconning, Michigan. My dad dropped out of school in 8th grade to help on the family farm. My parents 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.

Prof. Caryn Heldt, Chemical Engineering

Growing up I loved looking at a beautiful image of planet Earth, one with a very clear sky and blue water. However, as I began to learn how life on Earth suffers many difficult environmental problems, including air pollution and water contamination, I also learned that environmental engineers can be leaders who help solve the Earth’s most difficult sustainability problems. That is when I decided to become an engineer. The water quality and treatment classes I took were the toughest subjects for me. I had to work the hardest to understand the content. So, naturally, I decided to enter this discipline. And then, there’s our blue planet, the image. Water makes the Earth look blue from space. 

Prof. Daisuke Minakata, Civil and Environmental Engineering

I was born and raised in the City of Detroit. I went to Detroit Public Schools, and when I went to college I had to work to make ends meet. I got a job as a cook in the dorm, and eventually worked my way up to lead cook. I was cooking breakfast for 1,200 people each morning. One of my fellow classmates was studying engineering, too. He had a job working for a professor doing research on storm waves and beaches. I had no idea I could be hired by a professor and get paid money to work on the beach! I quit my job in the kitchen soon after, and went to work for that professor instead. My advice for students just starting out is to spend your first year exploring all your options. Find out what you really want to do. I had no idea I could turn a mechanical engineering degree into a job working on the beach. Turns out, I could⁠—and I’m still doing it today.

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

I first became interested in engineering in high school when I learned it was a way to combine math and science to solve problems. However, I didn’t understand at the time what that really meant. I thought “problems” meant the types of problems you solve in math class. Since then I’ve learned these problems are major issues that are faced by all of humanity. As a chemical engineer I am able to combine my love of biology, chemistry, physics, and math to create fresh new solutions to society’s problems. One thing I love about MTU is that the university gives students tons of hands-on opportunities to solve real problems, not just problems out of a textbook. These are the types of problems our students will be solving when they go on to their future careers.

Prof. Rebecca Ong, Chemical Engineering

My Dad ran a turn-key industrial automation and robotics business throughout most of my childhood. In fact, I got my first job at age 12 when I was sequestered at home with strep throat. I felt fine, but couldn’t go to school. My Dad put me to work writing programs for what I know now are Programmable Logic Controllers (PLCs); the ‘brains’ of most industrial automation systems. By the time I was in high school I was teaching classes at the local library on computer building, repair, and this other new thing called ‘The Internet’. A career in STEM was a certainty. I ended up in engineering because I like to build things (even if only on a computer) and I like to solve problems (generally with computers and math). 

Prof. Jeremy Bos, Electrical and Computer Engineering

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

Prof. Erik Herbert, Materials Science and Engineering

Sliding into the Future of Mont Ripley

A Michigan Tech student takes the ultimate study break: snowboarding at Michigan Tech’s Mont Ripley
Nick wearing his blue Mt Ripley Shirt
Nick Sirdenis, General Manager, Mont Ripley

Nick Sirdenis, General Manager of Mont Ripley, Michigan Tech’s very own ski area, plus Dan Dalquist, and Josie Stalmack generously shared their knowledge on Husky Bites, a free, interactive Zoom webinar hosted by Dean Janet Callahan. Here’s the link to watch a recording of their session on YouTube. Get the full scoop, and see a listing of all the (60+) recorded sessions at mtu.edu/huskybites.

What are you doing for supper Monday night 1/23 at 6 ET? Grab a bite with Nick Sirdenis, general manager Mont Ripley Ski Area at Michigan Tech. Joining will be Dan Dalquist, ski instructor supervisor for the Ski & Snowboard School, as well as Josie Stalmack, senior in biomedical engineering and student president of the Mont Ripley Ski Patrol. They’ll share plans to some future plans for Mont Ripley, including an updated and larger chalet, a true beginner run from top to bottom, and more parking.

Dan skiing
Dan Dalquist, Mont Ripley Ski School Supervisor

Mont Ripley welcomes all snow enthusiasts. The ski area is owned by Michigan Tech and sits in the middle of Houghton and Hancock, just a mile from campus. Mont Ripley is a star attraction of the scenic Keweenaw Peninsula, home to the most snow in the Midwest. Although Mont Ripley has a great learning area, it is mostly well known for its challenging terrain, from urban backcountry glades to terrain parks with more than thirty features—including jumps and slides. During Husky Bites, Sirdenis will talk about some new features at Mont Ripley currently in planning stages, plus one now in the works.

Two people on a chair lift
Josie Stalmack studies biomedical engineering at Michigan Tech. Here she is with her dad, also an MTU alum, patrolling together on the Husky Ski Lift at Mont Ripley.

Sirdenis graduated in 1979 from the Ski Area Management program at Gogebic Community College. He managed Blackjack Ski Area from 1981-2000 and lived in Ironwood Michigan. He was hired as a consultant in 1998 to design the snowmaking system and to oversee the construction, and then was hired as the general manager of Mt. Ripley. Originally from Detroit, Sirdenis and his wife Julie have 3 children and his entire family enjoys skiing.

Dan Dalquist is a Houghton High School and Michigan Tech alum and started skiing at Mont Ripley in the 1966-67 season, and joined the Mont Ripley Ski Patrol in January 1971. He became a professional ski instructor in 2001. For Dan, skiing at Mont Ripley was, and still is, a family event. His children learned to ski at 2 years old and they both still ski. All 4 of his grandchildren also ski. Dan graduated from Michigan Tech with a BSBA in Marketing Management in 1976.

“Nick and I have known each other since he first started at MTU,” says Dalquist. “And Josie is a fellow ski patroller who I’ve been privileged to work with. As a matter of fact, Josie’s dad is an MTU grad. He came to Tech as a patroller, and I was on the Michigan Tech Ski Patrol at that time, too, so I helped introduce Thad to Mont Ripley.”

An uphill view of the chair lift on Mont Ripley
An especially gorgeous day on Mont Ripley at Michigan Tech

An Ann Arbor native, Josie Stalmack learned to ski as soon as she could walk and picked up snowboarding when she was about 7 years old. Skiing and snowboarding have always been a part of her life, as her dad is a member of the National Ski Patrol. What really drew her to Michigan Tech was Mont Ripley and the fact that she could get certified and join the ski patrol.

“Nick and I have known each other since he started at MTU,” says Dan. “Josie is a fellow ski patroller I have been privileged to work with. Her dad is a MTU grad, too. I trained him to become a ski patroller when he was at Tech!”

“I met both Nick and Dan by joining the Mont Ripley Ski Patrol. Both have such a loving passion for skiing and Mont Ripley. I am just happy to be a part of such a wonderful ski hill.”

Josie Stalmack
Josie does a happy jump in front of the Mount Rainier lodge sign
Josie took a recent trip to another Mont, this one in Washington state: Mount Rainier

Nick, what do you like to do in your spare time?
Skiing, fishing, motorcycle riding. We always have dogs and birds, right now Ziggy the whippet and Sylvia the Pug and Yani the canary. I love doing construction. You’ll usually find sawdust in my pocket.

Dan, what do you like to do in your spare time?
I list cross country skiing, ice skating and snowshoeing as my winter hobbies. I also bicycle: mountain bike and road bike, plus boating, fishing, and reading.

Josie, where did you grow up?
I grew up in Ann Arbor, Michigan. I am the youngest of four, with two older brothers and an older sister. I am also blessed with a wonderful brother-in-law, two nieces and a nephew. Lastly, I am engaged to be married, so I am also gaining a whole other family!

Any hobbies?
Outside of skiing and snowboarding, I really enjoy weightlifting, hiking and backpacking, reading, baking, and spending time with friends and family.

Ski patrol stand at Mont Ripley and talk.
Members of Mont Ripley Ski Patrol
lights on Mont Ripley twinkle in the distance
View of Michigan Tech’s Mont Ripley Ski Area from across Portage Canal

Click here to make a donation to the Mt. Ripley Expansion Fund

Five Times in a Row: Michigan Tech Students Earn First Place in ASM Undergraduate Design Competition–Again!

Michigan Tech’ 550-ton Breda direct extrusion press, just one of several tools used by MSE students at Michigan Tech.

Many engineers remember the excitement of applying their classroom knowledge to their capstone senior design project while also being a bit overwhelmed about how to actually do it. 

Paul Sanders, Patrick Horvath Professor of Materials Science and Engineering at Michigan Tech

Back in 2010, this challenge was recognized in Materials Science and Engineering (MSE) by Michigan Tech Professor Mark Plichta, an innovator in project-based engineering education, and Northwestern University Professor Greg Olson, a leader in the relatively new field of computational materials engineering. 

The two selected then Assistant Professor Paul Sanders, (who had a Michigan Tech BS and a Northwestern PhD and materials design experience at Ford Motor Company) to implement their vision for MSE capstone senior design. This vision involved using computational materials engineering—a tool that, at the time, was only taught in graduate school. Sanders (somewhat unknowingly) accepted the challenge, and through a sometimes bumpy, continuous improvement process developed the current curriculum in MSE at Michigan Tech.

“Michigan Tech undergrads, with their application mindset, hands-on, problem-solving skills, and openness to mentorship, provided the ideal culture for this endeavor.”

Paul Sanders

One condition of Olson, who provided the computational engineering software tool Thermo-Calc, was that Michigan Tech compete in the ASM Undergraduate Design Competition, an event that started in 2008 with Northwestern University winning first place. The Michigan Tech strategy was to utilize traditional hypothesis-based inquiry through application of engineering statistics coupled with design of experiments (DOEs) in both the modeling and laboratory environment. Eventually a methods course was developed for spring of the junior year that included a semester-long project to demonstrate the tools, followed by two semesters of the capstone senior design course. Prof. Sanders led this coursework and scoped projects to fit the Michigan Tech methodology. Long-term industry sponsors Eck Industries, ArcelorMittal, and Waupaca Foundry were critical to implementing the vision by providing industry-relevant projects that would allow students to use the toolset taught in the curriculum.

Michigan Tech first entered the ASM Design Competition in 2012 earning second place (Northwestern was first). Michigan Tech’s first five entries earned second place three times and third place twice. Starting in 2018, Michigan Tech started winning…and continued winning…for 5 years in a row. This is a credit not only to the student work on these projects, but also to the methodology and support of industry sponsors. As Janet Callahan, Dean of the College of Engineering at Michigan Tech states, “We’re very proud of our world-class senior design students’ experience. Where else do teams win first place five years in a row, for alloy design, in an era where it isn’t about randomly mixing elements, but rather, about predictive modeling based on known materials parameters? These projects⁠—centered on fundamentally interesting questions, are coupled with faculty and industry expertise. No wonder we’re the go-to place for materials engineers!”

Dr. Julio G. Maldonado, ASM Foundation, presents the award to Michigan Tech seniors Isabella Wakeham Jaszczak (2nd from left) Jacob Longstreth, (3rd from left) Jake Klotz (right). Team member Nick Hopp was unable to attend the conference and awards ceremony.

The student team that completed the “five-peat” in 2022 designed a process for modeling the extrusion of aluminum-magnesium (Al-Mg) alloys with cerium (Ce) additions that can maintain their strength at service temperatures up to 400°F. This student team was unique in that there was only one MSE student on the team, Isabella Wakeham Jaszczak, and three mechanical engineering students, Nick Hopp, Jake Klotz, and Jacob Longstreth. Even though the team graduated in spring of 2022, three of the four team members accepted their award at ASM International’s IMAT Conference in New Orleans on September 12, 2022. 

“The success of the MSE senior design program is due not only to current students embracing the time-consuming process of project engineering, but also our loyal alumni who provide the projects that continuously improve our process.”

Paul Sanders

Cerium is the most abundant (and lowest cost) rare earth element, and Ce is known to improve the properties of aluminum. Given that rare earths are often mined together and that the demand is higher for heavier rare earths, there is excess cerium. The project sponsor David Weiss, vice president of research and development at Eck Industries, collaborates on research teams who identify beneficial uses and markets for cerium in order to improve the economics of mining rare earth. Weiss suggested applying Ce to Al extrusion for Eck’s customer, Eaton Corporation.

Extrusion is the process of forming long, two-dimensional cross-sections by forcing hot metal through a die. The students were tasked with modeling the extrusion of Al-Mg-Ce alloys to predict the necessary extrusion force and resultant flow rate. The team used a DOE-based strategy to develop a deformation model for the alloy using elevated-temperature compression testing coupled with MATLAB data analysis. Material model parameters were then entered into the commercial extrusion modeling software Inspire Extrude from Altair to calculate the extrusion force and flow rate. These predictions were tested in Michigan Tech laboratories by permanent mold casting the custom Al-Mg-Ce alloys followed by extrusion on a 550-ton Breda direct extrusion press, donated by Alcoa. To better understand the project, please see the students’ excellent four-minute video .

No small feat: Michigan Tech engineering students designed a process for modeling the extrusion of aluminum-magnesium (Al-Mg) alloys with cerium (Ce) additions. These alloys can maintain their strength at service temperatures up to 400°F. Pictured above, extruding one of the alloys.

“My decision to return to Michigan Tech as an MSE faculty member was motivated in large part by the type of students Michigan Tech attracts,” reflects Sanders, now the Patrick Horvath Professor of Materials Science and Engineering. “They are smart, hardworking, and willing to learn.”

NASA, Artemis and Beyond: Inside Michigan Tech’s Multiplanetary INnovation Enterprise (MINE)

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

Paul van Susante, Assistant Professor, Mechanical Engineering—Engineering Mechanics talks about MINE, the Multiplanetary INnovation Enterprise team at Michigan Tech, along with electrical engineering majors Brenda Wilson and Gabe Allis; and mechanical engineering major Parker Bradshaw.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LUNABOTICS

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

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

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

DIVER

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

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

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

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

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

TRENCHER

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hometown and Hobbies?

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

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

Brenda Wilson

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

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

Hometown, family?

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

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

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

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

Gabe Allis
Gabe Allis

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

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

Hometown, family?

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

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

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

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

Parker Bradshaw
Parker Bradshaw

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

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

Hometown, family?

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

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

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

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

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To the Moon—and Beyond

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Mine Video for Michigan Tech 2022 Design Expo

How Can You Mend a Broken Heart? Flow Dynamics in Arrhythmias

Dr. Hatoum and PhD student Brennan Vogl test heart valves for overall performance and energetics, turbulence generated, sinus hemodynamics (aortic and pulmonic), as well as ventricular, atrial, pulmonic, and aortic flows.

Biomedical Engineering Assistant Professor Hoda Hatoum talks about her cardiovascular research along with PhD student Brennan Vogl, one of the first students to join her Biofluids Lab in the fall of 2020.

Dr. Hoda Hatoum

“One thing we can do in the lab is to study just how AFib ablation impacts the heart’s left atrial flow, says Hatoum.

Atrial fibrillation, when the heart beats in an irregular way, affects up to 6 million individuals in the US, a number expected to double by 2030. More than 454,000 hospitalizations with AFib as the primary diagnosis happen each year. Current treatment guidelines recommend antiarrhythmic drugs as initial therapy, but their efficacy is limited and comes with the risk of serious adverse effects. Another option, catheter ablation, electrically isolates the pulmonary veins—the most frequent site of AFib triggers—with more success and an excellent safety profile.

Brennan Vogl
An actual human heart is about the size of your fist, shaped like an upside down pear. Every cell in your body gets blood from your heart (except for your corneas).

“Our research seeks to better understand flow dynamics of the heart during arrhythmia, complex structural heart biomechanics, prosthetic heart valve engineering, and the structure-function relationships of the heart in both health and disease,” Hatoum says.

Why hearts? “It all started with my doctoral program,” Hatoum recalls. “I had the opportunity to work closely with clinicians, to attend their structural heart meetings, and to plan with them the appropriate therapy to be administered for patients. Every patient is very different, which makes the problem exciting and challenging at the same time.”

Hatoum earned her BS in Mechanical Engineering from the American University of Beirut and her PhD in Mechanical Engineering from the Ohio State University (OSU). She was awarded an American Heart Association postdoctoral fellowship, and completed her postdoctoral training at the Ohio State University and at Georgia Institute of Technology before joining the faculty at Michigan Tech.

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

Hoda Hatoum

Now, working in her own Biofluids Lab at Michigan Tech, Hatoum integrates principles of fluid mechanics, design and manufacturing, and clinical expertise with collaborators nationwide (including Mayo Clinic, Ohio State, Vanderbilt, Piedmont Hospital and St. Paul’s Hospital Vancouver)–all to find solutions for cardiovascular flow problems. 

Play Biomedical Engineering Biofluids Lab Aortic Valve Models video
Preview image for Biomedical Engineering Biofluids Lab Aortic Valve Models video

Biomedical Engineering Biofluids Lab Aortic Valve Models

These aortic valves open and close based via the contraction of a pump, controlled by a LabView program. See more during Husky Bites!

In her lab, Hatoum designed and built a pulse duplicator system—a heart simulator—that emulates the left heart side of a cardiovascular system. She also uses a particle image velocimetry system that allows her to characterize the flow field in vessels and organs.

Hatoum and her team of students use these devices to develop patient-specific cardiovascular models, conducting in vitro tests to assess the performance and flow characteristics of different heart valves. “We use idealized heart chambers or patient-specific ones. We test multiple commercially available prosthetic heart valves—and our in-house made valves, too.”

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

Hatoum’s team also designs their own heart valve devices.

“Currently, transcatheter heart valves are made of biological materials, including pig or cow valves, that are prone to degeneration. This can lead to compromised valve performance, and ultimately necessitate another valve replacement.”

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

Which area of research pulls Dr. Hatoum’s heartstrings the most? “Transcatheter aortic heart valves,” she says. (Look closely at this photo to see the closed leaflets of an aortic valve.)

“With the rise of minimally-invasive surgeries, the clinical field is moving towards transcatheter approaches to replace heart valves, rather than open heart surgery,” she explains. “With the challenges that come with TAVs, and with the low-risk population targeted, I believe this is an urgent field to look into, so we can minimize as much as possible any adverse outcomes, improve valve designs and promote longevity of the device.”

The treatment of congenital heart defects in children is another strong focus for Hatoum, who devises alternatives for highly-invasive surgeries for pulmonary atresia and Kawasaki disease. She collaborates with multiple institutions to acquire patient data, then, using experimental and computational fluid dynamics, she examines the different scenarios of various surgical design approaches.

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

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

Hoda Hatoum
Dr. Hoda Hatoum grew up in Lebanon. She’s a big fan of road trips.

Brennan Vogl was the first student to begin working with Hatoum in the lab when she arrived at Michigan Tech in 2020. “It is a great pleasure to work with Brennan,” says Hatoum. “He is very responsible and focused. He handles multiple projects, both experimental and computational, and excels in all aspects of them. I am proud of the tremendous improvement he keeps showing, and his constant motivation to do even better.”

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

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

Hometown, family?

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

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

What do you like to do in your spare time?

I like to watch TV, read stories (thrillers) and go on road trips.

The sun temple in the Haidara ruins near Dr. Hatoum’s hometown of Kab Elias in Lebanon are believed to date back to the Roman era.
Snow on the ground in Kab Elias.

How can a student request to join your Biofluids lab?

I currently work with two PhD students and two undergraduates. Usually, an email with interest in the research that I do is sufficient. Our lab employs both mechanical engineering students and biomedical engineering students because of our focus on mechanics. When a student first joins our lab, they do not have any idea about any of the problems we are working on. As they get exposed to to them, they add their own valuable perspective.

The student experience is an amazing one, and one that is rewarding.

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

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

Hometown, family?

I grew up in Saginaw, Michigan. My family now lives in Florida, so I get to escape the Upper Peninsula cold and visit them in the warm Florida weather.

Brennan loves to ski in Houghton’s plentiful powder, but he’s an even bigger fan of warm, sunny weather.
Poppy is on the left and Milo is on the right.

Pets? Hobbies?

I enjoy skiing, and I have two Boston Terriers—Milo and Poppy. They live with my parents in Florida. I don’t think they would be able to handle the cold here in Houghton, as much as I would enjoy them living with me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Erika Vye

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


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

Bill Rose

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

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

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

Hometown, family?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hometown, family?

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

Water Walkers walking to Copper Harbor from Sand Point lighthouse

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

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

Geostory Videos

Read More

Sniffing Volcanoes from Space

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

Forged in Stone and Fire

Carolyn Duncan: Free Falling

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What do you like to do in your spare time?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John Vucetich, Restoring the Balance

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

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

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

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

The view from Flagship, over Lake Superior.

Excerpt

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

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

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

Praise for Restoring the Balance:

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

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

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

Becky visited Isle Royale.

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

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

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

Hometown, family?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read more:

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

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

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

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

Walt Milligan: Kitchen Metallurgy

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

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

Dr. Walt Milligan

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

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

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

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

But why not?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hometown, family?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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