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Mechanical Engineer Turned Artist, Part 2

When it comes to the abstract, my inspiration develops as I develop the painting. I always try to utilize the design principles of good balance between geometric and curvilinear shapes, development of value change throughout the painting, and a good use of complementary colors. It’s all in the eye of the beholder, however, as to whether you like it or not. I’ve been fortunate to have had my paintings juried into Watercolor USA, a very prestigious exhibition in Springfield, Missouri. I’ve been juried in twice. I can’t wait to see if I get lucky once again this year. 

Star Gazing, 2019, Gary Johnson

Other times I get inspired by just items around the house that we’ve collected over the years. It dawned on me that I hadn’t painted a still life piece in quite a while, so I started looking at some china pieces we collected and thought they’d make a wonderful painting. 

Rhapsody in Blue, 2019, Gary Johnson

Sometimes it isn’t so much that inspiration finds me, as much as it is that someone commissions a painting. Now that is the ultimate compliment: when someone has seen my work and trusts me to paint something they treasure. This requires a lot of careful consideration on my part to make a determination if I’m up to the task. First, I need a good photograph—not some pixelated picture, but a really good piece I can blow up as if I were right there to see it all. If I can take the photograph myself, so much the better as I like to take advantage of any shadows cast. Here’s one — a portrait of a dog named Maximus. Portraits are difficult. My advice is this: always make sure you get the eyes right. Everything else from there will work out.

Maximus, Gary Johnson, 2016

People ask where I paint. We designed our home with a studio in it. This makes it so much more convenient for me as I can wander up anytime during the day or night to work on a painting.

The artist in his studio. “I’m one of the lucky ones. Many artists make do with improvised spaces. I feel God has blessed me in that regard.”

My studio is on the second floor of our house. When I decide I’m too old to walk up and down those stairs (18 in all, and yes, I counted them) it can easily be converted into a master suite or a mother in-law-suite as it has a closet and bathroom next to it. After all, watercolorists need water and a place to rinse out the brushes among other things. It’s approximately 300 square feet—a comfortable size to house my good old-fashioned drafting table, flat files, and shelving units needed to support my habit.

I’m sometimes asked about my outlook on life as an artist. Is it different than my outlook as an engineer/business executive? To be honest, it isn’t much different. I suppose now that I’m retired, I want to be sure I’m alive long enough to achieve some of my long-range goals. Goal setting is something I’ve always done, so not much change there. I don’t have a concern about what my next job or position might be now that I’m a retired artist. The only thing interfering with my art is my golf, which I love to do, as well as our travel and my teaching. Basically I’m in control of those, so no issue there. In my working life, I wasn’t always in control of my destiny. That’s one big difference. Less stress today. If I don’t finish a painting today, I can always work on it tomorrow. That’s also a big difference from the working world. I can take as long as I want to finish a painting.
Have I ever experienced a creative block? I sure have, and that’s when I usually put the brushes aside and start to read and study another person’s work. It’s also good to make a change in daily activity as well, to not get stuck in a rut, so to speak. Variety is the spice of life and that is true for artists as well. Change it up. Go on a trip, go fishing. You’d be surprised how quickly new ideas can pop up to jumpstart the creative juices and get them flowing again.

Am I a perfectionist? Not really, because if I was, I would have never taken up watercolor painting. It is extremely unforgiving and if you make an error, I consider it a happy accident and work around it, as opposed to trying to do it over again, or trying to fix it. Neither work well in watercolor painting.

Personality-wise, I’m pretty much an optimist and a fairly outgoing person. I engage people fairly easily and I suppose it’s because of the confidence I gained while in management of companies and people. I enjoy making new contacts and I enjoy giving back to my community. That’s why I’ve become a teacher of art, and a leader in our art organization here in Fayetteville. It’s put me in front of a lot of people. I hope I’ve influenced them to become involved in the art scene.

People ask if I have developed a style in my art. I don’t really think I have yet. I guess I’m still working in it, although people are starting to recognize my abstract pieces more and more as I display them at galleries in the area for people to see. More people now say that when they see a piece of mine, they easily recognize it as one of mine. I realistically think my style is still evolving, growing into a less structured photographic type of painting—a looser style that I personally love. It has taken years to break the engineers exacting look at something and feel comfortable in having people see what they want to see in my work as opposed to making it obvious. A couple of pieces I completed this year were looser in nature, with colors that go well together, but that you probably won’t see in a natural setting, “Homestead” and “Homestead II”.

Because of my engineering background, some people have asked if I ever took an art course at Michigan Tech. The answer to that is yes and no. Back in the day, we mechanical engineers took a drafting and sketching course. It wasn’t exactly art, but we did make black and white drawings that were completely shaded, 3-dimensional drawings of recognizable objects like gears, pistons, or some other mechanical object. It was a great class and it helped me immensely as an engineer to translate a sketch into a real product. This was in the day before CAD, when drafting was done manually. We really needed the ability to sketch out our thoughts in order to communicate with each other, and especially marketing. I suppose that experience has helped me in my art, to understand perspective, and to create 3-dimensional objects that actually look pretty close to the real thing.

I went into engineering without knowing too much about what it was all about. Rock, Michigan was in the middle of the boonies without a lot of manufacturing around to relate what an engineer really did, and what it was all about. I learned the academic side at the Tech, and the practical side while at General Electric and other companies. Although I have my name on of a few patents from back in the day when I did design work, it turns out that I was probably a better manager than an engineer.

 My advice to young people? Pursue what you think you love, be it engineering, art, teaching, medicine, computer technology, programming or something else, with passion and vigor. Study hard and become the best you can be. You may find after a few years that your thoughts about what you are doing might change. Be flexible, as you aren’t going to be the same person 10 years down the road as you are today. You may find you want to switch fields completely. 
I remember a senior level manager at GE who was in materials management who one day decided that he wanted to be a medical doctor. He had earned enough money, was frugal and saved a lot, and quit his position to pursue his dream of going to medical school. Wow. He gave up a really solid position in a very good company to take on a new challenge pretty late in his life. So, just because you get a degree in one discipline, it doesn’t mean you’ll end up there for the rest of your life. Flexibility is really the key and getting a well-rounded education is also important. Study something completely out of your field to get a different perspective on life in general. For those not ready to pursue a college education, look into the trades. It might be better to enter the trades today than other types of white-collar opportunities for employment. Companies are screaming for trades people of all types as there is a shortage of individuals qualified to do those jobs, especially technical trades. It may not always be that way—in that what is needed today might not be needed tomorrow. So again, the old adage of staying flexible is something everyone needs to strive for. The other thing I would advise is to never stop learning.

Speaking of learning, my next venture into watercolor art is the making a watercolor pigment from Ozark native stone. I am taking a workshop to learn more about making my own paint. I also plan to bring back some stone from Arizona this spring to develop more different colors The Geology majors would love this if they had an interest in art. Find your own rocks, grind them up into a very fine slurry and mix with water, gum arabic and glycerin to make your own paint. Sounds like a possible chemistry class to me. LOL. Anyway, that’s the next step in my continuing education into watercolor.

People who are about to leave the workforce and move on into retirement also need to think about what they are going to do while retired. Yes, many want to start with travel. That is a great idea and do it as often as you can afford to do it, however, at some point, travel starts to wear on you, and you might run out of potential places you really want to go and visit. For those who traveled for a living, they may think about public service, volunteer work at any of a variety of places, perhaps run for public office while they still have the energy to take on that important role. If you live in a University town, consider taking courses at the local university or junior college in something that will help fulfill your lifelong dream, like becoming an artist. Find workshops or individuals who have similar likenesses who might be willing to help you. It’s up to you not to become a couch potato, unless that is your goal. Far be it from me to lecture someone on what to do with their golden years, but I would suggest doing something you have never done and/or have always had a hankering to do.

I hope you enjoyed my story as much as I’ve enjoyed putting it in writing. Feel free to contact me through my website at: garyjohnsonfineart.com or through my email at: garyj357@yahoo.com. Thanks MTU for reaching out to me for my story.

Gary


Michigan Tech Engineer Captures the Northern Lights

North Canal Park, April 2019. Credit: Michigan Tech Alumnus Venkata Rajesh Chundru

Some of us have waited a decade or more to see the Northern Lights since moving to Houghton, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Then there’s Venkata Rajesh Chundru, now a research engineer at Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, Texas. While earning his PhD in Mechanical Engineering-Engineering Mechanics at Michigan Tech from 2014 to 2019, Chundru managed to see—and artfully capture—Aurora Borealis time after time. And he has generously offered to share some of his favorite photographs with us here.

Calumet Waterworks Park, September 2017. Credit: Venkata Rajesh Chundru

Eagle Harbor, September 2016. Credit: Venkata Rajesh Chundru

Calumet Waterworks Park, September 2017. Credit: Venkata Rajesh Chundru

McLain State Park, February 2017. Credit: Venkata Rajesh Chundru

Eagle Harbor, May 2016. Credit: Venkata Rajesh Chundru

Copper Harbor, March 2016. Credit: Venkata Rajesh Chundru

Calumet Waterworks Park, May 2019. Credit: Venkata Rajesh Chundru

Michigan Tech Campus, Canal Side, February 2016. Credit: Venkata Rajesh Chundru

The photographer at Copper Peak, September 2018. Thank you, Venkata! We wish you the very best of luck in your new home!

“Since moving to Texas I have been capturing cityscapes and doing some professional portrait sessions for events, while soaking in the Texan culture. These photographs bring back a lot of good memories from all those years in the U.P. I do intend to be back during summer for a week to capture some landscapes,” says Chundru. “Life in San Antonio has more of an urban feel. I miss the wide-open landscapes and warm people back in the U.P, and of course the snow.

“In my new job at Southwest Research Institute, I’m focused on developing control systems for automotive applications—specifically to control emissions from heavy-duty diesel engines, which is in line with my Ph.D. work at Michigan Tech. I also get to work on new research areas, such as connected vehicles and electric vehicle controls.”

As for COVID-19? “Stay safe out there,” he says. “Hope this passes soon.”

Want to see more beautiful photography? Be sure to visit Chundru’s photography page on Facebook, or his Instagram account.

Have some of your own Aurora Borealis images to share? Please reach out to Kimberly Geiger, kmgeiger@mtu.edu. If you like, we’d be glad to post them here on our blog.


I Was Asked to Be a Judge for Winter Carnival

Riley Simpson wears formal attire, a silver crown, and holds flowers and an award on stage at Michigan Tech Rozsa Center.
Asked to be a judge for Carnival Queen this year, I accepted with alacrity. And probably became the first judge ever to ask all the candidates a metallurgical question involving the lever rule—a question I knew no-one would know the answer to (none were materials science and engineering majors, who would have the best shot at knowing the answer). The object of the question was focused on critical thinking.

The Saturday morning before Carnival Week was day one of my judging. In my training, I was told I could ask any questions I wanted, and was given a set of standard questions to choose from. 

“Any questions?” I repeated?”

“Yes, anything you want—just ask everyone the same questions.” 

I warmed them up with a few standard questions: “Why do you want to be Carnival Queen,” and “Why did you choose to come to Michigan Tech,” and then stepped right into it, by going to the board and drawing a banana-shaped phase diagram, labeling the axes, temperature versus component (we used a gold/silver phase diagram).

I warmed them up to it by talking about how a pure component below its melting point was solid, and then after it was heated past its melting point, it was liquid. And then I explained how with a binary alloy with soluble components, the extra component adds a degree of freedom to the system. And that in turn gives such alloys a range of temperatures over which both liquid and solid are present. Then, I identified a state point in this two-phase region, just below the liquidus for a 50/50 alloy, and asked: “At this temperature and composition, we see there is both liquid and solid present. My question is: Do you think the mixture will be mostly liquid, or mostly solid?”

A few candidates asked clarifying questions, a few reasoned out loud. And, as I had hoped, given how we really stress critical thinking across all majors, all got the answer right. When I followed up and asked them why they thought it would be mostly liquid, the reasoning was sound—they tied it in with proximity to the liquidus or to the point being at a higher temperature. Very proud of all the Queen’s Finalists!  
Riley Simpson is shown smiling in her AFROTC uniform.
Congrats to Riley Simpson ⁠— 4th year mechanical engineering student, future commissioned second lieutenant (pending) in the United States Air Force, pilot/aviation enthusiast ⁠— and now, 2020 Winter Carnival Queen at Michigan Tech
Riley Simpson: Impeccable and inspirational at the Michigan Tech Winter Carnival Queen Coronation.

The second judging event took place the following Saturday night, during the Coronation. That evening, I enjoyed seeing all the candidates again, this time formal attire. They answered questions up on stage with last year’s Queen—a much higher pressure situation than I think I put them under! All of the finalists did a great job, and I am pleased to report that this year’s Carnival Queen is a Guardian of the North, Riley Simpson, whose passion is for flying, and whose musical talent was evidenced by an elegant and lively performance on the xylophone.

Riley is a fourth-year Mechanical Engineering student and member of the Advanced Metalworks Enterprise who will be commissioned as an Air Force officer when she graduates, and I’m confident she will go far in her career.

It was my great honor to meet all these confident, intelligent, talented, and service-oriented Winter Carnival Queen’s finalists. My last interview question, back on that first Saturday, was, “Do you have any questions for me?” It was immediately evident that they had not anticipated being asked to ask a question (I was mimicking a job interview). And, they all rallied, and with a variety of questions, such as, “Why did you come to Michigan Tech,” and “What does a dean do?” My favorite question came from one candidate who asked me, “Did you ever do anything like this (meaning, run to be Carnival Queen)? “Oh my goodness no!” I exclaimed. “It took me many years to get the confidence to be in the public eye.” It took me about an additional two decades!

Now, if you’re interested in learning the answer to the question I asked the Winter Carnival Queen contestants, “mostly liquid or mostly solid”—or want to hazard a guess, feel free to contact me, callahan@mtu.edu.
Janet Callahan, Dean
College of Engineering
Michigan Tech


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.