Category: Features

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

External Research Awards More Than Triple for MTU Chemical Engineering

Negative-stained (false-colored) transmission electron micrograph (TEM) depicts the ultrastructural details of an influenza virus particle, or “virion”. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Using a three-year, $1.5 million R01 grant from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Michigan Technological University and Johns Hopkins University will create an “Integrated and Continuous Manufacturing of an Influenza Vaccine.” Michigan Tech Chemical Engineering Professor Caryn Heldt is PI on the project.

Professor Caryn Heldt

Current influenza vaccines are matched to strains circulating in the Southern hemisphere about 8 months prior to the North American flu season. “The approach we plan to take will allow the vaccine to better match the circulating strains in the US and be adaptable to change quickly, as needed,” Heldt explains. “The vaccine will also be safer, as it will not be made in eggs and could be taken by people with egg allergies.”

Professor David Shonnard

Heldt is a co-PI on another $ 1.4 million collaborative project with the University of Massachusetts and Clemson University, funded by NSF:DMREF, the National Science Foundation: Designing Materials to Revolutionize and Engineer our Future. The project, “A Computationally-driven Predictive Framework for Stabilizing Viral Therapies,” will provide insight into how to stabilize vaccines and reduce the need to store and transport vaccines at cold temperatures. Heldt is the James and Lorna Mack Endowed Chair of Cellular and Molecular Bioengineering at Michigan Tech.

Chemical Engineering Professor David Shonnard was recently awarded funding in the amount of $917,000 by the US Department of Energy’s Reducing EMbodied-Energy and Decreasing Emissions (REMADE) Manufacturing Institute. Shonnard is the Robbins Chair in Sustainable Use of Materials at Michigan Tech. The project, “Dynamic Systems Analysis of PET and Olefin Polymers in a Circular Economy” provides funding through the Sustainable Manufacturing Innovation Alliance.

“The total funding amount is cost-shared between REMADE and Michigan Tech, along with partners Idaho National Laboratory, Yale University, Chemstations Inc., and Resource Recycling Systems,” Shonnard explains. The project is expected to result in multiple positive impacts, including:

  • New process models and datasets for systems analysis of a circular economy for plastics
  • Optimized plastics circular economy designs to minimize emissions and costs
  • Case study applications to plastics circular economy designs for the state of Michigan
Dr. Pradeep Agrawal

“Along with my Michigan Tech colleagues, Robert Handler, Utkarsh Chaudhari, and David Watkins, and our external partners, we are excited to receive this award from REMADE,” adds Shonnard.

Janet Callahan, Dean, College of Engineering at Michigan Tech

“Michigan Tech’s Chemical engineering program has external funding through a number of federal agencies, including DARPA, ARPA-E, DOE, NSF, NIH/FDA, EPA, and NASA,” says Pradeep Agrawal, chair of the Department of Chemical Engineering. “Our research facilities, including equipment and support staff, are on par with top-tier research universities across the country. Michigan Tech provides the flexibility needed to engage in collaborative research both internally as well as externally,” notes Agrawal. “A combination of individual PI grants and multi-PI grants has put the chemical engineering program on a strong research trajectory.”

“The Chemical Engineering department has more than tripled their external research awards over the past four years, and is actively hiring faculty at all levels,” says Janet Callahan, Dean of the College of Engineering at Michigan Tech. “We are building a culturally-diverse faculty committed to teaching and scholarship in a multicultural and inclusive environment, and we seek faculty members and academic leadership who share these values.”

Michigan Technological University is a public research university founded in 1885 in Houghton, Michigan, and is home to more than 7,000 students from 55 countries around the world. Consistently ranked among the best universities in the country for return on investment, the campus is situated just miles from Lake Superior in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, offering year-round opportunities for outdoor adventure.

Richelle Winkler: The Sustainability Demonstration House

Michigan Tech student residents of the Sustainability Demonstration House work side by side with Michigan Tech’s student-run Alternative Energy Enterprise to showcase sustainable living. It’s extraordinarily rewarding, successful, and fun (even with several feet of snow on the ground).

Richelle Winkler shares her knowledge on Husky Bites, a free, interactive webinar this Monday, November 1 at 6 pm ET. Learn something new in just 20 minutes (or so), with time after for Q&A! Get the full scoop and register at mtu.edu/huskybites.

What are you doing for supper this Monday night 11/1 at 6 pm ET? Grab a bite on Zoom with Dean Janet Callahan and Richelle Winkler, professor of Sociology and Demography—and advisor to students living in Michigan Tech’s Sustainability Demonstration House (SDH for short). “I took over as faculty advisor for the SDH just this fall,” she says. “I worked with Jay Meldrum (then executive director of sustainability at Michigan Tech) to start the House back in 2016 and 2017. I’m excited now to be more involved.”

Professor Richelle Winkler

Michigan Tech’s Sustainability Demonstration House is a residential learning environment where students test and practice sustainability in their daily lives. The SDH began in 2016 as a project by the student-run Alternative Energy Enterprise, with the goal of retrofitting the Kettle Gundlach house, a three-floor abode, built in 1953 by Herman “Winks” Gundlach (and a former residence for past presidents of Michigan Tech) into a net-zero energy, zero-waste house. 

In 2017 Michigan Tech students took residence and started retrofitting the three-floor abode to make it more sustainable. The SDH mission is to constantly innovate and design new additions that reduce the environmental impact of the house while also educating the MTU campus and larger community on sustainability.

Abbey Herndon: “This is my third semester living in the sustainability house. Some of my main sustainability interests are reducing waste and educating others on sustainability habits. I love finding new and creative ways to avoid waste or repurpose it.“

During Husky Bites, two current residents will take us on a tour of the house. Abbey Herndon ‘23, a sustainable bioproducts major and SDH coordinator, and Kendra Lachcik ’23, an environmental engineering major and SDH resident—will share improvements they’ve made, how living in the SDH impacts their lives, and what they’ve found to be opportunities and challenges for reducing our residential environmental footprints.

That includes toothbrush recycling. Community outdoor yoga sessions. An annual Earth Day dinner. Vertical hydroponics. Volunteering at local farms. Bird window strike prevention. Practicing Eco Sabbaths—and much more.

Over the past four years the house has been equipped with a 8.6 kWh solar array, two composting systems, aquaponics, hydroponics, a rain barrel, energy-efficient appliances, low-flow faucets, LED lights, and a bee hive. In addition, the tenants of the house strive to educate the community on sustainability through open houses, workshops, tours, the Waste Reduction Drive, and many other initiatives.

A beehive in the SDH backyard
Kendra Lachcik: “This is also my second semester living in the SDH. I enjoy collaborating (and goofing off) with my housemates, upkeeping all of the house systems, and making my own improvements to the house. Sustainability, especially on a small-scale, is all about being creative.””

“I’ve been extremely passionate about environmental issues for a very long time,” says Lachcik. “I’ve been on a journey to reduce my environmental impact as much as possible, while encouraging those around me to do the same. The SDH has served as an amazing opportunity to do both of those things.”

When she’s not advising SDH, Prof. Winkler’s teaching and research include migration, community-engaged scholarship, and environmental sustainability.

“Most of my work here at Michigan Tech is guided by a concern about spatial inequalities—the fact that life and well-being is better in some places than others,” says Winkler. “I see these things as interrelated. Social and environmental well-being complement one another. Migration is both a cause and a consequence of socio-ecological well-being. People move toward places they see as good, or at least better than where they are coming from. So migration can serve as a sort of indicator of where things are going well. At the same time, both in-migration and out-migration can impact community development in positive and negative ways. It’s a circular pattern.”

Community-engaged research just puts the whole pattern into practice, says Winkler. “I really enjoy seeing how these things play out on the ground and working directly with community groups who are working to improve conditions.”

Dr. Winkler gives a community presentation on the US Census. Photo credit: Garrett Neese/Daily Mining Gazette

Prof. Winkler, When was the moment you knew sociology was the field for you?

When I went to college, I didn’t know what I wanted to do for my career. I was curious about just about everything. I took a sociology class and learned that it was possible to study just about anything from a sociological perspective. This meant I didn’t have to choose! I also wanted a career where I could help people and make a positive difference in the world, and it seemed to me then (and still) that sociology is a field where I could focus on that.

Hometown, family?

I grew up in Rush and Shelby counties in Indiana, between Indianapolis and Cincinnati. Most of my cousins, aunts and uncles still live in that area today, and it still feels like home. My immediate family and I (husband and two kids, ages 9 and 12) have lived in Houghton for over a decade now, and we love it here. 

Any hobbies? What do you do in your spare time?

I love exploring natural areas across the Keweenaw and beyond, mostly hiking, visiting beaches and rock hunting, and mountain biking with my dog (Opal) and with family and friends. I also love sports, especially volleyball which I’ve played and coached for almost my entire life. I cheer on my alma mater (the Wisconsin Badgers!) and have grown pretty attached to the Packers, spending the last twenty years in Wisconsin and the UP. 

SDH hosts a community yoga session.

Abbey, how did you first get into sustainability? What sparked your interest?

My family has a few engineers. Growing up they told me I always had a problem-solving mindset and I enjoyed engineering topics so I pursued it. However, during my second year studying engineering I switched to Sustainable Bioproducts. This course of study strongly fits my career goals. So far, I have thoroughly enjoyed my new path and am excited for what I will be able to do with it. 

Hometown, family?

I grew up in Appleton, Wisconsin with one older brother. I’ve always had a small family, which I enjoy because I get to see everyone often. 

What do you like to do in your spare time?

I enjoy traveling, trying new things, and various forms of creating art. In my free time I like to be outdoors getting exercise. I’ve also got four cats and a pug named Dave.

SDH invites campus to an Earth Day Special Dinner each year.

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

I’m a very hands-on person and science has always been my favorite school subject, so engineering seemed like a natural fit. In high school, I participated in a program called “Science Olympiad.” Two of my favorite events involved constructing a wind turbine and building a Rube Goldberg machine. Engineering is all about applying science and technology to the real world, which I think is pretty darn cool. 

Hometown, family? Hobbies?

I’m originally from Chicago, IL and have two younger brothers. I’m into figure skating, dancing, running, exploring places, cooking vegan food, and doing all those things with lovely people.

Michigan Tech students have transformed a former residence for past presidents into the ever-evolving, net-zero energy, zero-waste Sustainability Demonstration House.

Read more:

This Old House Teaches U.P. Residents, and an Appliance Manufacturer, New TricksMaking it Personal: Richelle Winkler Wins Distinguished Teaching Award

Alan Turnquist: Sustainability and Resilience at Michigan Tech—Where We Are and Where We Might Go

Michigan Tech is ranked by the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) as a STARS Silver campus.
What will it take to reach STARS Gold, or STARS Platinum?

Alan Turnquist shares his knowledge on Husky Bites, a free, interactive webinar this Monday, October 25 at 6 pm ET. Learn something new in just 20 minutes (or so), with time after for Q&A! Get the full scoop and register at mtu.edu/huskybites.

What are you doing for supper this Monday night 10/25 at 6 ET? Grab a bite on Zoom with Dean Janet Callahan and Alan Turnquist, director of Sustainability and Resilience at Michigan Tech. 

Alan Turnquist

Sustainability and resilience are buzzwords that cut across individual choice, corporate culture, and policy at all levels of government. But how do they impact higher education? During Husky Bites, we’ll learn some fresh perspectives on what these issues mean for the future of higher education and how faculty, staff and students at Michigan Tech are integrating sustainability and resilience into our core goals. 

Joining in will be Chelsea Schelly, associate professor of sociology, as well as Larry Hermanson, Michigan Tech’s director of Energy Management. 

“I work side by side with Larry and Chelsea on the Tech Forward Initiative for Sustainability and Resilience,” says Turnquist. “We all come from different places and have different perspectives, but we share the same passion for working together for the future of Michigan Tech.

Turnquist came to Michigan Tech in 2019 from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he managed the Agroecology graduate program with faculty from over 20 different academic departments. He also led a team at UW Madison managing the GreenHouse Learning Community, an undergraduate residential program focused on sustainability, environment, food systems and social justice. 

Upon arriving at Michigan Tech Turnquist joined the Waino Wahtera Center for Student Success, where he designed, implemented and led orientation programs for incoming students. He moved into his current position as director of Sustainability and Resilience just last month, in September 2021. 

“Much of my work has a thematic focus on sustainability and social justice,” adds Turnquist. “Regardless of the theme, my professional passion and greatest skill is collaborating and connecting with people while working for a common cause.”

Prof. Chelsea Schelly

Associate Professor Chelsea Schelly joined Michigan Tech’s Department of Social Sciences in 2013. She earned a BS in Social Sciences at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, an MS in Social Sciences at Colorado State, then returned to Madison for her PhD. Schelly researches and writes about energy practices, consumption behaviors, energy conservation, and the adoption of alternative technology in a wide variety of contexts—from solar electric technology and policy, off-grid living and intentional communities to Rainbow Gatherings and 3-D printers for distributive manufacturing. 

“We’re all three committed to seeing positive change that creates a more sustainable and resilient University,” says Schelly. “That includes more opportunities at Michigan Tech for leadership, research, and education in resilience and sustainability.”

Larry Hermanson

Larry Hermanson joined Michigan Tech in 2015 as Director of Energy Management. Hermanson oversees all aspects of energy management across Michigan Tech’s 3-million square foot campus. He is also an alum—Hermanson earned a BS in Mechanical Engineering in 1992, and secondary education certification in 2012, both at Michigan Tech. He’s had a diverse career with over 20 years of experience in HVAC, construction, and industrial plant operations and maintenance, worked at iron ore and copper mining operations, and also spent a few years teaching high school science and math. Hermanson earned his certification with support from an NSF Robert Noyce Scholarship, and worked as a STEM teacher for Washington Island School in Wisconsin. 

Michigan Tech aims to be a leader in demonstrating sustainability through the campus experience. The university is a member of the EPA Green Power Partnership and, through the student-led Green Campus Enterprise, actively accounts for its campus carbon footprint each year. Michigan Tech is a member of the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) and is ranked by AASHE as a STARS Silver campus. Many student organizations on campus focus on sustainability activities; and we’ll learn about Michigan Tech’s sustainable electricity, trash, water, and wastewater systems, too.

Sami and Lila

Alan, how did you first get into Sustainability? What sparked your interest?

Growing up in the forests and lakes of northern Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan gave me a deep appreciation for the natural world. Reading Aldo Leopold from an early age taught me the importance of being intentional about the way we interact with the land on which we live. Finally, studying international development and living in Central America brought home the amazing ingenuity of the human spirit, and the challenges we face in working across different perspectives in balancing individual freedoms and collective action.

Hometown, family?

I was raised in Phillips, Wisconsin, a small northern town surrounded by the Chequamagon National Forest. I eventually moved to Madison, where I spent 25 years studying and working before moving to Houghton in 2019. I earned a JD in Environmental and Administrative Law, an MS in Agriculture and Applied Economics, and BA in Latin American and Caribbean Studies, all at UW-Madison. My wife, Erin and I have two young children, Sami and Lila, ages 3 and 6.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

The Schelly farmstead. Note the solar panels on the roof of the barn.

So many hobbies, so little time!  I love to be outside skiing, biking, paddling, and foraging. One big appeal of Houghton is that we have actual winter, with real snow that stays on the ground.  It’s like we live in a giant playground.

My wife and I both like riding bicycles. We have commuted by bike pretty much every day for the past 20 years or so. Our “claim to fame” in the biking world is that we strapped our tandem bike to the top of an old volvo 240 wagon and drove it as far north as we could, to where the road ends in Inuvik, Northwest Territories—a small indigenous community in the Canadian Arctic where the Mackenzie River empties into the Arctic Ocean. We gave away the car and rode our tandem bicycle all the way to Ushuaia, Argentina, which is the southernmost point in South America. It took us just over 18 months to cover the 17,000 or so miles, with lots of down time to get to know some amazing people and places along the way. It’s been almost 10 years since we finished that ride, and it’s hard to believe that we actually did it. Just goes to show what a little persistence can accomplish!

 Alan Turnquist once took a 550-day tandem bike trip with his wife, Erin, from the Arctic Circle to Ushaia, the southern-most city in South America.

Prof. Schelly, How did you first get into social sciences? What sparked your interest in sustainability?

I grew up in suburbia, and spent my childhood wondering why anyone would want to live in that setting. Learning about sustainability provided an opportunity for me to see other ways of organizing human life. 

I am motivated by a belief: when humans learn to live in ways that are more respectful of the ecological systems upon which we all depend, we’ll learn to be more respectful of differences across human systems—and be more kind to one another. 

Life on the farm!
Tight squeeze!

Hometown, family, hobbies?

I graduated from high school in Oklahoma and ended up going to college in Madison, Wisconsin. I am now a mom in many ways (biological, step, foster, exchange) and share a farmstead with my husband, our (currently 6) children, 3 dogs and a cat, ducks, chickens, goats, horses, and often a tiny house or van dweller or two. We’re outside—and on the go—a lot! 

Larry is a volunteer firefighter/EMT with the Chassell, Michigan Volunteer Fire Department, formed in 1947.

Larry, how about your family? What do you like to do in your spare time?

Teddy!

I have two teenage daughters and enjoy spending time outdoors. I’m a volunteer firefighter/EMT with the Chassell Volunteer Fire Department. I also have a great dog, Teddy.

Larry with daughter, Kristen and friend Denice, enjoying the fall colors at Copper Peak, near Ironwood.

Read more

Michigan Tech Sustainability Website

Then There Were Three: Stratus Nanosatellite Launch for MTU’s Aerospace Enterprise

Michigan Tech’s students designed Auris. It has been selected for launch by the University Nanosatellite Program, sponsored by AFRL.

The Aerospace Enterprise, under the direction of Dr. Brad King, is launching satellites as well as student careers. At the University Nanosatellite Program, sponsored by the Air Force Research Lab (AFRL) in August, ten students from the Enterprise team presented their latest satellite application, Auris, to judges from several space-related agencies.

The challenge for the competition was to develop a satellite mission that is relevant to both industry and the military. Students conceived of the idea for Auris, a ‘listening satellite,’ through discussions with Enterprise alumni working in industry and their interest in monitoring communication from other satellites to estimate bandwidth utilization.

Dr. L. Brad King, Richard and Elizabeth Henes Endowed Professor (Space Systems), Mechanical Engineering-Engineering Mechanics

“Ten university teams were in attendance and of the teams, we were among three of the schools to be selected to move forward. We now move on to ‘Phase B’ of the program and have a guaranteed launch opportunity with substantial funding to complete the design and integration of our spacecraft,” says Matthew Sietsema, Chief Engineer for the Aerospace Enterprise.

As a result of this award, the Aerospace Enterprise will soon have three satellites in space. Stratus, a climate monitoring satellite that determines cloud height and cloud top winds, was set for a March 2021 launch date. However, it was delayed due to the pandemic and is planned for launch in 2022. Oculus, an imaging target for ground-based cameras for the Department of Defense, was launched in June 2019.

“The Enterprise has remained on the same trajectory and has been very successful by all measures,” remarks King. “Students do a great job managing themselves and the leadership to replace themselves as they graduate and new members move up. It’s a challenge to juggle more than one satellite, but our students have remained focused and hard working while managing several projects and it’s a testament to their tenacity.”

Creating real-world, hands-on learning opportunities for around 100 students per semester, the Enterprise serves as a stepping stone for many as they launch their careers.

“Our students, even if they aren’t in leadership roles, do well securing positions in the aerospace industry. We tend to perform well because we offer a three-year, long-term program, which allows our students to maintain the situational knowledge required to solve complex problems.”

—Dr. Brad King

Paul Sanders: Tiny House Design—Weather, Watts, and Materials

This green, sustainable, net zero Tiny House was designed and built by Michigan Tech students. It sits on a foundation near the shores of Lake Superior. And it’s comfortable and enjoyable year-round, even during a harsh winter.

Paul Sanders shares his knowledge on Husky Bites, a free, interactive webinar this Monday, October 18 at 6 pm ET. Learn something new in just 20 minutes (or so), with time after for Q&A! Get the full scoop and register at mtu.edu/huskybites.

What are you doing for supper this Monday night 10/18 at 6 ET? Grab a bite with Dean Janet Callahan and Paul Sanders, Professor of Materials Science and Engineering at Michigan Tech. 

Prof. Paul Sanders holds the Patrick Horvath Endowed Professorship of Materials Science and Engineering at Michigan Tech. He’s also an alum—he earned his BS in Metallurgy and Materials Engineering in 1991.

Tiny houses are springing up all over the US. But in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, where Michigan Tech is located, total snowfall can exceed 200 inches during the winter. Designing a tiny house for Michigan’s UP involves several extra layers of complexity. Especially if you want that tiny house to be carbon-neutral.

Last spring, a group of students in the Green Campus Enterprise at Michigan Tech took on the challenge: design and build a sustainable and affordable tiny house for cold climates—one that would serve as a model for green, energy-efficient (tiny) housing.

Michigan Tech’s Green Campus Enterprise was created in 2008, part of the Higher Learning Commission’s Academic Quality Improvement Program (AQIP) project. Under the AQIP project, Green Campus is charged with estimating the University’s carbon footprint and suggesting ways to reduce it. The team is advised by Chris Wojick, senior researcher at Michigan Tech’s Great Lakes Research Center, and Rob Handler, operations manager/senior research engineer at Michigan Tech’s Sustainable Futures Institute. Students taking part in Green Campus Enterprise annually measures the carbon footprint of Michigan Tech, and also design and implement projects to improve sustainability.

The Green Campus team began by working with their client, Sanders, to design the Tiny House with his family’s checklist and the team’s sustainable goals in mind. They researched and developed innovative solutions for making common building practices more sustainable. Next, the team modeled the thermal and energy performance of their preliminary tiny house designs. Once the best option was modeled, they worked directly with Sanders to create construction drawings and bring the house from idea to reality. 

Michigan Tech alumna Sierra Braun ’21 works as as an architectural drafter for S.C. Swiderski, LLC in Mosinee, Wisconsin, while pursuing an MS in Architecture. While on campus, she led the Green Campus Enterprise.

The team constructed sections of the tiny house on campus. Then Sanders, along with a lot of help from his son Caleb, assembled the home on their property in Bete Gris, Michigan, on Lake Superior. The result: a very sustainable (and cute and cozy) tiny house, which will hopefully be sided before the Keweenaw winter!

During Husky Bites we’ll meet the team, see the house, and find out just how they did it. Joining in will be Michigan Tech’s Tiny House team leader Sierra Braun, who graduated from Michigan Tech in May 2021 with a BS in Civil Engineering. While on campus, she led Green Campus Enterprise. Dave Bach, the team’s consultant and mentor to Sierra, will be at the session, too. Bach is an expert on sustainable building design and a Michigan Tech alum. Last but not least, environmental engineering undergraduate Nick Kampfschulte will be at the session, too, to tell us about the tiny house thermal modeling/sensing system he helped design.

Sanders, a six-sigma black belt engineer during his employment with Ford Motor Company, has led Michigan Tech’s highly successful MSE senior design program since 2010. Sanders has been successful in securing industry sponsorship for 100 percent of all MSE senior design projects since 2011. This time, however, he decided to sponsor and fund a student project of his own: A two-story tiny house. Instead of seeking out a senior design team for the Tiny House project, however, he sought help from Michigan Tech’s Green Campus Enterprise. Sanders knows a thing or two about Michigan Tech’s award-winning Enterprise Program. He previously served as an advisor to another Enterprise team, the Advanced Metalworks Enterprise.

Enterprise is a program unique to Michigan Tech, open to students of any major. Teams operate like companies, serving clients in a business-like setting to create products, deliver services, and pioneer solutions. There are currently 24 Enterprise teams on campus. Students in Green Campus Enterprise design and implement projects to improve the sustainability of the Michigan Tech campus, and measure its carbon footprint each year. The team was started in

A great view from the Tiny House!
Green Campus Enterprise artist rendering of the Tiny House, with a footprint of 200 square feet, it follows passive house principles. It’s also a net-zero energy building. Credit: Sierra Braun

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

As a kid I liked to build structures (play houses, cars) out of wood. I also liked chemistry, math, and physics in school.

Hometown, family? 

I grew up in Pulaski, Wisconsin as the oldest of three. My father was a high school chemistry teacher, and my mother was an elementary school teacher.

Sections of the Tiny House were built on campus, then transported to Bete Gris.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

I enjoy building and remodeling. I also enjoy meeting new people and living (not traveling) in different places around the world.

Did you know?

Dr. Sanders is one of Michigan Tech’s most prolific and creative researchers. Check out the website of his research lab, Alloy Research Central, at http://alloyresearch.mtu.edu.

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

I’ve always enjoyed thinking through problems, and designing and building things as a kid. Growing up, my family did some fun construction projects, too, from building dog houses and bookshelves to a cabin and a treehouse.

Hometown, family? 

I’m from Stratford, Wisconsin, currently living with my boyfriend and our two cats.

Nick Kampfschulte—and PeeWee

Nick, how are you involved with the Tiny House project?

My role was to aid in the overall design and modular construction. I also worked on designing and implementing its thermal modeling/sensing system.

Hometown?

I grew up in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

What do you do in your spare time?

I repair, build, and restore automobiles. I’m also into metal fabrication.

Dave, how are you involved with the Tiny House project?

Dave Bach is an alum, too. He earned both his BS in Mechanical Engineering and an MS in Biological Science at Michigan Tech.

I served as the team’s design and building advisor and mentor. I’ve been a professional sustainable builder and designer for the past 42 years. 

A dozen years ago, as a construction management instructor at Michigan Tech, Bach worked with Michigan Tech students on a design project to re-use two semi-trailer bodies and convert them to a single-family home.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

I’ve lived in the Copper Country since 1979, and in Houghton since 1999. I participate in all outdoor silent sports, especially mountain biking and cross-country skiing.

Amlan Mukherjee: Net Zero—How Do We Get There?

Forest fires, warmer summers, storms and floods: global warming is compounding the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events, causing disruptions, costing us resources—and lives.

Amlan Mukherjee shares his knowledge on Husky Bites, a free, interactive webinar this Monday, October 11 at 6 pm ET. Learn something new in just 20 minutes (or so), with time after for Q&A! Get the full scoop and register at mtu.edu/huskybites.

Michigan Tech Professor Amlan Mukherjee: “As stewards of this planet we owe it to ourselves, and to every species we share this home with, to ensure that we build to sustain.”

What are you doing for supper this Monday night 10/11 at 6 ET? Grab a bite with CEGE Chair Audra Morse and Amlan Mukherjee, Professor of Civil, Environmental, and Geospatial Engineering at Michigan Tech. 

The United States has set the ambitious target of reaching Net Zero emissions economy-wide by no later than 2050, and roughly halfway to zero by 2030. 

“Reducing our atmospheric greenhouse gas emissions is crucial to reducing the long-term rise in average global temperatures,” says Mukherjee. “Given the carbon intensive nature of our economy, it seems unlikely that we can reduce our emissions to zero. However our shared goal of Net Zero—balancing the net amount of greenhouse gas emissions that are being emitted, versus that which is being absorbed back from the atmosphere—will result in promising new methods and technologies.” 

During Husky Bites, Mukherjee will explore Net Zero implications for engineering practice. Joining in will be Dr. Heather Dylla, Mukherjee’s good friend and longtime professional collaborator. Dylla is the VP of Sustainability and Innovation at Construction Partners Inc.

green round zero emission carbon neutral rubber stamp print vector illustration

“There’s a product component and a process component to reaching Net Zero,” adds Mukherjee. “It is daunting. But I think we can do this. There are various approaches we can use.”

Mukherjee has extensive background and experience in life cycle assessment for the construction materials industries. His focus: integrated data, rich workflows, and model-based processes—the digital transformation of construction. 

Dr. Heather Dylla, advises on engineering policy at the US House of Representatives

Early on as a civil engineering professor and researcher, Mukherjee recognized the need to consider energy efficiency and life cycle environmental impacts of construction materials and processes when designing our infrastructure. He set out to lay the foundation for best practices. “I wanted to inform design and construction using life cycle thinking to optimize project cost and performance with an eye on reducing environmental impacts,” he says.

Fast forward 15 years. Mukherjee’s hard work has resulted in important project management tools to help government agencies and construction firms consider reductions in life cycle CO2 emissions of their projects—in addition to cost and project duration—as they develop strategies that improve the sustainability of their projects.

One size does not fit all, he says. “For agencies involved in horizontal infrastructure—such as roads, bridges, highways—we developed separate guidelines for construction, rehabilitation and maintenance projects. Incorporating Net Zero by 2050 will involve many of the same types of solutions,” adds Mukherjee. “We need data tools to enable improved decision making, recognizing that the solutions for one project may not apply to another.”

penguins on a beach with mother and chick
“Personally, I worry about how life on this planet—home to many different species—will adapt to warmer temperatures,” says Mukherjee. “As stewards of this planet we owe it to ourselves, and to every species we share this home with, to ensure that we build to sustain.”

At Michigan Tech, Mukherjee completed the National Science Foundation I-Corps program, created to reduce the time and risk associated with translating promising ideas and technologies from the lab to the marketplace. His involvement not only led to starting his own business but it also revamped the way he teaches his classes, with a focus on lean start-up practices and design thinking—a methodology for creative problem solving from the Stanford d.school.

“A design thinking mindset changes your approach to everything you do,” Mukherjee says. “You start looking at the world not just as a problem-solver, but also as a value creator. Once you identify the client’s needs, the math is the easy part, but being able to do the right math for the right project—that’s where the design-thinking mindset comes in. Are you solving a problem that matters, and are you creating value out of it? As the American Society of Civil Engineers reminds us, it’s not enough to build the project right, it’s also important to build the right project.”

Mukherjee formed his company, Trisight Engineering, in 2013. Trisight provides life cycle assessment services, data analyses, and data interface tools for sustainability assessment of horizontal infrastructure. He brought on Michigan Tech Alums Lianna Miller (’06) and Dr. Benjamin Ciavola (’14) as full-time managing partners.

“There’s a product component and a process component to reaching Net Zero,” adds Mukherjee. “It is daunting. But I think we can do this. There are various approaches we can use.”

Prof. Amlan Mukherjee
Presenting together at the Euroasphalt and Eurobitume Conference in Prague in 2016. Back then, Dylla served as director of sustainable engineering for the National Asphalt Pavement Association.

“In academia, Dr. Heather Dylla has been my collaborator for the past 8 years,” notes Mukherjee. “We’ve developed several protocols and practices together that are now in the process of becoming industry standards.” Some of their most recent collaborations took place while Dylla was with Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), working as a Sustainable Pavement Engineer. Dylla managed the FHWA Sustainable Pavements Program and the Pavement Policy, leading an effort to incorporate principles of life cycle thinking into the design and decision-making process. “That includes the three pillars of sustainability: economic, environmental, and social impacts,” she says. She earned her doctorate from Louisiana State University where she focused on quantifying the environmental impacts of photocatalytic “smog-eating” concrete pavements.

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

“Here I am on a concrete paving job on I-496 in Lansing, Michigan.”

As a child my favorite toy was a model of a Boeing 707. I imagined all the places I could fly to on it, and that started my early love for all things transportation—highways, airports, and trains. I liked tinkering with stuff and putting things together, whether it was jigsaw puzzles or robots involving simple circuitry. I also enjoyed math and science in school, so engineering was the logical direction. 

During my undergraduate experience, as I began to understand the science behind climate change and appreciate its challenges, I was drawn to investigating ways to engineer functioning systems while also reducing environmental impacts. 

A few years ago, Prof. Mukherjee helped facilitate the development of the ISO-compliant environmental product declaration program for the asphalt industry in North America. Here, on an asphalt paving job on I-69 near Charlotte, Michigan.

A love for all things transportation and the many new worlds our transportation assets provide us access to—along with a growing concern for the environment—largely shape what I do.”

Hometown, family?

I was born in the northeastern state of Assam in India, but left before I was a year old and never returned. Hence, I have found home in many different cities, chief of them Kolkata and Seattle. Now I call Houghton home, having lived here the longest of any place.

Cheeky, indeed: that’s Oscar in the front, and Zoey.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

I enjoy singing in community choirs, volunteering for service-oriented community organizations, and getting trained to be a better version of myself by my two cheeky dachshunds.

Did you know?

Prof. Mukherjee serves on the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) Sustainable Pavements Technical Working Group. He’s on the board of both the Green Buildings Initiative and the Greenroads Foundation. And he recently co-authored guidelines for sustainable highway construction practices for the National Academies’ National Cooperative Highway Research program (NCHRP).

Dr. Dylla, how did you decide to become an engineer?

I had already applied to many schools to study environmental science, geology, or international studies, (though not engineering). Later in my senior year of high school, my Physics teacher introduced me to a mentor from the Society of Women Engineers. I was unaware of the opportunities in engineering and she explained all the options to me. Civil engineering piqued my interest since it covered many of the topics I was interested in: architecture, math, and environment. I decided to apply to one engineering school, Bradley University in Peoria, Illinois. It all worked out from there.

Heather and her family live in Minnesota.

Hometown, family? 

I grew up in Eden Prairie, Minnesota. I have a younger brother and sister. I am close to both. I never thought I would live in Minnesota and always dreamt of living abroad. In fact, my husband is from Brazil. However, after having a kid, we got tired of always using our vacation to see family and the busy life of DC with long commutes, so we moved to Minnesota to be near my family. My son Lucas is now 4 years old. He’s always by my side. 

Any hobbies?

After having Lucas, I feel my spare time is limited. Generally, he keeps me busy every free moment I have. We enjoy playing cars, puzzles, games, traveling, spending time with family and friends, watching movies such as Harry Potter, dancing, and swimming at one of the many beaches in Minnesota.

Michigan Tech: Driving Change with $4.5M NextCar II Award

After accomplishing the mission of NEXTCAR I, Mechanical Engineering Professor Jeff Naber and his team are looking to continue shaping the future of connected and autonomous vehicles through participation in NEXTCAR II.

With funding from the Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects-Energy (ARPA-E), the team will shift their focus from a 20 percent reduction in energy consumption in light-duty hybrid electric vehicles to a broader application of vehicles with level 4 and 5 of autonomy.

Jeff Naber, the Richard and Elizabeth Henes Endowed Professor (Energy Systems), Mechanical Engineering—Engineering Mechanics, and
Director of Michigan Tech’s Advanced Power Systems Research Center.

Before being awarded inclusion to NEXTCAR II, the team developed and demonstrated their energy reduction technologies on a fleet of eight Gen II Chevy Volts on a 24-mile test loop, showcasing their energy optimization, forecasting, and controls including vehicle-to-vehicle communications, location mapping, and thorough data management.

“We met our goals for energy reduction on the Chevy Volt, which set us up for NEXTCAR II now in partnership with GM on the Bolt electric vehicle (EV) and with Stellantis for an evaluation on the RAM 1500 and the Chrysler plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) Pacifica,” says Naber.

Naber and the team will seek to reduce energy consumption by 30 percent in the hybrid Chrysler Pacifica and further apply the savings to the RAM 1500 and the Chevy Bolt, while also considering level 4 and 5 autonomy to gain efficiencies. 

“The impact of this program through our $4.5 million grant is greater because of the diversity in vehicle and propulsion systems technology that can be influenced by our developments,” explains Naber. 

The first challenge the group faces is developing three autonomous vehicles integrated with in-vehicle energy controls to meet their goals. “We have Drs. Jeremy Bos and Darrell Robinette on the team to leverage the work they have done in the SAE AutoDrive Challenge and are bringing in external suppliers to achieve level 4 autonomy functions,” he adds. “With NEXTCAR I, we didn’t have autonomy functions in the picture, so now we have the added instrumentation, intelligence, and all of the vehicle integration that comes along with autonomy.” 

A key component of NEXTCAR II is the conversion and deployment of the NEXTCAR I technologies in these three new vehicles, with further expansions enabled by the higher levels of vehicle automation and autonomy. 

“At the end of the project, we will have all three vehicle systems operating as fully autonomous— with LIDAR, sensors, integrated controls, and actuation of steering, braking, and acceleration.” 

Dr. Jeff Naber

The group will maintain vehicles in multiple locations, both on the Michigan Tech campus and for road testing at the American Center for Mobility (ACM). ACM is a partner in the project, along with Stellantis and GM. The team is lead by Naber, with Co-PIs Drs. Jeremy Bos, Darrell Robinette, Bo Chen, Grant Ovist, and Basha Dudekula along with several graduate students. 

“We will be conducting the baseline testing here and controls development in the labs at the APSRC and then we’ll conduct closed track testing at ACM to implement our defined controls and autonomy specifications,” replies Naber. “There are many teams working on autonomous vehicles, but with NEXTCAR we get the opportunity to combine that with energy reduction objectives.” 

The NEXTCAR team is delivering engineering solutions as they move from abstracted technology to direct implementation within the realities of on-road conditions.

“We are combining theory, simulation, and real-world implementation on three different vehicle platforms that will have a true impact on our roadways. We know the energy to run the computers and the sensors in today and tomorrow’s vehicles will be a significant penalty especially for EVs. Everyone has different solutions, but we get to zero in on it further,” Naber explains.

The NEXTCAR II project is enhanced by the University’s Tech Forward initiative in Autonomous and Intelligent Systems, led by Naber. Efforts over the last two years include developing the RAM and simultaneously a Great Lakes Research Center watercraft for the purposes of extending research and education in these areas across campus.

Tess Ahlborn: Lift Bridge—a Michigan Landmark

Tess Ahlborn shares her knowledge on Husky Bites, a free, interactive webinar this Monday, September 27 at 6 pm ET. Learn something new in just 20 minutes (or so), with time after for Q&A! Get the full scoop and register at mtu.edu/huskybites.

Prof. Tess Ahlborn: Structural durability and safety are her life’s work.

What are you doing for supper this Monday night 9/27 at 6 ET? Grab a bite with Dean Janet Callahan and Tess Ahlborn, Professor of Civil, Environmental, and Geospatial Engineering at Michigan Tech. The Portage Lake Bridge connecting Houghton and Hancock, Michigan, more commonly known as the Lift Bridge, was named as an ASCE National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark in late 2019 following a State Historic Landmark designation in 2018. 

During Husky Bites we’ll hear about the wonders of the Lift Bridge from the very trio who submitted its 300-page application to the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE). Prof. Ahlborn will be joined by two of her former students, Michael Prast ’19, now a timber structural engineer at Fire Tower Engineered Timber in Calumet, Michigan; and Emma Beachy ‘19, a design engineer at Corbin Consulting in Portland, Oregon. Both earned both their BS and MS degrees in civil engineering at Michigan Tech.

Emma Beachy wearing patterned knit capstands in front of a waterfall in the wood.
Emma Beachy ’19

We’ll learn about crossings prior to the current Lift Bridge, the people involved in designing and building the Lift Bridge, and what makes the Lift Bridge so unique to the region and the nation to proudly earn the National Landmark designation. 

“Emma and Michael are two of Michigan Tech’s best students,” says Ahlborn. “I mentioned the topic of National Historic Landmarks during Bridge Design class, and let the class know I would be delighted if someone wanted to work on a nomination application for the Portage Lake Bridge. It didn’t take long for Emma and Michael to speak up, and the rest is history. I can’t thank them enough for taking on this project and seeing it through the application process!”

Michael leans at a wooden deck looking out over a harbor on Lake Superior with sailboats
Michael Prast ’18

By the way, Prof. Ahlborn is a Michigan Tech alum, too. She earned her BS and MS at Michigan Tech, then went to University of Minnesota to earn a Doctorate of Philosophy in Civil Engineering in 1998. She’s been a member of the faculty at Michigan Tech for the past 26 years, teaching structural engineering courses focusing on concrete and the design of concrete buildings and bridges. 

She has a passion for bridges, something that began when she was quite small. “Growing up, I once told my mom I loved bridges. After that, she started taking me to look at a different bridge each week. Michigan has such beautiful bridges!” 

“Bridges are structural art! A piece of art fully exposed to the elements. They involve so many people every day.”

Prof. Tess Ahlborn

As the former Director of the Center for Structural Durability within the Michigan Tech Transportation Institute, Ahlborn has worked with the MDOT (Michigan Department of Transportation) and USDOT (US Department of Transportation) to seek solutions to improve the resiliency of our nation’s transportation infrastructure. 

In 2020, Ahlborn was appointed to the American Concrete Institute Committee 318, placing her in the small group of people who establish the ACI structural concrete building code used around the world, a “Supreme Court” of concrete, if you will.

Did you know? Prof. Ahlborn is a world expert in remote sensing applications for bridge condition assessment.

“It also means her peers consider her to be one of the most knowledgeable and trustworthy among them,” says Materials Science and Engineering Professor Larry Sutter, a concrete expert in his own right, as well as associate dean of research and external relations in the College of Engineering.

After water, concrete is the most widely used substance on the planet. As a member of the committee, Ahlborn helps to chart the future of structural concrete—its safety, sustainability, technological advances and environmental impacts.

“We think of concrete almost as rock, but a big part of it is the steel,” Ahlborn said. “It’s a frame of steel bars encased in concrete. People the world over need to know, ‘How do I design with it?’ and ‘How does it behave?’ The code is based on over 100 years of research.”

Ahlborn knows the code inside and out. As a civil engineering student at Michigan Tech, she learned ACI Code 318 from civil engineering professor Bogue Sandberg, now a professor emeritus. “Over the years I have taught at least 1,500 students in the classroom about the 318 code requirements,” she said. 

As for her secrets to good teaching, she insists there aren’t any. “All you have to do is be fair and consistent and crack a joke once in a while,” said Ahlborn. 

She invites alumni to speak to her classes, and she regularly brings in current news articles relating to the course, not to mention chunks of concrete with stories to tell. All together, “it helps the students understand why what they are learning is important.” 

Ahlborn also serves as program director for all who seek a Michigan Tech online MS degree in Civil Engineering with a structural engineering focus. It’s a growing program, she says. “Most of our online graduate students are full-time working professionals taking one course per semester,” she says. “Every student’s program is tailored to their needs. They can obtain a full MSCE or a graduate certificate in, say, Structural Timber Design.  It’s a great avenue for professionals to enhance their careers.”

Each of these chunks of concrete has a story to tell, says Professor Ahlborn.

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

As a young kid, I was always fascinated by bridges.  It wasn’t until my high-school physics teacher asked me about my future plans. I was happy to report that I was applying to cosmetology schools, but I really liked bridges. After a few conversations, it was clear where I was heading: Civil Engineering. Soon enough, I jumped onto the structural engineering route and have loved working with bridges ever since!

Izzy and Charlie!

Hometown?

Growing up in an all-American family in Kawkawlin, Michigan, followed by the real growing up as a student at Michigan Tech, I had the opportunity to watch the Zilwaukee bridge construction and land a dream job in the Minneapolis area designing dams, hydropower facilities, and bridges. When the engineering market slowed down, I jumped at the chance to complete a PhD. My husband, Mark, and I were blessed with twins, Jess and Jake, and chose the Keweenaw as the best place to settle down. I’m happy to share that we are now the proud grandparents of Charlie and Rory!

What do you do for fun?

I truly enjoy the outdoors and living in the Keweenaw, a very special place. Izzy, our Great Pyrenees, brings joy to our lives everyday and I love gardening, especially when she’s not running through the garden!

Lift Bridge in Winter. Photo credit: Michael Prast

Michael, what first sparked your interest in engineering?

I’m originally from Holly, Michigan. I had a class in high school, Intro to Engineering, that went through some basics of the different engineering disciplines like electrical, computer modeling, and building. My favorite project was designing a balsa wood tower that was then compressed to failure. I really enjoyed it and my structure ended up being the most efficient in the class history comparing self weight to weight held. So I knew I wanted to do something with engineering and leaned towards buildings. I have been correct so far and love engineering a range of structures, mostly in heavy timber. 

How do you like to spend your spare time?

While my favorite is mountain biking, I love to hike, camp, hammock, kayak, and swim. I also have a passion for history. I’m part of the volunteer board for Painesdale Mine and Shaft and give tours of the Champion Mine shaft house, hoist house, and Captain’s office.

Emma, how did you decide upon engineering?

I was born and raised in Madison, Wisconsin. For a long time I thought I wanted to be an architect, but then, during my senior year in high school, I took classes in Physics and Calculus. I absolutely loved them! After that, structural engineering felt like the perfect middle ground between architecture, and math and physics.

Tidepooling on the Oregon Coast. Photo credit: Emma Beachy

Hobbies?

My hobbies mostly revolve around the outdoors. Living in Oregon now, I’m lucky that I can drive a short ways and get to the Pacific coast (I love looking for tide pools) or to the mountains (I also love hiking and backpacking). At home, I really enjoy cooking. Lately I’ve been trying out some vegetarian recipes, trying out some new and interesting ingredients. 

John Gierke: Drilling Wells in the Keweenaw—Needles in a (Geologic) Haystack

Community water wells in Michigan’s Keweenaw Peninsula tap places ancient glaciers carved and filled. Pictured above: Interpolated bedrock depth map. Warm colors indicate progressively deeper bedrock (red being the deepest). Credit: John Gierke, Michigan Tech

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

Michigan Tech Professor John Gierke is also alumnus. He earned both a BS and MS in Civil Engineering, and a PhD in Environmental Engineering, all at Michigan Tech.

What are you doing for supper tonight, Monday 9/20 at 6 ET? Grab a bite with Dean Janet Callahan and John Gierke, Professor of Geological and Mining Engineering and Sciences at Michigan Tech. “The water we drink comes from geologically unique places,” he says. As a hydrogeologist, Gierke uses his expertise in teaching and research, and in places around the globe, most recently, El Salvador. Also on his own blueberry farm located about 20 minutes from campus.

“I was attracted to environmental engineering because of my interest in protecting human and environmental health, says Michigan Tech Professor Eric Seagren. “The use of a broad range of sciences within environmental engineering appealed to me, too.”

Joining in will be fellow colleague and friend, Eric Seagren, a professor of Civil, Environmental and Geospatial Engineering who specializes in finding new, sustainable ways to clean up environmental pollution, including contaminated groundwater.

As a hydrogeologist, Gierke studies the “spaces” in rocks and sedimentary deposits where water is present. Although groundwater is everywhere, Keweenaw geology makes accessing it truly challenging.

“Drilling productive wells in the Keweenaw is like finding needles in (geologic) haystack,” he says. “Groundwater supplies for many communities are in ancient bedrock valleys that were carved by glaciers and later backfilled with sands, gravels, and, sometimes, boulders left by the melting glaciers in their retreat. In the Midwest, groundwater exists almost everywhere, but in the Western Upper Peninsula of Michigan, and northern Wisconsin and Minnesota, the close proximity of ancient bedrock makes drilling trickier.”

During Husky Bites, Prof. Gierke will show us the inside of some especially interesting aquifers and wells—how they are found and developed, and why some rock formations yield water, and others don’t yield very much.

“Community water wells in Michigan’s Keweenaw Peninsula tap places ancient glaciers carved and filled.”

Prof. John Gierke

“Imagine a 400′ deep glacial tunnel scour back, filled with sands, gravels, silts and clays and capable of yielding 400-some gallons per minute,” says Gierke. “Wells located just outside that ‘trough’ are stuck in bedrock, only capable of giving up hardly 20 gpm, only enough for a single household.”

“The replenishment rate of groundwater in the Copper Country, like much of the northern Midwest, is sufficient that groundwater exists almost everywhere,” adds Gierke. “The challenge in terrains like the Keweenaw, where bedrock is often near the surface, is not whether groundwater exists at depth, but rather where the geology is sufficiently porous and/or fractured to allow water wells to produce at rates sufficient for communities.”

This photo from Prof. Seagren’s lab shows the release of a blue dye, simulating the release of an amendment from a well.

For Prof. Seagrean, at Michigan Tech his major research focus is the bioremediation of contaminated groundwater, especially contaminants like petroleum products and chlorinated solvents. He studies the release of remedial amendments, such as oxygen, added to stimulate the biodegradation of contaminants.

“An amendment is added to a well, and then just released into the natural flow of groundwater without pumping,” he explains. Much of this work involves the use of lab-scale model aquifers. Seagren believes it can be very effective, affordable, and safe way to solve the problem. According to the USGS, more than one in five (22 percent) groundwater samples contain at least one contaminant at a concentration of potential concern for human health.

Seagren also develops and tests low-impact, bio-geoengineering practices to stabilize mine tailings and mitigate toxic dust emissions. “These approaches mimic and maximize the benefits of natural processes, with less impact on the environment than conventional technologies,” he says. They may also be less expensive.” 

Seagren and his research team zeroed in on a natural process, microbially-induced calcium carbonate precipitation —an ubiquitous process that plays an important cementation role in natural systems, including soils, sediments, and minerals.

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

“Here I am on Bering Glacier in 2007, unfurling a Michigan Tech flag (that’s one of the University’s former logos).” Dr. Gierke is standing next to Dr. Josh Richardson (left), now a Geophysicist at Chevron. Josh earned all his degrees at Michigan Tech: a BS in Geophysics ’07, an MS in Glacier Seismology and Geophysics ’10, and a PhD in Volcano and Glacier Seismology, Geophysics ’13

I began studying engineering at Lake Superior State College (then, now University) in the fall of 1980, in my hometown of Sault Ste. Marie. In those days their engineering program was called: General Engineering Transfer, which was structured well to transfer from the old “Soo Tech” to “Houghton Tech,” terms that some old timers still used back then, nostalgically. I transferred to Michigan Tech for the fall of 1982 to study civil engineering with an emphasis in environmental engineering, which was aligned with my love of water (having grown up on the St. Mary’s River).

Despite my love of lakes, streams, and rivers, my technical interests evolved into an understanding of how groundwater moves in geological formations. I used my environmental engineering background to develop treatment systems to clean up polluted soils and aquifers. That became my area of research for the graduate degrees that followed, and the basis for my faculty position and career at Michigan Tech, in the Department of Geological and Mining Engineering and Sciences (those sciences are Geology and Geophysics). My area of specialty now is Hydrogeology.

Hometown?

I grew up in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, where I fished weekly, sometimes daily, on the St. Mary’s River. Sault Ste. Marie is bordered by the St. Mary’s River on the north and east. In the spring, summer and fall, I fished from shore or a canoe or small boat. In the winter, I speared fish from a shack just a few minutes from my home or traveled to fish through the ice in some of the bays. I was a fervent bird hunter (grouse and woodcock) in the lowlands of the Eastern UP, waterfowl in the abundant wetlands, and bear and deer (unsuccessfully until later in life). 

What do you like to do in your spare time?

I live on a blueberry farm about 20 minutes from campus in Chassell, Michigan. It’s open to the public in August for U-Pick. For the farm, I used my technical expertise to design, install, and operate a drip irrigation system that draws water from the underlying Jacobsville Sandstone aquifer. 

How do you know your co-host? 

Eric Seagren and I have been disciplinary colleagues for over 2 decades. Our expertise overlaps in terms of how pollutants move through groundwater. 

“Me cooking while camping with my family on Isle Royale two summers ago,” says Prof. Seagren.

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

I was attracted to environmental engineering because of my interest in protecting human and environmental health. The use of a broad range of sciences within environmental engineering also appealed to me. Growing up we had a family friend who was a civil engineer, and my Dad had a cousin who was an electrical engineer. My Dad himself had wanted to be an engineer, but he had gone to a one-room country school and a small-town high school, and when he got to college they told him he did not have an adequate background in math and science to pursue engineering, something we would never tell a student today! 

“This microphoto is from my work on the biomodification of the engineering properties of soil. It shows a calcium carbonate crust formed via bacterial activities.” Prof. Seagren will explain more of what can be seen here during Husky Bites.

Anyway, that might have influenced me some, but more importantly was my interest in protecting the environment. I had always spent a lot of time outdoors, either at my grandparents’ farm, or hunting and fishing with my Dad and friends and camping in Scouts. I took an environmental studies class in high school and that’s where I first learned about environmental engineering.

Hometown, family?

 I grew up in Lincoln, Nebraska, and earned my undergraduate degree at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. Currently I live in Hancock, with my family, which includes my wife Jennifer Becker, who is also a faculty member at Michigan Tech, and my two teenage children, Ingrid and Birk. We have a cat named Rudy.

Any mentors in your life who made a difference?

Back when I was in college, most people got an undergraduate degree in civil engineering and then pursued a graduate degree in environmental engineering, and that is the path I took. While I was doing my undergraduate work at the University of Nebraska there was a young professor named Dr. Mohamed Dahab who really influenced me and took an interest in me and my career path to this day. He was a great mentor and example for me, and that’s contributed to how I try to mentor students, too.

Dr. Seagren’s ’53 Chevy.

Any hobbies? 

In my spare time I like to garden, do home repairs, hike, fish, boat, run, and Nordic ski. I’m also fixing up a ‘53 Chevy pick-up from my grandpa’s farm. We used to use the truck to haul grain from the farm to the elevator in town. It’s a nice shade of blue. Next summer we hope to fill the back with blueberries from John’s farm and enter it into a local parade.

Read more:

How the Rocks Connect Us

Keweenaw Geoheritage: Glaciers

Field Trip to Alaska (Bering Glacier)

Auris Wins! Michigan Tech is Launching Into Space—with Ears

The team’s spacecraft, Auris, is a small satellite, a 12U cubesat. Its size in centimeters is just 20 x 20 x 30; its mass is 20 kg (about 44 pounds). Image credit: Michigan Tech Aerospace Enterprise

With Auris, the student-run Aerospace Enterprise at Michigan Tech has done it again.

Earlier this month, 10 Michigan Tech Aerospace Enterprise team members, all undergraduates, traveled to Albuquerque, New Mexico August 13-15 for the culminating event of the University Nanosatellite Program, a three-year design competition funded by the Air Force Research Laboratory – AFRL.

The Michigan Tech team won, along with teams from the University of Minnesota and Texas A&M. The three will now move to Phase B of the program, where they have AFRL funding for a multi-year development program to bring the spacecraft to flight maturity—and a guaranteed launch opportunity from the US Department of Defense. No launch date is set yet, but could happen as soon as 2024.

With Auris, the student-run Aerospace Enterprise at Michigan Technological University will have three working satellites. One of the team’s satellites (Oculus) is now in orbit; their second small satellite (Stratus) is due to launch in March 2023. Now, Auris will be the third to launch.

“It’s hard to say, but a conservative estimate is that at least 250 students have worked on the Auris mission since its inception, says Michigan Tech electrical and computer engineering student Matthew Sietsema, the team’s chief engineer and student lead.

These undergraduate students in Michigan Tech’s Aerospace Enterprise traveled to New Mexico for the AFRL University Nanosatellite Program Flight Selection Review. Back Row (Left to Right): Jonathan Joseph, Thomas Ziegler, Nolan Pickett, Matthew Carey, Kyle Bruursema. Front Row (Left to Right): Emi Colman, Samantha Zerbel, Zoe Knoper, Rachel Mellin, Matthew Sietsema

Lyon (Brad) King is the Richard and Elizabeth Henes Professor of Space Systems in the Department of Mechanical Engineering-Engineering Mechanics at Michigan Tech. As the founder and faculty advisor of the University’s Aerospace Enterprise, King empowers undergraduate students to design, build, and fly spacecraft. 

Professor Lyon Brad King

“Michigan Tech’s winning spacecraft is called Auris, which is Latin for ‘the ear,’ King explains. “Auris will fly in low-Earth orbit and will point its antenna ‘up’ to higher geostationary Earth orbit.” (Geostationary satellites are located 22,237 miles above the earth’s surface.)

“The spacecraft will listen to the signals broadcast from communications satellites as it flies through their transmission beams, and be able to map the spatial extent and shape of the transmission beams,” adds King. “Auris will also determine the location of the transmitting satellite.”

Auris signal trace. Image credit: Michigan Tech Aerospace Enterprise

This is the second time the Michigan Tech Aerospace Enterprise student team has won the AFRL University Nanosatellite Program competition. The first time, in 2011, Michigan Tech was the sole winner with Oculus-ASR, which was launched from Cape Canaveral on a Space-X Falcon Heavy in June 2019. Oculus-ASR now serves as an imaging calibration target for ground-based observatories tasked with characterizing spacecraft. 

In 2020 NASA slated Michigan Tech’’s second student-built satellite, Stratus, for a deployment from the International Space Station (ISS). That launch is expected in 2023. Stratus is a pathfinder mission funded by NASA’s Undergraduate Student Instrument Program and the CubeSat Launch Initiative. The Stratus vehicle is a three-axis-stabilized thermal infrared telescope that will be used to image atmospheric clouds.

“I am so incredibly proud of our Aerospace Enterprise team.” 

Janet Callahan, Dean, College of Engineering

At the University Satellite Program’s recent Flight Selection Review event in Albuquerque, a total of ten university student teams competed for the chance to advance their satellite design project to the next phase and launch: Missouri S&T, Minnesota, SUNY Buffalo, Texas A&M, Saint Louis, Western Michigan, Alaska Fairbanks, Michigan Tech, Auburn, and UT Austin.

Judges from Air Force Research Lab (AFRL), United States Space Force (USSF), Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC), Space Dynamics Lab, Missile Defense Agency, and NASA were present to evaluate the missions.

The MTU students staffed a booth, briefed their mission to the judges and other schools, and performed technical demonstrations for the judges.

“Michigan Tech will soon have no less than 3 student-designed and built satellites in outer space—it’s amazing.”

Bill Predebon, Chair, Department of Mechanical Engineering-Engineering Mechanics

Michigan Tech’s award-winning Enterprise Program, with more than 25 teams working on projects and products with researchers and companies, provided the overarching framework for the Aerospace Enterprise. 

Like all Enterprise teams at Michigan Tech, Aerospace Enterprise is open to students in any major. “It’s important for students to learn how to work in an interdisciplinary group,” says King. “In the workplace, they will never be on a team where every member has the same expertise. To design, build, manage and operate a satellite requires mechanical, electrical, computer science, physics, materials, everything— it really crosses a lot of boundaries and prepares them for a career.”

Last, but not least: “Aerospace Enterprise has a leadership and management hierarchy that is self-sustaining,” says King. “Current leaders are constantly working to mentor their successors so we have continuity from year-to-year.”

Matthew Sietsema ’22

Q&A with Matthew Sietsema, Chief Engineer and Student Lead, Michigan Tech Aerospace Enterprise Team

Matthew Sietsema is an aspiring Space Systems Engineer working toward a Michigan Tech double major in Electrical Engineering and Computer Engineering. He’ll be graduating next December 2022. As Chief Engineer of the Aerospace Enterprise team’s two spacecraft programs, Auris and Stratus, Sietsema serves as the technical lead of 100+ undergraduate students. He’s head of all assembly, integration, and testing activities, requirements management and verification for the two satellites. “The dual purpose of the Auris mission,” he explains, “is both Space Domain Awareness (SDA), and Space Visualization.”

Q: How does it feel for Auris to win the AFRL University Nanosatellite Program along with the University of Minnesota and Texas A&M?

A: It feels incredibly gratifying and I’m extremely proud of our team and our mission! Auris has been in the works for more than five years at this point, and to be able to finally close the loop and push forward to the next phase is an electrifying prospect. My congratulations also go out to both UMinn and Texas A&M—the motivations behind each of our missions are very similar, so it’s validating to see the fundamental concepts of our mission being lauded all around.

Q: It sounds like Phase B is about building the actual Auris satellite. What all goes into that?

A: In part, yes. Phase A was about designing and building the prototype version of the spacecraft, known as the Engineering Model (EM). One of the primary focuses of Phase B, among many other things, is to construct the final spacecraft meant to go to space⁠—the Flight Model (FM). We must first finish our build-up of the prototype, taking care to ensure that all of the individual components are working together properly and that the design itself is sound. From there, we move into building the FM spacecraft. This involves four distinct phases of build-up, or ‘integration stages’. The first is Component-Level Testing, where we ensure that each of the individual parts and circuit boards function as intended. Second is Subsystem-Level Testing, where we group components with similar jobs together and ensure that they can communicate with each other and correctly interoperate. Next is System-Level Testing, where we combine each of the discrete subsystems and make sure that the entire spacecraft works as designed. Last is Behavioral Testing, where we do an end-to-end verification of the function of the spacecraft and essentially ‘pretend’ to operate it like we would in space. The idea is to simulate and/or test everything that the spacecraft can possibly do, to make sure there are no unintended behaviors or nasty surprises once it gets on orbit.”

Q: Is it challenging for the team to manage several ongoing satellite missions?

A: At the moment, we only directly manage two missions: Auris and Stratus. Stratus is still under development, for another two years. Management of the Oculus mission was handed off to the Air Force when we delivered the satellite. But yes, the sentiment remains: it is incredibly challenging to manage a single spaceflight mission, let alone two at the same time. We have a strong core of leaders in our team, and do our best to foster an environment of learning and self-motivation. Our group is structured very closely to actual aerospace companies, so we rely on the tools of the industry and the experience of our members to catalyze progress and keep both missions on track.

Read More

Brad King: Space, Satellites, and Students

And Then There Were Two: MTU’s Next Student-built Satellite, Set to Launch

Michigan Tech’s Pipeline to Space

Winning Satellite to be Launched into Orbit