Category: News

Dr. Yongchao Yang Awarded 2022 Achenbach Medal

Dr. Yonchao Yang, assistant professor of Mechanical Engineering-Engineering Mechanics, Michigan Tech

Yongchao Yang, an assistant professor of Mechanical Engineering – Engineering Mechanics at Michigan Technological University, is the recipient of the 2022 Achenbach Medal. This international award recognizes a young investigator, within 10 years of earning their PhD, who has made an outstanding contribution to the field of structural health monitoring. This includes the monitoring of bridges, aircraft, pipelines, buildings and other infrastructure and engineering systems. Each year a single individual worldwide is selected for the honor.

The Achenbach medal is named in honor of Jan Achenbach, professor emeritus and Walter P. Murphy Professor and Distinguished McCormick School Professor at Northwestern University. The medal was presented to Dr. Yang in the International Workshop on Structural Health Monitoring (IWSHM) on July 6 at the European Workshop on Structural Health Monitoring (EWSHM 2022) in Palermo, Italy. The workshop is held each year, rotating between Stanford University and a location in Europe.

Yang came to Michigan Tech from Argonne National Lab in August 2019, where he worked as a staff scientist. He earned a bachelor’s degree in Engineering at Harbin Institute of Technology in 2010, and a PhD in Structural Engineering at Rice University in 2014. He was a Director’s Postdoctoral Fellow at Los Alamos National Laboratory from 2015 to 2018.

“The process of implementing a damage identification strategy for aerospace, civil and mechanical engineering infrastructure is referred to as structural health monitoring, or SHM,” says Yang, quoting the definition proposed by one of the pioneering SHM researchers, Dr. Charles Farrar at Los Alamos National Laboratory. Yang worked with Farrar during his postdoctoral research.

Dr. Yang works with a laser Doppler vibrometer system, coupled with an AI-based algorithm for full-field scanning and detection of metal structures, in this case, aluminum plates. In the back far right, PhD student Faraz Azad works at the computer on the measurement software and AI detection algorithm.

Yang’s research centers around structural dynamics in the broad areas of cyber-physical systems. “I hope to better understand the dynamic behaviors of structures and systems, in order to enable intelligent engineering systems–including software applications for structural health monitoring, and less invasive and non-destructive evaluations. That includes inferring and detecting any abnormal change in the dynamic features indicative of damage in the system.”

Yang leads the Dynamics & Intelligent Systems Group at Michigan Tech, consisting of postdocs, doctoral, master’s and undergraduate students. The group’s specific research includes sensing, modeling, analysis, and control of dynamic structures and systems.

“Our work in the lab spans the broad areas of system identification and control. We leverage approaches from experimental and computational mechanics, computer vision and machine learning—deep learning—with optical and acoustical tools,” Yang explains. “We seek to develop novel computational sensing tools and ‘physics-guided’ machine learning methodology. Our goal is to enable high-fidelity modeling and characterization of complex structural, material, and system behaviors.”

Sponsors of Yang’s research include the US Department of Energy, US Federal Highway Administration, Argonne National Lab, Los Alamos National Lab, Hyundai Corp., the MTRAC Innovation Hub for Advanced Computing at Wayne State University, and DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

Dr. William Predebon Retires Today After 47 Years at Michigan Tech

Dr. Bill Predebon is retiring today after a stellar career as professor and chair. He will remain always a mentor, advisor, colleague, and friend.

Today at Michigan Technological University, it feels like the end of an era.

But for Dr. William W. Predebon, J.S. Endowed Department Chair and Professor, it is the beginning of something absolutely new. Dr. Predebon will retire today after 25 years as the chair of the Department of Mechanical Engineering-Engineering Mechanics, and nearly 47 years at Michigan Tech.

“As I look back on all those years as department chair, I want to acknowledge that the progress we made was on the shoulders of those that came before us and the great faculty, staff, students and alumni who have been a part of this journey with me,” he says.

“If there was a hall-of-fame for mechanical engineering department chairs, Bill would get in on the first ballot,” says Greg Odegard, the John O. Hallquist Endowed Chair in Computational Mechanics. “Bill is a tremendous mentor. He worked hard to help young faculty develop into world-class researchers and teachers. He has a very calm, non-dramatic approach to leadership. He is simply honest and straight-forward.”

Under Predebon’s respectful and brilliant watch, the ME-EM department made great strides in conducting interdisciplinary research, growing the doctoral program, expanding research funding, and updating the curriculum and laboratories. He also brought diversity to both the faculty and student body.

Predebon joined the Department of Mechanical Engineering-Engineering Mechanics at Michigan Tech in 1976. He served as the department’s director of graduate studies, and then, in 1997 he became chair of the department.

“The world is changing, and we need to respond to its challenges and opportunities.”

Dr. Bill Predebon

“I’ve been fortunate to work with Bill on many projects over the past 25 years,” says Gordon Parker, the John and Cathi Drake Endowed Chair in Mechanical Engineering. “Bill brought a level of positivity that exceeded the circumstances in every case. This, along with his unwavering focus and kindness, resulted in success.”

“Bill has had a profound and lasting impact on the careers of many students, faculty, and staff,” adds Parker. “He’s a ‘true believer’ in Michigan Tech and the people that define it.”

“Bill made great effort on the development and retention of minority and women faculty members,” says ME-EM Professor Bo Chen. “When I joined Michigan Tech, he assigned two mentors for me, including a woman mentor. Bill has always been supportive of my teaching and research. He always tried his best to accommodate my requests for teaching assistants and research space. I greatly appreciate his help on my career journey at Michigan Tech.”

“Bill is the reason I came to Michigan Tech, and the reason I am still here today,” says Brad King, Richard and Elizabeth Henes Endowed Professor of Space Systems. “When I interviewed 22 years ago, Bill convinced me of his vision to broaden MEEM into new areas, which could include aerospace, and I jumped at the chance to be a part of that change.”

“True to his word, Bill always made room for new ideas and encouraged and rewarded innovation,” adds King. “As a result, there are now hundreds of Michigan Tech alumni in leadership positions within the commercial and government space industry, one Michigan Tech satellite orbiting the Earth, and two more in development. Just last week I saw a commuter bus driving around Houghton with a big satellite graphic on the side. Because of Bill, space and satellites are now an integral part of Michigan Tech’s identity.”

“By hiring talented faculty and staff, together with our great students, our generous and supportive alumni, and with the support of the university administration, we have been able to innovate, push boundaries, be creative, take risks, and be entrepreneurs,” Predebon says.

Over the past 10 years he led the ME-EM Department to rapidly evolve its educational methods, infusing into undergraduate and graduate curriculum the knowledge and critical skills to use big data, machine learning and artificial intelligence in the solution of engineering design problems.

“Bill is the master of the long game.”

John Drake ‘64, ‘69, Michigan Tech mechanical engineering and business alumnus
Dr. Predebon’s early days at Michigan Tech

Predebon grew up in New Jersey, then earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Notre Dame in 1965 and his master’s and doctorate from Iowa State University in 1968 and 1970, respectively. After he graduated, Predebon held summer appointments at Argonne National Laboratory, Southwest Research Institute, and Honeywell Inc./Alliant Techsystems Inc.

Predebon’s research in ceramics, computational modeling and simulation of impact phenomena, and explosive fragmentation has involved experimental, analytical, and computational elements and has been supported by the National Science Foundation, the Department of Defense, and other government agencies and industrial partners. He has over forty publications and two US patents.

A Fellow of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), Predebon has received numerous honors, including the Outstanding Service Award for his work with the student chapter of the Society of Automotive Engineers. At Michigan Tech he earned the first annual Martin Luther King Award by Michigan Tech’s Black Student Organizations; and the Michigan Tech Distinguished Teaching Award. He received the Distinguished Faculty Award from the Michigan Association of Governing Boards of Colleges, and the Michigan Tech Honorary Alumni Award. He also gained membership in Michigan Tech’s Academy of Teaching Excellence.

In 2015 Predebon was recipient of the Michigan Tech Diversity Award, which recognizes the accomplishments of a faculty or staff member who contributes to diversity and inclusion through exemplary leadership and actions. Predebon stood out for his long-term persistence in working on issues of diversity.

“Bill has been known for his willingness to try out-of-the-box strategies for recruiting underrepresented minorities and female faculty and students,” said Carl Anderson, ME-EM professor emeritus and former associate dean of research in the College of Engineering. “He recognized the importance of a diverse workforce well before it became part of the common expectation of a department chair. He led the way.”

“My observations, from over 20 years of Dr. Bill Predebon’s leadership:

Passionate
Resourceful
Enthusiastic
Dedicated
Energetic
Balanced
Optimistic
Notable

Gerald Haycock ‘68, mechanical engineering alumnus

Predebon also led efforts to create the Michigan Tech Learning Resource Center for Self-Paced Programmed Instruction, the ME-EM Engineering Learning Center, as well as a distance learning doctorate degree in mechanical engineering, and a Design Engineer Certificate program with General Motors in 2000. More than six hundred GM employees earned the certificate.

In 2010 Predebon started a Peace Corps Master’s International program in mechanical engineering at Michigan Tech, the first and only one of its kind in the nation.

Predebon is a captain in the US Army Reserves and is a member of four honor societies: Tau Beta Pi (engineering), Phi Kappa Phi (academic excellence), Omicron Delta Kappa (leadership), and Theta Tau (engineering).

In 2019 he was inducted into the Pan American Academy of Engineering, which brings together engineers from across the continent of North America, South America and Mexico—a total of 18 countries.

At Michigan Tech he advised both the Nordic and Alpine ski teams and Delta Sigma Phi fraternity, and chaired building committees for both the Dow Environmental Sciences and Engineering Building and the Great Lakes Research Center.

“The ME-EM department and Michigan Tech are better as a result of Bill’s hard efforts. I only wish I had an opportunity to be one of his students!”

Geoff Weller ‘75, mechanical engineering alumnus

So what are Dr. Predebon’s next steps after retirement? He plans to keep working—this time in development and outreach activities for Michigan Tech, as a Professor and Chair Emeritus.

“Bill is a pioneer at Michigan Tech in advancement. He showed the university how it could be done successfully,” notes Parker.

And Dr. Predebon just might journey with his family to Italy at some point, in order to meet relatives there for the very first time.

“ I thank all of you from the bottom of my heart.

Dr. Bill Predebon

Engineering Alumni Activity Summer 2022

Paige Fiet
Paige Fiet

Paige Fiet (’21 electrical engineering) writes about the IPC chapter formation at Michigan Tech in 2019 in “The New Chapter: My Time on the IPC Board of Directors—Standing on the Shoulders of Giants” in I-Connect007. Fiet is a process engineer at TTM-Logan, a former student director on the IPC Board of Directors, and an IPC Emerging Director.

Paul Rogers
Paul Rogers

DBusiness Magazine quoted Major General Paul Rogers ‘88 ‘04 (BS, PhD, mechanical engineering) in a feature article lauding Michigan as a hub of innovation and synergy between public and private sectors working to invent, test, and produce military technologies. Rogers, the adjutant general of the Michigan National Guard, speaks at length in the article about his vision for the National All-Domain Warfighting Center (NADWC) and its operations in the lower peninsula.

Brenda Ryan
Brenda Ryan

Brenda Ryan ’76 (BS, metallurgical and materials engineering), the current vice chair of Michigan Tech’s Board of Trustees, was the featured guest on an episode of Let Them Lead, a podcast discussing the risks and rewards of leadership today.

Patricia Nadeau
Patricia Nadeau

Alumna Patricia Nadeau ’11 (PhD, geology) was mentioned in the July 7 edition of Volcano Watch, a weekly article and activity update written by U.S. Geological Survey Hawaiian Volcano Observatory. The story explained how researchers study Hawaiian volcano plumes. Nadeau, a current member of the USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory gas geochemistry group, studied the summit plume using a UV camera in 2010 while a graduate student at Michigan Technological University. Nadeau is a volcanologist with a specialization in volcanic gases.

Larry Carbary
Larry Carbary

Metal Architecture and Metal Construction News covered the presentation of ASTM International’s Werner H. Gumpertz Award to Michigan Tech alumnus Larry Carbary ’82 (chemical engineering). Carbary was recognized for his role in creating industry standards in the 1980s, his mentorship in the organization and his world-leading career in research and development of the building envelope. He is an internationally recognized author and speaker on the performance of building facades.

Melissa Baumann
Melissa Baumann

The first public appearance of alumna Melissa Baumann ’83 (metallurgical and materials engineering) as the prospective president of Ohio Northern University was the subject of a news story by Your Hometown Stations. Baumann will be the 12th president at ONU and will also be the first woman to hold the position.

Jin W. Choi Appointed Chair of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Michigan Technological University

Dr. Jin W. Choi is the new Chair of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Michigan Tech.

Jin W. Choi has been appointed Chair of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Michigan Technological University, effective July 1, 2022.

Dr. Choi comes to Michigan Tech from Louisiana State University, where he served as the Mark and Carolyn Guidry Professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. At LSU, Choi led the graduate program in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, and was director of the BioMEMS and Bioelectronics Laboratory.

Choi earned his BS and MS in Electrical Engineering at Seoul National University in Seoul, Korea, and his PhD at the University of Cincinnati. His work as a faculty member at Louisiana State University received numerous recognitions for excellence in teaching and mentoring, scholarship, and innovation in engineering research. His research interests include MEMS and BioMEMS, biomedical and bioelectronic devices, microfluidic devices and systems, lab-on-a-chip systems, and various sensors and sensor systems. He holds 8 US patents, including one recently issued to Choi and collaborators for a wireless implantable neural stimulator, designed to help patients with neurodegenerative diseases control pain and improve quality of life.

Janet Callahan, Dean of the College of Engineering, says Choi brings with him a wealth of experience and perspective.

“Dr. Choi’s entrepreneurial approach to research and teaching strongly equips him to carry out the department’s mission of teaching the next generation of electrical, computer and robotics engineers,” says Callahan. “At Michigan Tech he will creatively facilitate the development of technological innovations across a wide field of areas.”

“I am excited to be part of building a better tomorrow with our students, faculty, and staff in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering.”

Jin W. Choi

Choi says he was highly drawn to Michigan Tech’s electrical and computer engineering program. He cites several factors that contributed to his decision to move north from Baton Rouge all the way to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

“When I came for an interview, I saw great potential for the ECE department to move forward and advance even further,” he says. “The solid and envisioning leadership of the College and the University was strongly encouraging, as well. Most importantly, the motivated students, talented faculty, and supportive staff made me want to join Michigan Tech in this leadership position.”

With Choi at the helm, the ECE department will continue its strong pursuit of excellence in education, research, and service. A primary goal of Choi’s is to promote collaboration within the university, and beyond.

“The horizon of electrical and computer engineering stretches from power engineering to modern and future electronics, space technology, communication and connectivity, computing devices, healthcare, robotics, automobiles, and much more,” Choi explains. “Electrical and computer engineering undoubtedly provide backbone technologies to our modern society as we undergo the 4th industrial revolution. Michigan Tech is patently where a better tomorrow begins.”

“Our goal as engineers is to contribute to our society and to the wellness of human beings.”

Jin W. Choi

At Michigan Tech, the ECE department prepares members of the future workforce and promotes innovative research, notes Choi. “As ECE department chair, I hope to continuously improve the quality of learning—by exploring opportunities for students, assisting students and faculty for their success, and elevating our engagement of alumni and stakeholders to the department.”

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 University offers more than 125 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in science and technology, engineering, computing, forestry, business and economics, health professions, humanities, mathematics, social sciences, and the arts. The rural campus is situated just miles from Lake Superior in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, offering year-round opportunities for outdoor adventure.

Michigan Tech Wins ASME/IEEE Heat Sink Design Challenge

Michigan Tech’s Heat Sink team. Undergraduate students are Gracie Brownlow and Kelsey Brinks. Graduate students are Behzad Ahmadi, Masoud Ahmadi, and Behnam Ahmadi.

A student team from Michigan Tech has been awarded first place in the ASME/K16 and IEEE/EPS Student Design Challenge: Expanding the Possibilities of Heat Sink Design Using Additive Manufacturing.

The competition called upon student teams K-16 to expand the possibilities of heat sink design using additive manufacturing. The four finalist teams are Michigan Tech, Purdue University, University of Arkansas, and Berlin Institute of Technology.

Advanced heat sink designs offering augmented cooling capabilities are required for effective thermal management of high-power electronic chips. Future heat sink designs should not only offer an effective heat transfer but also be compact and cost-effective. 

Composed of Michigan Tech graduate and undergraduate students in the Department of Mechanical Engineering-Engineering Mechanics, the team was first selected as a semi-finalist in March. Now, as a finalist, one member of the team will defend their heat sink design in front of industry leaders in the form of an oral presentation, Behzad Ahmadi. That will take place during the IEEE ITherm 2022 Conference coming up in San Diego from May 31 – June 3, 2022.

Michigan Tech’s Energy-X team heat sink designs: expanding the possibilities of heat sink design using additive manufacturing.

Undergraduate students are Gracie Brownlow and Kelsey Brinks. Graduate students are Behzad Ahmadi, Masoud Ahmadi, and Behnam Ahmadi. Assistant Professor Sajjad Bigham is the team advisor. He is the director of the Energy-X Lab (Energy eXploration Laboratory) at Michigan Tech.

For the competition, all teams were asked to design, build, and validate an aluminum heat sink made with additive manufacturing techniques made available by GE Additive. Next, teams prepared a white paper that justified their designs.

The Michigan Tech team was among selected to print their heat sink with GE Additive machines. It was then sent for testing, which then helped determine the finalists, due to their top designs.

Michigan Space Grant Consortium Awardees for 2022-2023

Michigan Space Grant Consortium NASA

The University of Michigan – Michigan Space Grant Consortium has announced grant recipients. Michigan Tech faculty and staff researchers receiving grants are:

Faculty Led Fellowships for Undergraduates

Brendan Harville for “Seismic Amplitude based Lahar Tracking for Real-Time Hazard Assessment.”

Sierra Williams for “Understanding the Controls of Solute Transport by Streamflow Using Concentration-Discharge Relationship in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.”

Graduate Fellowships

Espree Essig for “Analyzing the effects of heavy metals on vegetation hyperspectral reflectance properties in the Mid-Continent Rift, USA.”

Caleb Kaminski for “Investigation of Ground-Penetrating Radar Interactions with Basaltic Substrate for Future Lunar Missions.”

Katherine Langfield for “Structural Characteristics of the Keweenaw and Hancock Faults in the Midcontinent Rift System and Possible Relationship to the Grenville Mountain Belt.”

Tyler LeMahieu for “Assessing Flood Resilience in Constructed Streambeds: Flume Comparison of Design Methodologies.”

Paola Rivera Gonzalez for “Impacts of La Canícula (“Dog Days of Summer”) on agriculture and food security in Salvadoran communities in the Central American Dry Corridor.”

Erican Santiago for “Perchlorate Detection Using a Graphene Oxide-Based Biosensor.”

Kyle Schwiebert for “LES-C Turbulence Models and their Applications in Aerodynamic Phenomena.”

HONES Awards

Paul van Susante for “Lunabotics Competition Robot.”

Research Seed Grants

Xinyu Ye for “Analyzing the effects of potential climate and land-use changes on hydrologic processes of Maumee River Watershed using a Coupled Atmosphere-Lake-Land Modeling System.”

Pre-College Educational Programs

Jannah Tumey for “Tomorrow’s Talent Series: Exploring Aerospace & Earth System Careers through Virtual Job-Shadowing.”

Sustainable Foam: Coming Soon to a Cushion Near You

Chemical engineering major Lauren Spahn presented her research at the Michigan Tech Undergraduate Research Symposium. Her lignin project was supported by Portage Health Foundation, the DeVlieg Foundation, and Michigan Tech’s Pavlis Honors College.

Most polyurethane foam, found in cushions, couches, mattress, insulation, shoes, and more, is made from petroleum. What if it could be environmentally-friendly, sustainable, and made from renewable biomass? It’s entirely possible, thanks to the work of chemical engineering student Lauren Spahn and her fellow researchers at Michigan Tech. It all happens in the Biofuels & Bio-based Products Lab at Michigan Tech, where researchers put plants—and their lignin—to good use. The lab is directed by Dr. Rebecca Ong, an associate professor of chemical engineering.

Q&A with Lauren Spahn

Please tell us a little about your work in the lab.

Our goal in working with Dr. Ong is to develop sustainable industries using renewable lignocellulosic biomass⁠—the material derived from plant cell walls. There are five of us working on Dr. Ong’s team. We develop novel co-products from the side streams of biofuel production, and pulp and paper production. We’re trying to make good use of the leftover materials.

 

Lignocellulose, aka biomass, is the dry matter of plants. Energy crops like this Elephant Grass, are grown as a raw material for the production of biofuels.

What kind of research are you doing?

My particular research project involves plant-based polyurethane foams. Unlike conventional poly foams, bio-based foams are generated from lignin, a renewable material. Lignin is like a glue that holds wood fibers together. It has the potential to replace petroleum-derived polymers in many applications. In the lab, we purify the lignin from something called “black liquor”⁠. It’s not what sounds like. Black liquor is a by-product from the kraft process when pulpwood is made into paper. Lignin is collected by forcing dissolved lignin to precipitate or fall out of the solution (this is the opposite of the process of dissolving, which brings a solid into solution). By adjusting the functional properties of lignin during the precipitation process, we hope to be able to tailor the characteristics of resulting foams. It’s called functionalization.

Typically in the lab process, functionalization occurs on lignin that has already been purified. What we hope to do is integrate functionalization into the purification process, to reduce energy and raw material inputs, and improve the economics and sustainability of the process, too.

Purified lignin, used to make bio-foam. The resulting foam will likely be light or dark brown in color because of the color of the lignin. It would probably be used in applications where color does not matter (such as the interior of cushions/equipment).

How did you get started in undergraduate research?

I came to Michigan Tech knowing I wanted to get involved in research. As a first-year student, I was accepted into the Undergraduate Research Internship Program (URSIP), through the Pavlis Honors College here at Tech. Through this program I received funding, mentorship, and guidance as I looked to identify a research mentor. 

How did you find Dr. Ong, or how did she find you?

I wanted to work with Dr. Ong because I found the work in her lab to be very interesting and relevant to the world we live in, in terms of sustainability. She was more than willing to welcome me into the lab and assist me in my research when I needed it. I am very thankful for all her help and guidance. 

Lignin is like a glue that holds wood fibers together, giving trees their shape and stability, and making them resistant to wind and pests. Pictured above, a biofuel plantation in Oregon.

What is the most challenging and difficult part of the work and the experience?

Not everything always goes according to plan. Achieving the desired result often takes many iterations, adjustments, and even restructuring the experiment itself. After a while, it can even become discouraging.

What do you do when you get discouraged? How do you persevere?

I start thinking about my goals. I enjoy my research—it’s fun! Once I remind myself why I like it, I am able to get back to work. 


Lignin at the nanoscale, imaged with transmission electron microscopy (TEM). Raisa Carmen Andeme Ela, a PhD candidate working in Dr. Ong’s lab, generated this image to examine the fundamental mechanisms driving lignin precipitation.

What do you enjoy most about research?

I enjoy being able to run experiments in the lab that directly lead to new designs, processes, or products in the world around me. It’s wonderful to have the opportunity to think up new product ideas, then go through the steps needed to implement them in the real world. 

What are your career goals and plans?

I plan to work in R&D for industry. I am very passionate about research—I want to continue participating in research in my professional career.

Why did you choose engineering as your major?

The field is so large. Chemical engineers can work in industry in numerous areas. I liked the wide variety of work that I could enter into as a career. 

Did you know?

  • Michigan Tech has more than 35 research centers and institutes
  • 20 percent of all Michigan Tech patent applications involve undergraduate students
  • Students in any engineering discipline are welcome to give research a try
  • Research expenditures at Michigan Tech—over $44 million-—have increased by 33% over the last decade, despite increased competition for research funding. 
  • Michigan Tech research leads to more invention disclosures—the first notification that an invention has been created—than any other research institution in Michigan.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q: Do you intend to update with future versions? 

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

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

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

Q: What do you plan to research next? 

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

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

Michigan Tech Represented at Midwest Growth Capital Symposium

SuPyRec logo.
ZiTechnologies logo with statement Clean Energy Pellets from Non-Recyclable Plastic-Paper.


Jim Baker (VPR) presented “Supporting Tech Companies from Pre-Launch to Investment” at the Midwest Growth Capital Symposium, held virtually and hosted by the University of Michigan’s Zell Lurie Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies.

The symposium also was attended by two Michigan Tech startup companies, SuPyRec and ZiTechnologies. Company representatives presented to prospective investors and hosted virtual booths throughout the event.

SuPyRec is led by David Shonnard (ChE) and is commercializing plastics recycling technology developed in his lab. ZiTechnologies is led by PhD graduate Stas Zinchik and is commercializing clean energy technology based on research conducted in Ezra Bar Ziv’s lab (ME-EM).

Both companies are leveraging support resources available within Michigan Tech’s Office of Innovation and Commercialization through Nate Yenor, director of technology business incubation, in close collaboration with MTEC SmartZone, the Michigan Small Business Development Center and Husky Innovate.

By Jim Baker, Vice President for Research Office.

The symposium took place May 17 and 18, 2022.

OHM and Michigan Tech Alumni team up to Lead Family Engineering Nights in Detroit Schools

Fifteen OHM staff helped present the Family Engineering Night sessions, including several Michigan Tech alumni.

From May 10-12, Michigan Technological University teamed up with OHM Advisors to provide STEM outreach at five schools in Detroit. 

The program they presented, Family Engineering, engages K-8 students and their families in engineering investigations. Family Engineering was created by Michigan Tech and partners in 2011 with a grant from the National Science Foundation. A key outcome of the program was the publication of the Family Engineering Activity & Event Planning Guide, published in 2011.

Sessions took place at the schools, followed by free pizza at Mackenzie Middle School, Clippert Multicultural Magnet Honors Academy, and Adams Middle School. The event began with short opener activities that adults and children explore together. These included: Glue is the Clue, Domino Diving Board, Who Engineered It?, Let’s Communicate, Boxing Beans, Picture This, Solid Ground, Hoop Glider, Inspired by Nature, Shifting Shapes, All The Right Tools, and Thrillseekers.

Next, families took part in three Engineering Challenges:

  1. Stop & Think – Why was this object designed? What need did it address? Can you make it better?
  1. Team Up – Discover why engineers work in teams. What helps a team work well together? How can we address challenges?
  1. Give Me Hand – How can an engineer help a person who has lost their hand, or some other part of their body?
Family Engineering Night took place recently in Detroit, with volunteer help from OHM Advisors.

Fifteen OHM staff helped present the sessions, including several Michigan Tech alumni.

Ron Cavallaro, Vice President of OHM Michigan, echoed the value of introducing kids to engineering at an early age. He earned his bachelor’s degree in civil engineering at Michigan Tech and is now a member of the Michigan Tech Department of Civil, Environmental and Geospatial Engineering’s Professional Advisory Board. “Many of the families that attended the events brought younger siblings,” said Cavallaro. It was awesome to see the middle school students, their parents and siblings helping each other on the challenges.”

“OHM Advisors has been seeking out ways to get younger children interested in STEM fields. We are fortunate to have had MTU reach out to us to help with this program.”

Ron Cavallaro, Vice President of OHM Michigan

Chandler Park Academy High School and UPrep Science & Math High School hosted another Michigan Tech alum, retired Lt. Colonel Otha Thornton, chair of Michigan Tech’s Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Sense of Belonging (DEIS) Alumni Advisory Board, formed in Fall 2021. 

Lt. Colonel Otha Thornton

Thornton presented at four student assemblies as part of the outreach effort. He shared how students could find their own pathway to STEM and described STEM careers. Thornton also described highlights of his own career⁠—working directly with President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, and Vice President Biden in the White House, along with Congress, to promote passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act. The Act supports STEM education in K-12 schools. 

Thornton’s STEM work is preceded by a 21-year career with the U.S. military. He earned the Bronze Star Medal for exceptional performance in combat operations during Operation Iraqi Freedom. His other military assignments included working with the White House Communications Agency and U.S. forces in Iraq. As the 53rd president of the National Parent Teacher Association (PTA), Thornton was the first and only African American male to serve as President in the National PTA’s 125-year history. 

Any school can access the Family Engineering Activity & Event Planning Guide to provide positive engineering experiences for K-8 students and their families. For more info, contact: Joan Chadde, jchadde@mtu.edu or 906-487-3341.