Category: Research

Daisuke Minakata: Scrubbing Water

Daisuke Minakata shares his knowledge on Husky Bites, a free, interactive webinar this Monday, June 29 at 6 pm EST. Learn something new in just 20 minutes, with time after for Q&A! Get the full scoop and register at mtu.edu/huskybites.

Do you trust your tap water? It’s regulated, but exactly how is tap water treated? And what about wastewater? Is it treated to protect the environment? 

Daisuke Minakata, an associate professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Michigan Technological University, studies the trace organic chemicals in our water. He’s also developing a tool municipalities can use to remove them.

Dr. Daisuke Minakata: “In high school I learned that environmental engineers can be leaders who help solve the Earth’s most difficult sustainability and environmental problems. That’s when I decided to become an engineer.”

“Anthropogenic chemicals—the ones resulting from the influence of human beings—are present in water everywhere,” he says. And not just a few. Hundreds, even thousands of different ones. Of particular concern are Per- and polyfluorinated alkyl substances (PFAS), an emerging groups of contaminants.

Most water treatment facilities around the country were not designed to remove synthetic organic chemicals like those found in opioids, dioxins, pesticides, flame retardants, plastics, and other pharmaceutical and personal care products, says Minakata.

This affects natural environmental waters like the Great Lakes, and rivers and streams. These pollutants have the potential to harm fish and wildlife—and us, too.

To solve this problem, Minakata investigates the effectiveness of two of the most widely used removal methods: reverse osmosis (RO), and advanced oxidation process (AOP).

PFAS foam is toxic and sticky. If you happen see it, do not touch it, or if you do come in contact, be sure to wash it off. Keep pets away from it, too.

“RO is a membrane-based technology. It separates dissolved contaminants from water,” Minakata explains. “AOPs are oxidation technologies that destroy trace organic chemicals.” Both RO and AOP are highly advanced water and wastewater treatment processes. They are promising, he says, but not yet practical. 

“The very idea of using an RO and AOPs for each trace organic chemical is incredibly daunting. It would be extremely time consuming and expensive,” he says. 

Instead, Minakata and his research team at Michigan Tech, along with collaborators at the University of New Mexico, have developed a model for predicting the rejection mechanisms of hundreds of organic chemicals through different membrane products at different operational conditions. Their project was funded by the WateReuse Research Foundation

“The rejection mechanisms of organic chemicals by RO are extremely complicated—but the use of computational chemistry tools helped us understand the mechanisms,” says Minakata. “Our ultimate goal is to develop a tool that can predict the fate of chemicals through RO at full-scale, so that water utilities can design and operate an RO system whenever a newly identified chemical becomes regulated.”

Reverse osmosis (RO) at a water treatment demonstration plant in California. Credit Daisuke Minakata
Advanced oxidation processes (AOPs) at the same California water treatment demonstration plant, above. Credit: Daisuke Minakata.

To understand and predict how trace organic chemicals degrade when destroyed in AOPs, Minakata works with a second collaborator, Michigan Tech social scientist Mark Rouleau. They use computational chemistry, experiments, and sophisticated modeling.

Water reuse, aka reclaimed water, is the use of treated municipal wastewater for beneficial purposes including irrigation, industrial uses, and even drinking water.

“Solving this problem is especially critical for the benefit of communities in dry, arid regions of the world, because of the urgent need for water reuse in those places,” says Minakata. Water reuse, aka reclaimed water, is the use of treated municipal wastewater for beneficial purposes including irrigation, industrial uses, and even drinking water. It’s also the way astronauts at the International Space Station get their water. (Note: Minakata will explain how it works during his session of Husky Bites.)

Dr. Daisuke Minakata does a lot of work in one of the nation’s top undergraduate teaching labs, the Environmental Process Simulation Center, right here on campus at Michigan Tech.

Over the past few years Minakata’s research team has included nine undergraduate research assistants, all supported either through their own research fellowships or Minakata’s research grants.

In his classes, Minakata invites students to come see him if they are interested in undergraduate research within “the first two minutes of my talk.” For many, those first few minutes have become life changing and in the words of one student who longed to make a difference, “a dream come true.”

By encouraging and enabling undergraduate students to pursue research, Dr. Minakata is helping to develop a vibrant intellectual community among the students in the College of Engineering.

Dean Janet Callahan, College of Engineering, Michigan Tech

Minakata is a member of Michigan Tech’s Sustainable Futures Institute and the Great Lakes Research Center. In addition to being a faculty member in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, he is also an affiliated associate professor in both the Department of Chemistry and Department of Physics. Be sure to check out Dr. Minakata’s website, too.

“I never get tired of looking at this image,” says Daisuke Minakata, an associate professor of environmental engineering at Michigan Tech.

When did you first get into engineering? What sparked your interest?

I loved watching a beautiful image of planet Earth, one with a very clear sky and blue water, during my high school days. However, as I began to learn how life on Earth suffers many difficult environmental problems, including air pollution and water contamination, I also learned that environmental engineers can be leaders who help solve the Earth’s most difficult sustainability problems. That is when I decided to become an engineer.

In my undergraduate curriculum, the water quality and treatment classes I took were the toughest subjects to get an A. I had to work the hardest to understand the content. So, naturally, I decided to enter this discipline as I got to know about water engineering more. And then, there’s our blue planet, the image. Water makes the Earth look blue from space.

Tell us about your growing up. What do you do for fun?

I was born and raised in Japan. I came to the U.S. for the first time as a high school exchange student, just for one month. I lived in Virginia, in a place called Silverplate, a suburb of D.C. I went to Thomas Jefferson Science and Technology High School, which was the sister school of my Japanese high school, and one of the nation’s top scientific high schools. And I did like it. This triggered my study abroad dream. I was impressed by the US high school education system in the US. It’s one that never just looks for the systematic solution, but values process/logic and discussion-based classes.

So, while in college, during my graduate studies, I took a one year leave from Kyoto University in Japan and studied at U Penn (University of Pennsylvania) as a visiting graduate student for one year. Finally, I moved to Atlanta, Georgia in order to get a PhD at Georgia Institute of Technology. I accepted my position at Michigan Tech in 2013.

I’m now a father of two kids. Both are Yoopers, born here in the UP of Michigan. My wife and I really enjoy skiing (downhill and cross country) with the kids each winter. 

Summing it all up, so far I’ve lived in Virginia (1 month), Philly in Pennsylvania while going to U Penn (1 year), Phoenix in Arizona to start my PhD (3.5 years), and Atlanta in Georgia to complete my PhD and work as a research engineer (5 years). Then finally in Houghton, Michigan (7 years). I do like all the cities I have lived in. The place I am currently living is our two kids’ birthplace, and our real home. Of course it’s our favorite place, after our Japanese hometown.


Dr. Minakata: in Husky Bites, Dean Callahan will ask you to tell us about your dog!

Learn More:

Engineers Capture Sun in a Box

Break It Down: Understanding the Formation of Chemical Byproducts During Water Treatment

The Princess and the Water Treatment Problem


Chad Deering: Predicting Volcanic Unrest Via Plant Life Stress

Vegetative stress at the foot of the Kīlauea Volcano in Hawaii

After a volcanic eruption, it can take years for vegetation to recover, and landscapes are often forever changed. But well before any eruption takes place, the assemblage of plant species on and around the volcano show signs of stress, or even die off. 

Chad Deering

Chad Deering, a volcanologist in the Department of Geological and Mining Engineering and Sciences at Michigan Technological University uses hyperspectral remote sensing data, acquired during an airborne campaign over Hawaii, to predict future volcanic eruptions on the Big Island. Deering and his team of graduate students from Michigan Tech are collaborating with scientists from the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), and the University of New Mexico. 

“The replenishment of a shallow magma reservoir can signal the onset of an eruption at a dormant volcanic system, such as at Mauna Loa. It can also indicate significant changes in eruptive behavior at an already active volcano, as in what occurred at Kīlauea,” Deering says. 

“Rising magma ultimately results in a flux of volatiles through the ground, including carbon dioxide and sulfur dioxide. Active vent plumes of those same gases include particulate matter, even thermal energy, and those often enter the atmosphere, as well. “

By detecting and characterizing those fluxes and their effects on the health and extent of local vegetation, Deering is able to recognize significant changes in a volcano’s behavior. The result: a new, cost-effective way to forecast volcanic hazards and events.

“Monitoring vegetative stress on a volcano can potentially provide a much-needed early warning system for those living near and around volcanoes,” adds Deering. An estimated 500 million people are living in danger zones around the world.

“Our preliminary results indicate a strong correlation between emissions of carbon dioxide and hydrogen sulfide gas from soil—as well as the thermal anomalies—and different aspects of vegetative stress.” 

Deering’s team uses highly sensitive hyperspectral analysis to distinguish between effects of different gas species and thermal anomalies on variations in vegetative stress. “This is important as CO2 and H2S have different solubilities in magma. That allows us a semi-quantitative measure of the depth of magma as it rises.

With the results of their study, the team developed a remote-sensing automated detection algorithm that can be used in satellite-based platforms to detect volcanic unrest at volcanoes worldwide. 

“In particular, this tool will allow the scientific community to monitor volcanoes that are otherwise inaccessible due to heavy vegetation and/or their remote locations,” adds Deering. “It will also remove technical barriers such as establishing extensive and expensive seismic arrays that are difficult to maintain.”

NASA gathered the hyperspectral data over the course of a year, starting in 2017. Deering and his team are now analyzing more recent data, collected last year. “We want to determine whether we could have predicted the recent volcanic fissure emergence and activity taking place in Hawaii.”


Michigan Tech Students Receive NSF Graduate Research Fellowships

Seth A. Kriz in the lab.
Seth A. Kriz does undergraduate research on gold nanoparticles interacting with different viruses.

Three Michigan Tech students, Greta Pryor Colford, Dylan Gaines and Seth A. Kriz, have been awarded National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowships. The oldest STEM-related fellowship program in the United States, the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP) is a prestigious award that recognizes exceptional graduate students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines early in their career and supports them through graduate education. NSF-GRFP fellows are an exceptional group; 42 fellows have gone on to become Nobel Laureates, and about 450 fellows are members of the National Academy of Sciences.

The Graduate School is proud of these students for their outstanding scholarship. These awards highlight the quality of students at Michigan Tech, the innovative work they have accomplished, the potential for leadership and impact in science and engineering that the county recognizes in these students, and the incredible role that faculty play in students’ academic success.

Dylan Gaines is currently a master of science student in the Computer Science Department at Michigan Tech, he will begin his doctoral degree in the same program in Fall 2020. Gaines’ research, with Keith Vertanen (CS), focuses on text entry techniques for people with visual impairments. He also plans to develop assistive technologies for use in Augmented Reality. During his undergraduate education at Michigan Tech, Gaines was a member of the cross country and track teams. Now, he serves as a graduate assistant coach. “I am very thankful for this award and everyone that supported me through the application process and helped to review my essays” said Gaines. Commenting on Gaines’ award, Computer Science Department Chair Linda Ott explained “All of us in the Department of Computer Science are very excited that Dylan is being awarded a NSF Graduate Research Fellowship. This is a clear affirmation that Dylan is an excellent student and that even as an undergraduate he demonstrated strong research skills. It also is a tribute to Dylan’s advisor Dr. Keith Vertanen who has established a very successful research group in intelligent interactive systems.”

Seth A. Kriz is pursuing his doctoral degree in chemical engineering, with Caryn Heldt (ChE). He completed his undergraduate education, also in chemical engineering, at Michigan Tech and has previously served as the lead coach of the Chemical Engineering Learning Center. His research focuses on developing improved virus purification methods for large-scale vaccine production so as to provide a timely response to pandemics. “I am extremely proud to represent Michigan Tech and my lab as an NSF graduate research fellow, and for this opportunity to do research that will save lives. My success has been made possible by the incredible family, faculty, and larger community around me, and I thank everyone for their support. Go Huskies!” said Kriz. Commenting on the award, Kriz’s advisor, Heldt said “Seth embodies many of the characteristics we hope to see in our students: excellence in scholarship, high work ethic, and a strong desire to give back to his community. I’m extremely proud of his accomplishments and I can’t wait to see what else he will do.” In addition, Kriz sings with the Michigan Tech Chamber Choir.

Greta Pryor Colford earned her bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering and a minor in aerospace engineering from Michigan Tech in spring 2019. She is currently a post-baccalaureate student at Los Alamos National Laboratory, where she previously worked as an undergraduate and summer intern. At Los Alamos National Laboratory, Colford is part of the Test Engineering group (E-14) of the Engineering, Technology and Design Division (E). At Michigan Tech, she was a leader of the Attitude Determination and Control Team of the Michigan Tech Aerospace Enterprise, a writing coach at the Multiliteracies Center, and a member of the Undergraduate Student Government.

The fellowship provides three years of financial support, including a $34,000 stipend for each fellow and a $12,000 cost-of-education allowance for the fellow’s institution. Besides financial support for fellows, the GRFP provides opportunities for research on national laboratories and international research.

By the Graduate School.


Michigan Space Grant Consortium Award Recipients in Engineering

Michigan Space Grant Consortium

Michigan Tech faculty, staff members and students received awards totaling $90,500 in funding through the Michigan Space Grant Consortium (MSGC), sponsored by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) for the 2020-2021 funding cycle. The following are recipients within the College of Engineering.

Undergraduates Receiving $3,000 Research Fellowships

  • Troy Maust (ECE): “Auris: An RF Mission” with Brad King (ME-EM)
  • Lea Morath (BioMed): “Evaluating Zinc Alloys for Biodegradable Arterial Stents” with Jeremy Goldman (BioMed)
  • Victoria Nizzi (MSE): “The Use of Computer Modeling to Simulate and Predict the Biodegradation of a Magnesium Alloy Fracture Plate” with Jaroslaw Drelich (MSE)

Graduate Students Receiving $5,600 Research Fellowships

  • Kelsey LeMay (BioMed): “Processing of Porcine Internal Mammary Arteries for Hyman Bypass Graft Applications” with Jeremy Goldman (BioMed)
  • Sophie Mueller (GMES): “Keweenaw Fault Geometry and Slip Kinematics: Mohawk to Lac La Belle, MI Segment” with James DeGraff (GMES)
  • Mitchel Timm (ME-EM): “Transport, Self-Assembly, and Deposition of Colloidal Particles in Evaporating Droplets” with Hassan Masoud (ME-EM)
  • Emily Tom (MSE): “Investigation of Novel Mg-Zn-Ca Alloys for Bioresorbable Orthopedic Implants” with Jaroslaw Drelich (MSE)

Faculty and Staff Receiving $5,000 or More for Pre-College Outreach and Research Seed Programs

  • Glen Archer (ECE): “Michigan Tech Electrical Engineering Outreach Program for Pre-College Students to Build Early Interest in STEM Areas” (includes augmentation)
  • Joan Chadde (CEE): “Engaging High School Women and Native Americans in Rural Communities in Environmental Science & Engineering STEM Careers” (includes augmentation)
  • Lloyd Wescoat (CEE): “Celebrating Lake Superior: A 2020 Water Festival for Grades 4-8” (includes augmentation)

Design Expo 2020 Registration Now Open

Michigan Tech’s 20th annual Design Expo will highlight hands-on, discovery-based learning. More than 1,000 students on Enterprise and Senior Design teams will showcase their work and compete for awards.

Student registration is now open. Senior Design and Enterprise teams must visit the Design Expo website to register and review important instructions, deadlines and poster criteria. All teams must register by Monday, Feb. 10.

The Design Expo takes place from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursday, April 16 in the MUB Ballroom and all are welcome to attend.

A panel of judges made up of distinguished corporate representatives and Michigan Tech staff and faculty will critique the projects at Design Expo. Interested in judging at Design Expo? Sign up here.

Design Expo is co-hosted by the College of Engineering and the Pavlis Honors College. Learn more at mtu.edu/expo.

By the College of Engineering and Pavlis Honors College.


Engineering Students at the Health Research Institute Slam

Research Slam event photo of people in the labThe Health Research Institute hosted its first Research Slam Student forum Nov. 8, 2019. The event was divided into three categories: Two-Minute Introduction, Three-Minute Thesis, and Eight-Minute Talks.

Presenters from the Three-Minute Thesis and Eight-Minute Talk categories were judged on comprehension, content, audience engagement and ability to communicate their work and findings clearly.

The winners are:

Three Minute Thesis

Eight Minute Talk

  • 1st – Ariana Tyo, Biomedical Engineering
  • 2nd – Dhavan Sharma, Biomedical Engineering
  • 3rd – Wenkai Jia, Biomedical Engineering

Congratulations to the winners and thank you to all of the presenters for sharing your research with the HRI community. We would also like to give special thanks to our faculty judges: Tatyana Karabencheva-Christova (Chem), Sangyoon Han (BioMed), Samantha Smith (CLS), Jingfeng Jiang (BioMed), Marina Tanasova (Chem), Rupak Rajachar (BioMed), Traci Yu (BioSci), and Shiyue Fang (Chem).


Seismic Reflections: Siting the Gordie Howe Bridge

The Gordie Howe International Bridge connecting Windsor, Ontario, and Detroit, Michigan is currently under construction and expected to be complete in 2024 at a cost of $5.7 billion.  The bridge is named in recognition of the legendary hockey player, a Canadian who led the Detroit Red Wings to four Stanley Cup victories.

The construction of any large infrastructure project requires a strong foundation, especially one with the longest main span of any cable-stayed bridge in North America—namely, the Gordie Howe International Bridge over the Detroit River. More than a decade before ground was broken, careful siting of the bridge began to take place. By 2006 the list of possible crossings had been narrowed down to just two options.

Historical records from the early 1900s indicated that solution mining for salt had taken place on both sides of the river close to where the bridge was to be built. On the Michigan side, collapsed salt cavities caused sink holes located on nearby Grosse Isle. It was imperative that any salt cavities in the bridge construction area be found and avoided.

Seismologists Roger Turpening and Carol Asiala at Michigan Technological University

Seismologists Roger Turpening and Carol Asiala at Michigan Technological University were tasked by American and Canadian bridge contractors to select the best seismic method for searching for any cavities in the two proposed crossings—referred to at the time as “Crossing B” and “Crossing C”—and to interpret all resulting seismic images.

“Given the task to image a small target deep in the Earth, a seismologist will quickly ask two important questions: How small is ‘small?’ and How deep is ‘deep’? That’s because these two parameters conflict in seismic imaging,“ Turpening says.

“Seismic waves—vibrations of the Earth—are attenuated severely as they propagate through the Earth,” he explains. “Imaging small targets requires the use of high-frequency, seismic energy. When seismic sources and receivers are confined to the Earth’s surface, which is the usual case, waves must propagate downward through the Earth, reflect off of the target, and return to the surface. Soil, sand, and gravel in the surface layer overwhelmingly cause the greatest harm to image resolution, and the ray paths must pass through this zone twice.”

Turpening was one of the early developers of a technique called vertical seismic profiling, or VSP. “Seismic receivers are placed inside a vertical hole near the target. With the seismic source placed on the surface some distance from the hole, it’s possible to explore a region around the hole with ray paths that need to pass through the surface layer only once,” he says. “If the target is very important, we can drill a second hole and place the seismic source in it. Now we have even higher resolution because all of the ray paths are in the rock formations with low attenuation.”

The downside? “We can only make images of the region between the two holes. But if the target is extremely important in a limited area, we can use many boreholes and many images in the search. Given enough boreholes, a block of earth can be imaged with cross-well seismic reflection techniques.

A cross-well, seismic reflection image between test boreholes. The cavity is sharply seen because the shale stringers in the B-Salt (at the bottom of the image) are abruptly terminated. The cavity is approximately 375 ft. wide.

To site the Gordon Howie bridge, Turpening and Asiala chose a frequency band of 100Hz to 2 KHz—much higher than could be used with surface sources and surface receivers—for surveys on both sides of the river. This yielded high resolution seismic images, crucial for detecting cavities—and indeed they found one—on the Canadian side.

“The high-resolution imaging made it easy for us to spot missing shale stringers in the B-Salt layer in that image,” says Turpening. “This made the final selection of the bridge location simple. We found the cavity between boreholes X11-3 and X11-4, thus forcing the Canadians to chose Crossing B.  Obviously, the Michigan group had to, also, choose Crossing B.”

On the US side of the river geologist Jimmie Diehl, Michigan Tech professor emeritus, provided corroborating borehole gravity data.


Michigan Tech Accepted for Membership in UCAR

UCAR Member MapMichigan Tech has been approved for membership in the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR). At its meeting at its headquarters in Boulder, Colorado Tuesday (Oct. 8, 2019), the membership of UCAR voted unanimously (89-0) to extend membership to Michigan Tech.

On July 24, three members of the UCAR Membership Committee visited the Michigan Tech campus and met with Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Jackie Huntoon, Vice President for Research Dave Reed and Deans David Hemmer (College of Sciences and Arts) and Janet Callahan (College of Engineering) along with assorted faculty and graduate students. In addition, the committee toured several University facilities including the Pi Cloud Chamber and the Great Lakes Research Center.

UCAR is a nonprofit consortium of more than 100 colleges and universities providing research and training in atmospheric-related sciences. In partnership with the National Science Foundation, UCAR operates the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR).

Membership in UCAR recognizes that Michigan Tech is among the players in atmospheric science nationally.


NSF Funds Collaborative Study on Energy System Transitions

Michigan Satellite ViewKathleen Halvorsen (SS) is the principal investigator on a project that has received a $1,012,875 research and development grant from the National Science Foundation.

The project is entitled, “GCR: Collaborative Research: Socio-Technological System Transitions: Michigan Community & Anishinaabe Renewable Energy Systems.” Rebecca Ong, (Chem Eng) Chelsea Schelly, (SS) Joshua Pearce, (MSE/ECE) and Richelle WInkler (SS) are Co-PI’s on this project. This is the first year of a potential five year project totaling $2,723,647.

By Sponsored Programs.

Extract

The objective of this Growing Convergence Research project is to lay the foundations for a convergent, transdisciplinary field of study focused on understanding transitions in socio-technological systems. This project aims to converge social science theories of values and motivation with engineering and economics understandings of technological feasibility to develop a comprehensive understanding of how and why energy systems, in particular, are reconfigured to include renewable energy resources.

This project brings together scholars from resource management, chemical and materials engineering, electrical engineering, sociology, energy policy, philosophy of science, and regional planning to simultaneously explore the social, cultural, and technological dimensions of energy system transitions.

The project will investigate energy system transitions in eight case communities (two Anishinaabe Tribal Nations and six non-tribal Michigan communities) that vary along characteristics key to understanding energy transitions – including rural vs. urban, renewable energy sources, degree of transition, governance, and type of utility provider.

Read more at the National Science Foundation.


LIFT Team Launches Fast Forge Project

LIFT building signDETROIT – Lightweight Innovations For Tomorrow (LIFT), a national manufacturing innovation institute operated by the American Lightweight Materials Innovation Institute, has joined with Michigan Upper Peninsula-based startup Loukus Technologies to launch a “Fast Forge” project exploring the use of ductile magnesium-based alloys for extrusions used in automotive, defense and consumer applications.

The project team, which includes LIFT, Loukus Technologies, Eck Industries and Michigan Technological University, aims to extrude magnesium alloys with high room temperature ductility (>25%). In turn, this process will lead to a roadmap of magnesium alloy design and development, and a materials properties database of how they can be used in future applications.

Read more at LIFT Technology in LIFT Launches Project With Michigan Startup To Advance Automotive and Warfighter Safety.