Category: Research

2022 Design Expo Registration Now Open

The Enterprise Program and College of Engineering are excited to announce the 22nd Design Expo, being held in person from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. April 21 in the Van Pelt and Opie Library’s third floor reading room.

Design Expo has been expanded to highlight Senior Design/Capstone projects from all areas of the Michigan Tech campus, involving teams from the College of Business, College of Forest Resources and Environmental Science and College of Engineering. 

RSVP for Design Expo Today!

The Michigan Tech community, friends and sponsors are invited to register for this year’s Design Expo.

More than a thousand students in the Enterprise and Senior/Capstone Design programs will come together to showcase their work and compete for awards. In addition, a panel of judges, made up of distinguished corporate representatives, alumni, community members, and Michigan Tech staff and faculty, will be able to critique videos of team projects, solutions and results in advance of the live event, then come to Design Expo to meet the teams and ask any questions in person.

Social Hour and Awards Ceremony

Starting at 2:30 p.m., all student teams, judges, sponsors and friends, and the Michigan Tech campus community are invited to a social hour at the Rozsa Center for the Performing Arts with light refreshments, entertainment and door prizes. Then, at 3:30 p.m., we will begin the Design Expo Awards Ceremony, where student teams will be recognized and more than $3,000 in cash will be awarded.

Both events are free and open to the public. We encourage current and future students, faculty, staff, parents, alumni, families of students, and others to help us celebrate our students and their achievements. Register today to see a schedule of events and attend the 2022 Design Expo.

Become a Judge

Are you interested in judging for the 22nd annual Design Expo? We welcome all Michigan Tech faculty, graduate students, staff, alumni, industry representatives and community members interested in the great work of our students! Find out more at our Become a Judge web page.

This year, judges will have the flexibility to evaluate team videos anytime between noon April 18 and 2 p.m. April 21. Judges will be assigned three to five teams, and will evaluate each team’s video using an electronic ballot. In addition, judges are asked to attend Design Expo in person between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. April 21 to judge their teams in person. Judges will be selected based on their availability to attend Design Expo in person.

2022 Design Expo Website

For more information on attending and judging Design Expo, visit our website. For questions, please reach out to Briana Tucker at bctucker@mtu.edu.

By The Enterprise Program and College of Engineering.


Kanwal Rekhi Receives Michigan Tech’s Highest Honor: Melvin Calvin Medal of Distinction

Kanwal Rekhi talking with students at Michigan Tech’s Design Expo

Kanwal Rekhi, a visionary who routinely works to forward entrepreneurial skills and educational opportunities at Michigan Tech and around the world, received the Melvin Calvin Medal of Distinction during mid-year Commencement in December. The medal is awarded to individuals associated with Michigan Tech who, like its Nobel prize-winning namesake, have exhibited extraordinarily distinguished professional and personal accomplishments. Rekhi, who earned his master’s in electrical engineering from Michigan Tech in 1969, is managing director of Inventus Capital Partners in California.

The native of Punjab, in what was then British India (now Pakistan), earned a master’s in electrical engineering from Michigan Tech in 1969. In the more than half a century since his time on campus, MTU has never been far from Rekhi’s thoughts–and generosity.

After leaving Michigan Tech, Rekhi worked as an engineer and manager before becoming an entrepreneur. In 1982, he co-founded Excelan, a company that made Ethernet cards to connect PCs to the fledgling Internet. Excelean became the first Indian-owned company to go public in the U.S. In the early 90s, he became a venture capitalist investing in more than 50 startups and sitting on the board of directors of more than 20 companies.

In the past few decades, Rekhi has been a tireless supporter and benefactor to Michigan Tech. He developed and funded the Rekhi Innovation Challenge, a crowdfunding competition to help promote and support student innovation. He provided major funding for the Silicon Valley Experience, an immersive tour during spring break of San Francisco area companies that includes meetings with entrepreneurs and Michigan Tech alumni, and is a sponsor of the 14 Floors Entrepreneur Alumni Mentoring Sessions.

Additionally, every student who has walked the Michigan Tech campus in the past 15 years has passed the Kanwal and Ann Rekhi Computer Science Hall, dedicated in April of 2005.

The Melvin Calvin Medal of Distinction is bestowed on individuals associated with the University who have exhibited especially distinguished professional and personal accomplishments. It is named for 1931 Michigan Tech alumnus Melvin Calvin, who won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for unraveling the biochemical secrets of photosynthesis. The series of biochemical reactions Calvin identified is known as the Calvin Cycle.

“Kanwal and his accomplishments epitomize the values we share as an institution. His passion for Michigan Tech is unparalleled and he is most deserving of this award.”

Rick Koubek, President, Michigan Technological University

While the Melvin Calvin Medal of Distinction is Michigan Tech’s highest honor, it is far from the first recognition the University has given Rekhi. He has received the Distinguished Alumni Award, the Board of Control Silver Medal, an honorary Doctorate in Business and Engineering, and was inducted into the Electrical Engineering Academy.


Fall 2021 Research Seed Grants for Engineering PIs

The Vice President for Research Office announces the Fall 2021 Research Excellence Funds (REF) awards. Congratulations to all the principal investigators!

Thanks to the individual REF reviewers and the REF review panelists, as well as the deans and department chairs, for their time spent on this important internal research award process. Awardees in the College of Engineering include:

Research Seed Grants

By Kathy Halvorsen, Associate Vice President for Research Development.


Bo Chen: What’s next, NEXTCAR?

Bo Chen shares her knowledge on Husky Bites, a free, interactive webinar this Monday, November 15 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.

Bo Chen is a Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Electrical Engineering at Michigan Tech. She’s been a visiting Professor at Argonne National Laboratory, and was named ASME Fellow in 2020.

What’s next, NEXTCAR? What are you doing for supper this Monday night 11/15 at 6 pm ET? Grab a bite with Dean Janet Callahan and Bo Chen, Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Electrical Engineering at Michigan Tech.

During Husky Bites, Prof. Chen and one of her former students, alum Dr. Joe Oncken, will share how engineers go about designing and creating the crucial elements of an all-electric vehicle ecosystem. Oncken earned his PhD at Michigan Tech—he’s now a postdoctoral researcher at Idaho National Lab.

Chen and her research team at Michigan Tech envision an all-electric future. They develop advanced control algorithms to build the nation’s electric vehicle charging infrastructure and highly efficient hybrid electric vehicles, integrating with advanced sensing technologies that allow for predictive control in real time. These technologies enable the kind of vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communication that will reduce our nation’s energy consumption. 

Drs. Chen and Oncken among the fleet, outside at the APSRC.

Throughout her career Chen has made major contributions in the field of embedded systems, developing cutting-edge applications for hybrid-electric and electric autonomous systems. 

One of Chen’s courses at Michigan Tech, Model-based Embedded Control System Design, is regularly in high demand, not only by ME students but also EE students. “This is a testament to her teaching ability and the importance of the topic,” says ME-EM department chair Bill Predebon.

Chen’s Intelligent Mechatronics and Embedded Systems Lab is located on the 5th floor of the ME-EM building. But she spends a good deal of time working on NEXTCAR research at the Advanced Power Systems Research Center (APSRC), located a few miles from campus near the Houghton Memorial Airport.

“Vehicles that are both connected and automated—two paradigm-shifting technologies—will soon become vital for the improvement of safety, mobility, and efficiency of our transportation systems.”

Bo Chen

In 2016 the Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects-Energy (ARPA-E) awarded $2.5M to Michigan Tech for NEXTCAR research. The project—led by ME-EM Professor Jeff Naber as PI and Co-PIs Chen, Darrell Robinette, Mahdi Shahbakhti, and Kuilin Zhang—developed and demonstrated their energy reduction technologies using a fleet of eight Gen II Chevy Volt plug-in-hybrid vehicles (aka PHEVs).

The team tested the fleet on a 24-mile test loop to showcase energy optimization, forecasting, and controls—including vehicle-to-vehicle communications.

“The rich information provided by connectivity—and the capability of on-board intelligent controls—are shifting the old way (reactive and isolated vehicle/powertrain control) to the new way (predictive, cooperative, and integrated vehicle dynamics and powertrain control),” Chen explains.

Michigan Tech’s NEXTCAR research delivers direct implementation of engineering solutions, tested within the realities of on-road conditions.

Oncken is a hands-on engineer, but not all of his graduate research at Michigan Tech was done under the hood of a hybrid-electric vehicle. In an effort to maximize fuel efficiency in the fleet’s Chevy Volts, he worked with Chen where the car’s digital and mechanical parts meet—powertrain control. He looked at future driving conditions, such as changing traffic lights, and modified the vehicle’s powertrain operation to use the minimum amount of fuel.

Working in Chen’s lab, Oncken used Simulink software to develop a model, specifically looking at predictive controller design. That means when a traffic signal turns red, a self-driving vehicle not only knows to stop, but also gets directions on the best way to slow down and minimize fuel use. 

All in a day’s work for Dr. Joe Oncken

Oncken would simulate this in the Simulink model, embed the program into the Chevy Volt, then test it using five upgraded traffic signals in Houghton that rely on dedicated short-range communication (DSRC) to talk directly to the car’s programming.

By the end of the NEXTCAR project, the Michigan Tech team had achieved a 21 percent reduction in energy consumption.

Dr. Chen with her graduate students at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

Now, with new funding from ARPA-E for NEXTCAR II, the team shifts to a broader application of vehicles with level 4 and 5 of autonomy. They will seek to reduce energy consumption by 30 percent this time 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 automation to gain efficiencies. 

Naber and Chen, along with Grant Ovist, Jeremy Bos, Darrell Robinette, Basha Dudekula and several more graduate students now work together on NEXTCAR II with another round of funding worth $4.5M. They’ll maintain vehicles in multiple locations, both on the Michigan Tech campus and at American Center for Mobility (ACM) for road testing. ACM is a partner in the project, along with Stellantis and GM.

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

I was attracted by the power of automation and controls. It is currently affecting every aspect of our lives. I want to make contributions specifically to advance the automation technologies.

In her spare time, Dr. Chen likes to work out and travel. Here she’s in Horseshoe Bend, Arizona

Hometown, family?

I was raised in Shaoxing, Zhejiang province in China. I lived in Davis, California for 8 years while earning my PhD at the University of California-Davis. My daughter loves snowboarding and lives in New Jersey.

Dr. Oncken, where did you grow up?

I grew up with my parents and two sisters in Grand Forks, North Dakota. I earned my BS in Mechanical Engineering at the University of North Dakota in 2016. I came to Michigan Tech to earn my PhD soon after, and graduated in 2020.

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

There wasn’t any one moment that made me decide to get into engineering. It was more of a process throughout my childhood. Growing up, I was always interested in how things work. My dad is very mechanically inclined so he was alway fixing things around the house and woodworking, so that launched my interest as a young kid. At that time he worked for John Deere, so I got to spend time sitting in tractors and combines, something that will spark any 5 year old’s interest in mechanical things. 

In high school, I also worked for a John Deere dealer. Another job I had involved the technical side (lighting, sound, and set building) of theater and concert productions. While these may seem like two different worlds, they both gave me a behind-the-scenes look at how machinery and large technical systems operate. Together they made me want to pursue a career where I’d be the one designing how things work. 

Finally, living in a university town, there were lots of opportunities to tour the University of North Dakota’s engineering school and see what students got to work on, opportunities that cemented my desire to go into engineering myself.

Joe, out on the Tech Trails.

Any hobbies? Pets?

My main hobby is anything outdoors. I spend my free time mountain biking in the summer, skiing in the winter—and hiking when I’m not doing one of the previous two things.

I also really enjoy cooking and wood working. I don’t currently have any pets, but I did grow up with dogs. I will have a dog of my own sooner rather than later!

Read More

Power Grid, Powertrain and the Models that Connect ThemMichigan Tech Automotive Energy Efficiency Research Receives Federal Award of $2.8 Million from US Department of Energy


Sunit Girdhar, Steven Whitaker Receive 2021 INCE Awards

Two Michigan Tech graduate students were honored by The Institute of Noise Control Engineering (INCE) at their annual honors and awards ceremony recognizing outstanding service, research and activity in noise control.

Sunit Girdhar,
Sunit Girdhar

Sunit Girdhar, doctoral student in mechanical engineering-engineering mechanics, won both the inaugural INCE Student Scholarship and the Martin Hirschorn IAC Prize – Student Project.

Steven Whitaker, an electrical and computer engineering graduate student, received the 2021 Leo Beranek Student Medal for Excellence in Noise Control for Deep recurrent network for tracking an anthropogenic acoustics source in shallow water using a single sensor.

Dana Lodico, INCE-USA vice president, Honors and Awards Committee, applauded the winners. “This year’s winners should be incredibly proud of their achievements in noise control,” said Lodico. “Entries for INCE-USA Honors and Awards were very competitive, and we look forward to seeing how each winner continues to advance the noise control industry in their careers.” 

Read more about the awards on the INCE website.


Greg Odegard: Manned Mars Missions—New Materials

As NASA shifts its focus from low-earth orbit to deep space exploration, the agency is going to need building materials for vehicles, habitats, power systems and other equipment that are lighter and stronger than those available today. Pictured: NASA’s Curiosity Mars image at Mont Mercou, a rock outcrop that stands 20 feet tall. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Greg Odegard shares his knowledge on Husky Bites, a free, interactive webinar this Monday, November 8 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 11/8 at 6 pm ET? Grab a bite with Dean Janet Callahan and Greg Odegard, Professor of Mechanical Engineering-Engineering Mechanics at Michigan Tech. 

Dr. Greg Odegard is the John O. Hallquist Endowed Chair in Computational Mechanics at Michigan Tech.

It’s a bit of a conundrum. When sending humans into space for long periods of time, a significant amount of mass (food, water, supplies) needs to be put on the rockets that leave Earth. More mass in the rocket requires more fuel, which adds more mass and requires more fuel. Current state-of-the-art structural aerospace materials only add more mass, which requires—you guessed it—more fuel. 

During Husky Bites, Professor Greg Odegard will share how his team of researchers at Michigan Tech go about developing new ultra-light weight structural materials to significantly cut fuel costs for sending humans to Mars—and beyond.

Dr. Bill Predebon is the J.S. Endowed Department Chair in Mechanical Engineering–Engineering Mechanics at Michigan Tech

Joining in will be ME-EM department chair Bill Predebon. Dr. Predebon has been at Michigan Tech since 1975. That’s 46 years, and 24 years as department chair. He plans to retire this summer.

“Bill Predebon has been my mentor since I came to Michigan Tech in 2004. I have enjoyed working for him, and I am not ready for him to retire,” says Odegard. “I was extremely impressed with him during my job interview in 2003, which is one of the biggest reasons I came to Michigan Tech.”

In addition to teaching classes and mentoring students at Michigan Tech, Odegard leads the charge in developing a new lighter, stronger, tougher polymer composite for human deep space exploration, through the Ultra-Strong Composites by Computational Design (US-COMP) Institute.

The NASA-funded research project brings together 13 academia and industry partners with a range of expertise in molecular modeling,manufacturing, material synthesis, and testing, now in the final year of the five-year project. 

Pictured: Pre-machined fragments of a polybenzoxazine high-performance polymer in Dr. Odegard’s lab at Michigan Tech. This polymer can be used with carbon-nanotubes to form ultra-strong composites for deep-space applications.

US-COMP’s goal is to develop and deploy a carbon nanotube-based, ultra-high strength lightweight aerospace structural material within five years. And US-COMP research promises to have societal impacts on Earth as well as in space, notes Odegard. Advanced materials created by the institute could support an array of applications and benefit the nation’s manufacturing sector.

The material of choice, says Odegard: carbon. He specifically studies ultrastrong carbon-nanotube-based composites. But not all carbon is equal, notes Odegard. Soft sheets of graphite differ from the rigid strength of diamond, and the flexibility and electrical properties of graphene.

“In its many forms, carbon can perform in many ways. The tricky part with composites is figuring out how different materials interact,” he explains. 

Odegard and his research team use computational simulation—modeling—to predict what materials to combine, how much and whether they’ll stand up to the depths of space. “When we began developing these ultra-strong composites, we weren’t sure of the best starting fibers and polymers, but over time we started to realize certain nanotubes and resins consistently outperformed others,” says Odegard. “Through this period of development, we realized what our critical path to maximize performance would be, and decided to focus only on that, rather than explore the full range of possibilities.”

“I have the most fun working with my students and the broader US-COMP team. Our whole team is excited about the research and our progress, and this makes for some of the best research meetings I have experienced in my career.”

Dr. Greg Odegard

The challenge when working with carbon nanotubes is their structure, says Odegard. “Under the most powerful optical microscope you see a certain structure, but when you look under an SEM microscope you see a completely different structure,” he explains. “In order to understand how to build the best composite panel, we have to understand everything at each length scale.” 

The US COMP Institute has created dedicated experiments and computational models for the chosen carbon nanotube structure, something that must be done for each length scale, from the macro to the atomic.

As their project comes to a close, they’ve zeroed in how just how polymer can be used with carbon-nanotubes to form ultra-strong composites.


NASA’s Mars Curiosity rover took this mosaic image, looking uphill at Mount Sharp.

US-COMP PARTNERS

  • Florida A&M University
  • Florida State University
  • Georgia Institute of Technology
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • Pennsylvania State University
  • University of Colorado
  • University of Minnesota
  • University of Utah
  • Virginia Commonwealth University
  • Nanocomp Technologies
  • Solvay
  • US Air Force Research Lab
Professor Odegard up on Mt. Meeker, in Colorado where he grew up and earned his degrees.

“As a group we have been able to push the envelope way beyond where we started in 2017—expanding the performance in a very short time period,” says Odegard. “This was made possible through remarkable collaboration across the institute.”

Before Predebon convinced him to join the faculty at Michigan Tech, Odegard worked as a researcher at NASA Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia. Odegard’s research has been funded by NASA, the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, Mayo Clinic, Southwestern Energy, General Motors, REL, and Titan Tires. As a PI and co-PI, he has been involved in externally funded research projects totaling over $21 million. Odegard was a Fulbright Research Scholar at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology. In 2019 he was elected a Fellow of ASME, in recognition of his significant impact and outstanding contributions in the field of composite materials research.

The Odegard family enjoying their time together

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

Growing up, I always knew that I would be an engineer. I was always interested in airplanes and spacecraft. 

Hometown, family?

I grew up and went to college in the Denver area. I was already accustomed to snow when I moved to Michigan. 

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

In the summer, I enjoy running, mountain biking, hiking, basketball, and soccer. In the winter, I like cross-country skiing and downhill skiing. I also enjoy cooking, traveling, and anything fun with my family.

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

During my childhood my dad introduced me to model trains. We had a large 8ft x 4ft board with Lionel trains. I learned how they work and how to set it up. That sparked my interest in engineering.

Bill and Peter at Winter Carnival

Hometown, family?

I was born in Trenton, New Jersey. I had one brother, Peter, who is deceased now.  

What do you like to do in your spare time?

For most of my career at Michigan Tech my hobby has been my work. My work has absorbed my life, by choice. I have a real passion for our program. However, I do enjoy exercising, repairing things, and organic gardening. My wife, Maryanne, is very good; I just help. We have a peach tree, we have grown watermelon, we’ve grown cantaloupes, we’ve grown potatoes, her passion is pumpkins so we grow these large pumpkins—150 pounds.

“The way I look at my role is to nurture the growth of my faculty and staff, right along with our students. I want to help them all reach their potential.”

Dr. Bill Predebon

Read More:

Q&A with MTU Research Award Winner Gregory Odegard
NASA Taps Tech Professor to Lead $15 Million Space Technology Research Institute


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.”

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.

Professor David Shonnard

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.

“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.”

Janet Callahan, Dean, College of Engineering at Michigan Tech

“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.


Alumni Gift of Advanced 3D Metal Printer Now Up and Running at Michigan Tech

One of the first test prints on Michigan Tech’s new 3D metal printer: intricate little fish.

A gift from Alumni, Michigan Tech’s highly-advanced 3D metal printer—a 3D Systems ProX350—arrived last March. It’s now up and running, able to process 11 unique metals, including bio-grade titanium (for biomedical applications), cobalt and chromium, several types of stainless steel, and more. With a resolution of 5 microns, this new large printer is state-of-the-art. 

Obtaining the new 3D printer was made possible by the generosity of Michigan Tech alumni. ME-EM Department Chair Bill Predebon received a 20 percent discount on the $875K system from Scarlett Inc. The owner of Scarlett Inc, Jim Scarlett, is a mechanical engineering alumnus. 

In addition to Scarlett, several other alumni donors pitched in. One anonymous donor provided over $600K , and five others have made up the difference to meet the full cost of $673K. Those five are: Ron Starr, John Drake, Frank Agusti, Todd Fernstrum, and Victor Swanson.

ME-EM department chair Bill Predebon and mechanical engineering alum Jim Scarlett

“Very few universities have a 3D metal printer of this quality and versatility,” says Predebon. “It is one of the most accurate metal 3D printers available. With approximately a 1-ft. cube size billet, which is an impressive size billet, you can make a full-size or scaled-down version of just about anything,” says Predebon.

“We can use our own metal powders, as well,” adds Predebon. “That’s a huge plus. Michigan Tech researchers, particularly those focused on materials development, can use the printer to deposit experimental metal compositions to produce unique metal alloys customized specifically for the 3D printing process.”

Faculty and graduate students at Michigan Tech will have access to the 3D metal printer for research projects. Undergraduate students working on senior design projects and student-run Enterprise teams will, too.

The process is direct metal printing, or DMP, and it’s a type of additive manufacturing, Predebon explains. “You start with metal powders, and from those you create the final metal part. You’re adding a material—in this case, metal—bit by bit. Traditional manufacturing is all about subtracting: taking metal away to make a part. This is the inverse, and it’s a game changer. You can do so much more this way.”

“For many industries—including medical, automotive and aerospace—3D metal printing is a game changer. Here on campus it will be a game changer for Michigan Tech faculty and students, too.” 

William Predebon, Chair, Mechanical Engineering-Engineering Mechanics

Very few universities yet have a system with this sophistication and quality, notes Predebon. 

The benefit for Michigan Tech students, Predebon says, is competitive advantage. “When our students interview for a job, they will be able to communicate how they’ve been able to produce parts in a way very similar to what industry is doing. Some companies have metal 3D printers worth millions of dollars. In industry, engineers can use one of those to print out an entire engine block,” he says. “When Michigan Tech graduates see one on out in industry, the 3D metal printer might be larger, but they will already be familiar with the type of system.”

According to Materials Science and Engineering Professor Steve Kampe, development of additive manufacturing of metals represents a huge opportunity that will be prominent in manufacturing for generations to come. “It is a transformative technology in engineering,” says Kampe. “Using 3D printing to create metallic components poses huge challenges; but the potential benefits are enormous.”

“Metal additive manufacturing along with polymer additive processes are industry 4.0 topics included in Michigan Tech’s online graduate certificate in Manufacturing Engineering,” adds Professor John Irwin, chair of the Department of Manufacturing and Mechanical Engineering Technology. “It is very fortunate for us to have this metal 3D printer here on campus. We’ll use it to demonstrate additive manufacturing design principles and view product purpose: form, fit, and function. 

Michigan Tech’s new metal 3D printer is located on campus in the Minerals and Materials Engineering (M&M) Building. The location in Room 117, is near several other 3D polymer printers. For more information on using the new printer, contact MSE Research Engineer Russ Stein.

Take A Virtual Tour of Our 3D Metal Printer

https://www.mtu.edu/unscripted/2021/10/be-brief-metal.html


Challenging Structure: $15M US-COMP Now in Year Five

Professor Greg Odegard is the John O. Hallquist Endowed Chair in Computational Mechanics, Mechanical Engineering-Engineering Mechanics, Michigan Tech

Leading the charge in developing a new lighter, stronger, tougher polymer composite for human deep space exploration, the Ultra-Strong Composites by Computational Design (US-COMP) institute under the direction of Dr. Greg Odegard has pivoted with agility during their final year of a five-year project. 

The NASA-funded research project brings together academia and industry partners with a range of expertise in molecular modeling,manufacturing, material synthesis, and testing.

“When we began developing these ultra-strong composites, we weren’t sure of the best starting fibers and polymers, but over time we started to realize certain nanotubes and resins consistently outperformed others,” says Odegard. “Through this period of development, we realized what our critical path to maximize performance would be, and decided to focus only on that, rather than explore the full range of possibilities.”

US-COMP PARTNERS

  • Florida A&M University
  • Florida State University
  • Georgia Institute of Technology
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • Pennsylvania State University
  • University of Colorado
  • University of Minnesota
  • University of Utah
  • Virginia Commonwealth University
  • Nanocomp Technologies
  • Solvay
  • US Air Force Research Lab

For the past 21 years, scientists around the world have invested time, money, and effort to understand carbon nanotubes. But the islands of knowledge remain isolated in a vast sea of unknown behavior.

“When we started the project, we were confident we were going to put effort into getting the polymers to work well. The last thing we expected was the need to focus so much on the carbon nanotubes—but we’re putting effort there, too, using modeling and experimental methods,” Odegard notes.

The challenge when working with carbon nanotubes is their structure. “Under the most powerful optical microscope you see a certain structure, but when you look under an SEM microscope you see a completely different structure,” Odegard explains. “In order to understand how to build the best composite panel, we have to understand everything at each length scale.” 

The US COMP Institute has created dedicated experiments and computational models for the chosen carbon nanotube material at each length scale. “We can all see the different parts in our sub-groups and then we communicate that to the rest of the team, building a more complete picture from the little pictures at the individual scales,” he says. “We found the hierarchical modeling approach is hard to make work and what works best is a concurrent approach. We each answer questions at our own length scales, feed our findings to manufacturing, and then see how they in turn tweak the processing parameters.”

“We’ve achieved a remarkable workflow and a new model for collaboration.”

—Michigan Tech ME-EM Professor Greg Odegard

Achieving their Year Four goal to understand the internal structure of the carbon nanotube material, the institute has shifted focus to surface behaviors. As part of the project, they are tasked with bringing the carbon nanotube material together with the final selected polymer.

“We are looking at the surface treatment and how to get it to best work with the polymer of choice. We are excited to expand our scope of machine learning methods to better understand the carbon nanotube material. This accelerates our understanding of how processing parameters impact the structure, and how that ultimately impacts the bulk material properties.”

While machine learning has been part of the project scope from the beginning, the computational team is using their collected data to build a series of training sets. “The training sets will allow us to perfect our algorithms, learn from them, and hopefully influence product performance—potentially illuminating patterns we didn’t even see,” Odegard explains.

As the project draws to a close this year, the team continues to analyze their objectives set by NASA, which focus on producing a material that offers triple the strength and stiffness of the current state-of-the-art. As Odegard puts it, “The objectives set on this project are difficult to achieve. We knew that when we started. Regardless of whether we meet the numbers, as a group we have been able to push the envelope way beyond where we started in 2017—expanding the performance in a very short time period. This was made possible through remarkable collaboration across the institute.”


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.

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

“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. 

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.