Category: Research

Michigan Tech Receives State-of-the-Art Software from Petroleum Experts Limited

MOVE, a geologic modeling software, provides a full digital environment for best practice structural modeling to reduce risk and uncertainty in geological models.

Petroleum Experts Limited has donated the equivalent of $2,764,444.18 to Michigan Technological University. The donation has come in the form of 10 sets of the MOVE suite of programs to be used for education and academic research at the Department of Geological and Mining Engineering and Sciences (GMES).

Petroleum Experts, established in 1990, develops and commercializes petroleum engineering software for the oil industry. Petroleum Experts offers educational licenses to accredited universities that provide geology and/or petroleum engineering related Master and Ph.D. courses.

The state-of-the-art software will be installed in a computer laboratory at GMES, where it will be used in the Structural Geology course (GE3050), required for department undergraduate majors, and in graduate-level courses in structural geology. In addition, the MOVE suite will be utilized in academic non-commercial research on tectonics and structural geology, such as the mapping of the Keweenaw Fault and other complex structural systems in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

“The researchers and students at GMES greatly appreciate this generous donation from Petroleum Experts,” says Dr. Aleksey Smirnov, chair of the Department of Geological and Mining Engineering and Sciences at Michigan Tech.

NASA, Artemis and Beyond: Inside Michigan Tech’s Multiplanetary INnovation Enterprise (MINE)

Dr. Paul van Susante’s Planetary Surface Technology Development Lab (PSTDL) at Michigan Tech is home of the Dusty Thermal Vacuum Chamber. It’s about as close to moon conditions as one can get on Earth!
Paul van Susante

Paul van Susante, Assistant Professor, Mechanical Engineering—Engineering Mechanics talks about MINE, the Multiplanetary INnovation Enterprise team at Michigan Tech, along with electrical engineering majors Brenda Wilson and Gabe Allis; and mechanical engineering major Parker Bradshaw.

Wilson, Allis and Bradshaw—along with about 50 other student members of the MINE team—design, test, and implement robotic technologies for extracting (and using) local resources in extreme environments. That includes Lunar and Martian surfaces, and flooded subterranean environments here on Earth. Prof. van Susante helped launch the team, and serves as MINE’s faculty advisor.

The award-winning Enterprise Program at Michigan Tech involves students—of any major—working in teams on real projects, with real clients. Michigan Tech currently has 23 different Enterprise teams on campus, working to pioneer solutions, invent products, and provide services.

“As an engineer, I’m an optimist. We can invent things that allow us to do things that now seem impossible.”

Paul van Susante
Students in the Huskyworks Lab at Michigan Tech work on the T-REX rover (Tethered permanently-shadowed Region Explorer). The T-REX lays down lightweight, superconducting cable connected to a lander, and it won NASA’s top prize—the Artemis Award.

MINE team members build and test robotic vehicles and technologies for clients in government and the private sector. They tackle construction and materials characterization, too. It all happens in van Susante’s Planetary Surface Technology Development Lab (PSTDL) at Michigan Tech, a place where science fiction becomes reality via prototyping, building, testing—and increasing the technology readiness and level of tech being developed for NASA missions. The PSTDL is also known as Huskyworks.

Prior to coming to Michigan Tech, Prof. van Susante earned his PhD and taught at the Colorado School of Mines, and also served as a NASA Faculty Fellow. He has been involved in research projects collaborating with Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, SpaceX, TransAstra, DARPA, NASA Kennedy Space Center, JPL, Bechtel, Caterpillar, and many others.

Prof. van Susante created the Huskyworks Dusty Thermal Vacuum Chamber himself, using his new faculty startup funding. It’s a vacuum-sealed room, partially filled with a simulated lunar dust that can be cooled to minus 196 degrees Celsius and heated to 150 degrees Celsius—essentially, a simulated moon environment. In the chamber, researchers can test surface exploration systems (i.e., rovers) in a box containing up to 3,000 pounds of regolith simulant. It’s about as close to moon conditions as one can get on Earth.

Students in the PSTDL move a testbox into position for testing in the Dusty Thermal Vacuum Chamber.

The NASA Artemis program aims to send astronauts back to the moon by 2025 and establish a permanent human presence. Building the necessary infrastructure to complete this task potentially requires an abundance of resources because of the high cost of launching supplies from Earth. 

“An unavoidable obstacle of space travel is what NASA calls the ‘Space Gear Ratio’, where in order to send one package into space, you need nearly 450 times that package’s mass in expensive rocket fuel to send it into space,” notes van Susante. “In order to establish a long-term presence on other planets and moons, we need to be able to effectively acquire the resources around us, known as in-situ-resource utilization, or ISRU.”

“NASA has several inter-university competitions that align with their goals for their up-and-coming Artemis Missions,” adds van Susante. 

Huskyworks and MINE have numerous Artemis irons in the fire, plus other research projects, too. We’ll learn a lot more about them during Husky Bites.

LUNABOTICS

A peek at the integrated system of MINE’s Lunabotics rover.
Six members of the Michigan Tech Astro-Huskies (plus Dr. van Susante) at NASA Kennedy Space Center Visitor Center, during the 2021-22 Lunabotics competition

Electrical engineering undergraduate student Brenda Wilson serves as the hardware sub-team lead of the Astro-Huskies, a group of 25 students within MINE who work on an autonomous mining rover as part of NASA’s Lunabotics competition. It’s held every year in Florida at the Kennedy Space Center with 50 teams in attendance from universities across the nation. This is the Astro-Huskies’ third year participating in the competition, coming up in May 2023. 

This year the Astro-Huskies are designing, building, testing, and competing with an autonomous excavation rover. The rover must traverse around obstacles such as mounds, craters, rocks; excavate ice to be used for the production of rocket fuel, then return to the collection point. By demonstrating their rover, each team in the competition contributes ideas to NASA’s future missions to operate on and start producing consumables on the lunar surface. 

DIVER

Mechanical engineering undergraduate student Gabe Allis is manager of the MINE team’s DIVER project (Deep Investigation Vehicle for Energy Resources). The team is focused on building an untethered ROV capable of descending down into the Quincy mine to map the flooded tunnels and collect water samples. The team supports ongoing research at Michigan Tech that aims to convert flooded mine shafts into giant batteries, or Pumped Underground Storage for Hydropower (PUSH) facilities.

What it looks like beneath the Quincy Mine in Hancock, Michigan. Illustration courtesy of Michigan Tech’s Department of Geological and Mining Engineering and Sciences.

“Before a mine can be converted into a PUSH facility it must be inspected, and most mines are far deeper than can be explored by a conventional diver,”Allis explains.

“This is where we come in, with a robust, deep-diving robot that’s designed for an environment more unforgiving than the expanse of outer space, and that includes enormous external pressure, no communication, and no recovery if something goes wrong,” he says.  

“Differences in water temperature at different depths cause currents that can pull our robot in changing directions,” adds Allis. “No GPS means that our robot may have to localize from its environment, which means more computing power, and more space, weight, energy consumption, and cooling requirements. These are the sort of problems that our team needs to tackle.”

TRENCHER

During Husky Bites, Bradshaw will tell us about the team’s Trencher project, which aims to provide proof-of-concept for extracting the lunar surface using a bucket ladder-style excavator. “Bucket ladders offer a continuous method of excavation that can transport a large amount of material with minimal electricity, an important consideration for operations on the moon,” Bradshaw says. “With bucket ladders NASA will be able to extract icy regolith to create rocket fuel on the moon and have a reliable method to shape the lunar surface.” Unlike soil, regolith is inorganic material that has weathered away from the bedrock or rock layer beneath.

Parker Bradshaw, also a mechanical engineering student, is both a member of MINE and member of van Susante’s lab, where he works as an undergraduate researcher. “Dr. van Susante is my boss, PI, and Enterprise advisor. I first worked with him on a MINE project last year, then got hired by his lab (the PSTDL) to do research over the summer.”

Bradshaw is preparing a research paper detailing data the team has gathered while excavating in the lab’s Dusty Thermal Vacuum Chamber, with a goal of sharing what was learned by publishing their results in an academic journal.

The PSTDL’s field-rover HOPLITE gets ready for field-test last winter.

“An unavoidable obstacle of space travel is what NASA calls the ‘Space Gear Ratio’, where in order to send one package into orbit around Earth, you need nearly 10 times that package’s mass in expensive rocket fuel to send it into space, and even more for further destinations,” van Susante explains. “So in order to establish a long-term presence on other planets and moons, we need to be able to effectively acquire the resources around us, known as in-situ-resource utilization, or ISRU.”

In the world-class Huskyworks lab (and in the field) van Susante and his team work on a wide variety of projects:

Paul van Susante served as a mining judge during the 2018 Regolith Mining Competition at the NASA Kennedy Space Center Visitor Center

NASA Lunar Surface Technology Research (LuSTR)—a “Percussive Hot Cone Penetrometer and Ground Penetrating Radar for Geotechnical and Volatiles Mapping.”

NASA Breakthrough Innovative and Game Changing (BIG) Idea Challenge 2020—a “Tethered permanently shaded Region EXplorer (T-REX)” delivers power and communication into a PSR, (also known as a Polarimetric Scanning Radiometer).

NASA Watts on the Moon Centennial Challenge—providing power to a water extraction plant PSR located 3 kilometers from the power plant. Michigan Tech is one of seven teams that advanced to Phase 2, Level 2 of the challenge.

NASA ESI Early Stage Innovation—obtaining water from rock gypsum on Mars.

NASA Break the Ice—the latest centennial challenge from NASA, to develop technologies aiding in the sustained presence on the Moon.

NASA NextSTEP BAA ISRU, track 3—”RedWater: Extraction of Water from Mars’ Ice Deposits” (subcontract from principal investigator Honeybee Robotics).

NASA GCD MRE—Providing a regolith feeder and transportation system for the MRE reactor

HOPLITE—a modular robotic system that enables the field testing of ISRU technologies.

Dr. van Susante met his wife, Kate, in Colorado.

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

Helping people and making the world a better place with technology and the dream of space exploration. My interest came from sci-fi books and movies and seeing what people can accomplish when they work together.

Hometown and Hobbies?

I grew up in The Netherlands and got my MS in Civil Engineering from TU-Delft before coming to the USA to continue grad school. I met my wife in Colorado and have one 8 year old son. The rest of my family is still in The Netherlands. Now I live in Houghton, Michigan, not too far from campus. I love downhill and x-country skiing, reading (mostly sci-fi/fantasy), computer and board games, and photography.

Dr. van Susante has been a huge help—not just with the technical work, but with the project management side of things. We’ve found it to be one of the biggest hurdles to overcome as a team this past year.

Brenda Wilson

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

My dad, who is a packaging engineer, would explain to me how different machines work and how different things are made. My interest in electrical engineering began with the realization that power is the backbone to today’s society. Nearly everything we use runs on electricity. I wanted to be able to understand the large complex system that we depend so heavily upon. Also, because I have a passion for the great outdoors, I want to take my degree in a direction where I can help push the power industry towards green energy and more efficient systems.

Hometown, family?

My hometown is Naperville, Illinois. I have one younger brother starting his first year at Illinois State in general business. My Dad is a retired packaging engineer with a degree from Michigan State, and my mom is an accountant with a masters degree from the University of Chicago.

Any hobbies? Pets? What do you like to do in your spare time?

I am an extremely active person and try to spend as much time as I can outside camping and on the trails. I also spend a good chunk of my time running along the portage waterfront, swing dancing, and just recently picked up mountain biking.

I got involved in the DIVER project in MINE, and have enjoyed working with Dr. van Susante. He’s a no nonsense kind of guy. He tells you what you need to improve on, and then helps you get there.

Gabe Allis
Gabe Allis

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

I first became interested in engineering when my great-uncle gave me a college text-book of his on engineering: Electric Circuits and Machines, by Eugene Lister. I must have been at most 13. To my own surprise, I began reading it and found it interesting. Ever since then I’ve been looking for ways to learn more.

Hometown, family?

I’m from Ann Arbor, Michigan, the oldest of nine. First in my family to go to Tech, and probably not the last. 

Any hobbies? Pets? What do you like to do in your spare time?

I like to play guitar, read fiction, mountain bike, explore nature, and hang out/worship at St. Albert the Great Catholic Church.

“Doing both Enterprise work and research under Dr. van Susante has been a very valuable experience. I expect to continue working in his orbit through the rest of my undergrad degree.”

Parker Bradshaw
Parker Bradshaw

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

I was first introduced to engineering by my dad, who manufactured scientific equipment for the University of Michigan Psychology department. Hanging around in his machine shop at a young age made me really want to work with my hands. What I do as a member of MINE is actually very similar to what my dad did at the U of M. I create research equipment that we use to obtain the data we need for our research, just for me it’s space applications (instead of rodent brains).

Hometown, family?

I grew up in Ann Arbor Michigan, and both of my parents work for the University of Michigan Psychology department. My dad is now retired.

Any hobbies? Pets? What do you like to do in your spare time?

I have a variety of things to keep me busy when school isn’t too overbearing. I go to the Copper Country Community Art Center Clay Co-Op as often as I can to throw pottery on the wheel. I also enjoy watercolor painting animals in a scientific illustration style. Over the summer I was working on my V22 style RC plane project.

Michigan Tech MINE team photo (taken last year). The constraints of the pandemic complicated some of their efforts, yet brought out the best in all of them.

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To the Moon—and Beyond

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Mine Video for Michigan Tech 2022 Design Expo

How Can You Mend a Broken Heart? Flow Dynamics in Arrhythmias

Dr. Hatoum and PhD student Brennan Vogl test heart valves for overall performance and energetics, turbulence generated, sinus hemodynamics (aortic and pulmonic), as well as ventricular, atrial, pulmonic, and aortic flows.

Biomedical Engineering Assistant Professor Hoda Hatoum talks about her cardiovascular research along with PhD student Brennan Vogl, one of the first students to join her Biofluids Lab in the fall of 2020.

Dr. Hoda Hatoum

“One thing we can do in the lab is to study just how AFib ablation impacts the heart’s left atrial flow, says Hatoum.

Atrial fibrillation, when the heart beats in an irregular way, affects up to 6 million individuals in the US, a number expected to double by 2030. More than 454,000 hospitalizations with AFib as the primary diagnosis happen each year. Current treatment guidelines recommend antiarrhythmic drugs as initial therapy, but their efficacy is limited and comes with the risk of serious adverse effects. Another option, catheter ablation, electrically isolates the pulmonary veins—the most frequent site of AFib triggers—with more success and an excellent safety profile.

Brennan Vogl
An actual human heart is about the size of your fist, shaped like an upside down pear. Every cell in your body gets blood from your heart (except for your corneas).

“Our research seeks to better understand flow dynamics of the heart during arrhythmia, complex structural heart biomechanics, prosthetic heart valve engineering, and the structure-function relationships of the heart in both health and disease,” Hatoum says.

Why hearts? “It all started with my doctoral program,” Hatoum recalls. “I had the opportunity to work closely with clinicians, to attend their structural heart meetings, and to plan with them the appropriate therapy to be administered for patients. Every patient is very different, which makes the problem exciting and challenging at the same time.”

Hatoum earned her BS in Mechanical Engineering from the American University of Beirut and her PhD in Mechanical Engineering from the Ohio State University (OSU). She was awarded an American Heart Association postdoctoral fellowship, and completed her postdoctoral training at the Ohio State University and at Georgia Institute of Technology before joining the faculty at Michigan Tech.

“One of my goals is to evaluate and provide answers to clinicians so they know what therapy suits their patients best.”

Hoda Hatoum

Now, working in her own Biofluids Lab at Michigan Tech, Hatoum integrates principles of fluid mechanics, design and manufacturing, and clinical expertise with collaborators nationwide (including Mayo Clinic, Ohio State, Vanderbilt, Piedmont Hospital and St. Paul’s Hospital Vancouver)–all to find solutions for cardiovascular flow problems. 

Play Biomedical Engineering Biofluids Lab Aortic Valve Models video
Preview image for Biomedical Engineering Biofluids Lab Aortic Valve Models video

Biomedical Engineering Biofluids Lab Aortic Valve Models

These aortic valves open and close based via the contraction of a pump, controlled by a LabView program. See more during Husky Bites!

In her lab, Hatoum designed and built a pulse duplicator system—a heart simulator—that emulates the left heart side of a cardiovascular system. She also uses a particle image velocimetry system that allows her to characterize the flow field in vessels and organs.

Hatoum and her team of students use these devices to develop patient-specific cardiovascular models, conducting in vitro tests to assess the performance and flow characteristics of different heart valves. “We use idealized heart chambers or patient-specific ones. We test multiple commercially available prosthetic heart valves—and our in-house made valves, too.”

From the Biofluids Lab website: a wide array of current commercial bioprosthetic transcatheter mitral valves.

Hatoum’s team also designs their own heart valve devices.

“Currently, transcatheter heart valves are made of biological materials, including pig or cow valves, that are prone to degeneration. This can lead to compromised valve performance, and ultimately necessitate another valve replacement.”

To solve this problem, Hatoum collaborates with material science experts from different universities in the US and around the world to utilize novel biomaterials that are biocompatible, durable and suitable for cardiovascular applications. 

Which area of research pulls Dr. Hatoum’s heartstrings the most? “Transcatheter aortic heart valves,” she says. (Look closely at this photo to see the closed leaflets of an aortic valve.)

“With the rise of minimally-invasive surgeries, the clinical field is moving towards transcatheter approaches to replace heart valves, rather than open heart surgery,” she explains. “With the challenges that come with TAVs, and with the low-risk population targeted, I believe this is an urgent field to look into, so we can minimize as much as possible any adverse outcomes, improve valve designs and promote longevity of the device.”

The treatment of congenital heart defects in children is another strong focus for Hatoum, who devises alternatives for highly-invasive surgeries for pulmonary atresia and Kawasaki disease. She collaborates with multiple institutions to acquire patient data, then, using experimental and computational fluid dynamics, she examines the different scenarios of various surgical design approaches.

“One very important goal is to develop predictive models that will help clinicians anticipate adverse outcomes,” she says.

“In some centers in the US and the world, the heart team won’t operate without engineers modeling for them—to visualize the problem, design a solution better, improve therapeutic outcomes, and avoid as much as possible any adverse outcomes.”

Hoda Hatoum
Dr. Hoda Hatoum grew up in Lebanon. She’s a big fan of road trips.

Brennan Vogl was the first student to begin working with Hatoum in the lab when she arrived at Michigan Tech in 2020. “It is a great pleasure to work with Brennan,” says Hatoum. “He is very responsible and focused. He handles multiple projects, both experimental and computational, and excels in all aspects of them. I am proud of the tremendous improvement he keeps showing, and his constant motivation to do even better.”

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

As a high-school student, I got the chance to go on a school trip to several universities and I was fascinated by the projects that mechanical engineering students did. That was what determined my major and what sparked my interest.

Hometown, family?

I was raised in Kab Elias, Bekaa, Lebanon. It’s about 45 kilometers (28 miles) from the Lebanese capital, Beirut. The majority of my family still lives there.

‘My niece took this image from the balcony of our house in Lebanon, located in Kab Elias. It shows the broad landscape and the mountains, and the Lebanese coffee cup that’s basically iconic.”

What do you like to do in your spare time?

I like to watch TV, read stories (thrillers) and go on road trips.

The sun temple in the Haidara ruins near Dr. Hatoum’s hometown of Kab Elias in Lebanon are believed to date back to the Roman era.
Snow on the ground in Kab Elias.

How can a student request to join your Biofluids lab?

I currently work with two PhD students and two undergraduates. Usually, an email with interest in the research that I do is sufficient. Our lab employs both mechanical engineering students and biomedical engineering students because of our focus on mechanics. When a student first joins our lab, they do not have any idea about any of the problems we are working on. As they get exposed to to them, they add their own valuable perspective.

The student experience is an amazing one, and one that is rewarding.

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

I first got into engineering when I participated in Michigan Tech’s Summer Youth Program (SYP). At SYP I got to explore all of the different engineering fields and participate in various projects for each field. Having this hands-on experience really sparked my interest in engineering.

Hometown, family?

I grew up in Saginaw, Michigan. My family now lives in Florida, so I get to escape the Upper Peninsula cold and visit them in the warm Florida weather.

Brennan loves to ski in Houghton’s plentiful powder, but he’s an even bigger fan of warm, sunny weather.
Poppy is on the left and Milo is on the right.

Pets? Hobbies?

I enjoy skiing, and I have two Boston Terriers—Milo and Poppy. They live with my parents in Florida. I don’t think they would be able to handle the cold here in Houghton, as much as I would enjoy them living with me.

Michigan Tech and Eagle Mine Partner for EV Battery Recycling Innovation and Climate Sustainability

Chemical Engineering Associate Professor Lei Pan is principal investigator of two newly-funded research projects at Michigan Tech that will address several economic and technical challenges in the lithium-ion battery recycling industry.

On Nov. 16, the Biden Administration announced a $74 million funding package to advance domestic battery recycling and reuse that will strengthen the nation’s battery supply chain. Michigan Technological University and Eagle Mine are co-recipients of part of this funding. $8.1 million will be used to prove new research technologies that develop sustainable processes to supply critical minerals for electric vehicle (EV) battery manufacturing.

An additional $2.5 million from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Project Agency-Energy grant program was also awarded to Michigan Tech and Eagle Mine, which will enable the University to study carbon dioxide mineralization opportunities in Eagle Mine’s tailings facility. The money will be used to develop new technologies that enable accelerated carbon mineralization using mine tailing minerals.

“Eagle Mine is proud to partner with Michigan Tech and support sustainable technologies that will create critical mineral pathways for future demand,” said Darby Stacey, managing director of Eagle Mine. “Eagle Mine is the only nickel mine in the United States, and the availability of our experience and use of our resources, waste streams and nickel concentrates are essential to understanding the societal impact of the nation’s transportation needs.”

“The state of Michigan is the home to the automotive industry, nickel mining industry and future lithium-ion battery industry in this nation,” said Lei Pan, associate professor of chemical engineering at Michigan Tech and principal investigator of both funded projects. “Addressing both the supply of critical minerals and reprocessing and reuse of mine tailings is critical to advance sustainability in the mining industry.”

MTEC SmartZone of Houghton and the Michigan Small Business Development Center contributed toward the successful grant application. In collaboration with Michigan Tech, MTEC leveraged the Michigan Economic Development Corporation’s Federal Match Program and Technology Transfer Talent Network program by providing matching funds toward cost-shares required in the $8.1 million award, and to recruit and hire an entrepreneur-in-residence for the project. 

MTEC was also intimately involved in helping establish Nion Metals LLC and worked in concert with Nion Metals in the development of pro forma budgets, market analysis, competitor due diligence and technology commercialization planning. In addition, MTEC provided assistance with the grant writing, editing and review; developed presentation materials; and assisted in obtaining letters of support from industry and two national labs.

“This was a collaborative effort between Nion Metals, Michigan Tech’s Office of Innovation and Commercialization, MTEC SmartZone and Eagle Mine,” said David Rowe, CEO of MTEC SmartZone. “MTEC SmartZone’s mission is to accelerate high-tech business growth, and this project is a prime example of that function.”

“This robust investment will support Michigan Tech’s researchers, faculty and students’ continued efforts to develop and deploy the next generation of technologies to recycle electric vehicle batteries that will guide the future of the auto industry in Michigan and nationwide,” said Rick Koubek, president of Michigan Tech. “We thank our industry partners and Eagle Mine for supporting this research that will lead to new critical mineral technologies.”

The funding for the project, named the Nion Project, will help MTU and Eagle Mine address several economic and technical challenges in the lithium-ion battery recycling industry, including 1) low payable metals, 2) difficulty in achieving specifications for battery-grade lithium from mixed secondary feedstock, and 3) high operational costs and environmental impact of current state-of-the-art recycling practices. 

In Dr. Lei Pan’s lab at Michigan Tech, graphite bubbles form during froth flotation, a technique used in mining engineering, which forces hydrophobic materials to the top as froth (in this case, graphite), and allows valuable cathode materials to sink to the bottom so they can be recovered and recycled.

The funding will support the University in moving its research from the lab to a pilot-scale facility that will be newly constructed in the Upper Peninsula.

The project team consists of engineers and experts in subject matter, commercialization, permitting and investor/community engagement to ensure the success of this project, with the end goal of enabling the commercialization of these technologies to the benefit of the electric vehicle lithium-ion battery supply chain in the United States.

“We have the technology and resources in the Upper Peninsula to make a positive impact on the nation,” said Stacey. “This partnership will not only help advance new technologies in our nation but, if ultimately successful, will also bring new construction and jobs to the Upper Peninsula.”

Potential project impacts also include: 

  • Reducing total energy use and total greenhouse gas emission by at least 25% per nickel unit produced compared to the current state-of-the-art recycling practice.
  • Establishing a profitable battery recycling business regardless of the types of cathode chemistry.
  • Supplying additional nickel and cobalt minerals from unconventional resources. If further successful, an additional 56 million pounds of nickel and 2 million pounds of cobalt from Eagle’s Humboldt Tailing Disposal Facility could be recoverable.

About Eagle Mine

Eagle Mine is an underground, high-grade nickel and copper mine located in western Marquette County of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. It is the first mine to be permitted under Michigan’s Part 632 Non-Ferrous Mineral Mining Law. The mine is expected to produce 440 million pounds of nickel, 429 million pounds of copper and trace amounts of other minerals over its estimated mine life (2014-2026).

GLRC Summer and Fall 2022 Student Awards

Please join the Great Lakes Research Center (GLRC) in congratulating the Summer and Fall 2022 GLRC Student Research and Travel Grant recipients.

The GLRC student grants are intended to provide undergraduate and graduate students advised by GLRC members an opportunity to gain experience in writing competitive grants, to perform research they would not be able to attempt due to funding limitations, or to travel to a professional conference to present a poster or paper about their research.

Student grants also provide research seed data for advisors to use in pursuing externally funded research support and travel grants help amplify areas of research expertise at Michigan Tech. Funded students are expected to participate/volunteer for at least one GLRC activity during the grant period.

Student Research Grant recipient:

Student Travel Grant recipients:

  • Timothy Stone, M.S. student — Social Sciences
    • GLRC member advisor: Donald Lafreniere
    • Attending: 2022 Social Sciences History Association Annual Conference
    • Presentation: “Exploring the Built and Social Determinants of Health in a 20th Century Industrial City”
  • Mai Anh Tran, Ph.D. student — College of Forest Resources and Environmental Science 
    • GLRC member advisor: Valoree Gagnon
    • Attending: History of Science Society 2022 Annual Meeting – Sustainability, Regeneration, and Resiliency
    • Presentation: “Tracing the Resilience Concept Through the History of Science and the Lens of Indigenous Knowledge”
  • Tessa Tormoen, B.S. student — Biological Sciences
    • GLRC member advisor: Jill Olin
    • Attending: The Wildlife Society National Conference 2022
    • Presentation: “Using DNA Metabarcoding to Evaluate Dietary Resource Partitioning Among Two Sympatric Tilefish”
  • Emily Shaw, Ph.D. student — Civil, Environmental, and Geospatial Engineering
    • GLRC member advisor: Noel Urban
    • Attended: 2022 American Chemical Society Fall Meeting – Sustainability in a Changing World
    • Presentation: “Toxicity in Fish Tissue: Redefining Our Understandings by Quantifying Mixture and Combined Toxicity”
  • Enid Partika, Ph.D. student — Civil, Environmental, and Geospatial Engineering
    • GLRC member advisors: Judith Perlinger, Noel Urban 
    • Attending: Dioxin 22 – 42nd International Symposium on Halogenated Persistent Organic Pollutants 
    • Presentation: “Filling the Data Gap on Responses of Fish PCB Content to Remedial Actions in Torch Lake, Michigan”
  • James Juip, Ph.D. student — Social Sciences
    • GLRC member advisor: Donald Lafreniere 
    • Attending: Social Science History Association Annual Meeting – Reverberations of Empire: Histories, Legacies & Lineages 
    • Presentation: “Utilizing HSDIs to Support Community Engaged Interdisciplinary Education and Heritage Interpretation”
  • John McCall, M.S. student — Biological Sciences
    • GLRC member advisor: Gordon Paterson
    • Attending: The Wildlife Society Annual Conference
    • Presentation: “Evaluating Genotoxicity of Mine Tailings on Two Game Fish in a Spawning Reef in Lake Superior (Michigan)”

The GLRC awarded travel grants to the following students attending COP27, in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, with Sarah Green (Chem):

  • Rose Daily, Ph.D. student — Civil, Environmental and Geospatial Engineering, speaking on the U.S. Center Panel on the topic of “Climate Education in the US”
  • Ayush Chutani, Ph.D. student — Mechanical Engineering-Engineering Mechanics, participating in U.N. side event “Climate Leadership Across Generations”
  • Katherine Huerta-Sanchez, M.S. student — Social Sciences, presenting “Voices and Visions: The Art and Science of Climate Action. Youth Environmental Alliance in Higher Education (YEAH ) and PEACE BOAT US”
  • Anna Kavanaugh, B.S. student — Social Sciences, presenting “From the Roots Up: Community Solutions for Reducing Food Waste”
  • Zachary Hough Solomon, M.S. student — Social Sciences, presenting “The Knowledge and Policy Disconnect: Using Local Knowledge to Inform Climate Science”

GLRC Student Travel Grant applications are accepted anytime and will be reviewed on the last Friday of each month. Applications must be submitted at least two weeks in advance of travel. GLRC Student Research Grant applications are accepted three times each year — Nov. 1, March 1 and July 1.

By the Great Lakes Research Center.

Educating the Next Generation of Climate Leaders with participating institution logos.
Panel of four people and host at the podium.
Climate action panel with Rose Daily speaking.
Rose Daily, Graduate Student, Michigan Technological University, speaking on stage.
Panel audience asking questions.
Climate Change Education panel of four people on stage.

Related

Carolyn Duncan: Free Falling

When it comes to preventing falls. we can learn a few things from penguins, says Dr. Carolyn Duncan at Michigan Technological University.
Carolyn Duncan, Michigan Tech Assistant Professor, Kinesiology and Integrative Physiology, Michigan Tech

Carolyn Duncan shares her knowledge on Husky Bites, a free, interactive Zoom webinar this Monday, 11/14 at 6 pm ET. Learn something new in just 30 minutes or so, with time after for Q&A! Get the full scoop and register at mtu.edu/huskybites.

What are you doing for supper this Monday night 10/14 at 6 ET? Grab a bite with Carolyn Duncan, assistant professor, Kinesiology and Integrative Physiology at Michigan Tech.

Joining in will be Sarah Aslani, PhD student in Cognitive and Learning Sciences and a member of  Prof. Duncan’s MTU Balance and Functional Mobility Lab, who will share just how balance is studied in the lab.

Falls are a major cause of serious injury and death in our society. So how can we prevent them? 

Sarah Aslani, a biomedical engineer is earning her PhD in Cognitive and Learning Sciences at Michigan Tech.

“We need greater understanding of exactly what affects our ability to regain our balance when we lose it,” Duncan explains. “Not all risk factors affect balance in the same way. There are many unanswered questions, and that’s where our research comes in,” she says.

“Some major culprits, though: clutter and poor lighting.”

During Husky Bites, Prof. Duncan will explore what is currently known on how we regain our balance, share some things we can do to improve our balance and prevent falls, and discuss her ongoing research on balance control and fall prevention.

Duncan earned her BSc in Kinesiology and MSc in Occupational Biomechanics, both at the University of New Brunswick, and her PhD in Mechanical Engineering with a focus on biomechanics at Memorial University of Newfoundland. She was a postdoctoral fellow in Neuroscience at the University of Waterloo in the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute, then taught engineering ergonomics courses at Virginia Tech before joining the faculty at Michigan Tech in 2018.

Are wide stairs safer or more dangerous? And what does the “run length” have to do with it? Pictured here: stairs up to the viewing platform at  Porcupine Mountains State Wilderness Park.

After obtaining her doctorate in mechanical engineering, Prof. Duncan spent time working as an ergonomist and fall prevention specialist before she became a researcher. Her work has spanned from fall prevention in offshore industries to developing fall prevention safety programs for workplaces. These experiences give her valuable real-world insights in the fall-related challenges people face in everyday life.

How do we anticipate falling? And what happens if we are distracted?

Balance control research in Prof. Duncan’s MTU Balance and Functional Mobility Lab at Michigan Tech

At Michigan Tech, Duncan investigates factors that influence successful balance recovery—from lighting, load-carrying, and aging, to cognitive, neurological, and physical disorders and musculoskeletal injury. She also works with the design of built environments for older adults and special populations. 

Her work studying balance recovery in moving environments—such as the wave motion encountered in maritime settings—involves asking questions, such as “would dancers have better balance on a boat?” 

(Prof. Duncan found that while dancers demonstrated significantly fewer stumbling events when on a simulated boat than novices during the first trial, dancers did not perform as well as individuals with offshore experience.)

Arriving recently from the warmer climate of Tehran to earn her PhD in Cognitive Learning Sciences in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, Aslani has not yet experienced a Houghton winter, or, thankfully, ever slipped on the ice and snow. She is co-advised by Prof. Duncan and Kevin Trewartha, an assistant professor with joint appointment in CLA and KIP. They’re already preparing Aslani for what to expect when the snowflakes start to fly and temperatures dip.

“Sarah has a background in biomedical engineering, and just started this semester,” says Duncan. “She will be doing her PhD research on factors that influence our ability to recover our balance. I look forward to furthering this area of research with her in the upcoming years. And we look forward to teaching her how to snowboard and ski as part of our Lab bonding time, too.”

“I was looking for a research project that would cover both of my interests—biology and neuroscience—when I saw Dr. Duncan’s profile on the Michigan Tech website,” adds Aslani. “So I sent her an email. Then, in our first meeting, it felt right. I knew this would be a place where I’d really fit in.”

“Mountain biking and alpine skiing are my passions, so the Upper Peninsula is a great place to live all year around,” says Dr. Duncan.

In the lab, Duncan, Aslani and other members of the team perform balance control research. “Type 2 Diabetes is a big challenge facing many older adults, with devastating effects on balance,” Duncan says. “My team is excited to start examining low-cost group exercise programs, including Tai Chi, to see how effective they are for improving balance and decreasing risk of falls. We’ll be working in collaboration with Dr. Kevin Trewartha and physical therapists Dr. Cameron Williams and Dr. Lydia Lytle.”

“Dim lighting is often associated with falls in the home,” Duncan adds. “We’re currently looking into how lighting specifically affects balance recovery. We hope this knowledge will be used to develop guidelines on optimal lighting in homes and built environments in our community  to decrease risk of falls.”

During Husky Bites, Prof. Duncan promises to offer some takeaways for all of us. She’ll provide exact details on the best kinds of shoes, railings, and stairs to prevent falls. 

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

Cats can teach us about reactive balance ability. This is Brady, Dr. Duncan’s kitty!

I first got into Engineering when I decided that pursuing a PhD in mechanical engineering would best suit my long-term goals of being a researcher in biomechanics. My previous undergraduate and Masters degrees in Kinesiology and Science with focuses in biomechanics and ergonomics had sparked a desire to learn more advanced biomechanical modeling techniques. A PhD in Mechanical Engineering allowed me to learn these advanced biomechanical modeling techniques while also gaining the foundational knowledge in mechanical and human factors engineering to pursue this career.

Hometown, family?
I’m originally from Rothesay, New Brunswick, Canada, about 45 minutes east of Maine. My parents were both public school teachers, and my grandparents were all healthcare professionals or engineers. I have one younger brother who is currently an electrician in Vancouver, British Columbia. 

What do you like to do in your spare time?

I’m a member of the Mont Ripley Ski Patrol and Copper Harbor Bike Patrol. I’ve recently taken up Nordic skiing and disc golf. When I’m not outside I love to cook and am an avid indoor gardener. I have a two-year old ginger tabby cat named “Brady the Tomcat,” in honor of Tom Brady (I’m a lifelong New England Patriots fan). I found Brady at Copper Country Humane Society right here in Houghton. 

“I always enjoy chatting with my friends,” says Aslani.

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

Growing up, I was always trying to figure out my real passion, some area in which I am really talented, so I could direct all my attention and power toward it.

I tried out many things, including painting and playing piano. But, they were never enough for me. After getting admitted to the Iranian Biology Olympiad (IrBO) at age fourteen, and then, a year later, to the Iranian’s national Mathematics Olympiad, I started to realize that I may be good at both those things (biology and math). That is why a couple of years later, I chose to pursue a biomedical engineering degree.

Hometown, family?
Until recently, I lived in Tehran, Iran. It is the capital of Iran. Very crowded, but it is very beautiful, with lots of countryside spots to go on picnics, like Chitgar Lake. Plus, there are some great places to go hiking.

Hiking is one of Aslani’s passions. She’s excited to get out and start exploring the UP!

We are a small family. I have a younger brother who also chose the engineering field. My dad is an agricultural engineer. My mum is a biotechnology researcher. 

What do you like to do in your spare time?
The first thing is that I love hiking. When I was in Iran I used to go hiking every few weeks.

Another thing I am crazy about is learning new languages. I learn by watching movies and listening to music. Recently I started learning Spanish. I love Spanish music, so I memorized the lyrics and tried them out with karaoke!

Last but not least, I love chatting with my friends. Sometimes when I want to clear my head and not think of anything, I’ll go hang out with a friend. 

John Vucetich: Restoring the Balance—Wolves and Our Relationship with Nature

Wolves on a wilderness island illuminate lessons on the environment, extinction, and life. Photo credit: John Vucetich

John Vucetich shares his knowledge on Husky Bites this Monday, November 7 at 6 pm ET. Learn something new in just 30 minutes (or so), with time after for Q&A! Get the full scoop and register at mtu.edu/huskybites.

Michigan Tech Distinguished Professor John Vucetich leads the the longest running predator-prey study in the world.

Restoring the Balance: What are you doing for supper this Monday 11/7 at 6 pm ET? Grab a bite on Zoom with Dean Janet Callahan and John Vucetich, Distinguished Professor, College of Forest Resources and Environmental Science at Michigan Tech.

Prof. Vucetich studies the wolves—and the moose that sustain them—of the boreal forest of Isle Royale National Park. It’s something he’s done for more than a quarter century. He joined Michigan Tech’s Isle Royale Wolf-Moose study in the early 1990s as an undergraduate student majoring in biological science. He went on to earn a PhD in Forest Sciences at Tech in 1999.

Three years later Vucetich began leading the study along with SFRES research professor Rolf Peterson, who is now retired. This year will be the study’s 66th year monitoring wolves and moose on Isle Royale—the longest running predator-prey study in the world. (Their project website is isleroyalewolf.org.)

“Much of my work is aimed at developing insights that emerge from the synthesis of science and ethics,” says Vucetich. “Environmental ethicists and environmental scientists have a common goal, which is to better understand how we ought to relate to nature,” he adds. “Nevertheless, these two groups employ wildly different methods and premises.”

During Husky Bites, Vucetich will read from his book, Restoring the Balance: What Wolves Teach Us About Our Relationship with Nature, published by Johns Hopkins University Press in 2021. 

Restoring the Balance : What Wolves Tell Us About Our Relationship with Nature, by John Vucetich (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2021).

“It’s a book about wolves,” he says, simply, “and how humans relate to wolves.”

It’s also an exhilarating, multifaceted, thought-provoking read. Vucetich combines environmental philosophy with field notes chronicling his day-to-day experience as a scientist. Examining the fate of wolves in the wild, he not only shares lessons learned from these wolves, but also explains their impact on humanity’s fundamental responsibilities to the natural world.

“Science can never tell us what we ought to do or how we ought to behave,” says Vucetich. “Science only describes the way the world is. Ethics by itself can’t tell us what to do, either. Ethics needs science—facts about the world—to be properly informed.”

“John is a real field man, a dauntingly quantitative biologist, and a dedicated student of logic:  the coalescence of this whole emerges as a leading conservation ethicist,” writes David W. Macdonald, professor of wildlife conservation at Oxford University, in the foreword of Restoring the Balance. “In this book, John Vucetich asks you to imagine yourself as a young wolf, dreaming of attempting to kill your first moose, ten times your size, using only your teeth,” adds Macdonald. “He asks the big question (bravely, for a hard-nosed quantitative biologist in a profession neurotic about anthropomorphism) what is it like to be a wolf? He thinks, as do I, that this is a more sensible question than you might suspect, in part because it turns out there’s so much similarity between us and them.”

“The island is Isle Royale, a wilderness surrounded by the largest freshwater lake in the world. I make these observations from the Flagship, an airplane just large enough for a pilot and one observer. After the flight, questions hack their way through the recursive web of dendrites that is my consciousness. What is the life of a wolf like? What is it like to be a wolf? Those questions are too presumptuous. The first questions should penetrate down to the foundation: Of all the millions of species on planet Earth, why wolves, why not some other?” 

John Vucetich, Restoring the Balance

Joining in: Becky Cassel grew up in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. She teaches Earth Sciences in Pennsylvania.

Joining in during Husky Bites will be Becky Cassel. She teaches Earth science and environmental science to ninth graders at a high school outside of Hershey, Pennsylvania  (Lower Dauphin School District).

“I have not met Dr. Vucetich in person. As a teacher, I have spent many years using the Isle Royale Wolf-Moose study to talk about populations and predator/prey relationships in my classroom,” says Cassel.  

“For Christmas last year I gave my father a copy of Restoring the Balance. When he was done reading it, both my husband and I read it. It was riveting. I emailed Dean Callahan to suggest inviting Dr. Vucetich onto Husky Bites. The Michigan Tech Wolf-Moose study is found in every biology textbook used today. I knew many Husky Bites watchers would be familiar and interested in the topic.”

The view from Flagship, over Lake Superior.

Excerpt

Prof. John Vucetich at work on Isle Royale. “What does a healthy relationship with the natural world look like? Are humans the only persons to inhabit Earth—or do we share the planet with uncounted ‘nonhuman persons’?’

During Husky Bites, Prof. Vucetich will read passages from Restoring the Balance. The passage below is taken from the book’s first chapter, “Why Wolves?”

February 18. We saw what they smelled—a cow moose and her calf, who had themselves been foraging. It didn’t look good for the cow and calf right from the beginning. The calf was too far away from her mother, and they may have had different ideas about how to handle the situation. The wolves rushed in. The cow turned to face the wolves, expertly positioned between the wolves and her calf, but only for a second. The calf bolted. After a flash of confusion’s hesitation, the cow pivoted and did the same. Had she not, the wolves would have rushed past the cow and bloodied the snow with her calf. The break in coordination between cow and calf put four or five wind-thrown trees lying in a crisscrossed mess between the cow and her tender love. The cow hurled herself over the partially fallen trunks that were nearly chest-high on a moose. She caught up with her frantic calf before the wolves did. Then the chase was on, led by the least experienced of them all—the calf. The cow, capable of running faster, stayed immediately behind the calf, no matter what direction the terror-ridden mind of that calf decided to take. Every third or fourth step the cow snapped one of its rear hooves back toward the teeth of death. One solid knock to the head would rattle loose the life from, even, a hound of hell. After a couple of minutes and perhaps a third of a mile, the pace slowed. By the third minute everyone was walking. The calf, the cow, and the wolves. The stakes were high for all, but not greater than the exhaustion they shared. Eventually they all stopped. Not a hair’s width separated the cow and calf, and the wolves were just 20 feet away. The cow faced the wolves. A few minutes later the wolves walked away. By nightfall Chippewa Harbor Pack had pushed on another six miles or so, passing who-knows-how-many-more moose. Their stomachs remained empty.

Praise for Restoring the Balance:

“John Vucetich creates a masterful blend of memoir, science, and ethics with a message that is both timely and timeless.” — Michael Paul Nelson, Professor of Environmental Ethics and Philosophy, Oregon State University

“This exhilarating book is a remarkable triumph―beautifully crafted.” — David W. Macdonald, Professor of Wildlife Conservation, University of Oxford

“This book is juicy with field notes―the stories of charismatic individual wolves like the Old Gray Guy, and complex science made understandable and seductively enticing to the reader with even the tiniest interest in wolf survival and natural history.” — Nancy Jo Tubbs, Chair, Board of Directors, International Wolf Center

Becky visited Isle Royale.

Becky, how did you first get into teaching? What sparked your interest?

I taught sailing lessons as a summer job in Escanaba, Michigan, while pursuing a degree at Miami of Ohio. After graduating and working for a year I realized that I really enjoyed teaching much more than my chosen career. I decided to go back and earn my Earth science teaching certification.

As a self-professed “outdoor girl”, I love all things Earth science. I was amazed how much I enjoyed every single Earth science class I needed to take in order to earn my science teacher certificate. I had been working in Pennsylvania at the time, so I earned my teacher certificate in Pennsylvania, and then was hired to teach there, too. I met my husband, Craig, and we decided to stay in Pennsylvania. Of course we travel to Escanaba every summer to get my UP fix!

Hometown, family?

My hometown is Escanaba, Michigan; however my parents are from the Philadelphia area. My father chose Michigan Tech for college (Tech Alum ’59) and fell in love with the area. The Cliff Notes version is that he returned to the East, married my mother, and convinced her to move to the UP.  I was 2 months old at the time. I have an older sister (also a teacher) who lives in central Maine.

Craig and Becky Cassel enjoy bicycle touring in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (the UP).

My husband Craig is a biology and anatomy teacher, and we met while teaching in the same school. We’ve driven into school together every day since then. He just retired at the end of last year, so now I drive in on my own.

We have two children. Our son, Elliot, just graduated from Virginia Tech last year and returned to college this year to earn his Earth science teacher certificate. Our daughter, Avery, chose to go to Michigan Tech like her grandfather, and entered the environmental engineering program. She has found her “outdoor people” at Michigan Tech.

Any hobbies? Pets? What do you like to do in your spare time?

I guess my biggest hobby is bicycle touring, but we also hike, run, and spend time outdoors. I grew up sailing in Esky, but sailing in Pennsylvania is NOT like sailing on the Great Lakes so I don’t do much of that except when I return to Escanaba.

My husband’s family owns a farm outside of Hershey, Pennsylvania, and we live on one end of the farm. This has allowed us to raise our children as outdoor lovers. We also have a beagle (Henry) and several chickens and rabbits. The farm itself is a thoroughbred racehorse farm, operated by my in-laws. We aren’t involved in horse training; instead, we grow grapes. We planted and opened a vineyard and winery in 2008, so that’s our other “hobby”.

Read more:

Preparing To Live With Wolves, By John Vucetich, January 16, 2012, The New York Times

Ecologist Ponders Fairness To Wildlife And The Thoughts Of Moose, By Rachel Duckett, December 21, 2021, Great Lakes Echo

What Wolves Tell Us about Our Relationship with Nature, by Marc Bekoff Ph.D., October 21, 2021, Psychology Today

Isle Royale Winter Study: Good Year for Wolves, Tough One for Moose, by Cyndi Perkins, August 24, 2022 Michigan Tech News

Engineering Students Place High in Computing[MTU] Showcase 2022

Trevor and Dominika stand next to their poster.
Trevor Petrin (left) and Dominika Bobik (right).

The Institute of Computing and Cybersystems (ICC) is pleased to announce the winners of the Computing[MTU] Showcase Poster Session of October 10. Congratulations and thanks to all the graduate and undergraduate students who presented their research posters!

Please visit the showcase’s Research Poster Session page to view the poster abstracts and photos from the event.

Undergraduate Winners

  • First Place: Dominika Bobik (ECE, Computer Engineering) — “An Educational Modeling Software Tool That Teaches Computational Thinking Skills”
  • Second Place: Niccolo Jeanetta-Wark (MEEM, Mechanical Engineering) — “Performance Measurement of Trajectory Tracking Controllers for Wheeled Mobile Robots”
  • Third Place: Kristoffer Larsen — “A machine learning-based method for cardiac resynchronization therapy decision support”

Graduate Winners

  • First Place: Shashank Pathrudkar (MEEM, Mechanical Engineering) — “Interpretable machine learning model for the deformation of multiwalled carbon nanotubes”
  • Second Place: Nicholas Hamilton — “Enhancing Visualization and Explainability of Computer Vision Models with Local Interpretable Model-Agnostic Explanations (LIME)”
  • Third Place (Tie): Zonghan Lyu (BME, Biomedical Engineering) — “Automated Image Segmentation for Computational Analysis of Patients with Abdominal Aortic Aneurysms”
  • Third Place (Tie): Tauseef Mamun — “When to be Aware of your Self-Driving Vehicle: Use of Social Media Posts to Understand Problems and Misconceptions about Tesla’s Full Self-Driving Mode”

Read more on the ICC Blog, by Karen Johnson.

Excellence in Student Publishing

Global map with readership numbers marked at various locations.

This week, October 17–21, 2022, the Graduate School and the Van Pelt and Opie Library celebrate International Open Access Week. The event is organized by the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC).

This year, we’re marking Open Access Week by recognizing the 10 years of master’s theses, doctoral dissertations and master’s reports (ETDRs) that are freely available to the world through Digital Commons @ Michigan Tech, the University’s institutional repository. This collection of works is comprehensive back to 2012, and some are nearly a decade older. With Digital Commons, we’re provided with usage statistics that show activity on the platform and across the web. Throughout the week, we’ll share stories and insights informed by these statistics that speak to how publishing Open Access has benefitted Michigan Tech students. In the meantime, take a moment to check out the collection of ETDRs on Digital Commons @ Michigan Tech.

One great feature of Digital Commons @ Michigan Tech is its shareable readership dashboard. This dashboard displays statistics related to how users are interacting with content on the repository. For example, users have downloaded Michigan Tech master’s theses, master’s reports and dissertations over 1.5 million times from 227 different countries.

Top Ten Visited Submissions

  1. 33,471 hits — “Determination of Bulk Density of Rock Core Using Standard Industry Methods
    Author: Kacy Mackenzey Crawford, Master of Science in Civil Engineering
  2. 18,930 hits — “Modeling, Simulation and Control of Hybrid Electric Vehicle Drive While Minimizing Energy Input Requirements Using Optimized Gear Ratios
    Author: Sanjai Massey, Master of Science in Electrical Engineering
  3. 18,484 hits — “Teaching the Gas Properties and Gas Laws: An Inquiry Unit with Alternative Assessment
    Author: Michael Hammar, Master of Science in Applied Science Education
  4. 17,781 hits — “Twelve Factors Influencing Sustainable Recycling of Municipal Solid Waste in Developing Countries
    Author: Alexis Manda Troschinetz, Master of Science in Environmental Engineering
  5. 14,281 hits — “Parameter Estimation for Transformer Modeling
    Author: Sung Don Cho, Doctor of Philosophy in Electrical Engineering
  6. 12,895 hits — “Aerothermodynamic Cycle Analysis of a Dual-Spool, Separate-Exhaust Turbofan Engine with an Interstage Turbine Burner
    Author: Ka Heng Liew, Doctor of Philosophy in Mechanical Engineering-Engineering Mechanics
  7. 12,597 hits — “Virus Purification, Detection and Removal
    Author: Khrupa Saagar Vijayaragavan, Doctor of Philosophy in Chemical Engineering
  8. 11,089 hits — “Measuring the Elastic Modulus of Polymers Using the Atomic Force Microscope
    Author: Daniel Hoffman, Master of Science in Materials Science and Engineering
  9. 11,050 hits — “Identity and Ritual: The American Consumption of True Crime
    Author: Rebecca Frost, Doctor of Philosophy in Rhetoric, Theory and Culture
  10. 10,561 hits — “Energy Harvesting from Body Motion Using Rotational Micro-Generation
    Author: Edwar. Romero-Ramirez, Doctor of Philosophy in Mechanical Engineering-Engineering Mechanics

To dig deeper into the collection, it consists of 2,611 dissertations, theses and reports with 76% of them available Open Access. The Open Access collection represents each college on campus:

  • College of Engineering: 58%
  • College of Sciences and Arts: 28%
  • College of Forest Resources and Environmental Science: 8%
  • College of Computing: 3%
  • College of Business: 1%
  • School of Technology: 1%

Citations for Student Engineering Works

Matthew Howard’s master’s thesis, “Multi-software modeling technique for field distribution propagation through an optical vertical interconnect assembly,” has been mentioned on Facebook 527 times. “Impact of E20 Fuel on High-Performance, Two-Stroke Engine,” a master’s report by Jon Gregory Loesche, was cited in a 2021 technical report by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, a national laboratory of the U.S. Department of Energy.

By the Graduate School and the Van Pelt and Opie Library.

Yixin Liu: Sensing Smells

Dogs can potentially detect human diseases—including cancer and diabetes—from smell alone. At Michigan Tech, Yixin Liu, an assistant professor Chemical Engineering, develops “electronic noses” that can rival even the best dog nose.

Yixin Liu shares her knowledge on Husky Bites, a free, interactive webinar this Monday, 10/17 at 6 pm. Learn something new in just 30 minutes or so, with time after for Q&A! Get the full scoop and register at mtu.edu/huskybites.

Prof. Yixin Liu

What are you doing for supper this Monday night 10/17 at 6 ET? Grab a bite with Yixin Liu, assistant professor of Chemical Engineering at Michigan Tech. Joining in will be Riley Smith, the first undergraduate student researcher to join Prof. Liu’s Smart Chemical and Biological Sensing Laboratory at Michigan Tech. Liu develops chemical sensors and biosensors, electronic noses/tongues and sensor data analytics.

During Husky Bites, Prof. Liu will share how she goes about developing an “electronic nose” using an array of gas sensors and a data-analyzing algorithm. The result is a device that can mimic our biological olfactory system, able to sense smells in various applications, such as gas pollutants and breath analysis for medical diagnosis.

The ideal electronic nose is capable of sensing far better than even the best human nose ( more like a dog nose). “Dogs have a superior sense of smell. With training, dogs can sniff out bombs and drugs, pursue suspects, search and rescue lives, and potentially detect human diseases—including cancer and diabetes—from smell alone,” Liu says.

Prof. Liu uses nanofibers (seen here on the nanoscale) as sensing material to create electrochemical sensors. Coupled with machine learning techniques, the device turns into a smart nose with a number of superpowers.

Liu joined the faculty of the Department of Chemical Engineering as an assistant professor in 2020. She earned her PhD in Chemical Engineering from the University of Connecticut and her bachelor’s degree in Polymer Material Science and Engineering from Zhejiang University in China. 

Riley Smith

“Riley was the first undergraduate student to join my lab at Michigan Tech,” says Liu. He reached out to me last year after my brief presentation to the Michigan Tech AIChE student group, indicating his interest in undergraduate research. 

“Riley is highly motivated and proactive,” adds Liu. “After training on the lab’s electrospinning machine for nanofiber fabrication, he took the initiative to come up with a detailed operation manual with pictures. Riley’s manual has helped many students in my lab to learn how to use the machine.”

“Once I heard Dr. Liu’s AIChE presentation, I reached out to learn more,” Smith adds. “I started working with Dr. Liu, and now I work along with many more students who have joined the team as the lab continues to grow.”

Liu’s interdisciplinary lab combines advanced nanostructured materials, device design, and data-driven approaches to develop high performance chemical and biological sensing technologies. Liu and her collaborators already have 4 US patents granted, with another six patent applications pending.

The Liu Research Group at dinner.

At Michigan Tech Liu and her research group work together to develop electrochemical sensors coupled with machine learning techniques. “The knowledge gained from our research leads us to other new low-cost biosensing devices and manufacturing processes,” says Liu. 

Control panel for the electrospinning machine in Dr. Liu’s Smart Chemical and Biological Sensing Lab.

Recently she was awarded an Engineering Research Initiation (ERI) grant from the National Science Foundation to develop a nanocomposite sensor for the simultaneous detection of glucose and cortisol.

“People with diabetes are 2-3 times more likely to have depression,” note Liu. “In addition, symptoms of depression and anxiety are often associated with elevated cortisol (the ‘stress hormone’) which can lead to the onset of type 2 diabetes. If we could monitor both glucose and cortisol levels in a cost-effective and effortless way, that could help manage both diabetes and stress—it could also prevent pre-diabetes from progressing to full-blown type 2 diabetes,” Liu says.

The needle that generates the nanofibers.

“One of my long-term research goals is to develop a low-cost, easy-to-manufacture and high-performance biosensing technology based on e-MIPS—electropolymerized Moleculary Imprinted Polymers. I think e-MIPS could become an important platform for detecting biomarkers in human biofluids,” she says. “This would allow for ‘decentralized diagnostics’—rapid medical testing that can take place outside a hospital setting. Testing could be done at a satellite lab, doctor’s office, or even at home.”

Developing a reliable sensor that can detect polluting gas in real time, at an early stage, even in aggressively high heat, is another one of Liu’s research projects.

“Monitoring and control of combustion-related gases, including oxygen, carbon monoxide and hydrocarbons, are a top priority in many industries,” she says. “To be effective, though, sensors must be operate at 800~1000 ◦C. Right now, very few sensors have been able to detect gases above 600 ◦C, even in a laboratory setting.”

Once achieved, though, Liu says real-time, high-heat monitoring could save energy and help reduce pollution emissions.

Some of Prof. Liu’s beautiful acrylic paintings!

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

My father is a mechanical engineer, and I have always watched him fix things and build new things at home since I was very young. I liked math, hands-on experiments, and exploring new technologies when I was in high school. It was quite natural for me to choose an engineering major when I went to university.

Hometown, family?

I grew up in Sichuan, China (hometown of spicy foods and the panda.) I was the only child of my parents (no siblings). My husband and I have a 4-year-old son.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

I have liked painting for years, and still do acrylic paintings in my spare time. I started to learn piano 5 years ago, and now I’m still learning, practicing, and having fun.

“Riley’s manual has helped many students in my lab to learn how to use the electrospinning machine,” says Prof. Liu.

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

I first got interested after having a conversation with my chemistry teacher in high school. I thought that engineering would be a fitting job—I knew I wanted to do something that required some type of problem-solving. After talking with a family friend who works in chemical engineering, my interest solidified. I finished my associate degree in science at a community college and started looking into four-year technological universities. 

Hometown, family?

I am from Kalamazoo, Michigan. My family consists of my mom, a younger brother who is in his junior year of high school, an older sister who is getting married in October, and my dad who works in consulting.   

What do you like to do in your spare time?

I like to spend a lot of time outdoors, whether hiking, kayaking, or hammocking. I have a small poodle mix who accompanies me on many of my outdoor ventures. I also like to work with my hands, on either woodworking projects or refinishing furniture.