Category: Students

These are posts that feed into the COE Student Stories page.

David Shonnard: Waste Plastics are Taking Over the World—the Solution is Circular

Chemical Engineering Professor David Shonnard, shown here at Gratiot River State Park, a remote beach in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

David Shonnard shares his knowledge on Husky Bites, a free, interactive webinar this Monday, November 9 at 6 pm ET. Learn something new in just 20 minutes, with time after for Q&A! Get the full scoop and register at mtu.edu/huskybites.

Chemical Engineering Professor David Shonnard founded Michigan Tech’s Sustainable Futures Institute.

What are you doing for supper this Monday night 11/9 at 6 ET? Grab a bite with Dean Janet Callahan and Chemical Engineering Professor David Shonnard, longtime director and founder of Michigan Tech’s Sustainable Futures Institute. Last week he won Michigan Tech’s 2020 Research Award.

During Husky Bites, Shonnard promises to shed some light and some hope on waste plastics—the role they play in our society and economy and their harm to the environment, especially the oceans and its biodiversity.

He’ll also take us on a walk down a remote Lake Superior beach to hunt for waste plastics, show us what he and his students found, where they found it, and what that means.

Felix Adom, one of Prof. Shonnard’s graduate students will join in, too. Dr. Adom grew up in Ghana, attending Kwame Nkrumah’ University of Science and Technology in Kumasi for his bachelor’s degree in chemistry. He earned his PhD in Chemical Engineering at Michigan Tech in 2012, and then worked as a post-doc researcher and energy analyst at Argonne National Lab. He then joined Shell as greenhouse gas intensity assessment technologist, and is now carbon strategy analyst at Shell.

Felix Adom earned his PhD in chemical engineering at Michigan Tech in 2012.

Shonnard founded and is fully devoted to Michigan Tech’s Sustainable Futures Institute, which brings together undergraduate students, graduate students, scientists and engineers from multiple disciplines in research and education projects. SFI members—more than 100 on campus—address technical, economic, and social issues related to the sustainable use of the Earth’s limited resources.

During his time at Michigan Tech, Adom was a member of SFI. On one project, he worked with a team of students in Shonnard’s hydrolysis lab to analyze a waste product of the wet mill corn ethanol industry—a thick, caramel-colored syrup. Ethanol production from corn creates an abundance of corn byproducts—seven pounds for every one gallon of ethanol according to some estimates. The syrup came by way of Working Bugs LLC, a green chemical manufacturer based in East Lansing, Michigan. Adom and the team identified the chemical make-up of the syrup and helped determine its value as a possible feedstock. They also discovered ways to convert the syrup, a waste stream, into a sugar- and amino acid-rich fermentation medium for other biofuels.

Today Adom is based in Richmond, Texas, not far from Houston. He is a carbon strategy analyst for Shell. “When I joined this team in 2016, it was a small group of 5 people. Today our team has 40 people and it is heavily funded.”

“Ever since Felix graduated, I have proudly watched from a distance the terrific trajectory of his career,” says Shonnard. He’s now helping a major oil company to develop their strategies to be more sustainable. I am really happy to see that.”

Some of the waste plastics collected at Gratiot River Beach.

The beach study, performed by chemical engineering undergraduates Mahlon Bare and Jacob Zuhlke, focused on identifying and quantifying macroplastic particles discovered on a beach along Lake Superior on the Keweenaw Peninsula in Michigan within Gratiot River County Park. The park receives little foot traffic and is located in a remote part of the Peninsula. Searching five 100-foot sites spaced 1000 feet apart, the team gathered any visible surface plastic. They also processed sand dug from one-ft. deep holes. Researchers took samples of recovered plastic pieces and analyzed their composition using a micropyrolysis process and gas chromatography/ mass spectrometry (GC/MS) system. No microplastics were discovered in the sand.

“Technology enables a circular flow of recycling. Right now, waste plastics are a cost, but they could be of value if we can convert them back into other, reusable forms. If they have value, then they’re less likely to get thrown out.”

David Shonnard, Chemical Engineering Professor and the Richard and Bonnie Robbins Chair in Sustainable Use of Materials at Michigan Technological University

Prof. Shonnard, how did you become focused on sustainability as a chemical engineer? 

“During my PhD at UC Davis, my advisor allowed me to take courses and conduct research outside of the traditional discipline of chemical engineering, so I could apply my skills to environmental problems. Once at Michigan Tech, our culture of collaboration across campus stimulated my research into areas of sustainable bioenergy and more recently into waste plastic recycling.”

What are the most important things all engineers should know about sustainability?

“Engineers, in my experience, often think a problem can be solved using the skills we possess. Unfortunately, this is not true when it comes to sustainability. Engineers need to collaborate outside their fields of expertise, with environmental scientists, economists, social scientists, and others to address these challenges.”

Characterizing the waste plastics in Dr. Shonnard’s lab at Michigan Tech.

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

As a young man searching for my career direction, among other things I restored old classic Porsche automobiles.  This sparked my interest in engineering and to gain a deeper understanding about how the parts of the vehicle worked.  My freshman year included chemistry, which I loved, and when combined with my interests in math I decided on chemical engineering, and have been super happy ever since.    

Hometown, Hobbies, Family? 

My wife, Gisela, is originally from Germany and before that Brazil, so international travel is in our DNA.  With Gisela and my two children (now grown and into their careers), we traveled a lot to Germany and Europe more broadly to visit relatives.  My only sabbatical was in Germany at a global chemical company headquartered in Ludwigshafen, Germany (can you guess the company?).  My sustainability research included collaborations in Central and S. America (Mexico, Brazil, Argentina). 


“It’s Working!” — Copper Country Intermediate School District and Michigan Tech Launch a New CTE Program in Mechatronics

Michigan Tech recently launched a year-long Career and Technical Education (CTE) program for high school juniors or seniors in the area of Mechatronics. The new CTE Mechatronics program is offered through a partnership between Michigan Tech and the Copper Country Intermediate School District (CCISD).

Mechatronics uses electromechanical systems, typically automated for the design of products and processes. Industry 4.0—sometimes called the “fourth industrial revolution”—applies various aspects of mechatronics to manufacturing enterprises. Topics in the CTE Mechatronics program include; automation, computer integrated manufacturing, high speed manufacturing, embedded systems design and controls, industrial robotics, pneumatics, hydraulics, and computer-aided design.

“Students in the program will find careers in smart manufacturing fields, or they can find a pathway at Michigan Tech into undergraduate or graduate degrees in Engineering Technology, Engineering, or Mechatronics.” says John Irwin, chair of the Department of Manufacturing and Mechanical Engineering Technology.

Teaming up to deliver the instruction are faculty in the Mechatronics, Electrical and Robotics Engineering Technology (MERET) program in the College of Computing, and faculty in the Manufacturing and Mechanical Engineering Technology (MMET) Department in the College of Engineering.

There are 10 students enrolled this fall 2020 from the local area school districts of Houghton, Hancock, Calumet, and L’Anse. CTE Director Shawn Kolbus expects the program to only increase in popularity. “Local business owners approached us last year wanting to get more students from the area interested in Mechatronics, CADD and Engineering,” he says. “The result was the Mechatronics program which encompasses standards from each area.”

George Ochieze

The course is taught by two mechatronics professionals who possess both industry and teaching experience. One of those instructors is George Ochieze, who is pursuing a master’s degree in Mechatronics and a PhD in Mechanical Engineering at Michigan Tech. “Even in difficult times during the pandemic, these young scholars show overwhelming potential to conquer the mechatronics field—a glimpse into a welcoming future in engineering,” says Ochieze.

Chinmay Kondekar

The second instructor, Chinmay Kondekar, will earn an MS in Electrical Engineering at Michigan Tech in 2021. “Teaching for local schools is an opportunity for me to give back to people in the community who welcomed me as an international student,” says Kondekar. “I hope to create a strong interest in robotics and automation in my students. People with these skills will be the future of manufacturing and will have plenty of opportunities.”

Program enrollment is closed for 2020, but will be available again starting in fall 2021. This spring there will be the opportunity for area sophomore and junior students to visit Michigan Tech to tour the labs and meet the instructors. Both the Applied Computing and MMET department labs used at Michigan Tech are equipped with state-of-the-art electronics and mechanical systems partially provided through generous startup funding from the CCISD.

For more information please contact Shawn Kolbus, Director, Career and Technical Education, Copper Country Intermediate School District (906) 250-5353.

Michigan Tech faculty administering the CTE program include Prof. John Irwin, Chair of the Department of Manufacturing and Mechanical Engineering Technology, or Prof. Alex Sergeyev in the College of Computing.


Graduate School Announces Fall 2020 Award Recipients

Auroral activity

The Graduate School announces the recipients of the Doctoral Finishing Fellowships, KCP Future Faculty/GEM Associate Fellowship, and CGS/ProQuest Distinguished Dissertation Nominees. Congratulations to all nominees and recipients.

The following are award recipients in engineering graduate programs:

CGS/ProQuest Distinguished Dissertation Nominees:

Doctoral Finishing Fellowship Award:

Profiles of current recipients can be found online.


Michigan Tech SWE Chapter Makes It Their Mission to Give Back

child looks in wonder as a play-doh circuit lights up a small led light
Who knew! Play Doh can be used to complete a circuit!

The Society of Women Engineers (SWE) at Michigan Tech make it their mission to give back to the community and to spark youth interest in STEM-related fields.

“We’re always looking for opportunities to grow and make new connections, both as an organization on campus and as a member of the community,” says Michigan Tech SWE section president and mechanical engineering major Katie Pioch. “We love getting kids excited about STEM.”

The team gathered for a photo in Fall 2019. This fall gatherings have been mostly virtual for the Michigan Tech section.

This past year, Michigan Tech SWE students helped high school students at Lake Linden-Hubbell Schools form the first-ever SWENext Club. They also mentored two eCYBERMISSION teams, sponsored by the U.S. Army Educational Outreach Program.

SWENext enables girls ages 13 and up to become a part of the SWE engineering community as a student through age 18. SWENexters have access to programming and resources designed to develop leadership skills and self-confidence to succeed in a career in engineering and technology.  Although the program focuses on girls, all students are encouraged to get involved. 

Students in the Michigan Tech SWE section worked closely with a team of 8th graders from Lake Linden Hubbell schools–Jenna Beaudoin, Chloe Daniels, Rebecca Lyons, and Olivia Shank–to develop three hands-on electrical engineering outreach activity kits for SWENext-age students and elementary students, too. The girls worked on the activity kits in conjunction with the eCYBERMISSION Competition sponsored by the US Army Educational Outreach Program, earning an Honorable Mention award for their efforts.

The activities: Play-Doh Circuits for upper elementary students, and Paper Circuits and Bouncy Bots for middle school students. 

Play-Doh and Paper Circuits teach how parallel and series circuits work. Bouncy Bots involves a simple series circuit where a coin vibration motor—the kind used in cell phones and video game controllers—is connected to two 1.5 V batteries and adhered to a 4 oz medicine cup. When the circuit is operational, the device “bounces” across a surface.

Together with Michigan Tech’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering SWE students shared the activity kits with more than 400 students: regional Upper Michigan and Northern Wisconsin Girl Scouts; 5th-grade students at Calumet-Laurium-Keweenaw (CLK) schools; 4th-grade students at Hancock Elementary; and 5th-grade students at Lake Linden-Hubbell Schools. 

SWE students mentored Lake Linden-Hubbell eCYBERMISSION 6th grade team, SCubed (Super Superior Scientists). The team recycled school lunch food waste as a food source for pigs, earning an Honorable Mention in the eCYBERMISSION competition.

The Michigan Tech SWE section prepared two grant proposals, one for the SWE-Detroit Professional Section and the other for the Michigan Space Grant Consortium (MSGC), working closely with Michigan Tech’s ECE department. Both proposals were funded, enabling the students to create more activity kits and take them out into the local community.

The funding also allowed for the purchase of soldering tools, electronics components, and other supplies that will now be used to introduce an entire pipeline of students to electrical engineering topics.

High school students create heart rate monitor circuit boards, and also help mentor middle school students through the process of completing holiday tree boards. From there, high school and middle school students will be shown the Bouncy Bot activity; they will lead that activity for their school district’s elementary students. 

“Both SWE and ECE are excited for this “trickle-down” mentoring program,” says Liz Fujita, academic advisor and outreach specialist for Michigan Tech’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. Due to the pandemic, SWE members cannot go to area schools. Fujita plans to resume school outreach once the pandemic ends.

Michigan Tech’s SWE Section developed a video describing their year-long outreach projects for SWE’s national FY20 WOW! Innovation Challenge. A portion of the video was created by high school junior Jenna Beaudoin, founding member of the Lake Linden-Hubbell Schools SWENext Club. For their exceptional outreach efforts, SWE awarded Michigan Tech second place in the challenge.

Gretchen Hein, senior lecturer in the Department of Manufacturing and Mechanical Engineering Technology is Michigan Tech’s SWE faculty advisor. “We really encourage our SWE section members to develop professionally and personally,” she says. Students work especially hard on their annual Evening with Industry event, which takes place each fall during Michigan Tech Career Fair.” The event, held just a few weeks ago, was virtual. Sponsors included Nucor, Marathon Oil, John Deere, Amway, Milwaukee Tool, Corteva and CWC Textron.

Gretchen Hein, MMET senior lecturer and Michigan Tech’s SWE section advisor

Hein and a group of ten Michigan Tech SWE section members traveled to the annual WE19 Conference in Anaheim, California, the world’s largest conference for women in engineering and technology. They attended professional development sessions, participated in the SWE Career Fair, and networked with other student sections and professional members. 

While there, Romana Carden, a major in engineering management, participated in the SWE Future Leaders (SWEFL) program. Carden also attended the day-long SWE Collegiate Leadership Institute (CLI) with Mackenzie Brunet, a fellow engineering management major. Both programs are led by female engineers working in industry and academia, to help college students gain leadership skills. Zoe Wahr, a civil engineering major, received a scholarship in recognition of her academic, university, and SWE accomplishments. And Hein was recognized at WE19 for her 20-plus years of service with the SWE Engaged Advocate Award, which honors individuals who have contributed to the advancement or acceptance of women in engineering.

“We have a strong and sustainable SWE chapter at Michigan Tech, and Dr. Hein’s work as the college of engineering chapter advisor has played a key role in this,” says Janet Callahan, Dean of the College of Engineering. “I am truly grateful to every person who has contributed to SWE—past, present and future.”

“In the coming year, SWE students plant to expand their outreach,” she adds. “We’d love to have more Michigan Tech students join the section and explore what SWE and the SWE members have to offer.” 

Next month, in early November, the section will participate in the WE20 Conference in New Orleans, virtually.

Interested in learning more about the SWE section at Michigan Tech? Join their email list at swe-l@mtu.edu, or follow the section on Facebook and Instagram, @michigantechswe.


Simplicity On the Other Side of Complexity: Todd Stone at Michigan Tech Thursday (Today)

Geologic Schematic of Arena Energy’s First Drill Well in the Gulf of Mexico.

Todd Stone, co-founder and managing director of geology at Arena Energy, will visit Michigan Tech today, Thursday, Sept. 17, 2020 to deliver the First-Year Engineering Lecture to Michigan Tech’s incoming engineering majors.

Todd Stone is an engineer, explorer, conservationist, and entrepreneur. He is a Michigan Tech alumnus (Geological Engineering ’85), and a distinguished member of Michigan Tech’s College of Engineering Advisory Board.

Stone is on campus today to deliver the annual First-Year Engineering Lecture, “Simplicity On the Other Side of Complexity,” on Thursday, September 17 at 6 pm. Registered attendees will be provided a zoom link to attend the lecture remotely. Please register for the Zoom session at mtu.edu/ef.

“At Michigan Tech you are going to learn how to learn; learn how to solve difficult technical problems logically. And that is going to change your world.” – Todd Stone ’85

“We have a tradition at Tech of having a first-year lecture that helps students see how their technological education can help make a difference in the world,” says Janet Callahan, Dean of the College of Engineering. “Usually the event is held at the Rozsa Center to a packed house, with every seat taken. We can’t do that this year, of course, due to the pandemic. Instead, Todd will present his lecture on Zoom, to an audience of 800-plus students. With Zoom, though, we have room for more, so please join us. Everyone is welcome.”

Stone’s lecture will outline how he learned to work smart in school and throughout his career. He plans to highlight something he feels is top priority: Learning how to learn.

When Stone arrived at Michigan Tech nearly 40 years ago, he says, “It was the best and most mature decision of my young life. At first it was not difficult for me to work hard. My folks raised me that way; it was difficult for me to work smart.”

Todd Stone majored in Geological Engineering at Michigan Tech.

More About Todd Stone

Since co-founding Arena Energy in 1999, Todd Stone has focused on opportunity generation and management of the company’s opportunity-generating staff and systems. Stone is also responsible for maintaining, managing and high-grading the company’s robust prospect inventory, and is part of a eight-person geological group that has drilled over 300 wells. Before co-founding Arena, he was a key member of Newfield Exploration’s offshore acquisition and development team. Stone began his career with Tenneco Oil Company and later served as a geological engineer at Amerada Hess Corporation. He earned his B.S. in geological engineering from Michigan Technological University in 1985.

Interested in joining the Michigan Tech First Year Engineering lecture via Zoom? It will take place Thursday, September 17, 2020 at 6 pm, followed by Q&A. Please register for the Zoom session at mtu.edu/ef.


Darian Reed: From Volunteer to New Career

Michigan Tech civil engineering student Darian Reed is Logistics Section Chief for Houghton and Keweenaw Counties, supplying PPE to hospitals, nursing homes and local organizations.

COVID-19 has changed the lives of so many. For one Michigan Tech civil engineering undergraduate student, COVID-19 shaped his life in a way never imagined. 

Originally from Monroe, Michigan, Darian Reed came to the UP to pursue a degree in civil engineering at Michigan Tech and a career in the construction industry. Feeling a strong connection to the local community, this year Reed began volunteering his time and talents near campus, with Superior Search and Rescue. His contributions gained the recognition of Chris VanArsdale, a civil engineering alumnus and current doctoral student, who serves as the emergency management coordinator for both Houghton and Keweenaw counties. 

Needing to staff emergency response activities for both counties, VanArsdale asked Reed to serve as Logistics Section Chief—and Reed jumped at the chance. In this new role he receives resource need requests from local organizations, including hospitals and nursing homes. He submits their resource requests to the State, who will approve or deny the requests for masks, thermometers and other essential resources in the fight against COVID-19. 

Day in, day out, Darian Reed says he feels highly motivated. “This work provides me with the fuel I need to keep going amid the uncertainty of this pandemic.”

Reed also handles regional donations, including the 3D printed face shields printed at Michigan Tech. “I get to be the Santa Claus of the area, distributing the resources to all the requesting organizations,” says Reed. “I am happy to share that the State of Michigan has been able to fulfill requests for many resources to date, with gowns and no-touch thermometers as some of the few exceptions. This is great news for our community.”

Reed is now on the last leg of a long (and sometimes slow) process of requesting supplies. A local health care provider or non-profit first requests resources from the emergency manager, the supplies they cannot find or obtain themselves. These requests are entered into the State of Michigan’s online portal called MICIMS (Michigan Critical Incident Management System). As resources become available, they are shipped to Marquette, which is the central receiving hub in the UP. From there, resources are sorted by county and shipped to a regional hub (Greenland in the case of five counties in the Western UP Health Department’s area of responsibility). The National Guard breaks down these shipments and transports them to each county. At that point, it becomes the county’s responsibility to distribute the requested resources. That’s where Reed comes in.

Best of all for Reed, the experience has illuminated an entirely new career path. Because of his experiences this summer, his career goals have changed—from construction to emergency management. He still plans to complete his degree in Civil Engineering.

“The civil engineering skills I learned from my classes at Tech and my co-op experience with Kiewit last fall served me well. Managing construction crews and working with a variety of government agencies both have helped me to develop an important skill set.”

Reed is already on his way, completing several FEMA emergency management courses in his spare time, and taking classes for his Professional Emergency Manager certification. “I’ve been doing the training real-time, by learning online and then implementing what I have learned almost immediately,” he says.

“Through this experience I value the connection I am making with my adopted home more than ever before,” he says. “I also value this opportunity for personal growth.” When asked how others could follow in his footprints, he suggests volunteering for any local community event or with your local first responders. “Volunteers are needed and the more you show up, the more you can do. Great opportunities will come your way!”


Graduate School Announces Summer 2020 Award Recipients

Michigan Tech in Summer

 The Graduate School announced the recipients of the Doctoral Finishing Fellowship, Portage Health Foundation Graduate Assistantship, Matwiyoff & Hogberg Endowed Graduate Fellowship, and the DeVlieg Foundation Research Award. The Portage Health Foundation and the Graduate School have provided support to help students complete their doctoral studies and to those in health-oriented research areas.

The following are award recipients in engineering graduate programs:

Doctoral Finishing Fellowship Award

Portage Health Foundation Graduate Assistantship

Matwiyoff & Hogberg Endowed Graduate Fellowship

Profiles of current recipients can be found online.


Sustainable Foam: Coming Soon to a Cushion Near You

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

Most polyurethane foam, found in cushions, couches, mattress, insulation, shoes, and more, is made from petroleum. Soon, with help from undergraduate researcher and chemical engineering major Lauren Spahn, it will also be environmentally-friendly, sustainable, and made from renewable biomass.

Spahn works in the Biofuels & Bio-based Products Laboratory at Michigan Technological University, where researchers put plants—and their lignin—to good use. The lab is directed by Dr. Rebecca Ong, an assistant professor of chemical engineering.

Q&A with Lauren Spahn

Q: Please tell us about the lab.

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

 

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

Q: What kind of research are you doing?

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

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

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

Q: How did you get started in undergraduate research?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q: What do you enjoy most about research?

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

Q: What are your career goals and plans?

A: I plan to go to graduate school for a PhD in chemical engineering, to work in R&D for industry. I am very passionate about research—I want to continue participating in research in my professional career.


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

Q: Why did you choose engineering as your major, and why chemical engineering?

A: I chose chemical engineering because the field is so large. Chemical engineers can work in industry in numerous areas. I liked the wide variety of work that I could enter into as a career. 

Michigan Tech translates research into the new technologies, products, and jobs that move our economy forward.

Did you know?

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



Brad King: Space, Satellites and Students

Pictured: the Auris signal trace, soon to be explained by Dr. Lyon (Brad) King on Husky Bites.

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

Oculus deployed! In June 2019 Michigan Tech alumnus and Air Force Research Laboratory Space Systems Engineer Jesse Olson, left, celebrates with Aerospace Enterprise advisor Brad King. King’s son Jack was also on hand for the momentous occasion of the launch.

Turning dreams into reality is a powerful motivator for Lyon (Brad) King. He’s the Richard and Elizabeth Henes Professor of Space Systems in the Department of Mechanical Engineering-Engineering Mechanics, and leader of Michigan Tech Aerospace—a collection of research, development, and educational labs dedicated to advancing spacecraft technology.

King specializes in spacecraft propulsion — and the launching of student careers. He mentors a large team of graduate students in his research lab, the Ion Space Propulsion Lab, where teams develop next-generation plasma thrusters for spacecraft. Off campus, at the MTEC SmartZone, King is cofounder and CEO of the fast-growing company, Orbion Space Technology.

As the founder and faculty advisor of Michigan Tech’s Aerospace Enterprise, King empowers undergraduate students to design, build, and fly spacecraft, too. One of the team’s student-built satellites (Oculus) is now in orbit; their second small satellite (Stratus) is due to launch in March 2021, and a third (Auris) now in process.

“The desire to explore space is what drives me. Very early in my studies I realized that the biggest impediment to space exploration is propulsion. Space is just so big it’s hard to get anywhere. So I dedicated my professional life to developing new space propulsion technologies.”

Professor Lyon (Brad) King, Michigan Tech

King has served as the Enterprise advisor ever since a couple of students came to him with the idea to form a team nearly two decades ago. “My current role now is more that of an outside evaluator,” he says. “The team has taken on a life of its own.”

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

Adds King: “Michigan Tech has a history and reputation for hands-on projects, particularly its Enterprise Program. Our students don’t just write papers and computer programs. They know how to turn wrenches and build things. That’s been deeply ingrained in the University culture for years.” 

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

“Dr. King provides excellent mentoring and high-level direction, but does not give students all the answers. It’s up to the students to figure it out. We work in small teams, which forces us to take on more responsibility. We’re thrown off the deep end. It’s hard, but worth it.”

Sam Baxendale, spoken as a former student. He’s now an engineer at Orbion Space Technologies
The Aerospace Enterprise team at Michigan Tech enjoys some well-deserved downtime at McLain State Park on Lake Superior.

The New Space Era

Commercialization is driving aerospace expansion in Michigan and across the nation. “We were ahead of it,” says King. “We certainly were feeding it and played a part in causing it. MTU’s products — which are our graduates — are out there, making this happen.” Aerospace Enterprise alumni are engineers, managers, technology officers and research scientists in a diverse array of aerospace-related industries and institutions, from the U.S. Army, U.S. Air Force and NASA to SpaceX, both startups and major manufacturers. King himself has hired several of his former students at Orbion Space Technology.

“The desire to explore space is what drives me,” says Lyon (Brad) King, Henes Professor of Space Systems at Michigan Technological University

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

A: I have always been interested in building things — long before I knew that was called “engineering.” I don’t recall when I became fascinated with space but it was at a very early age. I have embarrassing photos of me dressed as an astronaut for halloween and I may still even have an adult-sized astronaut costume somewhere in my closet — not saying. The desire to explore space is what drives me. Very early in my studies I realized that the biggest impediment to space exploration is propulsion. Space is just so big it’s hard to get anywhere. So I dedicated my professional life to developing new space propulsion technologies. There is other life in our solar system. That is a declarative statement. It’s time that we find it. The moons of Jupiter and Saturn hold great promise and I’m determined to see proof in my lifetime.

Q: Can you tell us more about your growing up? Any hobbies?

A: I was born and raised just north of Houghton (yes, there actually is some habitable environment north of Houghton). I received my BS, MS, and PhD from the University of Michigan. I spent time traveling around the country working at NASA in Houston, NIST in Boulder, and realized that all of my personal hobbies and proclivities were centered around the geography and climate of northern Michigan. I returned in 2000 and began my career as a professor at MTU. I enjoy fishing, boating, hockey, and spent more than 15 years running my dogsled team all over the Keweenaw Peninsula.


Michigan Tech’s Three Student-Built Satellites

OCULUS-ASR, a microsatellite now in orbit, provides new info to the Air Force. “It is the first satellite mission dedicated to helping telescope observatories understand what they are imaging using a cooperative target. “It’s a very capable little vehicle. There’s a lot packed into it.”

Aerospace Enterprise rendering of Stratus, a miniaturized satellite developed by the team. It will be launched from the International Space Station in March 2021.

Not hard to see how CubeSats get their name. Stratus is a 3U spacecraft, which means it’s composed of three units. This photo was taken in fall 2019.

STRATUS, a miniaturized satellite, will image atmospheric clouds to reconcile climate models. It’s funded by NASA’s Undergraduate Student Instrument Program and the CubeSat Launch Initiative. STRATUS will be carried to the International Space Station inside the SpaceX Dragon cargo capsule by a Falcon 9 rocket. The Dragon will dock to the ISS where STRATUS will be unloaded by the crew. STRATUS will then be placed in the Kibo Module’s airlock, where the Japanese Experiment Module Remote Manipulator System robotic arm will move the satellite into the correct position and deploy it into space. All this on March 21. Stay tuned!

Aerospace Enterprise rendering of its newest microsatellite, Auris, now in the works.

AURIS, a microsatellite, is designed to monitor and attribute telecommunications signals in a congested space environment. Funding comes from the Air Force Research Lab (AFRL)’s University Nanosatellite Program.

Huskies in Space

Michigan Tech’s Aerospace Enterprise team designed their own logo.

Learn more about the team and its missions on Instagram and Facebook.

Find out how to join.

Read more about Aerospace Enterprise in Michigan Tech News:

And Then There Were Two: MTU’s Next Student Satellite Set to Launch in 2021

Enterprise at MTU Launches Spacecraft—and Careers

Countdown. Ignition. Liftoff. Huskies in Space!

Mission(s) AccomplishedMichigan Tech’s Pipeline to Space

Winning Satellite to be Launched into Orbit


Husky Bites: Join Us for Supper This Summer (Mondays at 6)!

A real Husky Dog sitting at a table covered with a white tablecloth, with a plate and bowl full of dog biscuits in front of it The dog is wearing a red and black checked flannel shirt, and wearing black horn-rimmed glasses

Craving some brain food? Join Dean Janet Callahan and a special guest each Monday at 6 p.m. EST for a new, 20-minute interactive Zoom webinar from the College of Engineering at Michigan Technological University, followed by Q&A. Grab some supper, or just flop down on your couch. This family friendly event is BYOC (Bring Your Own Curiosity). All are welcome. Get the full scoop and register⁠—it’s free⁠—at mtu.edu/huskybites.

The special guests: A dozen engineering faculty have each volunteered to present a mini lecture for Husky Bites. They’ll weave in a bit of their own personal journey to engineering, too.

“We created Husky Bites for anyone who likes to learn, across the universe,” says Callahan. “We’re aiming to make it very interactive, with a “quiz” (in Zoom that’s a multiple choice poll), about every five minutes. “Everyone is welcome, and bound to learn something new. We are hoping entire families will enjoy it,” she adds. “We have prizes, too, for near perfect attendance!”

Topics include: Space, Satellites, and Students; Shipwrecks and Underwater Robots; A Quieter Future (Acoustics); Geospatial Wizardry; Color-Changing Potions and Magical Microbes; Scrubbing Water, There’s Materials Science and Engineering, in my Golf Bag, Biomedical Engineering the Future, How Do Machines Learn, Robotics, Math in Motion, and more. Get the full scoop and register (it’s free) at mtu.edu/huskybites

The series kicks off on Monday, May 11 with a session from GMES professor and chair John Gierke, a self-professed “Yooper graduate of the school of hard rocks.”

In his Husky Bites session, “How the Rocks Connect Us,” Gierke will talk about how the geology of the Keweenaw is more exposed and accessible. “The experience of spending time in the Copper Country is enhanced if you understand more about the forces of nature that formed this beautiful place,” he says. “The processes that led to the geological formations that lie beneath us and shaped our landscapes are what dictated many of the natural resources that are found where each of us live.” Gierke was born in the EUP (the Soo, aka Sault Sainte Marie) and graduated from Michigan Tech. He will provide practical explanations for why the mines are oriented as they are, where water is more prevalent—and the geological features that lead to waterfalls. You can read all about it here.

Other guests on Husky Bites include engineering faculty L. Brad King, Gordon Parker, Rebecca Ong, Guy Meadows, Andrew Barnard, Tony Pinar, Daisuke Minakata, Jeremy Bos, Joe Foster, Smitha Rao, and Steve Kampe.

Want to see the full schedule? Just go to mtu.edu/huskybites. You can register from there, too.