Category: Seminars

Students, Faculty and Staff: Sign Up for LEED Green Associate Training at Michigan Tech

Better buildings equal better lives. This is Discover Elementary in Arlington, Virginia. LEED Zero Energy. Photo by Alan Karchmer

LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) is the most widely used green building rating system in the world. Available for virtually all building types, LEED provides a framework to design, construct and operate healthy, highly efficient, cost-saving, green buildings.

Michigan Tech’s Joe Azzarello is one of the founders of the US Green Building Council and has led LEED training workshops throughout the United States, Mexico, South America, China, Thailand, Hong Kong, Singapore and Vietnam. Photo courtesy of Kohler Co.

Are you a student, faculty member or staff at Michigan Tech? If so, you are invited to prepare for, and when ready, take the LEED Green Associate exam. The prep will take place during two sessions, at a low cost, right here at Michigan Tech, with expert training from an original founding member of the US Green Building Council—Michigan Tech alumnus Joe Azzarello.

The LEED exam prep training at MTU will take place over two days. Azzarello will teach on campus in two 5-hour sessions, from 12-5 pm on both Sunday, March 20 and Sunday, March 27. The room is ChemSci 211. Those who cannot attend in person can attend via Zoom. LEED exam training costs $80.00, which includes notes and printed materials. Attendees are expected to purchase their text book, which varies in cost from $73.00 to $115.00, depending on e-book or vendor.

“Attendees will be well trained in what to study for the exam to become accredited as a LEED Green Associate,” notes Azzarello. “Then they must register, take, and pass the LEED GA exam from the USGBC at a later date in order to receive accreditation. The complete costs for LEED Green Associate accreditation varies. The USGBC website provides information on the Steps to Become a LEED Green Associate.

There is no need for a college degree. “Literally anyone can take the course if they can read, memorize some information, and add and subtract,” says Azzarello.

The USGBC LEED Green Associate exam measures general knowledge of green building practices and how to support others working on LEED projects. “The exam is ideal for those new to green building. It’s an accreditation that can enhance your current endeavors, and also open doors to new career opportunities,” Azzarello explains. “LEED accreditation is a globally recognized symbol of sustainability achievement and leadership.”

Depending on interest, Azzarello may offer more LEED training to Michigan Tech students, faculty and staff. Next up would be the LEED Accredited Professional Exam for individuals who actively work on green building and LEED projects.

Azzarello is a LEED AP® and a registered and active USGBC® Faculty™. He is licensed to instruct multiple USGBC workshops and has led workshops throughout the United States, Mexico, South America, China, Thailand, Hong Kong, Singapore and Vietnam. He truly enjoys instructing and sharing his 20-plus years of USGBC and LEED experience while bringing new professionals into the green building movement.

Azzarello earned his BS in Mechanical Engineering from Michigan Tech 1978 and an MS in Environmental Engineering in 1996 from Wayne State University. He is an adjunct instructor in the Department of Chemical Engineering, and also serves as advisor to Michigan Tech’s Alternative Energy Enterprise team. 

“I am at the stage of my life now where it is time to give back to Michigan Tech and the community and am in the position to do so,” says Azzarello. “Without a degree from MTU I am not sure how my life would have turned out. I feel very fortunate to be able to give back.”

Prior to joining Michigan Tech, Azarello retired from Kohler Co. as a senior staff engineer focused on sustainability, directing the company’s green building efforts and serving as a global consultant to customers developing green building projects. With decades spent in the environmental field, Azzarello’s resume touts myriad experiences with recycling, energy efficiency, sustainability, co-generation, marketing, sustainable product design and green building design, and construction programs for several Fortune 500 companies, along with multiple smaller organizations as a sustainability consultant. He also served as Yellowstone National Park’s green building consultant. 

Azzarello has been a part of the green building movement since its beginning. He served on the USGBC’s first Board of Directors as Vice Chairman, actively involved as a Board member during its formative years. He helped pave the way for LEED by participating in the Beta testing of the newly developed green building guidelines that became known as LEED v1.0. Read Joe Azzarello’s full bio.

Read more:

Feathered Friend Helps Launch Green Career: Kohler’s Resident Green Building Guru Started on a Very Different Career Path

Autonomy at the End of the Earth

Michigan Tech’s student team, Prometheus Borealis, designs, builds, and tests a fully autonomous vehicle, “Borealis Prime” for the SAE Autodrive Challenge.

Jeremy Bos and Darrell Robinette, mentors and advisors of Michigan Tech’s SAE Autodrive Challenge (and both Michigan Tech alums) share their knowledge on Husky Bites Live, on campus in the Rozsa Center at Alumni Reunion 2021. The session takes place Friday, August 6 at 1:30 pm ET. Everyone in attendance will learn something new, with time after for Q&A. 

Can’t make it in person? Join us remotely. We’ll share a link to join the Zoom webinar on the Alumni Reunion website as the event draws near. Afterwards (weather permitting) you’re invited to join us out on the Walker Lawn. Meet the students of Prometheus Borealis and Robotics Systems Enterprise, get a close look at their autonomous vehicles—and be sure to bring your questions.

It’s a wild ride.

Starting with a Chevy Bolt, Michigan Tech students outfit it with sensors, control systems and computer processors to successfully navigate an urban driving course in automated driving mode. And, test it in blizzard conditions!

It’s also an ambitious project with an equally ambitious goal: Three years of the competition, with increasing levels of autonomy and more difficult challenges in each successive year. 

Michigan Tech’s team is Prometheus Borealis, after Prometheus, the Greek deity responsible for bringing technology to people, and Boreas, the purple-winged god of the north wind.The SAE Autodrive Challenge competition is jointly sponsored by General Motors (GM) and the Society of Automotive Engineers International (SAE).

Credit: Photographer Tim Cocciolone and fellow prankster John Marchesi (both Michigan Tech alums).

“The competition focuses on the electrical engineering, computer engineering, robotics engineering, and computer science skills needed to implement the sensors, signal processing and artificial intelligence needed to make the car drive itself,” says team co-advisor, ECE Assistant Professor Jeremy Bos. “Mechanical engineers and a wide range of other disciplines are represented on the teams, as well.”

ME-EM Assistant Professor Darrell Robinette is the team’s other co-advisor. Robinette worked as an engineer at GM for 9 years before joining Michigan Tech in 2014, with roles in transmission, NVH, electrification and calibration engineering groups. He is a longtime First Robotics Competition mentor, too.

Bos earned his BS at Michigan Tech in 2000, and returned to earn his PhD in 2012, both in Electrical Engineering. Robinette earned a BS in 2004 and a PhD in 2007, both in Mechanical Engineering.

A section of the mapping of Michigan Tech’s campus as seen from the road by Borealis Prime’s Velodyne LiDAR VLP-16 using Intel Internet of Things HW. Mapping done with Iterative Closest Point (ICP).

Student-driven Autonomy

On the student side, the AutoDrive Challenge project is spearheaded by Robotic Systems Enterprise (RSE), also advised by Bos and Robinette. RSE is part of Michigan Tech’s award-winning Enterprise program. “It’s one of the best places on campus to learn robotics,” says Bos. The team’s many projects come in many shapes and sizes, from designing a vision system for work with a robotic arm, to an automatic power management system for weather buoys. Clients include Ford Motor Company and Michigan Tech’s Great Lakes Research Center.

SAE Autodrive Challenge Final Results

Jonathon Beute ’21 served as project lead for the VISSION subteam focused on Borealis Prime as part of the Robotic Systems Enterprise. He graduated in June and now works as an electrical engineer at Williams International in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

The four-year challenge wrapped up on June 14 with Michigan Tech’s Prometheus Borealis team earning 3rd place overall, bringing home the second most trophies. Teams from University of Toronto and University of Waterloo earned first and second overall. Read the full results on the SAE Autodrive Challenge website.

Teams from eight North American universities competed:  Michigan Technological University, Michigan State University, Kettering University, University of Waterloo, University of Toronto, Texas A&M University, Virginia Tech, North Carolina A&T State University

“We’re going to need a bigger trophy case.”

Dr. Jeremy Bos, Michigan Tech co-advisor, Prometheus Borealis

Next Up: Autodrive Challenge II

Also in June, SAE International and General Motors (GM) announced 10 collegiate teams selected to compete in AutoDrive Challenge II. Michigan Tech was on the list. 

The start of Michigan Tech’s dynamic run at M-City for the 99% Buy Off Ride, part of the SAE International Autodrive Challenge. The team placed third in this event and third overall. See the full results here.

The competition continues the strong collaboration between GM and SAE in STEM education and will build on the groundbreaking success of the first iteration of AutoDrive Challenge. Teams will develop and demonstrate an autonomous vehicle (AV) that can navigate urban driving courses as described by SAE J3016™ Standard Level 4 automation.

The following 10 university teams will participate in AutoDrive Challenge II:

Kettering University, Michigan Technological University, North Carolina A&T State University, The Ohio State University, Penn State University, Texas A&M University

University of Toronto, University of Wisconsin – Madison, Queens University and Virginia Tech.

“At General Motors, we envision a future of zero crashes, zero emissions and zero congestion, and we have committed ourselves to leading the way toward this future,” said Dan Nicholson, GM vice president, global electrification, controls, software and electronics and executive sponsor of the competition. 

“The AutoDrive Challenge is a great way to give students the hands-on experience they need to find success,” he adds. “We are very excited to work with these talented students over the course of the competition and know they will make an immediate impact on the automotive industry upon graduation.”

“Michigan Tech’s SAE AutoDrive Challenge team has proven our students innovate to succeed.”

– Dr. Janet Callahan, Dean, College of Engineering

Dr. Robinette, how did you first get started in engineering? What sparked your interest? 

Sage advice from ME-EM Assistant Professor Darrell Robinette: “Be a doer and a thinker at the same time.”

When I was 5, my dad took me for a tour at his place of work, Detroit Edison’s Belle River Powerplant. It was awe inspiring seeing all the equipment and getting an explanation of how it worked and what it did. Pretty amazing that they hang the boilers from the ceiling, eh? Everything at the plant was just so cool, especially the controls and control room. 

My dad introduced me to all the engineers he worked with, and all of them were MTU grads. They played a part in encouraging me where to go for engineering, even though I was only 5 years old. My dad gave me a Babcock & Wilcox Steam book after the visit. Even though I didn’t understand all the engineering in it at the time, pictures of the power plant equipment, construction, assemblies all caught my interest. 

Also, like most engineers, l played with Legos during childhood. Lots and lots of Legos to build whatever my imagination could create.

Family, home, hobbies?

I go mountain biking whenever I can, also wake surfing, snowboarding, and cross country skiing. My wife, Tara, is an MTU alumna (Pre-Med/Biology ‘07). She is one of the Emergency Room physicians at Portage Health Hospital. We have two daughters: Adelyn, 3, and Amelia, one. I like building, tinkering and fixing (typical mechanical engineer stuff), and trying to be a super dad for my girls.

Dr. Bos, how about you? When did you first get into engineering? What sparked your interest?

ECE Assistant Professor Jeremy Bos likes to ask new students: “What are your affinities? Knowing those, I can help point you in the right direction.”

My Dad ran a turn-key industrial automation and robotics business throughout most of my childhood. In fact, I got my first job at age 12 when I was sequestered at home with strep throat. I felt fine, but couldn’t go to school. My Dad put me to work writing programs for what I know now are Programmable Logic Controllers (PLCs); the ‘brains’ of most industrial automation systems.

I really liked these new things called ‘personal computers’ and spent quite a bit of time programming them. By the time I was in high school I was teaching classes at the local library on computer building, repair, and this other new thing called ‘The Internet’. I ended up in engineering because I like to build things (even if only on a computer) and I like to solve problems (generally with computers and math).

What do you like to do in your spare time?

I live in Houghton with my wife and fellow alumna, Jessica (STC ’00). We have a boisterous dog, Rigel, named after a star in the constellation Orion, who bikes or skis with me on the Tech trails nearly every day. When I have time I also like to kayak, and stargaze.

Learn More About Husky Bites

Everyone’s welcome at Dean Janet Callahan’s free interactive Zoom webinar, Husky Bites. Get the full scoop at mtu.edu/huskybites.
“Feel free to invite a friend,” says Dean Janet Callahan about her Zoom webinar series, Husky Bites. “Everyone is welcome. It’s free, and it’s edifying.”

Launched by Dean Janet Callahan in 2020 near the start of the pandemic, Husky Bites is an interactive Zoom webinar that takes place each fall and spring.

During the semester, every Monday at 6, rach “bite” is a suppertime mini-lecture, presented by a different Michigan Tech faculty member, who weaves in a bit of their own personal journey, and brings a co-host, as well—an alum or a current student who knows a thing or two about the topic at hand.

The Husky Bites weekly Zoom webinar series resumes starting Monday, Sept. 13.

“We’ve had attendees from nine countries, and a great mix of students, alumni, our Michigan Tech community and friends,” says Dean Callahan, who mails out prizes for (near) perfect attendance.

Get the full scoop at mtu.edu/huskybites.

Read more:

What’s Next After First

I Saw the Sign (End of the Earth)

Register by April 9 to Attend Virtual Design Expo 2021 at Michigan Tech

Discovering Solutions Through Inspired Design is the theme of Design Expo at Michigan Tech on April 15, 2021. This year, due the pandemic, it’s will be a virtual showcase. Register in advance, by Friday, April 9, at mtu.edu/expo.

Join in as we celebrate our students at Michigan Tech’s Virtual Design Expo. This year, Design Expo will be a fully-virtual event. We wish everyone good health as we navigate safely through the global pandemic.

Please register in advance by Friday, April 9, at at mtu.edu/expo. Everyone’s welcome! Register for all or parts of the big day, which is Thursday, April 15, 2021.

Students will be ready to share their projects on a virtual event platform, Gatherly, where you can meet the teams, view projects, and ask questions in real time.

Hosted by the Pavlis Honors College and the College of Engineering as an annual event, Design Expo highlights hands-on, discovery-based learning at Michigan Tech. More than 1000 student teams showcase their work and compete for awards.

SCHEDULE OF EVENTS FOR THURSDAY, APRIL 15

11:00 a.m.: Opening Remarks via live Zoom webinar
11:30 a.m.: Virtual event opens on the virtual event platform, Gatherly. Meet the teams, view projects, and ask questions in real time.
1:30 p.m.: Gatherly virtual event and Remote Judging closes
3:00 p.m.: Presentation of Awards via live Zoom webinar
3:30 p.m.: 2021 Design Expo concludes

Pengfei Xue: Severe to Extreme: Modeling Climate Change and Coastal Hazards on the Great Lakes

Great Lakes meteotsunami: These photos of the Ludington North Breakwater on Lake Michigan were taken just 10 minutes apart on Friday, April 13, 2018. Photo by Todd and Brad Reed Photography, featured on MLive.com.

Pengfei Xue shares his knowledge on Husky Bites, a free, interactive webinar this Monday, November 30 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.

What are you doing for supper this Monday night 11/30 at 6 ET? Grab a bite with Dean Janet Callahan and Civil and Environmental Associate Professor Pengfei Xue, Director of the Numerical Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Lab at Michigan Tech’s Great Lakes Research Center.

Associate Professor Pengfei Xue on campus at Michigan Tech

Catch a glimpse of the future during his session, “Severe to Extreme: Modeling Climate Change and Coastal Hazards on the Great Lakes.”

The Great Lakes are more like inland seas. From the cold depths of Lake Superior fisheries to the shallow algae blooms of Lake Erie, the bodies of water differ greatly from one another. Yet they are all part of one climate system. Together they contain one-fifth of the world’s surface freshwater.

Xue uses mathematical modeling to analyze and predict the short-term and long-term responses of that system to climate stressors. During Husky Bites, he’ll introduce the regional earth-system model he uses to understand and predict how the Great Lakes system responds to weather extremes and coastal hazards. 

Joining in as co-host for Husky Bites is Guy Meadows, who collaborates with Prof. Xue on the work.

We’ll get to see three modeled visualizations of the same storm passing by on Lake Superior. In each scenario, they’ll show and explain what could happen along the coast.

“The Great Lakes exert a strong influence on the physical, ecological, economic, and cultural environment in the region, across the nation, and internationally,” says Xue. “Human activities expose the system to multiple stressors. Climate change creates new risks and exacerbates existing vulnerabilities,” he adds.

Play Cuyahoga River Plume video
Preview image for Cuyahoga River Plume video

Cuyahoga River Plume

“This is a simulation of a numerical tracer released from the Cuyahoga River near Cleveland, Ohio. It shows how a river plume goes into Lake Erie and mixes with the lake water,” says Dr. Pengfei Xue.


“In my lab, we analyze and predict short-term events. We also project the long-term influence of climate change on the Great Lakes ecosystem. Our goal is to help inform decision-making and management. One of the important concepts in climate change, in addition to knowing the warming trend, is understanding that extreme events become more severe,” Xue says. “That is both a challenge and an important focus in regional climate modeling.”
It takes a supercomputer to run the calculations. Xue uses Superior, the supercomputer housed in the Great Lakes Research Center, to build high-fidelity models and detailed simulations for a region where more than 30 million people rely on the Great Lakes for water and other resources. 

“I do the science part, but I also want to apply my findings.”

Pengfei Xue

With his next generation numerical predictive models for the Great Lakes, Xue seeks answers to many “what-if” questions. “How will projected future climate change impact water levels, wave energy, sediment transport and shoreline damage?”

He also looks at short-term, episodic events like algal blooms and weather patterns.

His current research focuses on an Integrated Regional Earth System Model (IRESM, for short) for the Great Lakes region. The model consists of coupled atmosphere, lake, ice, wave, sediment, land surface, and biological components, and includes data assimilation and machine learning techniques. 

The bottom line: Xue seeks to better understand the processes in the Great Lakes and their impact on people.

Guy Meadows is Robbins Professor of Sustainable Marine Engineering in the Department of Mechanical Engineering-Engineering Mechanics at Michigan Tech. He joined Michigan Tech in June of 2012, to help establish the new GLRC. “This is a unique, amazing place. The future of Great Lakes research is based right here.”

“We are extremely fortunate to have Professor Xue at Michigan Tech and the Great Lakes Research Center,” says Professor Guy Meadows. “He has built very strong bridges both within the University and with our government research partners. Thanks to these partnerships, we have modeling of the Great Lakes running on Superior at a resolution not previously thought possible.

Meadows joined Michigan Tech in June of 2012, to help establish the new GLRC. “This is a unique, amazing place. The future of Great Lakes research is based right here.”

A bit more about Pengfei Xue

Prof. Xue’s modeling research experiences in other regions include Massachusetts Coastal Waters, Gulf of Maine, East China Sea, the Maritime Continent in Southeast Asia, and the Persian Gulf.

Prof. Xue recently joined Argonne National Lab as a joint appointee Scientist in the Environmental Science Division. His joint appointment will expand the already deep capabilities of both institutions. Michigan Tech’s GLRC Director Andrew Barnard agrees. “Dr. Xue’s collaborative work with Argonne will result in cutting-edge science and engineering solutions in predictive hydrodynamics.”

Prof. Xue, when did you first get into engineering? What sparked your interest?

I liked math when I was a little kid. I was very much influenced by my father. He was a high-school physics teacher and would often pose math- or physics-related questions to challenge me for fun.  Later when I was in college, I majored in mathematics and became very interested in how to apply math to helping answer some real-life questions. That’s how I got interested in numerical modeling and ended up what I am working on now.

Pengfei Xue arrived at Michigan Tech from MIT in 2013. Note the bare walls. He skipped the ritual of decorating his new office at first, preferring instead to immerse himself in the Great Lakes.

Hometown, Hobbies, Family? 

After finishing my doctoral study at UMASS-Dartmouth and post-doctoral work at MIT, I moved to Tech seven years ago. I live with my wife and two cute kids in Houghton. We enjoy spending time reading and playing together. You may see me up at Michigan Tech’s Student Development Complex working out or swimming, or out on the trails skiing—to relax and take my mind off work.

Read more:

Environmental Science Division of Argonne National Lab Welcomes Pengfei Xue

Weather the Storm: Improving Great Lakes Modeling

Guy Meadows: Shipwrecks and Underwater Robots

Where Modeling Meets Observations: Improving the Great Lakes Operational Forecast System

Video:

Play Building a Better Great Lakes Forecasting System video
Preview image for Building a Better Great Lakes Forecasting System video

Building a Better Great Lakes Forecasting System

Orhan Soykan: How to Become a Prolific Inventor

Orhan Soykan shares his knowledge on Husky Bites, a free, interactive webinar this Monday, October 5 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.

Join Dean Janet Callahan for supper along with Orhan Soykan, a prolific inventor and professor of practice in biomedical engineering at Michigan Tech with more than 100 patents to his name. Joining in will be one of Dr. Soykan’s former students, Tim Kolesar, MD, who earned his biomedical engineering degree at Michigan Tech in 2019 after first completing med school. He’s now a Development Quality Engineer at Abbott.

Who can be an inventor? “Anyone,” says Orhan Soykan. And he should know. Soykan has 37 issued U.S. patents and 66 pending U.S. patents. 

Soykan specializes in implantable devices, biosensors, and molecular medicine. He is the co-founder of two start-ups and has been a consultant to more than 20 firms.

Prolific inventor, scholar, alumnus, electrical engineer, and Professor of Practice, Dr. Orhan Soykan ’86 helped establish Michigan Tech’s Department of Biomedical Engineering.

He has long been associated with Michigan Tech, first as a master’s student in electrical engineering (he graduated in 1986), then as an adjunct faculty member in the Department of Electrical Engineering. Then, seven years ago, after working 20 years at biomedical device powerhouse Medtronic and several more at startup YouGene, Soykan rejoined the University in a more formal way, as a professor of practice in Michigan Tech’s Department of Biomedical Engineering.

He teaches a biomedical instrumentation lab and courses on medical devices, medical imaging, and numerical physics. He also mentors senior design teams of undergraduate students who work on projects for industry clients, the final big design project of their senior year.

Michigan Tech BME alum, Tim Kolesar ‘19 was one of his students. “Dr. Soykan was my senior design team advisor,” says Kolesar. “Our team (three biomedical engineers and one electrical engineer) all worked together on a project for Stryker, investigating the thermal side effects of a surgical device used in brain surgery.”

Soykan commutes between homes and jobs in Houghton and Minneapolis in a single engine plane. He maintains a research lab in each home, too.
Michigan Tech biomedical engineering alumnus Tim Kolesar, MD.

Before coming to Michigan Tech, Kolesar earned a BS in Human Biology from Michigan State University, and then a Doctorate of Medicine from the American University of Antigua College of Medicine, in the Carribean. He also volunteered as a medical practitioner for the Himalyan Health Exchange, providing health care for underserved populations within remote regions along the Indo-Tibetan borderlands.

After graduating from Michigan Tech, Kolesar landed his dream job at Abbott, a multinational medical devices and health care company with headquarters in Abbott Park, Illinois, He works on cardiovascular devices for Abbott, including aortic and mitral heart valve replacements. At the moment he’s lead engineer on two projects, involved in device submission to the FDA in the US, and the EMA (European Medicines Agency) in the European Union.

Kolesar underscores the importance of time spent in the lab. During his time at Tech, he worked as an undergraduate researcher in the labs of biomedical engineering professors Dr. Rupak Rajachar and Dr. Jeremy Goldman, working on tissue engineering for injury repair in joints, and bioabsorbable stents for the heart. “These two opportunities played a large role in confirming my decision to pursue a career in biomedical engineering,” he says. “I believe the lab experience I gained at Michigan Tech played a pivotal role in securing my current role at Abbott.”

How do inventors get their ideas?

“I believe necessity is the mother of all invention. You must truly understand the problem and the boundaries the solution will have,” says Soykan. “After that, it is absolutely necessary to study scientific and engineering principles relevant to the problemAmong all his inventions, Dr. Soykan says he is most proud of those at the intersection of engineering and biology. His favorite: A method of isolating a small portion of a patient’s own heart muscle and converting it into a sensor to monitor levels of an antiarrhythmic heart medication.they will eventually become the tools for the development of the solution. And finally, you must look at work done by others, by reviewing technical literature and patent publications,” he adds.

“Now you are ready to tackle the problem by thinking as creatively as you can. This can be anywhere—outside when running or skiing, driving in traffic—make a list of the solutions you think of and discuss them with your colleagues and experts in the field. Finally, the ones that seem to pass the test, try them in the lab.”

Dr. Soykan, when did you first get into engineering? What sparked your interest?

I grew up in Ankara, the capital city of Turkey. I became interested in science and technology through my high school physics teacher. Eventually I began to build some electronic circuits as a hobbyist, which eventually turned into a profession.  I cannot forget about the contributions of Mr. Spock from the original Star Trek series. (And yes, I am old enough to remember watching the original episodes each week on TV as a young boy!

What is your favorite out of all your inventions?

Among all my inventions, I am most proud of a method of isolating a small portion of a patient’s own heart muscle and converting it into a sensor to monitor levels of an antiarrhythmic heart medication.

Dr. Orhan Soykan makes the commute between Houghton and Minneapolis at least twice a week.

Hometown, hobbies?

I earned my BS from Middle East Technical University, my MS from Michigan Tech and my PhD from Case Western Reserve University, all in electrical engineering. I worked for NASA in Huntsville, Alabama, the Food and Drug Administration in Rockville, Maryland, and Medtronic in Minneapolis and Tokyo, before becoming a part-time consultant to the medical device industry and a part time faculty member at Michigan Tech. I actually maintain two residences, one in Houghton, and the other in the Twin Cities. I’ve got labs in both homes. I commute weekly between the two locations with my single engine Mooney.  When I am not working or flying, I’m usually busy training for my annual marathon, or cross country skiing at Tech trails. 

Kewee and Birch

Dr. Kolesar, When did you first get into engineering? What sparked your interest?

Whether I knew it or not, engineering has always been a part of me. My love for Physiology pushed me towards the world of medicine. However, during my third year of medical school, I had the pleasure of working with an orthopedic surgeon, and mechanical engineer, in Atlanta, Georgia. The experience truly opened my eyes to the realm of biomedical engineering, and sparked a fascination with the possibilities. This eventually led me back to Michigan Tech upon completion of my medical degree. 

Hometown, hobbies?

My wife, Jenn and I were both raised in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. We now reside in the Minneapolis area. During my time at Michigan Tech we loved being able to return to the Upper Peninsula. The Keweenaw quickly became our second home, especially Copper Harbor. We spend our free time biking, nordic and downhill skiing, camping, hiking, running, and exploring the outdoors with our two dogs Kewee (short for Keweenaw) and Birch Bark.

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In a Heartbeat

Sarah Sun: Nice shirt! Embroidered Electronics and Motion-Powered Devices

A prototype of a flexible electronic circuit. Stitch schematics such as this one can be used to create health-monitoring fabrics.

Sarah Sun shares her knowledge on Husky Bites, a free, interactive webinar this Monday, September 28 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.

What if your medical heart monitor was embroidered right on your shirt, in your favorite design? And what if it was powered by your own movements (no battery required)? And what if you could even design and order it yourself, right on the internet? Get ready to learn all about this, and more.

Join Dean Janet Callahan for supper along with Sarah Sun, an associate professor of mechanical engineering, and George Ochieze, a graduate student researcher in Dr. Sun’s Human-Centered Monitoring Lab at Michigan Tech.

Associate Professor Sarah Sun

Sun is the lead investigator of three National Science Foundation research grants totaling $1 million focused on wearable electronics. She is also the director of the Center for Cyber-Physical Systems within Michigan Tech’s Institute of Computing and Cybersytems ICC.

“I am passionate about using engineering solutions to solve health problems,” she says. “We’re trying to solve long-existing technical challenges to improve medical devices, and we’re developing new technologies, too, in order to enable more diagnosis solutions.”

One of Sun’s large research projects involves developing new human interfaces for monitoring medical vital signs.

Their goal: to provide a reliable, personalized monitoring system that won’t disturb a patient’s life, whether at home, while driving, or at work. “Right now for patients there’s a real trade-off between comfort and signal accuracy. This tradeoff can interfere with patient care and outcomes, too,” she explains.

Sun hopes to use electrophysiological sensing and motion sensing to help prevent automobile crashes, especially those that occur when drivers accidentally fall asleep at the wheel. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, while the precise number can be hard to nail down, drowsy driving is a factor in more than 100,000 crashes in the U.S each year, resulting in nearly 1,000 deaths and 50,000 injuries.

First, though, Sun and her team needed to figure out how to overcome a major challenge in monitoring vital signs: motion artifacts, or glitches caused by the slightest patient movement, even shivering, or tremors.

Motion artifacts appear in an ECG when the patient moves.

“ECG, a physiological signal, is the gold standard for diagnosis and treatment of heart disease, but it is a weak signal,” Sun explains. “Especially when monitoring a weak signal, motion artifacts arise.”

Sun and her team first set out to discover the mechanism underlying the phenomenon of motion artifacts. Then, they realized they were able to tap into it. 

“We not only reduce the influence of motion artifacts but also use it as a power resource,” she says. The result: a sensing device that harvests energy from patient movements.

Sun cites recent progress in the development and manufacturing of smart fabrics, textiles, and garments. “This has opened the door for next-generation wearable electronics—fully flexible systems that can be embroidered directly onto cloth,” she says.

“Feel free to download our .exp files for your own wearable system on cloth manufacturing. The code can be processed by regular sewing machines. Just go online to WEF, our new Wearable Electronics Factory.

Sarah Sun, Mechanical Engineering Assoc. Professor at Michigan Tech

By using conductive thread and passive electronics—tiny semiconductors, resistors and capacitors—Sun is able to turn logos into wearable electronics. The stitches themselves become the electronic circuit. Sun and her team can embroider on just about anything flexible, including cloth, foam, and other materials. 

Sun is also building a manufacturing network and cloud-based website where stitch generation orders can be made. “In the future, a person can upload their embroidery design to generate stitches, or download certain stitches as needed,” she says. The lab provides coding for the electronics and stitch generation to embroiderers. “Soon any embroidery company will have the potential to manufacture embroidered health monitors,” she says.

These wearable, embroidered ”E-logos” can monitor multiple vital signals. They’re customizable, too. 

Sun hopes flexible, wearable electronics will interest a new generation of engineers by appealing to their artistic sides. “This type of embroidery circuit really brings together together craft and functional design.” 

Mechanical Engineering PhD student George Ochieze arrived on campus at Michigan Tech in 2019. He grew up in Abia, Nigeria and earned his bachelor of engineering at Federal University of Technology Owerri in 2017.

George Ochieze is pursuing a master’s degree in Mechatronics and a PhD in Mechanical Engineering. He took Sun’s Introduction to Mechatronics and Robotics course at Michigan Tech last spring. That’s when he discovered his own passion: working with machines and control devices. He joined her research group last summer.

Mechatronics uses electromechanical systems automated for the design of products and processes,” Ochieze explains. “I picked up my research interest after modeling an RRR manipulator using CAD software. That’s a robot manipulator set up with 3 revolute joints. I had some challenges in controlling the joints, and Dr. Sun gave me some tips. She was very helpful in guiding me through the process, and our mentor/mentee relationship in soft robotics was formed,” says Ochieze.

Soft Robotics involves the design and construction of robots from flexible, compliant materials, drawing from the movements and adaptations of living organisms. Soft robots offer new capabilities, as well as improved safety when working around humans, with potential use in medicine and manufacturing.

Ochieze plans to share a demo on soft robotics during Husky Bites.

“Throughout my growth in the engineering field, I have been surrounded by people who are generous enough to share their knowledge. I look forward to mentoring others like me within this field.”


Professor Sun, when did you first get into engineering? What sparked your interest?

My dad liked to play with old electronics when I was young. I built my first radio receiver in middle school with him although I did not know how those electronics work at that time. This experience really inspired my interest in pursuing an engineering degree. I earned my bachelor’s degree at Tianjin University. It’s located near Beijing, in Tianjin, China, on the Bohai Sea. About six year ago, I earned my PhD in electrical engineering at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. My doctoral research was on wearable electronics.

Sarah Sun's hands hold electronic embroidery showing the stitches that function as circuits

Family and Hobbies?

I grew up in Northern China, in a town with a very cold winter climate, but dry. My husband came to Michigan Tech first. He liked the U.P. a lot and told me lots of great things about Tech.  It was challenging for me to balance work and life at first, especially with two little kids. My son, Brent, is almost 8 now, and my daughter, Leah, is two. My husband and I both like to design and build stuff, so we enjoy it with our kids, too. 

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

I grew up in Aba, in Abia, Nigeria. Working in my Dad’s fabrication company fostered my interest in the engineering field. At a young age I became familiar with machine operations. I was fascinated with the sequence operation of machines to achieve a desired goal. I started developing cars and movable structures with available materials, leading my fellow students in the design of mechanical components.

Graduate student George Ochieze in the Human-Centered Monitoring Lab at Michigan Tech. His passion and research focus: soft robotics.


Do you do any mentoring or teaching on campus?

I am one of two instructors in Michigan Tech’s Career and Technical Education (CTE) Mechatronics program for local high school juniors and seniors. 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. They will go on to find degree pathways at Michigan Tech, and excellent careers in smart manufacturing.

Read and View More

Vital signs—Powering Heart Monitors with Motion Artifacts

Ye Sun Wins CAREER Award

Human Centered Monitoring Laboratory (HCML)

Stitches into Circuits (check out the video, below)

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Bill Sproule: Houghton, Michigan Tech, and the Stanley Cup

The Stanley cup became NHL’s famous trophy in 1927. This is an early version of the trophy, circa 1893.

Bill Sproule shares his knowledge on Husky Bites, a free, interactive webinar on Monday, September 21 at 6 pm EST. Learn something new in just 20 minutes, with time after for Q&A! Get the full scoop and register at mtu.edu/huskybites.

Bill Sproule, civil engineering professor turned hockey historian

What are you doing for supper this Monday night at 6? How about grabbing a bite with Bill Sproule, hockey historian and Michigan Tech civil and environmental engineering professor emeritus, along with Michigan Tech alumnus John Scott, NHL All-Star MVP?

Sproule’s research into hockey history began about 15 years ago when he first volunteered to teach a class on the subject at Michigan Tech. During Husky Bites he plans to share the history of the Stanley Cup and tell how a Canadian-born dentist, Doc Gibson, and his “partner in crime” Houghton entrepreneur James Dee made Houghton the birthplace of professional hockey, several years before the National Hockey League came into existence. He’ll also discuss the role Gibson and Dee played in Michigan Tech hockey.

Serving as co-host along with Dean Janet Callahan during this session of Husky Bites is John Scott, an inspiration to many and the embodiment of Husky tenacity. 

When and where did hockey begin? A civil engineer in Montreal organized the first amateur game in 1875. Pictured: artists painting of an early hockey game at the Victoria Skating Rink in Montreal, Canada.

Sproule and Scott two have a lot in common. A love of hockey, for one. A fondness for Houghton, for another. Both born in Canada. They’re both retired—but not really retired. They’re both authors. Finally, they’re both Michigan Tech engineering alums. Sproule earned his BS in Civil Engineering in 1970. Scott, a practicing engineer, graduated with his BS in Mechanical Engineering 2010. 

We’re proud to claim NHL All-Star MVP John Scott as a Husky. From 2002 to 2006, he provided no-holds-barred defense and effective penalty killing for Michigan Tech.


In college, Scott had no professional hockey ambitions. That was until he met former Huskies Hockey Assistant Coach Ian Kallay. “He said, ‘You can do this. You can make a career out of this. If you put in the work, put in the hours.’ It was a huge moment for me,” Scott recalled.

How does his ME degree impact his game? “It definitely helps me pass a puck. I’m better than most at figuring out a bank pass off the boards. And most guys sharpen their skates to one-half of an inch. But I know how to increase—or not increase—my bore,” he said.

Scott’s wife, alumna Danielle Scott, who earned a BS in biomedical engineering from Michigan Tech in 2006, stepped away from her role with leading biomed company Boston Scientific to care for the couple’s six daughters, one just a few months old. Their oldest is now 8. John works with a mechanical engineering consulting firm in Traverse City. His podcast, Dropping The Gloves, also keeps him busy. “That’s where we talk about hockey, family, and all other things that are going on in my life post-NHL.”

Scott’s number one job, he firmly insists: family. That means raising his six daughters together with Danielle. He says he’s already hoping for number seven.

John Scott has a book out: A Guy Like Me: Fighting to Make the Cut. It’s his personal memoir.

Professor Sproule, when did you first get into engineering? What sparked your interest?

Actually, engineering was not my first choice. I hoped to become an architect but wasn’t accepted into an architectural program. My uncle was a civil engineer, so that’s why I picked civi; I was thinking structural engineering would be similar to architecture, and I was right, in a way!

I spent my first two years learning at Lake Superior State, a branch of Michigan Tech at the time, then came to Houghton for my junior and senior years, where I took a few transportation courses. After graduating from Tech I headed to the University of Toronto for a master’s degree, specializing in transportation engineering.

After earning my graduate degree I worked for Transport Canada and then joined a transportation engineering consulting firm. I always wondered about teaching, and was hired by a community college to help teach their their transportation engineering program. Teaching soon became my passion. Then, I headed to Michigan State University where I earned my Ph.D. in civil engineering, specializing in airport planning and design. I also taught at the University of Alberta and did more consulting before deciding to join the birthplace of Hockey—and, the faculty at Michigan Tech—in 1995.

At Tech, in my role as professor, I conducted research and taught courses in transportation engineering, public transit, airport design, and hockey history. The hockey history course was always full. How in the world did I end up teaching hockey history? I’ll tell the full story during Husky Bites…

Bill Sproule’s book, Houghton, the Birthplace of Professional Hockey, came out in 2018. And he’s got another hockey book in the works.


Family and Hobbies?

I was born and raised in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. My wife, Hilary was born and raised on a dairy farm north of Toronto, and earned her degrees from the University of Toronto and University of Alberta. We met in Toronto on a blind date. Together we raised two sons in Houghton. One graduated in engineering at Michigan Tech and Virginia Tech and now works in the Detroit area. The other is currently a graduate student in art history at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, Canada. All the while Hilary taught in the Physical Therapy Assistance program at nearby Finlandia University.

We’re now retired, living here in Houghton. I’m still active on several professional committees and serve on the executive committee of the Society for International Hockey Research. I’ve taken a few online courses in my retirement, too: Hockey GM and Scouting, and Hockey Analytics.

I’ve penned two books, Copper Country Streetcars, and Houghton: The Birthplace of Professional Hockey. I’m currently working on my third book project, all about the history of Michigan Tech hockey—and doing some cartooning.

Credit: Dr. Bill Sproule

Read more:

Showing Off a Love of Hockey
Heart of a Husky

Save the Date!

Michigan Tech’s 100-Year Hockey Reunion will be August 5-7, 2021. You’re invited! Learn more here.

Joshua Pearce: 3D Printing Waste into Profit

Joshua Pearce shares his knowledge on Husky Bites, a free, interactive webinar this Monday, September 14 at 6 pm EST. Learn something new in just 20 minutes, with time after for Q&A! Get the full scoop and register at mtu.edu/huskybites.

Dr. Joshua Pearce is the Richard Witte Endowed Professor of Materials Science and Engineering and Professor, Electrical and Computer Engineering

Want to know how you can save money, even make money, by turning your household waste into valuable products? Well, you’ve come to the right place. Professor Joshua Pearce and alumna Megan Kreiger, will cover the exploding areas of distributed recycling and distributed manufacturing. They’ll also explain just how using an open-source approach enables the 3-D printing of products for less than the cost of sales taxes on commercial equivalents.

3-D printing need not be limited to household items. In other words, don’t be afraid to think big—like the whole house! Kreiger’s team was the first to 3-D print a building in the Americas and last year they 3-D printed a 32-foot-long reinforced concrete footbridge.

Yes, you can 3-D print concrete, in addition to plastic and metal.

Kreiger was Pearce’s very first Michigan Tech graduate student. She earned her BS in Math in 2009, and her MS in Materials Science and Engineering in 2012, both at Michigan Tech. She is now Program Manager of Additive Construction at the US Army Engineer Research and Development Center.

Kreiger says she first became aware of 3-D printing at Michigan Tech, while working in Pearce’s 3-D printing lab. She worked with Pearce to show that distributed recycling and distributed manufacturing were better for the environment than traditional centralized processes.

“As the Program Manager for Additive Construction for ERDC, I lead a team of amazing researchers composed of engineers, scientists, technicians, and students,” says Michigan Tech Alumna Megan Kreiger. They created the first 3D printed footbridge in the Americas. “We were the first to look at continuous print operations and printing on unprepared surfaces.”

Pearce and his team of researchers in the MOST Lab (Michigan Tech Open Sustainability Technology) continue to focus on open and applied sustainability. As the Richard Witte Endowed Professor of Materials Science and Engineering, with a joint appointment in the Electrical and Computer Engineering, Pearce conducts research on photovoltaics ⁠— the materials behind solar energy⁠ — as a means to generate power in regions of the world where electricity is unavailable or prohibitively expensive. His research is also internationally renowned for its work in open source 3-D printing in order to enable both individuals as well as underserved regions to gain manufacturing capabilities.

Michigan Tech’s Open Source Hardware Enterprise developed the Granulator, a machine used to grind up plastic waste into usable feedstock that can be used in a filament extruder. Be sure to check out their site to learn more.

The MOST Lab, a cornerstone of Michigan Tech’s open source initiative, fosters strong collaboration between graduate and undergraduate researchers on campus—and with vast open source international networks, visiting scholars and industrial partners. Currently, most 3-D printing is done with virgin polymer feedstock, but research conducted by Michigan Tech’s MOST lab has shown that using recycled 3-D printing feedstock is not only technically viable, but costs much less, and is better for the environment.

Pearce is the advisor of the multidisciplinary, student-run Open Source Hardware Enterprise, part of Michigan Tech’s award-winning Enterprise Program. Dedicated to the development and availability of open source hardware, the Enterprise team’s main activities: Design and prototype, make and publish—and collaborate with community.

Professor Pearce, when did you first get into engineering? What sparked your interest?

Pearce’s latest book project: Create, Share, and Save Money Using Open-Source Projects (October 2020), soon be published by McGraw Hill.

It happened just as I began to choose what type of graduate school to pursue. I was a physics and chemistry double major at the time. One of my close friends, a physics and math double major, claimed he never wanted to work on science with an application. As for me, I was painfully aware of the enormous challenges facing the world, challenges I believed could at least partially be solved with applications of science. That day my career trajectory took a definite tack towards engineering.

Family and Hobbies?

I live with my wife and children, all consummate makers, in the Copper Country. Old hobby: when flying, picking out how many products I could make for almost no money from the SkyMall catalog. New hobby: sharing how to do it with other people.

Megan, when did you first get into engineering? What sparked your interest?

Throughout high school I had a profound love of mathematics. I took every math class I could, and graduated a semester early. This love of mathematics drove me to engineering. I started my undergraduate degree in 2004, but switched over to Mathematics after an injury and a bad-taste-in-my-mouth experience during a summer engineering job. I graduated during the recession of 2009 and after one year off, decided to return to Michigan Tech for my graduate degree. I had an interest in recycling and earned an MS in Materials Science and Engineering while obtaining a graduate certificate in Sustainability. That’s when I fell in love with 3D printing. My passion has evolved into the union of materials science and additive manufacturing. I push the bounds and perceptions of large-scale additive manufacturing / construction.

Michigan Tech alumna Megan Kreiger is Program Manager for Additive Construction for US Army Corps of Engineers. She is also project manager and technical lead on Additive Manufacturing & Robotics projects.

Hometown, Family and Hobbies?

I grew up in rural Montana with my brother, raised by eco-friendly parents. At Michigan Tech while pursuing my degree, I spent her time hiking, snowboarding Mont Ripley, and backpacking the 44 miles of the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore with my husband. We now live in Champaign, Illinois, with our two children and our three at-home 3D printers. We spend our time raising chickens, wrangling pets (and kids), and working to modernize the construction industry for the US Military through the integration of concrete 3D printers.

Megan Kreiger and her team completed the first full-sized 3D printed concrete building in the United States, printed entirely in a field environment.

Read more:

MTU Engineering Team Joins Open-source Ventilator Movement

Q&A with the MTU Masterminds of 3D-printed PPE

Just Press Print: 3-D Printing At Home Saves Cash

Power by the People: Renewable Energy Reduces the Highest Electric Rates in the Nation

Husky Bites Returns for the Fall, Starts Monday

What are you doing for supper each Monday night this fall? Join College of Engineering Dean Janet Callahan and special guests at 6 p.m. (EDT) each Monday, for a 20-minute interactive Zoom webinar, followed by a Q&A session.

Launched last June during the pandemic and back by popular demand, the fall season of Husky Bites starts Monday (Sept. 14). Each “bite” is a free, suppertime mini-lecture, presented by a different Michigan Tech faculty member. They’ll weave in a bit of their own personal journey, and bring a co-host, too — an alumnus or current student who knows a thing or two about the topic at hand.

Important note: Even if you registered for Husky Bites last summer, you will need to register again — a second time — for fall at mtu.edu/huskybites.

Know others who might be interested? Feel free to invite a friend. All are welcome. “We’ve had attendees from nine countries, and a great mix of students, alumni, our Michigan Tech community and friends,” says Dean Callahan, who mails out prizes for (near) perfect attendance, too. (Last summer there were Husky Bites t-shirts, and Michigan Tech face masks, sewn right here in Houghton).

The series kicks off Monday (Sept. 14) with a session from Joshua Pearce (ECE/MSE), with co-host Megan Kreiger, Pearce’s first Michigan Tech grad student. Want to know how you can make money turning your household waste into valuable products? Well, you’ve come to the right place. Professor Joshua Pearce and his co-host, alumna Megan Krieger, will cover the exploding areas of distributed recycling and distributed manufacturing. They’ll also explain just how using an open-source approach enables the 3-D printing of products for less than the cost of sales taxes on commercial equivalents.

Get the full scoop and register (or re-register) at mtu.edu/huskybites.


Here’s a quick rundown of our Fall 2020 lineup, below:

Monday, 9/14
Joshua Pearce — “3D Printing Waste into Profit,” with co-host Megan Kreiger, Program Manager, Additive Construction, US Army Engineer Research and Development Center (ERDC) and Michigan Tech (Math ‘09, MSE‘12) alumna.

Monday, 9/21
Bill Sproule (professor emeritus CEE) — “Michigan Tech, and the Stanley Cup,” with co-host John Scott, NHL All-Star MVP and Michigan Tech alumnus (ME ‘10).

Monday, 9/28
Sarah Ye Sun (ME-EM) — “Nice Shirt! Embroidered Electronics and Motion-Powered Devices,” with co-host George Ochieze, a current Michigan Tech student.”

Monday, 10/5
Orhan Soykan (BioMed) — “Prolific Inventing,” with co-host Dr. Tim Kolesar, MD, development quality engineer, Abbott Labs, and a Michigan Tech alumnus (BME ‘19).

Monday, 10/12
Erik Herbert (MSE) — “Holy Grail! Energy Storage on the Nanoscale,” co-host TBD.

Monday, 10/19
Tim Havens (CC) — “Warm and Fuzzy Machine Learning,” with co-host Hanieh Deilamsalehy, a machine learning researcher at Adobe and Michigan Tech alumnus (ECE ‘17).

Monday, 10/26
Paul Bergstrom (ECE) — “Quantum Dot Devices and Single Electron Transistors,” co-host TBD.

Monday, 11/2
Mary Raber (PHC) — “Solving Wicked Problems,” co-host TBD.

Monday, 11/9
David Shonnard (ChE) —” Waste Plastics are Taking Over the World and The Solution is Circular,” co-host TBD.

Monday, 11/16
TBD

Monday, 11/23
Bill Predebon, (Chair ME-EM) — “Say Yes to the Quest,” with co-host Marty Lagina, CEO, Heritage Sustainable Energy, winemaker, Michigan Tech alumnus (ME ‘77), and reality TV show star (Curse of Oak Island): “Say Yes to the Quest,” with co-host Bill Predebon, (Chair ME-EM)

Monday, 11/30
Pengfei Xue (CEE) — “What Superior (the Supercomputer) Tells Us About Superior (the Lake),” co-host TBD.

Monday, 12/7
Raymond Shaw (Physics) — “Lake Superior in My Driveway: Lake Effect Snow in the Keweenaw,” with co-host Will Cantrell, dean of the Graduate School.

Gordon Parker: Control Systems—Math in Motion

Three meters wide x 10 meters long. Eight paddles One-sided glass panel for easy visibility. Can you guess what this is?

Gordon Parker shares his knowledge on Husky Bites, a free, interactive webinar this Monday, August 3 at 6 pm EST. Learn something new in just 20 minutes, with time after for Q&A! Get the full scoop and register at mtu.edu/huskybites.

What do machines that move all have in common? Control systems that coordinate the machines. 

Can you recognize a control system when you see one? How about a controlled dynamic system? Well, after 20 minutes with Professor Gordon Parker, John & Cathi Drake Endowed Chair in Mechanical Engineering, you will. And then some…

“My most important and satisfying professional objective is sharing my passion for dynamics and controls with students,” says Dr. Gordon Parker.

“I’ve been working on control system theory and design for (gulp) 32 years with applications such as rockets, spacecraft, ships, cranes, ground vehicles, microgrids, wave energy converters, and more,” says Gordon. “I love working with students and colleagues to field control systems—the bigger, the better.”

Last April, our own Gordon Parker became one of just four instructors at Michigan Tech to receive the inaugural Provost’s Award for Sustained Teaching Excellence. The award brings special recognition to instructors who have been nominated as finalists for the Distinguished Teaching Award four or more times.

Mike Agostini knows firsthand Parker’s effective teaching and mentoring. Nowadays, Agostini is a senior manager of application engineering at The MathWorks in Boston. Back in 2001, he was a graduate student working with Parker to design control strategies for large boom cranes mounted on ships at sea.

“The goal was to minimize vibration from inputs,” explained Agostini. “Inputs could come from operator commands or from ship motion. We injected crane commands on top of the ship-induced motion to minimize vibration of the payloads. The payloads could be 30-plus tons, in containers 40 feet on a side. The chance for uncontrolled swing to damage property or lives was significant. It is for this reason that ship cranes traditionally have been limited to operating in very calm seas,” he says.

Example of a crane operation on a ship.

“The most enjoyable aspect was the tool building,” adds Agostini. “We had both a ship crane (on the ship) as well as a scale model crane at Sandia National Labs. But the utility of using them for day-to-day research was limited. They were simply too expensive and difficult to access regularly. So we built high-fidelity models, and took the algorithms we built and tested in software to the hardware.

“It was and incredible feeling to be on a crane ship rolling back and forth 14 degrees and see a huge 35 meter boom crane automatically actuating to compensate. So much steel and hardware under command of software and algorithms you helped design,” says Agostini. “But better than that was working with Dr. Gordon Parker. He really helped me mature as an engineer. His mentoring has helped make me the person I am today.”

Nowadays, Parker still specializes in control system design, and a key area of his research is the optimal control of microgrids. A microgrid is a local energy grid with control capability, which means it can disconnect from the traditional grid and operate autonomously, or independently.

Underwater robots and autonomous vehicles rely on battery power. When working in the middle of the ocean or other large body of water, charging sources aren’t readily available. Parker is developing a solution for this problem, tapping into the energy that comes from ocean waves.

Parker and his research team work on providing an energy source through a floating microgrid system, or a marine energy grid. “We’re developing control strategies that bridge the gap between the theoretical models and the realistic conditions you find on the ocean,” Parker explains.

Using the wave tank on the Michigan Tech campus, Parker pairs machine learning with model predictive control to help engineers measure key parameters accurately and predict wave energy converter (WEC) behavior. (Hey, and Yes, there is a wave tank in the basement of the R.L. Smith Building, with state-of-the-art instrumentation for WEC studies. Wave tanks create reproducible wave fields to aid the understanding of the motion of submerged and partially submerged bodies, such as underwater vehicles, ships, and WECs.

Michigan Tech’s Wave Tank research facility is located in the Department of Mechanical Engineering-Engineering Mechanics. Among its key uses: developing control systems for wave power, capturing the energy of waves in the ocean, or other large bodies of water.

“There’s a spectrum of wave energy converter systems in development right now. And there’s an opportunity in controlling these systems in interesting and sophisticated ways,” says Parker.

How? “In a control scheme, we look up a device, harmonize with the wave field, and resonate. With reinforcement learning, we can look at what is happening in the wave field and other wave energy converters in the array and try different controls. Our system is penalized if it doesn’t perform well and rewarded if it does,” says Parker.

Wave Energy Converters (WECS) are devices with moving elements directly activated by the cyclic oscillation of waves to harvest energy from ocean waves. Power is extracted by converting the kinetic energy of these displacing parts into electric current.

“We are analyzing the potential of exploiting the interactions between converters in compact arrays. After small scale tank testing we could potentially look at testing in the Great Lakes,” says Parker. 

Michigan Tech students are heavily involved in the research through senior design projects—developing a wave tank testing model of a wireless WEC. And a research team in Parker’s research lab, the Intelligent Systems and Control Laboratory, is creating a WEC array that extracts maximum power.

Another look at the Michigan Tech Wave Tank. Want to see and hear it? Check out the video link at the end of this post.

“These control schemes and marine energy grids have applications beyond refueling unoccupied underwater vehicles,” says Parker. “They can be applied to environmental sensing, too.” That includes monitoring meteorological conditions, sea-water chemical/physical properties, tsunamis and storm surges, fish and other marine life, coastal and sea-floor conditions.

There are microgrids on land, too, of course, and space. Parker is an expert on microgrids of all kinds. At Michigan Tech, he co-founded the Agile and Interconnected Microgrid (AIM) Center to bring together faculty from across campus—Computer Science, Mathematics, Cognitive Sciences and Learning, Electrical and Computer Engineering and Mechanical Engineering—to form an interdisciplinary team. AIM now has 18 researchers spanning seven academic units whose customers include NSF, ONR, NAVSEA, ARL, TARDEC, AFRL, DOE, and Sandia National Laboratories.

When he’s not teaching undergraduates, advising senior design teams, or mentoring graduate students, Parker is creating content for his popular, 64 segment, open source, video series on control system analysis and design. The series is used internationally by students on YouTube.

Before coming to Michigan Tech, Parker was a research fellow at Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where he developed systems for large angle spacecraft reorientation and fault-tolerant robots. He also worked as an aerospace engineer for General Dynamics Space Systems in San Diego, California, designing trajectories for new launch vehicle systems.

Parker earned a PhD in Mechanical Engineering at SUNY Buffalo, an MS in Aerospace Engineering at the University of Michigan, and a BS in Systems Engineering at Oakland University.

Dr. Parker, when did you first get into engineering? What sparked your interest?

My passion for control systems first occurred in a single, identifiable moment. I was in the third year of my undergrad studies in a class similar to a course at Michigan Tech, Dynamic Systems (MEEM 3750). This is where we learned about differential equation modeling of mixed physics systems—motors, masses, and springs. I was looking out the window at the tree branches swaying in the breeze. (Okay, perhaps I should have been paying attention to the Prof., but the truth is what it is.) That’s when it clicked. The motion of the branches, vibration, was similar to what we were learning—and it could be modeled with math and then controlled.

At that point I was hooked on the notion of using math to predict how things respond to being poked—including machines, the stock market, etc.—and then devising control systems to make them do what you want. By the way, in theory, this should work with people, but I’ve not cracked that nut.

Hometown, Hobbies, Family?

My most important and satisfying professional objective is sharing my passion for dynamics and controls with students—from application-focused undergraduate courses to theory-laced graduate-level material. Hopefully some of that sticks, and is multiplied through their achievements, both professionally and personally.

I’ve been at Michigan Tech for 24 years now, while raising two wonderful kids with my wife, Karen. We now live in the woods outside of town enjoying the wildlife (not the wild life), fitness (usually followed by physical therapy), baking bread, and exploring the esoteric features of MATLAB/Simulink.

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Play Michigan Technological University Compact 3D Wave Flume video
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Michigan Technological University Compact 3D Wave Flume