Michigan Space Grant Consortium Award Recipients in Engineering

Michigan Tech students, faculty and staff members received awards totaling $95,175 in funding through the Michigan Space Grant Consortium (MSGC), sponsored by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) for the 2021-2022 funding cycle. The following are recipients within the College of Engineering.

Undergraduates receiving $3,000 research fellowships:

  • Chloe Strach (CEE): “Understanding and Predicting the Fate of 1,4-Dioxane in the Aqueous Phase UV/Chloramine Advanced Oxidation Process” with Daisuke Minakata (CEE)

Graduate Students receiving $5,000 research fellowships:

  • Jessica Alger (CEE): “Promoting Green Space Equity in Urban Areas with Water Resources Challenges” with Dave Watkins (CEE)
  • Diana Bullen (GMES): “Using a Biologically Enhanced Silica Recovery System to Retrieve Valuable Non-Renewable Resources from Waste Material” with Nathan Manser (GMES)
  • Ian Gannon (GMES): “Critical Mineral Potential in the Vulcan Quadrangle and Adjoining Areas, Dickinson County, Upper Peninsula of Michigan” with James DeGraff (GMES)
  • Brock Howell (GMES): “Effective Optimization of Groundwater Extraction Through the Development of Computational Tools” with John Gierke (GMES)
  • Ryan Klida (GMES): “Satellite-Based Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) Techniques for Earth Dam Monitoring and Failure Prediction” with Thomas Oommen (GMES)
  • Benjamin Mohrhardt (CEE): “Fate of Photo-Viable Dissolved Free Amino Acids Under Sunlight Irradiation in Natural Aquatic Environment” with Daisuke Minakata (CEE)
  • Katie Nelson (GMES): “Measuring CO2 Fertilization of Tropical Forests from Volcanic Soil Gas Emissions Using Remote Sensing: Volcán Rincón de la Vieja, Costa Rica” with Chad Deering (GMES)
  • Natalie Nold (ChE): “Improved Vaccine Production to Reduce Pandemic-Related Health Risks” with Caryn Heldt (ChE)
  • Kassidy O’Connor (GMES): “Using Satellite Aperture Radar to Improve Wildfire-Causing Debris Flow Mapping on the West Coast” with Thomas Oommen (GMES)
  • Jonathan Oleson (ME-EM): “A Machine Learning Model for Mechanics of Multi-Walled Carbon Nanotubes for Space-Composite Materials” with Susanta Ghosh (ME-EM)
  • Emily Shaw (CEE): “Toxicity in Fish Tissue: Redefining Our Understandings by Quantifying Mixture Toxicity” with Noel Urban (CEE)

Faculty and staff members receiving $5,000 or more for pre-college outreach and research seed programs include:

  • Luke Bowman (GMES): “Career Connection Explorations: Enriching Middle School STEM Curriculum Using NASA Resources” Includes augmentation


Tim Eisele: Backyard Metals

It takes a village. (Leaching manganese in Tim Eisele’s lab at Michigan Tech requires help from a sizeable community of bacteria.)

Tim Eisele shares his knowledge on Husky Bites this Monday, March 15 at 6 pm ET. Learn something new in just 20 minutes (or so), with time after for Q&A! Get the full scoop and register at mtu.edu/huskybites.

What are you doing for supper this Monday night 3/15 at 6 ET? Grab a bite with Dean Janet Callahan and Tim Eisele, Associate Professor of Chemical Engineering at Michigan Tech. His focus: sustainable metallurgy.

Tim Eisele, Chemical Engineering, Michigan Tech

“There is more than one way to extract metals from ore,” says Eisele. “Massive mines that disrupt many square miles are not the only way to go. I have been working on a method for using bacteria to recover iron and manganese in such a way that, if it is done carefully, it may not even be obvious that mining is going on at all.”

Joining in will be Neha Sharma, one of Dr. Eisele’s PhD students. She came to Michigan Tech from the India Institute of Technology after internships at Tata Steel, the Julius Kruttschnitt Mineral Research Centre in Australia, and India’s National Metallurgical Lab.

Eisele holds a BS, MS and PhD in Metallurgical Engineering, all from Michigan Tech. In his research, he develops bacterial processes for upgrading and extracting iron ores and low-cost reprocessing of industrial wastes such as slags and sludges to recover valuable metals.

The inspiration for this began right in Eisele’s own yard, and in his own household well. “We have 9 acres of surprisingly varied property that includes rock outcroppings, grassland, woods, and a small fen–a type of wetland–that bleeds iron,” he explains.

Iron bogs are located all over the world. This one is located in the Black Hills of Western South Dakota. Credit: U.S. Geological Survey

“It all started when we bought the house. All the plumbing fixtures were stained red. Really red. I took a glass of untreated drinking water to my lab at Michigan Tech, and found that iron precipitated out. We struck iron! So I thought, ‘Why is this happening? Is there something constructive we can do with this?’”

The high iron content of his home well water, Eisele figured out, was caused by naturally occurring anaerobic iron-dissolving organisms.

“The UP is well known for having these elements in the soil, both iron and manganese,” says Eisele. Jacobsville sandstone is a visible example. The white lines in Jacobsville sandstone are where bacteria ate out the iron.”

Jacobsville Sandstone from Jacobsville, Michigan. Held in the A. E. Seaman Mineral Museum at Michigan Tech. Sample is approximately 12 cm across.

Eisele cultivated anaerobic and aerobic organisms in the laboratory to fully adapt them to the ore. “We use mixed cultures of organisms that we have found to be more effective than pure cultures of a single species of organism,” he explains. “The use of microorganism communities will also be more practical to implement on an industrial scale, where protecting the process from contamination by outside organisms may be impossible.”

“There was not much initial interest in the technology from industry,” recalls Eisele. “‘If you can demonstrate that you can do it at a profit, come talk to us,” they said.

Since that time, Eisele and his team have been branching out to also extract manganese, which is dissolved by the same organisms as the ones that dissolve iron. This has attracted more interest, including a recent funded project from the U.S. Department of Energy.

A diagram of Eisele’s reductive bioleaching concept. He’ll explain at Husky Bites!

“Manganese is one of the ‘battery metals,’” Eisele explains. “It’s also used heavily in most steel alloys.”

“Manganese is also currently considered a ‘critical element”. Currently there is no manganese mining or production in the US,” adds Eisele. “While there are manganese ores in this country, new extraction technology is needed in order to be competitive with ores elsewhere in the world.”

In Eisele’s lab at Michigan Tech, Neha Sharma and other students, both graduate and undergraduate, work on developing and refining the technology. This includes a small “model wetland” consisting of a 5-gallon container with a circulation of water and appropriate nutrients, –in effect, simulating the type of wetland that leaches metal.

“I work on a manganese leaching setup,” Sharma explains. “It involves analyzing the samples we get from the leaching flasks for the presence of manganese. The best part of the work? “New findings are always the best part,” says Sharma. The most challenging? “Writing about them!”

In the beaker on the right, anaerobic bacteria dissolve iron in the ferrous state. On the left, in Dr. Eisele’s hand, recovered electrolytic iron.

Professor Eisele, how did you first get involved in engineering. What sparked your interest?

I have been interested in science and engineering for as long as I can remember. I originally decided to work with metals after taking a welding class in high school, and came to Michigan Tech to study metallurgy in 1980.

“This is a Cecropia Moth caterpillar (Hyalophora cecropia) that we found on a wild cherry last August.”

Family and hobbies?

I grew up on a small dairy farm in the Thumb area of lower Michigan, near Kinde (population 400). I then decided to move here, to the Big City. I currently live just outside of town with my wife, two children, a dog, a cat, six chickens, and a variable number of beehives. My daughters are still in school, and my wife is a locksmith.

“In my spare time, I like to take photos of insects, and started a website about it back in 2007, The Backyard Arthropod Project. Both of my daughters have participated in this from the beginning, and neither of them has the slightest fear of insects or spiders. My older daughter’s first contribution at the age of 2 was an assassin bug nymph, that she brought while crowing, ‘Take picture, Dada!’ My younger daughter, also at the age of 2, brought me a nice longhorn beetle that she held up while calling out ‘See! Bug!’ Lately I’ve also been including postings about the local plants, and have a couple of posts about the metal-leaching properties of our wetland.”

Neha Sharma, PhD student. Michigan Tech

Neha, how did you first get involved in engineering? What sparked your interest?

“I was always interested in science during my school days, so when I graduated from high school I thought that engineering would be the perfect fit for me. My major during my undergraduate studies in India was mineral processing. Working through those subjects and various internships –all focused on mineral processing and metallurgy–sparked my interest towards the sustainable aspect of these industries.”

One of Neha’s charcoal drawings: “I call it a tranquil life.”

Family and hobbies?

Neha with her brother, father and mother, on a visit ft the US from India.

“I grew up in a small town in India called Bokaro Steel City. I earned my bachelor’s degree from the Indian School of Mines (now Indian Institute of Technology) in Dhanbad, India. My parents still live in India. My father is a teacher in high school, teaching math and physics. My older brother works for Borealis AI, in Canada. My mother is a homemaker and loves gardening. I love going to new places. In my spare time, I’ll read a book or sketch. I love badminton, and cross country skiing, too. I am also a big Lord of the Rings fan, and a Potterhead too!”


Teachers Can Earn SCECHs through Husky Bites

Welcome Teachers!

Teachers in Michigan are able to earn SCECHs for attending Husky Bites live on Zoom.

Earn 1 SCECH per Live Zoom Session you attend. Earn up to 8 SCECHs for the series.

Just register for the Husky Bites webinar to qualify, and then fill out the Husky Bites SCECH Attendance Request Form. If you have any questions, please email engineering@mtu.edu.

Attendance

For those of us who are not teachers, what is an SCECH? SCECHs is short for “State Continuing Education Clock Hours.” Our teachers all need these for the renewal of their educator certificates, issued by the Michigan Department of Education.

Husky Bites Webinars

Husky Bites is offering SCECHs through Copper Country ISD.

To be eligible to receive SCECHs for this activity 2021 Engineering Husky Bites Teacher Professional Learning Community (PLC) you must:

  1. Register for the Michigan Tech College of Engineering Husky Bites Series.
  2. Let us know you want to earn SECHs by registering for the 2021 Engineering Husky Bites Teacher PLC. We will send you a SCECHs Application Form where you will be able to sign in on each date of attendance.
  3. Sign-in at each session that you attended using the SCECHs Attendance Form. Attendance will be verified through Husky Bites facilitators.
  4. You must provide a * PIC#. If you do not have a PIC # please contact your REP person in your Admin office.
  5. Turn in your form and payment (checks payable to Copper Country ISD) into the CCISD at the end of the series.
    1. Mail Checks to
      Jamie Johnson, Assistant SCECH Coordinator
      Copper Country ISD
      809 Hecla Street, Hancock, MI 49930
    2. Email Jamie at jjohnson@copperisd.org for questions or to learn how to drop off payments directly at the Copper Country ISD
  6. You will complete the evaluation in MOECS.


Dean’s Teaching Showcase: Smitha Rao

Smitha Rao
Smitha Rao

College of Engineering Dean Janet Callahan has selected Smitha Rao, assistant professor in Biomedical Engineering, as our eighth spring 2021 Deans’ Teaching Showcase member.

Rao was selected for her extensive recruiting and supervision of undergraduates in student research. She has four to five undergraduate students each year that she mentors in her lab. Three of her students have won the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) Award and she has participated in the Undergraduate Research Internship Program (URIP) six times. Both of these programs run out of the Pavlis Honors College.

Her approach to mentoring in her words is that she wants students to seek and gain a sense of accomplishment and ownership, to develop confidence in their own abilities, and — in the process — contribute to science. She likes to get undergraduates involved in topics that are of interest to them, so their efforts take on a deeper personal meaning. She sees mentoring undergraduate students as an opportunity to train the next generation of engineers while honing her own skills.

The results? Rao’s description of her work speaks for itself: “Out of the 20 plus students that I directly mentored either as an advisor or as an instructor, about 10 are in graduate school. One student from my lab was recently offered a full fellowship to pursue a PhD at a different university. I typically have about four to five undergraduate students each semester. However, this year I have 9 undergrad students (freshman through senior).”

Rao’s mentoring does not stop at just teaching them fundamental lab skills. She encourages them to participate in different events from competitions to conferences, provides them information relevant to their own interests, and continues to offer guidance as they gain independence in their own research projects. Many of them become co-authors on papers describing the research they help with and some have stayed on for graduate school. Several of her undergraduate students continue to remain in touch with her even after they graduated. She often discusses with students their future goals and expectations, offering them information about different ways to define and achieve success. Most importantly, she encourages leadership and independence. Students are encouraged to explore their interests, invest time and effort in their work, mentor others and enjoy their work.

She extends this approach to her teaching as well, peppering students with difficult challenges, coaxing responses, and sharing a laugh with over-the-top examples used to illustrate a point. In one student’s words, “When starting the Biomedical Engineering program in 2014, I was not expecting to build a relationship with any of the professors in the department. That all changed in the fall of 2016 when I took one of Dr. Rao’s classes. From there, so many doors of opportunity were opened for me just by reaching out to Dr. Rao. I was fortunate enough to work alongside her in her research lab gaining incredible experience in research. She was one of the most enthusiastic professors I had during my time at Michigan Tech and I attribute a lot of my success thus far to her guidance. During my last year, Dr. Rao helped revamp my resume, prepare me for interviews, and was excited to be a part of the process of helping me start my career. I will never forget when I got the call of being offered my dream job during a meeting with her and she was jumping up and down just as much as I was. Dr. Rao is truly a one-of-a-kind professor and person, I am so honored and thankful to have worked with her and continue to connect with her.”

A second student agrees that Rao’s mentoring extends to the classroom, saying “Dr. Rao’s mentorship of undergraduate students has been exemplary, giving students hands-on experience at applying exactly what they are learning in class towards solving real-world problems related to improving human health. Meaningful undergraduate research is part of the culture in our department and Dr. Rao has certainly promoted this important piece in the education of the next generation of engineers and scientists.”

Dean Callahan’s choice especially valued how seriously Rao takes mentoring. In her words, “Dr. Rao’s emphasis on hands-on science is inspirational. And in the classroom, she is well-known for engaging students with their learning. Working with students is her passion.”

Rao will be recognized at an end-of-term event with other showcase members, and is also a candidate for the CTL Instructional Award Series (to be determined this summer) recognizing introductory or large-class teaching, innovative or outside the classroom teaching methods, or work in curriculum and assessment.

By Michael R. Meyer, William G. Jackson CTL.


Above and Below the Mackinac Bridge: Kim Nowack and Amy Trahey

Mackinac Bridge Steeplejack. Photo by Tim Burke, MDOT

Amy Trahey and Kim Nowack share their knowledge on Husky Bites, a free, interactive webinar this Monday, March 8 at 6 pm ET. Learn something new in just 20 minutes (or so), with time after for Q&A! Get the full scoop and register at mtu.edu/huskybites.

What are you doing for supper this Monday night 3/8 at 6 ET? Grab a bite with Dean Janet Callahan and two extraordinary fellow civil engineers and friends who each know the Mackinac Bridge, aka Mighty Mac—one of the world’s leading suspension bridges—like the back of their hand. Together they’ll share just what it takes to properly care for such a huge gem, the single greatest asset of the state of Michigan.

Kim Nowack is executive secretary of the Mackinac Bridge Authority. Amy Trahey is president and founder of Great Lakes Engineering Group. Both are graduates of Michigan Tech, too: Nowack earned her BS in civil engineering in 1985, and Trahey earned hers in 1994.

Michigan’s Mackinac Bridge at Sunset

Nowack is ultimately responsible for its safety, operation and maintenance. Putting it mildly, Nowack has vast experience and familiarity with the Mackinac bridge, nearly 20 years worth, and then some.

Prior to her tenure at the bridge, Nowack held several positions with the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT), including stints as a general engineer with the department’s construction division in Kalamazoo; project design, construction and assistant resident engineer in St. Ignace; and delivery engineer at MDOT’s Newberry Transportation Service Center (TSC).

Kim Nowack

In 2002, she became chief engineer for the Mackinac Bridge Authority, and was appointed to the position of Executive Secretary/CEO of the Mackinac Bridge in 2019. She is the first woman to hold either of these positions in the Bridge Authority’s 60-plus year history.

Nowack frequently gives presentations about the bridge to fellow engineers, aspiring engineering students, and middle and high school students interested in the STEM fields. Recently in recognition of that effort, Nowack received the 2021 Felix A. Anderson Image Award from the American Council of Engineering Companies (ACEC) of Michigan, noting her contributions to enhancing the image of the engineering profession. 

Joining in will be Audra Morse, professor and chair of Michigan Tech’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. Morse is also a Fellow of ASCE, The American Society of Civil Engineers.

“I’m thrilled to have been selected for the Anderson award,” she said. “It’s amazing to be the first female honored this way. It’s been so rewarding to be an ambassador for the bridge and the civil engineering profession throughout my years at the Mackinac Bridge Authority.”

Trahey nominated Nowack for the award. “Kim is the epitome of why civil engineering is so awesome,” she said. “Kim has been an inspiration to me personally as a fellow civil engineer and to many others in the industry, too.”

At age 28, Trahey founded Great Lakes Engineering Group (GLEG), a civil engineering consulting firm. GLEG’s core business: everything bridges. The firm has been successful in providing bridge design, bridge inspection, and bridge construction engineering services for state and local governmental agencies as well as private clients. Trahey has worked on some of the largest and most complex bridges in the state of Michigan including I‐75 over the Rouge River, the Belle Isle Bridge, the Gross Ile Bridge, the International Bridge, and the Houghton-Hancock Lift Bridge.

In 2012 Trahey, along with other engineers and divers at Great Lakes Engineering Group, performed their first underwater safety and structural inspection of the Mackinac Bridge. 

Amy Trahey

“This opportunity was a defining moment in my career,” she said. “It brought my journey full circle and provided a true sense of fulfillment. If you can dream it…you can do it!”

In 2017 Trahey earned her SPRAT certification (Society of Professional Rope Access Technicians), which means she can use ropes to inspect difficult to access bridges and climb bridges. “It was the most physically and mentally challenging training I have experienced to date,” she says.

In 2019 Governor Gretchen Whitmer appointed Trahey to the Mackinac Bridge Authority. Amy is now vice chair of the Mackinac Bridge Authority and chair of the Finance Committee—a responsibility that Trahey takes very seriously, and enjoys even more.

“A bridge is a structure that spans obstacles, providing safe passage over something that is otherwise difficult or impossible to cross. It’s a soaring metaphor that captures my spirit.” she says. “I try to see obstacles not as obstacles, but as opportunities to solve problems and connect people. “To me, the Mackinac bridge is not only an iconic structure that resonates with all Michiganders—it proves that engineering has no limits, and it’s all about connecting people.”

An avid diver, Amy Trahey inspects Michigan bridges as part of her profession.

Amy, how did you first get involved in engineering. What sparked your interest?

I was born and raised in Lansing, Michigan and lived in the Upper Peninsula for 4 years while attending college at Michigan Tech. I knew I wanted to be a civil/structural engineer, after the years driving to the U.P. over the Mackinac Bridge, seen in all its glory when we would take the ferry rides to Mackinac Island, as well. Chicago also inspired me with its movable bridges along the Chicago River and its soaring buildings. I feel grateful and fortunate to have found my passion (bridges) so early in my career. As a result I have realized my goal to climb to the top, and dive to the bottom of many of Michigan’s most iconic bridges. From the Houghton‐Hancock lift bridge and the Zilwaukee bridge to the International Bridge in Sault Ste. Marie, the Blue Water Bridges, and the gem of the state of Michigan–the Mackinac Bridge.

The Trahey Family

Family and hobbies?

Rialato Bridge, Venice, Italy one of the oldest bridges over the Grand Canal, in a City that has over 600 bridges!

I’ve been married to my husband, Brian for 22 years and we have 2 sons, Ty and Quinn. We live in Grand Ledge, and share a family cottage on Drummond Island in the Upper Peninsula. I like to hike, ski, dive, bike, travel, and practice yoga and meditation. I also serve on the Michigan Department of Education, Special Education Advisory Committee, a committee that is near and dear to my heart and advocates for the rights of students with disabilities such as my son, Quinn, who is Autistic. In 2012 Quinn started planning family trips to iconic locations across the world. Seeing the world through his unique lens is inspiring and we are grateful for his perspective. He has quite literally, opened up our world. 

Kim on the tower!

Kim, how did you first get involved in engineering? What sparked your interest? 

My high school teachers lead me into engineering based on my abilities in high school.  I’m so thankful I had forward looking teachers that thought females should pursue whatever they were interested in.  I didn’t know what kind of engineering to go into, but was coached that I had an aptitude to go down the engineering path. I wanted to find a career that used my knowledge and skills to their maximum advantage. And my Mother was very supportive for me to reach as high as I could in life (my father died when I was 11). 

Kim with her daughter, Angela: “Good times!”

Family and hobbies?

I grew up in Grand Rapids and now live in Ignace, close to the bridge. I’m an avid reader, in several book groups. I knit, and I’m in a quilt group, too. I have a daughter, Angela, and two toddler granddaughters. I love spending time with them as much as possible. One of my best memories is with Angela. She was my little cheerleader and traveled with me to Houghton when I taught at summer youth programs. I will never forget her sitting in the lecture hall with the students and giving me a thumbs up before my show when she knew I was nervous. 

MDOT photographer Tim Burke recently assisted a Japanese production company shooting a documentary about one of the Mackinac Bridge Authority’s steeplejacks. Here is some of the footage shot using a drone.


Monique Wells is New Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at DTE Energy

Monique Wells, Michigan Tech Chemical Engineering Alumna, is the New Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at DTE Energy.

Monique Wells, a Michigan Tech chemical engineering alumna, is the new director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) at DTE Energy.

DTE Energy (NYSE: DTE) is a Detroit-based diversified energy company involved in the development and management of energy-related businesses and services nationwide.

Wells is responsible for accelerating DTE’s progress in building a workplace where everyone feels valued and able to contribute their best energy toward serving customers, communities and each other.

“This is a critical time in history for us to work together toward unity and equity,” Wells said. “I’m excited to be part of a team at DTE who are so passionate about the company’s shared core values and about celebrating people’s diverse voices, perspectives and ideas.”

Wells earned a Bachelor’s degree in Chemical Engineering at Michigan Tech, and a Master’s degree in Career and Technical Education from the University of Toledo. She has experience as a production engineer at Dow and an instructor at Toledo Technology Academy.

Wells serves on the College of Engineering Advisory Board at Michigan Tech, and servers on the Spring Arbor University’s Engineering Advisory Board, as well.

“Monique’s deep knowledge of diversity, equity and inclusion, along with her engineering and teaching experience, will build on our progress within our company and in our communities,” said Jerry Norcia, president and CEO, DTE Energy. “She will be a great resource for our company and the communities we serve, and I look forward to supporting Monique’s leadership and seeing the collective impact our efforts will make.”

Read a Q&A with Wells here.


Joe Kraft ’02 Takes the Helm at MineMax

Michigan Tech Geological Engineering Alumnus Joe Kraft ’02 is the new CEO of Minemax, a software and consulting firm with offices in Denver and Perth.

Joe Kraft, a Michigan Tech geological engineering alumnus, is the new chief executive officer of Minemax.

“Designed for mining people, by mining people,” Minemax specializes in mine planning and scheduling solutions and software, and has offices in both in Denver, Colorado, and Perth, in Australia.

Kraft earned his bachelor’s degree in Geological Engineering from the Department of Geological and Mining Engineering and Sciences (GMES) in 2002. As a student, Kraft was in the Army Research Officer Training Corps, commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant at graduation.

Following graduation he served as the leader of a 29-person mechanized combat engineer platoon for a year in Iraq. He earned the bronze star medal and other honors for his combat leadership actions.

Kraft’s service in the Army culminated as the aide to the Deputy Commanding General, where he was responsible for the security, logistics, scheduling, staff and administrative requirements for a General Officer of the 7th Infantry Division, rising to the rank of Captain. 

Kraft went on to gain more than 15 years of experience in mine planning and mine operations, including time spent working at Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold and Cliffs Natural Resources before joining Minemax as a Senior Mining Engineer in January 2014.

Not long after joining the company, Kraft was appointed as Minemax’s General Manager-Americas. For five years Kraft managed all aspects of software sales and services for the company’s North and South American markets. Now, as Minemax CEO, he will lead Minemax worldwide.

“I am extremely confident in Joe’s ability to take Minemax to the next level,“ explained Jim Butler, Minemax founder and former CEO. “Joe is very competent, has deep knowledge of mine planning and understands our customer’s businesses. He has the respect of staff, customers and affiliate companies. I am sure all stakeholders in Minemax will benefit from his leadership.“

Says Kraft, “It really is a great privilege to be able to lead an established company which has such an exceptionally talented and loyal staff. As a former military officer, I learned early on how powerful a cohesive team can be, and I look forward to the many great things we will accomplish in the years to come.”

According to the company, Minemax solutions—which includes strategic and operational mine planning software and consulting—cover the whole spectrum of strategic and operational mine planning, and help mining companies achieve production requirements, maximize resource utilization and optimize business value.

Apart from the occasional wilderness adventure, Kraft spends time with his two young boys who keep him busy in any spare moments he might have outside his tight professional schedule.

“I am so very blessed to have a small, wonderful family,” he says. “My two young boys are keen little adventurers themselves. My wife is also a dedicated professional in her field. We have adapted to many changes over the past years to balance life and career.”


Paleomagnetism: Deciphering the Early History of the Earth

Rock samples in Smirnov’s lab are 2-3 billion years old.

Although it makes up about seven-eighths of the Earth’s history, the Precambrian time period is far from figured out. Key questions remain unanswered.

The Precambrian—the first four billion years of Earth history—was a time of many critical transitions in Earth systems, including oxygenation of the atmosphere and emergence of life. But many of these processes, and the links between them, are poorly understood.

Data can be obtained from fossil magnetism—some rocks record the Earth’s magnetic field that existed at the time of their formation. However, for very old rocks (billions of years old) the conventional methods of obtaining fossil magnetism do not work well.

Professor Aleksey Smirnov, Chair of the Department of Geological and Mining Engineering and Sciences

Michigan Tech Professor of Geophysics, Aleksey Smirnov, seeks to substantially increase the amount of reliable data on the Precambrian field. Smirnov investigates the fossil magnetism of well-dated igneous rocks from around the globe using new and experimental processes to help fill in the blanks. His work on the early magnetic field history is supported by several National Science Foundation grants including a National Science Foundation CAREER award.

“Deciphering the early history of our planet, the early history of its geomagnetic field, represents one of the great challenges in Earth science,” says Smirnov. “Available data are scarce, and key questions remain unanswered. For instance we still don’t know how and when the Earth’s geomagnetic field began.”

Smirnov and former student Danford Moore
drill rock samples in the Zebra Hill region, Pilbara Craton, Western Australia.

“How did the geomagnetic field evolve at early stages? How did it interact with the biosphere, and other Earth system components—these are all largely unanswered questions. There is also disagreement on the age of the solid inner core, ranging between 0.5 and 2.5 billion years,” note Smirnov.

Scientists largely believe the Earth’s intrinsic magnetic field is generated and maintained by convective flow in the Earth’s fluid outer core, called the geodynamo.

Smirnov’s research has broad implications for Earth science including a better understanding of the workings and age of the geodynamo.

Earth cutaway. Credit: Lawrence Livermore Lab

“Crystallization of the inner core may have resulted in a dramatic increase of the geomagnetic field strength preceded by a period of an unusually weak and unstable field,” he explains. “If we observe this behavior in the paleomagnetic record, we will have a much better estimate of the inner core age and hence a better constrained thermal history of our planet.”

Knowing the strength and stability of the early geomagnetic field is also crucial to understanding the causative links between the magnetic field and modulating the evolution of atmosphere and biosphere,” notes Smirnov.

An illustration of the Earth’s magnetic field. Credit NASA.

Today, the Earth’s magnetic field protects the atmosphere and life from solar and cosmic radiation. “Before the inner core formation, the geodynamo could have produced a much weaker and less stable magnetic field. An attendant weaker magnetic shielding would allow a much stronger effect of solar radiation on life evolution and atmospheric chemistry.”

Both graduate and undergraduate students work with Smirnov to conduct research, logging hours in his Earth and Environmental Magnetism Lab, traveling the world to collect specimens.

The Earth and Environmental Magnetism Lab at Michigan Tech: If you drop a metal object on the floor there, the shielding properties of the room can be lost.

“The primary (useful) magnetizations recorded by ancient rocks are usually very weak and are often superimposed by later (parasitic, secondary) magnetizations,” Smirnov explains. “In order to get to the primary magnetization, we have to remove the secondary magnetizations by incremental heatings of the samples in our specialized paleomagnetic furnaces. The heatings must be done in a zero magnetic field environment. This is one reason why we have the shielded room, which was specially built for our paleomagnetic lab. There are other shielded rooms around the country, but ours is the only one at Michigan Tech,” he notes.

“The second reason for having our instruments in the shielded room is that the magnetizations we measure are weak and our instruments are so sensitive that the Earth’s magnetic field can interfere with our measurements. In fact, in addition to the shielded room, each instrument inside has an additional magnetic shielding.”

Note that the shielded room was built before I came, by my predecessors Profs Jimmy Diehl and Sue Beske-Diehl.

Students in this photo (some now graduates) are performing liquid helium transfer into one of our cryogenic magnetometers. “We need to constantly keep the sensors at a very cold temperature (only a very few degrees above the absolute zero temperature) to provide their ultra-sensitivity,” says GMES professor and chair, Aleksey Smirnov. “It is based on the principle of superconductivity.”

On one month-long trip to the Pilbara Craton in northwest Western Australia, Smirnov and a student gathered 900 samples of well preserved, 2.7 to 3.5 billion year old Precambrian rocks. 

Smirnov stepped into the role of chair of the Department of Geological and Mining Engineering and Sciences last fall, but that won’t keep him too far from his research. “Any interested student should feel free to get in touch to learn more about research positions,” he says.

Investigations in Smirnov’s lab are not limited to the ancient field. Other interests include the application of magnetic methods for hydrocarbon exploration, magnetic mineralogy, magnetism of meteorites, biomagnetism, and plate tectonics.

Learn more

Aleksey Smirnov is the new Chair of Geological and Mining Engineering and Sciences

Clues To Earth’s Ancient Core


Michigan Tech’s NSBE Student Chapter Will Reach 1,850 Detroit Middle and High School Students (Virtually!) During their 10th Annual Alternative Spring Break

Andi Smith is leading Alternative Spring Break 2021 for Michigan Tech Chemical Engineering student

Eleven members of Michigan Technological University’s student chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) Pre-College Initiative (PCI) plan to present to EVERY science class at Chandler Park Academy in Detroit—a total of 74 classes and 1850 students—during their 10th Annual Alternative Spring Break in Detroit from March 8-10. 

Their mission is twofold: encourage more students to go to college, and increase the diversity of those entering the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) career pipeline.

NSBE Pre-College Initiative 2021 Alternative Spring Break will be virtual this year.

The following NSBE students are participating:

Andi Smith – Chemical Engineering
Jasmine Ngene – Electrical Engineering
Jalen Vaughn – Computer Engineering
Kylynn Hodges – Computer Science 
George Ochieze – Mechatronics
Catherine Rono- Biological Science
Christiana Strong – Biomedical Engineering
Trent Johnson – Computer Engineering
Meghan Tidwell – Civil Engineering
Oluwatoyin Areo – Chemical Engineering
Kazeem Kareem – Statistics

The NSBE classroom presentations are designed to engage and inspire diverse students to learn about and consider careers in engineering and science by interacting with role models from their home town (most of the participating NSBE students are from the Detroit area).

Their effort is designed to address our country’s need for an increased number and greater diversity of students skilled in STEM (math, science, technology, and engineering). This outreach is encouraged by the NSBE Professional Pre-College Initiative (PCI) program which supports and encourages K-12 participation in STEM. 

At Michigan Tech, NSBE student chapter outreach is funded by General Motors and the Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering. Effort is coordinated by members of the NSBE student chapter, with assistance from Joan Chadde, director of the Michigan Tech Center for Science and Environmental Outreach.

High school students are informed of scholarships available to attend Michigan Tech’s Summer Youth Programs, as well high school STEM internship opportunities at Michigan Tech.

For more information about the Michigan Tech NSBE student chapter’s Alternative Spring Break, contact Joan Chadde, Director, Center for Science & Environmental Outreach, Michigan Technological University, email jchadde@mtu.edu or call 906-369-1121.


Happy Engineer’s Week 2021!

Let’s imagine a better tomorrow. Join us!

This week, we’re celebrating National Engineers Week (Feb. 21-28). Everyone’s invited to special events on campus sponsored by Tau Beta Pi, the Engineering Honor Society student chapter at Michigan Tech.

Founded by the National Society of Professional Engineers in 1951, Eweek is celebrated each February around the time of George Washington’s birthday, February 22, because Washington is considered by many to be the first U.S. engineer.

At Michigan Tech, the week is celebrated with special events on campus all hosted by student organizations. Everyone is welcome! Please feel free to stop by and check out Eweek events as your schedule allows:

Monday, Feb. 22
Brainteasers—give your brain a mini-workout, courtesy of Michigan Tech’s Systems Engineering Association (SEA), 11am-2pm in the Dow Lobby.

Some founders of SEA, Michigan Tech’s relatively new Systems Engineering Association.

Tuesday, Feb. 23
Build with Built World Enterprise, 6-7 PM
Online, Zoom: https://michigantech.zoom.us/j/88350890241

Built World Enterprise at Michigan Tech

Wednesday, Feb. 24
Michigan Tech Engineering Alumni Panel, hosted by Tau Beta Pi
4-6 PMOnline, Zoom: https://michigantech.zoom.us/j/89023074247
Submit your questions in advance: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSdFvHtUjVrpO_iMmrQWel78S7D2BXjCNhROo4CoYLwSbJA5nw/viewform?usp=sf_link

Julia Zayan
Julia Zayan ’15, General Motors (Chemical Engineering)

Rebecca Mick
Rebecca Mick ’09, Amcor (Chemical Engineering)
Quinn Horn
Quinn Horn ’93, ’95, ’98, Exponent Consulting (Materials Science and Engineering)

Thursday, February 25
Metal foundry in a box with Materials United, 3-5 PMB, on campus, outside, between the M&M Engineering Building and Douglas Houghton Hall.

Foundry in a Box. Make something small, come pick it up later, after it cools!

Nationwide, Eweek is a formal coalition of more than 70 engineering, education, and cultural societies, and more than 50 corporations and government agencies. This year’s theme: Imagining Tomorrow. Dedicated to raising public awareness of engineers’ positive contributions to quality of life, Eweek promotes recognition among parents, teachers, and students of the importance of a technical education and a high level of math, science, and technology literacy.

One important goal: to motivate youth to pursue engineering careers in order to provide a diverse and vigorous engineering workforce.

Due to the pandemic, some E-Week events won’t be possible this year. One thing we’ll greatly miss is the traditional Michigan Tech E-Week cake, offered to all on campus by the Department of Engineering Fundamentals. The cake will be back, though: We look forward to E-Week 2022!