Tag: CHEM-ENGG

My Mother’s Hands

Author's hand outstreched over a jigsaw puzzle on a card table, with Husky dog far in the background,  to show her knuckly fingers and her mother's ring

Okay, so I have my mother’s hands. May she rest in peace. For her fiftieth birthday, many years ago, us four daughters decided to get her a nice piece of jewelry. We shopped, and together we tried out a bunch of rings. 

My other sisters’ hands are more delicate than mine. My hands call to mind a worker, or farmer, or crafter, hands with knuckles and calluses. While shopping, we decided my hands were the best model for the ring for our mother, and so I was the odd model on this shopping expedition, with the jewelry merchants looking at me with eyebrow askance. With their beautifully groomed hands they examined mine, seeking different shapes and kinds of rings to try on, to find something that would balance my knuckly fingers.

One day, many years later, I was inside watching some commotion in the driveway. My son needed to add water to his rusty old radiator. The cap was stuck. My son, his dad, and a friend were standing around the car, hood up, scratching their heads. 

Watching this from inside the house, I figured it wouldn’t hurt to have a go. Grabbing a kitchen towel, I wandered outside. Approaching the car, I asked about the problem, then casually swooped in with my towel and my mother’s hands. 

I doubled up the kitchen towel over the four-pronged, blunt radiator knob, grasped it with my dominant hand, then added my other hand over top, all fingers locking in to seal the strength. I locked wrists, forearms, elbows to my shoulders and slowly rotated my torso. Of course the cap gave way. I straightened up, pulled off the towel, brushed off the thanks, and walked back into the house.

From my dad, I got the engineer’s outlook, and from my mom these strong, wise hands. From both of them, I was given ample opportunity to try anything, fail, and try again. 

Where did I learn to do this, I wonder? To not use my wrist and hand alone? The feeling wasn’t pride exactly, but closer to gratitude—for my parents who taught me to roof and landscape, and to use my head to solve problems. From my dad, I got the engineer’s outlook, and from my mom these strong, wise hands. From both of them, I was given ample opportunity to try anything, fail, and try again. 

I am now an engineering professor and have been given tremendous responsibility as a dean. Problem solving is what we teach engineering students, mingled with theory and design. We also give them ample opportunity to learn by doing. Yet, the largest part of their problem-solving “knack,” will come from the projects they already did, well before arriving in college.

All the tasks given to a child, the forced labor assigned to teens, and the challenges you take on as an adult, add up. I remember Dad giving instructions with no more detail than, “Take down this wall,” and I could not have wished for a better engineering teacher. We lost him too soon, when he was just 48, to cancer.

I wear her ring now and it fits me well. I could never fill her shoes, but I can fill her gloves. Around the blister earned from raking this weekend and the snagged skin from a thorn, I look at my mother’s hands and imagine them still shuffling and playing cards, the way she did when our work was through. 

My mother passed ten years ago this month. Miss you Mom! Still feel your strong—and gentle—touch.

Do you have your own stories about your mom, or dad, to share? Please email me. I would love to hear them, callahan@mtu.edu.

Janet Callahan, Dean
College of Engineering
Michigan Tech



John Gierke: How the Rocks Connect Us

Pictured: Hungarian Falls in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Credit: Jessica Rich, a Michigan Tech graduate and member of the MTU Geology Club

John Gierke shares his knowledge on Husky Bites, a free, interactive webinar this Monday, May 11 at 6 pm. Learn something new in just 20 minutes, with time after for Q&A! Get the full scoop and register at mtu.edu/huskybites.

John Gierke stands with water behind him, on the shore of Portage Canal.
Water was John Gierke’s first love growing up. Now he is Professor and Chair of the Department of Geological and Mining Engineering and Sciences at Michigan Tech, specializing in hydrogeology. Here he stands at the shore of Portage Canal, on campus.

A self-professed “Yooper graduate of the school of hard rocks,” John Gierke chairs the Department of Geological and Mining Engineering and Sciences (GMES) at Michigan Technological University. He’s also an alumnus, earning a BS and MS in Civil Engineering, and a PhD in Environmental Engineering, all at Michigan Tech.

Q: How do the rocks connect us?

A: The geology of the Keweenaw and Western Upper Peninsula is quite unique and different than the Eastern Upper Peninsula and Lower Peninsula. The geology of the Keweenaw is more exposed and accessible. The experience of spending time in the Copper Country is enhanced if you understand more about the forces of nature that formed this beautiful place. While geologists are knowledgeable in identifying rocks, their truest natures are also wrapped in a yearning to be outdoors, exceptional observation skills, and insatiable curiosity to understand Earth processes. The processes that led to the geological formations that lie beneath us–and shaped our landscapes–are what dictated many of the natural resources that are found where each of us live.

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

A: I began studying engineering at Lake Superior State College (then, now University) in the fall of 1980, in my hometown of Sault Ste. Marie. In those days their engineering program was called: General Engineering Transfer, which was structured well to transfer from the old “Soo Tech” to “Houghton Tech,” terms that some old timers still used back then, nostalgically. I transferred to Michigan Tech for the fall of 1982 to study civil engineering with an emphasis in environmental engineering, which was aligned with my love of water (having grown up on the St. Mary’s River).

Despite my love of lakes, streams, and rivers, my technical interests evolved into an understanding of how groundwater moves in geological formations. I used my environmental engineering background to develop treatment systems to clean up polluted soils and aquifers. That became my area of research for the graduate degrees that followed, and the basis for my faculty position and career at Michigan Tech, in the Department of Geological and Mining Engineering and Sciences (those sciences are Geology and Geophysics). My area of specialty now is Hydrogeology.

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

A: Growing up I fished weekly, sometimes daily, on the St. Mary’s River throughout the year. Sault Ste. Marie is bordered by the St. Mary’s River on the north and east. In the spring-summer-fall, I fished from shore or a canoe or small boat. In the winter, I speared fish from a shack just a few minutes from my home or traveled to fish through the ice in some of the bays. I was a fervent bird hunter (grouse and woodcock) in the lowlands of the EUP, waterfowl in the abundant wetlands, and bear and deer (unsuccessfully until later in life). I now live on a blueberry farm that is open to the public in August for U-Pick. I used my technical expertise to design, install, and operate a drip irrigation system that draws water from the underlying Jacobsville Sandstone aquifer.

Want to know more about Husky Bites? Read about it here.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Did You Sign Your Name on This Door?

Now, I live close to campus, in a stately banker’s home on Houghton Avenue.

We bought Mrs. Frim’s house (Mrs. Frimodig) in 2018. At one point, the home had been famously rented out to Michigan Tech alumni, many who signed their names on the attic door. Widowed after Mr. Frim unexpectedly passed at an early age, Mrs. Frim earned a living in this way.

Roger Smith, an engineering alumnus who grew up in Houghton, weeded for Mrs. Frim as a young man. I met him at Reunion 2018; he relayed to me that “She had a nice side garden in the south-east backyard – with lots of gladiolas. I spent a lot of hours toiling there…at 15-25 cents an hour!”

Sadly, that poor side garden has turned into goutweed heaven—an invasive species. I started attacking it yesterday. I read that I can “exhaust it,” or dig it up! So I exhausted myself digging it up and only made a small start; it will take the next two years to recover that patch of garden. Ha-ha, says the goutweed…. 

Did any of you happen to carve your name on the attic door? If so, please let me know! Take a look at all five panels, for a closer look. Maybe you’ll see someone you know!

If you find your name, or know more about this door, please email me. I would love to hear the stories; callahan@mtu.edu.

Janet Callahan, Dean
College of Engineering
Michigan Tech




Earth Day Continues! All are Welcome at these Copper Country (social-distance friendly) Special Events

Historical sign once hung on posts at the entrance to the city of Houghton, Michigan that says, Welcoome to the Copper country. You are now breathing the purest most vitalizing air on earth!
Courtesy of Michigan Tech Archives

There are still many Earth Day events coming up in Copper Country, and no matter where you live on this Earth, you’re invited. All are welcome.

  • Get Some Fresh Air: Nature is Open for Business
    Now through May 10 — Self-guided walk featuring Earth Day artwork from Houghton Elementary 4th grade students at Keweenaw Land Trust Paavola Wetlands. Can’t get there in person? Here’s the video tour.
  • Planet of the Humans
    April 21 and beyond: View “Planet of the Humans” (90 min.)  The film takes a harsh look at how the environmental movement has lost the battle through well-meaning but disastrous choices, including the belief that solar panels and windmills would save us, and giving in to corporate interests of Wall Street.
  • Invasive Plant Removal Challenge
    Now through June 20 — Stewardship Network Spring Invasive Plant Removal Challenge. Pull invasive species from your yard, natural area, anywhere. Submit location, number of people, and weight of invasive plants removed.
  • Great Lakes Bioblitz!
    Now through – May 20 — Great Lakes Bioblitz in your Backyard. Community members, families, and students across the Great Lakes states and Ontario are invited to participate in finding and identifying as many wild, living things as possible in a specific area (backyards and other outdoor spaces) during the next month
  • How Some are Turning the Stay at Home Order into a Positive Experience
    Saturday (April 25) from 6-8 p.m. — UPEC 2020 Celebrate the U.P. Presentations will be available later on YouTube. Speakers include Monica Lewis-Patrick, We The People of Detroit; Sarah Green, International Climate Action; Angie Carter, Western UP Food Systems Council, and several more. The event will wrap up with short videos on how some have turned the Stay at Home order into a positive experience.
  • What Happens to Houghton County Recyclables
    April 28, 7-8 p.m. — “What Happens to Houghton County Recyclables?” with Eagle Waste & Recycling owner, Alan Alba, and sponsored by Copper Country Recycling Initiative.
  • Native Plant Symposium: Monarch Butterflies
    April 30, 7 p.m. Native Plant Symposium Part 2, Sue Trull, botanist for the Ottawa Nat. Forest, will present “Monarchs & Milkweeds—All Hands-on Deck,” and “Using Native Plants to Support Pollinators” by Jackie Manchester-Kempke, of Houghton, an extension master gardener. Register here.
  • Book Club: Nature’s Best Hope
    May 7, 7 p.m.— Keweenaw Land Trust’s Natural History. Book Club discussion of Doug Tallamy’s “Nature’s Best Hope” via Zoom. (Password: 703851)
  • Five things you can keep out of the landfill:
    June 27  — (Stay tuned) The previously scheduled Waste Reduction Drive for Earth Day, sponsored by Michigan Tech’s student-run Sustainability House, will be rescheduled. In the meantime, keep collecting Styrofoam containers, plastic bottle caps, batteries and foil lined granola and energy bar wrappers. Read how they can be recycled here.

Design Expo is Today!

Join today us online at mtu.edu/expo. All are welcome!

The 20th Design Expo starts today (April 16). Watch the Kick-off event live via Zoom and Facebook Live starting at 10 a.m. Register to virtually attend this event before 10 a.m. via Zoom, or tune into the Pavlis Honors College Facebook Page. No registration required to watch via Facebook Live.

Starting at 4 p.m. we will live stream the Awards Presentation via Zoom and Facebook Live.

Register to virtually attend this event before 4 p.m. via Zoom or tune into the Michigan Tech Facebook Page. No registration required to watch via Facebook Live.

Use Text in Voting to vote for your favorite video using the number 919-351-8683. Participants can vote for as many competitors as they like but can only vote once for each competitor. Text in voting will take place from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. today.

To vote, a participant might text the following case sensitive message to the phone number above: “101” to vote for Blizzard Baja or “201” to vote for Medical Device Ball Bearing Temperature Test Fixture. Team numbers and videos will be available via the Design Expo website, and all who register for Live Webinars.

Get more details in “MTU Design Expo Unveils Student Innovations” on Michigan Tech News.


Michigan Tech Students Receive NSF Graduate Research Fellowships

Seth A. Kriz in the lab.
Seth A. Kriz does undergraduate research on gold nanoparticles interacting with different viruses.

Three Michigan Tech students, Greta Pryor Colford, Dylan Gaines and Seth A. Kriz, have been awarded National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowships. The oldest STEM-related fellowship program in the United States, the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP) is a prestigious award that recognizes exceptional graduate students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines early in their career and supports them through graduate education. NSF-GRFP fellows are an exceptional group; 42 fellows have gone on to become Nobel Laureates, and about 450 fellows are members of the National Academy of Sciences.

The Graduate School is proud of these students for their outstanding scholarship. These awards highlight the quality of students at Michigan Tech, the innovative work they have accomplished, the potential for leadership and impact in science and engineering that the county recognizes in these students, and the incredible role that faculty play in students’ academic success.

Dylan Gaines is currently a master of science student in the Computer Science Department at Michigan Tech, he will begin his doctoral degree in the same program in Fall 2020. Gaines’ research, with Keith Vertanen (CS), focuses on text entry techniques for people with visual impairments. He also plans to develop assistive technologies for use in Augmented Reality. During his undergraduate education at Michigan Tech, Gaines was a member of the cross country and track teams. Now, he serves as a graduate assistant coach. “I am very thankful for this award and everyone that supported me through the application process and helped to review my essays” said Gaines. Commenting on Gaines’ award, Computer Science Department Chair Linda Ott explained “All of us in the Department of Computer Science are very excited that Dylan is being awarded a NSF Graduate Research Fellowship. This is a clear affirmation that Dylan is an excellent student and that even as an undergraduate he demonstrated strong research skills. It also is a tribute to Dylan’s advisor Dr. Keith Vertanen who has established a very successful research group in intelligent interactive systems.”

Seth A. Kriz is pursuing his doctoral degree in chemical engineering, with Caryn Heldt (ChE). He completed his undergraduate education, also in chemical engineering, at Michigan Tech and has previously served as the lead coach of the Chemical Engineering Learning Center. His research focuses on developing improved virus purification methods for large-scale vaccine production so as to provide a timely response to pandemics. “I am extremely proud to represent Michigan Tech and my lab as an NSF graduate research fellow, and for this opportunity to do research that will save lives. My success has been made possible by the incredible family, faculty, and larger community around me, and I thank everyone for their support. Go Huskies!” said Kriz. Commenting on the award, Kriz’s advisor, Heldt said “Seth embodies many of the characteristics we hope to see in our students: excellence in scholarship, high work ethic, and a strong desire to give back to his community. I’m extremely proud of his accomplishments and I can’t wait to see what else he will do.” In addition, Kriz sings with the Michigan Tech Chamber Choir.

Greta Pryor Colford earned her bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering and a minor in aerospace engineering from Michigan Tech in spring 2019. She is currently a post-baccalaureate student at Los Alamos National Laboratory, where she previously worked as an undergraduate and summer intern. At Los Alamos National Laboratory, Colford is part of the Test Engineering group (E-14) of the Engineering, Technology and Design Division (E). At Michigan Tech, she was a leader of the Attitude Determination and Control Team of the Michigan Tech Aerospace Enterprise, a writing coach at the Multiliteracies Center, and a member of the Undergraduate Student Government.

The fellowship provides three years of financial support, including a $34,000 stipend for each fellow and a $12,000 cost-of-education allowance for the fellow’s institution. Besides financial support for fellows, the GRFP provides opportunities for research on national laboratories and international research.

By the Graduate School.


Engineering Graduate Students Elected to Executive Board

Nathan Ford
Nathan Ford

The Graduate Student Government (GSG) has elected its Executive Board for the 2020-2021 session. The new Executive Board members are:

  • Nathan Ford (MEEM), President
  • Michael Maurer (ECE), Vice-President
  • Aaron Hoover (Humanities), Secretary
  • Laura Schaerer (Biological Sciences), Treasurer
  • Sarvada Chipkar (Chemical Engineering), Research Chair
  • Yasasya Batugedara (Mathematical Sciences), Professional Development Chair
  • Eric Pearson (Chemical Engineering), Social Chair
  • Marina Choy (Humanities), Public Relations Chair

The new Executive Board will assume office on May 1 and is looking forward to serving the graduate student body and the community at large.

By Apurva Baruah, GSG President.


Online Science and Engineering Fair

Boy Watching Video

In a classic example of turning lemons into lemonade, organizers of the Western U.P. Science and Engineering Fair are turning a disappointing situation into a new and exciting endeavor. 

The 22nd edition of the fair, which was to have been held Wednesday (March 18) in the Memorial Union Building, did not take place as planned. More than 125 students from Houghton, Keweenaw, Baraga, Ontonagon and Gogebic counties in grades four through eight were registered for the event. Due to directives to not gather in large groups and to maintain social distancing, the science and engineering fair didn’t take place. But that’s not to say it was cancelled. 

Emily Gochis, director of the Western UP MiSTEM Network and, in turn, the director of the Western U.P. Science Fair, said organizers have moved the fair to an online platform. 

“We wanted to offer this alternative method because we know how hard our students, parents and teachers have worked to develop and complete projects,” Gochis said. 

Under the new format, students as individuals or in pairs may use their assigned project numbers to submit a recorded project interview, photographs of the display board and a digital copy of the written report. The project numbers were provided to the students last week.

Gochis feels many of the students are up to this new challenge. “We are asking our students to be creative problem solvers and felt that we could do the same for them by developing a new submission process using out-of-the-box thinking and available technology in an authentic way.”

Gochis recognizes that not all students will have access to their projects or the needed technology with schools closed. “For that reason, projects can be submitted up to two weeks after K-12 classes resume,” she added. 

Students can submit projects by uploading photos, documents and a recording to a Google Drive folder identified by their assigned project number. “If needed, students can use FlipGrid, a free video capturing platform to record and submit their project interviews, up to five minutes in length,” Gochis said. 

In the face of a prolonged school closure, many parents are scrambling to find homeschooling options for their children. Gochis says participating in the science and engineering fair can certainly be of help.

“Science and Engineering Fair projects are one of the many ways for students to keep learning at home during school closures. A comprehensive student guide that includes a series of worksheets to help students and parents conduct a science investigation is located on the Western MiSTEM Network’s webpage.

Gochis said she realizes this new process isn’t ideal but she wanted to provide a mechanism for as many registered students to submit their projects as possible and felt this was better than canceling completely. 

“We have never tried this before and appreciate everyone’s patience as we work through this for the first time.”

Students and parents can receive a step-by-step online submission guide or direct any questions to Gochis via email. 

By Mark Wilcox.


Deans’ Teaching Showcase: Rebecca Ong

Rebecca Ong
Rebecca Ong

Janet Callahan , Dean of the College of Engineering, has selected our eighth Deans’ Teaching Showcase member: Rebecca Ong, assistant professor in the Chemical Engineering department.

Ong was selected upon recommendation by Chemical Engineering Department Chair Pradeep Agrawal for her broad innovation and use of creative teaching tools. Agrawal emphasized Ong’s efforts to “adapt to students’ contemporary learning preferences by using short videos, instant feedback, on-line quizzes, and a design expo with active learning tools like think-pair-share, iclickers, and role playing.” Agrawal also pointed out Ong’s use of a “spiral” technique where specific concepts are revisited through spaced practice, and her efforts to “connect the dots” with topics from previous classes, including statistics and data handling, computational tools, technical communications and global issues.

Ong confirms that she makes repetition —and variation—a priority. In her words, “Repetition of material is key for retention. Even with the clearest instruction, few people will completely understand a new problem the first time that they encounter it. Students need to be exposed to important points multiple times, and in different ways.” She starts each class with retrieval practice, and she attempts to bring content back with “increasingly large gaps between the reinforcement” as her quizzes often cover a mix of new and old content.

Her work to embed skills in the discipline comes from her sense that things are “most engaging and best learned when linked to a context students care about.” One excellent example of this is a recent project where students had to conduct an environmental impact assessment regarding the overseas construction of a chemical plant. She elaborates, “Students had to interview someone from another country or with many years experience living in another country to give a local community member’s perspective on the proposed construction of the facility in their hometown.” Student feedback about this project indicates that students change their analysis from whether a plant was technically feasible to consider whether it should be built, considering the environmental and social aspects.

But perhaps the biggest reason for Ong’s selection was her affinity for trying new things in her teaching. Again, her own words say it best: “I like to try new things all the time, whether teaching styles, new activities, new assignment styles, new technology or tools in the classroom. Sometimes these work well and sometimes they don’t. I always tell the students when I’m experimenting and try to get feedback about specific things I’m trying for the first time.” One recent example was creating video interviews of other on-campus faculty to use as “guest-lecturers” in a course because scheduling them live was impractical.

Callahan summarizes her nomination by saying “Rebecca’s philosophy of meeting students where they are at intellectually keeps students engaged with the material and really improves their learning. It is impressive that Dr. Ong keeps trying new things in her classes, trying to keep them fun for the students while figuring out the best way for students to learn the material.”

Ong will be recognized at an end-of-term luncheon 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.