Tag: ECE

Winter Carnival 2022: Meet the Dean

Coming to Michigan Tech for Winter Carnival this year? Stop by the Dean’s office to warm up with some hot cocoa and snowflake cookies on Friday, February 11, from 1-4 pm.

Come meet Janet Callahan, Dean of the College of Engineering at Michigan Tech. Everyone’s welcome!

The College of Engineering dean’s office area is located on the 7th floor of the M&M (Minerals & Materials) building, room 712. The M&M, a newer building, has two parts connected by an overhead walkway. We’re on the water side of the walkway, just to the west/northwest of Douglass Houghton Hall.


Kanwal Rekhi Receives Michigan Tech’s Highest Honor: Melvin Calvin Medal of Distinction

Kanwal Rekhi talking with students at Michigan Tech’s Design Expo

Kanwal Rekhi, a visionary who routinely works to forward entrepreneurial skills and educational opportunities at Michigan Tech and around the world, received the Melvin Calvin Medal of Distinction during mid-year Commencement in December. The medal is awarded to individuals associated with Michigan Tech who, like its Nobel prize-winning namesake, have exhibited extraordinarily distinguished professional and personal accomplishments. Rekhi, who earned his master’s in electrical engineering from Michigan Tech in 1969, is managing director of Inventus Capital Partners in California.

The native of Punjab, in what was then British India (now Pakistan), earned a master’s in electrical engineering from Michigan Tech in 1969. In the more than half a century since his time on campus, MTU has never been far from Rekhi’s thoughts–and generosity.

After leaving Michigan Tech, Rekhi worked as an engineer and manager before becoming an entrepreneur. In 1982, he co-founded Excelan, a company that made Ethernet cards to connect PCs to the fledgling Internet. Excelean became the first Indian-owned company to go public in the U.S. In the early 90s, he became a venture capitalist investing in more than 50 startups and sitting on the board of directors of more than 20 companies.

In the past few decades, Rekhi has been a tireless supporter and benefactor to Michigan Tech. He developed and funded the Rekhi Innovation Challenge, a crowdfunding competition to help promote and support student innovation. He provided major funding for the Silicon Valley Experience, an immersive tour during spring break of San Francisco area companies that includes meetings with entrepreneurs and Michigan Tech alumni, and is a sponsor of the 14 Floors Entrepreneur Alumni Mentoring Sessions.

Additionally, every student who has walked the Michigan Tech campus in the past 15 years has passed the Kanwal and Ann Rekhi Computer Science Hall, dedicated in April of 2005.

The Melvin Calvin Medal of Distinction is bestowed on individuals associated with the University who have exhibited especially distinguished professional and personal accomplishments. It is named for 1931 Michigan Tech alumnus Melvin Calvin, who won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for unraveling the biochemical secrets of photosynthesis. The series of biochemical reactions Calvin identified is known as the Calvin Cycle.

“Kanwal and his accomplishments epitomize the values we share as an institution. His passion for Michigan Tech is unparalleled and he is most deserving of this award.”

Rick Koubek, President, Michigan Technological University

While the Melvin Calvin Medal of Distinction is Michigan Tech’s highest honor, it is far from the first recognition the University has given Rekhi. He has received the Distinguished Alumni Award, the Board of Control Silver Medal, an honorary Doctorate in Business and Engineering, and was inducted into the Electrical Engineering Academy.


Husky Bites Starts Up Again on Monday, January 24!

Join us for a Bite!

Craving some brain food, but not a full meal? Join us for a bite at mtu.edu/huskybites!

Grab some dinner with College of Engineering Dean Janet Callahan and special guests at 6 p.m. (ET) each Monday during Husky Bites, a free interactive Zoom webinar, followed by Q&A. Have some fun, and learn something new. Everyone is welcome!

Husky Bites is a free family-friendly webinar that nourishes your mind. The Spring 2022 series kicks off this Monday (January 24) with “Winter Carnival—One Hundred Years,” presented by University Archivist and alumna Lindsay Hiltunen. From queens to cookouts, snow statues to snowballs, skating reviews to dog sled races, discover the history of Winter Carnival across the decades, through rich images of fun and festivities via the Michigan Tech Archives. Joining in will be mechanical engineering alumna Cynthia Hodges, who serves as a Wikipedian in Residence (WiR) for Michigan Tech. To celebrate the 100th anniversary, she is organizing a Winter Carnival Wikipedia Edit-a-thon, and alumni and students are welcome to help. 

Check out the full Spring 2022 “menu” at mtu.edu/huskybites.

“We created Husky Bites for anyone who likes to learn, across the universe,” says Dean Callahan. “We aim to make it very interactive, with ‘quizzes’ (in Zoom that’s a multiple choice poll) during the session. Everyone is welcome, and bound to learn something new. Entire families enjoy it. We have prizes, too, for attendance.” 

The series features special guests—engineering professors, students, and even some Michigan Tech alumni, who each share a mini lecture, or “bite”. During Husky Bites, special guests also weave in their own personal journey in engineering, science and more.

Have you joined us yet for Husky Bites? We’d love to hear from you. Join Husky Bites a little early on Zoom, starting at 5:45 pm, for some extra conversation. Write your comments, questions or feedback in Chat. Or stay after for the Q&A. Sometimes faculty get more than 50 questions, but they do their best to answer them all, either during the session, or after, via email.

“Grab some supper, or just flop down on your couch. This family friendly event is BYOC (Bring Your Own Curiosity).”

Dean Janet Callahan

Get the full scoop and register at mtu.edu/huskybites. Check out past sessions, there, too. You can also catch Husky Bites on the College of Engineering Facebook page.


SWE Celebrates Graduating Seniors and Scholarship Recipients

Michigan Tech’s section of the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) celebrated the end of the semester with a banquet sponsored by Oshkosh.

Graduating seniors recognized at the event are:

The section also awarded two $1,000 scholarships to our upper-division students. The scholarships were sponsored by Ruby & Associates Inc. and Deployed Technologies to recognize students for their contributions to the SWE section and the University community.

Scholarship recipients are:

By Gretchen Hein, Society of Women Engineers Advisor.


Tau Beta Pi Inducts 15 New Members at Michigan Tech

Congratulations to our Fall 2021 Tau Beta Pi Initiates! (Not pictured here: Andrew Scott and Dr. Mary Raber)

The College of Engineering recently inducted 14 students and one eminent engineer into the Michigan Tech chapter of Tau Beta Pi.

Tau Beta Pi is a nationally recognized engineering honor society and is the only one that recognizes all engineering professions. Students who join are the top 1/8th of their junior class, top 1/5th of their senior class, or the top 1/5th of graduate students who have completed 50% of their coursework. The society celebrates those who have distinguished scholarship and exemplary character, and members strive to maintain integrity and excellence in engineering.

Mary Raber is Chair of Michigan Tech’s Department of Engineering Fundamentals

Fall 2021 Initiates

Undergraduate Students: Dom Bianchi, Mechanical Engineering; Sean Bonner, Civil Engineering; Sam Breuer, Computer & Electrical Engineering; Sophia Brylinski, Materials Science & Engineering; Spencer Crawford, Computer Engineering; Jacqui Foreman, Chemical Engineering; Stephen Gillman, Computer Engineering; Michael Kilmer, Materials Science & Engineering; Emerald Mehler, Chemical Engineering; Ben Stier, Computer Engineering; Alex Stockman, Computer Engineering; and Jordan Zais, Biomedical Engineering

Graduate Students: Tonie Johnson, MS, Biomedical Engineering; and Andrew Scott, MS Electrical & Computer Engineering

Eminent Engineer

Dr. Mary Raber


Robert Nemiroff: NASA’s Best Space Images

A detailed view of the Cat’s Eye Nebula. Observations suggest that each ring, or dust shell, around this nebula took about 1,500 years to form. Credit: NASA, ESA, HEIC, and The Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA).

Robert Nemiroff shares his knowledge on Husky Bites, a free, interactive webinar this Monday, November 22 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.

Michigan Tech University Physics Professor Robert Nemiroff

What are you doing for supper this Monday night 11/22 at 6 ET? Grab a bite with Dean Janet Callahan and Robert Nemiroff, University Professor of Physics at Michigan Tech. He’s a leading researcher both nationally and internationally in the field of gravitational lensing and gamma-ray bursts (GRBs). Joining in will be Alice Allen, Faculty Specialist in the Department of Astronomy at the University of Maryland, College Park. 

During Husky Bites, Nemiroff and Allen will share stories and science behind the best space images and videos on one of NASA’s most popular websites: APOD: Astronomy Picture of the Day.

“I like this amazing image of the F ring of Saturn,” says Allen. Cassini spacecraft image of Saturn’s moon Prometheus, having perturbed the planet’s thin F ring, moves away as it continues in its orbit. [Prometheus Creating Saturn Ring Streamers / Credit: Cassini Imaging Team, ISS, JPL, ESA, NASA]

Nemiroff co-created and leads APOD, which is translated by volunteers into 20 languages daily, accessed over 1 million times per day on average and has a massive number of followers on Facebook (about 400,000), Instagram (about 800,000) and Twitter (about 1 million). 

Back when the site was launched in 1995, Allen quickly became a fan. “Alice used to send in interesting email comments to APOD,” Nemiroff recalls. “She then volunteered to help out and soon took expert care of APOD’s discussion board and Facebook page.” It was something she did in her spare time, evenings and weekends—in addition to her day job as an IT expert working in Washington, DC.

“This is one of my favorite astro images,” says Allen. It’s a Wolf-Rayet star (WR 124). Judy’s image of it is particularly stunning.” Visible at the center and spanning six light years across, the star creates the surrounding nebula. Credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA/Judy Schmidt

About four years after starting APOD, Nemiroff co-created the Astrophysics Source Code Library (ASCL), an open repository of astro research software housed at Michigan Tech. It now lists over 2,500 codes.

“Alice agreed to take over the editorial duties of the Astrophysics Source Code Library in 2010, as editor in chief,” adds Nemiroff. “She has done a fantastic job—growing the ASCL into a major force for transparent science in astrophysics.”

Before coming to Michigan Tech, Nemiroff worked at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland. That’s when Nemiroff and NASA astrophysicist Jerry Bonnell first started APOD on the NASA website. “We did it partly to provide accurate information about the multitude of astronomical images that were circulating on the Internet, partly just for the fun of sharing the wonder of the cosmos,” Nemiroff says. Back then, “NASA didn’t bother much with the web.” For their work on APOD, Nemiroff and Bonnell won the Astronomical Society of the Pacific’s Klumpke-Roberts Award in 2015 “for outstanding contributions to public understanding and appreciation of astronomy.”

“During the Fall 2020 semester, the first student to see the cat in my Zoom background during a lecture was eligible to receive a free KitKat bar,” say Prof. Nemiroff.

APOD and ASCL are side gigs for Nemiroff, as well. He, too, has his day job as a University Professor of Physics at Michigan Tech. Early in his tenure, Nemiroff led a group that developed and deployed the first online fisheye night sky monitor, called CONCAMs. They deployed later models to most major astronomical observatories around the world. Through Nemiroff’s efforts, Michigan Tech acquired one of the largest telescopes available exclusively for student use, too.

Today, Nemiroff is perhaps best known scientifically for predicting recovered microlensing phenomena, and for first showing, along with others, that gamma-ray bursts are consistent with occurring xx at cosmological distances. “Microlensing uses the mass of stars to act as giant gravitational telescopes on randomly-aligning background stars and quasars. Much has been learned from microlensing—for example, about the mass distribution in the universe,” Nemiroff explains.

Another one of his current research interests involves limiting attributes of our universe with distant gamma-ray bursts (aka GRB). “Gamma-ray bursts are the most powerful explosions known and it is now established that they are the only explosions that can be seen in the early universe,” he says. Nemiroff uses GRBs to probe how known local properties of physics hold up along these great distances.

As for Allen, one of her first jobs out of college was as a programmer. She stayed in IT her whole career and retired four years ago. “I missed science, however, and a few years before retiring is when I drifted into working in astronomy in my free time,” she says. Allen’s hobby soon turned into a faculty appointment in the Astronomy department at the University of Maryland.

Join us at Husky Bites to learn more. Everyone’s welcome. Be sure to bring your questions, too! Both Prof. Nemiroff and Ms. Allen are looking forward to the Q&A.

What creates a STEVE (a Strong Thermal Emission Velocity Enhancement, not an aurora)? This one is over Copper Harbor, Michigan. We’ll find out during Husky Bites. Image Credit & Copyright: MaryBeth Kiczenski

Prof. Nemiroff, how did you first get involved in science? What sparked your interest?

I have been interested in physics and astronomy since grade school. In second grade I demonstrated my interest by saying the names of the planets faster than anyone else in my class—back then that included Pluto!

Prof. Nemiroff and his family enjoy a hike along the Sturgeon River, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan

Hometown and family?

I grew up in Upper Moreland and Abington, both suburbs of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. My wife Holly works in the Portage Lake District Library. My daughter Eva studies writing at Sarah Lawrence College just north of New York City. 

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

I am a frequent player of noontime basketball in the SDC, known informally as “noonball”. (By coincidence, two other noonballers also spoke on Husky Bites this semester.) I am also a perennial season ticket holder to Michigan Tech’s basketball games. As far as pets go, our family has had as many as three cats, but now we are down to one.

“The hobby I spend the most time on is astronomy,” says Alice Allen. “We have the BEST solar system!!” (Pictured, Alice at her previous job in IT.)

Ms. Allen, how did you first get involved in science? What sparked your interest? 

My father worked at NASA, so there was space program talk at home, and my engineer-by-birth older brother was probably an early influence, too. Explosions that blow out the basement windows kind of catch a little sister’s attention. The natural world and science in general were always interesting to me. My academic background is actually biology. When I was a kid, I’d spend my Christmas money on models of the human body/body parts (including one similar to this Pumping Heart). I took all the bio I could when in high school, including microbiology and genetics. I had a chemistry set, and I begged for a telescope and eventually got one. 

Family and hometown?

I was born in Washington, DC and live in the Maryland suburbs of DC. I have one son; he lives in the Virginia suburbs of DC and is a senior software engineer.

Now this is one very cute tuxedo cat.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

The hobby I spend the most time on is astronomy; APOD is a fantastic resource for viewing and learning about the universe and really cool things we can all see just by looking up! In addition to working on the Astrophysics Source Code Library (ASCL), I’m involved in various efforts to improve research software and restore openness to science. I also like biking, reading, classical music, bird and nature-watching, and travel. I currently have one very cute tuxedo cat. 

Read more: 

The Best of the Best: 15 Years of the Astronomy Picture of the Day

The code librarian

In Search of … Time Travelers

Toward a continuous record of the sky


Engineering Graduate Students Place in 2021 3MT

This year’s Three Minute Thesis competition organized by the Graduate Student Government (GSG) of Michigan Tech had great participation both in person at The Orpheum Theater and virtually over Facebook Live. Twenty-eight participants competed at the MUB Ballroom for a place in the finals, held at The Orpheum Theater on Nov. 4.

After a very close competition, Priyanka Kadav, a PhD student from the Department of Chemistry, won first place.

Kadav’s presentation was titled “Capture and Release (CaRe): A novel protein purification technique.” She will go on to represent Michigan Tech at the regional levels of the competition.

The runner-up was Emily Shaw, a PhD student from the Department of Civil, Environmental, and Geospatial Engineering, with a presentation titled “Toxicity in Fish Tissue: Redefining our Understandings by Quantifying Mixture Toxicity.”

Yue (Emily) Kang from the Department of Mathematical Sciences department won the People’s Choice award with her presentation, titled “Robust numerical solvers for flows in fractured porous media.”

Other finalists were:

Each presentation was scored by a panel of judges from diverse academic backgrounds. The judges for the finals were:

  • Wallace Southerland III, Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students
  • Jim Baker, associate vice president for research administration
  • Marie Cleveland, a Michigan Tech alumna who was awarded the Alumni Association Outstanding Service Award in 2014

This year’s finals were also streamed live on GSG’s Facebook page and can be watched online.

GSG would also like to thank all the volunteers and The Orpheum Theater for making this event possible.

By Graduate Student Government.

Emily Shaw presenting at 3MT.
Emily Shaw presenting at 3MT.
Sunit Girdhar presenting at 3MT.
Sunit Girdhar presenting at 3MT.
Arman Tatar presenting at 3MT.
Arman Tatar presenting at 3MT.
Michael Maurer presenting at 3MT.
Michael Maurer presenting at 3MT.


Bo Chen: What’s next, NEXTCAR?

Bo Chen shares her knowledge on Husky Bites, a free, interactive webinar this Monday, November 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.

Bo Chen is a Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Electrical Engineering at Michigan Tech. She’s been a visiting Professor at Argonne National Laboratory, and was named ASME Fellow in 2020.

What’s next, NEXTCAR? What are you doing for supper this Monday night 11/15 at 6 pm ET? Grab a bite with Dean Janet Callahan and Bo Chen, Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Electrical Engineering at Michigan Tech.

During Husky Bites, Prof. Chen and one of her former students, alum Dr. Joe Oncken, will share how engineers go about designing and creating the crucial elements of an all-electric vehicle ecosystem. Oncken earned his PhD at Michigan Tech—he’s now a postdoctoral researcher at Idaho National Lab.

Chen and her research team at Michigan Tech envision an all-electric future. They develop advanced control algorithms to build the nation’s electric vehicle charging infrastructure and highly efficient hybrid electric vehicles, integrating with advanced sensing technologies that allow for predictive control in real time. These technologies enable the kind of vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communication that will reduce our nation’s energy consumption. 

Drs. Chen and Oncken among the fleet, outside at the APSRC.

Throughout her career Chen has made major contributions in the field of embedded systems, developing cutting-edge applications for hybrid-electric and electric autonomous systems. 

One of Chen’s courses at Michigan Tech, Model-based Embedded Control System Design, is regularly in high demand, not only by ME students but also EE students. “This is a testament to her teaching ability and the importance of the topic,” says ME-EM department chair Bill Predebon.

Chen’s Intelligent Mechatronics and Embedded Systems Lab is located on the 5th floor of the ME-EM building. But she spends a good deal of time working on NEXTCAR research at the Advanced Power Systems Research Center (APSRC), located a few miles from campus near the Houghton Memorial Airport.

“Vehicles that are both connected and automated—two paradigm-shifting technologies—will soon become vital for the improvement of safety, mobility, and efficiency of our transportation systems.”

Bo Chen

In 2016 the Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects-Energy (ARPA-E) awarded $2.5M to Michigan Tech for NEXTCAR research. The project—led by ME-EM Professor Jeff Naber as PI and Co-PIs Chen, Darrell Robinette, Mahdi Shahbakhti, and Kuilin Zhang—developed and demonstrated their energy reduction technologies using a fleet of eight Gen II Chevy Volt plug-in-hybrid vehicles (aka PHEVs).

The team tested the fleet on a 24-mile test loop to showcase energy optimization, forecasting, and controls—including vehicle-to-vehicle communications.

“The rich information provided by connectivity—and the capability of on-board intelligent controls—are shifting the old way (reactive and isolated vehicle/powertrain control) to the new way (predictive, cooperative, and integrated vehicle dynamics and powertrain control),” Chen explains.

Michigan Tech’s NEXTCAR research delivers direct implementation of engineering solutions, tested within the realities of on-road conditions.

Oncken is a hands-on engineer, but not all of his graduate research at Michigan Tech was done under the hood of a hybrid-electric vehicle. In an effort to maximize fuel efficiency in the fleet’s Chevy Volts, he worked with Chen where the car’s digital and mechanical parts meet—powertrain control. He looked at future driving conditions, such as changing traffic lights, and modified the vehicle’s powertrain operation to use the minimum amount of fuel.

Working in Chen’s lab, Oncken used Simulink software to develop a model, specifically looking at predictive controller design. That means when a traffic signal turns red, a self-driving vehicle not only knows to stop, but also gets directions on the best way to slow down and minimize fuel use. 

All in a day’s work for Dr. Joe Oncken

Oncken would simulate this in the Simulink model, embed the program into the Chevy Volt, then test it using five upgraded traffic signals in Houghton that rely on dedicated short-range communication (DSRC) to talk directly to the car’s programming.

By the end of the NEXTCAR project, the Michigan Tech team had achieved a 21 percent reduction in energy consumption.

Dr. Chen with her graduate students at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

Now, with new funding from ARPA-E for NEXTCAR II, the team shifts to a broader application of vehicles with level 4 and 5 of autonomy. They will seek to reduce energy consumption by 30 percent this time in the hybrid Chrysler Pacifica and further apply the savings to the RAM 1500 and the Chevy Bolt—while also considering level 4 and 5 automation to gain efficiencies. 

Naber and Chen, along with Grant Ovist, Jeremy Bos, Darrell Robinette, Basha Dudekula and several more graduate students now work together on NEXTCAR II with another round of funding worth $4.5M. They’ll maintain vehicles in multiple locations, both on the Michigan Tech campus and at American Center for Mobility (ACM) for road testing. ACM is a partner in the project, along with Stellantis and GM.

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

I was attracted by the power of automation and controls. It is currently affecting every aspect of our lives. I want to make contributions specifically to advance the automation technologies.

In her spare time, Dr. Chen likes to work out and travel. Here she’s in Horseshoe Bend, Arizona

Hometown, family?

I was raised in Shaoxing, Zhejiang province in China. I lived in Davis, California for 8 years while earning my PhD at the University of California-Davis. My daughter loves snowboarding and lives in New Jersey.

Dr. Oncken, where did you grow up?

I grew up with my parents and two sisters in Grand Forks, North Dakota. I earned my BS in Mechanical Engineering at the University of North Dakota in 2016. I came to Michigan Tech to earn my PhD soon after, and graduated in 2020.

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

There wasn’t any one moment that made me decide to get into engineering. It was more of a process throughout my childhood. Growing up, I was always interested in how things work. My dad is very mechanically inclined so he was alway fixing things around the house and woodworking, so that launched my interest as a young kid. At that time he worked for John Deere, so I got to spend time sitting in tractors and combines, something that will spark any 5 year old’s interest in mechanical things. 

In high school, I also worked for a John Deere dealer. Another job I had involved the technical side (lighting, sound, and set building) of theater and concert productions. While these may seem like two different worlds, they both gave me a behind-the-scenes look at how machinery and large technical systems operate. Together they made me want to pursue a career where I’d be the one designing how things work. 

Finally, living in a university town, there were lots of opportunities to tour the University of North Dakota’s engineering school and see what students got to work on, opportunities that cemented my desire to go into engineering myself.

Joe, out on the Tech Trails.

Any hobbies? Pets?

My main hobby is anything outdoors. I spend my free time mountain biking in the summer, skiing in the winter—and hiking when I’m not doing one of the previous two things.

I also really enjoy cooking and wood working. I don’t currently have any pets, but I did grow up with dogs. I will have a dog of my own sooner rather than later!

Read More

Power Grid, Powertrain and the Models that Connect ThemMichigan Tech Automotive Energy Efficiency Research Receives Federal Award of $2.8 Million from US Department of Energy


Sunit Girdhar, Steven Whitaker Receive 2021 INCE Awards

Two Michigan Tech graduate students were honored by The Institute of Noise Control Engineering (INCE) at their annual honors and awards ceremony recognizing outstanding service, research and activity in noise control.

Sunit Girdhar,
Sunit Girdhar

Sunit Girdhar, doctoral student in mechanical engineering-engineering mechanics, won both the inaugural INCE Student Scholarship and the Martin Hirschorn IAC Prize – Student Project.

Steven Whitaker, an electrical and computer engineering graduate student, received the 2021 Leo Beranek Student Medal for Excellence in Noise Control for Deep recurrent network for tracking an anthropogenic acoustics source in shallow water using a single sensor.

Dana Lodico, INCE-USA vice president, Honors and Awards Committee, applauded the winners. “This year’s winners should be incredibly proud of their achievements in noise control,” said Lodico. “Entries for INCE-USA Honors and Awards were very competitive, and we look forward to seeing how each winner continues to advance the noise control industry in their careers.” 

Read more about the awards on the INCE website.


Greg Odegard: Manned Mars Missions—New Materials

As NASA shifts its focus from low-earth orbit to deep space exploration, the agency is going to need building materials for vehicles, habitats, power systems and other equipment that are lighter and stronger than those available today. Pictured: NASA’s Curiosity Mars image at Mont Mercou, a rock outcrop that stands 20 feet tall. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Greg Odegard shares his knowledge on Husky Bites, a free, interactive webinar this Monday, November 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 11/8 at 6 pm ET? Grab a bite with Dean Janet Callahan and Greg Odegard, Professor of Mechanical Engineering-Engineering Mechanics at Michigan Tech. 

Dr. Greg Odegard is the John O. Hallquist Endowed Chair in Computational Mechanics at Michigan Tech.

It’s a bit of a conundrum. When sending humans into space for long periods of time, a significant amount of mass (food, water, supplies) needs to be put on the rockets that leave Earth. More mass in the rocket requires more fuel, which adds more mass and requires more fuel. Current state-of-the-art structural aerospace materials only add more mass, which requires—you guessed it—more fuel. 

During Husky Bites, Professor Greg Odegard will share how his team of researchers at Michigan Tech go about developing new ultra-light weight structural materials to significantly cut fuel costs for sending humans to Mars—and beyond.

Dr. Bill Predebon is the J.S. Endowed Department Chair in Mechanical Engineering–Engineering Mechanics at Michigan Tech

Joining in will be ME-EM department chair Bill Predebon. Dr. Predebon has been at Michigan Tech since 1975. That’s 46 years, and 24 years as department chair. He plans to retire this summer.

“Bill Predebon has been my mentor since I came to Michigan Tech in 2004. I have enjoyed working for him, and I am not ready for him to retire,” says Odegard. “I was extremely impressed with him during my job interview in 2003, which is one of the biggest reasons I came to Michigan Tech.”

In addition to teaching classes and mentoring students at Michigan Tech, Odegard leads the charge in developing a new lighter, stronger, tougher polymer composite for human deep space exploration, through the Ultra-Strong Composites by Computational Design (US-COMP) Institute.

The NASA-funded research project brings together 13 academia and industry partners with a range of expertise in molecular modeling,manufacturing, material synthesis, and testing, now in the final year of the five-year project. 

Pictured: Pre-machined fragments of a polybenzoxazine high-performance polymer in Dr. Odegard’s lab at Michigan Tech. This polymer can be used with carbon-nanotubes to form ultra-strong composites for deep-space applications.

US-COMP’s goal is to develop and deploy a carbon nanotube-based, ultra-high strength lightweight aerospace structural material within five years. And US-COMP research promises to have societal impacts on Earth as well as in space, notes Odegard. Advanced materials created by the institute could support an array of applications and benefit the nation’s manufacturing sector.

The material of choice, says Odegard: carbon. He specifically studies ultrastrong carbon-nanotube-based composites. But not all carbon is equal, notes Odegard. Soft sheets of graphite differ from the rigid strength of diamond, and the flexibility and electrical properties of graphene.

“In its many forms, carbon can perform in many ways. The tricky part with composites is figuring out how different materials interact,” he explains. 

Odegard and his research team use computational simulation—modeling—to predict what materials to combine, how much and whether they’ll stand up to the depths of space. “When we began developing these ultra-strong composites, we weren’t sure of the best starting fibers and polymers, but over time we started to realize certain nanotubes and resins consistently outperformed others,” says Odegard. “Through this period of development, we realized what our critical path to maximize performance would be, and decided to focus only on that, rather than explore the full range of possibilities.”

“I have the most fun working with my students and the broader US-COMP team. Our whole team is excited about the research and our progress, and this makes for some of the best research meetings I have experienced in my career.”

Dr. Greg Odegard

The challenge when working with carbon nanotubes is their structure, says Odegard. “Under the most powerful optical microscope you see a certain structure, but when you look under an SEM microscope you see a completely different structure,” he explains. “In order to understand how to build the best composite panel, we have to understand everything at each length scale.” 

The US COMP Institute has created dedicated experiments and computational models for the chosen carbon nanotube structure, something that must be done for each length scale, from the macro to the atomic.

As their project comes to a close, they’ve zeroed in how just how polymer can be used with carbon-nanotubes to form ultra-strong composites.


NASA’s Mars Curiosity rover took this mosaic image, looking uphill at Mount Sharp.

US-COMP PARTNERS

  • Florida A&M University
  • Florida State University
  • Georgia Institute of Technology
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • Pennsylvania State University
  • University of Colorado
  • University of Minnesota
  • University of Utah
  • Virginia Commonwealth University
  • Nanocomp Technologies
  • Solvay
  • US Air Force Research Lab
Professor Odegard up on Mt. Meeker, in Colorado where he grew up and earned his degrees.

“As a group we have been able to push the envelope way beyond where we started in 2017—expanding the performance in a very short time period,” says Odegard. “This was made possible through remarkable collaboration across the institute.”

Before Predebon convinced him to join the faculty at Michigan Tech, Odegard worked as a researcher at NASA Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia. Odegard’s research has been funded by NASA, the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, Mayo Clinic, Southwestern Energy, General Motors, REL, and Titan Tires. As a PI and co-PI, he has been involved in externally funded research projects totaling over $21 million. Odegard was a Fulbright Research Scholar at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology. In 2019 he was elected a Fellow of ASME, in recognition of his significant impact and outstanding contributions in the field of composite materials research.

The Odegard family enjoying their time together

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

Growing up, I always knew that I would be an engineer. I was always interested in airplanes and spacecraft. 

Hometown, family?

I grew up and went to college in the Denver area. I was already accustomed to snow when I moved to Michigan. 

Any hobbies? What do you do in your spare time?

In the summer, I enjoy running, mountain biking, hiking, basketball, and soccer. In the winter, I like cross-country skiing and downhill skiing. I also enjoy cooking, traveling, and anything fun with my family.

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

During my childhood my dad introduced me to model trains. We had a large 8ft x 4ft board with Lionel trains. I learned how they work and how to set it up. That sparked my interest in engineering.

Bill and Peter at Winter Carnival

Hometown, family?

I was born in Trenton, New Jersey. I had one brother, Peter, who is deceased now.  

What do you like to do in your spare time?

For most of my career at Michigan Tech my hobby has been my work. My work has absorbed my life, by choice. I have a real passion for our program. However, I do enjoy exercising, repairing things, and organic gardening. My wife, Maryanne, is very good; I just help. We have a peach tree, we have grown watermelon, we’ve grown cantaloupes, we’ve grown potatoes, her passion is pumpkins so we grow these large pumpkins—150 pounds.

“The way I look at my role is to nurture the growth of my faculty and staff, right along with our students. I want to help them all reach their potential.”

Dr. Bill Predebon

Read More:

Q&A with MTU Research Award Winner Gregory Odegard
NASA Taps Tech Professor to Lead $15 Million Space Technology Research Institute