Tag: MEEM

Joe Foster: Through the Looking Glass! Geospatial Wizardry

Joe Foster shares his knowledge on Husky Bites, a free, interactive webinar this Monday, July 13 at 6 pm EST. Learn something new in just 20 minutes, with time after for Q&A! Get the full scoop and register at mtu.edu/huskybites.

What if you had a high-tech job, but spent your workday outside, enjoying nature and fresh air each day? If you like computing, and the great outdoors, you need to learn more about what it takes to become a geospatial engineer.

Joe Foster is a professor of practice in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Michigan Tech. He teaches courses in the elements of land surveying. He has served as a principal for successful land surveying companies in both Minnesota and Michigan, directing and overseeing a wide range of projects. He’s also an alum, with a bachelor’s degree in Forestry, and a second bachelor’s degree in Surveying, both from Michigan Tech.

Joe Foster is a professor of practice in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Michigan Tech. “All land-based engineering projects begin with surveying to locate structures on the ground,” says Foster. 

Studying geospatial engineering is both an adventure and a learning experience, says Foster. A lot of learning⁠—and geospatial wizardry⁠—takes place outdoors, in the field.

“Surveyors are experts at measuring,” he explains.  “A myriad of equipment have been used over the years to accomplish the task, tools of the trade, so to speak. Over time, Surveying has evolved to become known as Geospatial Engineering.”

Surveyors and geospatial engineers measure the physical features of the Earth with great precision, calculating the height, depth, relative position, and property lines of pieces of land. 

They verify and establish land boundaries and are key players in the design and layout of infrastructure, including roads, bridges, and cell phone towers. 

And they are currently in great demand. “There is a growing need for surveyors who can reconcile traditional surveying information with the digital information contained in a GIS database in order to produce more comprehensive maps,” says Foster.

Numerous industries rely on the geospatial data and products that geospatial engineers provide. With advances in technology, the need is increasing, too, from architectural firms, engineering firms, government agencies, real estate agencies, mining companies and more.

Geospatial engineers use satellite technology GPS and GIS to determine locations and boundaries.

Out in the field, geospatial engineers peer “through the looking glass” using numerous tools. “All land-based engineering projects begin with surveying to locate structures on the ground,” says Foster. Determining boundaries is an important part, but there is more, much more, to surveying and geospatial engineering. are precision optical instruments with rotating telescopes for measuring horizontal and vertical angles. Transits are ultra-precise levels. Geospatial engineers also use satellite technology (Global Positioning System, or GPS) to determine locations and boundaries. 

Three theodolites on campus at Michigan Tech

“Advances in GPS technology have led to the use of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) for mapping, as well as geospatial data capture and visualization technologies. Geospatial engineers also use virtual reality integration, Structure from Motion (a technique which utilizes a series of 2-dimensional images to reconstruct the 3-dimensional structure of a scene or object, similar to LiDAR), and unmanned aerial vehicle systems (drones). At Michigan Tech, students learn to use these tools, too.”

Geospatial engineering students choose from two concentrations. “Professional Surveying prepares students to become state-licensed professional surveyors,” says Foster. “Students learn to locate accurate real property boundaries, conduct data capture of the natural/man-made objects on the Earth’s surface⁠—and conduct digital mapping for use in design or planning.” 

Geospatial engineers use drones, too.

The second concentration is Geoinformatics. “Students learn to manage large volumes of digital geo-information that can be stored, manipulated, visualized, analyzed, and shared,” adds Foster. “Students use more Geographic Information Science (GIS) tools, remote sensing, big data acquisition, and cloud computing.”

Do you love math + computing+ the great outdoors? Geospatial engineering combines all those things.

Once you’re working as a geospatial engineer, you could end up using both concentrations, adds Foster.  “Land surveying and geographic information systems (GIS) are complementary tools.”

Foster is excited about the growth of opportunities in the profession. “The demand for graduates is very strong,” he says. Foster has worked as a principal for successful land surveying companies in both Minnesota and Michigan, directing and overseeing a wide range of projects, including boundary, county remonumentation, and cadastral (USDA-FS) retracement surveys; topographic, site planning, and flood plain surveys; mine surveys (surface and underground); plats and subdivisions; and both conventional and GPS control surveys. He’s managed contracts with the USDA-Forest Service, mining companies in Northern Minnesota, the State of Michigan, and more. 

Foster is also a member of the Michigan Society of Professional Surveyors (NSPS). At Michigan Tech, Foster is advisor to the Douglass Houghton Student Chapter of the NSPS, where students get together for fun activities, and ongoing discovery of how surveying can be used in other industries.

Brockway Mountain, Copper Harbor, Keweenaw County. Getting there will take you on the highest above sea-level drive between the Rockies and the Alleghenies. The peak is the highest point in Michigan.

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

I first got interested in Surveying while studying Forestry at Michigan Tech.  Surveying was one of the courses in the program. That’s where I learned there could be an entire profession centered on surveying alone.  I was hooked.  It incorporated everything I had come to enjoy about Forestry; working outside, using sophisticated equipment, drafting, and actually putting the math I had learned to practical use. After earning my first bachelor’s degree in Forestry, I decided to get a second bachelor’s degree in Surveying. 

Tell us about your growing up. What do you do for fun?

I was born and raised in Michigan. I’ve worked in the forest product industry and surveying profession for over 25 years. Work has taken me to just about every corner of Northern Minnesota and Michigan’s Copper Country, but my wife and I have made our home in Keweenaw County. Here’s a little known fact: Keweenaw County has the highest proportion of water area to total area in the entire United States, with 541 square miles of land and 5,425 square miles of water. Nearly 90 percent of Keweenaw County is under the surface of Lake Superior!


Janet Callahan Named ASEE Fellow

Janet Callahan, dean of the College of Engineering and professor of materials science and engineering at Michigan Technological University, was initiated on June 24, 2020 as a Fellow of the American Society of Engineering Education.

A global society founded in 1893, ASEE is the preeminent authority on the education of engineering professionals, advancing innovation, excellence and access at all levels of education for the engineering profession.

Callahan was cited for contributions to ASEE and the engineering education community via outstanding leadership, educational scholarship, teaching effectiveness and championing diversity and inclusion within the community. Callahan has (co)authored over 50 ASEE and education publications. She has served in numerous positions in the society, contributes to multiple divisions, and currently serves as Chair of the Women in Engineering Division. 

“I am pleased and honored to join a distinguished community of ASEE Fellows who support engineering education and who have dedicated their careers in support of that purpose,” said Callahan. 

Callahan is among 9 fellows selected this year. The grade of fellow in ASEE is reserved for members with extraordinary qualifications and experience in engineering or engineering technology education or an allied field who have made important individual contributions. No more than one-tenth of one percent of individual ASEE membership may be elected fellow in any given year.


Tips and Tricks from Three Chairs and Dean

Embarking soon on your college career? Or, still pondering embarking? Then this is for you. A free, interactive Zoom short course , “Tips and Tricks from Three Chairs and a Dean,” starts this Tuesday (July 7).

“We’ve created a short course for younger students. Both precollege students, and anyone who might be still be just considering going to college,” says Janet Callahan, dean of the College of Engineering at Michigan Technological University. “We want to give students leg up, and so we’re going to show all the tips and tricks we wish someone had shown us, back when we were starting out. That includes helpful strategies to use with your science and engineering coursework, as well as physics, chemistry, and math.”

Tips and Tricks Zoom sessions begin on Tuesday, July 7 via Zoom at 6pm EST, but students can join the group during the series at any point along the way.

Each session will run for about 20 minutes, plus time for Q&A each Tuesday in July. The first is July 7 at 6 p.m. EST., then July 14, 21, and 28. Get the full scoop and register at mtu.edu/huskybites.

The series kicks off with Dean Janet Callahan and Brett Hamlin, interim chair of the Department of Engineering Fundamentals (July 7: Tips and Tricks from Three, no, Four Chairs and a Dean).

Next up is John Gierke, past chair of the Department of Geological and Mining Engineering and Sciences (July 14: Reverse Engineering How Faculty Prepare Exam Problems).

Then comes Glen Archer, interim chair of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering (July 21: Tips for the TI-89).

Last but not least is Audra Morse, chair of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering (July 28: Two Triangles Don’t Make a Right).

“Even some middle school students, eighth grade and up, will find it helpful and useful,” adds Callahan. “Absolutely everyone is welcome. After each session, we’ll devote time to Q&A, too. I really hope you can join us, and please invite a friend!”

Get the full scoop and register at mtu.edu/huskybites.


Jeremy Bos: What’s next after FIRST?

“This could be you,” says Michigan Tech ECE assistant professor Jeremy Bos. “Our AutoDrive team brought home the second most trophies at competition last year.”

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

FIRST®. You might know it as First Robotics—an international organization dedicated to motivating the next generation to understand, use and enjoy science and technology. Founder and inventor Dean Kamen describes FIRST as “using robots to build kids. “It’s not about the robots,” he said. “FIRST is transforming the way kids see the world.”

FIRST now has more than 67,000 teams around the world, and has given over $80 million in college scholarships. At Michigan Tech, at last count, there are close to fifty FIRST scholarship recipients.

So, for high school seniors now embarking on their college careers, what’s next after FIRST? How do you enter the field of robotics?

What’s more, how do you know if robotics could be the right career for you?

Jeremy Bos: “When I have time I bike, ski, hike, kayak, and stargaze. I spend time with my dog, Rigel, on the Tech Trails nearly every day.”

“Many first year students considering engineering, science, and technology are introduced to these fields from FIRST robotics and similar high school competitions,” says Jeremy Bos, an assistant professor of electrical engineering at Michigan Tech. “In fact, one of the most common questions I hear from new students is ‘What is there at Michigan Tech that’s like FIRST?’ and ‘What major should I choose to have a career in robotics?’”.

Bos is a Michigan Tech alum, having earned his BS in Electrical Engineering at Michigan Tech in 2000 and his PhD in Electrical Engineering and Optics in 2012. He worked at GM on short range wireless product development, and spent several years at the Air Force Research Laboratory on Maui before coming back to Tech as an assistant professor.

Like most things in life there is no one answer that applies to everyone, says Bos. He helps students take their FIRST-inspired passion for robotics and find a place for it Michigan Tech. “What are your affinities? Knowing those, I can help point you in the right direction,” he says.

“One thing I can do is to share an overview of careers in robotics.” says Bos. Hint: it involves the “M’s” the “E’s” and the “C’s”. (Listen to the overview during his live session on Husky Bites to learn more, or catch the Zoom video later.)

Bos is advisor and manager of several robot platforms on campus, including the Robotic Systems Enterprise team, part of Michigan Tech’s award-winning Enterprise program. “It’s one of the best places on campus to learn robotics,” says Bos.

The team’s many projects come in many shapes and sizes, from designing a vision system for work with a robotic arm, to an automatic power management system for weather buoys. Clients include Ford Motor Company and Michigan Tech’s Great Lakes Research Center.

In 2010, as an electrical engineering PhD student at Michigan Tech, Bos organized the investigation of the Paulding Light mystery, working with students in the University’s student chapter of SPIE, the international society of optics and photonics. “We were looking for a project that would be both fun and educational. I thought, ‘What about the Paulding Light?’”

“We use more than just the skills and talents of computer science, electrical engineering, and mechanical engineering majors,” adds Bos “All majors are welcome in the enterprise.”

The team’s main focus is the SAE AutoDrive Challenge, where college teams compete to develop and demonstrate a fully autonomous driving passenger vehicle. Michigan Tech is one of eight universities selected to participate in the 3-year AutoDrive Challenge, sponsored and hosted by GM and SAE International.

Bos mentors the AutoDrive team of 40 undergraduate and graduate students along with Darrell Robinette, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering-engineering mechanics.

The team out started with a Chevy Bolt, named it Prometheus Borealis, and then turned it into a competition vehicle outfitted it with sensors, control systems and computer processors so that it could navigate an urban driving course in automated driving mode.

The team took Prometheus Borealis on a trip to GM’s Desert Proving Ground in Yuma, Arizona in 2018 for an on-site evaluation in the SAE AutoDrive Challenge.
A closer look at some of the LiDAR hardware atop Prometheus Borealis. LiDAR = Light Imaging Detecting and Radar
Snow tires + winter weather = data for the Michigan Tech SAE AutoDrive Challenge team. “Roughly, this is an overhead perspective shot of the what the LiDAR mounted on Prometheus Borealis ‘sees’. The car is not visible but is at the center of the image heading north on US-41 from the Houghton Memorial Airport towards the town of Calumet,” Bos explains. “The clutter visible on the left of the image near the center/car is caused by snow. The ‘V’ notch in the center/top of the image is a dead zone caused by ice build up on the front on the LiDAR unit, a problem we’ve been working to solve.”


Bos accompanies students to the SAE AutoDrive Challenge competitions.
The next one is coming up this October in East Liberty, Ohio. Teams are judged in a variety of areas—Object Detection, Localization, MathWorks, and Simulation, to name a few. His expertise in autonomous vehicles and vehicular networks, as well as industrial automation and controls makes Bos an ideal mentor for the students.

My own contribution to this effort is called ‘Autonomy at the End of the Earth.’ My research focuses on the operation of autonomous vehicles in hazardous weather. Specifically, the ice and snow we encounter on a daily basis between November and April.

Jeremy Bos


Bos says he is excited about the brand new Robotics Engineering degree program at Michigan Tech. It will be offered for the first time this fall in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. “Robotics Engineering will cover all the skills you need for developing autonomous vehicles. It’s a unique set of skills now in heavy demand, with a little bit of everything—all the letters (M’s, E’s and C’s) and a little bit more—with a focus on learning the cutting edge.”

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

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

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

Tell us about your growing up. What do you do for fun?

I was born in Santa Clara, California just as Silicon Valley was starting to be a thing. I grew up in Grand Haven, Michigan where I graduated from high school and then went to Michigan Tech for my undergraduate degree. I liked it so much I came back twice. I now live in Houghton with my wife, and fellow alumna, Jessica (STC ’00). We have a boisterous dog, Rigel, named after a star in the constellation Orion, who bikes or skis with me on the Tech trails nearly every day.

When I have time I also like to kayak, and stargaze. I’ve even tried my hand at astrophotography at Michigan Tech’s AMJOCH Observatory. It’s a telescope, but hopefully, soon it will be a robot, too.

Learn more:

@MTUAutonomy winter driving data set test 1

Look Ma, No Driver

Huskies Hit the Road

Creativity and Cool Gizmos: Dean Kamen at Michigan Tech

Just in time for Halloween, Michigan Tech Students Solve the Mystery of the Paulding Light

It’s Out There, Return of the Paulding Light


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

Aleksey Smirnov is the new chair of the Department of Geological and Mining Engineering and Sciences at Michigan Tech

The College of Engineering at Michigan Technological University is pleased to announce that Aleksey Smirnov has accepted the position of chair of the Department of Geological and Mining Engineering and Sciences, beginning July 1, 2020.

Smirnov joined Michigan Tech as an assistant professor of geophysics in 2007, teaching undergraduate and graduate courses in Plate Tectonics and Global Geophysics, Planetary Geology and Geophysics, and Fundamentals of Applied and Environmental Geophysics. 

His research interests include the long-term evolution of the Earth’s magnetic field and its geological and geodynamical implications. Deciphering the early history of our planet—including the early history of its geomagnetic field—represents one of the great challenges in Earth science.

Smirnov seeks to substantially increase the amount of reliable data on the Precambrian field by applying new experimental approaches to investigate the fossil magnetism of well-dated igneous rocks around the globe. He also investigates geodynamics and global plate tectonics, magnetism of rocks, minerals, and synthetic materials, environmental magnetism, and develops new techniques and instruments for paleomagnetic and rock magnetic research. His work on the early magnetic field history has been supported by several NSF grants including a 2012 CAREER award. 

“I am delighted that Dr. Smirnov will be Chair of GMES and looking forward to him joining the leadership team of the college,” states Dean Janet Callahan. “His experience as a faculty member and long-term perspective of the department will be something he can strongly leverage as he works to grow the research profile of the department and student enrollment.”

Professor John Gierke led the department as chair for two terms, or six years. “We are grateful for Dr. Gierke’s leadership,” says Callahan. He is also a tremendous teacher and researcher, and is looking forward to giving both his full attention once again.”

After receiving his BS in Geophysics from Saint-Petersburg State University (Russia) in 1987, and his PhD in Geophysics from the University of Rochester in 2002, Smirnov conducted postdoctoral studies at the University of Rochester, and at Yale University. At Michigan Tech, he is also affiliated with the Department of Physics.

What first brought you to Michigan Tech?

Our University has been renowned for its geophysical research, including my own field of paleomagnetism, for many years. The opportunity for collaboration with such an accomplished academic community played an important role in my decision. In addition, Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and the surrounding regions have a rich geologic history with some of the oldest rocks on Earth. This makes it a prime geological location to study the evolution of the early Earth’s geomagnetic field, which is one of my main research interests. After 13 fruitful years at Michigan Tech, I know I made the right choice. 

What do you enjoy most about your research and teaching?

I have established a robust research program that involves worldwide collaborations and has yielded some important results. However, the most enjoyable part of both my scientific research and classroom teaching at Michigan Tech has been my interaction with students. My research activities provide excellent opportunities for student research and academic instruction, and I have been able to work together with very talented graduate and undergraduate students. 

What are you hoping to accomplish as chair?

I envision a vibrant and diverse department that is nationally and internationally recognized for its excellence in education and research. I intend to assure our position as a proactive, efficient, and respected participant in the efforts of both the College and the University as we strive towards our shared strategic goals, including student enrollment, research, diversity, and external recognition.

Our department has evolved over time to meet the needs of our ever-changing world, but it has been and remains an integral part of Michigan Tech since its foundation in 1885. As chair, I will be honored to uphold this legacy of excellence and distinction into the future.


John Irwin is New Chair of Manufacturing and Mechanical Engineering Technology at Michigan Tech

John Irwin stands at the front of a class with white board in the background. He wears a red and white checked shirt, and he is smiling at the class.
Professor John Irwin, new chair of the MMET department at Michigan Technological University, teaches a course in Product Design and Development on campus last fall.

The College of Engineering at Michigan Technological University is pleased to announce that John Irwin has accepted the position of chair of the Department of Manufacturing and Mechanical Engineering Technology beginning July 1, 2020. 

John Irwin is a professor and served as associate chair of the MMET department this past year with Materials Science and Engineering Professor Walt Milligan, who was interim chair during the department’s transition from the School of Technology to the College of Engineering.

“I am looking forward to Dr. Irwin’s leadership in the department of MMET. This is one of our strongest hands-on programs, graduating strongly qualified, highly sought graduates,” stated College of Engineering Dean Janet Callahan. “Dr. Irwin’s extensive experience with continuous improvement of academic programs through ABET is a strong asset he brings to the department.”

Irwin has taught many courses in the MET program. Most recently, courses in Parametric Modeling, Statics and Strength of Materials, Product Design and Development, CAE and FEA Methods, Computer-aided Manufacturing, and Senior Design. 

His research interests include problem-based learning methods applied in the areas of CAD/CAM, static and dynamic model simulation, and product and manufacturing work cell verification. Dr. Irwin is also an affiliate professor with the Department of Cognitive Learning and Sciences, and Director of the Research and Innovation in STEAM Education (RISE) Institute at Michigan Tech. 

Irwin earned an AAS Mechanical Design Engineering Technology from Michigan Tech in 1982, a BS in Technical Education at Ferris State University in 1984, an MS in Occupational Education at Ferris State University in 1992, and a EdD in Curriculum and Instruction at Wayne State University in 2005. 

Irwin is a former collegiate cross country and track & field letter winner, and later competed as a company sponsored triathlete. Later he continued his athletic interests as a cross country coach for Mott Community College. John continues to run, swim and bike as an activity.

What first brought you to Michigan Tech?

I came to Michigan Tech from Mott Community College in Flint, Michigan, where I was a professor of design engineering technology. After earning a doctorate, I was interested in seeking a University position in engineering technology and/or STEM education. Fortunately, at that time there was a faculty opening in Michigan Tech’s School of Technology. As a graduate of Michigan Tech I had ties to the UP, and also family close to Houghton. Both things impacted my decision, but the high quality reputation of a Michigan Tech education is mainly what brought me here.

What are you hoping to accomplish as chair of the MMET department?

I’ve got an in-depth familiarity with the faculty and staff, having been an MET faculty member since 2006. We want to create a sustainable approach to funding capstone projects through industry relations, seek out advanced manufacturing research opportunities, facilitate the development of faculty-led multidisciplinary research projects, support continued program assessment accreditation procedures, and increase degree options for students. Maintaining the quality and services of the MMET Machine Shop is integral to reaching our goals.     

What do you enjoy most about your research and teaching?

Working with students in their senior capstone design sequence courses provides me with an instant reward as a faculty member. I greatly enjoy advising and facilitating the engineering problem-solving process. For many students, the senior project is their first opportunity to manage a project budget, work in a team for more than just a few weeks, and attempt to provide the project deliverables. Most rewarding of all is to hear from students after they’ve graduated, and find they are well established in successful careers as engineers. 

My research is very interconnected with my teaching. Specifically, I enjoy studying the use of simulations to better understand difficult-to-describe concepts, those that will benefit teaching and learning, and have a positive impact on industry in the long term. It is also especially wonderful to introduce many K-12 teachers to engineering concepts, and then see them apply those concepts in their classrooms.


Daisuke Minakata: Scrubbing Water

Daisuke Minakata shares his knowledge on Husky Bites, a free, interactive webinar this Monday, June 29 at 6 pm EST. Learn something new in just 20 minutes, with time after for Q&A! Get the full scoop and register at mtu.edu/huskybites.

Do you trust your tap water? It’s regulated, but exactly how is tap water treated? And what about wastewater? Is it treated to protect the environment? 

Daisuke Minakata, an associate professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Michigan Technological University, studies the trace organic chemicals in our water. He’s also developing a tool municipalities can use to remove them.

Dr. Daisuke Minakata: “In high school I learned that environmental engineers can be leaders who help solve the Earth’s most difficult sustainability and environmental problems. That’s when I decided to become an engineer.”

“Anthropogenic chemicals—the ones resulting from the influence of human beings—are present in water everywhere,” he says. And not just a few. Hundreds, even thousands of different ones. Of particular concern are Per- and polyfluorinated alkyl substances (PFAS), an emerging groups of contaminants.

Most water treatment facilities around the country were not designed to remove synthetic organic chemicals like those found in opioids, dioxins, pesticides, flame retardants, plastics, and other pharmaceutical and personal care products, says Minakata.

This affects natural environmental waters like the Great Lakes, and rivers and streams. These pollutants have the potential to harm fish and wildlife—and us, too.

To solve this problem, Minakata investigates the effectiveness of two of the most widely used removal methods: reverse osmosis (RO), and advanced oxidation process (AOP).

PFAS foam is toxic and sticky. If you happen see it, do not touch it, or if you do come in contact, be sure to wash it off. Keep pets away from it, too.

“RO is a membrane-based technology. It separates dissolved contaminants from water,” Minakata explains. “AOPs are oxidation technologies that destroy trace organic chemicals.” Both RO and AOP are highly advanced water and wastewater treatment processes. They are promising, he says, but not yet practical. 

“The very idea of using an RO and AOPs for each trace organic chemical is incredibly daunting. It would be extremely time consuming and expensive,” he says. 

Instead, Minakata and his research team at Michigan Tech, along with collaborators at the University of New Mexico, have developed a model for predicting the rejection mechanisms of hundreds of organic chemicals through different membrane products at different operational conditions. Their project was funded by the WateReuse Research Foundation

“The rejection mechanisms of organic chemicals by RO are extremely complicated—but the use of computational chemistry tools helped us understand the mechanisms,” says Minakata. “Our ultimate goal is to develop a tool that can predict the fate of chemicals through RO at full-scale, so that water utilities can design and operate an RO system whenever a newly identified chemical becomes regulated.”

Reverse osmosis (RO) at a water treatment demonstration plant in California. Credit Daisuke Minakata
Advanced oxidation processes (AOPs) at the same California water treatment demonstration plant, above. Credit: Daisuke Minakata.

To understand and predict how trace organic chemicals degrade when destroyed in AOPs, Minakata works with a second collaborator, Michigan Tech social scientist Mark Rouleau. They use computational chemistry, experiments, and sophisticated modeling.

Water reuse, aka reclaimed water, is the use of treated municipal wastewater for beneficial purposes including irrigation, industrial uses, and even drinking water.

“Solving this problem is especially critical for the benefit of communities in dry, arid regions of the world, because of the urgent need for water reuse in those places,” says Minakata. Water reuse, aka reclaimed water, is the use of treated municipal wastewater for beneficial purposes including irrigation, industrial uses, and even drinking water. It’s also the way astronauts at the International Space Station get their water. (Note: Minakata will explain how it works during his session of Husky Bites.)

Dr. Daisuke Minakata does a lot of work in one of the nation’s top undergraduate teaching labs, the Environmental Process Simulation Center, right here on campus at Michigan Tech.

Over the past few years Minakata’s research team has included nine undergraduate research assistants, all supported either through their own research fellowships or Minakata’s research grants.

In his classes, Minakata invites students to come see him if they are interested in undergraduate research within “the first two minutes of my talk.” For many, those first few minutes have become life changing and in the words of one student who longed to make a difference, “a dream come true.”

By encouraging and enabling undergraduate students to pursue research, Dr. Minakata is helping to develop a vibrant intellectual community among the students in the College of Engineering.

Dean Janet Callahan, College of Engineering, Michigan Tech

Minakata is a member of Michigan Tech’s Sustainable Futures Institute and the Great Lakes Research Center. In addition to being a faculty member in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, he is also an affiliated associate professor in both the Department of Chemistry and Department of Physics. Be sure to check out Dr. Minakata’s website, too.

“I never get tired of looking at this image,” says Daisuke Minakata, an associate professor of environmental engineering at Michigan Tech.

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

I loved watching a beautiful image of planet Earth, one with a very clear sky and blue water, during my high school days. However, as I began to learn how life on Earth suffers many difficult environmental problems, including air pollution and water contamination, I also learned that environmental engineers can be leaders who help solve the Earth’s most difficult sustainability problems. That is when I decided to become an engineer.

In my undergraduate curriculum, the water quality and treatment classes I took were the toughest subjects to get an A. I had to work the hardest to understand the content. So, naturally, I decided to enter this discipline as I got to know about water engineering more. And then, there’s our blue planet, the image. Water makes the Earth look blue from space.

Tell us about your growing up. What do you do for fun?

I was born and raised in Japan. I came to the U.S. for the first time as a high school exchange student, just for one month. I lived in Virginia, in a place called Silverplate, a suburb of D.C. I went to Thomas Jefferson Science and Technology High School, which was the sister school of my Japanese high school, and one of the nation’s top scientific high schools. And I did like it. This triggered my study abroad dream. I was impressed by the US high school education system in the US. It’s one that never just looks for the systematic solution, but values process/logic and discussion-based classes.

So, while in college, during my graduate studies, I took a one year leave from Kyoto University in Japan and studied at U Penn (University of Pennsylvania) as a visiting graduate student for one year. Finally, I moved to Atlanta, Georgia in order to get a PhD at Georgia Institute of Technology. I accepted my position at Michigan Tech in 2013.

I’m now a father of two kids. Both are Yoopers, born here in the UP of Michigan. My wife and I really enjoy skiing (downhill and cross country) with the kids each winter. 

Summing it all up, so far I’ve lived in Virginia (1 month), Philly in Pennsylvania while going to U Penn (1 year), Phoenix in Arizona to start my PhD (3.5 years), and Atlanta in Georgia to complete my PhD and work as a research engineer (5 years). Then finally in Houghton, Michigan (7 years). I do like all the cities I have lived in. The place I am currently living is our two kids’ birthplace, and our real home. Of course it’s our favorite place, after our Japanese hometown.


Dr. Minakata: in Husky Bites, Dean Callahan will ask you to tell us about your dog!

Learn More:

Engineers Capture Sun in a Box

Break It Down: Understanding the Formation of Chemical Byproducts During Water Treatment

The Princess and the Water Treatment Problem


Darian Reed: From Volunteer to New Career

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Graduate School Announces Summer 2020 Award Recipients

Michigan Tech in Summer

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

The following are award recipients in engineering graduate programs:

Doctoral Finishing Fellowship Award

Portage Health Foundation Graduate Assistantship

Matwiyoff & Hogberg Endowed Graduate Fellowship

Profiles of current recipients can be found online.


Tony Pinar: How Do Machines Learn?

Tony Pinar shares his knowledge on Husky Bites, a free, interactive webinar this Monday, June 22 at 6 pm EST. Learn something new in just 20 minutes, with time after for Q&A! Get the full scoop and register at mtu.edu/huskybites.

Can machines learn, for real? Just how intelligent are they? Will machines and robots someday take over the world?

“Machine learning has become a popular tool in the digital world,” says Tony Pinar. “For people outside the field it seems almost magical that a machine could learn.”

Machine-learning algorithms do indeed “learn”, though it probably is not as glamorous as many people think. And not only that, says Pinar, they can be fooled.

ECE faculty member Dr. Tony Pinar earned his BS, MS and PhD in electrical engineering, all at Michigan Tech.

A lecturer and researcher in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Michigan Tech, Pinar demystifies machine learning for students, and shows them how it’s done.

Pinar has even taught his own laptop a thing or two.

“Machine learning is actually a subfield of AI, or artificial intelligence,” says Pinar. “That’s a buzz word for simulating intelligence with a machine.”

Machine learning, he explains, is a collection of algorithms, biologically-inspired neural networks, that allow a computer to learn properties from observations, often with the goal of prediction.

“One pretty common misconception is that AI and machine learning are new. While the field has made leaps in the last few decades, some aspects of machine learning were developed in the 1800s, probably by Gauss,” says Pinar. Carl Friedrich Gauss, the German mathematician, is considered to be one of the greatest mathematicians of all time.

Pinar’s own research interests are in applied machine learning and data fusion. “It is exciting to me to watch the cutting edge move forward, see what sticks and what doesn’t, and observe how the directions of the field evolve,” he says. “It’s also rewarding to work on open-ended and novel problems that are in their infancy and at the cutting edge of today’s technology.”

Pinar is a member of the Institute of Computing and Cybersystems (ICC) at Michigan Tech. ICC provides a platform for innovative research and supports collaboration. The ICC’s 50 members represent 15 academic units at Michigan Tech.

It is exciting to me to watch the cutting edge move forward, see what sticks and what doesn’t, and observe how the directions of the field evolve.

Dr. Tony Pinar

“Often, the strongest solutions to be found are multidisciplinary, where people from many different fields work on the same problem,” notes Pinar.

As senior design coordinator for Michigan Tech’s ECE department, Pinar mentors students working on the final big design project of their senior year. Michigan Tech’s senior design program is more like a first job than a last class, and many projects are sponsored by industry.

What does working on senior design look like? It looks like testing, iterating, compiling, and teaming. This group of ME, EE, and CpE students is working on the SICK LiDAR challenge. They they ended up winning an Honorable Mention in the nationwide competition.

One senior design team that Pinar advised this past spring⁠—a multidisciplinary team comprised of students majoring in electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, and computer engineering⁠—competed in the TiM$10K Challenge, a national innovation and design competition. Student teams were invited to participate from 20 different universities by Sick USA. Sick AG, based in Waldkirch, Germany, is a global manufacturer of sensors and sensor solutions.

For the competition, teams were supplied with a 270-foot SICK LiDAR sensor, the TIM, and accessories, and challenged to solve a problem, create a solution or new application.

The Tech team members — Brian Parvin, Kurtis Alessi, Alex Kirchner, David Brushaber and Paul Allen — earned Honorable Mention (fourth place overall) for their project, Evaluating Road Markings (the Road Stripe Evaluator). The innovative product aims to help resolve issues caused by poor road markings.

“Road stripes around the world require frequent maintenance,” Pinar explains. “That’s because fading road stripes cause fatal car accidents and other safety concerns. The team’s software and device can be mounted on police cars in order to cover a wide region. And instead of repainting all road stripes, road crews can become discerning, learning which roads need repainting, and focus only on those, potentially saving a fortune each year on paint and maintenance.”

“Each year, fading road stripes cause fatal car accidents,” says Pinar. “This senior design team’s software and device the Road Stripe Evaluator, could potentially save lives.”

SICK asked each team in the competition to submit a video and paper for judging upon completion of its project. A panel of judges decided the winning submissions based on creativity and innovation, ability to solve a customer problem, commercial potential, entrepreneurship of the team, and reporting.

While the team’s prototype does not depend on machine learning, the project may continue in upcoming semester. That way, another senior design team will be able to build a machine learning solution into the prototype, notes Pinar.

In April, the team also won an Honorable Mention for the Road Stripe Evaluator project at Michigan Tech’s Design Expo, competing with 50+ other senior design teams.

How did you first get interested in engineering? What sparked your interest?

I was raised near the small town of Trout Creek, Michigan. I’ve always been obsessed with figuring out how things work. I was also interested in electricity from a young age, thanks to my dad, who had me help him to wire houses as an electrician. These led me to pursue electrical engineering at Michigan Tech, where I learned EE was so much more than power distribution.

You earned your BS, MS and PhD at Michigan Tech, all in electrical engineering. What kind of projects did you work on as a student?

I had the opportunity to work on many interesting projects as a student, both applied and research-based. As an undergrad I contributed to projects such as a solar-tracking solar panel, a Tesla coil, and an industry-sponsored project concerning wireless power transfer. In graduate school I worked on projects involving autonomous underwater gliders, 3D metal printers, and explosive hazard detection using ground penetrating radar; my dissertation was focused on the algorithms I developed and used for much of the explosive hazard detection problem.

What do you like most about teaching electrical engineering?

Teaching is like a puzzle where one may have to take a difficult concept, reduce it to digestible pieces, and deliver them to fresh minds in a way to maximize understanding and insight. That challenge is what drives me to be a better teacher. It keeps me on my toes, forces me to constantly identify holes in my knowledge, and drives me to continuously strive to learn new things.

Can you tell us about your life now? Any hobbies?

I live in Hancock with my wife, Noelle, and our two small boys, Malcolm and Dexter. If I’m not spending time outdoors in the Keweenaw with my family, you will probably find me playing guitar or tinkering with a side project.

Learn More

232: Road Marking Reflectivity Evaluator