Author: College of Engineering

Michigan Tech’s GMES Student Team Advances in National Mine Design Competition

Nathan Manser, Professor of Practice, Department of Geological and Mining Engineering and Sciences at Michigan Tech

The AggCelerate student team from the Department of Geological and Mining Engineering and Sciences (GMES) has advanced to the top six nationally in Phase 2 of the Society for Mining, Metallurgy, and Exploration (SME)/National Stone, Sand, and Gravel Association (NSSGA) Student Design Competition. The annual competition is a grueling two-phase, team-based, problem-solving activity involving a technical design and an oral presentation.

Under the guidance of Dr. Nathan Manser, Professor of Practice at GMES, the team has demonstrated exceptional skill and knowledge in their field.

The team members, listed in alphabetical order, are:

  • Cassie Burch (Junior, Geological Engineering)
  • Aiden Harmon (Junior, Mining Engineering)
  • Lucas Maxon (Sophomore, Mining Engineering)
  • Ian Repic (Senior, Mining Engineering)
  • Nathan Seidel (Senior, Mining Engineering)
  • Grady Williams (Junior, Mining Engineering)

During Spring break, the team will participate in the 2024 SME Annual Conference and Expo, competing against runner-up teams from the University of Kentucky, Virginia Tech, University of Arizona, West Virginia University, and Missouri University of Science and Technology.

Letter from the Chair – December 2023

Northern Lights over the snow and ice with students and flashlight in the far right corner of the frame
Aurora Borealis, Waterworks Park, Calumet, Michigan

Dear GMES Alumni and Friends,

When I became the department chair, I stopped using ‘Professor of Geophysics’ in my title and email signature. Instead, I now simply refer to myself as ‘Professor and Chair.’ This change reflects the fact that the success of all our programs and the department as a whole is equally important to me. I aspire to see our four major programs complement each other, combining our traditional strengths while equipping our students with the skills and tools needed for success in meeting the challenges of the 21st century.

Aleksey Smirnov, Professor and Chair

Student enrollment remains the first priority for the Department. Currently, our undergraduate cohort is a healthy size, consisting of 73 students split between our four majors: Geology (28), Geological Engineering (23), Mining Engineering (16), and Applied Geophysics (6). Our nearly equal gender parity has consistently been one of the best within Michigan Tech. We currently have 34 MS students and 12 PhD students, with 12 more MS students joining us this spring semester 2024.

Even so, we have the capacity to accommodate still more GMES students and we work hard to bring them to Michigan Tech. Scholarships remain one of the most efficient tools to attract new students.  

We also recently started development of a new articulation agreement with Minnesota North College, just as we did with Northwestern Michigan College last year. These agreements allow community college students to transfer their two-year credits to Michigan Tech and receive their Bachelor’s degree in two years.

Our capable, dedicated, enthusiastic students continue to be very successful in their classes and professional development. Our award-winning student chapter of the American Institute of Professional Geologists attended the AIPG National Conference in Kentucky in September. Student success stories—such as  John Myyard’s and Brendan Harville’s—are always inspiring and rewarding for all us who strive to help students.  

Our alumni community is invaluable to our department’s success. We’ve been delighted to reconnect with many of you at various events, including the GMES social event at the Annual SME Conference and Expo in Denver, and the Michigan Colleges/Universities Joint Alumni Reception at the GSA Annual Meeting in Pittsburgh. We look forward to reconnecting with you at future events, including the upcoming Alumni Reception at the SME MineXchange Conference in Phoenix on Tuesday, February 27, 2024, from 5:30 to 7:30 PM.

In October, it was a pleasure to welcome alumna Mary Herrmann-Foley, who returned to campus as a distinguished guest seminar speaker, sharing insights on the pivotal role of geological engineering in the energy transition. 

With your support, we can enhance our educational offerings, expand scholarship opportunities to benefit more students, and bolster their competitiveness in the job market. Your contributions also provide valuable support for student travel and professional development. For more details on how to make a difference, visit mtu.edu/geo/department/giving, or please feel free to contact me at asmirnov@mtu.edu.

Lastly, we are always glad to hear from you! Please share your thoughts on what and how we can do better, and update us on your own endeavors and achievements. 

Aleksey Smirnov

Michigan Tech GMES Students Camp Out for Success: A Memorable Journey to the AIPG National Conference

Group of GMES students stand in rows for the photo.
Sienna Meekhof, Conor Large, Kiera Watson, John Myaard, Elliz McClelland, Brendan Harville, Clarissa Gordon, Sean Miller, Yalmer Primeau, Anton Smirnov, Samuel Johnson, Konraad VanDyke, Sarah Aardal, Emily Gehrke, Jacob Ojala, Demetri Papas, Logan Harris.


Professional development often means enduring challenges. For GMES students, not even the hardships of staying at campgrounds or incredibly long drives can deter them!

Sixteen GMES students recently marked their presence at the 60th Anniversary National Conference of the American Institute of Professional Geologists (AIPG) held in Covington, Kentucky, from September 16-19. Throughout the conference, the students gained insights into the organization and functions of AIPG, engaged in a Student Career Workshop, and networked with seasoned AIPG professionals.

Samuel Johnson inspects new Brunton compass product.

The students attended presentations by a mining geologist, a National Park geoscientist, and a geotechnical contractor, and asked questions regarding their respective fields. One of those students was Anton Smirnov (Geology ‘24). “It was a great way to learn about the wide range of fields available to graduates in geological sciences,” he said.

Students were treated to a technical seminar by Brunton, Wyoming-based maker of precision equipment for field-based professionals. Students also received some hands-on time with the company’s products. Samuel Johnson shared: “The demonstration of how the different models of compasses worked was a great educational experience, especially for students who haven’t used these compasses before.”

Busily planning the day ahead on the morning of the conference.

Finally, the chapter took part in a meet-and-greet event. The students rotated between tables of professionals and scientists specializing in various fields in geology and geological engineering. They also met with Kalan Briggs, the AIPG Michigan Section President; Adam Heft, the AIPG Michigan Section Newsletter editor; and Michigan Tech alumnas Sienna Meekhof (BS Geology ‘21) and Elana Barth (MS Geology ’23).

Barth is former president of Michigan Tech’s AIPG Student Chapter. She is now a geologist at AECOM, and generously assisted with accommodations for several students. However, embodying the true spirit of geoscientists, the majority of the students opted to stay at a campground near Covington.

All in all it was a rewarding time for the students. “Attending the 60th AIPG National Conference in Covington was a fantastic experience,” said applied geophysics major Brendan Harville. “I was able to speak with numerous professionals from a variety of geology industry disciplines, who not only provided insight into their own non-linear career paths, but also a great deal of excellent advice.”

The trip was organized and funded by the Michigan Tech AIPG Student Chapter: President Anton Smirnov, Vice President Clarissa Gordon, Treasurer Conor Large, and Secretary Brendan Harville.

This year the Michigan Tech GMES chapter was selected as the Second Place 2023 AIPG Student Chapter of the Year. The MTU chapter sponsor is David Adler, CPG-11377, a Mannik Smith Group Certified Professional Geologist (BS Geology ‘82).

“Bright future ahead!”
Sarah and Clarissa are having fun; Conor Large talks to Elana Barth

Geologic Society of America: Michigan Colleges Joint Alumni Reception

Will you be in Pittsburgh for GSA Connects 2023? Please join us on Monday evening for the Michigan Colleges/Universities Joint Alumni reception (Albion, CMU, EMU, GVSU, Hope, Michigan Tech, WMU, and WSU). Enjoy snacks and a cash bar.


Monday, October 16, 2023
5:30 PM – 7:30 PM
Sky Room, 17th floor
Omni William Penn Hotel


Questions? Contact Aleksey Smirnov, GMES Chair. We hope to see you there!


My story: John Myaard, MTUengineer

John sits at a table with brochures and MTU Geo Mining banners
Geological Engineering student John Myaard ’23
John and others wear hardhats and yellow shirts on a mining platfrom in an open air mine, surrounded by rock formations.
John Myaard (far right) in Roff, Oklahoma, during his summer internship with Covia.

Geological engineering student John Myaard interviewed for an internship with Covia Corporation during a Michigan Tech Career Fair, and landed the job.

“Covia develops mineral-based and material solutions for the materials and energy markets. I spent a summer with Covia’s operations team at their mine and plant in Roff, Oklahoma. During my time there I learned a lot about operations as I worked in a variety of positions—from slurrying sand to loading railcars and everything in between. I also completed new miners training: MSHA Part 46 Certification, required by the U.S. Department of Labor.

“My time at Tech has been influential. I’ve met many good peers with whom I’ve weathered both the classroom and the elements.”

John Myaard

“Michigan Tech was always on my radar. I am from Michigan and grew up in Hudsonville, home to Hudsonville ice cream. I had family in the UP, so I’d already had a chance to see the MTU campus. Originally I was going to major in computer science, but after being exposed to some geology courses in high school and then experiencing a favorable tour of the GMES Department, I decided geological engineering would be a better fit.”

“I’m passionate about the interdisciplinary problem solving required in the field of mining. I see a lot of value in geological engineers getting involved with operations and mineral processing. We bring a diverse set of skills to the table.”

“There are more opportunities within the geological disciplines than most people are aware of. Especially now, as I am looking to graduate, many diverse career options exist, and the future of the discipline looks good.”

John is drilling in an underground mine.
John operates a drill in an underground mine. Hands-on learning is the norm for GMES students at Michigan Tech.

“The Career Fair is not only a great resource for students to find new opportunities, it’s a great place to receive professional development, as well. I took part in several callback interviews that helped me develop and improve my interview skills. The callbacks were instrumental in landing my internship, and hopefully in launching my future career.”

“There is no singular path for success. It is a journey, try your best.”

Advice for incoming students, from John Myaard

Chad Deering Recognized for Teaching Excellence

Chad Deering
Chad Deering

Chad Deering, an associate professor in the Department of Geological and Mining Engineering and Sciences, has joined the Michigan Tech Academy of Teaching Excellence.

“Dr. Deering is an exceptional educator, teaching vital departmental courses such as mineralogy, petrology, geochemistry, and summer field geology,” says GMES Department Chair, Aleksey Smirnov. His extensive knowledge in these fields and engaging teaching style have earned him high praise from students.”

“His recent recognition for teaching excellence is a testament to his dedication and the impact he has on our undergraduate students.”

“Dr. Deering strikes a balance between being demanding and fair, challenging students while providing a supportive learning environment.”

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

The Michigan Tech Academy of Teaching Excellence was established in 1998 to recognize those who have demonstrated continued dedication to and support of the University’s teaching mission. Academy membership is comprised of finalists for the annual Distinguished Teaching Awards and the Fredrick D. Williams Instructional Innovation Award.

Deering was nominated for the William G. Jackson Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL)’s annual Distinguished Teaching Awards, which recognize outstanding contributions to Michigan Tech’s instructional mission. Based on more than 40,000 student ratings of instruction responses. He was among 10 finalists in the Associate Professor/Professor category identified for the 2023 awards.

A Note from the Chair

Early spring rock hunting at McLain State Park

Dear Alumni and Friends,

Aleksey Smirnov, Professor and Chair

Warm greetings from the Department of Geological and Mining Engineering and Sciences at Michigan Tech!

I hope this newsletter finds you in good health and high spirits. The long winter in the Keweenaw has finally given way to the vibrant colors of spring. As the seasons change and spring breathes new life into Copper County, I am delighted to reconnect with all of you and share some latest updates from our department.

As always, our priority remains to provide the highest quality education and learning experiences to our students, ensuring their future success. Recently, we heartfeltly congratulated our Spring and Summer 2023 graduates on this significant milestone. We are immensely proud of their achievements and wish them the very best in their future endeavors.

Our students continue to engage in active research, exploring new frontiers and making valuable contributions to their respective areas of study. I was particularly impressed by the work of Natalie Sorensen, a talented freshman majoring in geological engineering who has shown great promise in the field of hydrological research. Her dedication and enthusiasm are truly inspiring. Another noteworthy mention goes to Addison Goecker, a senior in applied geophysics whose poster presentation at the AIPG meeting received well-deserved recognition. It’s remarkable to see the caliber of research being conducted by our students.

One of the hallmarks of our department is the research mentorship provided by our faculty to our students. This commitment to guiding and nurturing their research endeavors was recently showcased at the Institute for Lake Superior Geology (ILSG) meeting in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, attended by a group of faculty and students. Not only did they present their research findings, but they also had the invaluable opportunity to network with esteemed professionals in the field. This experience further solidifies our department’s dedication to providing our students with exceptional research opportunities and preparing them for successful futures in their chosen disciplines.

Our faculty and staff have been successful, too! In particular, I am thrilled to announce that Radwin Askari, associate professor of geophysics, has been honored with a prestigious NSF CAREER award in recognition of his innovative ideas for understanding the dynamics of a volcano’s magmatic cracks. This research can improve the forecast of volcanic eruptions and help to mitigate their attendant hazards.

The expertise of our researchers is highly sought around the globe. Notably, our experts in water resource management, Dr. John Gierke and Dr. Luke Bowman were solicited by AmeriCorps to share their knowledge in building rainwater collection systems in rural communities of Colombia.

Teaching excellence has been a cornerstone of our department, and we take pride in the accomplishments of our faculty members on this front. Chad Deering and Luke Bowman, in particular, have been recognized for their exceptional teaching abilities. Chad’s dedication and passion have earned him a nomination for the Michigan Tech Distinguished Teaching Award  while Luke’s teaching prowess has been acknowledged in the Dean’s Teaching Showcase.

The support of our donors is instrumental to our success. Your generosity plays a crucial role in providing exceptional opportunities for our students and enhancing the quality of education we offer. We are always striving to provide the best opportunities for our students. The next few years promise even further expansion. However, we still have big needs in the areas of laboratory improvements and student scholarships. We would greatly appreciate any assistance in making these enhancements.

In particular, we have a pressing need to upgrade our Mining Engineering computer lab, and also to fund additional scholarships for geology and applied geophysics students.

As I reflect on our shared journey, the importance of our alumni community is clear: You are an invaluable part of our department’s history and success. We were happy to see quite a few of alumni and friends at Michigan Tech’s GMES social event, held at the recent 2023 Annual SME Conference and Expo in Denver. We intend to have more such events at other professional meetings.

Meanwhile, if you ever find yourself in our neck of the woods, I sincerely hope you’ll consider stopping by to say hello and share your stories. Your experiences and achievements are a great inspiration to our students and faculty alike.

Wishing you all the best in your endeavors, and may our paths cross again soon.

With warmest regards,

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

Dr. Radwin Askari Receives National Science Foundation CAREER Award

Radwin Askari’s work as a researcher and educator has been recognized with CAREER Awards from the National Science Foundation.

GMES Associate Professor Radwin Askari, a geophysicist who studies cavitation in volcanoes’ fluid-filled magmatic cracks, has earned a National Science Foundation (NSF) CAREER Award.

The awards recognize Askari, an associate professor of geological and mining engineering and sciences, as an early-career faculty who demonstrates the potential to serve as academic role model in research and education, and to lead advances in the mission of his department or organization. The five-year grant will support both research work and education outreach. 

Askari’s award will enhance both research capabilities and educational opportunities in the Physical Modeling Laboratory.

Understanding Volcanoes Through Integrated Physical Modeling  

Askari will receive more than $668,000 to continue research in the Physical Modeling Laboratory (PML), which he founded in the Department of Geological and Mining Engineering and Sciences (GMES). For his CAREER project, he’ll develop two analog apparatuses to investigate the cavitation mechanism in fluid-filled magmatic cracks and the developments of sub-cracks and seismic signals that result. Askari said it is crucial to understand both the cavitation mechanism and the dynamics of a volcano’s magmatic crack growth in order to estimate the scale of magma transport. 

“The results from this research can improve the forecast of volcanic eruptions, which in turn can help to mitigate their consequent hazards.”

Radwin Askari

As a result, Askari will be able to assess other complex scenarios in fracture evolution and their corresponding seismicity, a major step toward his ultimate research goals in the field. He also plans to purchase new lab equipment, including a high-speed imaging system, to substantially enhance the PML’s experimental capacities. Other disciplines across campus, including biomechanics, aerodynamics and fluid dynamics, will also be able to use these advanced tools for future multidisciplinary research collaborations. 

Askari plans to promote earth science literacy for students, educators and the public by producing several educational videos and a virtual PML lab tour. He will also offer summer research internships to students from traditionally underserved populations. 

Askari said he’s grateful to GMES Chair Aleksey Smirnov, along with Assistant Vice President for Research Development Peter Larsen and colleagues in Tech’s Sponsored Programs Office, for their support and guidance. He also thanked retired GMES staff member Carol Asiala, an assistant research scientist and engineer, for her assistance with the nontechnical parts of his award proposal.

Learn more about the Physical Modeling Laboratory.

A Note from the Chair

Dear Friends, Colleagues, and Alumni,

Greetings from the Department of Geological and Mining Engineering and Sciences at Michigan Tech! I hope that this newsletter finds you well and in good spirits.

The second half of the year 2022 has brought our Department new challenges, but also achievements and successes. 

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

First and foremost, I am proud to report that, after some hiatus, we inducted eight (!) new members to our Academy of Geological and Mining Engineers and Scientists. I hope you will join me in congratulating David Adler ‘82, Daniel Farrell ’60, Mary Herrmann-Foley ’83, Terre Lane ’82, Julie (Varichak) Marinucci ’02, Richard Saccany ’71, Brian Schwanitz ’77, and Todd Stone ’85! The Induction Ceremony, held on October 14, was a success and well-attended. In particular, we were happy to see the current academy members Catherine Aimone-Martin, Suzanne Beske-Diehl and Jimmy Diehl, William Brice, Karl Burgher, Gerald Carlson, Richard Gray, Catherine Dummer McRae, and Bill Rose. The festivities continued the next day with a Director’s Tour of the Mineral Museum and apple pressing at Professor John Gierke’s farm. Everyone had a good time. I would like to praise Brittany Buschell, our Department Coordinator, whose diligent work was instrumental in the success of this event. I intend to preserve the biennial cycle of the Academy from now on.

The success of our department is ultimately measured by the success of our students, and it is no secret that we’ve been blessed with more than our fair share of capable, dedicated, enthusiastic individuals who’ve been very successful in their classes and professional development. Just to give you a small sampling of these successes—our student chapter of the American Institute of Professional Geologists won the nationwide Student Chapter of the Year Award, not just one time, but three times in a row! Our mining engineering senior, Jake Maxon won the highly prestigious national Lord Bagri Scholarship Award from the Copper Club. It’s the second time in a row the award goes to our students.

In addition, our geology majors, Elliz McClelland and Samuel Johnson received the DeCleene Memorial Scholarship awarded by the Copper Country Rock and Mineral Club (CCRMC). Our graduate students get awards, too. For example, Beth Bartel was awarded the Outstanding Teaching Assistant Award from the National Association of Geoscience Teachers (NAGT) and the prestigious Smithsonian Institute Fellowship. Beth was also featured in the book, Quake Chasers: 15 Women Rocking Earthquake Science—check it out!

Increasing undergraduate and graduate enrollment to full capacity is one challenge that remains. We have been active in our recruitment efforts. We recently developed an articulation agreement with the Northwestern Michigan College (NMC) for our Geology and Applied Geophysics programs. We plan to complete similar agreements for our Geological Engineering and Mining Engineering degree programs soon. I am especially grateful to Luke Bowman, research professor and recruitment director, for his meticulous and efficient work in developing these initiatives. So far we have been able to withstand national enrollment trends, even slightly increasing our numbers this year. But much more remains to be done. 

We are dedicated to providing students with the greatest possible opportunity to succeed—something we can only do with the best faculty, staff, equipment, facilities, and scholarship opportunities. Your generosity makes our goal of providing truly excellent undergraduate and graduate experiences a reality, as we educate the scientists and engineers of the future, while still meeting the needs of today’s employers.

We especially need your help to support incoming and current students. This can be done in a variety of ways:  funding undergraduate scholarships and graduate fellowships; helping us to incorporate modern instrumentation and software in the classroom and field; developing new opportunities for the professional development of our students; and extending our efforts to offer a cutting-edge, quantitative, digital-age curriculum. You can find more information here, or contact me via email, at asmirnov@mtu.edu.

On behalf of all of our students, faculty, and staff, I want to express our deepest gratitude to those of you who have provided support to our department, by sharing your experience and expertise, providing professional opportunities to our students, or offering monetary and logistical support. As always, we welcome all new ideas and inquiries, so please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Alumni and friends are always welcome in person, too! Feel free to stop by the department office (room 630) on the 6th floor of the Dow Building whenever you are in Houghton. We would be very pleased to meet with you and arrange a tour of the teaching and research laboratories during your visit. Meanwhile, I invite you to stay connected to the department via Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and our website.

Wishing you a happy and healthy holiday season!

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


Pictured here: Canyon Falls, L’Anse, Michigan

Q&A with Xin Xi: Uncovering Global Dust-Climate Connections

Dr. Xin Xi: “Surface weather observations are worth a refreshed look and can be used for improving our dust-climate modeling capability.”

GMES Assistant Professor Xin Xi’s new open-source dataset, duISD, is featured in Michigan Tech’s Unscripted Research blog. Here, he tells us more about it.

Q: How did you get started studying dust and desertification? 

XX: I grew up in humid southern China and had no experiences with dust storms when I was young. When I started college in Beijing, I had personal encounters with the “yellow dust” or Kosa (in Korea and Japan). The sky turned murky yellow every spring, while the whole city was shrouded in a cloud of dust blown from northwestern China. 

When I started graduate school at Georgia Tech, atmospheric aerosols emerged as a central theme in climate research, largely because they are capable of counteracting the warming effect of greenhouse gasses and play a crucial role in the hydrological cycle. Like many others, I became interested in my research due to the positive influence of my Ph.D. advisor, an expert in atmospheric aerosols, particularly mineral dust. 

Q: Why did you decide to revisit the use of horizontal visibility? 

XX: Primarily because of the long timespan of the visibility record from surface weather stations. It is by far the longest instrumental data record of dust, including regions near the dust source where modern-day satellites have difficulties providing reliable observations. 

Long-term, uninterrupted data records are paramount for understanding the variability of dust in response to climate and land use changes. I believe the visibility record has not been used to its full potential, so I took on the effort to develop a homogenized dust-climate record.

Q: Who do you imagine will get the most use from your new dataset? How would a researcher make use of it, and why? 

XX: This new dataset is an initial version of the dust-climate dataset I have been working on. Currently it consists of monthly records of the ambient dust burden at more than 10,000  weather stations worldwide. It is presented in an easy-to-read format, so anyone familiar with spreadsheets can use it. Dust researchers may find it useful, because they can avoid the tedious preprocessing steps with the raw data and are presented with summary statistics to help them pick the stations for their region of interest.

Dr. Xi used the dataset to characterize dust variability and climate connections around the world. The results of his study are featured in an article in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres

Q: Do you intend to update with future versions? 

XX: Definitely. I plan to conduct data fusion by combining the surface observations with additional climate and land information from satellites or models.

Q: What are the most unique and noteworthy aspects of this research? 

XX: It is a climate data record development project, and the ultimate goal is to create a quality-controlled dataset for the climate community to study trends, variability and relationships about dust and climate. In addition, I believe the dataset can offer other insightful information about the deficiency of current climate models. 

Q: What do you plan to research next? 

XX: I plan to take on the next step of updating the initial dataset I created, and develop new analytic results, which can convince myself — and, hopefully, the climate community — that surface weather observations are worth a refreshed look and can be used for improving our dust-climate modeling capability.

Xi’s open-source dataset, duISD, can be accessed online