Category: Alumni

Eight new members inducted to GMES Academy

The Michigan Tech Department of Geological and Mining Engineering and Sciences (GMES) inducted eight alumni into the GMES Academy on October 14, 2022. Held in the Great Lakes Research Center overlooking the fall foliage, sixty-two people were in attendance at the invite-only induction ceremony, including faculty, staff, current Academy members, and select students. The Academy honors alums who have made a significant impact in their professions and others who have made extraordinary contributions to the department’s advancement.

Celebrations continued on October 15 with a tour of the A.E. Seaman Mineral Museum led by curator Dr. John Jaszczak, followed by a pasty luncheon and apple pressing hosted by the Gierke Blueberry Farm.

The 2022 GMES Academy members include:

David Adler ‘82 B.S. Geology
Daniel Farrell ‘60 B.S. Mining Engineering
Mary Herrmann-Foley ‘83 B.S. Geological Engineering
Terre Lane ‘82 B.S. Mining Engineering
Julie (Varichak) Marinucci ‘02 B.S. Mining Engineering
Richard Saccany ‘71 B.S. Mining Engineering
Brian Schwanitz ‘77 B.S. Applied Geophysics
Todd Stone ‘85 B.S. Geological Engineering

Congratulations on your well-deserved recognition to Dave, Dan, Mary, Terre, Julie, Rich, Brian, and Todd. You are all an inspiration to all of us!

GMES gives special thanks to those who made the event possible: MUB Catering, Great Lakes Research Center, Copper Island Engraving, Jim’s Foodmart, Audra Morse, Shelle Sandell, John Jaszczak, A.E. Seaman Mineral Museum, Protea Floral, Roy’s Bakery, Tony’s Kitchen, John & Lynn Gierke, and Dean Callahan’s support and high-level snapshot into the future of Michigan Tech.

A Note from the Chair

Dear Friends, Colleagues, and Alumni,

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

The long Keweenaw winter is finally over and so is another fruitful academic year at Michigan Tech. We continue to thrive in the strong pursuit of our research and educational missions. 

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

With most pandemic-related restrictions lifted, our GMES faculty and students alike enjoyed in-person interaction in both the classroom and the lab, and also resumed their travel to fieldwork, conferences, and other professional activities. 

Thanks to the generosity of our donors, we were able to fund student participation in professional meetings. One particular highlight: our faculty and students were honored and recognized for their contributions and hard work at the 2022 SME Annual Conference & Expo in Salt Lake City. 

Our central priority is to enrich the learning experiences of our students and ensure their future success. At the end of April we wholeheartedly congratulated our Spring 2022 graduates, wishing them godspeed in their future endeavors. We also celebrated the well-deserved promotions of Dr. Radwin Askari to Associate Professor of Geophysics with tenure, and of Dr. Nathan Manser to Professor of Practice in Mining Engineering. Dr. Manser also received the Robert W. Piekarz award from the Industrial Minerals and Aggregates Division of SME.

Our faculty, staff, and students have been actively engaged in a wide range of research and engineering problems, working around the globe from Central America to India. Funding for this research comes from various agencies including NSF, NASA, USGS, NIOSH, and others. I am especially proud to report the success of our students who won no less than six Michigan Space Grant Consortium awards this year!

Many of these achievements are made possible through your ongoing encouragement and support. Thank you! We strive to provide the best opportunities for our students. As we work toward our goals, with your continued support, I am certain we will get where we want to be. 

While this letter is mainly intended to share our news with you, I hope that you will in turn share your own news and achievements with our Department, so that we can celebrate the impact each of us has on the wider world.

And, if your travels bring you to Houghton, please stop by–we are always happy to see you.

Best wishes,

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

Pictured here: a portion of the Keweenaw Boulder Garden on campus at Michigan Tech, a dream fulfilled for geoscientist and GMES Professor Emeritus Bill Rose.

Congratulations Spring 2022 Graduates

We are pleased to announce our Spring graduates. We are proud of you and wish you the best of luck in your next chapter.


Rachel Heatherington

Rachel Hetherington, Ph.D. Geology, advised by Chad Deering

Currently working as a coordinator in Michigan Tech’s Great Lakes Research Center, Rachel plans to enjoy no longer being a student and see what opportunities arise along the way. When asked what part of attending MTU has been the most memorable, Rachel says it’s been the people and connections she’s made. Plus, she met her husband here!


Emily Gochis

Emily Gochis, Ph.D. Geology, advised by John Gierke

Emily serves as the Western UP MiSTEM Network Director and the Program Director for the Lake Superior Stewardship Initiative- serving the five-county region of the WUP (Houghton, Baraga, Ontonagon). For the time being, she’s continuing with that work. Emily had this to share when asked what’s been the most memorable part of her time here, “GMES is a great family. I appreciate the opportunities to interact with the students and faculty both in and out of school. I also enjoyed how connected the different departments and colleges are on campus.” 


Abi Raetz

Abi Raetz, M.S. Geological Engineering, advised by John Gierke

After graduation, Abi will be working as a design engineer for Sustainable Streams, LLC, designing treatments for rivers, wetlands, and stormwater systems. Being a member of the Mont. Ripley Ski Patrol has been a consistent highlight of her time at MTU.


Jordan Ewing

Jordan Ewing earns a Master’s in Data Science on the way toward his Ph.D. in Computational Science and Engineering under the advising of Dr. Thomas Oommen.

His research work is in machine learning and remote sensing of soils for mobility, autonomy, and terramechanics applications. He has also received the SMART Scholarship and will continue on with his sponsoring facility after completing his PhD in Computational Science and Engineering.


Breeanne Heusdens pictured with a calcite vein in the Keweenaw

Breeanne Heusdens, M.S. Geological Engineering, advised by Radwin Askari

The second degree Breeanne has earned from the GMES department; her master’s comes after a bachelor’s in applied geophysics she earned in the spring of ’21. Breeannee leaves us to join the workforce in a geologist position with BLN.


Josh Breggar

Josh Breggar, M.S. Geology, advised by Luke Bowman

After graduation, Josh will be working as the Minerals and Geology Assistant and Caribou-Targhee National Forest. The most memorable part of attending MTU for Josh has been all of the explorations that he’s been able to do as there are so many great beaches for rock hunting and trails for hiking up here.


Kassidy O’Connor, MS Geophysics, advised by Thomas Oommen

After graduation, Kassidy will be moving to New Jersey to work as a geologist for Arcadis. Winter Carnival goes down as one of her most memorable experiences while here.

Kassidy O’Connor

Jacob Bonessi, MS Geology, advised by Chad Deering


Olivia Salvaggio stands on top of Mont Ripley

Olivia Salvaggio, B.S. Applied Geophysics

Olivia hopes to become a field geophysicist and is currently looking at options to complete her goal. Whether graduate school or a job, she knows she is well equipped for any opportunity that comes her way. The Michigan Tech community has been the most memorable part of her experience while studying here.

Cade Johnson

Cade Johnson, B.S. Mining Engineering

After graduation, Cade will be working for US Steel at Keetac in Northern Minnesota as a mining engineer in their development program. He enjoyed the events that the Society of Mining, Metallurgy and Exploration allowed him to attend. These include the Salt Lake City MineExchange, the Northern Minnesota Mining Conference and mine tours in the UP.


Ryan Schwiderson

Ryan Schwiderson, B.S. Geology

After graduation, Ryan plans to move to Novi, Michigan where he will work for a leading international consulting and engineering firm, Wood PLC. “The most memorable part of attending MTU has been any and everything that has taken me into the Keweenaw’s great outdoors. Between field classes, athletics, winter carnival, or just adventuring with friends. People always tell you how beautiful nature is up here but you don’t truly believe or understand them until you see it for yourself.” – Ryan


Justin Ketola, B.S. Geological Engineering


Matt Kummeth, B.S. Geology


Cooper Osgood, B.S. Geology


Lila Carden, B.S. Geological Engineering


Cole Anderson, B.S. Mining Engineering


Olivia Salvaggio leads the way followed by Lila Carden, Justin Ketola, Hayden Risko, Cooper Osgood, and Ryan Schwiderson.

GMES Mining Engineering Program Successful at the Annual SME Conference & Expo

GMES Mining Engineering Program Successful at the Annual SME Conference & Expo

After a two-year pandemic hiatus for in-person meetings, the mining engineering faculty and students came back stronger than ever to the 2022 Annual Society of Mining, Metallurgy, and Exploration Conference & Expo. Held in Salt Lake City, from February 27, through March 2, 2022, GMES faculty and students had a great time presenting their research, receiving awards, and connecting with alumni.

We thank the Richard Saccany Mining Program Fund, the Robert Hendricks Mining Endowment Fund, and all our friends who contributed to the Mining and Material Processing Engineering Fund. These financial contributions made it possible to support the travel for a large group of students to obtain first-hand exposure to the most recent advances in mining engineering research and practice, network with industry professionals, and explore future career paths.

Research Presentations


Associate Professor and a Witte Family Faculty Fellow, Snehamoy Chatterjee, delivered two oral presentations:

  • Development of Machine Learning Models for Identifying Mining Injury Risk Factors Using Leading Indicators (co-authored by Pooja M, Aref Majdara, Hugh Miller, and Rennie Kaunda
  • PixelMPS: A Python Toolbox for Multiple-Point Geostatistics (co-authored by Karthik Menon, Poorva Kadroli, and Adel Asadi)

Dr. Chatterjee’s MS student, David Porter, delivered an oral presentation:

  • Utilization of Geostatistical Methods to Estimate Localized Cemented Rock Fill Strength in Underground Mass Placements

Dr. Chatterjee’s MS student, Dharmasai Eshwar Reddy Sirigiri, presented a poster:

  • An Entropy-based Risk Index (ERI) of Mining Health and Safety using Unsupervised Machine Learning Algorithms

The GMES support group at Dharmasai’s poster is pictured from left to right: David Porter, Emily Street, Poorva Kadrolli, Dharmasai Eshar Reddy Sirigiri, Cade Johnson, Ian Gannon, Jake Maxon, and Dr. Nathan Manser.


Recognitions


Dr. Nathan Manser, a Professor of Practice in mining engineering, and Emily Street, a senior in mining engineering, were recognized for their achievements.

Dr. Nathan Manser received the Robert W. Piekarz award that recognizes exceptional service to the Industrial Minerals and Aggregates Division for work related to managing technical session content for the annual conference.

Emily Street received two academic awards: the SMEF/MMSA Presidential Scholarship, which recognizes excellent academic performance in a minerals engineering-related field. The Gerald V. Henderson Memorial Scholarship supports students who express a special interest in career paths that align with industrial minerals and aggregates industries. Emily was also invited to present a talk related to her internship experience with Lafarge-Holcim during the Industrial Minerals and Aggregates Division luncheon.

Alumni Connections


As part of the week-long activities at SME, the GMES department hosted an alumni engagement event at Gracie’s Gastropub on Sunday night. About 45 people attended and participated in the two-hour social event. Alumni, hailing from several MTU departments and coming from classes in the mid-1980s through our most recent graduates, were in attendance and truly demonstrated the vast network, especially in the geoscience and minerals industries. Also in attendance were a few members of the Industrial Advisory Board for Mining Engineering at MTU who came to rekindle some meaningful connections with students and alumni alike. Overall, everyone had a great time, and plans for the event next February in Denver are already underway!

Fun


The MTU Student Chapter of SME participated in the Komatsu Student Night at the conference, a 1920’s themed event with over 300 attendees from schools worldwide. The highlight of the evening was a quiz-bowl competition between the schools based on materials handling calculations, where students from MTU placed second in the event.

Pictured left to right: Dharmasai Eshwar Reddy Sirigiri, Cade Johnson, Jake Maxon, Ian Gannon, Poorva Kadrolli, Matthew Portfleet, Nathan Johnson, Emily Street.


Other SME Activities


The MTU Director of Mine Safety, Matt Portfleet, joined by mine safety trainers Marisa Roerig and Ron Gradowski, also attended the conference. Marisa and Matt both enrolled in and took the Certified Mine Safety Professional (CMSP) exam after partaking in a 3-day CMSP review course. They both passed!

Emily Street pictured with Immersive Virtual Reality

Happy Holidays: A Note from the Chair

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

Dear Alumni and Friends!

I hope that this newsletter finds all of you and your families healthy and safe. Winter is in full swing in Houghton County, with over 30″ of snow this season so far. The Tech Trails are groomed, the broomball fields are set, our students have completed final exams and many are celebrating their recent graduation. As the holidays approach, I am happy to share some exciting developments that happened at the Department of Geological and Mining Engineering and Sciences since we sent you our previous newsletter in early June.

Before all, I am thrilled to report that our recently-reinstated Bachelor of Science in Mining Engineering program has been accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET). The meticulous accreditation process ensures that the program meets the strictest professional standards and provides the students with a solid educational foundation and posits them for successful and impactful careers. You can read more about it here.

Our faculty, staff, and students continued their diligent and productive work to move our department forward. 

Due to the previous year’s cancellations, this summer we offered two sections of our Field Geology and Field Geophysics courses each. Everyone was happy to get back in the field for experiential learning. And to add to the excitement, our Field Geophysics students were the first cohort to take the advantage of cancellation of the laboratory fee, thanks to the Carl G. Schwenk Field Geophysics Lab Endowment.

Our faculty, alumni, and students have been recognized for their contributions and hard work. Most importantly, we celebrated two of our colleagues being named inaugural faculty fellows. Dr. Snehamoy Chatterjee, Associate Professor, was appointed the Witte Family Endowed Faculty Fellow in Mining Engineering; and Jeremy Shannon, Principal Lecturer, was named the Carl G. Schwenk Faculty Fellow in Applied Geophysics. We are extremely grateful to Carl Schwenk and the Witte family for their generosity, which will have a tremendous and long-lasting impact on the academic and professional successes of our students and faculty. 

This fall, we congratulate Angela Hammond (BS ’00, MS ’02; Geological Engineering) who has been inducted into the Presidential Council of Alumnae.

Our students continue to be successful in their classes, participating in research, and presenting their work worldwide. These efforts have brought them much recognition. Most notably, our student chapter of the American Institute of Professional Geologists (AIPG) has been named the 2021 Student Chapter of the Year for the second year in a row! We also are very proud of Emily Street, a mining engineering senior, who won a prestigious nationwide 2021 Copper Club Lord Bagri Scholarship.

Last but not the least, our heartfelt congratulations go to our Summer and Fall 2021 graduates.

On behalf of our students, faculty, and staff, I would like to express my deepest appreciation to all of you who have provided support to our department! Your support is more important for us than ever during these challenging times. As we head toward 2022, we are aware of the hurdles we face, and the opportunities ahead. We look forward to your continued engagement with GMES as we recommit to our mission and goals.

As always, I will be happy to hear from you at any time by email (asmirnov@mtu.edu), phone (906.487.2365), or in-person (Dow 631).

Wishing you a very happy holiday season and a peaceful and prosperous new year!

Aleksey Smirnov
Professor and Chair

Congratulations to GMES Summer and Fall 2021 Graduates!

We are pleased to announce our Summer and Fall graduates. We are proud of you, and wish you the best of luck in your next chapter.


Leonid Surovitskii
Leonid Surovitskii

Leonid Surovitskii will soon graduate with a PhD in Geophysics. A highlight of his time here has been conducting fieldwork in China, Canada, and the U.S. Leo shared that all of his experience at Michigan Tech is a bright spot on his life path. Moving forward, Leo plans to publish more research papers and is looking forward to finding a postdoctoral position.


Domenicca (Dome) Guillen

Domenicca (Dome) Guillen is graduating with an MS in Geology. Dome shared this when asked to reflect on the last two years: “My time at Michigan Tech was a self-revolution for me; I had to adapt myself to a new language, culture, and weather. Certainly, I have improved academically and even emotionally, during this time, and I thank MTU for who I am now. In terms of courses, I love the remote sensing courses and the course on geostatistics and data analysis.”


Katie Nelson

Katie Nelson will soon graduate with an MS in Geophysics. Katie is continuing with her research working towards a PhD. A few highlights of Katie’s time here have been playing on a broomball team her first year, getting to travel to do fieldwork, and meeting so many wonderful people.


Dianna Bullen

Diana Bullen is graduating with an MS in Geology. After graduation, Diana plans on relocating back home to lower Michigan while searching for a job. When asked what she enjoyed and will miss the most, she had this to say, “I am going to miss all of my university Zoom friends the most. I am thankful that I got to meet such a great group of people. When I met them in person they were just as amazing as they were online!”


Nick Potter is graduating with an MS in Geology.


Ryan Klida is graduating with an MS in Geological Engineering.


Shubham Mahajan is graduating with an MS in Geological Engineering.


Sienna Meekhoff

Sienna Meekhoff will soon graduate with a BS in Geology. Sienna had this to say about her time at Michigan Tech:  “The highlight of my time here would have to be my involvement with the Geology Club and our AIPG student chapter. They really got me to open up to other students in and outside our department. I had several traveling opportunities with them, too, like our spring break trips to Arkansas, Virginia, North Carolina, and Tennessee as well as the AIPG national conferences in Burlington, Vermont, and Sacramento, California. I am going to miss the Keweenaw Peninsula the most. I love swimming in Lake Superior and finding agates on the beaches as well as skiing with the amazing scenery Ripley and Bohemia have to offer.”


Emily Pray

Emilie Pray will soon graduate with a BS in Geology. After graduation, Emilie plans to stay at Michigan Tech to pursue an MS in Geology. The highlight of her time here so far has been the undergraduate research she’s conducted. Through it, she was able to learn a lot about the geology of the Upper Peninsula outside of the classroom. She studied some of the oldest rocks in the region! Working in the lab and collecting data were the hands-on experiences she wanted during her studies at Tech.


Hannah Hunt

Hannah Hunt will soon graduate with a BS in Geology. Hannah is pictured using a Geonics EM-16 VLF receiver at Taylor Mine.


Cristhian Salas ’21 finished this summer, earning an MS in Geology. More details to come.


Sanna Mairet ’21 finished this summer and earned an MS in Geology. Info coming soon.


Kay Sivaraj ’21 finished this summer, graduating with an MS in Geology. Stay tuned for more details.


Stepan Pikul ’21 finished this summer, earning an MS in Geology. Check back later for full details.

Summer Field Geophysics Becomes More Affordable: Thanks to Carl Schwenk!

Jeremy Shannon and GMES students gather for a celebration picnic after final presentations.

Thanks to the generosity of alumnus Carl Schwenk our unique summer course in Field Geophysics has now become more affordable for our students. Starting this past summer, the Carl G. Schwenk Field Geophysics Lab Endowment began to cover all course expenses not tuition related, such as annual costs for travel, field supplies, periodic equipment maintenance, instrument rental, and equipment replacement. This support made it possible to reimburse the hefty $450 laboratory fee in full to each student who took the course this year. And no laboratory fee will be required for Field Geophysics in the future, starting in summer 2022.

“We all here in the GMES department are very grateful to Carl, who has made significant professional contributions to field geophysics and mineral exploration throughout his career,” says Aleksey Smirnov, chair of the Department of Geological and Mining Engineering and Sciences, “As an alum, he remains closely and actively involved with our department, providing tremendous support to our students over the years.” 

Schwenk earned a BS in both Geological and Geophysical Engineering from Michigan Tech in 1962 and 1965, respectively. He worked as a Field Geophysicist with Kennecott Copper Corporation and was instrumental in the discovery of the Flambeau copper-gold Mine in Wisconsin. Later, he worked with the large iron company Vale do Rio Doce exploring for base metals in Brazil. After his return to the USA, he was hired as Great Lakes District Manager for Noranda Exploration and led a successful State Supreme Court challenge to Wisconsin’s Geologic Disclosure Law. 

Principal Lecturer Jeremy Shannon, Carl G. Schwenk Endowed Faculty Fellow in Applied Geophysics, teaches the Field Geophysics courses at Michigan Tech. “This is a great gift for our students and I can’t wait to share Carl’s story of his contribution each summer,” he says. “The cost of equipment and resources used in the class is significant, but inevitably spread out over time scales that are beyond any student’s undergraduate career. Thus students are often left wondering what their lab fees are really being used for. Carl’s gift takes a dent out of the ever-increasing cost of a college education while ensuring that students will continue to have access to modern geophysical instrumentation.”  

Olivia Salvagio, an applied geophysics senior, adds: “Field Geophysics was where I learned that I wanted to continue my education on near surface geophysics in graduate school! I was so intrigued by each of the methods and the equipment that we used and the broad applications that they have to Earth science.”

Emilie Pray, a geology senior, had this to say: “Field Geophysics was the class that fully cemented the concepts learned in the classroom into real-world applications. Along with practice in technical writing skills and group work in the field, I believe this class has prepared me well for my future career.”

Jeremy Shannon Named Carl G. Schwenk Endowed Faculty Fellow in Applied Geophysics

Michigan Tech Principal Lecturer Jeremy Shannon is the Carl G. Schwenk Endowed Faculty Fellow in Applied Geophysics

Jeremy Shannon is the Carl G. Schwenk Endowed Faculty Fellow in Applied Geophysics, named in July 2021. 

“For more than a decade Dr. Jeremy Shannon has been a key faculty in field geophysics at Michigan Tech,” said Aleksey Smirnov, chair of the Department of Geological and Mining Engineering and Sciences. 

“Dr. Shannon provides vital contributions to GMES instruction and advising, especially through the summer Field Geophysics course and specialized courses in the application of near-surface geophysics methods,” added Janet Callahan, Dean of the College of Engineering. 

The endowment was established by Carl G. Schwenk, who obtained a BS in both Geological and Geophysical Engineering from Michigan Tech in 1962 and 1965, respectively. He worked as a Field Geophysicist with Kennecott Copper Corporation and was instrumental in the discovery of the Flambeau copper-gold Mine in Wisconsin. Later, he worked with the  large iron company Vale do Rio Doce exploring for base metals in Brazil. After his return to the US he was hired as Great Lakes District Manager for Noranda Exploration where he led a successful State Supreme Court challenge to Wisconsin’s Geologic Disclosure Law. 

“Carl lives in Colorado and remains closely involved with our department, providing tremendous support to our students,” said Smirnov.

Shannon is also a Michigan Tech alumnus, and took the Field Geophysics class as an undergraduate in the summer of 1992. He was honored to take over the class in 2007 and has continued and built upon the legacy of applied geophysics education at GMES created by professors Lloyal Bacon, Jimmy Diehl, and Charles Young to deliver a unique field experience for students.

“I am humbled to receive this appointment and am extremely grateful to Mr. Schwenk and others who have made this possible,” said Shannon. “I look forward to using this gift to improve and advance educational opportunities in geophysics at Michigan Tech.”

“Shannon’s contribution to the department of Geological and Mining Engineering and Sciences perfectly aligns with the purpose of the fellowship, which is to provide leadership in mentoring and teaching students at Michigan Tech in the practical use of geophysics for characterization and discovery of subsurface resources,” added Callahan.

In addition to instruction in the field of applied geophysics, which includes specialized courses in the application of near-surface geophysics methods, Shannon serves as the academic advisor for undergraduate students majoring in Geology and Applied Geophysics.

Shannon generously lends his expertise to students working on senior design projects, as well as graduate students whose research involves field work, notes Smirnov. “Dr. Shannon helps students develop both practical knowledge and intuition. As a result, they are able to find their own best academic and professional pathways, leading to impactful and rewarding careers.” 

In recognition of his contributions to teaching, Shannon was also recently honored in the Michigan Tech Deans’ Teaching Showcase

Q&A with SATAVIA: Climate and Contrails

Contrails are the biggest contributor to aviation’s climate impact. The company SATAVIA works on data analysis software to help airlines avoid long-lasting contrail formation.

Dr. Adam Durant (MS Geology ’06, PhD ’07) discussed how modifying flight plans lessen long-lasting contrails and reduce climate impacts–so-called green aviation. Physics professor Raymond Shaw and Professor Emeritus Bill Rose, who advised Adam in his graduate studies here, host the discussion.

It’s not rocket science. It’s harder — or at least harder to predict. Clouds are often referred to as the wildcard of climate modeling, and while some basic physics have become much clearer using tools like the cloud chamber at Michigan Technological University, atmospheric science remains a fascinating and complex space.

Shaw, distinguished professor of physics and director of Michigan Tech’s atmospheric sciences doctoral program, studies ice crystal formations in clouds. When Durant worked with him as a graduate geoscience student, the team studied how volcanic ash and frigid water interact in the atmosphere. For Durant, experimenting with specks of dust and drops of supercooled water coalesced into an ongoing interest in the interaction’s effects on airplanes — and the industry’s climate bill. Drawing on his interdisciplinary background, Durant started the company SATAVIA in 2013.

In their Q&A, Shaw (RS) and Durant (AD) explain how rerouting airplanes to minimize contrails can have the biggest impact with the smallest changes.

Adam Durant, CEO SATAVIA
Research Interests:
– Green aviation
– Ice crystal morphology and cloud formation
– Volcanic ash plumes
– Sustainable business

Q: Why focus on contrails to curb climate change impacts?

AD: It’s not just direct engine emissions that matter in terms of aviation’s climate impacts. Non-carbon dioxide sources — like the climate forcing from contrails — make up almost two-thirds of the industry’s impact, which is a surprisingly big number. In fact, it equates to 2% of all human-caused climate change.

RS: Contrails are pretty and localized, so it’s understandable that few people would guess they’re of consequence. And it’s relatively rare flights that make these long-lasting contrails, which are heavily weighted in terms of their climate impact.

AD: Yes, of about 500 flights, only one or two make these kinds of contrails.

Q: How does SATAVIA’s software help predict contrail formation?

AD: We are a data analytics company, building software that uses cutting-edge atmosphere and climate science. We use a commercial cloud structure to create a digital twin of the Earth’s atmosphere from surface to space, quantifying many key meteorological parameters like temperature, humidity, cloud cover and other factors that affect flight operations. We aggregate that information and apply it to different use cases, including contrail formation and other applications such as contaminant exposure and corrosion factors. Predicting contrail formation and persistence in the atmosphere is complex, so it becomes a big data problem – unless you’ve got a high-performance atmospheric digital twin, you won’t be able to crunch through the data properly. Right now, we’re working with a major Middle East airline through a collaboration with Aviation X Lab, a Dubai-based aviation incubator. They want to be proactive about assessing their impact, and they’re helping us validate our models. The next challenge is software integration, so we can help airlines optimize flight paths for contrail prevention while minimizing fuel burn.

Q: How can industry, universities and government groups work together?

RS: It’s important to acknowledge that while Michigan Tech doesn’t have direct collaborations with SATAVIA, it was a former student who started the company and a new graduate, Subin Thomas, starts there soon as a key player on their science team. Academia can play a role by training people in the fundamental science so they can carry on innovation within the private sector. We also work with agencies, like our partners at the National Center for Atmospheric Science (NCAR) and U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). For example, a current graduate student, Elise Rosky, is at this moment at NCAR flying a holographic instrument through clouds to investigate how ice forms and grows. Who knows where that fundamental research will lead, and even how it might tie into the science of contrails?

Raymond Shaw
Research Interests:
– Atmospheric Physics
– Cloud Physics
– Nucleation
– Turbulence
– Digital Holography

AD: We all want to solve real world problems. There’s a lot more to solving problems than throwing science at it. If it doesn’t cost money or make money, it’s hard to get business to care. As the cost of carbon rises, there is going to be more and more incentive for airlines to fly smarter and greener. With our model, we not only assess a flight plan and help make changes that actually lower aviation’s climate impact, but we also estimate what a company can save in associated carbon credits and carbon offsets.

Q: How did your Michigan Tech research help make these kinds of collaborations possible?

AD: This brings me back to doing my PhD on volcanic ash with Bill Rose, who blended a lot of disciplines. I felt like an atmospheric scientist but my degree was geoscience. I moved on to a climate research group next — mostly climate modelers and remote sensing experts — and that experience also brought me closer to policy.

RS: Sometimes, Adam, we jokingly call students like you a gluon [bad physics joke] — “Well, Bill does this and Raymond does that, so we need a go-between.” To Bill’s credit, he was always roving and looking for people who could help him solve the problems he was working on. So, Adam asked in his research: What happens when we put ash in a supercooled droplet? It was a logical next step to ask what happens when an airplane flies into an ash plume.

Q: What inspires you in your work?

AD: I want to take tangible action on climate change — that’s what my mission has become. We’ve been thinking about our vision as a company and it always comes back to solving climate change.

RS: We say all the time that we do basic science to help society. Examples like Adam’s company make that true. In some ways, it’s easier to stay in academia, but moving into the private sector means there is so much more potential for influence. Much of research is curiosity-driven and with a genuine interest in solving fundamental problems, with the hope that eventually the solutions will make a difference. But no one would fund us to solve puzzles every day; we hope that when we train students that our fundamental work will be connected to the private sector and help make the world a better place.

Contrails are the biggest contributor to aviation’s climate impact. The company SATAVIA works on data analysis software to help airlines avoid long-lasting contrail formation. Credit: Conor Farrington, SATAVIA

Q: What are challenges that remain ahead?

AD: Raymond, here is what we are always asked: Do we know enough about the science of contrail formation and whether we can predict it?

RS: Well, the basic physics is there. The part that is complicated, which falls under current research, is how persistent will a contrail be — will it be ice or water, and what’s the crystal shape? The good news is that the basics are clear.

AD: I agree that the fundamental science is sound, and that the challenge facing us now is scaling and creating contrail forecasts at flight altitudes so that aviation operators can avoid making them. And policy and regulation — that is what will influence how big organizations deal with this problem.

RS: That’s the surprising part. Thinking from the company spreadsheet point of view, in the right economy, SATAVIA’s approach can actually save money.

AD: Yes, many companies already pay to offset their carbon emissions. Changing flight plans would make a bigger difference and save them more money. What we need to work on most from a technical perspective is software integration, and that’s going to take time and close partnerships with more airlines.

Q: The pandemic changed travel. How has this impacted your work?

AD: Before COVID, much of our work focused on how atmospheric and climatic factors can damage aircraft engines and airframes, and responding to that with smarter condition monitoring and predictive maintenance. 

But as the pandemic began and continued, we pivoted to focus more on aviation’s impact on climate. We just happened to be at the right place at the right time with our ice crystals research. People care about green aviation now, to the extent that it will influence their choice of airline, though some consumers will always be driven by the cheapest prices. In the near term, it’s likely to be business travelers who care most about the green credentials of a flight.

RS: Even before the pandemic, I was starting to notice an uptick in the number of colleagues who would say, “I’m not going to go to that meeting because I’m trying really hard to minimize the aviation part of my carbon footprint.” Or saying, “I can’t go on that airline, I’m going to choose this other airline because they’re doing more to solve this problem.” And I do think the pandemic has made more of us aware of what can and can’t be done. The nice thing is that we can have a global aviation industry and mitigate the impact to some extent. As you think about returning to air travel, why not expect more from the airline you’re flying with? Because there are actions they can take. Contrails are something most people would never think about, but SATAVIA’s work shows that it’s possible to do something about their climate impacts.

Michigan Tech Alumni & Friends: Join us in Phoenix on Sunday, Feb. 23 for our SME Pasty Social

The Geological & Mining Engineering & Sciences (GMES) Department invites Michigan Tech alumni and families for a pasty social in Phoenix, Arizona. Join us on Sunday, Feb. 23, from 6-9 pm, at the Cornish Pasty Co., 7 West Monroe St. in downtown Phoenix, Arizona.

The GMES Department will provide the first round and some appetizers. Alumni prizes to be raffled off with no purchase required. For those attending the SME Conference, this event is in lieu of the traditional conference social on Tuesday.

GMES will buy the first round. Join us!

All alumni & friends are welcome to join us for this casual evening out! Faculty and students will be in attendance. We hope that alumni and friends attending SME or are otherwise in the local area will join us and bring your families. Please register here: http://www.cvent.com/d/mnq8v8

We are so pleased to announce that our first design team in the SME/NSSGA Student Design Competition has advanced to the second phase of the competition, which occurs at the upcoming SME Conference. Our team was among the top six to advance. Read more here.

Craving a pasty and curious about the history and recipes? Check out this article from MTU Archives: “There’s something about a pasty that is fine, fine, fine!”