Category: News

Simon Carn Comments on Tonga Eruption

Umbrella cloud from the volcanic eruption.
Umbrella cloud from the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha‘apai eruption, captured by NOAA’s Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite 17 (GOES-17).

A powerful volcanic eruption has obliterated a small, uninhabited South Pacific island known as Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha‘apai. Damage assessments are still ongoing, but preliminary reports indicate that some communities in the island nation of Tonga have been severely damaged by volcanic ash and significant tsunami waves.

“The umbrella cloud was about 500 kilometers (300 miles) in diameter at its maximum extent,” said Michigan Tech volcanologist Simon Carn. “That is comparable to Pinatubo and one of the largest of the satellite era. However, the involvement of water in the Tonga eruption may have increased the explosivity compared to a purely magmatic eruption like Pinatubo.”

Read more at Earth Observatory by Adam Voiland, with Mike Carlowicz.


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.”


Emilie Pray Wins AIPG Poster Competition

Emilie Pray, a geology senior in the Department of Geological and Mining Engineering and Sciences (GMES), won first place in the American Institute of Professional Geologists (AIPG) Michigan Section Annual Student Poster Contest.

Pray’s poster was titled “The Exhumation History of the Bell Creek Batholith.” Her research has been advised by Chad Deering (GMES).


MTU Mining Engineering Program Earns Rigorous ABET Accreditation

Matthew Portfleet (yellow shirt), director of Michigan Tech’s Mine Safety Program, explains the intricacies of rock drilling to geology student Elana Barth ’21. Matt teaches the Drilling and Blasting course for the BS Mining Engineering program in the Department of Geological and Mining Engineering and Sciences at Michigan Tech.

Michigan Technological University’s bachelor’s degree program in mining engineering has been accredited by the Engineering Accreditation Commission of ABET, the global accreditor of college and university programs in applied and natural science, computing, engineering and engineering technology.

ABET accreditation assures that programs meet standards to produce graduates ready to enter critical technical fields that are leading the way in innovation and emerging technologies, and anticipating the welfare and safety needs of the public.

Michigan Tech’s mining engineering program is one of only 13 such degree programs across the nation to earn ABET accreditation. In total, 13 different ABET-accredited degree programs are now offered by the College of Engineering at Michigan Tech.

“ABET accreditation is a significant achievement,” said Aleksey Smirnov, chair of the Department of Geological and Mining Engineering and Sciences (GMES). “We have worked hard to ensure that our program meets the quality standards set by the profession. And, because it requires comprehensive, periodic evaluations, ABET accreditation demonstrates our continuing commitment to the quality of our program — both now and in the future.”

“This is a recognition by ABET that our students and the program meet the accreditation standards,” said Leonard Bohmann, Michigan Tech’s associate dean of academic affairs in the College of Engineering. “It signals to students that when they come here they will receive a strong education in mining engineering that has been rigorously reviewed. It informs employers that they can be confident that our students have an outstanding education in mining engineering. And, with an ABET accredited degree, students can become licensed professional engineers.”

“This success came through the dedicated and indefatigable efforts by Professor John Gierke, who served as department chair from 2014 to 2020, and our superb mining engineering faculty, Associate Professor Snehamoy Chatterjee and Senior Lecturer Nathan Manser,” added Smirnov. “Outstanding clerical support was provided by department staff Brittany Buschell and Carol Asiala.”

The pandemic created additional challenges during the accreditation process, but also opportunities, noted Gierke. “The responses to the onset of the pandemic in 2020 disrupted the installation of mine ventilation lab equipment. In addition, videos and video calling were required for the facilities tours as part of the virtual site visit. The need to thoroughly review the facilities was extra challenging in the virtual format.”

Despite the fact that their final few months had to be conducted remotely, the adaptability of the students during their mining engineering senior capstone project — along with their advisor, Nathan Manser — allowed that project to conclude on several high notes. “The senior students quickly learned how to use mine design software remotely, how to meet on Zoom and collaborate online,” Gierke said. “They probably didn’t realize it at the time, but with their increased use of remote collaborations in professional work, the students all got some accelerated practice.”

Michigan Tech’s degree program in mining engineering was reinstated in 2019 after a 15-year hiatus. In order to apply for accreditation, however, GMES had to wait until at least one student graduated with the degree. “We graduated our first three students in the spring of 2020,” said Smirnov.

“The University is proud to see mining returning as an ABET-accredited program,” said Jacqueline Huntoon, provost and senior vice president for academic affairs. “Michigan Tech was initially founded to support the mining industry and it is exciting to see us reaffirm our commitment to excellence for this segment of industry.”

Sought worldwide, ABET’s voluntary peer review process is highly respected because it adds critical value to academic programs in the technical disciplines, where quality, precision and safety are of the utmost importance.

Developed by technical professionals from ABET’s member societies, ABET criteria focus on what students experience and learn. ABET accreditation reviews look at program curricula, faculty, facilities and institutional support, and are conducted by teams of highly skilled professionals from industry, academia and government, with expertise in the ABET disciplines.

ABET is a nonprofit, nongovernmental organization with ISO 9001:2015 certification. It currently accredits 4,307 programs at 846 colleges and universities in 41 countries and areas.

Michigan Technological University is a public research university founded in 1885 in Houghton, Michigan, and is home to more than 7,000 students from 55 countries around the world. Consistently ranked among the best universities in the country for return on investment, the University offers more than 125 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in science and technology, engineering, computing, forestry, business and economics, health professions, humanities, mathematics, social sciences, and the arts. The rural campus is situated just miles from Lake Superior in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, offering year-round opportunities for outdoor adventure.


Snehamoy Chatterjee Named Witte Family Endowed Faculty Fellow in Mining Engineering

Associate Professor Snehamoy Chatterjee, Witte Family Endowed Faculty Fellow in Mining Engineering

Associate Professor Snehamoy Chatterjee  is the new Witte Family Endowed Faculty Fellow in Mining Engineering, named in July 2021.

“Dr. Chatterjee has been instrumental in developing Michigan Tech’s new interdisciplinary Mining Engineering program,” said Aleksey Smirnov, Chair of the Department of Geological and Mining Engineering and Sciences (GMES). “He teaches courses in the program, and very skillfully incorporates research into his instruction.”

Chatterjee’s position as Fellow is made possible through the generous support provided by Nancy Witte and her family, in memory of her late husband Richard C. Witte, who received a BS in Metallurgical Engineering from Michigan College of Mining and Technology (now Michigan Tech) in 1950. After graduating from Michigan Tech, Witte went on to earn a Juris Doctorate from Indiana University School of Law in 1956, then worked for Proctor and Gamble as a patent attorney. Witte was admitted to the bars of Indiana and Ohio, US Court of Appeals, Federal Circuit, and the US Supreme Court, and filed more than 1400 patents before he retired in 1992 as vice president and chief patent counsel for Proctor and Gamble Worldwide. 

“The future of the mining industry is transforming in the digital age,” says Chatterjee. “Our students need to understand the traditional mining engineering techniques that have dominated the industry for generations, but also be technically savvy enough to see how the newest digital innovations might fit into a better decision making or engineering design process. I am grateful to Nancy Witte and the Witte family for this endowment and the tremendous support it provides toward this important endeavor.”

Decision-making under uncertainty, a research focus for Chatterjee, is one example, says Smirnov. “Students in one of Dr. Chatterjee’s courses, called Resource and Reserve Estimation, first learn how to quantify uncertainty based on spatial and temporal data. In his next course, Mine Planning and Design, they learn how to integrate that uncertainty into their mine plan using stochastic optimization methods.”

“Dr. Chatterjee’s outstanding achievements and contributions to our newly reinstated mining engineering program make him an ideal candidate for this faculty fellow position.”

Janet Callahan, Dean of the College of Engineering

In addition, Chatterjee works with undergraduate student researchers in his lab, and encourages them to present their findings at national or international conferences. Several have published their studies in peer-reviewed journals, as well.

“While at Michigan Tech working with Dr. Chatterjee, Alex Miltenberger ’17, a geophysics major, presented his SURF research work at Geostat, an international conference in geostatistics,” notes Smirnov. Miltenberger is now postdoctoral researcher at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory & Stanford University.

“Another student working with Dr. Chatterjee, Katie Kring, published her SURF research in the International Journal of Rock Mechanics and Mining Sciences,” he adds. Before graduating from Michigan Tech with both a BS and MS in Geological Engineering, Kring interned at Freeport-McMoRan’s Chico Mine. She now works as a Civil Engineer at US Army Corps of Engineers.

Chatterjee also encourages his undergraduate research students to submit proposals for external funding. Current geophysics student Grace Ojala recently received a Michigan Space Grant Consortium (MSGC) grant to research mining slope movement using synthetic aperture radar data. 

Chatterjee has been recognized nationally and internationally through several professional and editorial awards, and invited presentations and seminar talks. Recently, Governor Gretchen Whitmer appointed him to the Michigan’s Future Mining Committee. Chatterjee was chosen to represent current or former research faculty members who hold a master’s or doctorate degree in mining or geology at a university in Michigan.

Richard Witte, throughout his career and even after his retirement, served on numerous federal, state and local commissions, delegations and boards, addressing a variety of international diplomatic and intellectual property policies.

“Dr. Chatterjee’s appointment as Witte Fellow aligns perfectly with the objectives formulated by the Witte family and Michigan Tech,” said Janet Callahan, Dean of the College of Engineering at Michigan Tech. “Our shared goal is to retain and attract high quality faculty who are at the top of their profession, inspire students to think beyond the classroom material, and integrate their research into the classroom.”


Gustavo Béjar López and Beth Bartel Present at Volcanology Congress

Gustavo Béjar presenting on Zoom.
Gustavo Béjar López presenting on Zoom.

Michigan Tech doctoral students Gustavo Béjar and Beth Bartel gave invited talks at the I Congreso Internacional Vulcanología y Gestión de Riesgo en Guatemala (1st Volcanology and Risk Management Congress in Guatemala), held Nov. 4-5. Both Bejar and Bartel are studying volcanic hazards. Both are co-advised by Research Assistant Professor Rudiger Escobar Wolf and Professor Greg Waite.

The virtual meeting was hosted by the Universidad Rafael Landívar in Guatemala City.

Béjar’s presentation was titled “Generación de un catálogo de lahares para el Volcán de Fuego” (Generation of a catalog of lahars for Fuego Volcano). An international student from Ecuador, Béjar came to Michigan Tech in 2020 via Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington. He also hold a BS from Yacay Tech University in Ecuador.

Bartel spoke on “Comunicación de Peligros” (Hazard Communication). She came to Michigan Tech from UNAVCO in Boulder, Colorado, where she worked for 17 years, first as a field engineer and most recently as a science communication and outreach specialist. Bartel has an MA in Journalism and Mass Communications from University of Colorado at Boulder, an MS in Geophysics from Indiana University Bloomington, and a BA in Geology from Whitman College.

Beth Bartel presenting on Zoom.
Beth Bartel presenting on Zoom.


The Institute on Lake Superior Geology Awards Geology MS Student $1k

Katherine Langfield, a geology master’s student, received a research grant from the Institute on Lake Superior Geology (ILSG). The $1,000 award will help defray the research costs for her proposed work on the Hancock Fault. A portion of the work will be conducted in the Quincy Mine adit in West Hancock. Katherine is advised by Research Professor, James DeGraff.

The ILSG Student Research Fund is available for undergraduate or graduate students conducting research on the geology of the Lake Superior region.

PC: U.S. Geological Survey


Mining Engineering MS Student Poorva Kadrolli Selected as SRK Scholar

Poorva Kadrolli, a Master’s student in Mining Engineering in the Department of GMES, has won a highly competitive SRK scholarship!

SRK is a global consulting firm in mining and exploration geology and provides scholarships in Australia and North America to encourage and support students undertaking graduate studies and help them complete master’s and doctoral degrees in fields related to the mining industry.

The scholarship selection process is very thorough and includes writing a research proposal by the student. Poorva’s research is in joint simulation of material-type and mineral grade using multiple-point simulation and machine learning.

Poorva is advised by Dr. Snehamoy Chaterjee, an Associate Professor and the Witte Family Faculty Fellow at the Department of GMES.

Poorva Kadrolli