Month: October 2023

Symposium Brings Together MTU and MSU Researchers

Research symposium group picture.

Presenters, organizers, and some attendees of the second MTU / MSU collaborative research symposium pose for a group photo.

Developing novel approaches to fighting disease, using machine learning and computational methods to solve epidemiological problems and improve patient health, and applying technologies to intervene on disease. These are just a few of the challenges and ambitious solutions facing the state of biomedicine now and in the future. These topics, and several others, were addressed at a recent invitation-only collaborative research symposium between MTU and MSU.

On Friday, Oct. 27, 2023, groups of researchers from Michigan Technological University and Michigan State University University met in a collaborative research symposium.

Entitled Engineering the Future of Human Health II: Biomedicine in the 4th Industrial Revolution, this event was held in Michigan Tech’s Memorial Union Building.

VP David Lawrence opens the symposium.
David Lawrence, vice president for Global Campus and continuing education, opens the symposium.

The symposium preceded the Upper Peninsula Medical Conference, put on by MTU’s Health Research Institute, which focused on diverse approaches to health challenges affecting rural communities. It marked the second collaborative research symposium between these two universities. That is, Michigan State University College of Human Medicine hosted the first symposium on March 13, 2023. It was held in MSU’s beautiful Secchia Center in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Delivering Short Talks With A Big Impact

For these symposiums, the goals continue to be learning about each other’s work; and investigating areas of shared objectives, mutual interests, and possible research projects between MTU and MSU. But perhaps the even greater purpose is that of these institutions combining forces (and resources) to tackle the most challenging health-related issues of the upcoming decades.

Jeremy Prokop opens the MSU / MTU symposium.
Dr. Jeremy Prokop begins the symposium with his presentation.

To disseminate as much research as possible, presenters kept their talks brief. In total, 12 researchers from MTU and 11 from MSU delivered rapid-fire, ten-minute presentations in six consequent sessions exploring the state of biomedicine in the era of Industry 4.0:

  • Computational Health Science (Session 1)
  • Big Data in Healthcare (Session 2)
  • Kinesiology and Physiology (Session 3)
  • Neural Control and Disease (Session 4)
  • Metabolic Disease (Session 5)
  • Chemical Biology (Session 6)

This structure provided opportunities for researchers not only to learn from each other, but also to explore possible connections between their fields.

And the fields were, indeed, diverse. That is, professionals at this multi-disciplinary event came from applied computing, biological sciences, biomedical engineering, chemical engineering, chemistry, computer science and engineering, kinesiology and integrated physiology, pediatrics and human development, and quantitative health sciences. Overall, the quality of the research and breadth of disciplines spoke to the depth of expertise at this symposium and to the challenges and opportunities facing the future of biomedicine.

There was also a concurrent combined poster session with the UPMC that featured research from several MSU and MTU students, as well as a few professors.

Exploring Connections Between MTU and MSU

Throughout the symposium, there were several salient connections both within and between sessions. For instance, many experts presented on novel treatments for conditions and/or diseases affecting public health, such as diabetes, cancer, cystic fibrosis, neurodegenerative disorders, and lack of activity. Dr. Ping “Peter” Wang (MSU, Session) tackled integrating bioengineering into Type-1 Diabetes treatment. And Dr. Marina Tanasova (Session 6, MTU), after summarizing the role of GLUTs (Glucose transporters) in various diseases, focused on targeting these GLUTs in cancer therapy. Dr. Ashutosh Tiwari (Session 4, MTU), analyzed the role of protein aggregates (misfolded proteins) in the cellular toxicity central to neurodegenerative diseases.

Another common thread was responding to the continuing public health crisis of Covid-19. For example, the symposium began with the long research project of Dr. Jeremy Prokop (MSU, Corewell Health) on genotyping various Covid variants. Then, he shifted to how the immunosuppression connected to Covid-19 is associated with the emergence of other viruses, such as Epstein-Barr (EB) and the Human Papillomavirus (HPV).

Throughout the symposium, several experts also assessed the leveraging of artificial intelligence and computational approaches to address health ailments. Dr. Hoda Hatoum (MTU, Session 1) presented on experimental and computational approaches to model cardiovascular diseases and therapies.

There were also presentations on more low-tech, but nonetheless impressive, methods for improving patient outcomes. Dr. William Cooke (MTU, Session 3) demonstrated how using a rather simple impedance-threshold breathing device can reduce hemorrhaging. Using Blood Flow Restriction (BFR) to increase exercise intensity without taxing joints (MTU, Session 3) was the topic of Dr. Steve Elmer’s presentation.

Dr. Matthew Harkey (MSU, Session 3) presented research on using ultrasound and biomechanics to assess arthritis.

Steve Elmer's poster at the MSU / MTU Symposium
Dr. Steve Elmer (MTU, Session 3) delivered both a talk and a poster.

Targeting the Youth Mental Health Crisis in Michigan

CHI Program Director Dr. Guy Hembroff spoke on using AI to improve the mental health of youth (MTU, Session 2). He began by stressing some startling statistics from Youthgov on suicide in the 15-24 age group. Most striking was the fact that “taking one’s life is the second leading cause of death for youths.”

Dr. Guy Hembroff in Session 2.

Hembroff proposed a number of strategies for using artificial intelligence to track, intervene on, and improve the mental health of youth.

First, he articulated that AI may be employed to not only enhance preventative mental health measures, but also provide safe, responsive data.

Or to put it another way, through wearables, daily mental health check-ins, and user feedback, youth could have personalized, responsive mental health treatment delivered right to them. In short, Hembroff outlined a protocol for providing inexpensive, effective tools that quickly monitor and respond to at-crisis youth, reduce the need for reactionary care, and prevent mental disease from spiraling into suicide.

There is another positive effect of this AI-assisted mental health plan: gamifying the activity of tracking one’s mental health. Youth are known for always interacting with their phones. Thus, this gamification could help reduce the stigma associated with reporting depression, anxiety, and other mental diseases.

Symposium Goals: Promoting Networking and Sharing Research

Hembroff’s talk captured one of the main threads of the symposium: using ingenious, cost-effective, computational approaches to solve crucial health issues. However, all of the research was impressive. That is, there were several expert scientific communicators, such as Zhiying “Jenny” Shan (MTU, Session 5), who walked the audience through her research on extracellular vesicles and blood pressure regulation.

But you can learn more about the depth and breadth of the research by examining the event schedule.

In the closing remarks for the symposium, Dr. Christopher Contag (MSU) further elaborated on the connections between these presentations and the opportunities for collaborative research. First, he summarized some commonalities, such as further analyzing cardiovascular disease, studying extracellular vesicles as diagnostic markers, developing strategies for early intervention, and creating a Long Covid research center.

In addition, Dr. Contag focused on the importance of learning the language of cells and communicating with them: that is, this research is about “not just asking them what they’re saying, but telling them what to do.” He saw this communication as central to modulating the immune system and to controlling disease states.

Dr. Contag delivers the closing remarks.
Dr. Christopher Contag (MSU) delivers the closing remarks.

“I think we’re all focused on distributed healthcare and using our approaches and innovation to reduce health disparities. It’s a theme that’s shared between the two universities.”

Dr. Christopher Contag, Director of the Institute for Quantitative Health Science and Engineering (IQ) and Chair of the Department of Biomedical Engineering in the College of Engineering (MSU)

Moving Beyond This Symposium

For Engineering the Future of Human Health II, MTU’s cosponsors were David Lawrence, vice president for Global Campus and continuing education; Dr. Sean J. Kirkpatrick, professor and department chair, Biomedical Engineering; Dr. Caryn Heldt, professor in Chemical Engineering and director of the Health Research Institute; and Dr. William H. Cooke, professor and department chair, Kinesiology and Integrative Physiology. And for MSU, Dr. Adam Alessio, Departments of Computational Mathematics, Science, and Engineering, Biomedical Engineering and Radiology; and Dr. Bin Chen, associate professor, Department of Pediatrics and Human Development took on the roles of cosponsors.

This collaborative symposium is crucial to the MTU Global Campus mission of helping Michigan Technological University grow partnerships with other higher-ed institutions and participate in multidisciplinary research that tackles pressing biomedical challenges.

The next step, then, is instituting these collaborative working research groups. Furthermore, the two universities hope to pool both talent and resources to build a MSU / MTU translational research center in Grand Rapids, MI. Of this center, David Lawrence further articulated its two main objectives: “first, developing cutting-edge health technologies through advanced applied biomedical research; and, second, but equally important, ultimately improving the health of the citizens of Michigan and those of the nation.”

Readers can also learn more about this event in the coverage by TV6.

Calumet Electronics and Michigan Tech Praised

Calumet Electronics in Calumet, Michigan, with the help of incredible engineers from the Michigan Technological University up in Houghton, is doing incredible work on advanced packaging, particularly by making very advanced circuit boards for defense applications. And they’re expanding their capacity. 

Senator Gary Peters
Senator Peters, who spoke at the CHIPS and Science Implementation and Oversight Committee, praised Michigan Tech and Calumet Electronics for their semiconductor initiatives.
Senator Peters speaks at the hearing.

Gary Peters (D), Michigan’s United States senator, recently gave a well-deserved shout-out to both Michigan Technological University and Calumet Electronics. Peters spoke at the US Senate’s full committee hearing on “CHIPS and Science Act Implementation and Oversight,” held on October 4, 2023.

The hearing focused “on the implementation and oversight of the CHIPS and Science Act by the Department of Commerce and the National Science Foundation.” In short, it summarized the rollout of programs, research and development, and other semiconductor manufacturing initiatives.

The senator recalled that one of the main goals of the CHIPS and Science Act is onshoring semiconductor production. Then, he asserted the need for dedicating some of the Act’s R & D funds to supporting the advanced packaging industry. This industry is essential to securing the supply chain.

He pointed to Calumet Electronics as crucial to meeting US semiconductor advanced packaging needs. That is, Calumet Electronics is using the great alumni from Michigan Tech (engineering graduates) to grow this industry on-shore, right here in the UP. 

Calumet Electronics: Leading in Advanced Packaging

If you haven’t heard of Calumet Electronics, it is a leading commercial and non-traditional defense contractor. CE specializes in the research, design, engineering, and manufacturing of high-quality printed circuit boards (PCBs) and, more recently, organic substrates.

As an award-winning American-owned and operated company, Calumet is known for its thought leadership and innovative engineering and manufacturing. Also, CE is an SBA HUBZone certified small business that conducts all its operations domestically. Furthermore, it has established itself as a pure play manufacturer with a focus to support and grow its local economy and the surrounding communities in Michigan’s rural Upper Peninsula.

Calumet Electronics applauds Senator Peters for his ongoing commitment to domestic semiconductor chip manufacturing. During the recent Commerce Committee hearing, he cited the ‘incredible engineers’ of Calumet Electronics and our partnership with Michigan Tech in making advanced PCBs for defense applications. We’re very grateful for his confidence and support, and his tireless efforts to prioritize additional funding for this critical work.

Meredith Labeau, PhD, CTO of Calumet Electronics

Labeau continued, “Calumet Electronics and Michigan Tech have forged a remarkable partnership, producing a synergy that showcases the exceptional quality of engineers they graduate. Together, we are shaping the future of innovation and electronics right here in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.”

David Lawrence, vice president for Global Campus and continuing education, recently visited Calumet Electronic, and was impressed by its facilities. He affirmed that “Michigan Tech’s relationship with Calumet Electronics is robust and the future is bright. We continue to work with industry partners to support the semiconductor initiatives.”

Securing US-Based Semiconductor Production

At the hearing, Secretary Gina Raimondo (U.S. Department of Commerce) and witness, acknowledged that keeping advanced packaging in the US is crucial. In short, it is important not only to the supply chain but also to National Security. Accordingly, the committee, which has “a plan in the works,” will soon release an advanced packaging strategy.

This hearing occurred just over a year after the US government rolled out the bipartisan 2022 CHIPS and Science Act . The Act implemented previous programs under the 2021 CHIPS for America Act (January 2021). Also, it authorized nearly $250 billion in semiconductors and scientific research and development.

The CHIPS and Science Act responded to both the decline in American microchip fabrication and semiconductor shortages. These shortages caused serious supply chain problems, especially for Michigan’s automotive industry. 

Responding to the semiconductor shortage, Michigan Tech has taken on projects that focus on onshoring semiconductor production. For instance, in 2022, MTU collaborated with the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) on the Semiconductor Talent Action Team (TAT). The TAT had several goals: developing Michigan-created semiconductors, onshoring both legacy and advanced semiconductor systems, creating well-paying manufacturing jobs, reducing semiconductor shortages, and securing the supply chain.

During this hearing, Senator Raimondo reinforced that the US government is committed to stimulating both R & D and job training in semiconductors. Our goal is to have “a whole ecosystem that we want to deepen in the United States.” And a significant part of this ecosystem is the advanced packaging for which Calumet Electronics is known and respected.

We look forward to seeing Michigan Tech and Calumet Electronics as vital components of and important players in this ecosystem.

Parth Bhatt Powers Through With Python

 A high-resolution, drone-captured image of seagulls gathering on the beach in St. Ignace, Michigan.

Above: A high-resolution, drone-captured image of seagulls gathering on the beach in St. Ignace, Michigan.

Dr. Parth Bhatt is definitely making his mark at Michigan Tech’s College of Forest Resources and Environmental Science. Arriving in only 2016, he quickly earned both his master’s degree and then his doctorate from the CFRES. And on important projects, too. That is, during his PhD, he worked with the Nature Conservancy and the U.S. Forest Service to map the Hiawatha National Forest according to its natural habitat communities. To do so, he used both sensing and machine learning techniques.

Parth Bhatt in the classroom teaching a Python with GIS class.
Dr. Parth Bhatt in the classroom.

But this was not his first use of machine learning to depict and analyze complex natural phenomenon. Before coming to Tech, Parth Bhatt worked with the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO).

Currently, Parth (which he prefers to be called) is a Teaching Assistant Professor / Researcher in the CFRES, who has a passion for Python, remote sensing, and more.

Recently, I’ve collaborated with him to help promote his courses and to grow with Global Campus.

Discovering Python’s Capabilities

But let’s take a step back for a second. Despite his current expertise in and enthusiasm for Python , it was at Michigan Tech that Parth first developed his passion for this programming tool.

As an MS student, he took the class Python Programming for ArcGIS. Here, he learned more about Python and applying some of its techniques to automate repetitive tasks. Impressed with this tool, Parth then attended a GIS conference in which he saw people using Python in almost every field. At this event, he thought to himself, “I need to get better at this.” So he buckled down on his studying, taking in several NASA sponsored online webinars.

And get better he did. And quickly!

He ended up teaching several courses at the undergraduate and graduate level. He was enthusiastically in the classroom for Introduction to GIS, Introduction to GIS for Natural Resources Management, GIS Project Management, and Seminar in GIS.

It is obvious that Parth is a very busy and motivated professional. That is, he is currently instructing a non-credit, 7-week course (Python for Modern GIS and Remote Sensing). And while doing so, he is also developing a for-credit graduate certificate for Spring 2024.

Because this programming language is his passion, I asked him to explain it to me.

Q. Summarize Python for a layperson.

A. Python is a popular programming language for making a person’s day to day work/research life easier and efficient. It has gained widespread popularity in the past decade. Overall, it is extremely useful in the field of GIS and Remote Sensing (or any field for that matter) due to its dynamic nature, ease of use, and versatile, large open community support.

Q. What distinguishes Python from other programming languages when it comes to being used in GIS environments?

A. Well, as I said before, Python is easy to use and implement. It is also very efficient and powerful for data visualization and processing.

Due to Python’s open-source nature, it can be combined with all the major GIS softwares like ArcGIS Pro, ArcGIS Online, QGIS etc. Therefore, it offers a great amount of working flexibility. And from a developer’s perspective, all the major advances are occurring within Python, as compared to other languages such as R. Over the last decade, Python has emerged as a winner in terms of the most liked and used programming languages by the GIS community.

Q: What excites you about applying Python in GIS environments? What is this tool best used for? How have you used it?

A. The possibilities are endless. Python can be used in anything from opening a simple excel sheet filled with various GIS data to visualizing, manipulating, and handling big data. It also has hundreds of useful libraries that are applicable for various geospatial analysis. To me, any modern GIS and Remote Sensing curriculum is incomplete without this language and tool.

In my work, I have used Python to automate various GIS tasks: updating a dataset attribute table with hundreds of rows and columns (basically data cleaning); classifying complex forest ecosystems using machine learning; as well as analyzing data, making charts, conducting accuracy assessments, and performing various geospatial analysis tasks. Furthermore, I have assessed change in terms of urbanization, detected algal blooms, and calculated fire burn ratios.

Q. You’re teaching a non-credit course “Python for Modern GIS and Remote Sensing.” Please briefly explain what this course is about and who should take it.

A: I’m excited about this course, which is new to Michigan Tech. No one has taught Python for GIS in either an online or non-credit format before.

In a nutshell, this course teaches beginning and intermediate-level Python skills as they are applied in the GIS environment. It is suitable for anyone who deals with (or is planning to deal with) GIS and Remote Sensing on a daily basis. Of course, anyone who wants to add to their skill set and make their work more efficient should take it.

As you know, Coding/Programming is an essential skill set to have in our current times, especially for fields such as GIS, Forestry, Ecology, Geology, Civil and Environmental Engineering, and Data Science.

For example, right now in my course, I have students from diverse backgrounds, as well as professionals working in the GIS Industry. They are enjoying the asynchronous class format and the assignments. I am looking forward to incorporating their feedback in the next edition of the course, which will be in Spring 2024.

On a broader scale, Python is basically used in every application that’s related to the the five earth elements (Air, Water, Land, Fire, and Space). For example, it’s playing a big part in NASA’s first ever Mars drone application

Dr. Parth Bhatt
Dr. Parth Bhatt in the field, doing GIS work with Python.
Dr. Parth Bhatt in the field, doing GIS work.

Q. How can professionals use Python to manage or solve prevailing environmental and sustainability challenges, such as land use, forest fires, and the effects of climate change?

A. Python offers hundreds of unique libraries, which can be implemented to any/all kind of GIS and Remote Sensing datasets. Developers can make useful tools according to their needs and applications. As a result, they can enhance their decision making processes.

For example, professionals at the multidisciplinary Michigan Tech Research Institute (MTRI) use Python programming to address complex ecological problems, make wildfire prediction models, analyze efficient road networks, asses infrastructure, and map and monitor land use/cover and pristine wetlands.

Overall, this is an exciting time to teach this course. We are living in a world where climate change is happening rapidly and things surrounding us are constantly changing (whether they are environmental, economical, or political).

Q. I agree that we need all hands on deck when it comes to solving climate change and sustainability issues. But what is a personal example of your use of Python to contend with pressing environmental problems?

This image, which shows the extent of the damage after the flood, was created with a change detection algorithm and Python.
This image, which shows the extent of the damage after the flood, was created using a change detection algorithm.

In my own work, I have used this tool to document the effects of the historic flood in Pakistan. The flood, which was in mid-June ’22, affected more than 33 million people and destroyed or damaged more than one million houses.

In fact, the floods affected all four of the country’s provinces or about 15% of the country’s population.

Floodwaters inundated tens of thousands of square kilometers of the country, causing at least 1,100 deaths. Because of the 2023 monsoon season, Pakistan is still struggling to recover from this event.

Q. What motivates you? And what is next on your journey at Michigan Tech?

A. I love teaching, doing research, and solving complex problems. These drives require me stay current with, if not slightly ahead of, my field. Furthermore, I believe that if I am not up to date with my knowledge, I won’t be able to offer anything new and beneficial to students.

As Gandhi so eloquently said, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” In other words, I have to keep updating and offering advanced skills, not only for my personal growth, but also for students so they can succeed in their careers.

And for the College of Forest Resources and Environmental Sciences, I’m glad to help grow its online offerings. My non-credit course marks the beginning of our online education program. That is, we are designing other useful and applied courses, such as ArcGIS Online. Also, starting in 2024, we plan to be offering the first ever Master’s of Geographical Information Science online degree certification. Look out for it on Michigan Tech’s Global Campus.

One more thing: I’m holding an information session on Oct. 20 at 10:30 AM for Carthage College in Kenosha, Wisconsin. The session will introduce the Online GIS programs from the CFRES. However, the Michigan Tech community is also welcome to attend. You will be asked to sign in with your MTU email (or the email associated with your Zoom account) to join the session. If you have any questions about this session or anything else, email me at

Q. Any final thoughts?

As excited as I am about learning new materials and tools, the biggest reward of teaching occurs when you run into or hear from a student and they say, “Thank you for teaching me that GIS thing, it’s helping me big time in my job or research.”