Day: March 22, 2012

Students Excel in International Poster Competition

Chemical engineering PhD student Brett Spigarelli with his team's carbon dioxide scrubber. His prize-winning poster focussed on improving the scrubber's efficiency. Sarah Bird photo
Two graduate students, Brett Spigarelli and Howard Haselhuhn, took first and third place in the Minerals and Metallurgical Processing Journal Student Poster Contest, held Feb. 22 in Seattle. Both are PhD candidates in chemical engineering.

The contest was part of the SME (Society for Mining, Metallurgy and Exploration) Annual Meeting. Thirteen graduate students from all over the world entered posters in the event.

The Tech students’ advisor, Chair Komar Kawatra (ChE), is on sabbatical as a Fulbright scholar in India and flew to Seattle for the competition.

“I am very fortunate to be working with graduate students like Howard and Brett,” said Kawatra. “They are highly motivated and just outstanding. One day I expect them to be CEOs of major corporations.”

Spigarelli earned the top spot for his poster on optimizing a carbon-dioxide scrubber that removes 50 percent of the CO2 passing through.

The scrubber, an 11-foot bench-model plastic pipe packed with glass beads, has a water-based solution flowing through it. From below, carbon dioxide bubbles up, reacting with chemicals in the liquid. The process not only captures carbon, it binds it in a solid form, making an undisclosed product that can be used as a construction material. The liquid itself can be recovered and used again.

The group has received a patent and hopes to build a pilot plant in cooperation with industry partner Carbontec Energy Corp.

Spigarelli’s prize-winning poster focused on making the scrubber as efficient as possible. In particular, he developed a model for determining the ideal concentration of chemical in solution to strip out CO2. “You want to remove as much carbon as possible, but you don’t want to use excess chemicals, because you want to save the company money,” Spigarelli said. “This process will give you the best results.”

Haselhuhn’s third-place poster also focused on water chemistry. At an iron-processing facility, he studied the technology used to remove impurities from iron ore. He found ways to improve the process and significantly boost productivity.

“The iron ore is ground down into very small particles, which are mixed in water,” he said. “The larger particles, which contain more iron ore, settle quickly, and the smallest ones, containing silica, stay suspended.” However, Haselhuhn discovered, sometimes the raw ore contains high levels of magnesium, which translates into higher concentrations of magnesium in the water. In turn, that causes silica particles to cluster together and settle out with the iron, rendering the separation process ineffective.

“By compensating for the excess magnesium, companies could reduce the loss of iron in their concentration process,” Haselhuhn said. “The results of this research will save millions of dollars per year and reduce the loss of an important natural resource.”

by Marcia Goodrich, magazine editor
Published in Tech Today

Peace Corps Volunteer Tackles A Sensitive Women’s Health Problem in Uganda

RUMPS Community Partners
RUMPS Community Partners

When Stacey Frankenstein-Markon discovered that girls in Uganda often used rags, old socks or wads of newspapers to do the job of sanitary napkins, she was shocked. She was even more horrified to realize that purchasing commercial pads was an impossible dream for most of them, since they come from families of subsistence farmers making about $1 a day in disposable income.

“Disposable pads cost $1 for an 8-pack,” says the 25-year-old Peace Corps volunteer, who with her husband, Tony Markon, is serving in Uganda as part of Michigan Tech’s Peace Corps Master’s International (PCMI) program in applied science education. “If a family has three daughters who need pads, that family would have to spend 20 percent of their income just on menstrual pads. Who can afford to do that?”

The pad problem also was leading girls to stay away from school, fearing that they might stain their clothes and be badgered by boys, Frankenstein-Markon said. Eventually, they fall so far behind that they have to drop out.

But thanks to the inventiveness of another Peace Corps volunteer who had served in the eastern Ugandan region just before the Markons got there in 2010, the Michigan Tech student has been able to help hundreds of girls practice better hygiene while they learn about menstruation, their bodies and women’s health. And not incidentally, stay in school.

She is doing it with RUMPS. The RUMPS (Re-Useable Menstrual Pads) project teaches girls to sew locally available toweling into washable pads. Before they start stitching, they learn about puberty, sex, pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. The Peace Corps volunteer and her community partners answer questions and encourage honest discussion about matters most of the girls have never considered mentioning in public.

With the help of their three Ugandan partners–Betty Adio, Alice Mundaka and Deborah Nabirye–Frankenstein-Markon has reached more than 1,800 girls, women and men. Adio is now reaching out to another 3,000 elementary school girls. Word is spreading, and seven other Peace Corps volunteers have developed RUMPS projects in their communities.

“I’ve cut out 3,600 RUMPS pads myself,” says Frankenstein-Markon. “I have spent 180 hours using scissors, bandaged six blisters and swept up more tiny bits of towel fluff than I ever imagined could exist.”

In October 2010, two faculty members visited the Markons and the RUMPS project. Brad Baltensperger, chair of the Department of Cognitive and Learning Sciences at and program director of the PCMI Applied Science Education Program, and Casey Huckins, an associate professor of biological sciences who heads the University’s new PCMI in biological sciences, spent a week in Uganda to discuss the graduate students’ research, to observe them teaching and to learn more about the experiences of Peace Corps volunteers.

“Stacey made a rousing presentation about women’s bodies and menstrual health to several hundred high school girls packed into a large classroom,” Baltensperger says “She was animated and direct, and she used innovative ways to get and maintain the attention of her audience.”

One of Baltensperger’s and Huckins’ fondest memories of their African trip is sitting around a pot of warm millet beer with several teachers at the end of the day. “Casey and I both joined in drinking from the communal container through three-foot long straws and talked about the challenges faced by teachers in Uganda,” Baltensperger recalls.

Frankenstein-Markon’s work has not gone unrecognized. For International Women’s Day earlier this month, the Peace Corps in Uganda nominated her for her efforts to “empower girls.” She was one of three winners from Africa recognized by the Peace Corps worldwide.

How do Ugandans respond to Americans broaching such a sensitive subject? “Overall, every community I have visited has reacted positively,” Frankenstein-Markon says. “In Uganda today, people are trying to overcome traditional taboos. I have found that talking about menstrual health has opened the door for other, deeper topics. I start by talking about body changes. Then I move on to how a woman becomes pregnant.”

Sometimes the question-and-answer component of RUMPS sessions does run into cultural roadblocks. She recalls one man saying, “Madam, how can I ask you about sex when my niece is in the audience?” Also, “most Ugandans do not want their children to hear about family planning,” Frankenstein-Markon says.

But she is far from discouraged. “For every five shy Ugandans, there is always one courageous woman who says, “Ladies, let’s talk about the clitoris,” another who asks, ‘Madam, I want to use family planning. What can I do?’ People want this information, and we can help them get it.”

A biological sciences major who earned her bachelor of science from Michigan Tech in 2008, Frankenstein-Markon heard about PCMI when she was a junior. When she learned that PCMI was about to start a program in applied science education, she had no doubts. “To be able to join the Peace Corps while earning a master’s degree was a no-brainer,” she says. “It is such a unique opportunity and environment to do your research.”

Next fall the Markons will be back at Michigan Tech to complete their master’s degree work. And then? “We may end up abroad again,” she says. Judging by her passion for her efforts in Uganda that would be no surprise.

by Jennifer Donovan, director, public relations
Published in Tech Today

World Water Day Lecture, Poster Session Today

Can science save the Great lakes?

It’s an appropriate question to ask on World Water Day, which is Thursday, March 22, and even more appropriate considering the fact that Michigan Tech’s Great Lakes Research Center is nearing completion and scheduled to open this summer.

Lana Pollack, chair of the US Section of the International Joint Commission, will examine the threats to the health of the Great Lakes and discuss how research data-based policy-making can protect them.

The free public World Water Day Lecture is at 5:30 p.m. in EERC 103. The International Joint Commission is an independent, binational organization that works to prevent and resolve boundary waters disputes for the common good of the US and Canada.

The lecture is sponsored by Tech’s Center for Water and Society (CWS) and the Visiting Women and Minority Lecture Series. There will be a reception afterward.

Before the lecture, the CWS will sponsor a graduate poster session and competition to highlight the ongoing research on water at Tech. The poster session is scheduled for 3 to 5 p.m. in the DOW atrium.

In keeping with the interdisciplinary nature of water research and CWS, students from six different departments have registered posters in two categories, research and classes. The posters will be judged and cash awards made in both categories.

“World Water Day is the signature event for CWS,” said Center Director Noel Urban (CEE). “The poster session, guest speaker and reception provide an opportunity for CWS members from all of 11 departments represented by the Center to socialize and sow seeds for future collaborations.”

Published in Tech Today