Graduate students Venkat R. Donuru, Giri K. Vegesna, Singaravelu Velayudham, postdoctoral associate Ge Meng and Associate Professor Haiying Liu, all of the Department of Chemistry, filed a provisional patent entitled “New Kinds of Fluorescent Conjugated Polymers with BODIPY Backbone”–serial no. 61/140,529.
Interesting stories about and for our students.
Published in Tech Today
by Marcia Goodrich, senior writer
Nicholas Jensen likes hemlocks. “They’re my favorite tree,” he says, both for their graceful, arching tops and branches and for the shady, uncluttered forest floor they create.
But hemlocks are in trouble, down about 99 percent throughout their regional historic range. So Jensen, a master’s student in forest ecology and management, is studying how one particular animal species might impact the survival of the remaining 1 percent.
In winter, whitetail deer–lots of them–gather (or “yard up”) in groves of hemlock and cedar to escape the deep snow. They do eat hemlock, but they also deposit plenty of scat. Jensen wondered if their presence in high numbers was in effect fertilizing the local ecosystem and changing what types of plants were growing there.
Eastern hemlock thrives in poor soils that most other forest trees can’t abide. If those soils become fertile, Jensen thought, they might be colonized by other trees, like sugar maples, that could displace the hemlocks.
Three years ago, he began his study of 39 hemlock groves in the Lake Superior basin, conducting “pellet counts” and tracking the types of plants growing on the forest floor. Locally, he visited hemlock groves near Point Abbey and Big Eric’s Bridge, in Baraga County.
Hemlock groves let very little light through to ground. Only a few species of low-growing plants, including wild lily of the valley and wood ferns, grow under these conditions. However, Jensen discovered that different species of plants grow in hemlock groves that shelter lots of deer in the winter.
Just why this is happening isn’t clear. Maybe these new plants like the richer soils, maybe the deer are eating saplings and making way for additional low-growing plants.
What is clear is that something is going on, Jensen says. “It’s important to understand this. Hemlocks are an important resource, and they are really under pressure,” he says. “My hope is that we’ll be able to raise awareness of the effect deer may be having, and that our findings will someday be considered in forest management. It could be relevant to the persistence of this forest type.”
Jensen presented his work at the Graduate Student Council Research Colloquium, held April 2-3 at the Rozsa Center. His advisor is Associate Professor Chris Webster (SFRES).
by Tom Schneider, student writer
For Alex Guth, being a graduate student is hardly a passive ordeal.
Recently, the Association for Women Geoscientists awarded the Brunton Award to Guth. This award, named for a top manufacturer of high-end compasses, is a prestigious commendation for work in field mapping and data acquisition. The award will include a personally engraved compass from Brunton.
“We are very proud of Alex’s work and are glad to see it recognized by a well respected organization like the Association for Women Geoscientists,” said Professor Wayne Pennington, chair of the geological and mining engineering and sciences department. Guth is pursuing a PhD in Geology.
Guth uses satellite imaging to create innovative geological maps of remote, inaccessible terrain. She has conducted fieldwork in Kenya, studying rifts in the earth. She also teaches an online distance learning course in earth science for teachers (K-12), as well as the lecture section of Structural Geology and a course on mapping of remote terrain.
“Alex is not just another student, she is a critical member of our department,” said Pennington.
by Marcia Goodrich, senior writer
Deep in the stacks of the J. R. Van Pelt and Opie Library, Joe Miller stumbled upon a 112-year-old book that gave him a start.
Miller is a civil engineer specializing in heavy-timber roof design. He settled at Michigan Tech to get his PhD and to learn more about keyed beams than anyone in the history of carpentry. Keyed beams, lovely and useful though they may be, are in one sense an also-ran in the world of wood.
Miller explains in the context of the Upper Peninsula, where the old-growth, white-pine forests were ferociously clearcut in the 19th century. “By 1900, all the large trees were forested,” he said. The massive timbers required for constructing large buildings and reinforcing mine tunnels were no more. Builders needed a cheap, local alternative, so they began making big beams out of two smaller ones.
They cut mated notches in the lesser beams, fastened them together, and pounded close-fitting wedges, or keys, into the notches. The technique keeps beams stiff and bound tightly together, which prevents them from slipping (and breaking prematurely) when heavily weighted in the middle.
Keyed beams have been around since the 18th century. More recently, builders have adopted other technologies, but they aren’t always popular. “A lot of my clients had problems with steel beams or glue-laminated timbers,” Miller said. “Aesthetically, they wanted to use a more-natural approach that could be achieved locally, with local materials.”
Now, with keyed beams gaining a new following, Miller is developing the first theoretical model to represent their capacity under load. In other words, how much weight can they take before they break? And what factors determine if a keyed beam will be stiff enough?
Which brings us back to the library and the 112-year-old book. Miller was perusing the library’s offerings on the subject when he stumbled across an 1897 reference volume, buried in the basement, authored by Edward Kidwell of Hancock.
Kidwell, as it turns out, was on the faculty at the Michigan School of Mines. And he was one of the earliest researchers to conduct valid scientific tests on keyed beams and document the results. “It wasn’t until I’d chosen a school and a dissertation topic that I found his book,” Miller said, still struck by the coincidence. On top of this, Miller found Kidwell’s century-old reports to be both reliable and engaging.
“I appreciated his candor,” he said. In the book, Kidwell was critical of earlier keyed beam experts whose assertions did not stand up to scrutiny. “I also tested his methods, and everything he said appears spot on,” Miller said. “And Kidwell provided enough detail so that I could plug his numbers into my model.”
In addition to working with Kidwell’s findings, Miller has been testing his model against experimental evidence gathered in his own lab, where he has been building and testing keyed beams fabricated from solid oak, yellow poplar and wood laminate. “I’ve found that the inclination and shape of the keys can have an incredible effect” on the strength of the beam, he said.
“To be reinvestigating a concept that’s been around 300 years is kind of cool,” he said. It’s also cool to be building on foundational work conducted right here over 100 years ago.
From Tech Today
Michigan Tech’s science and engineering research expenditures increeased more than 28 percent during fiscal year 2007, according to figures just released by the National Science Foundation.
The NSF ranked Michigan Tech 66th in the nation in research spending, among universities without a medical school. The fastest growing disciplines were environmental science and electrical and computer engineering.
For the first time this year, NSF also ranked the research spending of non-science and engineering fields. Two departments at Michigan Tech–humanities and visual and performing arts–ranked in the top 100 nationwide.
Effective summer session 2009, binding fees for a thesis, report, or dissertation will increase due to increased charges from our bindery. Students completing their degree requirements in summer 2009 will need to discard any old bindery forms (TD-Bindery) they have downloaded and complete the new form that will be available beginning May 12, 2009.
Summary of fees beginning in summer:
- Binding and printing black and white letter sized pages: $22.50/copy
- Color pages (letter sized): $0.37/page
- Black and white pages (larger than letter sized, up to 11×17): $0.21/page
- Color pages (larger than letter sized, up to 11×17): $0.55/page
- Cotton paper: $0.14/page
- Media Pocket: $4.90/copy
Graduate student Jon Mellor is working on water quality in Rakai. The work was recently featured in an article in the Daily Monitor.
Printed in the Daily Mining Gazette
By Michael Babcok, DMG Writer
For Michigan Technological University graduate student, Richard Basary, coming to America was a dream and a goal. The University’s reputation in Materials Science and Engineering attracted the Fulbright Scholar from Indonesia. “Indonesia needs people who know about technology,” Basary says, “but with a servant heart.” After graduation, he plans to return to his home in Papua and make a sustainable difference in how people take advantage of renewable sources.
Read full story online.
by Marcia Goodrich, senior writer
A team of Michigan Tech researchers led by Associate Professor of Chemistry Haiying Liu has discovered how to make a strain of E. coli glow under fluorescent light. The technique could eventually be used to track down all sorts of pathogens and even help in the fight against breast cancer.
E. coli bacteria are naturally found in animal intestines and are usually harmless. But when virulent strains contaminate food, like spinach or peanuts, they can cause serious illness and even death.
The researchers’ trick takes advantage of E. coli’s affinity for the sugar mannose. Liu’s team attached mannose molecules to specially engineered fluorescent polymers and stirred them into a container of water swimming with E. coli. Microscopic hairs on the bacteria, called pili, hooked onto the mannose molecules like Velcro, effectively coating the bacteria with the polymers.
Then the researchers shined white light onto E. coli colonies growing in the solution. The bugs lit up like blue fireflies. “They became very colorful and easy to see under a microscope,” said Liu.
The technique could be adapted to identify a wide array of pathogens by mixing and matching from a library of different sugars and polymers that fluoresce different colors under different frequencies of light. If blue means E. coli, fuchsia could one day mean influenza.
With funding from a Small Business Innovation Research grant from the National Institutes of Health, Liu is adapting the technique to combat breast cancer. Instead of mannose, he plans to link the fluorescent polymers to a peptide that homes in on cancer cells.
Once introduced to the vascular system, the polymers would travel through the body and stick to tumor cells. Then, illuminated by a type of infrared light that shines through human tissue, the polymers would glow, providing a beacon to pinpoint the location of the malignant cells.
The technique would allow surgeons to easily identify and remove malignant cells while minimizing damage to healthy tissue.
The team’s work using polymers to detect E. coli was partially supported by the US Department of Agriculture and has been published in Chemistry–A European Journal.
The article, “Highly Water-Soluble Fluorescent Conjugated Fluorene-Based Glycopolymers with Poly(ethylene glycol) Tethered Spacers for Sensitive Detection of Escherichia coli,” is coauthored by Liu, postdoctoral associate Cuihua Xue, graduate students Singaravelu Velayudham and Steve Johnson, undergraduates Adrian Smith and Wilbel Brewer and Professor Pushpalatha Murthy, all of Michigan Tech’s chemistry department; and graduate student Ratul Saha and Professor Susan T. Bagley of the biological sciences department.
Timothy Colling, senior research engineer with the Michigan Tech Transportation Institute, has been selected to participate in the Eno Transportation Foundation’s Leadership Development Conference in Washington, DC, in May.
The conference brings together the top 20 graduate students in transportation engineering from across the country for the one-week program, in which participants meet top government officials, leaders of transportation organizations and members of Congress to get a firsthand look at how transportation policy is developed and implemented.
Colling is a doctoral student in civil engineering and assistant director of Michigan’s Local Technical Assistance Program (LTAP).
His advisor, Professor Bill Sproule (CEE), says that this is “a tremendous opportunity” for Colling and “a recognition that he is one of the country’s future transportation leaders.”