Author: Donna Jeno-Amici

Professor L. Brad King, Orbion Space Technology team named to Fast Company’s “Most Innovative Companies 2024” list

Turning dreams into reality is all in a day’s work for Lyon (Brad) King and his entire team at Orbion Space Technology. Case in point: Orbion Space Technology has been named to Fast Company’s Most Innovative Companies of 2024 list. Companies that send satellites into space on a rocket can use Orbion’s thrusters to maneuver them precisely to their final destination.

Dr. King is an experimentalist interested in studying electric space propulsion systems, including Hall-effect thrusters, ion engines, and arcjets. King is the Richard and Elizabeth Henes Endowed Professor (Space Systems) with MTU’s Department of Mechanical Engineering-Engineering Mechanics. As faculty advisor for the Aerospace Enterprise, King works with undergraduate students to provide hands-on aerospace education and experience. Aerospace Enterprise places an emphasis on space mission design and analysis, vehicle integration, systems engineering, and comprehensive ground testing and qualification. The idea for launching Orbion began taking shape here: King and co-founder Jason Sommerville realized they had not only the core technology, but an incredible network of talent in the form of aerospace and Isp Lab alumni to meet an urgent need in the new space economy. King (CEO of Orbion Space Technology) and Makela started the company in 2016.

Products under construction at Orbion Space Technology. The company is based in Houghton, Michigan and several members of the leadership team are graduates of Michigan Technological University’s doctoral program in mechanical engineering. (Image Credit: Orbion Space Technology)

In a previous article, author Cyndi Perkins tells us that “Orbion now employs more than 40 full-time engineers in its Houghton facility, with seven holding PhD degrees. You’ll find Huskies at the helm in several key positions—CTO Sommerville is a 2009 PhD graduate—but the company is more than just an outgrowth of Michigan Tech.”

Other MTU ME-EM alums holding positions with Orbion:

Michigan Tech alums from other programs include Kanwal Rekhi, PhD (MS, Electrical Engineering) and John Rockwell (BS, Business Administration).

The Michigan Tech-Orbion connection brings a wealth of opportunities for students to connect theory with practice. Michigan Tech’s Aerospace Enterprise teams have already launched three satellites into space.

Greg Odegard leads $5 million Air Force Research Lab (AFRL) project

Professor Gregory Odegard, with his wealth of experience in guiding large multidisciplinary research teams, is preparing to undertake a promising new research project supported by AFRL. Greg Odegard’s team at Michigan Technological University will work with researchers at Florida State University, Columbia University, and Penn State to develop the next-generation of composite materials for hypersonic aerospace vehicles. These composites will have significantly improved manufacturability and thermo-mechanical performance relative to state-of-the-art composites. The material development will be driven by multi-scale computational modeling.

Professor Gregory M. Odegard on the Michigan Technological University campus.

Greg Odegard is John O. Hallquist Endowed Chair in Computational Mechanics in the Department of Mechanical Engineering–Engineering Mechanics at Michigan Technological University. Before joining Michigan Tech in 2004, Odegard was a researcher at NASA Langley Research Center (2000-2004). He has garnered multiple accolades throughout his career, including the Ralph R. Teetor Educational Award (2011), the Ferdinand P. Beer and E. Russell Johnston Jr. Outstanding New Mechanics Educator Award (2008), and the Michigan Tech Outstanding Graduate Mentor Award (2008). In April 2023, Odegard received the prestigious NASA Outstanding Public Leadership Medal, recognizing the impact of his notable leadership accomplishments on the NASA Mission.

Odegard has authored or co-authored over sixty technical journal articles and four book chapters, and has been involved in over one hundred conference presentations. According to Google Scholar, his publications have been cited over 4,000 times in the technical literature. His research has been funded by NASA, the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, Mayo Clinic, Southwestern Energy, General Motors, REL, and Titan Tires. As a PI and co-PI, he has been involved in externally funded research projects totaling over $21 million.

December 14, 2023: Global Composites Experts Webinar by Dr. Gregory M. Odegard

Photo of the Composites Design and Manufacturing HUB logo with photos of a scientist, airplane and astronaut in space. Lower left shows photo of Dr. Gregory Odegard, the featured webinar speaker.

Current state-of-the-art composite materials are not light/strong enough for crewed missions to Mars and beyond. Structural components of deep space vehicles require lighter/stronger materials for fuel efficiency. The NASA Space Technologies Research Institute (STRI) for Ultra- Strong Composites by Computational Design (US-COMP) is focused on developing a new generation of composites for this purpose. US-COMP is using computational simulation to drive the material design in an efficient manner. By developing new simulation tools, experimental methods, and databases of material information, US-COMP is playing a central role in the national Materials Genome Initiative (MGI). The ultimate goals of US-COMP are to design, fabricate, and test composite panels that meet NASA’s requirements; and to train students to enter the advanced composite materials workforce.

Prof. Gregory Odegard is the John O. Hallquist Endowed Chair in Computational Mechanics in the Department of Mechanical Engineering – Engineering Mechanics at Michigan Tech. He is the Director of the NASA Institute for Ultra-Strong Composites by Computational Design, which
is focused on development the next generation of composites materials for manned deep- space missions. Before joining the faculty at Michigan Tech, Greg was a researcher at NASA Langley Research Center from 2000-2004. He received his PhD at the University of Denver in 2000. His research is focused on computational modeling of advanced material systems. He is the recipient of the NASA Outstanding Public Leadership Medal, is a Fellow of ASME, and an Associate Fellow of AIAA.

Tania Demonte Gonzalez receives Best Presentation Award at INORE’s 2023 European Symposium

Photo of Tania Demonte Gonzalez, who conducts research on wave energy converter nonlinear control.

Tania Demonte Gonzalez (PhD candidate, ME-EM) conducts research on wave energy converter nonlinear control and is part of the graduate student team using MTU Wave, the campus-based wave tank. She was awarded Michigan Tech’s Topping Teaching Fellowship in the Fall of 2022 and is a remote intern at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in Colorado.

Tania recently attended the International Network on Offshore Renewable Energy’s (INORE) 2023 European Symposium, a five-day meeting for researchers specializing in offshore renewable energy. The symposium provides many opportunities for early-stage researchers to come together, learn from one another, and establish new relationships that can greatly benefit their research and career journeys.

As part of the attendee research presentations, Tania gave a talk on “Time-Varying Hydrodynamic Modeling of a Variable Geometry Oscillating Surge Wave Energy Converter” and received one of two Best Presentation Awards. The presentation was a collaboration with NREL’s Dr. Nathan Tom and discussed the methods used to find a time-varying model for variable geometry surge wave energy converters. More details will be available in an upcoming publication.

Congratulations on this achievement, Tania.

Paul van Susante Named to Lou and Herbert Wacker Professorship in Mechanical Engineering

Paul van Susante (ME-EM) recently accepted an endowed appointment as the Lou and Herbert Wacker Professor in Mechanical Engineering. Van Susante joined Michigan Tech in 2012 as a lecturer (a role now called assistant teaching professor) before accepting an appointment as an assistant professor. Not only does Dr. van Susante meet or exceed all the criteria for this professorship, he also has a vested interest in teaching.

This endowed position was established to retain and attract high-quality faculty who are at the top of their profession, can excite students to think beyond classroom material, and who can effectively integrate their research into the classroom.

Involving students in his research is vital to van Susante. He’s been recognized in the Dean’s Teaching Showcase and as one of the Department of Mechanical Engineering-Engineering Mechanics’ (ME-EM’s) Teacher of the Year finalists four times. Paul is also the faculty advisor for the Multiplanetary Innovation Enterprise (MINE) team, solving challenges in the mining industry.

In addition to obtaining over $3 million in funding as a principal investigator, Dr. van Susante leads Michigan Tech’s Planetary Surface Technology Development Lab (PSTDL) team. The lab, also known as HuskyWorks, includes several students who advanced to the final round of NASA’s Watts on the Moon Challenge in both 2022 and 2023. As part of these competitions, researchers from NASA and other robotics companies travel to Michigan Tech to meet with van Susante and his team.

Other projects include:

  • NASA Lunar Surface Technology Research (LuSTR 2020)
  • NASA Breakthrough Innovative and Game-changing (BIG) Idea Challenge 2020: “Tethered permanently shaded Region Explorer (T-REX)” –power and communication delivery into PSR
  • NASA Break the Ice Challenge – the latest centennial challenge from NASA designed to develop technologies aiding in the sustained presence on the Moon
  • NASA ESI (Early Stage Innovation) to excavate rock gypsum for water production on Mars
  • NASA GCD MRE – Molten Regolith Electrolysis, or MRE, uses an electric current in a reactor to separate oxygen from lunar dust, also known as regolith. The scope of the project is to provide a regolith feeder and transportation system for the MRE reactor. Research into regolith properties, here on Earth, and in extreme environments like lunar gravity and vacuum are being conducted. Results from these experiments will be vital in choosing and developing these feeder and transportation technologies.
  • HOPLITE (Heavy Onboard Platform for Lunar ISRU and Terrain Excavation) is a modular robotic system built at Michigan Tech that enables the field testing of IDSRU technologies. Many payloads are currently being designed and implemented for lunar applications and there is a need for accurate, reliable, and safe mobility of these payloads during filed testing. Using a large sensor array, fine tuned control and autonomy, HOPLITE is designed to provide a solution to this need.

The success in his research has translated to van Susante publishing 82 papers while at Michigan Tech and giving 37 invited talks. He is currently an associate editor for In-Situ Resource Utilization (ISRU) and the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) Journal of Aerospace Engineering.

(reprinted from October 25, 2023 Tech Today.)

Jeffrey Allen receives NASA funding for Physical Sciences Informatics (PSI) research

Professor Jeffrey S. Allen is the John F. and Joan M. Calder Endowed Professor in Mechanical Engineering-Engineering Mechanics at Michigan Tech. Dr. Allen also serves as Associate Chair and Director of Undergraduate Studies for the department.

Jeffrey Allen (Professor, ME-EM) is the principal investigator on a recently awarded NASA Physical Sciences Research Program grant that will build on prior reduced-gravity research to advance fundamental research in the physical sciences.

The project, titled “Reduced-order modeling of interfacial dynamics to enable large-scale, mission-length simulations of low-gravity propellant management using CVB PSI data”, is one of six funded proposals under this initiative. Anurag Ranjan, PhD (postdoc) is a co-investigator.

The overall objective of the proposed research is to develop a new efficient computational approach for fast, long duration, high fidelity simulations of the interface dynamics of liquid vapor mixtures in microgravity using a vortex sheet evolution equation coupled to a
vorticity-velocity bulk fluid solution in an extended FEM technique.

The Physical Sciences Informatics (PSI) system is an online database of completed physical science reduced-gravity flight experiments conducted on the International Space Station (ISS), Space Shuttle flights, Free Flyers, or commercial cargo flights to and from the ISS, and of related ground-based studies.

For more information:

Access Professor Allen’s publications here:

Visit Professor Allen’s faculty profile here:

PSTDL Finalists in NASA Watts on the Moon Challenge

Assistant Professor Paul van Susante (ME-EM/MARC) and the Planetary Surface Technology Development Lab, aka HuskyWorks, advanced to the “final four” in Phase 2 of NASA’s Watts on the Moon Challenge. Through this challenge, NASA seeks to partner with a broader community of experts to augment its investments in power generation.

The first competition phase started in September 2020 and included 60 eligible teams, from which seven winners were chosen. Winners in each phase receive equal shares of a prize purse, used to fuel the development of ideas for building energy infrastructures on the Moon.

“As we tread new ground in exploration, we’ll need to draw on creativity across the nation. The technologies created through Watts on the Moon are one example, with new perspectives helping us address a crucial technology gap.”

Denise Morris, acting program manager for Centennial Challenges at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama

Building on previous success, the team will use the current $400,000 prize to refine their Phase 2, Level 3 prototype and test it under a simulated lunar environment (vacuum chamber) at NASA facilities in 2024. Up to two teams at this level will receive awards: The first-place team will be awarded $1 million, and second place will be awarded $500,000. Winners are expected to be announced in September, 2024.

You can learn more about the challenge by visiting NASA’s Watts on the Moon fact sheet. For more details on Dr. van Susante’s lab capabilities, visit the PSTDL’s  Facilities page.

Play Four Teams Advance to Final Level of NASA’s Watts on the Moon Challenge video
Preview image for Four Teams Advance to Final Level of NASA’s Watts on the Moon Challenge video

Four Teams Advance to Final Level of NASA’s Watts on the Moon Challenge

Michigan Tech ME-EM Grads Advance to 2023 ASME/SME Student Manufacturing Design Competition Finals

Husky graduates will pitch their design at the 2023 MSEC.
Pictured from left to right are Dante Cardinali, Jake Holwerda, Jack Pluta, and Connar Christensen.

A group of recent Michigan Tech ME-EM graduates will compete against seven other finalists at the 2023 Manufacturing Science and Engineering Conference (MSEC) on June 13, 2023.

A forum for students to share ideas, this competition supports interest in manufacturing and provides the manufacturing community with fresh perspectives on design. The Michigan Tech team competed against universities including Harvard, Northwestern, UC – Davis and University of Michigan to advance to the finals.

Competition faculty advisor Vinh Nguyen notes, “This is an impressive feat for our students to make it this far into the competition. I have no doubt that our students will perform well at the finals given their experience working in real-world environments from their time at Michigan Tech.”

The team’s project for an improved camshaft delivery system was created as part of ME-EM’s Senior Design program, a capstone option connecting students and industry through challenging projects that have an open-ended design solution. The industry customer, CWC-Textron, requested the assistance of Senior Capstone Design (SCD) Team 11 to improve the safety and efficiency of their Hemi camshaft line.

Due to the extreme conditions in which these camshafts are subjected during use, they endure the Selectively Austempered Ductile Iron (SADI) process to increase their mechanical properties. SADI castings are treated in a quick quench bath of molten salt, which can cause buildup that impacts the reliability of the hatch.

The team developed a solution for a reliable opening system with reduced risk to operators. The customer can expect a reduction in downtime resulting from the basket door being unable to open, with increases in worker safety.

Team members participating in the competition are:

Dante Cardinali: Currently doing a manufacturing engineering internship in Muskegon. “I Intend to obtain a MBA at the University of Madonna along with continuing my athletic collegiate career. I either want to focus on leading an engineering team or hold a position in supply chain management on the administrative side.”

Jake Holwerda: “Having recently concluded my undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering from Michigan Tech, I am eager to apply my knowledge and skills at JOST International as a newly appointed product engineer. In my position, I will be primarily focused on manufacturing as a member of the design team.”

Jack Pluta: “I’m transitioning into a full-time position as a process engineer at Excel Engineering in Fond du Lac, WI while pursuing my master’s in engineering management at Michigan Tech.”

Connar Christensen: “I am a Quality Engineer for Kohler Co., in Dallas, TX.”

“The Senior Capstone Design Program in Mechanical Engineering at Michigan Tech strives to give students an experience more like their first job than their last class. We highly emphasize the early stage of solution development we call situational understanding—gaining an understanding of the people involved and the problems they battle. The CWC-Textron team did a fantastic job in that regard. Their solid understanding of the problem and of those in production who would work with their solution led to a highly functional yet very simple result. And that’s not an easy combination. Having owned a small machine shop, developed advanced cutting tools for high-volume production operations, and by way of that interacting with folks on the line, in tool rooms, and in the engineering offices, I can speak to the value and challenges of achieving functional simplicity in a manufacturing environment. They nailed it!”

Bill Endres, Richard and Elizabeth Henes Professor, Department of Mechanical Engineering-Engineering Mechanics, Michigan Technological University

The team will pitch their idea on June 13th along with seven other finalists. The finalist competition will take place at Rutgers University, this year’s host of the Manufacturing Science and Engineering Conference. The top team will be awarded $1,000 followed by $750 and $500 for second and third place, respectively. We wish them the best of luck as they represent Michigan Tech and MEEM!

Hassan Masoud Wins NSF CAREER Award

Hassan Masoud is principal investigator of CFAM, the Complex Fluids and Active Matter Lab.

Hassan Masoud, assistant professor of Mechanical Engineering-Engineering Mechanics at Michigan Technological University, has won a $520,255 National Science Foundation CAREER Award, “Collective Hydrodynamics of Robotic Swimmers and Surfers at High Reynolds Numbers.”

Dr. Masoud will use his award to examine the hydrodynamics of aquatic robots locomoting in orderly ensembles and identify the collective behaviors that emerge from their flow-mediated interactions.

Dr. Masoud earned his Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology and conducted postdoctoral research under the joint supervision of Howard Stone in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at Princeton University and Michael Shelley at the Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences at NYU. He joined the Department of Mechanical Engineering-Engineering Mechanics at Michigan Tech as an assistant professor in 2017.

CAREER awards, administered under the Faculty Early Career Development Program, are the NSF’s most prestigious form of support and recognition for junior faculty who “exemplify the role of teacher-scholars through outstanding research, excellent education and the integration of education and research within the context of the mission of their organizations.”

We congratulate Assistant Professor Hassan Masoud on his outstanding accomplishment!

Abstract: Robotic swarms have attracted much attention in recent years due to their vast potential applications. In particular, there has been a growing interest in aquatic robots, either swimming underwater or surfing at the air-water interface. By using large numbers of individuals working in tandem through local communication, a swarm of underwater swimmers or interfacial surfers can augment their collective intelligence while maintaining relatively simplistic designs. Harnessing this unique, joint ability leads to achieving superior functionalities, which makes aquatic robots very appealing for a myriad of practical applications, including surveillance, monitoring of invasive species, tracking weather and sea conditions, pollution management, etc. This project aims to obtain an in-depth understanding of many-body hydrodynamic interactions in the collective motion of robotic swimmers and surfers at high Reynolds numbers. The design of robots chosen for the studies is motivated by species in nature that have mastered their respective terrains. The swimmers mimic the general form of a fish, with the tail flapping providing the thrust, while the surfers take inspiration from water-walking insects. The investigations will be conducted using a synergistic application of high-fidelity numerical simulations and laboratory experiments. Validated simulations allow for exploring an extensive range of flow regimes and combinations of relative positions between the robots. Coupled with reinforcement learning algorithms, they also enable searching for optimal strategies for collective locomotion. The unsteady flows generated by the motion of robots in the experiments will be captured via time-resolved, volumetric particle tracking velocimetry. The fundamental knowledge gained during this project is expected to directly contribute to the design and implementation of future aquatic robots capable of functioning alongside each other with a high degree of coordination, similar to the behaviors exhibited by fish in schools and birds in flocks. The planned research studies in this project are coupled with a range of educational activities that involve outreach to middle and high school students, engagement with the general public, mentorship of community college and graduate students, and curriculum development.

Read more

What Tiny Surfing Robots Teach Us About Surface Tension


Play Fluid Dynamics: Michigan Tech Researchers Take it to the Tank video
Preview image for Fluid Dynamics: Michigan Tech Researchers Take it to the Tank video

Fluid Dynamics: Michigan Tech Researchers Take it to the Tank

Sajjad Bigham Named to Lou and Herbert Wacker Professorship

Sajjad Bigham (ME-EM) has accepted the Lou and Herbert Wacker Professorship in Mechanical Engineering, which was created to retain and attract high-quality faculty who are at the top of their profession, can excite students to think beyond the classroom material and know how to integrate their research into the classroom.

Bigham has taught a variety of undergraduate and graduate courses, consistently receiving very good to outstanding student evaluations. He and his student team of undergraduate and graduate students (pictured) won the 2022 GE/ASEE Additive Manufacturing Heat Sink Challenge. He received the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Solar Desalination Prize for Innovation 1st Phase Prize (October 2020) and 2nd Phase Prize (April 2021) awarded by the DOE’s Solar Energy Technologies Office.

Dr. Bigham's students who won the Heat Sink Challenge.

Since joining Michigan Tech in 2016, Bigham has secured over $4 million in research funding as a principal investigator. He is currently advising eight Ph.D. students and has graduated five M.S. students. He has published 27 refereed journal papers, one book and 23 conference proceedings papers. He has been granted three patents and one technology disclosure. He is also very active in professional service with ASME and ASHRAE.

This article originally appeared in Michigan Technological University’s Tech Today, and is authored by Office of the Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs.