John Johnson Testified March 24 Before the House Subcommittee on Energy and Environment of the Committee on Science and Technology

More research is needed to improve the safety and fuel economy of the nation’s truck fleet, a Michigan Technological University faculty member told a congressional subcommittee Tuesday.

John Johnson, a presidential professor of mechanical engineering-engineering mechanics, testified March 24 before the House Subcommittee on Energy and Environment of the Committee on Science and Technology. The hearing was part of a review of the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Vehicle Technologies research and development programs. Specifically, subcommittee members questioned expert witnesses on the funding levels and changing market and public needs.

Johnson expressed concern over the decline in federal funding for the 21st Century Truck Partnership. In 2000, DOE launched the Partnership to explore technological improvements in commercial and military trucks and buses. Funded through the DOE, the Department of Defense, the Department of Transportation and the Environmental Protection Agency, the Partnership also involves several national research laboratories and many industrial partners.

Increasing truck efficiency has a major impact because trucks make up a significant portion of America’s fuel use and will likely surpass passenger car fuel use within the next few decades.

“Despite the many benefits of the Partnership, including helping the engine industry meet the EPA 2007 particulate and 2010 NOx standards, the program has suffered from the dwindling resources devoted by the Department of Energy,” Johnson told the subcommittee. Funding has dropped from $87 million in FY2002 to $30 million in FY2008.

Federal support for research is falling just as the trucking industry prepares to address new fuel economy standards under development by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Johnson noted. He recommended that the DOE receive $200 million for research to boost trucks’ fuel efficiency and to reduce emissions, including research on biodiesel, aerodynamic design, hybrid vehicles and more.

Safety is also a major concern. “Crash protection measures have not substantially reduced highway fatalities during the past decade,” he said. He recommended that $25 million a year be allocated to the Partnership for the development of crash avoidance technologies and in-vehicle communication systems.

Research spending should reflect the significant role the trucking industry plays in the US economy, he said. Manufacturers of heavy-duty trucks had sales of $16 billon in 2002, and overall, the trucking industry employs 1.4 million workers with an annual payroll of $47 billion. “Trucks account for about one-fourth of the transportation industry’s total revenues,” said Johnson.

Johnson chaired the National Academies Committee that wrote the June report “Review of the 21st Century Truck Partnership.” A nationally recognized expert on diesel engines, he has participated in 12 National Academies committees.

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Roshan D’Souza Wins National Science Foundation Career Award

Roshan D’Souza, Assistant Professor in Mechanical Engineering-Engineering Mechanics, has received the National Science Foundation’s most prestigious early CAREER Award.

The project, “Towards Interactive Simulation of Giga-Scale Agent-Based Models on Graphics Processing Units,” investigates techniques for efficient simulation of large scale agent-based models (ABMs). ABMs are increasingly being used to understand complex multi-scale behaviors in many natural, built, and social systems. This research investigates novel techniques designed to leverage the massive computing power available on commodity graphics processing units. It greatly expands the availability and applicability of agent-based modeling by effectively democratizing super computing for ABM simulation. Furthermore, it enables virtual testing of “what-if” scenarios in public policy, contingency planning for disaster relief, drug therapy design, etc., on inexpensive desktop computers at realistic levels of detail. The main challenge in this research is the re-formulation of ABM computation to fit the data-parallel model of GPUs. Educational topics include development of courses, outreach to K-12 students, and undergraduate research. The value of the award is $423,863 over five years.

“This is one of those really significant early-career recognitions,” said David D. Reed, vice president for research. “It’s extremely competitive, and you have to be able to explain how you are going to integrate teaching with your research. The CAREER Award demonstrates NSF’s concern for extending the broader impact of research funding.”

Roshan D’Souza, Assistant Professor is the second person in the past year to receive an NSF CAREER award for 2009. Last spring Jeffrey Allen, also an assistant professor of mechanical engineering-engineering mechanics, received an NSF CAREER Award for his research into capillary flow–how and why liquids and gases move through tiny channels such as those found in hydrogen fuel cells.

“The NSF CAREER Award is a prestigious and highly competitive multi-year grant for untenured junior faculty,” explained William W. Predebon, chair of mechanical engineering-engineering mechanics. “It is a significant recognition of the quality and creativity of the proposed research, as well as recognition of the research potential of a junior faculty member.”

Predebon called D’Souza’s work “breakthrough research that could help overcome the major hurdle of translating the results of bench research into clinical therapies.”

D’Souza and Allen are among six ME-EM faculty members to receive the NSF award. A total of 24 Tech researchers have won CAREER Awards since 1995.

NSF CAREER Awards are designed to promote early career development in junior faculty who exemplify the integration of research and teaching and who are likely to become the academic leaders of the future. Untenured faculty in their first tenure-track appointment are eligible to apply up to three times.

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Laid-off Engineers Learning New Skills: Classes Focus on Hybrids and Electrics

A free class in hybrid and electric vehicle development offered to out-of-work engineers could become a model as Michigan tries to keep its skilled workforce from leaving the state.

About 60 engineers from their 20s to their 50s just began the class, which is a joint effort by Michigan Technological University, the Engineering Society of Detroit and General Motors.

“This is an opportunity to put some new skills in my toolbox,” said Kimberly Calloway, 38, of Southfield, a 15-year electrical engineer Ford laid off in August. “I’ll add the certificate from the class to my resume. It will give me an advantage when I’m interviewing.”

In addition to lectures, homework and tests, the class includes a final project in which teams of students compete to boost a current GM hybrid’s fuel economy by one mile per gallon.

“These are the skills companies are looking for,” said Jim Turnquist, Michigan Tech director of career services. “I’m getting more requests for very specific skill sets” from automakers and suppliers hiring engineers. “This is the future.”

Terry Woychowski, GM’s executive director of engineering staffs, came up with the idea for the class late last year.

GM and other automakers and suppliers were laying off experienced engineers to cut costs, but were desperately looking for other engineers with the new skills required to develop hybrid and electric vehicles.

“This is the growth area” in the auto industry, Woychowski said. “Giving them experience in this makes them more employable. We want to offer engineers who’ve invested their lives in the auto industry and this community a chance to contribute.”

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Dr. Jeffrey S. Allen Selected to Receive a 2009 Ralph R. Teetor Educational Award

Dr. Jeffrey Allen, Assistant Professor in Mechanical Engineering, has been selected for a 2009 SAE Ralph R. Teetor Educational Award.

The Ralph R. Teetor Educational Award reflects the firm belief of its donor that engineering educators are the most effective link between engineering students and their future careers, the SAE Ralph R. Teetor Educational Fund’s major program is focused on younger engineering educators. Its objective is to provide an engineering atmosphere in which these teachers can meet and exchange views with practicing engineers. The current decade places greater expectations upon the colleges and universities of the world to educate individuals who must successfully meet the challenges that face society. The purpose of the Teetor Award is to recognize and honor those younger educators who are successfully preparing engineers for this task.

The Award Committee stated “The credentials and standards of excellence in education of this year’s candidates were extremely high and brought about some very keen competition. Your outstanding contributions have distinguished you as one of the top engineering educators.”

As a Teetor Award recipient, Dr. Allen will be SAE’s guest for the week of SAW 2009 World Congress & Expositions which begins April 20, 2009 in Detroit, MI.

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PhD Candidate Mark Greip Awarded Nanotechnology Paper

Mechanical Engineering-Engineering Mechanics (ME-EM) PhD candidate Mark Griep was awarded the best paper award in the nanotechnology category at the recently held 26th Army Science Conference. His co-author was Dr.Shashi Karna, who is also a member of the ME-EM External Advisory Board. In addition, of the 845 paper submissions they were awarded the Bronze Medal for the 2nd best paper of the entire conference. The research work was done while Mark was a Guest Researcher at the Army Research Laboratory (ARL) this year. His advisor is Dr. Craig R. Friedrich.

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Michigan Tech Receives $1.5 Million Grant for Developing Flex-Fuel Hybrid Technologies

The Michigan Public Service Commission has awarded a team of Michigan Technological University researchers $1.5 million to develop technologies for flex-fuel hybrid vehicles.

The grant builds on over $1 million in support from General Motors, Sensors Inc. of Saline, Argonne National Laboratory’s Transportation Technology R&D Center and Michigan Tech.

“There is no flex-fuel hybrid available, partly because it’s a big challenge to meet emissions standards,” said lead investigator Jeff Naber, an associate professor of mechanical engineering-engineering mechanics and director of Michigan Tech’s Advanced Power Systems Research Center.

Flex-fuel engines can burn anything from pure gasoline to E85–a blend of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gas. The properties of the two fuels vary tremendously, creating daunting engineering challenges. Ethanol contains only 63 percent of the stored energy of gasoline and requires about three times the energy to vaporize. Straight gasoline, however, has a much lower octane rating and can cause engine knock in a high-performance engine that would run smoothly on ethanol.

If engines can’t adapt to these very different fuels, emissions rise and mileage falls, Naber said. Starting and stopping the engine repeatedly makes this problem worse, and that’s just what hybrid engines do many times during a single trip, whenever the vehicle switches from battery to internal combustion and back again.

To address the problem, the researchers will work to optimize numerous aspects of the powertrain design and control, including the fuel and combustion systems.

As part of the project, the team aims to design and build an efficient, four-cylinder, hybrid engine with a variable compression ratio that can run on flex-fuel and meet the US EPA’s tough emissions standards, something that no hybrid has ever done. They will also develop a computer model that will allow engineers to simulate the factors involved in designing efficient, clean-running, flex-fuel hybrid engines.

“We look forward to an active exchange of expertise and know-how through this program,” said Thomas Wallner, principal investigator in Argonne’s Engines and Emissions Group. “Advanced instrumentation will be developed to further our knowledge base on the use of alternative fuels in engines.” As part of the collaboration, Michigan Tech students will visit Argonne to conduct research.

Ultimately, the technologies will be used by General Motors to manufacture energy-efficient vehicles that meet the federal government’s 2020 CAFE emissions standards.

Co-investigators on the project are Jay Meldrum, director of the Keweenaw Research Center; Donna Michalek and John Beard, associate professors of mechanical engineering-engineering mechanics; Seong-Young Lee, Scott Miers and Abhijit Mukherjee, assistant professors of mechanical engineering-engineering mechanics; and Jeremy Worm, staff engineer of the Advanced Power Systems Research Center, which is directed by Naber.

The team is part of Michigan Tech’s Wood to Wheels program in the Sustainable Futures Institute, a forest-to-tailpipe research and education initiative to improve the entire lifecycle of bioenergy production and utilization from Michigan’s abundant forest resources.

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From Xbox to T-Cells: Michigan Tech Researchers Borrow Video Game Technology to Model Human Biology

A team of researchers at Michigan Technological University is harnessing the computing muscle behind the leading video games to understand the most intricate of real-life systems.

Led by Roshan D’Souza, the group has supercharged agent-based modeling, a powerful but computationally massive forecasting technique, by using graphic processing units (GPUs), which drive the spectacular imagery beloved of video gamers. In particular, the team aims to model complex biological systems, such as the human immune response to a tuberculosis bacterium.

Computer science student Mikola Lysenko, who wrote the software, demonstrates. On his computer monitor, a swarm of bright green immune cells surrounds and contains a yellow TB germ. These busy specks look like 3D-animations from a PBS documentary, but they are actually virtual T-cells and macrophages—the visual reflection of millions of real-time calculations.

“I’ve been asked if we ran this on a supercomputer or if it’s a movie,” says D’Souza, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering–engineering mechanics. He notes that their model is several orders of magnitude faster than state-of-the art agent modeling toolkits. According to the researchers, however, this current effort is small potatoes.

“We can do it much bigger,” says D’Souza. “This is nowhere near as complex as real life.” Next, he hopes to model how a TB infection could spread from the lung to the patient’s lymphatic system, blood and vital organs.

Dr. Denise Kirschner, of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, developed the TB model and gave it to D’Souza’s team, which programmed it into a graphic processing unit. Agent-based modeling hasn’t replaced test tubes, she says, but it is providing a powerful new tool for medical research.

Computer models offer significant advantages. “You can create a mouse that’s missing a gene and see how important that gene is,” says Kirschner. “But with agent-based modeling, we can knock out two or three genes at once.” In particular, agent-based modeling allows researchers to do something other methodologies can’t: virtually test the human response to serious insults, such as injury and infection.

While agent-based modeling may never replace the laboratory entirely, it could reduce the number of dead-end experiments. “It really helps scientists focus their thinking,” Kirschner said. “The limiting factor has been that these models take a long time to run, and [D’Souza’s] method works very quickly and efficiently,” she said.

Dr. Gary An, a surgeon specializing in trauma and critical care in Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, is a pioneer in the use of agent-based modeling to understand another matter of life and death: sepsis. With billions of agents, including a variety of cells and bacteria, these massive, often fatal infections have been too complex to model economically on a large scale, at least until now.

“The GPU technology may make this possible,” said An. “This is very interesting stuff, and I’m excited about it.”

About agent-based modeling

Agent-based modeling simulates the behaviors of complex systems. It can be used to predict the outcomes of anything from pandemics to the price of pork bellies. It is, as the name suggests, based on individual agents: e.g., sick people and well people, predators and prey, etc. It applies rules that govern how those agents behave under various conditions, sets them loose, and tracks how the system changes over time. The outcomes are unpredictable and can be as surprising as real life.

Agent-based modeling has been around since the 1950s, but the process has always been handicapped by a shortage of computing power. Until recently, the only way to run large models quickly was on multi-million-dollar supercomputers, a costly proposition.

D’Souza’s team sidestepped the problem by using GPUs, which can run models with tens of millions of agents with blazing speed.

“With a $1,400 desktop, we can beat a computing cluster,” says D’Souza. “We are effectively democratizing supercomputing and putting these powerful tools into the hands of any researcher. Every time I present this research, I make it a point to thank the millions of video gamers who have inadvertently made this possible.”

The Tech team also looks forward to applying their model in other ways. “We can do very complex ecosystems right now,” said Ryan Richards, a computer science senior. “If you’re looking at epidemiology, we could easily simulate an epidemic in the US, Canada and Mexico.”

“GPUs are very difficult to program. It is completely different from regular programming,” said D’Souza, who deflects credit to the students. “All of this work was done by CS undergrads, and they are all from Michigan Tech. I’ve had phenomenal success with these guys—you can’t put a price tag on it.”

D’Souza’s work was supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation. In addition to Lysenko and Richards, computer science undergraduate Nick Smolinske also contributed to the research.

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John Johnson Invited Member to National Research Council Committee on Fuel Economy of Medium- and Heavy-Duty Vehicles

Dr. John Johnson, Presidential Professor Emeritus, has been invited to join the National Research Council’s Committee on Fuel Economy of Medium- and Heavy-Duty Vehicles. His appointment will be effective through May 2010.

The committee will conduct an assessment of fuel economy technologies for medium and heavy-duty vehicles. According to the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, Section 108, the study is to develop a report evaluating medium-duty and heavy-duty truck fuel economy standards. The committee will 1) consider appropriate approaches to measuring fuel economy for medium- and heavy duty vehicles that would be required for setting standards; 2) assess current and potential technologies and estimate improvements in fuel economy for medium-duty and heavy-duty trucks that might be achieved; 3) address how the technologies identified in Task 2 above may be used practically to improve medium-duty and heavy-duty truck fuel economy; 4) address how such technologies may be practically integrated into the medium-duty and heavy-duty truck manufacturing process; 5)assess how such technologies may be used to meet fuel economy standards to be prescribed under section 32902(k) of title 49, United States Code, as amended by Section 108; 6) discuss the pros and cons of approaches to improving the fuel efficiency of moving goods in the trucking sector against setting vehicle fuel economy standards; and 7) identify the potential costs and other impacts on the operation of medium-duty and heavy-duty trucks. The study committee will not recommend a standard but the results of its analysis will give guidance to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration as it moves forward with how to address fuel economy standards for medium and heavy-duty trucks.

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Bo Chen Awarded Best Paper in Computational Methods and Software at Conference

Bo Chen has received the Best Paper in Computational Methods and Software Award at the 2008 IEEE/ASME International Conference on Mechatronic and Embedded Systems and Applications in Beijing China. Her co-author was Dr. M. Tomizuka. The award was presented by the IEEE Intelligent Transportation Systems Society, the ASME Division of Computers and Information in Engineering, and the ASME Division of Design Engineering.

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