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Myounghoon (Philart) Jeon, Cognitive and Learning Sciences

A Symphony of Technology

Technology acts like a kind of progressive symphony, adding feature after feature; the options in a modern automobile would have been simply overwhelming only a few decades ago. Technology can work wonders, but technology that is immersive, that brings us together, that makes our lives better, is what is most profound. The question we literally face is how to keep up with all of this input.

In lab spaces all across campus, Myounghoon (Philart) Jeon works to make technology engage all of our senses by better understanding the human factors within technological interaction; his research touches a bit of everything and everyone at Michigan Tech. With the help of a driving simulator, his work in the Mind Music Machine (Tri-M) Lab focuses on developing a new generation of sound technology in cars. The results of his research could help drivers pay better attention, regulate their emotions while driving, and drive their cars in a more eco-friendly manner. And this makes driving a safer, more harmonious experience.

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Lisa Gordillo, Visual and Performing Arts

From STEM to STEAM

Trained as a sculptor, with a background in theater and opera, Lisa Gordillo leads “Keep ‘Em Flying,” a project aimed at reducing bird-window collisions on Michigan Tech’s campus and beyond. Key Tech buildings include the Great Lakes Research Center, the Skywalk between Van Pelt and Opie Library and Rehki Hall, and the Dow Environmental Sciences and Engineering Building, where an average of six birds die each day from window strikes during migratory season.

Keep ‘Em Flying is a long-term collaboration between Visual and Performing Arts (VPA), the School of Forest Resources and Environmental Sciences, Materials Science and Engineering, Electrical Engineering, and Pavlis Honors College.

Gordillo wants her students to find ways to say “yes” to big solutions, and aims to demonstrate that beginning students can solve large-scale, real-world problems in a dramatic fashion across art, sciences, and engineering.

Since many of her students are new to this creative world, she works with them to create collaborations across campus with disciplines not traditionally known for working in the arts—transforming a STEM school into a STEAM school.

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L. Syd Johnson, Humanities

On Our Minds

Crunching tackles. Punishing hits. These are central elements of football and hockey. But more on the radar now is the cumulative effect concussions and brain injuries have on these athletes. A spate of suicides has led to studies on brain tissue and has discovered some recently retired athletes with mental decay decades beyond their actual age.

Syd Johnson sees this as not only a biological issue, but an ethical one as well: since concusioins have a cumulative effect, concern should sthart when the dreams of high school games are forming for kids. Johnson syas the solution is changing the way kids play sports. By reducing the risks of concussions, the cumulative effects of concussions are delayed until kids can make more informed decisions.

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Erin Smith, Humanities

41 North

Houghton isn't on the way to anywhere. And while the remote location has its benefits, it means fewer venues that feature new independent artistic work.

Erin Smith believes it’s important that Michigan Tech and the local community have access to films that people in urban and cultural centers across the country are viewing.

That's why she curates and directs the 41 North Film Festival—an annual event where people come together to learn, question, discuss, find inspiration, and be entertained.

Smith looks for films that intersect with areas of Michigan Tech's curriculum, the University's mission, the extracurricular interests of students and faculty, and regional interests.

"It’s important to me, though, that the festival does not just reflect the community back to itself," Smith says. "One of the beautiful things about the intensive experience of a film festival is the opportunity to be immersed in many different experiences and ideas.

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Don Lafreniere, Social Sciences
Sarah Scarlett, Social Sciences
John Arnold, Social Sciences

Keweenaw Time Travel

Michigan's Keweenaw Peninsula has a rich and colorful history. The miners in the boom days of the Copper Country knew that in order to find what they wanted, they had to “drill down.”

Today, thanks to Don Lafreniere, Sarah Scarlett, and John Arnold, those wishing to discover the people and the places of the Keweenaw’s past can drill down through history.

Keweenaw Time Traveler is an online map-based tool allowing visitors to explore the layers of history for any location in the Houghton, Keweenaw, and Ontonagon county region.

The seven-year project uses proven technologies and techniques of public participatory Historical Geographic Information Systems (GIS)—a geospatial approach that works with communities to map and analyze geographic and historical relationships through space and time. It also employs collections of geographic data and tools that are interactively connected. Users can incorporate their own information about a place and store that data long-term, to create a high-resolution database that maps changes in the social, natural, industrial, and built environments of the Copper Country from 1850 to 1970.

Using GIS, visitors to keweenawhistory.com will have an opportunity to dig deep through the history of a particular location, and also dig horizontally to observe an expanding geographic location at a particular time in history.

The researchers’ hope the Keweenaw Time Traveler will result in a one-of-a-kind space-time linked digital archive and provide a new way for the Copper Country heritage community to share their histories with the world.

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Tarun Dam, Chemistry
Ashutosh Tiwari, Chemistry

Sweet Talk, Sweet Talk

Sugar, in all of its forms, gets maligned for what it does to us—a steady diet does no wonders, and we can picture children bouncing off the walls. But, we need the energy from sugars to fuel us. And they can act as words. Sugars form a language between proteins.

Tarun Dam, a winner of Tech’s Bhakta Rath, Distinguished Teaching, and Exceptional Graduate Faculty Mentor Awards, runs the Laboratory of Mechanistic Glycobiology and studies glycans, the carbohydrate (sugar) part of a glycoprotein or glycolipid. Dam and his students study how sugar molecules act as a language between proteins, which has implications in drug designing, immunology, and fighting cancer.

While Dam looks at sugar, Ashutosh Tiwari focus on proteins. Misfolded proteins.

His research shows how small errors in protein folding lead to cellular inefficiency and contribute to the onset of diseases we frequently associate with aging—and what can be done to correct them.

He and his team are developing the tools to find and correct the mistakes by targeting the right error, or misfold.

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Nancy Langston, Social Sciences
Richelle Winkler, Social Sciences

Who We Are and Where We Go

All that remains of the ancient Sicilian city Kamarina is an allegory. Once bordered by a swamp that was drained because of a plague, their enemies invaded over the dry former swamp and ravaged the city.

Nancy Langston sees how allegories like Kamarina inform how we understand nature and the environment—how degradation and damage can be turned into restoration with the wisdom we have gained and the environmental policy we subsequently develop.

Her most recent book project asks: What can we learn from the recoveries around Lake Superior over the past century, as we face new interconnected challenges from climate change, synthetic chemicals, and forest change? Yale University Press will publish Sustaining Lake Superior: An Extraordinary Lake in a Changing World this fall.

While Langston looks as our surroundings, Richelle Winkler observes how we uproot ourselves from those surroundings and what that means for society and culture. Armed with a wealth of data, Winkler and her team have produced a website—netmigration.wisc.edu—where anyone can generate a map of migration by US county, sorted by race, gender, age, or Hispanic origin.

These two researchers work to bring knowledge together, from lessons learned in the past and present to data for decisions on the future. Their work ensures stories like Kamarina remain cautionary rather than a prediction for the future.

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Petra Huentemeyer, Physics

In the grand scheme of things, the twin Voyager spacecraft are close by. Petra Huentemeyer is looking beyond the wobbling radio signals from our interplanetary probes: she measures energy from our galaxy and throughout the universe with the help of a collection of giant water tanks. Near Puebla, in southern Mexico, the High-Altitude Cherenkov (HAWC) Gamma-Ray Observatory catches fleeting glimpses of that energy's strength. Part of a multi-national effort—with primary institutions in the United States and Mexico augmented with researchers from Europe—this instrument is the latest in the arsenal scientists like Petra—who was involved at CERN as a grad student—use to understand the most intense energy sources in the universe.

Gamma rays are energetic and elusive. When a particle resulting from the interaction of a cosmic or gamma ray with our atmosphere enters a water tank, it creates a cone of photons, a brief explosion of light that the very sensitive detectors of HAWC can measure. Software, written by Petra and her team, then records the results, determining the nature of the energy, and extrapolates the origin of the gamma ray in the sky. More detectors means more sensitivity and finer precision on the origin of the burst. HAWC Observatory has been completed and was inaugurated in March 2015. Currently, scientists are taking data while the observatory is being extended with a sparse array of "outrigger" detectors around the central HAWC array.

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