2009 Michigan Tech Research Magazine

Research Magazine 2009

A pristine coastline paints a beautiful picture but requires freshwater management and coastal research. Otherwise, global climate change, invasion of plant and animal species, and the effects of man will paint a different picture for future generations. Michigan Tech researchers are environmentally conscious and making positive changes in the world now, so the next generation of researchers can make even greater improvements to our planet in the future.

Within these worthwhile endeavors, artistic creativity and inspired research require vision and the desire to make a difference in the world. At Michigan Tech, we foster an atmosphere that promotes sustainable research and creative approaches to difficult environmental and human issues.

Our researchers and students are tackling though problems such as global health concerns, hazards like volcanoes or ballast water, and the plight of the transportation infrastructure.

All academic disciplines are making great strides on campus. Our students are exposed to the creativity of the arts, the wonder of science and engineering, and much more as they create the future and change the world. 

David D. Reed
Vice President for Research

Chemistry Professor Sarah Green crunches numbers aboard the R/V Laurentian, which tows a "donut" collecting data on plankton and water parameters.

Plumbing the Great Lake's Secrets

by Jennifer Donovan

Was it the gales of November that sank the Edmund Fitzgerald? Was it faulty hatch covers, as the US Coast Guard claimed? Or ballast tank damage caused by bottoming on Six Fathom Shoal, as the Lake Carriers Association believed?

Contention continues, as it has since the 26,000-ton freighter took its crew of twenty-nine to a watery grave at the bottom of Lake Superior on November 10, 1975. But soon, in a fifty-foot wave tank that will be affiliated with the new Upper Great Lakes Laboratory (UGLL), scientists may finally be able to determine what actually caused the fabled shipwreck.

The wave tank allows for waves to be generated, modified, tested, and studied. With what they learn there, Civil and Environmental Engineering Associate

Professor Brian Barkdoll and colleagues may be able to definitively determine the cause of the sinking of the Fitzgerald. Perhaps the culprit will turn out to be a rogue wave—like the “Three Sisters Phenomenon”—a series of three waves following in quick succession, the first disabling the ship and the next two striking fatal blows before she has recovered from the first. Or perhaps something stranger, a mystery not yet imagined.

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Mary Ann Beckwith

Looking North

by Dennis Walikainen

The teacher in Mary Ann Beckwith emerges as she works in her sun-lit studio on a sunny, chilly December day. The award-winning watercolor artist discusses technique and Tech students.

“The students are bright, motivated, and willing to try most of the things I teach,” she says. “Once they learn that failure is sometimes the result in a creative project and that they can make the next results better, they soar.”

The professor of art has won the Distinguished Teaching Award at Michigan Tech, and her paintings have garnered acclaim across the nation.

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David Hand, professor of civil and environmental engineering.

Battling the Ballast Water

by Marcia Goodrich

For David Hand, the line between work and play is as thin as monofilament. This is evident from the trophy lake trout on his office wall and in the passion that charges his voice when he talks about a deadly threat to his beloved Lake Superior fishery.

Since 2003, viral hemorrhagic septicemia (VHS) has caused massive die-offs of fish species ranging from walleyes to salmon in all of the Great Lakes—except Superior. Infected fish die from internal bleeding and often have open sores and bruised-looking, reddish tints on their skin.

The virus that causes VHS is just one of dozens of exotic species that have invaded the Great Lakes since the St. Lawrence Seaway opened in 1959, bringing boats, trade, and money, not to mention parasitic sea lampreys and the like, to the heretofore landlocked Midwest.

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Roshan D'Souza

From XBox to T-Cells: Video Games and Human Biology

by Marcia Goodrich

A team of Michigan Tech researchers is harnessing the computing muscle behind 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.

On a computer monitor, a swarm of bright green immune cells surrounds and contains a yellow TB germ. These busy specks look like 3-D animations from a PBS documentary, but they are actually virtual T-cells and macrophages, the result of millions of real-time calculations.

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David Watkins and Lauren Fry

Keeping it Clean

by John Gagnon

David Watkins says an Upper Michigan deer camp and a small village in Africa have something in common: the need for rudimentary sanitation in the form of an outhouse or latrine.

Further, Watkins says, that basic technology is appropriate for the circumstance. It is inexpensive; it doesn't rely on scarce water resources; and it can be easier on the environment.

"We don't have to look at sewers and flush toilets as the world standard," he says. "In rural areas, latrines are the way to go."

Watkins, an associate professor in civil and environmental engineering; Lauren Fry, a PhD student in environmental engineering; and former Tech professor Jim Mihelcic, now . . . 

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