Ghatu Subhash and his dynamic hardness tester.
Ghatu Subhash and his dynamic hardness tester.
Business students brainstorm how to build the best software for Michigan's nonprofit organizations.
Business students brainstorm how to build the best software for Michigan's nonprofit organizations.
Students in Michigan Tech's Aqua Terra Tech Enterprise take their expertise to Nicaragua, where they aim to help bring clean, reliable drinking water to the town of Boaco.
Students in Michigan Tech's Aqua Terra Tech Enterprise take their expertise to Nicaragua, where they aim to help bring clean, reliable drinking water to the town of Boaco.
“It's more complicated than it seems. . . It's like firing a bullet, making it kiss the target, and come back.”

For more information:

contact Baltensperger at 906-487-2460, brad@mtu.edu

For more information, on the initiative:

contact Maatta at 906-487-2529.

For more on the Enterprise Program:

www.enterprise.mtu.edu

For more information on Hazard Mitigation:

www.geo.mtu.edu/rs4hazards/

Research Briefs

Subhash Receives Tech Research Award

Professor Ghatu Subhash, who has gained an international reputation for research in mechanical engineering and materials science, is the recipient of Michigan Tech's 2005 Research Award.

This makes him one of a handful of Michigan Tech faculty to be honored with both the Research Award and the Distinguished Teaching Award, which he received in 1994.

Subhash's work focuses on the properties of materials at high rates of loading, and his Dynamic Indentation Hardness Tester is patented and has been licensed by the Army Research Lab at the Aberdeen Proving Grounds and Oak Ridge National Laboratories.

"It measures a material's resistance to high-speed events, like you'd have in a crash, an impact, or in machining," Subhash said

The hardness tester looks deceptively simple. There's a long bar with a power source at one end, a point at the other, and a weight in the middle. "It's more complicated than it seems," Subhash notes. "It's like firing a bullet, making it kiss the target, and come back."

The hardness tester has attracted interest from a number of corporations, and work is under way to establish ASTM International (formerly the American Society for Testing and Materials) standards for this testing method.

Subhash also developed the Instrumented Scratch Tester, to determine how resistant materials are to wear and tear. He is also exploring the mechanics of wear at the nanoscale level with a National Science Foundation grant, and he has been investigating another realm on the interface of engineering and science-amorphous metals, also known as metallic glasses. In addition to military applications, amorphous metals could find a role on the golf course. "A club made of metallic glass would have high elastic strains and a high coefficient of restitution," Subhash says. In other words, for a golfer using a club with a shaft made out of metallic glass, a three-hundred-yard drive could be no big deal.

Among his other honors, Subhash is a Fellow of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, one of the youngest members to receive that recognition.

Science Education Peace Corps Program Starting in Fall

Michigan Tech is poised to launch its fourth Peace Corps program this fall.

The new Master's International Program in Science Education is for students with bachelor's degrees in the physical sciences.

When they are done, they will have their master's degree and be close to completing secondary-teacher certification.

"The idea was to combine science education and national service," said Brad Baltensperger, chair of the Department of Education.

Demand for science educators is high among countries that host Peace Corps workers, said Sarah Green, chair of the Department of Chemistry. Plus, students in this program will interact with those in Michigan Tech's other Peace Corps Master's International programs in natural hazards, civil engineering, environmental engineering, and forestry.

"These programs attract a very enthusiastic, positive group of students," she said.

Tech Students Receive International Award for Sustainable Development

Students in Michigan Tech's Sustainable Futures Institute have received the prestigious International Mondialogo Award.

The award, sponsored by DaimlerChrysler and the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), honors research supporting the use of sustainable construction materials in the developing world.

The team focused on using natural materials, primarily volcanic ash and rice husk ash, to replace Portland cement in the making of concrete.

In addition to using cheap, readily available materials, the process sidesteps current cement production technology, a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions worldwide.

With their Mondialogo Award, the students plan to construct water storage tanks for use with rainwater harvesting systems in rural Philippine communities, where many families do not have access to safe drinking water.

School Receives $1.2 Million to Develop Software for Nonprofits

Michigan Tech students will be developing custom software for nonprofit organizations, thanks to a gift from the Herbert H. and Grace A. Dow Foundation.

The foundation is underwriting the five-year, $2.0-million Non-Profit Application Development Initiative, which includes includes $1.2 million for Michigan Tech's School of Business and Economics. The funding will be used by the IT Oxygen Enterprise to develop computer applications for nonprofit groups.

Students in the Enterprise program work in teams and take on real-world projects, often on behalf of industry.

The remaining $800,000 of the Dow Foundation grant will be given to the Michigan Molecular Institute, in Midland, Michigan, which will serve as the liaison between the nonprofit community and Michigan Tech's IT Oxygen Enterprise.

"The students will be developing applications that nonprofits need to run their businesses," said Bob Maatta, a lecturer in the School and the IT Oxygen advisor. "Nonprofits often don't have the resources to pay for applications, so volunteers fill in. Unfortunately, when volunteers leave and something breaks, there's no one who can fix it."

"They'll be solving real problems for people," Maatta said. "Eventually, we hope that they will spin off businesses or use it to launch their careers."

The Non-Profit Application Development Initiative will tie in with the Michigan Tech SmartZone economic development effort, which aims to commercialize university technology.

Better Living Through Remote Sensing: Hazard Mitigation Grant Targets Central America

Central America has a bull's-eye on its forehead when it comes to natural disasters.

Gregg Bluth, an associate professor in the Department of Geological and Mining Engineering and Sciences, counts them off. "Earthquakes, volcanos, hurricanes . . . There's a lot of need there, but not a lot of people who can help."

Enter a new, multifaceted Michigan Tech program made possible by a three-year, $2.3-million grant from the National Science Foundation. The funding supports an array of projects, including the Peace Corps Master's International Program in Natural Hazards. Taken together, they will use remote sensing to make life better for people in Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Ecuador.

The project combines research and education and is known officially as "Remote Sensing for Hazard Mitigation and Resource Protection in Pacific Latin America."

The primary natural hazards the researchers will address are the dozen or so active volcanos in the region.

Scientists routinely use remote sensing to monitor volcanic activity in hopes of predicting eruptions. The peasant farmers and villagers who live near active volcanoes, however, haven't been overly impressed by their efforts.

"There isn't a whole lot of confidence in these methods," Bluth notes. The researchers hope that by establishing a long-term presence, in part through the Peace Corps program, and by demonstrating the value of remote sensing, they'll gain more credibility from the people they hope to serve.

Eruptions, while catastrophic, are rare, so the researchers will also use remote-sensing technology to address a need faced day in and day out by local populations: clean drinking water. In addition to using satellite imaging, students on the ground will use seismic imaging to study the water table.

That portion of the project will be undertaken by Associate Professor John Gierke, and students in the Aqua Terra Tech Enterprise have begun their fieldwork in Boaco, Nicaragua.

Currently, most of Boaco's 34,000 residents are without running water for all but a couple hours a day, a few days per week, due to inadequate supplies and storage capacity.

In addition, the researchers will work with geoscience agencies from the four participating Latin American countries. Each nation has a different set of tools to address hazard mitigation, and the team hopes that by encouraging cooperation, people throughout the entire region will benefit.

Undergraduate researchers create the future

Michigan Tech's faculty are both teachers and mentors as they engage students in the essence of higher education-ideas, inquiry, and innovation.

As part of this endeavor, faculty routinely collaborate with undergraduate students in research. "I get to work with creative, hardworking students," says Assistant Professor Yoke Khin Yap of the physics department. "They help us create an active and stimulating campus."

These undergraduates are not window dressing. Assistant Professor Susan Amato-Henderson characterizes the work of her student, Melanie Mullins, on a research initiative involving local schools. "The importance of her work is enormous. She coordinated data collection, data entry, and data analysis." Mullins was so adept that she ended up training other research assistants.

Assistant Professor Tammy Haut Donahue describes Tara Hansen as "truly one of the most dedicated and talented undergraduate students I have worked with." It is Haut Donahue's quest to eradicate osteoarthritis, an effort that involves both mechanical engineering and biology. Hansen, says the professor, "was solely responsible for the biology side" of last summer's investigations.

For years, Senior Design has given undergraduates the opportunity for research. Linda Phillips, lecturer in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, initiated International Senior Design in 2001. So far, more than a hundred students have participated. Last summer, students traveled to Bolivia to work with indigenous people on a project that involved both science and sociology. Says Phillips, "It's more than a Senior Design project. It's a class on life.

"Biological Sciences: Down to the Bones

Tara Hansen, 20, a junior in biological sciences, is described by one faculty member as a standout student who "thinks very clearly and logically." Hansen casts an equally sure eye at her future. A native of Swartz Creek, Michigan, she aspires to be a pediatrician.

At Tech, Hansen is on the varsity track and cross-country teams. Both sports stress the knees, and Hansen has a better appreciation of that than most people because she conducts undergraduate research on the meniscus—the small but heavy-duty buffer between the bones in the knee that can tear during sports injuries or from wear and tear with age. This typically leads to the painful, degenerative joint disease osteoarthritis.

Last summer, Hansen worked with Assistant Professor Tammy Haut Donahue of the mechanical engineering department on the meniscus project. The two are trying to lay the groundwork for tissue engineering so that the meniscus can be repaired or replaced following damage.

Contributing to this research, Haut Donahue and Hansen have pieced together the size and makeup of the transition zone between the meniscus and the tibia, where the tissue changes from ligament to cartilage and actually inserts itself into the bone—a bond not unlike the body of a mermaid in its seamless transition. Measuring and understanding that transition zone will help scientists replicate the function and structure of the meniscus. Their findings were submitted to the Bioengineering Conference of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, as well as the Journal of Anatomy.

This faculty-student duo actually received financial support for their project from the Michigan Space Grant Consortium because they related their work to space flight. The meniscus needs routine compression to stay healthy, just like bones do. Without gravity, Hansen says, people in space are just like bedridden people. "When there's no stress on the skeleton and supporting structures such as the meniscus," she says, "they get weak because our body thinks you don't need them."

Along that line, next summer, Hansen will continue to work with Haut Donahue on another research project. They will take explants of a pig's meniscus, take away all compression and stress, and see if and how it degenerates and if it can build itself back up.

Hansen, a self-assured but modest young woman, maintains a 3.98 GPA and has academic credentials as long as her arm. Besides athletics, she is treasurer of the Pre-Health Association, a student group devoted to community service, such as raising money to provide a wheelchair for a local hospice and for people in nursing homes to go out to lunch.

Physics: Exploring the Nano World

Matt Davenport is a well-grounded young man. "I don't have any high aspirations," he says. "I'd just like to be a decent physicist and a good teacher someday."

Davenport, 21, of Clarkston, Michigan, is a senior in physics. He's glad he came to Tech. He likes the small classes and the accessible faculty, some of whom he describes as "simply phenomenal."

Most importantly, he loves doing undergraduate research in the unfathomable, tiny world of nanotechnology and nanoscience, a realm that is built on the atomic scale.

With his advisor, Assistant Professor Yoke Khin Yap, he works with carbon nanotubes, which are miniscule structures with immense possibilities. They are so small, he says, that light does not go though the gaps between them.

The nano world has occupied him for two summers and has exceeded his expectations. When he was invited to do undergraduate research, he figured he'd "be making everyone's coffee." Instead, they let him choose his project, and he's still amazed by that. "The work is exciting, it's important, and here they let an undergraduate work on it."

Davenport is compelled by what he calls "a desire to know why things do what they do."

"There's a whole world down there," he says of nanoscience. He accesses it with electronic microscopes. "I feel kind of bad," he says, indulging a flight of fancy. "I think—what if there's little nano people living in there and we're putting them in a vacuum and shooting them with electrons. It's wild. It's kind of mind-blowing—thinking about how small it is."

Is that world as expansive as the heavens?

"That's actually why I got into this," he says. "You have a feeling there should be that kind of parallel—if you can go out ad infinitum, why can't you go down as far? That's exactly one of the things that drew me into the field."

The inquiry is in its infancy. "The neat thing about this field is that it's really new. There have been astronomers since before people started writing stuff down. There's been great advances in technology—telescopes and all that—that have let scientists make those significant leaps and discoveries. And we're just now getting the technology and the tools to get down to that smaller resolution. It's an excellent opportunity—a playground, so to speak."

Davenport is a past president and now secretary of the Society of Physics Students. The group visits local schools to give demonstrations and spark interest among the young—an interest Davenport knows about firsthand. "I've learned so much," he says, "and there's so much more I want to learn."

Undergraduate Research Contacts