Research Magazine Cover 2007

Dreaming Big

And Realizing Results

At a time when funding for university research is increasingly difficult to come by, Michigan Tech was able to increase its external program support by 17 percent last year.

Enabling the University to acquire new research support is a dedicated, creative community of researchers. Their expertise ranges from invasive exotic species, such as the emerald ash borer, to quantum transistors; from communications technology to the mysteries of the subterranean ecological web.

In 2006, we were fortunate to expand and enhance our research community through the establishment of the Michigan Tech Research Institute (MTRI) in Ann Arbor with over two dozen scientists and engineers. MTRI significantly advances Michigan Tech's expertise in electrical and computer engineering, computer science, and environmental science.

As Michigan Tech gained one research facility, it relinquished another. The PICO-NARE atmospheric observatory, uniquely situated in the Azores to study pollutants moving across the Atlantic from North America, was threatened with closure. By presenting the mountaintop laboratory to the University of the Azores, Michigan Tech helped ensure that this critical facility for atmospheric science could continue doing this very important work.

None of this would be possible without our students, who participate in all levels of research at the University. As one undergraduate said of the opportunities for him at Michigan Tech, "I never dreamed."

Dreaming, of course, is fundamental to the research endeavor; Michigan Tech faculty and staff have traditionally focused their imaginations and their research efforts to shed light on the world's infinite complexity. I invite you to learn more about their amazing accomplishments within the pages of this magazine.


David D. Reed

David D. Reed
Vice President for Research

P.S. If you have comments or questions about anything you see in this magazine, please contact me at

Poplar Genome Puzzle Team

Chandrashekhar Joshi, Chung-Jui Tsai, and Victor Busov helped unravel the genetic code of the black cottonwood, work that could lead to better biofuels.

School of Forest Resources and Environmental Sciences, Biotechnology, DOE Joint Genome Institute

Solving the Poplar Genome Puzzle

Wood from a common tree may one day play a major role in filling American gas tanks, according to scientists whose research on the fast-growing poplar tree was featured in a recent edition of Science.

The article, coauthored in part by three faculty members in Michigan Tech's School of Forest Resources and Environmental Science, highlights the analysis of the first complete DNA sequence of a tree, the black cottonwood, or Populus trichocarpa. It lays groundwork for the potential development of trees that could serve as the ideal feedstock for a new generation of biofuels such as cellulosic ethanol.

The research is the result of a four-year effort, led by the US Department of Energy's Joint Genome Institute and Oak Ridge National Laboratory, uniting the efforts of thirty-four institutions from around the world, including Michigan Tech.

The effort has been a mountaintop experience for the Tech team. "We have a long track record in Populus molecular genetics, and we've made a number of groundbreaking discoveries," said Professor Chung-Jui Tsai, director of the Biotechnology Research Center. "But this is a real milestone for the entire forest research community." She is working with Assistant Professor Victor Busov and Associate Professor Chandrashekhar Joshi in sequencing the poplar genome.

Tim Schulz cell phone photos

Cell phone photos are fun, but for a quality, high-resolution image, you need a big lens-too big for a cell phone.

Center for Integrated Systems in Sensing, Imaging, and Communications (CISSIC)Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering

Better, Faster, Cheaper, Safer

A Research Center at the Center of Everything

Tim Schulz asks a visitor to picture how communication has changed during the last two decades. Now imagine where it will be in five years

There's no shame in being stumped. The technology of communication-and what is being communicated-is morphing at a phenomenal rate. At Michigan Tech, the Center for Integrated Systems in Sensing, Imaging, and Communications (CISSIC) is envisioning where all aspects of communications technology will be in 2012 and beyond, with applications ranging from cell phones and robots to nano-transmitters and real-life psychokinesis. "At CISSIC, we're looking at systems design as a whole," says Schulz.

CISSIC has garnered more than $5 million in funding from agencies such as the National Science Foundation and the Department of Defense, says Schulz, who directs the center and is also chair of Michigan Tech's Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. He's not surprised at the level of interest.

Communications technology has advanced to the point where dreams are becoming the stuff of everyday life. "It can happen now," Schulz says. "I don't think we'll ever tire . . . 

Within the Houghton Rhizotron, ecologist Alex Friend appraises a tangle of roots. The underground lab allows researchers a worm's-eye view of that half of a forest lying below our feet.

Within the Houghton Rhizotron, ecologist Alex Friend appraises a tangle of roots. The underground lab allows researchers a worm's-eye view of a forest lying below our feet.

Houghton RhizotronEcosystem Science Center

Going Underground

It's been called science's last frontier: a source of miracle pharmaceuticals, a key to understanding global climate change, the dwelling place of thousands of mysterious, unknown creatures

This brave new world is the universe beneath our feet. And even though it's as intimate as the mud squishing up between your toes, soil is poorly understood.

That's because studying what's going on in soil is really hard. You can't see through it, and when you dig up soil to examine what's there, the environment is drastically disturbed. What you need, says Alex Friend, is a window into the earth.

The new Houghton Rhizotron is exactly that, times twenty-four. The seventy-five-foot tunnel into a wooded hillside on the Michigan Tech campus is virtually paneled with glass. Walk through its entrance, and on either side are a dozen steel covers almost as big as refrigerator doors. Remove one, and through the window inside you can see a tangle of roots, worm tunnels snaking along the glass, and a number of bugs, including a two-inch wriggling centipede.

"They are the lions of the soil," Friend explains. "They eat pill bugs and mites."

 	 Andrew Storer instructs students in the finer points of extracting larvae from beneath tree bark.

Andrew Storer instructs students in the finer points of extracting larvae from beneath tree bark.

Center for Exotic Species, Andrew Storer, School of Forest Resources and Environmental Sciences, Michigan Ash Monitoring Plot System

Beating the Beetle

Andrew Storer is hot on the trail of one of the baddest bugs in town. The emerald ash borer is responsible for the deaths of millions of ash trees, primarily in urban areas and parks in southeastern Michigan, and it is munching its way north, south, west, and even east, into Canada.

"The point of entry was somewhere near Detroit, and it was already pretty widespread before it was identified," says Storer, an entomologist and associate professor in the School of Forest Resources and Environmental Science. By the time people noticed the ash trees dying, in 2002, the emerald ash borer had already been in the US five years or more. It eats trees in the Fraxinus genus, including green, black, and white ash. (The familiar mountain ash isn't a true ash tree and is not attacked by the emerald ash borer.

The delay in spotting the problem is no surprise. "So often, new exotic species have already colonized a large geographic area before we find them," Storer notes. Now, however, his team has been finding plenty of them in trap trees they've set throughout Michigan over the past three years as part of his Emerald Ash Borer Detection Project. Selected ash trees are girdled-a ring of bark is removed from the trunk-and a sticky band is wrapped around the tree to catch visiting bugs. It seems stressed trees are more likely to attract the opportunistic pests . . . 

Tyler Erickson MTRI Glacier

MTRI scientists hope to establish a cold-weather outdoor lab near Michigan Tech to take advantage of the university's serious winters.

MTRI, Michigan Tech Research, Remote Sensing, DARPA

MTRI: Tech Acquires Ann Arbor Research Institute

In October 2006, Michigan Tech enthusiastically purchased the Environmental and Emerging Technologies Division of the Ann Arbor-based Altarum Institute. With this acquisition, Michigan Tech gained about two dozen scientists, engineers, and staff with an impressive track record, primarily in fields that mesh with current University research.

"It's a great fit for us," said Michigan Tech President Glenn Mroz. "It increases our capacity for graduate studies and research in the key areas of engineering and the environment. And it helps us fulfill our charge from the state, to help build Michigan's capacity to thrive in a knowledge economy."

Scientists in the university's newest research center, now known as the Michigan Tech Research Institute (MTRI), say they are happy to be back in academia.

Codirector Robert Shuchman calls joining Michigan Tech "a wonderful opportunity."

"Our group was once affiliated with the University of Michigan," he said. "Now we're going back into an academic setting where leading-edge technology is paramount, and it's where we belong. We see tremendous synergies between Michigan Tech and us. There are no downsides."