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."
"We know we can make MTRI a success," Shuchman added. "We've been operating on soft money for thirty years, and our goal is to collaborate in productive, exciting ways with the people of Michigan Tech."
MTRI researchers have already been working with University faculty. Their strengths in signal processing came into play in a project with Michael Roggemann, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at Michigan Tech, and investigators from the New York University School of Medicine. They are investigating how the brain's signals might be used to focus optical systems. The work is funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA. A soldier could use the technology to sight in on a target, or a surveillance camera could automatically focus on a suspicious object.
In addition to ratcheting up his own work, Roggemann said the addition of a new research institute in Ann Arbor will be a huge benefit to Michigan Tech. "We'll have better access to students downstate and vastly extended opportunities for good research and faculty development," he said. "Plus, acquiring them as a research institute is like acquiring a star pitcher. Your team is instantly better."
MTRI has also been working on a wide variety of remote-sensing projects that complement Michigan Tech's environmental research. Projects range from a study of wildfires aimed at measuring their emissions (and the carbon they spew into the atmosphere) to a dual effort that's being used to track pollution in the Kalamazoo River.
The ALWAS project, for Automated Lagrangian Water Quality Assessment System, features a floating lab about the size of a footstool protected by a plastic bubble (pictured right). Powered by sail or a small engine, it can float downriver or meander around a lake, conducting measurements on properties ranging from temperature to concentrations of blue-green algae.
MTRI researchers have applied ALWAS technology to a number of bodies of water, including the Kalamazoo River, which is part of a Superfund site. They've posted their results on the GLEAMS website, which allows almost anyone to check out water quality on the river at several sites.
"GLEAMS [for Great Lakes Environmental and Molecular Sciences Center] lets you look at a piece of the river and ask a question," says Shuchman, who directs the project. "It's extremely user friendly; other sites give you contaminants, but for most people, it's scientific gobbledygook."
"We want to integrate the ALWAS-GLEAMS technology into sustainability studies at Michigan Tech," said MTRI Codirector Nikola Subotic. "We'd expect to have student teams involved in taking the measurements."
MTRI researchers are also looking into establishing a remote sensing site near the University. "We want to take advantage of the northern climate," Shuchman said. "This could be the site of a wonderful outdoor testing lab."
The unit performs $4 million in research annually.
Dave House, the retired president of Nortel Networks and a former Intel executive, earned his electrical engineering degree from Michigan Tech in 1965, and has underwritten the House Family Foundation, whose gift was instrumental in the MTRI purchase.
House describes the acquisition of an entire, fully staffed research unit as "a great addition to the university."
"I applaud the administration for thinking outside the box," he said. "This creative and unique acquisition will significantly increase Michigan Tech's research activity and further enhance its reputation."
Among the most enthusiastic supporters of MTRI are Michigan Tech faculty. "This will make it very easy for us to collaborate with some very smart people," said geophysicist Roger Turpening, whose work focuses on oil and gas exploration. "It's a win-win situation. We'll have access to their signal processing expertise, and they'll be able to tap into our strengths in seismic imaging."
"This is an excellent way to jump-start substantial growth in our research," said Tim Schulz, chair of electrical and computer engineering. "They are a very strong research group; I'm very excited about the prospects for collaboration between them and our faculty."
Wayne Pennington, chair of the Department of Geological and Mining Engineering and Sciences, concurred. "This is a great opportunity to help move Michigan Tech into the major leagues of focused research," he said. "Michigan Tech is a leader in applied sciences, and this will be great for us."