Research Magazine Cover 2008

Creating the Future One Discovery at a Time

The world is changing and so is our approach to research. The scientists and engineers at Michigan Technological University are striving to make these changes a little easier while making planet earth a better place to live.

By researching, analyzing, and posing the question “what if,” we are contributing to the betterment of mankind and the world, which makes our research exciting.

Whether it is exploring the Bering Glacier, investigating light, or assisting mother earth to be a little more sustainable, we are giving back to the planet and making the world a little better with each new discovery.

Michigan Tech students have opportunities in scientific research that are above and beyond their highest expectations, and they will truly create the future.

We are very pleased to make this magazine available to all our alumni and friends for the first time, and I hope that you are inspired by the people and places within these pages. I invite you to step inside our world of science and research at Michigan Tech, where extraordinary people and their research are making a difference. I can assure you that this is only the tip of the iceberg.


David D. Reed
Vice President for Research

Applied geophysics students Kevin Endsley, Josh Richardson, and Silvia Espino

Applied geophysics students Kevin Endsley, Josh Richardson, and Silvian Espino

MTRI, Applied Geophysics, Geological Engineering, Research Centers

Alaskan Adventure

by Jennifer Donovan

It didn’t take Kevin Endsley—who hails from Houston—long to learn that Alaska’s Bering Glacier is nothing like Texas. It’s nothing like Wisconsin either, Silvia Espino, a classmate from Milwaukee, soon discovered.

The glacier was a vast natural laboratory for Endsley and Espino, both juniors in applied geophysics. There they joined senior Joshua Richardson and Michigan Tech faculty members John Gierke and Nancy Auer on a ten-day research expedition in August 2007.

At the Bering Glacier camp on the edge of Vitus Lake, near the south-central coast of Alaska, the campus contingent worked alongside Robert Shuchman, codirector of the Michigan Tech Research Institute, who has been conducting research there with his team since 2000. The MTRI scientists designed a sensor that enables the US Bureau of Land Management to accurately measure and analyze the melting of the gigantic glacier.

The students were fresh from a summer course in field geophysics, where they learned . . . 

Jeffrey Allen, assistant professor of mechanical enginnering-engineering mechanics.

Jeffrey Allen, Jason Keith, mechanical engineering-engineering mechanics, chemical engineering

Fuel Cells in Your Future?

by Marcia Goodrich

There's a reason we're not all driving around in hydrogen-powered SUVs just yet. The perfect fuel cell design is a finicky as Goldilocks. It can't be too hot or too cold, too wet or too dry. And, with water as the only by-product, being too wet is proving to be a real problem.

"A fuel cell can drown in a teaspoon of water," says Jeffrey Allen, "that's all it takes."

Allen, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering-engineering mechanics, is Michigan Tech’s lead investigator on a $2.7-million contract with the US Department of Energy. He and his team are using nanotechnology, physics, materials science, and fluid dynamics to build a better fuel cell. In particular, they are focusing on water management. “It’s about getting rid of the liquid,” says Allen.

Under the DOE contract, they are collaborating with scientists and engineers at the Rochester Institute of Technology and General Motors. The RIT researchers will incorporate Michigan Tech’s findings into a fuel cell design. If the design shows improved performance, then GM will build their innovations into a small, working fuel cell.

Rolf Peterson and John Vucetich

Wolves, Moose, and Michigan Tech

by Jennifer Donovan

The ranks of the wolves and moose of Isle Royale may be thinning, but as the study enters its fiftieth year, the predator-prey research is going strong.

Wildlife ecologists Rolf Peterson and John Vucetich, from Michigan Tech’s School of Forest Resources and Environmental Science, and graduate student, Joseph Bump, have compiled data for four new research studies and are preparing papers for scientific journals during the Isle Royale wolf-moose study’s golden anniversary year.

The studies examine

  • how arthritis in moose is linked to prenatal nutrition,
  • how wolves affect the evolution of the size of moose,
  • how wolves cause plants to grow bigger, and
  • how moose teeth reveal the effectiveness of legislation designed to lower mercury levels.
Chunxiao Chigan, Assistant Professor, Electrical and Computer Engineering

Chunxiao Chigan
Assistant Professor, Electrical and Computer Engineering

NSF, NSF CAREER Awards, Chunxiao Chigan, Ranjit Pati, Zhenlin Wang

NSF Career Award Recipients

In Their Own Words

Three Michigan Tech faculty members were honored in 2007 with National Science Foundation CAREER Awards. According to NSF, it is their “most prestigious award” to support “those teacher-scholars who most effectively integrate research and education within the context of the mission of their organization.”

We thought we would let them discuss the award, and their teaching and research, in their own words.

Chunxiao Chigan

Assistant Professor, Electrical and Computer Engineering

On her research: “My CAREER award is for research on communications for vehicular ad hoc networks (VANETs). My development of VANETs will enhance traffic safety and traffic operation by addressing several challenges in access technology, dynamic power control, robust multi-hop communication, and the balance of security and privacy provisioning."

Miguel Levy

Miguel Levy, 2007 Michigan Tech Research Award Recipient.

Miguel Levy, physics, materials science and engineering, research award

He Works in Light

by Dennis Walikainen

Miguel Levy is breathing rarified air: he is bending, distorting, and ultimately slowing down light, changing this energy source for myriad uses, including some not yet dreamed of.

In quiet tones, the physics and materials science and engineering professor gives a lesson on subjects not visible, about research seemingly undoable.

He focuses on human-made photonic crystals, which catch and manipulate light, and he changes their patterns to “mold the flow of light in new ways,” he says. The amazing part is “you can change the speed of light or create regions, on the order of a few microns, where light is trapped within or bounced back out.” By engineering the hole-array distribution, structures can be created where the speed of light may be slowed down by a factor of one thousand or more. This has implications for optical memory storage in computers, although, Levy points out, there is much work to be done before commercialization.

Levy also works to create gaps in the optical spectrum—band gaps (where light . . .