Research Magazine Cover 2012

I'iwi Honeycreeper

Rare Hawaiian birds find refuge in tiny island forests

School of Forest Resources and Environmental Science

Sanctuary in Paradise

by Jennifer Donovan

Honeycreepers not only survive in the fragmented forest caused by lava flows more than 150 years ago, some also seem to have found ways to thrive there.

David Flaspohler, a professor in the School of Forest Resources and Environmental Science, and Jessie Knowlton, a postdoctoral researcher in his lab, are trying to figure out why. What helps—or harms—these birds in the “kipukas,” a Hawaiian word for the forested patches created by lava flowing through densely treed land?

Funded by the National Science Foundation, the researchers are examining thirty-four kipukas ranging in size from one-quarter acre to 150 acres in a remote, protected area on the Big Island of Hawaii, where the human footprint has been minimal.

Kipukas are home to native vegetation, insects, rare birds like the honeycreepers, and . . .

Cladophora glomerata

Using remote sensing to track down a nasty nuisance

Civil and Environmental Engineering

Return of the Slime

by Marcia Goodrich

The story begins in the 1970s, when Martin Auer was a PhD candidate at the University of Michigan. His advisor asked him to check out the relationship between the phosphorus-rich effluent flowing from a sewage treatment plant and the jungle-like growth of Cladophora thriving nearby. Auer, now a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Michigan Tech, was able to demonstrate that lowering phosphorus levels from the effluent got rid of nearly all the Cladophora. Through this work, Auer became a respected expert on one of the biggest problems afflicting the Great Lakes.

Guided by Auer’s findings, the US and Canada developed regulations that would slash the amount of phosphorus entering the Great Lakes. Soon, the massive algal blooms faded away.

“People said, ‘We’re done,’” Auer remembers. “‘There’s nothing else to do. That’s the end of it.’” They appeared to be right. Auer calls 1985 to 2005 “the Dark Age of Cladophora.” “It seemed . . .

Chevy Volt

An advanced automotive engineering lab in an 18-wheeler

Mechanical Engineering

HEV Engineering Goes Over-the-Road

by Jennifer Donovan

Eric Foote had been working in automotive emissions for seventeen years when the auto industry’s economic meltdown caught up with him. Laid off from AVL, a giant powertrain systems developer, Foote had been out of work for eight months when he heard about Michigan Tech’s course in hybrid electric vehicle engineering. The University had partnered with General Motors and the Engineering Society of Detroit to offer the free course to displaced engineers in the Detroit area.

Foote signed up in the spring of 2010. Now he is employed as a correlation engineer at Ford Motor Company, a job he doubts he could have gotten without the hybrid electric vehicle training.

“Hybrid electric vehicles are the latest technology, and in my field—emissions—I really needed to understand the emissions evaluation aspects of hybrid electrics,” Foote explains.

The course was a precursor of Michigan Tech’s pioneering program in hybrid electric . . .

Good Cop, Better Cop

Can you teach experience—and save lives?

Cognitive and Learning Sciences

Good Cop, Better Cop

by Frank Stephenson

Three days after Christmas 2010, 24-year-old rookie police officer Jillian Smith of the Arlington, Texas, Police Department responded to a call from a distraught woman claiming to have just been sexually assaulted by her ex-boyfriend and wanting to file a report. Smith, only two weeks out of field training, showed up alone at the apartment shared by the 38-year-old woman and her 11-year-old daughter.

Within minutes, the woman’s ex-boyfriend—a registered sex offender—burst into the apartment with a handgun and killed Smith with a shot to the head. He then shot and killed his ex-girlfriend before turning the gun on himself. In the mayhem, the terrified 11-year-old girl escaped to a nearby friend’s apartment.

In an average year, more than fifty police officers in the US are killed in the line of duty.

Rising Sun

by Marcia Goodrich

It’s time to stop thinking of solar energy as a boutique source of power, says Joshua Pearce.

Sure, solar only generates about 1 percent of the electricity in the US. But that will change in a few years, says Pearce, an associate professor of electrical engineering and materials science at Michigan Tech. The ultimate in renewable energy is about to go mainstream.

It’s a matter of economics. A new analysis by Pearce and his colleagues at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, published in the journal Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, shows that solar photovoltaic systems are nearing the tipping point. In other words, they can make electricity that’s as cheap as what consumers pay their utilities—sometimes cheaper.