Next winter, the Keweenaw Research Center will boast one of the coldest spots this side of International Falls.
Next winter, the Keweenaw Research Center will boast one of the coldest spots this side of International Falls.
“I am told my dad is Employee Number One at KRC, if you trace the DNA back. So my wife, Jackie, and I both felt it would be nice to do something to help the program.”

A Gift of Cold

by Marcia Goodrich

Tech’s Keweenaw Research Center (KRC) has been testing how vehicles perform on their world-class snow-and-ice test course for decades. It’s been tougher to measure performance at Siberian temperatures.

“I’ve always had a little cold lab, 10-by-20 feet, but the biggest vehicle we could ever put in there was a snowmobile,” says Russ Alger, who directs the center’s Institute for Snow Research. For anything larger, they rent refrigerated trucks, “but that’s inefficient and expensive,” says KRC director Jay Meldrum.

Next winter, however, KRC will boast one of the coldest spots this side of International Falls. A $220,000 gift from alumnus Stephen Wuori will underwrite the construction of a cold lab the size of a four-car garage.

“Michigan Tech did a lot for me, and I had a desire to recognize that,” said Wuori, a 1980 civil engineering graduate and president of liquids pipelines for the Canadian oil company Enbridge. “In particular, the real-world experience I got through the co-op program gave me a readiness to tackle the business world.”

Secondly, Wuori said, the gift honors his father’s cold regions work, which dates back more than fifty years and is intimately connected with the Keweenaw Research Center.

“I am told my dad is Employee Number One at KRC, if you trace the DNA back,” he said. “So my wife, Jackie, and I both felt it would be nice to do something there that would help the program.”

Back in the 1950s, the US was fighting a cold war with an even colder place, the Soviet Union, and the federal government was looking for chilly locations to conduct military research. Michigan Tech student Al Wuori was asked to assess nearby sites for a research base. A Korean War vet who had served as a meteorologist in the Army Corps of Engineers, Wuori picked a plot of land near the local airport to build what would become the Keweenaw Research Center.

He went on to conduct research there and, later, at the Cold Regions Research and Engineering Lab (CRREL), in Hanover, New Hampshire. In the late 1980s, he was lured out of retirement and returned to the Keweenaw to manage research programs at KRC for five years.

Those connections made sponsoring the cold room a natural fit for his son.

“CRREL had cold rooms that went to forty below, and a similar cold room at KRC could draw in more research dollars,” Stephen Wuori said. “I really hope it creates excitement around the KRC program, raises its profile, and attracts vehicle manufacturers interested in testing cold-weather performance.”

It’s already creating excitement at KRC. “We’re so grateful. This is something we’ve wanted to do for years and years, and to have Steve financing it makes it especially meaningful,” said Alger. “His father is a world-renowned name in cold regions and snow testing, and he’s been my mentor since I came here.”

The cold lab will be a reminder of the senior Wuori’s contributions, said Meldrum. “He determined where KRC would be, and he’s had a lot to do with its success over the years,” he said. “We consider him the founder—he’s Employee Number One.”

As for Al Wuori, “I was 100 percent supportive,” he said. “They need a building where they can expose vehicles to very low temperatures. With all the snow you get, that added capability will make KRC an even more attractive place for research.”