Michigan Tech Magazine Spring 2012

Sustainability

Through our research, we hope to find keys to a sustainable future. Through our choices, we aim to lighten our impact on the planet.

Students in the Green Campus Enterprise check out a solar collector atop the Student Development Complex.

Black and Gold goes green

Michigan Tech is ahead of the curve on green initiatives. Here’s some of the evidence:

  • More than 100 classes have a sustainability component.
  • More than 40 groups on campus have sustainability projects.
  • Hillside Place student apartments earned a LEED Gold Award from the US Green Building Council.
  • Graduate students can earn a Certificate in Sustainability.

Plus, the Green Campus Enterprise, which began in 2009, has become a national model for other universities. It works to lower Tech’s carbon footprint. Strategies include daytime lighting controls in vacant classrooms and labs; monitoring wind speed and direction with an eye on installing a wind turbine; and shutting down idle computers.

“We want to change the thinking,” says Justin Uhall, a fifth-year student who is a member of the Enterprise. “The prospects are great.”


Gardens galore

Lynn Watson, Tech’s master gardener, has been fashioning a campus of enchanting blooms since 2008.

She has planted more than forty lush perennial gardens designed to require minimal weeding and water. Fertilizer is organic, courtesy of a local dairy farm. And Watson says the plantings, including a vegetable garden at the student bus stop, are “happy”: sustainably healthy and flourishing. Songbirds and butterflies now grace the landscape, and pedestrians enjoy seeing what is new and in bloom.

Why gardens at a technological university? Everyone can use a little beauty in their life. And, says Watson, “They show we are into nurturing, so parents can see that this is an okay place to leave your kids.”


Sustainable Futures Institute: Leading the biofuel revolution

Nearly everyone has jumped on the alternative energy bandwagon, but Michigan Tech’s Sustainable Futures Institute was pioneering biofuels and alternative energy research long before they became buzzwords. First came Wood to Wheels, a multidisciplinary effort that brought researchers and students together to design a sustainable supply chain for producing biofuel from forest products.

Now the University is a partner in three of Michigan’s Centers of Energy Excellence. Working with industry, Tech researchers have contributed to the success of three new manufacturing plants in Kinross, Alpena, and Lansing that produce biofuel and related products. In another industry partnership, Tech researchers have established two commercial-scale research plantations of hybrid poplar trees, bred to grow fast and produce high-quality, low-emission fuel.

Researchers from across campus are also investigating the environmental, societal, and economic impacts of biofuels from cultivation to tailpipe. And the institute is leading the Pan American Biofuels and Bioenergy Research Coordination Network, which will support related research and education throughout the Americas.

Because research and education should go hand in hand, David Shonnard, director of the Sustainable Futures Institute, and Brad Baltensperger, chair of cognitive and learning sciences, are working with the School of Forest Resources and Environmental Science, the Department of Mechanical Engineering– Engineering Mechanics, and the Office of Institutional Diversity to give secondary school teachers research experiences in sustainable transportation technologies.


David Shonnard

Alex Mayer

Center for Water and Society

The Sustainable Futures Institute is also home to the Center for Water and Society, which promotes research, education, and outreach that focuses on protecting our freshwater resources.

David Shonnard, the Robbins Chair Professor in Chemical Engineering, directs the Sustainable Futures Institute.

Professor Alex Mayer, founder of the Center for Water and Society, received the Lake Superior Binational Forum’s 2011 individual Environmental Stewardship Award for his efforts to restore the health of Houghton’s Huron Creek watershed.


This MTRI research buoy is one of many that monitor conditions on the Great Lakes.

Michigan Tech Research Institute, Ann Arbor, USA

After the Michigan Tech Research Institute (MTRI) opened in Ann Arbor in 2006, a local newspaper headline trumpeted: “There’s a New University in Town.”

Housed in the University of Michigan’s backyard, MTRI was purchased through the generosity of the House Family Foundation, established by former Intel executive and Michigan Tech alumnus Dave House.

MTRI scientists have special expertise in remote sensing, which is key to their prolific research in a variety of fields, including bridge safety, water quality, climate change, conservation of natural resources, and more.


Professor W. Charles Kerfoot made headlines in 2010 when he discovered that the invasive quagga mussel was gobbling up the plankton in southern Lake Michigan and threatening the food supply of the lake’s abundant fishery. The discovery drew the attention of dozens of media outlets, including the Christian Science Monitor, National Public Radio, and ABC-TV Chicago.

Great Lakes Research Center

There’s a reason they call them the Great Lakes. And to keep them that way, Lake Superior and its siblings need the research and educational resources of a great university like Michigan Tech. So the University has built the Great Lakes Research Center (GLRC) on its waterfront.

Three-quarters of the $25.3 million center is funded by the state, with the remainder supported by the University. Due to open this summer, it will house the research of water scientists from across campus. Researchers will collaborate to solve the mysteries and protect the future of the Great Lakes.

The GLRC’s reach goes far beyond Michigan Tech. The US Army Corps of Engineers Environmental Lab in Vicksburg, Mississippi, has designated it a research and educational partner, the only one on the Great Lakes. The National Park Service and the US Environmental Protection Agency are just some of the big fish looking to the GLRC for help.

Here are some of the GLRC’s projects:

  • Keweenaw stream survey to detect mining impacts
  • Predicting ecosystem changes in Lake Superior
  • Great Lakes maritime education for K-12 teachers
  • Spiny waterflea distribution and impact
  • Virtual water accounting—a new paradigm for management of Great Lakes water
  • Lake Superior carbon cycling