Students standing around a 32.94ft snowball.
Students standing around the 32.94ft circumference snowball. Photo by Eric Volk
Solar panels in the winter.
Solar panels used to study the effect of snow on solar power generation.
Public Safety officer wearing a lapel camera.
A lapel camera worn by a public safety officer.
A garden in the Wadsworth Hall courtyard.
A sustainable garden flourishing in the Wadsworth Hall courtyard.

1400 Townsend Drive

Biggest snowball crown returns to Tech

In 2006, Michigan Tech nabbed three wintery world records, including the biggest snowball fight and most snow angels. But records are made to be broken: one by one, each toppled. Last winter, Michigan Tech's ASME student chapter pledged to bring at least one of the University's long-lost Guinness World Records back to Houghton: the largest snowball.

With help from the Douglass Houghton Student Chapter of the Michigan Society of Professional Surveyors, they gathered on the softball field and began to roll. It took two and a half hours, but in the end, they created a snowball with a circumference of 32.94 feet, or 10.04 meters. Estimates were that it weighed in the neighborhood of three or four tons, said Parshwa Patwa, the third-year mechanical engineering major who organized the effort.

"The reason we did it is because the award was taken away, and we wanted to get it back to Michigan Tech," he said. "We cannot just lose stuff."


Amping up solar power

Solar farms are a no-brainer in the sunny south, but what about in places where snow is measured in feet? Like, for instance, Michigan Tech? To learn more, the University's Keweenaw Research Center (KRC) is collaborating in a two year nationwide study to gauge how snow affects solar panels' power generation and determine the best ways to compensate.

KRC is collecting data from an array of solar photovoltaic cells, each set at a different angle, from 0 degrees (flat) to 45 degrees. That information will be combined with data from other test sites in California, Colorado, and Pennsylvania, all established by the international engineering firm DNV GL. Based on similar studies, year-round losses can be anywhere from negligible to 18 percent.

A small variance in power generation may not make a big difference for a homeowner with solar panels. However, it's a big deal for commercial lenders being asked to foot the bill for big solar arrays. Eventually, the study results will be publicly available through the KRC website and through solar energy simulation programs provided by the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory.


Public Safety wearing video cameras

This year, Michigan Tech's police officers gained access to a new law

Routine interaction with the public will not be recorded, said Dan Bennett, director and chief of the Department of Public Safety and Police Services. The video cameras will only be used when an officer feels there may be a need to record an incident, such as during an arrest, a traffic stop, or an investigation.

There are sixteen cameras altogether, some to be worn on uniform lapels and some built into pairs of sunglasses. They are not intended to be covert; in fact, officers want members of the public to be aware that their actions may be recorded.

"There's no question in my mind that the cameras protect officers and the public," said Bennett. With incidents captured on video, there will never be a question about why an officer made a decision.

"It creates new levels of accountability that will benefit everyone," he said.


Sustainable vegetable garden takes root

Last spring, a small vegetable garden cropped up in the Wadsworth Hall courtyard. There's more to this garden than organic produce for students in Wadsworth Hall. The project partners hope that sustainably growing produce on campus will also raise food awareness. The gardeners employ sustainable practices such as square-foot gardening, companion planting, and natural pest management, i.e., squishing every plant-eating bug they see and hoping for the best. The garden contains more than twenty-two types of vegetables and herbs, including basil, bok choy, cauliflower, flint corn, okra, parsley, pumpkin, radishes, spinach, wax beans, and seven tomato varieties. The plants live in twenty-two raised beds handcrafted of cedar planks, and everything harvested is served in the dining hall.