2010 Michigan Tech Research Magazine

Research Magazine Cover 2010

Scott Turner

In 1932, mining engineer Scott Turner received an honorary doctorate from his alma mater, then the Michigan College of Mining and Technology. Seventy-seven years later, Turner's historic hood was bestowed upon one of the first recipients of the University's PhD in Industrial Heritage and Archeology.

Cameron Hartnell, pictured here in the Michigan Tech Archives, spent four years tracking Turner's history-making work in Svalbard, an archipelago north of Norway, where the Arctic Coal Company pioneered northern mining in the early twentieth century with Turner as its general manager.

Michigan Tech is the only university that offers a PhD in Industrial Heritage and Archeology, which encompasses archeology, historic preservation, the history of technology, and anthropology.

Math professor Shuanglin Zhang and PhD student Rebecca Fang.

An Indomitable Mind

by Marcia Goodrich

Researcher discovers genes linked to Lou Gehrig's disease

He had amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease. It would creep though his body, the doctors said, slowly destroying the nerves in his brain and spinal cord that control voluntary movement. Eventually he would become paralyzed, unable to move or speak.

Faced with such a sentence, Zhang did not try to fill his remaining able-bodied days with skydiving, safaris, or a visit to the pyramids. The one item on his bucket list was his work. He resolved to enlist his intellect in the war against ALS.

Zhang is a statistical geneticist and the Henes Chair Professor in Mathematical Sciences. Along with his wife, Qiuying Sha, an assistant professor of mathematical sciences, and other members of his research team . . . 

Read More

Clean Machines Michigan Tech's Jeff Naber aims to understand the most fundamental processes of internal combustion. What he discovers will be used to engineer the next generation of cleaner, more-efficient engines.

Major Overhaul . . .

by Marcia Goodrich

Internal combustion engines have been around since the seventeenth century, and they have been powering cars since Karl Benz built his first automobile in 1885. But even in the Information Age, we still don't truly know what goes on inside these workhorses of the Industrial Revolution.

That's not surprising, considering that most of the action occurs when a mist of volatile fuel mixes with air and combusts inside a sealed cylinder. "We have been able to harness that process, but we don't fully understand what's happening," says Jeff Naber, an associate professor of mechanical engineering–engineering mechanics.

To find out, Naber and his research team have put together a glittering array of equipment, paid for in part by a $1.4 million grant from the National Science Foundation. It funds one of four major projects that Naber has a hand in, ranging from this fundamental study of how engines work to graduate education in advanced hybrid vehicles for Detroit's auto engineers.

Read More

Physicists Alex Kostinski and Raymond Shaw have shown that smaller can be faster, at least where raindrops are concerned.

Physicists Make a Splash with Rain Discovery

by Jennifer Donovan

It's conventional wisdom in atmospheric science circles: large raindrops fall faster than smaller drops because they're bigger and heavier. And no raindrop can fall faster than its "terminal speed"—its speed at which the downward force of gravity is exactly the same as the upward air resistance.

Now two physicists from Michigan Tech and colleagues at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (National University of Mexico) have discovered that it ain't necessarily so.

Some smaller raindrops can fall faster than bigger ones. In fact, they can fall faster than their terminal speed. In other words, they can fall faster than drops that size and weight are supposed to be able to fall.

And that could mean that the weatherman has been overestimating how much it rains.

Read More

Theoretical physicists Steven O'Malley and Don Beck

It's Not Elementary

by Marcia Goodrich

Michigan Tech researchers have nailed down a fundamental property of some of the biggest, baddest elements on the periodic table.

Physics Professor Don Beck's research team, including Research Associate Steven O'Malley, has calculated electron affinities for the lanthanides and the actinides, the twenty-eight heaviest elements which make up the last two rows of the periodic table.

Lanthanides, also known as rare earths, are used in the production of lasers and sunglasses. Actinides, the bottom dwellers of the periodic table, are arguably the scariest collection of elements on Earth, including as they do plutonium and other deadly substances.

Read More

Ulrich Hansmann

Ulrich Hansmann Honored for Research on Protein Folding

by Jennifer Donovan

Ulrich Hansmann, professor of physics and leader in computational and biophysics research, has received Michigan Tech’s 2009 Research Award.

Hansmann is renowned for his computational modeling of protein folding, a molecular process that, when it goes awry, can give rise to neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s. His work could help uncover the underlying processes causing proteins to misfold, potentially leading to effective therapies.

“Uli’s achievements in the protein-folding problem—one of the most significant challenges in science today—have been astonishing,” says Robert H. Swendsen, professor of physics at Carnegie Mellon University.

Read More

Left to right, Steve Fitzgerald of Consistacom, SmartZone CEO Carlton Crothers, and Glen Simula of GS Engineering

SmartZone at Ten: Smart Idea

by Dennis Walikainen

It’s been a challenge since the mines closed more than forty years ago—attracting new business to the Copper Country.

Over the past decade, at least one great solution has emerged.

The Michigan Tech Enterprise Corporation (MTEC) SmartZone has helped twenty-three businesses get up and running, creating 251 jobs directly and supporting another 500 workers in peripheral businesses. The SmartZone, a partnership of Michigan Tech and the cities of Houghton and Hancock, helps entrepreneurs find space, secure financing, create business plans, and market their products and services.

The idea was hatched by the Michigan Economic Development Corporation. It identified communities throughout the state, usually with universities attached . . . 

Read More