Research in Review

By Allison Mills


Student researchers watch a lunar rover running slope tests in a fully enclosed chamber that recreates the moon’s dusty conditions. They took first place in the 2020 Breakthrough, Innovative and Game-changing (BIG) Idea Challenge run by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

Hindsight is 2020. We look back at an exceptional year in Michigan Tech research and celebrate successes that overcame the odds.

In this issue of Michigan Tech’s Research magazine, the feature stories showcase work happening for and within our home community in The Pandemic Toolbox: COVID-19’s Wrench Remade Research Labs while the Flight of the Bumblebees takes us to Argentinian blueberry fields in bloom. Protein Power stacks and restacks and reimagines life’s fundamental building blocks. 

The researchers in Awards and Honors celebrate major career successes and Beyond the Lab salutes student excellence along with a new way to see the forest for the biomaterials. Research in Brief explores the breadth of Michigan Tech research from local food sovereignty to Antarctic lakes. With highlights of long-form scholarly work including books, field guides, sculpture, and historical surveys, Published in 2020 reviews research of the past year.

Fieldwork logistics are already tough. COVID-19 added a few extra layers of planning, but the work continued. Ecologist Amy Marcarelli collaborated with other biologists to propose solutions to better support academic mothers during and after the pandemic.

That also includes research expenditures of $77.9 million in 2020—see a breakdown of funding through Research Data and Tracking—and researchers secured several competition wins and major grants:

  • In January, Michigan Tech students took home top honors—the Artemis Award—for their tethered lunar rover design in the 2020 Breakthrough, Innovative, and Game-changing (BIG) Idea Challenge run by NASA.  
  • Engineers, scientists, and technical writers joined forces to create and share out COVID-19 technology including a mobile sanitizing unit, a 3D-printed bag-valve-mask ventilator, and bright dyes that could help speed up testing.
  • The Great Lakes Research Center is the newest PlanetM testing facility: the Marine Autonomy Research Site is a freshwater environment for studying autonomous technologies on and below the water’s surface.
  • An interdisciplinary group of Michigan Tech researchers has received a $7.2 million Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) grant to take plastic waste and turn it into protein powder and lubricants.
  • For the first time in 62 years, the Isle Royale Winter Study did not take place in 2021 due to COVID-19 restrictions. However, research is expected to resume in May 2021 and last year’s winter study revealed pups were born on the island following wolf reintroduction.  
  • The Michigan Tech Research Institute (MTRI) took a fleet of virtual robots underground—and won. The MTRI team placed high in all three competition circuits of the DARPA Subterranean Challenge and will follow up this fall in the final event, which combines mining, urban, and cave environments in a complex system.

Michigan Technological University is a public research university founded in 1885 in Houghton, Michigan, and is home to more than 7,000 students from 55 countries around the world. Consistently ranked among the best universities in the country for return on investment, Michigan’s flagship technological university offers more than 120 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in science and technology, engineering, computing, forestry, business and economics, health professions, humanities, mathematics, social sciences, and the arts. The rural campus is situated just miles from Lake Superior in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, offering year-round opportunities for outdoor adventure.

Last Modified 11:51 AM, May 24, 2023