Happy 10th Anniversary, Michigan Tech Research Institute

MTRI Anniversary
MTRI Anniversary
MTRI Co-Director Bob Shuchman (center) explains some of the institute's research to Bill Predebon (left), chair of mechanical engineering-engineering mechanics at Michigan Tech, and Silicon Valley executive Dave House, whose gift helped found MTRI.

When the upstart Michigan Tech Research Institute (MTRI) opened in Ann Arbor 10 years ago, the headlines read: "There’s a new university in town.”   Although that probably rubbed some people at the other Ann Arbor research university the wrong way, it marked the launch of a stellar remote sensing research facility now known around the world. 

On Friday, October 28, MTRI will celebrate 10 years of growth and success.  There will be speakers, tours and demonstrations from 10 a.m. to noon and 1:30 p.m. to 4 p.m. at MTRI’s Dave House Center, 3600 Green Court in Ann Arbor. 

When MTRI opened, it had 24 employees.  That number has ballooned to more than 60. 

Funded entirely with “soft” or contract money—not a penny of state appropriations goes to pay MTRI’s bills—in 10 years the research institute has done more than $80 million in research.

That research ranges broadly, from use of unmanned aerial vehicles—commonly called drones—to satellite mapping of invasive species in the Great Lakes, radar defense,  wildfire remediation and the melting of glaciers in Alaska.  Many of its contracts involve national defense work.  MTRI scientists and engineers also do research for the US Bureau of Land Management, NASA, the Michigan Department of Transportation and the US Department of Agriculture, to name just a few.

$80 Million in Research

“The addition of MTRI to Michigan Tech has been a win-win,” says David Reed, vice president for research.  “Together, we have been able to pursue research opportunities that we could not have done separately. In 10 years, MTRI has attracted a total of $80 million in funding, and much of the research was in collaboration with faculty, staff and students on our main campus in Houghton.” 

How did this unusual enclave of Michigan Tech researchers come to live and thrive in the heart of Ann Arbor? 

In 2006, the private, nonprofit Altarum Institute decided to sell its environmental and emerging technologies division, based in Ann Arbor. At the same time, the House Family Foundation gave Michigan Technological University a gift that enabled the University to buy the division, keeping its environmental and national security technology research in Michigan.  

At the MTRI dedication in 2007, from the left: David Reed, vice president for research; Dave House; Nikola Subotic and Bob Shuchman,MTRI co-directors; President Glenn Mroz.
At the MTRI dedication in 2007, from the left: David Reed, vice president for research; Dave House; Nikola Subotic and Bob Shuchman,MTRI co-directors; President Glenn Mroz.

That not only expanded Michigan Tech’s capacity to conduct research and provide education in the key fields of engineering, technology and the environment, “it enables us to anchor the commercialization of Michigan university research right here in Michigan where it belongs,” said Michigan Tech President Glenn Mroz at MTRI’s dedication ceremony. 

Dave House Center

MTRI named its Ann Arbor facility the Dave House Center, for its benefactor.  House, a Michigan Tech alumnus and frequent contributor to the University, will be attending  the 10th anniversary celebration in Ann Arbor on Friday, October 28. 

“Over the last 10 years, the vision has become a reality,” says House.” MTRI plays not only an important role at Michigan Tech with regards to research, it plays an increasingly important role across the country. Transportation, defense, and environmental - MTRI has met its goals and objectives and is certainly on the right track for continued success."

Nikola Subotic, co-director of MTRI, is also pleased with the institute’s success.  “The synergism within the University that was created with the advent of MTRI has exceeded our expectations,” he says. “The technical and organizational fit couldn’t have been better. We’ve established a research footprint that the University can be proud of, and we’ve laid the basis for future growth both in the UP and downstate.”

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.