Michigan Tech Research Forum

Distinguished Lecture Series

The Distinguished Lecture Series started in Fall 2016 to honor faculty for their research impact. Department chairs, center/institute directors, deans, and Research Advisory Council members nominate highly engaging presenters with broad topic appeal. Distinguished Lecturers are selected for their ability to increase the knowledge of our community by connecting their research with societal and community concerns. Topics are broad, spanning all colleges and schools at Michigan Tech. Nominees are reviewed by committee twice per year and announced at the beginning of fall and spring semesters.

|Thursday, December 5, 2019|Theme: Cloud Chambers

Lecture presented by  Distinguished Professor Raymond Shaw: The Michigan Tech cloud chamber – how does it work and what have we learned?

Research Statement
: : Michigan Tech is home to a unique chamber used for investigating aerosol and cloud processes relevant to weather and climate. To make a cloud, the environment has to have a relative humidity above 100%. In the laboratory that’s a tricky thing to achieve because water condenses on any available surfaces; the MTU chamber gets around that by generating clouds through turbulent mixing. The cloud chamber allows us to study a wide variety of research questions: For example, how do clouds respond to clean versus polluted conditions? Cloud chamber experiments reveal how clean clouds may produce rain more easily

Six Questions with Distinguished Professor Raymond Shaw

Q1. You have a strong focus in your work on understanding the Earth’s atmosphere, and in particular on studying clouds. How did you come to choose this path? Or, did it choose you? 
I remember earning my weather badge as a cub scout, and really disliking all the memorization of cloud types, like stratocumulus and cirrus. But I was fortunate to grow up around people who were interested in ideas rather than nomenclature, and eventually I became fascinated with what makes ice crystals grow in different shapes. I loved physics as an undergrad, and the ice crystal question was enough of a nudge to search for a graduate program in which I could combine physics with the atmosphere.

Q2. How do your research and teaching complement each other?
Teaching keeps my mind focused on the fundamentals. And it continuously challenges me to improve my communication skills, which is also highly valuable in communicating research. At the same time, exciting research stimulates the teaching environment in compelling ways.

Q3. What has changed the most in your field over the past decade (or two)? 
The MTU cloud chamber is one thing that has changed. It’s broadly recognized that in the US we allowed laboratory investigation of cloud processes to fall behind computational and field-based research. So there’s quite a bit of enthusiasm for the research we are conducting. 

Q4. What is the biggest challenge in your fields of expertise? 
In my opinion the biggest challenge is to find ways to ask and answer simple questions, even with the increasing complexity and size of data sets and computational tools. The level of detail available from simulations and from high-data-rate instruments can be overwhelming, and has a tendency to encourage purely empirical work. Finding ways to distill and synthesize results by asking simple questions is crucial to gaining a deep understanding of nature.

Q5. How does Michigan Tech work for you as a home base? 
Michigan Tech provides a supportive environment for research. I value the colleagues I’ve had the opportunity to interact with, including my fellow physics faculty and the great group of faculty and staff across campus who are engaged in atmospheric research. Besides the people, one of the best things about Michigan Tech is its location. Mountain biking and skiing within five minutes from my house? Who can argue with that? I pay the price when traveling --- air service from Houghton is the biggest drawback for MTU.

 Q6. What's next in your research?
We’re starting to dream about the next step in cloud chamber research. We’re holding a workshop with about 60 scientists from all over the world to discuss what could be accomplished with an even bigger chamber. So many questions, from rain formation to ice multiplication to optical transmission, could benefit from a much larger facility for cloud studies.

October 16, 2019 Theme: Utilitarian Engineering 

Lecture presented by  Distinguished Professor David WatkinsUtilitarian Engineering: Promoting Equity and Sustainability Under Resource Constraints

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| April 10, 2019 Theme: Surfaces, Materials and Metals

Lecture presented by  Distinguished Professor Jaroslaw Drelich: Surfaces and Interfaces: Building Blocks of Nature and my Research World

TechTalks presented by inter-disciplinary collaborators:

  • Jeremy Goldman, Biomedical Engineering  
  • Feng Zhao, Biomedical Engineering 
  • Tim Scarlett, Social Sciences 
  • Timothy Eisele, Chemical Engineering 

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| March 20, 2019 Theme: Organizational Behavior 

Lecture presented by  Professor Sonia GoltzFelt Experience: A Key Bridge Between Research Knowledge and Social Change 

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February 27, 2019Theme: Mathematics 

Lecture presented by  Distinguished Professor Vladimir Tonchev: Coding Theory, Combinatorial Designs, and Finite Geometry
TechTalks presented by the Department of Mathematical Sciences:

  • Missy Keranen ,  Mathematical Sciences 
  • William Keith,  Mathematical Sciences 
  • CK Shene, Computer Sciences

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| December 6, 2018 | Theme: Water Resources 

Lecture presented by  Distinguished Professor Nancy Langton: Sustaining Lake Superior
TechTalks presented by Great Lakes Research Center affiliates:

  • Sarah Green,  Chemistry
  • Casey Huckins,  Biological Sciences
  • Sarah Fayen Scarlett, Social Sciences
  • Don Lafreniere,  Social Sciences

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Fall 2018 Distinguished Lecturer


Alex S. Mayer

The University Professor title recognizes faculty members who have made outstanding scholarly contributions to the University and their discipline over a substantial period of time.

Dr. Alex Mayer selected as the first University Professor in 2018. He presented a lecture, Coping with uncertainty: Water tales from the Wild West and elsewhere, at the Fall 2018 Research Forum as a Distinguished Lecturer on October 25, 2018 in a format encouraging networking and discussions.

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Spring 2018 Distinguished Lecturer

Sarah Green

Dr. Sarah Green was nominated by Mike Abbott, director of the Great Lakes Research Center Operations, and was selected from a highly competitive pool of candidates from all colleges and schools on campus.

 Her lecture, Expanding Spheres: Atoms to Earth, Local to Global, Science to Society, was presented on February 15, 2018, in a format encouraging networking and discussions.

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Fall 2017 Distinguished Lecturer

John Vucetich

 Dr. John Vucetich was nominated by Dr. Terry Sharik, dean of the School of Forest Resources and Environmental Science. His lecture, It's Not About Wolves: Interdisciplinary Knowledge for a Sustainable, Just and Prosperous World, was presented on November 7, 2017. 
Sharik writes in his nomination: "John is a world-renowned researcher on predator-prey relations and especially on the role of wolves in regulating ecosystems. John's work also bridges animal population dynamics and ethics. John has given hundreds of presentations spanning the gamut from scientists to ordinary citizens; his delivery style is one of serenity, thoughtfulness and humility."

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Spring 2017 Distinguished Lecturer

Simon Carn

Dr. Simon Carn was nominated by Dr. John Gierke and selected from a highly competitive pool of candidates as the Spring 2017 Distinguished Lecturer. His lecture, about Satellite Remote Sensing of Active Volcanism, was presented in April 2017.

Volcanology – the study of volcanoes – is a truly multidisciplinary endeavor that encompasses numerous fields including geology, physics, chemistry, material science and social science. Arguably, Michigan Tech owes its very existence to volcanic activity, which is ultimately responsible for the area’s rich copper deposits and the development of mining in the Keweenaw.

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Fall 2016 Distinguished Lecturer

Richelle Winkler with her award.

Dr. Richelle Winkler gave the inaugural Michigan Tech Research Forum Distinguished Lecture in October 2016. She discussed Making Research Matter: Democratizing Science and Other Lofty Goals.

Professor Hugh Gorman nominated Winkler, an associate professor of sociology and demography, for “community engaged scholarship" that extends across the Michigan Tech campus.

Examples of Winkler's projects include examining the feasibility—social and technical—of using mine water for geothermal heating systems in Calumet and examining the social, economic, and technical aspects of improving recycling in Houghton County.


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