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.

| Wednesday, October 16, 2019 Theme: Utilitarian Engineering 

Lecture presented by  Distinguished Professor David WatkinsUtilitarian Engineering: Promoting Equity and Sustainability Under Resource Constraints
Research Statement: Research shows that happiness and life satisfaction scale with the logarithm of income. This supports the use of utility functions (and their derivative, demand curves) in engineering models for managing resources and planning infrastructure investments.  Examples of resource management models that ultimately seek to maximize societal utility--both for current and future generations--will be presented, along with some limitations and research directions.  The talk will begin with a disclaimer that, despite having a Ph.D., the speaker has no formal training in philosophy.

Six Questions with Distinguished Professor David Watkins

Q1. You have a strong focus in your work on sustainability and infrastructure. How did you come to choose this path? Or, did it choose you? 
It was in high school that I first heard about the number of people worldwide who did not have access to sanitation and clean water, and I became interested in environmental and water resources engineering.  My interests have broadened since then, as I’ve learned more about interconnected issues in development, resource consumption, and climate.

Q2. How do your research and teaching complement each other?
On a personal level, as much as I appreciate the challenge and excitement of research, it can also be frustrating and even a bit daunting at times.  Teaching reminds me of what I do know, and it’s rewarding to share new advances with students and see them become more interested and adept in a topic.  Students often bring new perspectives to problems, too, which can expand my thinking.

Q3. What has changed the most in your field over the past decade (or two)? 
One of the biggest changes in the past 10-20 years is the amount of environmental data available, including both observations and model re-analyses (the use of physically based computer models to “fill in” between observation points). In water resources planning and management, we are continually striving to make the best use of the data available.  

Q4. What is the biggest challenge in your fields of expertise? 
Even as more and more data become available, there is increasing recognition that we can’t rely solely on observations of the past to plan and design for the future, mainly due to climate change (warming oceans and atmosphere, and changing circulation patterns).  Engineering standards are starting to take this into account, but there’s no consensus on how to adjust design standards.  One approach that is emerging is to account for greater uncertainty, while also ensuring that systems don’t fail catastrophically when their design event is exceeded.  But we still have a lot of work to do to better understand the risks and tradeoffs in our designs.

 Q5. How does Michigan Tech work for you as a home base? 
My work has benefited a lot from the size of the campus and relative ease of working across departments and disciplines.  The only real downside for me is the frequency of flight cancellations.

Q6. What's next in your research?
I think the confidence in regional climate projections will increase significantly in the next decade, allowing for improved climate change mitigation and adaptation plans.  I would like to continue working on integrated approaches to mitigation and water, energy, and food security, as well as contribute to adaptation planning for some of the most vulnerable areas, such as coastal and drought-prone regions.

| 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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