COVID-19: Research Update

In all my time as vice president for research at Michigan Tech, some of the most rewarding experiences have been working with teams — watching them form, understand a problem, develop a solution and execute the work. That has been especially true recently, as different parts of campus have developed innovative ways to respond to the COVID-19 crisis we are all facing.

A team led by Andrew Barnard (GLRC) and Jeffrey Allen (ME-EM), funded by the College of Engineering, and involving people from GLRC; MEEM; MMET; ECE; a local contractor, Aire Care; and a Wisconsin company, Therma-Tron-X, developed the Mobile Thermal Utility (MTU) Sanitizer. The unit — compiled from parts on hand in commercial bakeries, restaurants, HVAC shops, shipping yards and universities — can clean 5,000 to 10,000 PPE units every two hours and can run continuously. A Detroit area medical provider is testing the device at the National Guard site in Taylor, Mich. The sanitizer was transported there by Michigan National Guard members from Calumet. The governor’s office was essential in coordination of the entire effort. And all this happened in just over a week.

Caryn Heldt (ChE), in partnership with collaborators at Johns Hopkins University and Mount Sinai Hospital, is creating new processes to improve the purification step of vaccine manufacturing — which often accounts for 50% to 70% of production costs.

Joshua Pearce (MSE), who runs the Michigan Tech Open Sustainability Technology (MOST) Lab, has joined the Michigan Tech Open Source Initiative in responding to a call by the journal HardwareX to prototype 3D-printed, open-source ventilators and other medical hardware, which will be tested and routed to hospitals to overcome COVID-19.

With delays in COVID-19 testing across the nation, rural and remote regions like Michigan’s Upper Peninsula have been hard pressed to get enough tests for patients. A call with elected officials on March 25 led to an effort to create, basically from scratch, a certified laboratory for human diagnostic testing for COVID-19. Heldt and David Dixon (VPR) served as technical leads, working with a team of more than 20 people from BIO, BME, CFRES, CHE, MLS and a number of administrative units on March 26 to begin determining if we had the capacity to do this. In short order, with additional leadership from faculty members Steve Techtmann, Kristin Brzeski, Ebenezer Tumban, Carsten Kuelheim, Karyn Fay, Brigitte Morin and Claire Danielson, laboratory equipment was moved, sampling protocols were developed, sample material to develop processes were shared by another institution, and known samples from the state of Michigan were obtained. 

In parallel, a HIPAA-compliant patient record system and methods for receiving, recording, analyzing, and reporting the results of human diagnostic tests were assembled, tested, and made operational. Laboratory Operations led the regulatory approval process, and FSO will be handling the medical billing operation. Purchasing, HR, Facilities and many other units were all essential for this to come together. 

In partnership with Dr. Cary Gottlieb, a pathologist from OSF St. Francis Hospital in Escanaba who will serve as laboratory director, and other regional hospitals, the MTU team has coordinated receiving and testing samples. This week, just two weeks after the initial meeting, they will start testing patient samples from Aspirus-Keweenaw, Baraga County and UPHS-Portage hospitals for COVID-19, and are scaling up to serve an even broader geographic area. The lab has the capacity to run 40 samples per hour on two machines, and the team has plans to expand with more equipment and staffing. 

In the coming weeks, we’ll hear about additional COVID-19-related research efforts on campus. This research includes:

  • Examination of supply chains during pandemics and how building greater resiliency into those systems is one of the great lessons learned from this crisis
  • Detecting coronaviruses in human waste to equip municipal wastewater managers and other decision makers with important information for treatment processes
  • Developing thermostable vaccines that can be altered to fight against a number of diseases, viruses and even cancer
  • And how a capstone Senior Design team pivoted from disappointment at study abroad trips being cut short to developing an electromechanical design for a device that automatically actuates a bag-valve-mask (BVM) to serve as a ventilator substitute.

More information about this research can be found at

At the same time these and a number of other efforts were underway across campus, many research activities, particularly experimental work, were disrupted. Thank you to all the researchers on campus for adjusting your routines, protecting your samples and equipment, and working remotely as best as you are able.

Even though people cannot work in their labs or collect field data, the work of proposal development, literature review, data analysis, technical reporting and other activities continues. Proposals are still being submitted and funding received, essentially uninterrupted by the situation around us. When we are eventually able to reactivate our labs and return to our experiments, I think we will all be exceptionally proud of the many ways the Michigan Tech research community used our collective creativity and research capabilities to contribute solutions to what may become one of the landmark events of our lifetimes.

Cloud Sourcing Electricity Usage

Inferring electricity usage in a building without using a meter could be as simple as correlating average occupancy at a given time.

Chee-Wooi Ten (ECE) and Kuilin Zhang (CEE) propose that utility companies can infer occupancy in buildings based on cell phone locations and from devices on the Internet of Things, much the same as how Google or the app Waze acquires real-time traffic data from cell phones to infer congestion on roadways.

The researchers' methods in the context of COVID-19, the quasi-online correlation between occupancy within a specific location and electricity consumption at home may infer a shifting load of stay-at-home individuals.

At this critical time, the reliability of power delivery to individuals is vital to those who stay and work from home. This information could be vitally important to infer and improve the quality of life at home.

Read the full story on

Maximizing Your Time at Home

While social distancing does create challenges, Michigan Tech Career Services is reaching out to students to make sure their future is still bright.

Careers Services is now offering online career advising through Handshake. You can schedule an appointment here.

Students who need to turn in co-op paperwork may do so by email.

Handshake has consolidated all of its virtual career search blog resources for students on its new “Get Hired Remotely” landing page. Check it out to see some career tips.

Those interested in how they can up their career-search game while working remotely, are invited to attend one of two "Maximize Your Time at Home" virtual sessions.

The first session will be held from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. (EDT) today (April 14). Register here. The session will be held via Zoom.

The second session will be held from noon to 1 p.m. (EDT) tomorrow (April 15) via Zoom. Register here.

Graduate Assistant Cost Share Program

The Graduate Assistant Cost Share (GACS) program provides matching fund assistance to faculty who seek external support for graduate students in support of the University’s strategic goals. The program had been temporarily closed while undergoing a design and collecting input from various campus stakeholders. The program has been re-opened and is available to make matching commitments for new proposals as of Monday (April 13). Details on program criteria and the process for requesting funds can be found here.

Questions about the program can be directed to A member of the Sponsored Programs team will refer your message to the most appropriate point of contact based on the nature of your question.

Sustainability Film & Discussion

The next film in the Sustainability Film Series is “Seed: The Untold Story.” The film can be viewed online on this link until May 1. (Password: S33dStuffz67).

An online Facilitated discussion will take place from 8 to 9 p.m. Thursday (April 16) with Abbey Palmer, Michigan State University Extension Educator, Upper Peninsula Research and Extension Center, Chatham. 

Join via Zoom, by phone: 312 626 6799 ID: 578 631 296 or Link to online viewing of the film and Zoom discussion.

Film Description: For 12,000 years, humans have been cultivating seeds and building empires. In the last century, 94% of our seed varieties have been lost. As many irreplaceable seeds are nearing extinction, high-tech industrial seed companies control the majority of the world’s remaining seeds. A wonder of photography, animation, and sound, the film clearly defines the mission of seedsavers—to maintain agricultural diversity for future generations, and the survival of native cultures. (94 min.)

You can access the Educational Discussion Guide. Any questions? Contact Joan Chadde. Cosponsored by the Lake Superior Stewardship Initiative, Keweenaw Land Trust, Keweenaw Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, MTU Great Lakes Research Center, Sustainable Futures Institute, and Dept. of Social Sciences.

A schedule of monthly films from January through May is available and past films can be checked out for two weeks here.

New Funding

Rupak Rajachar (BioMed) is the principal investigator on a project that has received a $400,343 research and development grant from the National Institutes of Health.

The project is entitled, "Targeted ROS Releasing PEG-Fibrin Composite Adhesive-Hydrogel to Control Matrix Modulation as a Wound Healing and Tissue Engineering Support."

Bruce Lee (BioMed) is the Co-PI on this potential three-year project.


In Print

Professor Emerita Mary Durfee (SS) published a commentary "Existential Security: Lessons from the Pandemic and Arctic," on the website for the Arctic Institute in Washington, D.C.


TIAA Virtual Retirement Counseling Session

TIAA is offering a Phone /Virtual Retirement counseling session on Tuesday, April 21. To schedule an appointment with TIAA call 800-732-8353 or book online.


Online Teaching Qualification Courses

In order to meet the rising demand for Michigan Tech faculty to be qualified to teach online, the William G. Jackson Center for Teaching and Learning has been working with two external organizations. If you are not already signed up for ED5101 or an equivalent, our recommendation is that you consider one of these. Both can provide far more capacity to teach courses that lead to this certification than we have internally.

Both programs are designed for people who have a working knowledge or familiarity of online teaching tools such as Zoom and Canvas.

Most importantly, both programs will meet the minimum requirements for instructors to be qualified to teach online at Michigan Tech:

  1. The Educational Technology Organization of Michigan is offering a second cohort of their Online Teaching Certification Course this summer starting July 6. This is a six week program. Instructors can register here
  2. The University of Wisconsin - Madison Continuing Studies department offers its Foundations of Online Teaching (FoOT) course which starts June 2. This is also a six-week program. Instructors can register here.

The expectation is that instructors will register for either course with a university purchasing card. Following successful completion of the course, a University account will be provided for reallocation of the expenditure to reimburse your academic department. If you do not have access to a university purchase card, contact Angel Cooke for reimbursement.

If you feel you must be prepared to teach online, but are not ready or neither of these work for you, please let your chair know.

In the News

The Michigan Tech webcams were linked in the story "12,000 without power in Michigan, U.P. cities see up to 17 inches of snow," in The Detroit News.


A joint project between Michigan Tech and Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (Ghana) was featured in the story "KNUST College Of Engineering Designs And Constructs Ghana’s First Homemade Ventilator," in numerous media outlets including, The Independent Ghana, Hello 101.5 FM and Peace FM.


John Vucetich (CFRES) was quoted in the story "Americans agree on animal protection; experts disagree on which ones need it," in Great Lakes Echo.

Today's Campus Events

To have your event automatically appear, please submit them to the University Events Calendar.

Idea Hub - Testing

Tuesday April 14, 2020 at 3:00PM


IDEA hub/CTL Online Education Session - Exams in the Time of Corona (Online exams and testing)

Tuesday April 14, 2020 at 3:00PM


Online: RAINN Checks for RAINN Day

The Rape Abuse Incest National Network (RAINN) is holding their annual RAINN Day on April 14, 2020. On April 14, Dial Help, Inc. and Michigan Tech Title IX are teaming up to...


PhD Defense: Daniel Crane

Mathematical Sciences Advisor: Mark Gockenbach The Singular Value Expansion for Compact and Non-Compact Operators Attend Virtually: https:/


Maximize Your Time at Home

Are you interested in how you can up your career search game while working remotely? Then join us for our Maximize Your Time at Home virtual session! Discover 10 ways to...


Environmental Graphiti Online Exhibit

The Art of Climate Change Alisa Singer The work of Chicago-based artist Alisa Singer, Environmental Graphiti is a series of digital paintings created to enhance public...