Category Archives: University Research

Volcano Structure: Crystals Make It Less Clear

HOUGHTON — Forget the hot, red blob that so many of us drew under the cone of a volcano in eighth grade science. Magma chambers are chemically and physically complex structures that new evidence suggests may be cooler than expected.

Volcanologists are gaining a new understanding of what’s going on inside a shallow magma reservoir that lies below an active volcano, and they’re finding a colder, more solid place than previously thought, according to new research published June 16 in the scholarly journal Science (DOI: 10.1126/science.aam8720). It’s a new view of how volcanoes work and could eventually help volcanologists get a better idea of when a volcano poses the most risk.

Continue reading Volcano Structure: Crystals Make It Less Clear

LTU wins grant to boost STEM education from Howard Hughes Medical Institute

SOUTHFIELD – Lawrence Technological University is one of 24 schools nationwide to be selected for a new program to boost minority participation in STEM study and careers.

The $1 million grant was awarded to Lawrence Tech under the Inclusive Excellence Initiative of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the largest private, nonprofit supporter of science education in the United States. More than 500 colleges and universities nationwide applied for grants under the initiative. Lawrence Tech was the only institution in Michigan to be selected.

The objective of the initiative is to help colleges and universities encourage participation and cultivate the talent of more students in the natural sciences. HHMI challenged schools to identify the reasons students are excluded from science and find new ways to include students in opportunities to achieve science excellence. In particular, the HHMI initiative focuses on those undergraduates who come to college from diverse backgrounds and pathways. These “new majority” students include under-represented ethnic minorities, first-generation college students, and working adults with families.

Said HHMI President Erin O’Shea: “The challenges this program addresses are important for all of us who care deeply about developing a more inclusive and diverse scientific community.”

Finding a way to include all students, from all backgrounds, in STEM is critical for building future generations of American scientists, said David Asai, senior director for science education at HHMI. “Science excellence depends on having a community of scientists that is rich in diversity of people and perspectives,” Asai said.

A third of U.S. first-year college students intending to study STEM are underrepresented minorities (green). But only one-sixth of STEM baccalaureate degree recipients (turquoise) and one-tenth of STEM PhDs (blue) are underrepresented minorities. (Graphic by Howard Hughes Medical Institute.)

In Lawrence Tech’s case, the goal of the project is to “revolutionize teaching in the College of Arts and Sciences, transforming it into a college that bases its education on classroom-based research experience,” or CRE, said Lior Shamir, associate professor of mathematics and computer science.

Shamir said courses in multiple disciplines, covering all departments and programs in the college, will be modified into CRE courses, providing research experiences to all students as part of the curriculum. And, Shamir said, these experiences “will be designed in a culturally responsive fashion, allowing students to express their culture and identity through research.”

Shamir said participating in research as an undergraduate student has been proven to increase student retention and graduation rates, as well as boosting GPA and the likelihood of moving on to graduate school.

For decades, educational grants – including some awarded by HHMI – have focused on interventions aimed at students, such as summer research apprenticeships, tutoring, advising, and summer bridge programs designed to ease the transition from high school to college. While these interventions can help the students involved, they don’t generally address long-term issues that, if changed, could have a more sustained impact, Asai said. “Our goal is to catalyze changes that last well beyond the lifetime of these five-year grants,” he said.

An essay by Asai on the topic, “A New Strategy to Build Capacity for Creativity,” is available at https://www.hhmi.org/content/new-strategy-build-capacity-creativity-science-education.

“This award shows once again how Lawrence Tech is truly living its longtime motto of ‘Theory and Practice,’” LTU President Virinder Moudgil said. “Adding research experiences to all classes in the College of Arts and Sciences that are relevant to each student’s cultural background will increase the likelihood of student success, and will increase participation and excellence among people who are now under-represented in science.”

Lawrence Technological University, http://www.ltu.edu, is a private university founded in 1932 that offers more than 100 programs through the doctoral level in its Colleges of Architecture and Design, Arts and Sciences, Engineering, and Management. PayScale lists Lawrence Tech among the nation’s top 100 universities for the salaries of its graduates, and U.S. News and World Report lists it in the top tier of best Midwestern universities. Students benefit from small class sizes and a real-world, hands-on, “theory and practice” education with an emphasis on leadership. Activities on Lawrence Tech’s 107-acre campus include more than 60 student organizations and NAIA varsity sports.

The Howard Hughes Medical Institute, http://www.hhmi.org, plays a powerful role in advancing scientific research and education in the United States. Its scientists, located across the country and around the world, include 17 Nobel laureates. They have made important discoveries that advance both human health and our fundamental understanding of biology. The Institute also aims to transform science education into a creative, interdisciplinary endeavor that reflects the excitement of real research.

Michigan Tech Study Shows Ditching Coal for Solar Saves Lives — AND Money

HOUGHTON — In a new study published in the academic journal Renewable & Sustainable Energy Reviews (DOI: 10.1016/j.rser.2017.05.119), a team from Michigan Technological University calculated the cost of combusting coal in terms of human lives along with the potential benefits of switching to solar.

Health Impacts

Tens of thousands of Americans die prematurely each year from air pollution-related diseases associated with burning coal. By transitioning to solar photovoltaics in the United States, the study found up to 51,999 American lives would be saved at $1.1 million invested per life.

“Unlike other public health investments, you get more than lives saved,” said Joshua Pearce, a professor of materials science and electrical engineering at Michigan Tech. “In addition to saving lives, solar is producing electricity, which has economic value.”

Using a sensitivity analysis on the value of electricity, which examines the different costs of electricity that varies by region throughout the country, saving a life by using solar power also showed potential to make money — sometimes as much as several million dollars per life, says Pearce.

“Everybody wants to avoid wasting money. Just based off the pure value of electricity of the sensitivities we looked at, it’s profitable to save American lives by eliminating coal with solar,” he explains.

Pearce worked with energy policy doctoral student Emily Prehoda on the study, and their main goal was to better inform health policy. They gathered data from peer-reviewed journals and the Environmental Protection Agency to calculate U.S. deaths per kilowatt hour per year for both coal and solar. Then they used current costs of solar installations from the Department of Energy and calculated the potential return on investment.

Pearce and Prehoda also analyzed the geographic impact of coal-related deaths. “Here, we have solid numbers on how many people die from air pollution and what fraction of that is due to coal-powered plants in each state.”

Power of Solar

To fully replace all the coal production in the U.S. with solar PV, it would take 755 gigawatts — a significant increase compared to the 22.7 gigawatts of solar installed in the U.S. currently. The total cost of installing that much solar power totals $1.5 trillion, but that investment is figured into Pearce and Prehoda’s calculations, and is a profitable investment.

Said Pearce: “Solar has come down radically in cost, it’s technically viable, and coupled with natural gas plants, other renewables and storage, we have ways to produce all the electricity we need without coal, period.”

He says resisting the rise of solar energy is akin to if computer manufacturers kept using vacuum tube switches instead of upgrading to semiconductor transistors.

“My overall take away from this study is that if we’re rational and we care about American lives, or even just money, then it’s time to end coal in the U.S.,” Pearce said.

Next Steps

The World Health Organization reports that millions die each year from unhealthy environment, air pollution notably the largest contributor to non-communicable diseases like stroke, cancers, chronic respiratory illnesses and heart disease. Future work can expand this study globally.

“There’s roughly seven million people who die globally from air pollution every year, so getting rid of coal could take a big chunk out of that number as well,” Pearce said, adding that another goal of future research is to dig deeper into the life cycles of coal production as this study only looked at air pollution related deaths. Doing so will continue to illuminate the multiple positive impacts of solar power and its potential to do more than keep the lights on.

UM Research Claims Huge Advance In Testing Self-Driving Cars

ANN ARBOR — Mobility researchers at the University of Michigan say they have devised a new way to test autonomous vehicles that bypasses the billions of miles they would need to log for consumers to consider them road-ready.

The process, which was developed using data from more than 25 million miles of real-world driving, can cut the time required to evaluate robotic vehicles’ handling of potentially dangerous situations by 300 to 100,000 times. And it could save 99.9 percent of testing time and costs, the researchers say.

They outline the approach in a new white paper published by Mcity, a UM-led public-private partnership to accelerate advanced mobility vehicles and technologies.

Continue reading UM Research Claims Huge Advance In Testing Self-Driving Cars

MSU Engineering researchers turn a flag into a loudspeaker

EAST LANSING — A paper-thin, flexible device created at the Michigan State University College of Engineering not only can generate energy from human motion, it can act as a loudspeaker and microphone as well, nanotechnology researchers reported May 16 in the scholarly journal Nature Communications (https://www.nature.com/articles/ncomms15310).

The audio breakthrough could eventually lead to such consumer products as a foldable loudspeaker, a voice-activated security patch for computers, and even a talking newspaper.

Continue reading MSU Engineering researchers turn a flag into a loudspeaker

Feds Give U-M $20M For Great Lakes Research Institute

ANN ARBOR — The University of Michigan has been awarded a five-year, $20 million grant from the federal government to form a research institute focused on sustainable management of the Great Lakes.

The Cooperative Institute for Great Lakes Research, which will be hosted by UM and funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, represents a partnership between nine universities across the Great Lakes region, as well as multiple nonprofits and businesses.

Continue reading Feds Give U-M $20M For Great Lakes Research Institute

Bumblebee populations higher in Detroit than in some less-urbanized areas; vacant lots could be a factor

ANN ARBOR — A new study of native bumblebee populations in southeastern Michigan cities found, surprisingly, that Detroit has more of the large-bodied bees than some surrounding, less urbanized locations.

The University of Michigan students who conducted the study suspect that the large amount of vacant or idle land in Detroit may boost the bumblebee population by providing nesting sites and flowers for food.

Continue reading Bumblebee populations higher in Detroit than in some less-urbanized areas; vacant lots could be a factor

Michigan Sea Grant, Wayne State Host Freshwater Research Conference

ANN ARBOR — Freshwater researchers from the Great Lakes region and around the world are gathering at Cobo Center this week for the 60th annual conference of the International Association for Great Lakes Research.

Continue reading Michigan Sea Grant, Wayne State Host Freshwater Research Conference

Michigan Tech Research: Solar Can Aid Military Security Affordably

HOUGHTON — Vulnerabilities in the power grid are one of the most prevalent national security threats. The technical community has called for building up the resiliency of the grid using distributed energy and microgrids for stabilization. Power production from multiple sources increases the difficulty of triggering cascading blackouts, and following an attack or natural disaster, microgrids can provide localized energy security.

In a new paper published in the academic journal Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews (DOI: 10.1016/j.rser.2017.04.094), an interdisciplinary team of engineering and energy policy experts from Michigan Technological University says the first step is to outfit military infrastructure with solar photovoltaic-powered microgrid systems. Their results found that the military needs 17 gigawatts of PV to fortify domestic bases — and that the systems are technically feasible, within current contractors’ skill sets, and economically favorable.

Additionally, the paper’s lead author, Emily Prehoda, who is finishing her PhD in energy policy at Michigan Tech, says boosting bases’ energy independence supports local communities.

Continue reading Michigan Tech Research: Solar Can Aid Military Security Affordably

UM Graham Institute Research Grants Target Sustainability Challenges

ANN ARBOR — The Graham Sustainability Institute at the University of Michigan has awarded nearly $500,000 to support four sustainability-related research projects in the United States and abroad.

Continue reading UM Graham Institute Research Grants Target Sustainability Challenges