Tag Archives: Michigan Technological University

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.

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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.

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.

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Michigan Tech report on Isle Royale: Just two wolves, many more moose and beavers

HOUGHTON — Researchers from Michigan Technological University have released the annual Winter Study detailing updates on the ecology of Isle Royale National Park.

For the second year in a row, the Isle Royale wolf population remains a mere two. Researchers from Michigan Tech say that as the wolf population stays stagnant, the moose population will continue to grow at a rapid pace. And this could have a significant impact on the island’s famed forests.

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Michigan Tech Researcher Seeking Answers on Viruses from ‘Stickiness’

HOUGHTON — A person doesn’t have to get sick to catch a virus. Researchers hope to catch viruses for detection and vaccinations by understanding their sticky outer layers.

The complex structures making the surface of a virus are small weaves of proteins that make a big impact on how a virus interacts with cells and its environment. A slight change in protein sequence makes this surface slightly water-repelling, or hydrophobic, causing it to stick to other hydrophobic surfaces.

A new paper, published recently in the scientific journal Colloids and Surfaces B: Biointerfaces (DOI: 10.1016/j.colsurfb.2017.02.011), details surface hydrophobicity in porcine parovirus (PPV).

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Pilot Project at Michigan Tech Leads to Federal Regulations Changes

HOUGHTON — Michigan Technological University participated in a national pilot project that helped the federal government revise its regulations to make a major reduction in the number of federal certification forms and the administrative follow-up paperwork on federal research grants.

Michigan Tech’s Board of Trustees were told about the pilot project and the regulations changes at their regular meeting Friday, March 3. Continue reading Pilot Project at Michigan Tech Leads to Federal Regulations Changes

NASA Taps Michigan Tech Prof to Lead $15M Space Research Institute

HOUGHTON — Michigan Technological University Professor Greg Odegard will lead a new, multidisciplinary and multi-institution Space Technology Research Institute.

The institute is funded by a $15 million 5-year grant from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

Odegard, pictured at right above, is the Richard and Elizabeth Henes Professor of Computational Mechanics at Michigan Tech and associate chair and director of undergraduate studies in the Department of Mechanical Engineering-Engineering Mechanics. He is also an adjunct professor of materials science and engineering at Tech.

Odegard’s team will include 22 faculty members from 10 universities, two companies and the U.S. Air Force Research Lab. Their STRI is called the Institute for Ultra-Strong Composites by Computational Design or US-COMP.

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Michigan Tech Part Of Federal Energy Saving Project

HOUGHTON — Michigan Technological University is one of 85 partners in a US Department of Energy-funded $70 million energy-saving project called the REMADE (Reducing Embodied-energy and Decreasing Emissions) Institute.

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Tears Can Tell Your Nutrition: MTU Researcher

HOUGHTON — Would you rather give blood or tears?

A Michigan Technological University researcher is lead author of a new paper on the potential use of tears instead of blood to study people’s nutritional levels.

The paper was published in the scholarly journal Experimental Eye Research (DOI: 10.1016/j.exer.2016.12.007). The lead author is Maryam Khaksari, a research specialist at the Chemical Advanced Resolution Methods (ChARM) Laboratory at Michigan Tech.

“Our goal was to seek the viability of establishing measurable vitamin concentrations in tears for nutritional assessments,” Khaksari says. “Your body cannot manufacture vitamins, and vitamins reflect available food sources in your body. That’s what makes them good indicators of nutritional health.”

Full of Potential

The work was part of Khaksari’s dissertation in the Medical micro-Device Engineering Research Lab at Michigan Tech. The team is led by Adrienne Minerick, the dean of research and innovation in the College of Engineering as well as a professor of chemical engineering at Michigan Tech.

“This project was the first step that proved vitamins are detectable in tears, that they do correlate with blood levels,” Minerick said. “Next we want to engineer a portable, lab-on-a-chip device relying on a minimally invasive sample from tears to assess nutrition.”

With this goal in mind, Khaksari worked with a local team under Minerick’s guidance to study the connections between infant vitamin levels and their parents’ levels.

Full of Vitamins

Previously, the presence — and measurability — of tear nutrients was unclear. After all, there are no blood vessels that connect through the cornea, and blood transport nourishes most organs. Yet the old stories about carrots have some truth: eyes do need vitamin A along with other nutrients.

“We hypothesized that nutrients are transferred to the living cells of your cornea through your tears,” Khaksari said, adding that past studies have shown that people blink more when they have vitamin deficiencies, which are currently only tested for with blood samples. “We would like to translate the information we have for blood to tears. In this paper, we did show that there are correlations between vitamin concentrations in tears and blood — so it’s possible.”

The challenge is that tears are a complex mixture, which makes measuring vitamins in them difficult.

Full of ChARM

Khaksari focused on vitamins A, B and E to assess; she did so using liquid chromatography and mass spectrometry with the help of Lynn Mazzoleni, an associate professor of chemistry and co-director of the ChARM Laboratory.  Mazzoleni oversees a new mass spectrometer with the capability of measuring mass in femtograms (0.000000000000001 grams), and the new equipment will put to use as the tears characterization project moves forward.

“We absolutely need ultrahigh resolving power to see the molecules in extremely complex mixtures in order to learn more about various natural and biological systems,” Mazzoleni said.

That sensitivity is crucial when connecting it to human health. As the authors write, nutritional deficiencies are most often treated by symptoms, “however, symptom-presentation substantially lags behind the chemical level deficiency.”

Full of Health

In children the effects of nutritional deficiencies can be lifelong, which is part of the reason Khaksari collaborated with Dr. Colleen Vallad-Hix at UP Health System — Portage. They focused on babies with a 100 percent liquid diet of formula or breastmilk to understand the connection between parent nutrition and infant nutrition. Also, nutritional data gleaned from the parents help reveal the family’s access to healthy foods.

They tested tear samples and blood samples from 15 four-month-old infants and their parents. In general, water-soluble vitamins were higher in infants and fat-soluble vitamins were higher in parents — notably, mothers tended to be more deficient across the board. Generally, there is a connection between parents and babies and the team showed a correlation between vitamins E and B. Formula-fed babies were the exception, with notably higher levels of B vitamins. The work is preliminary but shows promise for laying out trends in tear vitamin levels.

Michigan Tech Research Grants Rising

HOUGHTON — Michigan Technological University’s environmental science, atmospheric science and oceanography research expenditures ranked No. 1 among Michigan universities, David Reed, vice president for research, told Tech’s Board of Trustees at its regular meeting on Friday, Dec. 16.

Recently released National Science Foundation rankings of universities by total research expenditures also placed mechanical engineering research 23rd in the nation, making it the highest ranked of all research fields at Michigan Tech, Reed reported.

In the NSF research expenditure rankings, which covered fiscal year 2015, ended June 30, 2015, Tech ranked 116th in the nation among public universities, Reed said.

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