Current Projects

Mobile Robots for Automated Disinfection Systems

The recent pandemic brought focus on the use of remote and robotic control to meet the population's needs in rural areas. One such application is the use of remote-operated or programmed robots for safely disinfecting buildings. This project aims to introduce and train participating students in mobile robot applications and their sensory and control programming.

Students will participate in programming, control, and testing mobile robots fitted with ultraviolet light towers to disinfect a laboratory space. Students will work alongside KBIC personnel to identify areas requiring disinfection and benefit from an automated robotic system. Students will learn about employing radiation to impact DNA, perform experiments using UV lights, measure optical intensities, and map the spatial distribution. Students will learn the role of simultaneous location and mapping (SLAM) using the Robot Operating System (ROS) to control the robots' navigation.

Program Objectives

A multi-disciplinary team from MTU and the KBIC has co-created a bio-inspired, community-centric, multi- cultural, -directional teaching and learning program, for relatable research and cultural experiences.

The objectives are to: 1) Increase interest in engineering- and STEM-related careers, particularly, for underrepresented minority students (URM); 2) Improve collaborative cooperation, communication, leadership, and interpersonal skills; 3) Develop and apply multidisciplinary engineering and STEM research skills; 4) Enhance faculty learning, mentorship, and pedagogy; and 5) Demonstrate transformational values of community engagement in engineering and STEM research.

Heavy Metals in Wild Rice Grown in Mining-impacted Areas in the Keweenaw Bay

Wild rice is an important component of the Ojibwe diet and is known to have been abundant in the Great Lakes region. Operating from 1902-1919, Mass Mill disposed of billions of pounds of mine waste rock tailings or stamp sand into the Keweenaw Bay. The low nutrient content, coarse texture, and heavy metal content combine to construct a human-created wasteland. This project is designed to serve the interests of KBIC, to understand the uptake and accumulation of toxic metals in food crops from contaminated mine tailings.

Students will work in collaboration with KBIC to collect and analyze water, sediment, soil, and plant samples to understand the movement of metals in wild rice at Sand Point Sloughs wetlands. Sampling will be done by undergraduates during summer but will continue year-round with graduate students. In addition to sampling, extraction, and analytical methods for environmental samples, students will learn to calculate human health risk from exposure to toxic metals.

Sea mussel

Bio-inspired Smart Adhesives for Underwater Applications

In underwater sensor networks, there is often a need to retrieve the sensors for data collection, replacement of power supplies, or maintenance. The goal is to design a smart adhesive that could be repeatedly activated and deactivated by applied electricity for use with underwater sensors to monitor the waters surrounding the Keweenaw peninsula. The use of these adhesives in placement of underwater sensors complements the other project within this REU on underwater communication for sensor networks.

A smart adhesive that can be repeatedly turned “on” and “off” on command can potentially be used to provide strong, temporary adhesion while facilitating the retrieval of the attached sensors or devices. Students will have the opportunity to learn about mussel protein adhesives, catechol chemistry and its application in reversible adhesives for underwater applications. Students will test the adhesives in the laboratory and attempt to establish the feasibility of use in the waters surrounding the KBIC.

Scanning electron microscope image of nanofibers

3D Cell Culture for Modeling Exposure to Arsenic

The prolonged and unregulated use of arsenical pesticides has added to the natural arsenic present in soil and groundwater, particularly in regions with a history of mining. While the hazards of exposure to arsenic are well known, there is a lack of understanding of the direct impact of exposure to arsenic that is bioavailable in the environment. This project aims to introduce students to in vitro tissue culture models, preparation of samples, and characterization techniques.

Students will participate in cell culture, sample preparation and analysis, determination of cell proliferation, and scanning electron microscopy of cells. Students will also be introduced to 3D tissue culture using nanofiber scaffolds that they will produce using electrospinning. Students will work closely with community partners from KBIC and learn about protecting and nurturing the environment to mitigate health impacts .

Daylight Simulation in the KBIC Fish Hatchery Facility

The Keweenaw Bay Tribal Hatchery, established in 1989, serves as a critical infrastructure for native fish population restoration and stockpiling of at-risk species (lake/brook trout and walleye) within Lake Superior and adjacent streams. The goal is to automate and install lighting, feeding, and monitoring systems that can narrow the spawning season.

Students will learn about the importance, especially locally, of reliance on fisheries in terms of subsistence, economic impact, tourism, and the ecosystem. Students will evaluate the previously designed system and offer suggestions for improvements and optimization based on the experiments and analysis. Students will experience the impact of their talents and efforts moving beyond classroom learning activities coupled with cross-cultural exchange and experiences with an emphasis on under-represented cultures/communities.

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