College of Engineering in the news

How a massive fatberg went from sewer to science museum

Tracie Baker wasn’t sure what tools she would need for the dissection. Baker, an environmental toxicologist at Wayne State University, studies the presence and effects of toxins and endocrine-disrupting compounds in water. She’d cut up fish before, but never anything quite like the tangled mess of fats, oils, grease, and trash that had arrived in her lab. It was two 10-pound chunks of fatberg, taken from a massive sewer-clogging bolus. Baker figured she’d need gloves, probably the thick rubber kind people use for washing dishes, and elbow-length seemed safest. Beyond that, she says, “We weren’t exactly sure what was going to work.” Baker and her colleagues were trying to learn as much as they could about the fatberg, which had been hauled from a sewer in Clinton Township, a suburban Michigan community about 25 miles northeast of Detroit in Macomb County, while it was still fetid and fairly fresh. When they were done, it would be enshrined in a new exhibit at the Michigan Science Center. Pieces of the fatberg were worth keeping around for analysis because “so few fatbergs have been characterized,” Baker says. With the exception of a handful extracted in London, studied with gas chromatography or forensically prodded in front of television cameras, the usual approach to them is, “Let’s get this out of here, throw it in the trash, and move on,” Baker says. Along with her Wayne State colleague Carol Miller, a civil and environmental engineer, Baker applied for National Science Foundation funding to take a closer look at the Macomb County fatberg. The team wanted to know exactly what the mess was made of and how it might affect the ecosystem both inside and outside of the sewer.
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Expert says 'quite a bit' of contamination left behind causing green ooze in Madison Heights

We’re getting a clearer picture of what’s causing the green ooze toxic contamination that is flowing from the closed Electro-Plating Services site in Madison Heights and onto I-696. State and federal officials have said rainwater and groundwater flowing through a vat in the basement caused Hexavalent Chromium to leak out. Bill Shuster takes it a step further telling 7 Action News, “This water is picking up the contaminants that are still in the soil there.” Shuster is the Chair of the Wayne State University Civil and Environmental Engineering Department. The EPA spent $1.4 million to do a massive cleanup inside the facility after the state shut it down in 2016. How much contamination was left behind? Shuster speculated, “We would have to look at the data and analyze what’s in the affluent. Well, the gut instinct there was quite a bit left in there.” Shuster says the green ooze is colored by a marker added to the cancer causing Hexavalent Chromium. And he says options to prevent trouble after the cleanup included excavating the vat, making sure it is not coming in contact with groundwater and he says, “I probably would have capped it, ensured that water wouldn’t be getting in from the top. Into the pit. I can’t criticize EPA or MEDQ EGLE but if I was in charge, these are the things I would be looking at.”
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New research aims to improve oral delivery of insulin

According to the Diabetes Research Institute Foundation, the disease is increasing at an alarming rate in the United States, with an estimated 30.3 million people currently with diabetes. Oral insulin is potentially prescribed to patients diagnosed with diabetes to improve their quality of life. However, current oral protein formulations of insulin face multiple obstacles during their gastrointestinal transport and absorption, resulting in lower therapeutic benefits. This includes difficulty penetrating the intestinal mucus layer and the epithelial cell layer to reach the blood. While scientists have made improvements in mucus-penetrating and absorption-enhancing technologies, current oral doses of protein drugs to treat diabetes remains low in absorption and bioavailability, and can increase the risk of leaky gut, autoimmune disease, bacterial infections and inflammatory bowel diseases. Therefore, there is an urgent need for a safe and efficient oral delivery technology that will enhance protein transport, and to increase oral insulin with high bioavailability. With the help of a $1.7 million grant from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases of the National Institutes of Health, a team of researchers in Wayne State's College of Engineering will explore ways to address these issues. "The goal of our project is to develop a highly promising oral insulin that will be a life-changing treatment for diabetes patients," said Zhiqiang Cao, Ph.D., associate professor of chemical engineering and materials science, and graduate program director in the College of Engineering at Wayne State University. "We also hope to develop knowledge of how our delivery platform can address multiple barriers for oral protein delivery above and beyond insulin. This will have the potential to impact and enhance a broad range of oral protein drugs." Cao and his collaborators will aim to develop a mechanism for a novel insulin delivery system that effectively address the above issues.

Bringing the student startup dream to life at Wayne State

Armed with care packages, clothes and clinical supplies, medical students in Detroit are learning outside the classroom. They are putting their knowledge and boots to the pavement, providing free health care to the city's homeless. Each week, students under the supervision of a registered physician or nurse practitioner get on their bikes and look for those in need. Programs such as Michigan State University's Detroit Street Care, Wayne State University's Street Medicine Detroit and the University of Michigan's Wolverine Street Medicine work together to treat as many of the city's homeless as possible. Jedidiah Bell, a fourth-year med student at Wayne State University and president of Street Medicine Detroit, says seeing issues from lack of health care access in his home country of Zimbabwe made him want to participate. "When I moved to the states for university and medical school, I saw the similar things [lack of access] with the homeless population," said Bell. "When I saw street medicine, I appreciated the model of how can we take medical care to the street and build up trust to bridge the gap between the homeless and the medical world." While the programs provide a vital service to the community, Bell says the real-world experience teaches students things the classroom or clinic can't. "It teaches medical students to hone-in on, not just medical conditions of patients, but to be able to sit down and form relationships and discuss other things that might be contributing to [patients'] health but might not come up during a traditional medical encounter." Bell says there's a widespread belief that the "students take away more from people on the streets than they take away from us." Anneliese Petersen, a second-year medical student at Wayne State University and volunteer with Street Medicine Detroit, says the experience also shows upcoming medical professionals another side of health -- the social determinants. "Things that are not strictly medical-based but have a strong impact on health and well-being. Income, access to health care, access to medication, being able to eat well, sleep well, to be able to relax and not be under chronic stress."
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Lego starts recycling program for unwanted bricks

Danish toymaker Lego is testing a new way for customers to return their unwanted bricks in an effort to move closer to its goal of switching to 100 percent sustainable materials in the next decade. U.S. customers can now print out a mailing label on its site, dump their used Lego bricks in a box and ship them off for free, the company announced. The pieces will be cleaned, put in a box and given to Teach for America, a nonprofit that will donate them to classrooms across the United States. Some bricks will be sent to the Boys & Girls Clubs of Boston for its after-school programs. In 2015, the Lego Group announced its ambition to use 100 percent sustainable materials in both its bricks and packaging by 2030. Now the company is speeding up that plan, announcing that it's aiming for 100 percent sustainable packaging by 2025 in an effort to make a "positive impact on the lives of children, our colleagues, our community and the planet." Plastic does not disintegrate. It breaks into smaller pieces, called microplastics, and can be eaten by animals and fish, putting their health at serious risk. It's a problem in all bodies of water, from the oceans to the Great Lakes. Earlier this year, Wayne State University was given a $1 million grant to hopefully find a solution to microplastics.
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Researchers progressing in fatberg study

A fatberg discovered in a Macomb County sewer had led to a more introspective look on the subject, courtesy of a pair of Wayne State University researchers. Barely more than a year ago, Macomb County Public Works Commissioner Candice Miller stood at a podium and discussed how a 100-foot long, 19-ton fatberg was discovered in a sewer 50 feet underground as part of the Lakeshore Interceptor along Interstate 94. A few months later, Wayne State University researchers acquired an $86,000 National Science Foundation grant that has allowed them to study how fats, oil and greases, or FOGs, lend themselves toward these environmental blobs. It also helps compile a model, aimed to predict future situations when fatbergs might arise — not just in Macomb County, but anywhere. “We’ve been working very closely with the Macomb County Department of Public Works to investigate the whole fatberg phenomena,” said Carol Miller, professor of civil and environmental engineering and director of Healthy Urban Waters at WSU. “Macomb County has been really helpful, and we have a wealth of information regarding system characters, and data regarding pressure flows of pipes before and after the fatberg.” Carol Miller works alongside Tracie Baker, assistant professor in WSU’s Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. Their research as part of the grant will continue for about another four months.
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Notable Women In Education Leadership

The women featured in this Notable Women in Education Leadership report were selected by a team of Crain’s Detroit Business editors based on their career accomplishments, track record of success in the field, contributions to their community and mentorship of others, as outlined in a detailed nomination form. Wayne State University awardees included: Monica Brockmeyer, senior associate provost for student success; Jennifer Lewis, associate professor of mathematics education and executive director, educator excellence, Detroit public schools community district; and Toni Somers, associate dean and professor at the Mike Ilitch School of Business.
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How to make sure your water filter really removes lead

A problem with high levels of lead in Newark’s drinking water led the city last year to distribute water filters to residents. But that plan hit a snag this week when the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) alerted the city that drinking water in two of three homes it tested still had high levels of lead, despite the filters. The EPA advised Newark residents to stop drinking tap water and urged the city to supply bottled water instead (though that solution also ran into problems when the city learned some of the water had passed its expiration date). Filters certified to remove lead must undergo rigorous testing by NSF or other labs. The Water Quality Association, for instance, tests the filters with water contaminated at 150 parts per billion—10 times higher than the EPA’s action level of 15 ppb. Researchers in Flint even pushed filters to the extreme, testing with water contaminated to 1,000 ppb, and found they still removed all lead from the water. The filters distributed in Newark were activated carbon filters certified to remove lead. But not all filters can do that. “Activated carbon has a lot of surface area with nooks and crannies where chemicals can stick,” says Shawn McElmurry, a Wayne State University professor who did extensive field research during the Flint water crisis. “But it’s not infinite.” To add to the chaos, McElmurry says there could be other contaminants in the water competing for those attachment sites. And if some of those contaminants have more mass or energy, they could knock some lead loose—like throwing softballs at your Velcro wall of tennis balls. Faucet-mount filters, like those used in Flint and Newark, typically cost $20 to $40 and require several installation steps that can go awry. “These filters are not easy to get onto the faucets,” McElmurry says. “We found that a lot of people in Flint with arthritis or poor motor function in their hands couldn’t attach them.” 
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Michigan Mobility Institute begins crafting curriculum in partnership with Wayne State

Michigan Mobility Institute executive director Jessica Robinson says the process of creating a first-of-its-kind Master of Mobility degree is "well underway," thanks to the institute's new partnership with Wayne State University. The institute made headlines earlier this year when it announced its intention to create the high-level educational credential in mobility. Robinson says Wayne State's College of Engineering was an ideal inaugural educational partner to collaborate with in creating the coursework and formal structure for the degree. Wayne State's existing dual focus on both cutting-edge research work and connecting its grads to jobs in the field also is a plus. WSU professors are already working on classes that are applicable to next-generation mobility careers, which will form an important base upon which to build a regimen of highly specialized mobility coursework. Wayne State will provide the Michigan Mobility Institute's physical campus for the time being. Other space needs may arise with time, and if they do Robinson says the institute will work with WSU and other partners to create them.
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Wayne State University, Michigan Mobility Institute launch new mobility center

Wayne State University and the Michigan Mobility Institute announced their collaborative design of the Center for Advanced Mobility and curriculum on Monday. The expanding engineering curriculum will offer programs focusing on "autonomous driving, connectivity, smart infrastructure and electrification," according to a news release from the Center for Advanced Mobility at Wayne State University. The center will be part of the university's Industry Innovation Centers and is set to launch in the fall. "This will be a leading global center for the future of mobility," said Farshad Fotouhi, dean of the College of Engineering. "The Center for Advanced Mobility will be the epicenter for academic and startup activity in the mobility sector for students, researchers, and global corporate partners in Detroit." The college also plans to offer a Master of Science in Robotics in the fall of 2020.
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Water stays in the pipes longer in shrinking cities – a challenge for public health

Shawn P. McElmurry, Wayne State University associate professor of civil and environmental engineering; Nancy Love, University of Michigan professor of civil and environmental engineering; and Richard Jackson, professor emeritus of environmental health sciences, University of California, Los Angeles, wrote an article for The Conversation. “The geographic locations where Americans live are shifting in ways that can negatively affect the quality of their drinking water. Cities that experience long-term, persistent population decline are called shrinking cities. Urban shrinkage can be bad for drinking water in two ways: through aging infrastructure and reduced water demand. Major federal and state investments in U.S. drinking water occurred after the World Wars and through the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund created by the 1996 amendments to the Safe Drinking Water Act. Many of the pipes and treatment plants built with those funds are now approaching or have exceeded the end of their expected lifespan. Shrinking cities often don’t have the tax base to pay for maintenance and replacement needs. So the infrastructure, which is largely underground, out of sight and out of mind, deteriorates largely outside of the public eye…Despite all its accomplishments, the Safe Drinking Water Act is an imperfect law. Simply relying upon and then communicating about a water quality parameter that “meets all regulatory standards” – as per the law – is an inadequate way to communicate about water quality, as you can see in Flint.”
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Michigan Mobility Institute, Wayne State partner on advanced mobility curriculum

The Michigan Mobility Institute announced the world’s first advanced mobility education curriculum for the sector Tuesday in partnership with Wayne State University’s College of Engineering. The organizations said in a joint Tuesday announcement that they’ll begin developing programming to power mobility careers in the months ahead. Kim Trent, chair of the Wayne State University Board of Governors, said in a statement that the partnership with the Michigan Mobility Institute could help extend Detroit’s 100 years of history in mobility innovation into the 21st century and beyond. “I couldn’t be more thrilled that the futurists behind the Detroit Mobility Lab and the Michigan Mobility Institute have chosen Wayne State as their partner. This Institute will make our university a world leading center for cutting-edge thinking and leadership for this critically important emerging sector.” Wayne State’s College of Engineering offers a graduate certificate in cyberphysical systems, a program in electric drive vehicle engineering and a newly developed master of science degree in data science and business analytics. “Together we are poised to create something very special as we embark on a shared mission to create the premiere institution focused on educating the mobility engineer of the future,” Farshad Fotouhi, dean of the College of Engineering and computer science professor said. 
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How technology is bridging gaps between healthcare and underserved populations

Steven Ondersma discovered that "only a very small proportion, maybe 10 percent" of the people who need professional care realize that need and have the means to address it. "I've just become really interested in having whole-population effects, rather than helping a few people who might be ready to make use of the treatment and have access to that treatment," says Ondersma, deputy director of the Merrill Palmer Skillman Institute at Wayne State University. Ondersma and others in Michigan who are interested in addressing the social determinants of health have increasingly turned to technology as an answer to that question. Weisong Shi, professor of computer science at Wayne State envisions the potential for technology to bring a doctor's office to those more remote patients. He proposes a vehicle, "just like an ice cream truck," that would allow people to get basic physical tests in their communities, with the results being transmitted back to a provider's office. "You can go to this rural area and ... run these checks without asking these people to drive about 50 miles away to go to a hospital to do this kind of test," Shi says. Asthma disproportionately affects African-Americans nationwide, but in Detroit the problem is particularly pronounced – and often an emergency situation. Karen MacDonell, associate professor in Wayne State’s School of Medicine, has been using technology to improve those outcomes with the Detroit Young Adult Asthma Project. Funded by a series of National Institutes of Health grants, MacDonell began the project over 10 years ago by interviewing young African-American Detroiters about their asthma. She asked participants what strategies would help them adhere to their medication before an emergency arose. "Long story short, they wanted something using technology – something they could have with them, something easy to manage, something brief," she says. MacDonell developed a text messaging program that collects information about a patient's asthma and then sends the patient conversational messages encouraging medication use.
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Mother of 8 to graduate from Wayne State with engineering degree

Najat Machiche is a wife, working mom of eight kids and is now graduating with an engineering degree from Wayne State University.  “I go to work, I drop off the kids at school, I come from work, I go exercising, I take my kids to do activities, I cook for my kids,” she said describing a typical day. Najat has been going to Wayne State University to achieve her life-long dream of getting an electrical engineering degree. “It’s my second chance here," she said. She’s a working mom who decided to go back to school five years ago when her father came to visit from Morocco, where her entire family still live. 

Wayne State smart manufacturing center partners with HERE Technologies

Wayne State University and HERE Technologies have announced an agreement to partner on various industry projects, create education curriculums, and develop solutions with other technology providers at the Wayne State Smart Manufacturing Development Center (SMDC). “Wayne State University is at the heart of Detroit’s resurgence. The campus is growing, the curriculums are being tuned to the needs of the future workforce and we’re aligning to new industry principles such as Industry 5.0,” said Joseph Kim, professor of industrial & systems engineering at Wayne State University. “HERE’s expertise in navigation and location will help us bring practical experiences and real-life business situations to students and provide them an opportunity to see how location technology is applied to customers in the industrial sector.” 
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Wayne State to offer artificial intelligence certification courses

Wayne State University is partnering with Ann Arbor’s Amesite Inc., an artificial intelligence software company, to create new online professional certificate programs intended to further skills in artificial intelligence and blockchain. The programs are tailored to those in engineering, law, health care, accounting, and business. “These training modules are being developed to address the gap that exists between academia and industry,” says Farshad Fotouhi, dean of the College of Engineering at WSU. “Our expert instructors, in conjunction with Amesite staff members, will deliver the six-week courses and be available to answer any questions the participants may have.” One of the classes, Blockchain: Cutting Edge Data Management, will teach students the fundamentals of data storage, including security and privacy issues, regulatory questions, and ways to increase efficiency and reduce costs. The class starts March 18 and runs through April 21.
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Macomb County's 'fatberg' donated for research at Wayne State University

“Although FOG blockages have been known for many years, our understanding of their detailed chemical structure and formation mechanisms is lacking due to limited real-time and in-place data,” Carol Miller, professor of civil and environmental engineering and director of Healthy Urban Waters at Wayne State University, said. “The formation and planned removal of such a massive FOG blockage presents a rare opportunity to study these formations, and funding received from the National Science Foundation will help our efforts in this regard," said Miller. 
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$1M grant to fight Great Lakes growing microplastic problem

Could the solution to microplastic pollution come from Wayne State University? Principal researcher Yongli Zhang, an assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering, certainly hopes so. With the help of a recently awarded grant totaling $929,000 from the Great Lakes Protection Fund, Zhang will lead a team of engineers and biologists in mitigating the micro-contaminants from entering the water. "The issue of plastic pollution, and more specifically microplastic pollution, is beginning to get more attention," said Zhang in a press release. "However, this is still a relatively new issue for more people, and a great deal of research and outreach is still needed to make positive changes to public awareness and engagement.”
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Cardiosound wades into blood pressure monitoring

Turning a university research project into a for-profit company typically takes a veteran of the startup ecosystem, someone familiar with defining market opportunity and figuring out how to find customers in that market and make them pay for what you have. That was true for Cardiosound LLC, which formally launched in August. The company grew from efforts by Gaurav Kapur, a physician and associate professor of pediatrics at Wayne State, to find a better way to measure blood pressure, particularly in infants, where current methods are notoriously inaccurate. Kapur reached out to some colleagues at WSU — Sean Wu, a professor of mechanical engineering; Yong Xu, a professor of electrical and computer engineering; and William Lyman, a professor of pediatrics.