CMU College of Science and Engineering Spring 2024

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SPRING • 2024

Dear CMU Science and Engineering Family,

I hope you enjoy this edition of our newsletter, which primarily focuses on the incredible students and alumni of the College of Science & Engineering.

You will be impressed by the story of alum Mike Visscher, who utilized an accelerated MS degree program to earn two degrees from CSE. Mike works at a civil engineering consulting firm, where he leads projects at the intersection of environmental science and engineering. He cites hands-on student learning experiences as key to his successful transition to the professional world.

Student research remains a fundamental part of CMU’s “We Do” ethos in CSE. You’ll read about graduate students Justin Placido and Irin Sultana traveling to Finland to use a special accelerator to understand the role of radioactive isotopes in neutron stars. Yasna Mortezaei is running experiments to determine how current wastewater treatment processes affect the growing problem of antibiotic resistance. Important biological research is also being done by Cody Morrison and Madelyn Offer, who are studying a family of proteins called copines and the link between genetic mutations and autism, respectively. A team of graduate and undergraduate students in Dr. Jennifer Schisa’s lab is putting a new confocal microscope to use in solving critical problems in reproductive biology.

Other practical learning experiences abound in CSE. In a few short years, Mid-Mitten Weather View has grown from an idea of three meteorology students to a respected and widely-used community resource. Our InSciTE program is finishing its second year and has significantly impacted the first two cohorts of students. Engagement in scientific conferences continues to be an essential component of student development, as evidenced by the participation of physics majors Savannah Limarenko and Savannah Nahodil in the recent Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics.

Finally, we have established a Student Advisory Board with representation from every department in the college. This is a new way for the students to reflect on their academic and co-curricular activities in CSE and share their perspectives directly with my office. I’m excited about the observations and ideas coming from the Board in its initial semester.

Enjoy the summer, and as always, Fire Up Chips!

Dave Ford, Dean College of Science and Engineering


PHOTO: A stunning composite photo of April’s total solar eclipse. CMU Physics faculty member, Axel Mellinger, traveled all the way to Poplar Bluff, MO with his telescope to ensure clear skies for this incredible event. During the partial eclipse, he used a solar filter that reflects 99.999% of incoming light. But for the 4 minutes of totality, he removed the filter. The image is a composite of 12 individual frames with exposure times ranging from 1/4000 s to 1 second. This helped capture the dynamic range in light intensity. And how about that giant reddish solar “prominence” near the 4 o’clock position? It was visible to the naked eye! He even used this image in his PHY 131 and PHY 146 classes to dive into some fascinating history in physics. Did you know that in 1919, expeditions were sent out to observe the deflection of starlight near the sun’s limb? It was all part of Albert Einstein’s theory on general relativity.

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The College of Science and Engineering Student Advisory Board was formed this academic year to provide student perspective and guidance to the College, improve student experiences, and foster a sense of community. These students bring diverse and unique perspectives and experiences to the board. The students were nominated by their department chairs. The CSE Student Advisory Board has developed activities for the upcoming year and will contribute to implementing the CSE Strategic Plan.

Meet this year’s board: YEAR, MAJOR


Jasmine Asberry

Izabel Colliton

Emma Doederlein

Ameer Hicks

Pushkal Kafley

Savannah Limarenko

Ekenedilichukwu Osiri

Grace Osiri

Brady Whalen

Biology: Biochemistry, Cell and Molecular Biology

Environmental Sciences

Mathematics and Biochemistry

Mechanical Engineering

Computer Science

Astronomy and Astrophysics


Data Sciences

Geography: Urban and Community Planning

Pictured (left to right): Savannah Limarenko, Ekenedilichukwu Osiri, Grace Osiri, Brady Whalen, Jasmine Asberry, Izabel Colliton, Emma Doederlein, Ameer Hicks. Not pictured: Pushkal Kafley.

Recent advancements in scientific endeavors have turned the once fantastical aspirations of alchemy into tangible realities. Through meticulous techniques, nuclear scientists have achieved the transmutation of elements, a process both remarkable and complex. This transformative ability is now integrated into various practical and scientific applications.

As an example, on a practical front, this mastery allows for the conversion of oxygen atoms into radioactive forms of fluorine, facilitating advanced cancer diagnostics via medical imaging. Conversely, from a purely scientific standpoint, these techniques offer insights into the creation of atomic nuclei not naturally occurring on Earth, illuminating the fundamental properties of nuclear forces and their impact on natural processes.

Illustrating this scientific pursuit, a team of physicists from CMU embarked on a journey to a particle accelerator laboratory in Finland. Their mission? To develop methodologies for generating radioactive isotopes of chlorine and phosphorus,

Nuclear scientists travel to Finland to research methods of generating radioactive isotopes

integral to nuclear reaction chains theorized to heat the crust of neutron stars in binary star systems, as suggested by astrophysical models.

The process begins with subjecting original atoms to a particle accelerator, imparting sufficient energy to induce collisions with target atoms. These collisions trigger reactions that alter the composition of the atoms’ cores, producing isotopes of different chemical elements. Often, these resulting isotopes are unstable, undergoing radioactive decay to attain stability. Thus, experimentation with such isotopes necessitates their artificial production within specialized laboratory settings.

Given the specialized equipment required, nuclear physicists often embark on expeditions to remote laboratories housing the necessary experimental tools. Notably, the JYFL Accelerator Laboratory at the University of Jyvaskyla, Finland, has pioneered the IGISOL technique for generating beams of radioactive isotopes, positioning itself as a leading European hub for unstable isotope research.

Under the leadership of CMU’s Prof. Alfredo Estrade and Dr. Olga Beliuskina, a postdoctoral researcher from the University of Jyvaskyla, an experiment was conducted to explore the application of this technique to a novel type of nuclear reaction. This involved the exchange of neutrons and protons between atoms in a lead foil and an argon beam bombarding it, with the aim of isolating short-lived chlorine and phosphorus isotopes for mass measurement.

Accompanying the researchers were two CMU graduate students, Justin Placido and Irin Sultana, who contributed to experiment preparation and execution during the four-day beamtime. Sultana’s trip was part of a researcher exchange program funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation. The other CMU participants were funded by a Department of Energy Grant.

While preliminary results suggest the presence of radioactive isotopes in the beam, conclusive findings and the subsequent phase of the project await months of data analysis.

CMU Honors Faculty for Exemplary Contributions to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Efforts for Students

Two faculty members from the College of Science and Engineering at CMU have been honored for their significant contributions to fostering diversity, equity, and inclusion within the academic community.

Dr. Anja Mueller, from the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, has been awarded the prestigious 2024 Dr. Diane E. Newby Award for Inclusive Excellence in Education. This award is bestowed upon individuals who exhibit unwavering dedication to advancing inclusive practices, equitable opportunities, and just policies within educational settings. Dr. Mueller’s tireless efforts in creating inclusive classrooms and ensuring accessibility to chemistry education for all students have been recognized as exemplary.

In addition, Dr. Xantha Karp, from the Department of Biology, has been distinguished with the 2024 Stan L. Shingles Award for Distinction in Mentorship. This award celebrates mentors who cultivate nurturing learning environments grounded in principles of diversity, equity, inclusion, and social justice. Dr. Karp’s research lab stands as a beacon of inclusivity and belonging, where students are supported throughout their academic journeys. Furthermore, Dr. Karp’s commitment to fostering inclusivity and equity extends beyond her mentorship role, evident in her teaching and service contributions to the Department and University at large.

Both Dr. Mueller and Dr. Karp’s recognition underscores their significant impact in championing diversity, equity, and inclusion within the academic sphere, enriching the educational experience for all members of the CMU community.

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From left to right: Xantha Karp, Matthew Wirick (& son), Benjamin Quesada, Itzel Rosas Gutiérrez, Jasmine Asberry, Madlyn Morton, Evan Linkowski, Anuja Dahal, Regan Kopesky, Nehul Tanna.


CMU students weather the forecasting frontier with Mid-Mitten Weather View

In the spring of 2021, a simple request from CMU Athletics sparked a revolution in weather forecasting at Central Michigan University. What began as a small endeavor to provide forecasting support for baseball games quickly snowballed into a full-fledged student organization dedicated to serving the community with timely and accurate weather information.

Driven by a passion for meteorology and a desire to expand their reach, three ambitious students – Scott Thomas, Isaac Cleland, and John Jones – took the reins to formalize their efforts. They drafted a constitution, navigated the bureaucratic maze, and successfully registered their brainchild as a Recognized Student Organization in the fall of 2022. Thus, Mid-Mitten Weather View was born, and it has been steadily gaining momentum ever since.

With a current membership of around 25 students, the group has become a beacon of collaboration and innovation within CMU’s meteorology program.

Their mission, succinctly put, is to provide vital weather information to the public, empowering them to make informed decisions and stay safe in the face of ever-changing atmospheric conditions.

One of their most notable achievements has been the establishment of a training program to ensure the proficiency of new forecasters. Technical workflows have been fine-tuned, schedules have been meticulously organized, and the group’s output now includes a weekly weather column in the local Morning Sun Newspaper.

But Mid-Mitten Weather View’s impact extends far beyond the confines of campus. Graduates of the program, such as Scott Thomas and Isaac Cleland, have landed prestigious forecasting jobs at institutions like the National Weather Service and ABC 12. Others have found success in the private sector, working for companies like DTE and WeatherNet. Additionally, the group serves as a valuable training ground for

students pursuing internships in weather writing, providing them with real-world experience and exposure to a broad audience.

What truly sets Mid-Mitten Weather View apart, however, is its commitment to the community. In a region devoid of local TV news stations, the group has emerged as the primary source of weather forecasts, delivering crucial updates year-round. When severe weather strikes, their student forecasters spring into action, providing live discussions and minute-by-minute storm updates to keep residents informed and safe.

Through their dedication and ingenuity, Mid-Mitten Weather View has not only filled a void in the local media landscape but has also nurtured a new generation of meteorologists equipped with the skills and knowledge to tackle the challenges of tomorrow. As they continue to grow and evolve, one thing remains clear – the future of weather forecasting in Mt. Pleasant is in good hands.

CMU engineers dive into the impact of anaerobic digestion on health and environment

Researchers in the School of Engineering and Technology at CMU are embarking on an important mission to understand how certain methods used to treat sewage affect our environment and health. Environmental Engineering faculty member Maggie Williams, School of Engineering and Technology Director Goksel Demirer, and graduate student Yasna Mortezaei are studying a process called anaerobic digestion, which is like a big composting system for waste. They want to see how things like temperature and time impact two key things: antibiotic resistance (which makes infections harder to treat) and the production of biogas, a type of renewable energy.

To do this, they’re collecting samples of sludge from different places where sewage is treated.

Then, in their lab, they’re running experiments to see how changing conditions affect the way bacteria, antibiotic resistance, and biogas behave during anaerobic digestion.

Using advanced tools like DNA testing and gas analysis, they’re keeping a close eye on how these tiny organisms and gases change under different conditions. This is crucial because antibiotics used in industries like farming and medicine end up in our sewage, where they can cause problems like antibiotic resistance.

This research matters a lot because antibiotic resistance is becoming a big problem worldwide. If we don’t do something about it, it could lead to millions of deaths each year by 2050. Wastewater treatment plants, where sewage gets cleaned, are key spots

where these resistant genes can hang around.

Anaerobic digestion, which is part of sewage treatment, can be a good thing because it helps manage waste and produces renewable energy. But if we don’t manage it well, these antibiotic-resistant genes could end up back in our food, making things worse.

The CMU team hopes their work will not only help us understand how anaerobic digestion affects antibiotic resistance and biogas, but also give us practical tips on how to do it better. By finding ways to tackle antibiotic resistance while improving biogas production, they’re aiming to make our waste treatment more sustainable and keep us healthier in the long run.

BUILDING BRILLIANCE: A Year of Triumphs and Transformations

InSciTE (Integration of Science, Technology and Engineering)

We’ve had a fantastic year with our InSciTE program. As we spend some time reflecting through the academic year, some highlights stand out:

• We took our first cohort of InSciTE students up to Beaver Island for a 3-day retreat centered on STEM professional development.

• We built our float for the CMU Homecoming parade.

• We recruited a second cohort of InSciTE students that started with us in January 2024. We have 47 new students from 21 majors!

• Demographics from both InSciTE cohorts combined (right)

• We awarded 11 scholarships to help offset the costs of InSciTE courses.

• We submitted several federal grant proposals to help cover the costs of the InSciTE program and support our culture of belonging.

• We started a peer-mentoring program, with InSciTE 2 students mentoring InSciTE 1 students.

• We had our first networking events with external regional companies and boards.

• We had both InSciTE 1 and InSciTE 2 courses offered all Spring that are wrapping up now with a public poster session (for InSciTE 1) and a film festival (for InSciTE 2).

Demographics of White Middle Eastern/Northern African American Indian/ Alaska Native Asian American Latina/Hispanic African American/ Black Broad Racial Group Membership Historically marginalized

Transformations in the Engineering) Program

the first 2 cohorts

• First generation: 26%

Financial risk: 24%

• Parents income <30K: 12%


• Learning disability: 10%

Physical impairment: 15%

• ADD/ADHD: 13%

• Psychiatric/psychological: 23% (depression, anxiety)

Here are a few quotes from our InSciTE students that capture what this program represents to them:

“InSciTE emulates real world work experience because we are from vastly different majors. It gives you the transferable skills that match up with your technical skills. InSciTE gives you unique opportunities at CMU. I would have never had a lot of opportunities that I’ve had without InSciTE.” InSciTE 2 student

“Reflecting back on my old reflection homework I see a student who was really scared […]I have truly learned so much in this past semester about how to apply STEM ideas in a real life environment that mimics the environment I am going to have to work in one day.” InSciTE 1 student

“We, as InSciTE students, are not regular students. We are regular students that have been trusted and given opportunities.” InSciTE 2 student

“Problem solving is what you get out of it [InSciTE]. The InSciTE certificate not only teaches you how to work with other people, but also to group problem solve, to look at something from perspectives other than your own.” InSciTE 1 student

“InSciTE helps get those real life science skills that I can apply when I go to grad school or go into the workforce, and all the research opportunities to be able to study what you want to study […] is such an amazing opportunity” InSciTE 1 student

“InSciTE is my safe place, where I can truly be myself and learn how to be the best scientist I can be.” InSciTE 2 student

No 17% Yes 83% Historically marginalized in STEM SOCIO-ECONOMIC STATUS

CMU undergraduate physicists excel at CUWIP conference, engage with renowned scientist Jocelyn Bell Burnell

Last month, the Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics (CUWIP) at the University of Michigan had two budding CMU undergraduate physicists in attendance, Savannah Limarenko and Savannah Nahodil.

Nahodil is conducting research at CMU that delves into the fascinating realm of meteorites. Using

x-ray testing, she analyzed unknown samples, ultimately identifying them as meteorites. By comparing their chemical composition to known asteroid compositions and stellar spectra, Nahodil aims to unlock insights into the composition of the presolar nebula and interstellar medium at the solar system’s formation.

fundamentally altering our understanding of the universe.

In reflecting on the conference, both Limarenko and Nahodil expressed gratitude for the chance to interact with Bell Burnell and other trailblazing women physicists. Bell Burnell herself commended the conference for its role in fostering the next generation of female scientists, remarking on the excitement of seeing so many young women passionate about physics.

The CUWIP conference served as a platform not only for scientific exchange but also for inspiration and mentorship, reaffirming the importance of nurturing diversity and inclusivity within the field of physics.

Meanwhile, Limarenko, who was able to showcase her research at the conference, is working on the Central Michigan High Precision Penning Trap (CHIP-TRAP), a cutting-edge tool designed to accurately measure the mass of unstable and long-lived isotopes. Her focus lies in simulating ejection optics for CHIP-TRAP, which could significantly enhance our understanding of ion capture and transport within the trap.

However, the highlight of the conference wasn’t just the presentations. Both Savannahs had the unique opportunity to engage with keynote speaker Jocelyn Bell Burnell, a renowned astrophysicist celebrated for her discovery of pulsars. Bell Burnell’s groundbreaking work, which began as a Ph.D. student in the 1960’s, uncovered the enigmatic signals emitted by rapidly rotating neutron stars,

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Student researches copine-A’s role, shedding light on cellular processes and cancer functions

Central Michigan’s second-year Ph.D. student Cody Morrison is working alongside Cynthia Damer, Ph.D., in the Biochemistry, Cellular, and Molecular Biology Program (BCMB) to study a family of proteins called copines found in the soil-dwelling amoeba, Dictyostelium discoideum. Dictyostelium are single-celled

organisms, and the Damer lab uses them as model organisms to study and understand cancer cells and cellular processes in humans, who also have copine proteins.

Their research is mainly focused on a protein called copine-A and how it might regulate cellular processes. Through the use of molecular techniques, such as western blotting and RNA sequencing, the Damer lab hopes to elucidate the role copine-A may play in cellular signaling, development, and calcium regulation. Through the use of genetic mutants, they can observe phenotypic differences in cellular processes like growth and signaling inside the amoeba. The researchers in the Damer lab believe that through further research they will be able to develop a better understanding of how cancer functions inside the human body, considering that humans have similar copine proteins.

If you wish to know more about their research, they currently have two manuscripts submitted that should be available for viewing within the next year.

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In a groundbreaking move, Jennifer Schisa’s Biosciences laboratory has propelled itself into the forefront of scientific discovery with the acquisition of a specialized Zeiss Apotome 3 microscope system, made possible by a generous $100,000 supplemental grant from the National Institutes of Health. The installation of this state-of-theart fluorescence microscope marks the beginning of an exciting chapter, as researchers and students eagerly embark on a journey into uncharted territories of cellular structures and protein dynamics.

This cutting-edge technology not only expands the scope of visualizable fluorescently-tagged proteins but also boasts high-resolution imaging capabilities comparable to confocal microscopes. What sets it apart is its user-friendly design, making it accessible to students who are actively engaged in data collection to finalize a groundbreaking publication.

The newfound capabilities of the microscope have revolutionized the possibilities within the lab, enabling students to undertake experiments that were previous-

ly impossible.

The advanced technology has opened the door to answering new questions as researchers explore the intricate world of proteins, unhampered by previous technological constraints.

Undergraduate researcher Christya Haddad is at the forefront of these groundbreaking experiments, investigating changes in the actin cytoskeleton under conditions where unusual protein granules form in eggs. The most effective fluorescent tag on actin, visible only at specific wavelengths, can now be used in the lab, providing crucial insights into the structural alterations triggering the formation of protein granules.

Ashley Cichon, another undergraduate, is shedding light on the formation of unusual granules in eggs, focusing on the Conserved Germline Helicase-1 protein. The Zeiss Apotome 3 microscope allows her to visualize this key protein for the first time in the lab, unraveling intricate processes within the eggs.

Graduate student Victoria Tice is delving into the consequences of unusual protein granules in

NIH grant allows biosciences lab to break new ground with cutting-edge microscope

eggs. Preliminary results indicate at least one gene in developing eggs is expressed earlier than usual when granules form, supporting the hypothesis that such granules may lead to low-quality eggs.

In a collaborative effort, a team of graduate and undergraduate students is embarking on a project to identify novel regulators of protein granules in eggs. Leveraging the microscope’s high resolution, they aim to efficiently examine approximately 100 genes within a few months, seeking to determine the genes influencing the formation of protein granules.

These experiments hold implications beyond academic curiosity. Researchers aspire to understand if the formation of unusual protein granules indeed results in low-quality eggs, with the ultimate goal of paving the way for new therapeutic interventions to enhance fertility in women. As the studies progress, the researchers plan to compile their findings into a manuscript for submission in the coming months, anticipating that their discoveries may shape the future of reproductive biology.

Grad student studies mutations linked to autism

Madelyn Offer, a neuroscience graduate student, is studying GRIN2B- related Neurodevelopmental Disorder which is linked to autism and intellectual disabilities. Offer’s research is focused on a specific mutation found in a patient with severe autism. By modeling this mutant and expressing them in rodent neurons, Offer can examine the mechanisms of the brain with the mutant.

Offer explains that when the mutation is expressed, the dendrite structures of the neuron do not appear normal. A healthy neuron should look similar to a tree with a long body (called the axon), the cell, and dendrites branching off the top. On the mutated dendrites, Offer says, “Sometimes [the dendrite] is underdeveloped and look younger than they should or looks dysmorphic. […] I like to describe it as like a hairball where the dendrites are all snarled and curled up together.”

The goal of Offer’s project is to find the mechanism connecting the mutant to the problems seen in the cells. Offer proposes that a family of proteins called Wnts are the mechanism connecting the dysfunction to dendrite problems. There are 19 Wnts found in humans that help communicate between different cells. Offer is looking at the secretions, localization, and downstream pathway activity of the proteins and if they are affected in the mutant cells.

Potentially, Wnts could be added into the mutated cells to increase dendrite function and maturity. This could then produce a targeted therapeutic approach for those with GRIN2B disease. Offer says, “My major goal in life is to keep learning and be able to learn something that could one day help a lot of people.”

Mapping success: CMU alum’s journey from GIS student to environmental consultant

From the fall of 2017 to the spring of 2022, Mike Visscher delved into the world of GIS and land use planning at CMU. With a keen interest in environmental studies and a passion for geography and under the guidance of dedicated professors who encouraged him to explore different avenues within his field, he grew more confident in his abilities.

Transitioning from student life to the workforce was a gradual process for Mike, facilitated by an accelerated GIS master’s program and hands-on training during his final semester. Extracurricular activities, such as helping out to kickstart the Geography and Environmental Studies club, further prepared him for the challenges of the professional world.

Upon graduation, Mike found himself at Fleis & Vandenbrink, a civil engineering consulting firm. Here, he discovered the dynamic intersection between environmental science and engineering, where his GIS expertise played a pivotal role. From analyzing historic contamination releases, to planning investigative drilling activities and assessing data from those events and eventually closing out Part 213 Sites, Mike embraced the diversity of his work, happy for the opportunity to continue learning.

Reflecting on his college experience, Mike recognized the invaluable lessons learned both inside and outside the classroom. Courses like Soil Science and Environmental Studies Capstone provided hands-on experiences and insights into real-world applications, while interactions with professors offered a glimpse into the professional world beyond academia. He highlighted how both aspects are important for entering the professional world.

Mike emphasized the power of connections and the importance of building a strong network to open doors to opportunities. “Truly get to know people and make sure to keep in touch because you never know when an internal referral can help connect you with an opportunity. Remember to back up that referral with your work ethic and willingness to take on challenges.”

Looking back on his time at CMU, Mike cherished memories of outdoor adventures with the Environmental Club and unforgettable trips to Beaver Island. Furthermore, Mike would like to thank the entire department, especially professors Becker, Heumann, and Francek, whose guidance and mentorship paved the way for his success.

Thank you so much for sharing your story, Mike! We are so excited to see what else you will accomplish and as always Fire Up!

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Your Philanthropic Investments Support Student Success

Philanthropy has the power to provide life-changing opportunities and transform the experience of our CMU Students. We are very fortunate in the College of Science and Engineering to have the support and dedication of our alumni and donors.

Investing in our students goes well beyond alleviating financial burdens. It empowers students to pursue their academic passions and helps to cultivate a nurturing community of future innovators. Philanthropic investments in CMU students has a far-reaching impact beyond their college career. Students who thrive while on CMU’s campus become agents of positive change in their communities and beyond, after they graduate from CMU. Your generosity sets off a chain reaction of inspiration and aspiration. You are investing in our students’ futures through your support of CMU and our programs.

To discuss how your philanthropic support can help aid in the success of our CMU students, please reach out to me at 989-774-2923 or

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