HS students intern with Tech researchers

Garrett Neese/Daily Mining Gazette Ferndale High School junior Alana Stein, center, works with Michigan Technological University Ph.D. student Arman Tatar, left and graduate student Alex Baker on a simulation of an earthquake’s effect on buildings during her week-long internship at Tech Thursday. Stein was one of 15 high-school students from across Michigan to take part in the program.

HOUGHTON — From converting grasses into biofuel or surveying fish in the Pilgrim River, high school students from around Michigan assisted Michigan Technological University researchers in week-long internships this week.

Fifteen students came to campus for the program, which concluded Friday.

The faculty’s department in which the student interns, along with the Colleges of Engineering and Science & Arts, provide the $600 scholarship for the student to cover transportation, lodging and meals.

Beyond their coursework, students also tour the campus and the Keweenaw.

Alana Stein, a junior from Ferndale High School in Ferndale, enjoyed the taste of college life.

Garrett Neese/Daily Mining Gazette Ferndale High School junior Alana Stein reviews readings she took Thursday morning from experiments involving a simulated earthquake.

“From my dorm room, I can see right out to the water off the highway,” she said.

She is a veteran of the program, doing a week of environmental engineering last year. This time, she decided to try structural engineering.

“A lot of kids signed up for the program, but not everybody can get into it,” she said. “Luckily I was able to get into it and have this experience.”

She served as an intern for Daniel Dowden, a civil engineering assistant professor investigating techniques to enable buildings to withstand earthquakes.

Building codes now require structures to be built for “life safety,” so that people can get out even if the building is on the verge of collapse, Dowden said. Stein worked with graduate student Alex Baker investigating conventional systems. She also looked at newer technologies being researched by Baker and Ph.D. student Arman Tatar, for structures built to withstand seismic shock. Using a cart on wheels, they simulated systems used in Japan and California to keep a building in place while the ground moves beneath it.

“After the earthquake, the idea is that the building can recenter, and it’s going to be easily repairable,” Dowden said.

They tested Kinex set models: mostly around four stories, some reaching eight. First they tested them on a table of Baker’s design, using a base made from a Kinex kit powered by a hand drill.

“With this, you cannot control the frequency, but it is good for demonstration and playing and coming up with innovative solutions,” Tatar said.

For that, they took it over to a more advanced shake table nearby. Unlike the drill-powered model, it allowed Tatar to change the force by altering the amplitude or frequency of the sine wave. He could also subject the model to historical earthquakes such as the 6.7-magnitude quake that hit Northridge, California, in 1994.

Testing a tension-brace model, they ran down frequencies. As it came closer to the natural resonance of the model, the structure grew more stressed, leaning and buckling like a dancing Coke can.

The program is an intuitive way for students to explore earthquake engineering and structural dynamics, Baker said.

“It’s very hands-on, a lot of learning things about structural dynamics you’d have to take a high-level engineering course for,” he said. “But things that can just be explained with some toys in the lab.”

The Michigan Tech Center for Science & Environmental Outreach partners with Tech’s Summer Youth Program, which provides logistical support and supervises the students in the residence halls.

Michigan Tech is one of the colleges Stein is considering attending. After this week, she’s leaning more towards structural engineering as a major, which may line up better with the high school courses she is taking.

Will she sign up for the program for another summer?

“As many times as I can,” she said.