October 3, 2011/CBS Detroit
By Matt Roush
Ferris State University, GLITR, Tech Tour Ferris State University is one of those schools that isn’t afraid to let its nerd flag fly.
Its roots are in a private vocational school, and it’s still in the two-year associate’s degree business in some technologies that are important to society but rarely degreed — rubber engineering technology, for instance.
My visit to Bulldog Country started with a presentation from Carl Shangraw, professor of surveying engineering. He walked me through all the stuff people know surveyors do — establishing legal boundaries — to the stuff people have no clue surveyors do, from setting up a local geocache to position offshore oil rigs to manage sophisticated geographic Information systems to helping design everything from tall buildings to freeways to railroads.
Surveying can be used to remote-control farm and road building machinery — something that Shangraw said has not yet taken off in Michigan but apparently has elsewhere.
Of particular interest to Ferris is hydrographic mapping — surveying the bottom of bodies of water. Gone are the days of guys in small boats with weighted ropes measuring depths. These are the days of stereoscopic sonar. Ferris is working with Northwestern Michigan College in Traverse City to create a hydrographic surveying system out of NMC’s maritime academy boat.
Shangraw said he and a couple of Ferris students spent last summer for the National Park Service, mapping the bottomlands between Sleeping Bear Dunes and the Manitou Islands. Among their discoveries — what appears to be an ancient river bottom in Good Harbor Bay, marking a river that emptied into a smaller ancient Lake Michigan when the shoreline was several miles farther west than today’s lake.
Shangraw said the Ferris surveying engineering degree program now has 75 students, down from 125 a few years ago. He blamed the state’s poor economy. But even so, he said the program gets three offers for every graduate, with starting salaries all above $50,000. Most of them, though, have to leave Michigan.
The next presenter, Joel East, a senior in surveying engineering, related how he worked surveying a particle accelerator, the Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility, in Newport News, Va.
East said he and his crew were brought in to make sure the accelerator’s huge racetrack still lined up as the atom smasher prepared for a power upgrade from six billion electron volts to 11.
My next presentation came from Brian Holton, a professor of heating, ventilation, air conditioning and refrigeration at Ferris. These days, he’s working on something called the Legacy HVAC Equipment Field Evaluation and Performance Testing research project.
This U.S. Department of Energy funded effort aims to bring scientific rigor to quantify just how quickly appliances and heating and cooling systems lose their efficiency. It’s such a new idea that Ferris had to develop its own testing equipment and methodology to do the work.
Holton said the effort should give the federal government an idea of how much efficiency a 10-year-old furnace originally rated at 90 percent efficiency has lost. That will guide the government’s recommendations on replacing old appliances.
There’s also a second federal contract that will test energy-saving retrofit measures for their cost-effectiveness.
“We will take three test homes, one control and the other two experimental, install different retrofit measures, and test them, to determine their cost effectiveness,” Holton said.
And that means designing algorithms and new technologies to simulate human occupancy of a house — everything from lights going on and off to refrigerators opening and closing to ovens going on and off to thermostats going up and down.