HOUGHTON — The Great Lakes Research Center has a new director.
Timothy Havens took over this month, replacing Andrew Barnard.
Havens served as Associate Dean for Research at the College of Computing and also directs the Institute for Computing and Cyber Systems at Tech. As a director, he said, he not only focuses on his own research, but helps others find resources and strategizes on how to create more resources.
“I see it as not just about thinking about my research, but also about helping others think about their research, and that’s really exciting for me,” he said. ” I like to learn new things. What I like the most about being a teacher is that I interact with the students on a daily basis, helping them solve puzzles and discover the latest and most important knowledge that exists in the world and that I help them to discover new knowledge. also.”
The 50,000 square foot facility was launched in 2012 and now has 12 full-time employees. While the center focuses on research on the Great Lakes, coasts and oceans, collaborations across multiple disciplines at the university have allowed projects to expand beyond those areas, Havens said.
“You can solve bigger problems with new ideas, see things from new perspectives,” he said. “So that’s what we’re looking to do, to allow that research to happen.”
With computing being so ubiquitous, Havens sees an overlap between the GLRC and the Institute for Computing. One of his interests was how to make robotic systems less prone to failure in the real world. This aligns with work being done by the GLRC at its Marine Autonomy Research Site – water within a 30 mile radius of Tech which includes the Portage Channel, Torch Lake and parts of Lake Superior.
This spring, Tech will launch a large autonomous surface vessel that will enable longer duration missions in Lake Superior. It will join a fleet of robotic and autonomous equipment, including the Iver and a surface jetski developed to navigate high waves autonomously.
“With me, it’s not just about being a research administrator for what’s happening right now at the Great Lakes Research Center, but also thinking about how we can build on that and solve new exciting issues that haven’t even been thought of at the Great Lakes Research Center connects different disciplines that come together,” Havens said.
Havens sees the GLRC continuing its momentum in its core strengths, such as the study of the Great Lakes, its fisheries, hydrology and ecosystem. He also sees it growing by bringing together scientists from different backgrounds, whether social science or geology, to find ways to tackle important and impactful problems.
A topic could be what happens in Lake Superior during the winter. Once Tech has retired its buoys for the year, all that remains is to get information from shore or via satellite. But getting the same quality of information about the summer months could help researchers understand how ice cover affects waves, the ecosystem, and winter weather systems.
“To understand these things, it takes scientists from many different disciplines to design the systems, design the algorithms, do the data analysis, and then interpret that to understand the biology and the hydrodynamics there,” he said.
As the new director, Havens does a lot of observation and learning. Some of his immediate priorities include integrating machine learning and artificial intelligence into ongoing research. Earlier in the day, he had been working on a proposal to combine artificial intelligence with hydrodynamic models. This could lead to a better understanding of how ice and waves interact, and what this means for the coastal systems of Lake Superior and the greater Great Lakes region.
“I’m very interested in the spring to see what we can do in the spring with the autonomous vessels that we have to test things like autonomous systems that can navigate our Keweenaw waterway, security, cybersecurity, things like that”, he said.
Havens attended Tech from 1994 to 2000, earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees in electrical engineering. From there he went to the Lincoln Laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where his work included research for the Air Force. He then obtained a doctorate. in Electrical and Computer Engineering from the University of Missouri-Columbia. After completing a postdoctoral fellowship at Michigan State University, he returned to Tech.
“I always wanted to come back to Michigan Tech,” he said. “I think it’s the best place in the world.”
Havens also wants to publicize the work of the GLRC beyond academic circles. During a tour of the facility, he enthusiastically shows off a number of vehicles,
“Where we host events with our boats and self-driving vehicles, don’t be afraid to come ask questions about what we’re doing, because we’re really, really excited about our research,” he said.