10 ways UWM engineers improved Milwaukee and the world

The impact of UW-Milwaukee engineers is felt across Southeastern Wisconsin and the world, giving us safer roads, greener energy and next-generation electronics.

“Every day when I drive to work, I pass by things that have been done by UW-Milwaukee engineers. It’s impossible not to,” said Bill Berezowitz, vice president and general manager of GE Healthcare and a UWM alumnus.

Celebrating its 50th anniversary, the College of Engineering & Applied Science has produced talented researchers that feed innovation in fields such as transportation, manufacturing, electronics, nanotechnology, energy technologies, computer science and biomedical engineering.

Here are 10 examples of how our world is made better through the ingenuity of UW-Milwaukee engineers.

The chip that earned a Nobel Prize

Jack Kilby co-discovered the integrated circuit, better known as the microchip, earning him a share of the Nobel Prize. (Photo courtesy/Texas Instruments)

You could say the modern computing age was born at UWM. Only eight years after earning his master’s degree in 1950 at the University of Wisconsin-Extension in Milwaukee (a UWM predecessor institution), Jack Kilby co-discovered the integrated circuit, better known as the microchip.

In 2000, Kilby shared the Nobel Prize in physics for his part in the work, which enables the computing function in almost every electronic device today, from cell phones and laptops to vehicles and pacemakers.

Kilby grew up in Kansas and came to Milwaukee after earning his bachelor’s degree from the University of Illinois. He completed his master’s while simultaneously working at a Milwaukee electronics manufacturer.

After graduation, Kilby took a job at Texas Instruments where he invented the hand-held calculator and thermal printer.

From UWM to the Cloud

Satya Nadella is only the third CEO in the history of Microsoft. (Microsoft photo)

Satya Nadella – once described by “Business Week” as a member of Bill Gates’s “kitchen cabinet of techno-whizzes” at Microsoft Corporation – was 20 when he began the master’s degree program in computer science at UWM. Today, he is the company’s third CEO.

Nadella said he always wanted to build things and saw computer science as a means to achieve that. He earned his degree in 1990 after emigrating from India.

“I am a learner,” he said after being named CEO in 2014. “I fundamentally believe that if you are not learning … you stop doing great and useful things. Our industry does not respect tradition. It only respects innovation.”

After graduating from UWM he joined Sun Microsystems’ Chicago office, and moved to Microsoft in Seattle in 1992.

NASCAR with a degree

Alan Kulwicki was a NASCAR rookie of the year and the first NASCAR champion to have earned a university degree. (Photo provided)

Alan Kulwicki applied his UWM mechanical engineering degree to his skill in racecar driving. The result: He became a professional driver just a few years after graduating in 1977. Kulwicki was named NASCAR rookie of the year in 1986 and won the 1992 Winston Cup (now the Sprint Cup) by the then-closest margin in NASCAR history. He was the first NASCAR champion with a college degree and served as his own chief engineer and chief mechanic. He died in a plane crash in 1993.

In 2013, his stepmother Thelma Kulwicki established a trust to fund scholarships for students interested in motorsports and mechanical engineering. The gift also established the Alan Kulwicki Memorial Student Center on the first floor of UWM’s Engineering Math Science building.

The energy revolution starts here

Adel Nasiri is helping to bring microgrids to the market. (UWM Photo/Troye Fox)

Solar cells and wind turbines are becoming more cost-efficient. But before these sources can contribute to the nation’s electrical grid, they have to be made compatible.

Enter the microgrid. This technology promises to integrate diverse energy sources – including green energy – into the infrastructure that distributes electricity to home and businesses. In addition, a microgrid gives a community, such as a neighborhood or factory, a freestanding source of uninterrupted power in the event of a blackout.

Led by Adel Nasiri, College of Engineering & Applied Science’s associate dean for research, UWM is addressing challenges that have so far kept microgrids from a market projected to generate revenues of $3 billion by 2017.

Wings of monumental proportions

CEAS Top 10
Santiago Calatrava designed the Milwaukee Art Museum’s famous wings – UWM-trained engineers made sure they worked. (Photo courtesy/Graef-USA)

The Milwaukee Art Museum’s winged addition, designed by Santiago Calatrava and completed in 2001, would never have taken off without Milwaukee engineers.

This unique structure with its concrete, steel and glass “wings” that comprise a movable sunscreen was named the top architectural design of 2001 by “Time” magazine – a list that included buildings, furniture, cars, fashion and even movies. But ensuring that the design actually worked fell to a team of UWM alumni at Milwaukee-based engineering firm Graef-USA Inc.

The firm, which also worked on the Harley-Davidson Museum, employs numerous UWM engineering grads, including retired former president Richard M. Bub and current president and CEO John Kissinger. In 2003, Graef won a national award from the American Society of Civil Engineers for the Calatrava project.

Center enhances resources in embedded systems

Bill Berezowitz, vice president and general manager of GE Healthcare and a UWM alumnus. (UWM Photo/Alan Magayne-Roshak)

In 2012, a gift from GE Healthcare jump-started a resource at UWM for companies that rely on embedded systems for a variety of products, including diagnostic medical imaging.

In embedded systems, the computer is completely encapsulated by the device it controls and it performs pre-determined tasks in a variety of industries. Computational imaging, for example, enables image data of organs to be reconstructed with software without the need for additional scans.

The Center for Advanced Embedded Systems offers professional development that supports a “first-of-its-kind” talent pipeline for Wisconsin-based medical imaging software developers.

It also provides seed funding for research and collaborative projects related to image and signal processing for medical technology.

Car batteries of the (near) future

Deyang Qu, the Johnson Controls Endowed Professor in Energy Storage Research, is working on the next generation of car batteries. (Photo courtesy/Scott Elsen)

Today’s automobile batteries are required to do much more than simply start your car. Feeding this demand for high-performance batteries that can power everything from electric and hybrid cars to the new start-stop capabilities is UWM’s partnership with Fortune 100 company Johnson Controls Inc., the world largest supplier of vehicle batteries.

Led by Deyang Qu, the UWM-based Johnson Controls Endowed Professor in Energy Storage Research, this shared research has earned tens of millions of dollars in energy grants to develop next-generation batteries.

The company’s multi-million dollar investment allows faculty students and Johnson Controls scientists to work side-by-side in two labs at the school. One is a “dry lab” with the right conditions to test-manufacture next-generation lithium-ion batteries – the only one of its kind at a North American university.

Keeping drinking water safe

Junhong Chen in the Lab and innovtion Campus
Junhong Chen with water sensors that are now manufactured by three Wisconsin companies. (UWM Photo/Troye Fox)

As Flint, Michigan, struggles with lead contamination in its drinking water, UWM is making waves in improved water-sensing technology.

Two novel sensors that detect bacteria and heavy metals, such as lead, were recently developed by UWM faculty and have subsequently been licensed to three Wisconsin companies – A. O. Smith, BadgerMeter and Baker Manufacturing. These products fill a hole in the marketplace, offering a method of testing water that is immediate, low-cost, portable and target-specific, said creators Junhong Chen and David Garman.

The products came from collaborative research between UWM and area industries, an effort that is helping Milwaukee earn its share of the $500 billion global freshwater technology market.

A wrenching problem solved

Engineering Professor Naira Campbell-Kyureghyan and her graduate students designed an industrial wrench to help alleviate injuries suffered by gas utility workers. (UWM Photo/Troye Fox)

Nearly 30 percent of worker injuries in the gas utility industry come from changing meters. For years, gas technicians have used heavy, adjustable pipe wrenches to change meters, but the large tool can slip when a lot of force is applied, causing injuries that often require surgery.

Determined to bring down the number of these injuries, Engineering Professor Naira Campbell-Kyureghyan and her graduate students designed a new kind of industrial wrench that eliminates slippage and reduces the shoulder muscle activity needed for the task by 40 percent.

Kenosha, Wisconsin-based toolmaker Snap-on added the wrench to the company’s product line and it is now on the market.

The highway system that UWM built

Milwaukee Zoo Interchange (Photo courtesy/Department of Transportation)
Milwaukee Zoo Interchange (Photo courtesy/Department of Transportation)

UWM has left its mark on the region’s highway and bridge infrastructure. In fact, two current state secretaries of transportation are Milwaukee engineers – Mark Gottlieb in Wisconsin and Paul Pate in Iowa.

A whopping 90 percent of Wisconsin Department of Transportation’s Bridge Foundation team is comprised of UWM graduates, and UWM Professor Al Ghorbanpoor has been the go-to consultant for decades in diagnosing aging bridges in Wisconsin and across the country.

The Milwaukee Zoo Interchange reconstruction began in 2013 and is the largest transportation project in state history. Many UWM engineers, such as HNTB’s Andy Kowske and CH2M Hill’s Kevin Brusso, are in leadership roles for this rebuilding of the state’s busiest interchange, used by more than 300,000 vehicles a day.

More in Science & Technology

Top Stories