Current Research at Montana Tech

Research Events

Current Research Highlights

Montana Tech's Lorri Birkenbuel Named 2021 Distinguished Industrial Hygienist

Lorri Birkenbuel
Lorri Birkenbuel, MS, CIH, CSP,
Associate Professor

Lorri Birkenbuel, Associate Professor in the Safety, Healthy & Industrial Hygiene Department at Montana Tech, was named the 2021 Distinguished Industrial Hygienist by the Pacific Northwest Section of the American Industrial Hygiene Association (PNS-AIHA) at the Northwest Occupational Health Conference this fall. Professor Birkenbuel, who serves as the Montana Local Educational Officer with the PNS-AIHA, was recognized by her peers for her outstanding contributions to the profession of Industrial Hygiene.

Lorri began teaching courses in the undergraduate Occupational Safety and Health program and graduate Industrial Hygiene programs in 2016. In addition to her teaching responsibilities, she has served as the faculty advisor for the Big Sky American Society of Safety Professionals student chapter. She has directed leading-edge research on respiratory protection practices associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. Before returning to Montana Tech, the SHIH alumna managed environmental health and safety professionals teams for a multinational energy company.

"We are very fortunate to have Professor Birkenbuel on our Safety, Health, and Industrial Hygiene team. Her passion for the field of Occupational Safety and Health and her dedication to student success and transformative learning experiences are unparalleled. Lorri is very deserving of this prestigious award", said Dr. Julie Hart, Safety, Health, and Industrial Hygiene Department Chair.

New Labs, Centers, & Tools at Montana Tech

Alysia Cox
Associate Professor Alysia Cox
in her Laboratory

Montana Tech received its fourth ever Major Research Instrumentation (MRI) Proposal from the National Science Foundation (NSF), under the leadership of Associate Professor Alysia Cox of Montana Tech’s Chemistry Department.  The NSF-MRI grant will purchase a four-channel ion chromatography system that will support and enhance geochemical and environmental research in the region, valued at $180K.  The instrument will enable researchers of Montana Tech’s new Earth Science & Engineering program (among others) to conduct sophisticated water quality measurements, including the levels of cations (including ammonium), anions, organic acids, and high concentration arsenic-oxyanion speciation. Over 120 undergraduates and 50 graduate students will use the instrument and its data annually.  In addition to Cox, the team included ten Tech Professors from five departments, including Co-PIs St. Clair, Gammons, and Zodrow from Chemistry & Geochemistry, Geological Engineering and Environmental Engineering, respectively. The team also included faculty from Environmental Sciences at University of Montana Western.

Dean Trudnowskia in a ribbon cutting ceremony for the opening of the Schweitzer engineering Power systems Lab
Chancellor Cook holds the ribbon
for Dean Trudnowski in a ribbon cutting
ceremony for the opening for the Schweitzer
Engineering Power Systems Lab
on Montana Tech’s campus.

The new Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories (SEL) Power-Systems Lab opened on the Montana Tech campus in March 2021.  The lab was made possible by a $1.5 million donation from SEL.  The lab will allow students to experience hands-on training and learning on protection, energy conversion, power plant dynamics and control.  With proper oversight, safety, and training, the high voltage systems within the laboratory provide Montana Tech students with a unique learning experience.  The donation from SEL follows seven years of partnership with Montana Tech faculty, and the hiring of over 20 Montana Tech students.

A new High Frequency and Resolution Infrared Camera, valued at $177,148, was purchased via a Department of Defense grant to Associate Professor Peter Lucon for his continued work in developing Advanced Additive Manufacturing Techniques.

National and International Recognition of Montana Tech Faculty

Dr. Robert Pal

Robert Pal, Associate Professor of Biological Sciences, received national and international recognition for his work in leading the Restoration Ecology graduate program at Montana Tech.   The recognition includes a spotlight by the American Association for Advancement of Science (AAS), leadership in developing a session on “Understanding Dynamic Ecosystems in the 2021 AAAS national meeting, and an invited lecture at the Center for Tropical Environmental and Sustainability Science at James Cook University in Australia Dr. Glen Southergillto discuss his restoration related work in the Butte Area.  In addition to his work at Tech, Pal serves as the Vice President of the Montana Native Plant Society.

Glen Southergill, Associate Professor in the Writing Program, was an Invited Speaker on "Antiracism and Excellence in Research Administration" at the National Council of Research Administrators.  Southergill also co-facilitated a session, "Think-Tank: Enterprise-Wide Vision for Leadership Development" at the 2021-2022 meeting of the National Education Association.

Notable Research Awards

Mental Health Influences on STEM Graduate StudentsBeverly Hartline, Emeritus Professor of Geological Engineering, was awarded a $500,000, 3-year NSF grant, “
Mental Heath Opportunities for Professional Empowerment in STEM
”.  Partner institutions include Montana Tech, Montana State University Billings, and the University of Montana Missoula.  Hartline serves as PI, and Tech co-PIs include Sue Schrader, Scott Risser, and Charie Faught. A schematic of the work to be completed on this grant is shown below.

research students at Montana TechThe Institute for Educational Opportunities at Montana Tech received a renewal grant for their Talent Search program and a second grant for a new program.  These US Dept of Education to grants total $2,782,075, to be spent over the next five years.  These grants fund preparatory services to first-generation college bound students grades 6-12th across Southwest Montana, including East Helena, Helena, Anaconda, Dear Lodge, and Butte. The new funding doubles the number of students served by the program, from 510 to 1,020 students.  Dr. Amy KuenziAmy Verlanic, Executive Director of the Institute for Educational Opportunities (IEO) authored the proposals and will be assisting Michelle Christianson, Talent Search Director in launching these programs.

Amy Kuenzi, Professor of Biological Sciences, was co-PI on a $2.4M, 5-year NSF grant, “A framework for reconciling competing effects of competitors on disease transmission. Angela Luis at UM is the PI.


Montana Bureau of Mines & Geology (MBMG) on Montana Tech’s Campus is increasingly involved in studies of the environmental impacts to land and water caused either by past practices in hard-rock mining or by current activities in agriculture and industry.  MBMG is also working on initiatives regarding identification of Rare Earth Elements, including as a subcontractor on a DOE-funded Carbon-ORE [Carbon Ore, Rare Earth and Critical Minerals] project, led by the University of Wyoming. The MBMG is involved in Task 1, which includes assessment of carbon ore resources within the Powder River Basin that extends through Southeast Montana.