Audience at speaker event

Custer Speaker Series

"The speaker series is a learning experience that will challenge and excite you. I hope it will show you what an exciting future you can have and gives you a real-work experience along with some out of the box learning." - David Custer, CEO, Custer, Inc., and sponsor of the Custer Speaker Series

Open to the public, our speaker series is designed for students and community members to hear from professionals on topics that broaden attendees’ understanding of the world and add depth to experiences. It is also an opportunity for our alumni and community members to engage with our students, potential future employees. 

For more information about the Custer Speaker Series, contact Carey Schoolmaster. Email Carey Schoolmaster | (269) 276-3245

2023-24 events

  • Mark Loboda, senior vice president of research and development, Hemlock Semiconductor Operations LLC.

    Industrial Research and Development—Secrets of Success

    Mark LobodaJoin us on WMU's Parkview Campus for a presentation with Mark Loboda, senior vice president of research and development, Hemlock Semiconductor Operations.

    • Monday, October 2, at 10 a.m.
    • Parkview Room, D-132 Floyd Hall​
    • Beverages and cookies served
    • Open to the public

    After spending years in academia and achieving the targeted graduate degree in engineering or sciences, students are faced with the decision—does one pursue work in industry? Often during these academic years .students encounter industrial researchers and engineers, maybe even co-op work or internships with a business, but many students still may not get sufficient information regarding what a career path in industry will bring for their future, their career, and work-life vision.

    The business of technology is a very different world than what one experiences during college. While offering a great opportunity to achieve impact on the world through science, it also burdens the individual with a competitive, intense and high-risk-high-reward environment.

    During this Custer Speaker Series event, Mark Loboda will share insights pertaining to preparation and development of skills to realize a successful career in industry based on his 38-year career as an industrial research and development scientist, including work as an individual contributor, team leader, program director and executive. A roadmap and strategy will be reviewed to help prepare those interested in a career in industry for a decision process and long-term success.

    About Mark Loboda

    Mark Loboda was awarded B.Sc. and M.Sc. degrees with high honors in applied physics from DePaul University in Chicago. His dissertation on mechanisms of catalysis focused on solid state physics, spectroscopy, automation, and computer technology. Loboda left his home in Chicago  to pursue an industrial career in the defense industry, spending four years as a researcher in the field of high-performance oscillators for radar and guidance systems. He then moved to Michigan where he started a research program developing novel thin film silicon materials for integrated circuit manufacturing, the products enabling today’s state-of-the-art microprocessors and memory chips.

    After 11 years, he focused his research and manufacturing technology for crystal growth processes for semiconductors like silicon, silicon carbide and gallium nitride. Sixteen years later, he joined Hemlock Semiconductor as the senior vice president of research and development, focusing again on silicon materials as well as process engineering and quality.

    Over his career Loboda has had the privilege of working side-by-side with the top industrial scientists at companies and laboratories including Raytheon, Dow Corning, United States Department of Defense, United States Department of Energy, IBM, Texas Instruments, Motorola, Intel, Samsung, IMEC (Belgium), ST Microelectronics, Applied Materials, among many others. His technology development work has been documented in more than 100 published papers, awarded 30 globally issued patents, earned an R&D 100 award in semiconductor technology, and led to the initiation of three new businesses,and many commercial products resulting over $2 billion of business revenue career opportunities for many individuals from all over the world.

  • Dr. Shuang (Cynthia) Cui, assistant professor mechanical engineering at the University of Texas at Dallas

    Superabsorbent Polymers for Energy-Efficient Thermal Comfort Control of Buildings

    Dr. Shuang (Cynthia) CuiJoin us on WMU's Parkview Campus for a presentation with Dr. Shuang (Cynthia) Cui, assistant professor mechanical engineering at the University of Texas at Dallas.

    • Wednesday, October 4, at 11 a.m.
    • Parkview Room, D-132 Floyd Hall​
    • Beverages and cookies served
    • Open to the public

    The buildings sector accounts for more than 40 percent of all U.S. primary energy consumption and associated greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. In 2018, approximately 7.59 quads of energy (equivalent to ~$20 billion) was lost through unnecessary large area environmental conditioning and poor thermal insulation of building components, making it imperative to reduce energy consumption in buildings through the development of next-generation, energy-efficient building technologies and practices. Superabsorbent polymers, or hydrogels, are materials that contain more than ~ 90 wt% water and are commonly used in contact lenses, wound dressing, tissue engineering, and drug delivery. Recently, hydrogels have been proposed for temperature and humidity control of buildings due to their superabsorbent and environmentally friendly capability. The goal of this Dr.  Shuang (Cynthia) Cui ‘s study was to develop hydrogels-based materials for energy-efficient thermal comfort control of buildings. Multiple approaches at the forefront of hydrogels for next-generation building technologies have been studied including the development of artificial ‘skins’ for building cooling, thermo-responsive adsorbents for moisture control, and composite phase change materials (PCMs) for thermal energy storage.

    In this presentation, Cui will discuss the research and implications for artificial skins for the future building sector.

    About Dr. Shuang (Cynthia) Cui

    Dr. Shuang (Cynthia) Cui is an assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Texas at Dallas. She is also jointly appointed in the Buildings and Thermal Sciences Center at National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). Her research focuses on both the fundamental study of nanoscale heat transfer and energy conversion and advanced materials development, spanning intelligent soft materials and devices for moisture control and composite phase change materials for thermal energy storage.

    Cui was a selected participant of the International School for Materials for Energy and Sustainability VIII at Caltech, 2019 U.S. C3E Women in Clean Energy Symposium at Texas A&M University and The Rising Stars Women in Engineering Workshop at Seoul National University (Korea). She is also highlighted by the Department of Energy’s “Women @ Energy: STEM Rising.” Cui collaborates with scientists and engineers from diverse fields, including mechanical, electrical, chemical and civil engineers, material scientists, and chemists to pursue her research projects. Her research has been supported by multiple federal agencies (DOE, ARPA-E, NSF, and NREL) and private sector partners (Wells-Fargo) leading to 25 peer-reviewed journal articles and six patents.

    Cui received her Ph.D. in mechanical engineering at the University of California, San Diego. She received M.S. and B.S. degrees in thermal engineering at Wuhan University, China. Her previous research focuses on thermal metrology development for nanomaterials and intelligent soft materials and devices for thermal regulation, water harvesting and desalination.

  • Dr. Paul W. Meyer, researcher, National Renewable Energy Laboratory

    A Lignin Resin as a Carbon-Negative Concrete Alternative—The BUILD’EM project at NREL

    Join us on WMU's Parkview Campus for a presentation with Dr. Paul Meyer, researcher, National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

    • Thursday, October 5, at 11 a.m.
    • Parkview Room, D-132 Floyd Hall​
    • Beverages and cookies served
    • Open to the public

    The concrete and cement industry comprises ~6-8% of world emissions, primarily due to the high temperatures and reaction byproducts from making cement. Most concrete projects focus on either carbon capture or supplementary cementitious materials to decarbonize the industry. This project diverges from these strategies by complete replacement of cement. It uses a lignin-based resin system that has the potential to replace cement in concrete while also sequestering biomaterial that would otherwise be burned. This material has shown compressive strengths as high as 10,000 psi (typical concrete is 2,500-4,000), is estimated to be carbon-negative, is scalable to ~100 million tons per year, and is economically competitive.

    About Dr. Paul Meyer

    Dr. Paul W. Meyer is a researcher at NREL who works at the intersection of polymer chemistry, buildings, and advanced manufacturing. They have a Ph.D. in chemical engineering from the University of Texas at Austin where they studied polymers for photoresists, block copolymer gyroids for battery, water purification, and gas separation membranes, and a unique polyether catalyst system. Meyer’s primary role at NREL is currently serving as the Principal Investigator to

    1. an advanced manufacturing roll-to-roll, non-evaporative drying process focused on the paper industry, and
    2. a carbon-negative concrete alternative named “BUILD’EM.”

    Meyer also serves a supporting role in projects ranging from lignin-based superplasticizers, membranes for electrodialysis, polymer desiccants, and phase change materials for thermal energy storage.

Previous Custer Speaker Series events

  • Dr. Cafer T. Yavuz,

    Where are we on CO2 capture and conversion? 

    Join us on WMU's Parkview Campus for a presentation with Dr. Cafer T. Yavuz, professor of chemistry at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST). 

    • Wednesday, May 24 at Noon
    • Parkview Room, D-132 Floyd Hall​
    • Beverages and cookies served
    • Open to the public

    Dr. Cafer T. Yavuz will discuss the challenges of tackling carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from human activity, and how new catalyst designs can offer plausible solutions for CO2 conversion. While it may be tempting to rely on a single "magic bullet" technology to solve this issue, the reality is that there is no one-size-fits-all solution.

    One of the biggest challenges in CO2 capture and storage is the limited capacity of current industrial reuse methods, which can only remove up to 300 million tons/year (Mt/yr) of CO2, whereas the excess emissions are over 42 gigatons/year (Gt/yr). While switching energy sources to renewables or nuclear could help, a more appealing strategy is the conversion of CO2 into useful commodities, such as fuels, plastics, and fine chemicals. This can provide a much-needed economic incentive for CO2 fixation and increase the CO2 market size substantially, enhancing carbon recycling and the conversion of spent carbon to working carbon.

    One promising approach is CO2 reforming of methane into synthesis gas (syngas), which can then be converted into fuels, chemicals, and pharmaceuticals using mature technologies. However, the lack of a durable, effective, low-cost catalyst has been a major obstacle to this approach. Our team has developed a Ni-Mo-MgO nanocatalyst (NiMoCat) that has been shown to run over 35 days of continuous activity, effectively addressing this issue. More recently, we have shown that many organic wastes, such as plastics, food, and paper, could be reformed into syngas using NiMoCat and then converted to low carbon fuels. 

    About Cafer T. Yavuz

    Dr. Cafer T. Yavuz received his Ph.D. from Rice University in 2008 with a Welch scholarship and completed a postdoc at UCSB (2008–2010). Currently, he is a professor of chemistry at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) with a research focus on nano and porous materials design and synthesis for applications in the environment, particularly for CO2 capture and conversion. From 2010-20, he worked at Korea Advanced Institute of Science & Technology, jointly appointed at the Department of Chemistry and Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering. He has been nominated twice for the teacher of the year award.

    Yavuz earned his M.S. and Ph.D. from Rice University in 2001 with Welch Foundation scholarship under the supervision of Dr. Vicki L. Colvin. His research focused on production of magnetic nanocrystals and their use in arsenic removal. His thesis work received Forbes magazine's "Top 5 nanotech breakthroughs of 2006" and was selected as one of the “Six Ideas That Will Change The World" by the Esquire Magazine. He worked as a postdoctoral scholar at the University of California, Santa Barbara with Dr. Galen Stucky on CO2 sequestration, conversion and co-activation with methane (CH4).

    He is an editorial noard member at Chem, a prestigious chemistry journal by Cell Press. He also serves on the boards of Cell Reports Physical Science, ACS Applied Energy Materials, ACS Sustainable Chemistry and Engineering, and Advanced Sustainable Systems. He was an editor at RSC Advances and is currently editing at Beilstein Journal of Nanotechnology, a platinum open access journal. He has over 100 publications and 20 registered patents.

    Yavuz received his B.S. degree in Chemistry (2001) from the Middle East Technical University, finishing the advanced curriculum in only 3 years and ranking 1st. When he was in high school, he attended the 29th and 30th International Chemistry Olympiads representing Turkey and won a silver and bronze medal.

  • Jeremy Wortz, M.S.'06, AI/ML Engineer, Google

    2023 Overview of AI/ML on the Google Cloud Platform (GCP)

    Join us on WMU's Parkview Campus for a presentation with Jeremy Wortz, M.S.'06, AI/ML engineer at Google and adjunct professor of tech entrepreneurship at Northwestern University. This event is in collaboration with the WMU Google Developer Student Club (GDSC)

    • Friday, April 14 at 3:30 p.m.

    • Parkview Room, D-132 Floyd Hall​

    • Beverages and cookies served

    • Open to the public

    Wortz’s presentation will cover his experience as a data scientist, as well as his observations on where the space is going with generative AI. Specifically, the talk will cover the difficulties of getting models into production, the high degree of manual and one-off work, the lack of reusable or reproducible components, the poor handoffs between data scientists and IT, the issue of models breaking due to environmental changes, the lost effort and return on investment and the regulatory and governance pressures. The talk will also include observations on the future direction of the space, with a focus on generative AI. Attendees will gain valuable insights into the ML ops space and learn about the latest advancements in the field.

     About Jeremy Wortz

    Jeremy Wortz is a multi-industry data scientist with nearly twenty years of experience, making the connection between business and tech when it comes to analytics and machine learning. He led and delivered advanced analytics projects for Chase, Whirlpool, AstraZeneca, Comcast, Walmart, Con Edison, along with assessing over two hundred analytics firms for M&A transactions. He has also founded and participated in multiple start-ups focused on customer package goods demand analytics using machine learning, building one of the first scalable custom AutoML solutions for demand forecasting. His current focus of research is in applied reinforcement learning for business applications. He has a master’s degree in applied mathematics from Western Michigan University and a Six-Sigma Master Blackbelt from Whirlpool Corporation. Jeremy lives in the western suburbs of Chicago with his wife and two kids. He enjoys traveling with his family abroad, and geeking out on tech projects with his kids.

  • Brian Mueller, Ph.D., Director of Technology, Coval Technologies

    Innovative One Component Coatings with Nanotechnology Enable Performance

    Join us on WMU's Parkview Campus for a presentation with Dr. Brian Mueller, director of technology at Coval Technologies.

    Hosted by the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences

    • Thursday, April 6, at 3 p.m.​
    • Parkview Room, D-132 Floyd Hall​
    • Beverages and cookies served
    • Open to the public

    Brian MuellerNanotechnology is a commonly used word in coatings with implications of unexpected performance improvements from a typical coating. Technically, it is a label for a branch of technology that deals with particles in dimensions of less than 100 nanometers, with a 1 billionth of a meter. This size offers unique properties for several reasons because it represents a particle size of a solid that is in the same range as the size of a molecule. This creates properties that are consistent with both solids and liquids at the same time.

    This presentation will outline the excellent and unique properties achieved by Coval Technologies’ coatings, enabled by the incorporation of nanotechnology. First, we will discuss Coval’s ability to provide a one component system that achieves a better hardness and abrasion resistance than the typical two component systems. In addition, Coval coatings are extremely surface tolerant and achieve excellent adhesion through the formation of covalent bonds. We will show UV, oxidation, and chemical resistance achieved through nanotechnology and present Coval coatings applied to various substrates for antigraffiti and hydrophobic properties. A surface tolerant coating of this type has the ability to replace epoxies and urethanes in many applications. Because adhesion does not require profile or significant surface preparation due to covalent bond formation, it is being considered for some especially challenging applications. We will discuss flooring, wind blades and greener building material uses. 

    About Dr. Brian Mueller

    Brian Mueller, Ph.D., is an innovative technology manager and scientist. He is experienced in the application of novel approaches in advanced materials and coatings, semiconductor manufacturing, oil and gas, and total well site sustainable solutions. He holds a doctorate in inorganic chemistry from Texas A&M and post-doctoral work in silicon-based materials from the University of Michigan. He has been active in the industrial specialty chemicals field for more than 20 years with claims to over 40 patents. Mueller has worked with industrial maintenance coatings and thin films and in the corrosion fields.

  • Dr. Rong Chen, P.E., Energy Storage Technical Specialist at CSA Group

    Overview of Battery Standard and Certification for Battery Energy Storage System

    Join us on WMU's Parkview Campus:

    • Friday, March 31, at 10 a.m.

    • Parkview Room, D-132 Floyd Hall

    • Open to the public

    According to a Fortune Business Insight study, the global Battery Energy Storage System (BESS) market size was valued at $9.21 billion in 2021. The market is expected to grow from $10.88 billion in 2022 to $31.20 billion by 2029. Along with the rapid growth, we also saw battery fire incidents that can cause property damage and even loss of life. Battery safety and liability has become a critical issue for battery developers, manufacturers and assemblers.

    This talk will present an overview of the battery standard and certification programs, and how these programs ensure the safety and liability of the BESS. Chen will walk through the basics of battery standard and certification, including the scope of different battery standards, construction and test requirement, marking and instruction requirement. A demonstration of BESS tear down analysis will be given to evaluate the compliance of the BESS subassembly. The presentation concludes with suggestions for battery researchers, developers and manufacturers from a compliance point of view.

    About Chen

    Rong ChenDr. Rong Chen is a distinguished battery expert with over 15 years of experience in battery testing and compliance. He joined CSA group in 2018 as a senior battery certifier and was promoted to technical specialist in 2021. His current role is to provide mentoring and training to certifiers working toward battery qualification. As a certifier, he worked on many battery certification projects for large scale BESS, battery fire testing, portable battery, battery charger energy efficiency verification, and cell level certification. Between 2015 and 2018, Chen worked as a material engineer at SECAT Inc. where conducted standardized testing and failure analysis. He also provided consulting services to industrial clients. Between 2009 and 2014, he worked at the University of Kentucky Center for Applied Energy Research to develop spherical carbon nano/micro materials for battery application. Chen completed his Ph.D. in materials science and engineering at the University of Kentucky and his master’s and bachelor’s degrees in engineering physics at Tsinghua University in Beijing. Chen has also been a professional engineer since 2013.

  • Dr. Sergii Aleksieienko, Oles Honchar Dnipro National University, Ukraine

    Physical Mechanism of Icing in Airplanes 

    Join us on WMU's Parkview Campus for this virtual presentation with Dr. Sergii Aleksieienko, head of the Mechatronics Department of Physical and Technical Faculty at Oles Honchar Dnipro National University, Ukraine.

    Hosted by the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences. .

    • Friday, March 24, noon
    • Virtual in D-210, Floyd Hall
    • Beverages and cookies served
    • Open to the public

    During his talk, Aleksieienko will present his work into the complex problem of designing ice protection systems and determining their effectiveness. 

    Aircraft in-flight icing has been internationally recognized as a serious safety problem, which has been receiving increasingly greater attention lately. In certain flight conditions, supercooled water droplets that are contained in clouds may freeze, falling on the fuselage nose, leading edge of the wings, plane fin elements, and aircraft engine components. The most common phenomena caused by icing can be highlighted as follows: decreasing lift and stall angle on the wing, blade, fin elements, the loss of directional stability and controllability of the aircraft.

    In most icing program codes, the surface control volume method which is based on the Messinger approach is used. According to this approach, ice is formed on the streamlined surface and unfrozen water flows down this ice in the form of a film. The amount of liquid that flows out of the control volume is determined by frozen fraction received from mass and heat balances for this control volume. Together with this, new correct coordinates of the surface, its temperature and roughness, velocity of water film movement and its thickness, must be determined with every icing step.

    However, there is certain contradiction in the heat balance for control volume. As a result, basic cooling by means of convection and evaporation takes place from the warmer external surface of the liquid, whereas phase transition front moves from below. There is also another question regarding spatial ice-water structure formed during the transition of supercooled liquid into the thermodynamic equilibrium. Whether it influences the movement of liquid and how. These questions are particularly topical in case of supercooled large droplet (SLD) as with large liquid water content the understanding of water movement mechanism is especially important.

    Thus, the investigation objective of this work was the experimental study of interaction between supercooled large droplets and the icing airfoil surface as well as physical phenomena occurring during the icing process.

    Experiments was carried out within a wide temperature range. Photos of the specific moments of the icing process have been analyzed. Splashing events and water movement on the icing surface have been observed. On the basis of the conducted researches, new laws of icing processes and roughness development at micro-level have been established.

    The discovered mechanism of liquid movement on the ice surface by “jumping, “splashing” and transfer of the bounced droplets in a thin layer with their subsequent sedimentation, can explain the mechanism of formation of “horns," which are characteristic of the glaze ice outgrowths.

    Although photographic observations produce only a qualitative representation of the icing processes, it is a step forward to the better understanding of the icing process microphysics. The results of this work can be used for the improvement of the existing techniques modeling icing processes or the development of new ones.

  • Shan Kumar, M.S.'06, Senior Vice President MRM/McCann

    Shane Kumar

    What’s out there? A glance at the technology career and landscape

    Join us on WMU's Parkview Campus:

    • Thursday, March 16, 2:30 p.m.
    • Parkview Room, Floyd Hall
    • Beverages and cookies served
    • Open to the public

    Shan Kumar, B.S.’06, is a passionate technologist serving as senior vice president and director of IT at MRM/McCann. The challenges that inspire him are focused on developing and utilizing technology to make people more productive and more successful. 

    For much of his career, Kumar has been fortunate to make significant technology impacts and play a big role in helping our customers benefit from the technologies that his teams put in place. Along the way, his teams have made dramatic improvements in how client companies have marketed to, interacted with, and serviced their customers. The breadth and depth of these initiatives, combined with the wide variety of business challenges and opportunities are personally and professionally fulfilling for Kumar. 

    Kumar has worked with, led, and learned from some amazing people. His work impacts thousands of employees. His teams benefit from a constant stream of issues and opportunities that provide fertile environments for innovation. In his role at MRM, Kumar leads the creation of new systems and applications which address a wide range of business processes and situations.  

    Kumar built his career on a foundation of staying on the leading edge of technological discovery, growth, and change. He is especially focused on areas and applications that one day could have a dramatic impact on his company and its customers.  

  • Dr. Faisal Khan, Texas A&M University

    Safety in Energy Transition and Processing System Digitalization

    Join us on WMU's Parkview Campus:

    • Thursday, March 2, 2 p.m.
    • Parkview Room, Floyd Hall
    • Beverages and cookies served
    • Open to the public


    In this talk, Dr. Faisal Khan will share the safety concerns related to energy transition and processing system digitalization.

    The efforts to use new energy sources are gaining wider acceptance, but there are serious safety concerns that need to be addressed when adopting these alternatives. In evolving energy scenarios, safety and security issues are of pivotal importance. These issues are further enhanced with digitalization, from simple equipment failure to failure of process systems (equipment with electronic systems), monitoring and control systems, data encryption systems, and, most recently, software systems. How these evolving safety and security issues are understood and addressed will govern the overall safety and security of the facilities. Therefore, proactively converting this challenge into an opportunity and holistically developing digital process safety solutions is essential. Dynamic risk management is one approach to address this challenge. The concept of creating a dynamic risk profile for a processing system encompasses the likelihood and consequences of a given abnormal event. Dynamic risk estimation uses Bayesian theory to update the probability of an event occurrence and a generalized consequence algorithm to obtain the given event's relative consequences. This approach results in a risk function with predictive capabilities and the ability to be updated with time. This talk also touches on the details of system advances from the safety and security perspective and the use of the dynamic risk approach.

    About Dr. Faisal Khan

    Dr. Faisal Khan is the Mike O'Connor II Chair, professor and director of Mary Kay O'Connor Process Safety Center at Texas A&M University. He is also director of the Ocean Energy Safety Institute, a U.S. Department of Energy and U.S. Department of Interior funded applied R&D initiative.

    Khan is a former professor and Canada Research Chair (Tier I) of Offshore Safety and Risk Engineering at Memorial University in Newfoundland, Canada. He is the founder of the Centre for Risk, Integrity and Safety Engineering, which has more than research 100 research members. Khan's research interests include energy safety, offshore safety, extreme event modeling, asset integrity and risk engineering.

    He is the recipient of the many national and international awards. He continues to serve as a subject matter expert to many multinational oil and gas and processing industries on the issue of safety, risk and asset integrity. He also served as safety and risk advisor to the government of Newfoundland, Canada; the Ministry of Environment, Government of Qatar; and the Ministry of Environment, Government of Peru. He has authored more than 500 research articles that appear in peer-reviewed journals and has mentored 80 doctoral students and 85 master students. He is a fellow of the Canadian Academy of Engineering and editor-in-chief to the Journal of Process Safety and Environmental Protection and Safety in Extreme Environments.


  • Dr. Yuzi Liu, Scientist, Argonne National Laboratory

    Energy Materials Investigation in Multi-Length Scale by Correlative Electron and Synchrotron X-ray Microscopy

    Join us on Friday, Jan. 20

    • 10:30 a.m.
    • Parkview Room, Floyd Hall
    • Beverages and cookies served
    • Open to the public

    In this talk, Liu will present recent progress of lithium dendrite platting on Li7La3Zr2O12 (LLZTO) and effectiveness of coating layer on electrodes by scanning electron microscopy (FIB-SEM) and correlative electron and X-ray microscopy method.  

    Integrated correlative characterizations provide complementary insights in multi-modalities with a wide range of length scales to understand the working mechanism of functional materials such as catalysis. The characterizations from one platform can identify the area of interest and science to be explored on another. The complementary investigations from correlated platforms could cross verify the true science which might be compromised by experimental artifacts from instrumentation such as beam damage, which is often detrimental for the study of beam sensitive materials such as solid-state electrolyte. Operando characterizations offer great opportunities to understand the working mechanisms of functional materials and devices. The ability to build single particle, all solid-state batteries in microscopy helps us to monitor the structure evolution of cathode, anode and solid electrolyte in real time with the battery at different charges.  

    About Liu

    Yuzi LiuDr. Yuzi Liu is a scientist at Argonne National Laboratory’s Center for Nanoscale Materials. Prior to joining CNM, Dr. Liu received a three-year (2008-2011) postdoctoral training in the Material Science Division at Argonne National Laboratory and one year (2007-2008) postdoctoral training at University of Texas at Arlington. He achieved his Ph.D. of condensed matter physics from the Chinese Academy of Sciences in 2007. 

    Liu is interested in fundamental understanding of working mechanism of functional materials and devices by using microscopy techniques. He has authored and co-authored more than 200 peer-reviewed journal papers. Liu organized symposiums in academic conferences and workshops to serve the research community.  

  • Dr. Xingcheng Xiao, Technical Fellow, GM Global Research and Development

    Challenges and Opportunities of Electrode Materials for Next-Generation Lithium-Ion Batteries

    Join us on Friday, December 9

    • 2:30 p.m.
    • Room D-115 Floyd Hall
    • Open to the public

    Global climate change and energy security are driving the development of energy storage technologies for transportation systems. In the automotive industry, transformational changes in battery technologies are needed due to the increasing demand for high-power, high-energy density, and long life-span lithium-ion batteries. Tremendous research efforts have been devoted to the development of new materials with higher capacity and long-term durability. Higher capacity electrode materials (such as silicon and lithium) are always accompanied by higher volume expansion, leading to coupled mechanical and chemical degradation and short battery life. To achieve high current efficiency and long cycle life, the solid electrolyte interphase (SEI) along with active materials must be mechanically and chemically stable despite the large volume-change.

    In this talk, Xiao will discuss how to understand the coupled mechanical/chemical degradation of SEI layers on those high-capacity electrodes using a comprehensive set of in-situ diagnostic techniques. Based on the learning from the in-situ diagnostics, Xiao will discuss some coating design strategies to achieve high cycle efficiency and extend the cycle life of high energy density batteries for electrical vehicle applications.

    About Dr. Xingcheng Xiao

    Dr. Xingcheng Xiao is a technical fellow at General Motors global research and development center. Before joining GM in 2006, he worked as a research associate at the Argonne National Laboratory and Brown University. He has served as the principal investigator and co-principal-investigator for the projects funded by Department of Energy, National Science Foundation, and Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC). He is an associate editor for Frontier in Battery and Electrochemistry, principal editor for Journal of Material Research (Materials Research Society), editor on board for Nature Scientific Report, and a member of the international advisor board for Advanced Materials Technology (Wiley-VCH). He has published over 150 peer reviewed journal papers and has over 90 granted patents and 30 pending patent applications in different fields. Among them, more than 20 patents have been used in production or licensed. He is the recipient of Alexander von Humboldt Fellowship (Germany), Asian American Engineer of the Year (AAEOY 2021), R&D 100 Awards (2013 and 2017), and SME Innovations That Could Change the Way We Manufacture (2011).  Xiao obtained his Ph.D degree in materials science from the Chinese Academy of Science.

  • Dr. Kurt Polzin Chief Engineer, Space Nuclear Propulsion Project, NASA

    Critical Developmental Challenges and Potential Advancement Paths for Large Space Nuclear Propulsion Systems

    Join us on Thursday, December 1

    • 11 a.m.
    • Parkview Room, Floyd Hall
    • Open to the public

    This seminar will present the challenges of developing in-space nuclear propulsion systems and discuss some potential development paths presently being pursued by NASA. 

    NASA’s Space Nuclear Propulsion project is developing the technologies required to advance the readiness of nuclear thermal propulsion and nuclear electric propulsion systems to the level where they can be credibly considered for a range of human missions, including those to Mars. In both systems, many of the critical subsystems are relatively immature and present significant challenges when considering the requirements that must be met to realize a feasible spacecraft design.

    The primary nuclear thermal propulsion issues revolve around the temperature at which the nuclear fuel must operate to accelerate the propellant to the required exhaust velocity for a human Mars mission. The fuel must not only survive at temperatures far greater than what is experienced in terrestrial-based nuclear reactors, but it is also exposed to hydrogen propellant, which is chemically reactive at elevated temperatures.  

    The subsystems comprising a nuclear electric propulsion system require increasing power throughput by orders of magnitude relative to EP flight- or ground-based technology demonstrations completed to date. Such systems must also operate for extended periods of time with no maintenance.

    For both nuclear thermal propulsion and nuclear electric propulsion, significant challenges exist associated with performing ground testing at relevant scales and power levels, making it difficult to mature technologies and to develop an experimental basis to support modeling and simulation activities. 

    About Dr. Kurt Polzin

    kurt polzinDr. Kurt Polzin is chief engineer for space nuclear propulsion at NASA’s George C. Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. He received his B.S. in aeronautical and astronautical engineering from Ohio State University in 1999 and his Ph.D. in mechanical and aerospace engineering from Princeton University in 2006. Polzin joined the propulsion research and development laboratory at NASA-MSFC in 2004 as a propulsion research engineer. Prior to his current position, he was the space systems team lead for the advanced concepts office performing conceptual spacecraft system and mission design and analysis. He is also an adjunct faculty member at the University of Alabama in Huntsville where he has taught in the physics and mechanical and aerospace engineering departments. 

    Polzin has co-authored more than 100 technical publications on the testing and modeling of electric and space nuclear propulsion systems and components and is lead author of the forthcoming monograph Circuit Modeling of Inductively Coupled Pulsed Accelerators. He is a senior member of the Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers and an associate fellow of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, for which he also serves on the electric propulsion technical committee and as the Southeastern U.S. regional director.

  • Dr. Zonghai Chen, Senior Chemist, Argonne National Laboratory, November 4

    Chasing Protons in Lithium Batteries

    Join us on Tuesday, October 18

    • 8:30 a.m.
    • Room C-123 Floyd Hall
    • Open to the public
    • Doughnuts and cider will be served

    Nickel-rich lithium transition metal oxides have been recently considered as one of most promising cathode materials for high energy density lithium-ion batteries. However, the instability of the cathode electrolyte interface has been the major technological barrier for the development of nickel-rich cathodes. Early research has simply assigned this interfacial instability to the electrochemical oxidation of the commonly used carbonate solvents without much discussion on the nature of the parasitic reactions. A proprietary, high-precision electrochemical system was built in-house to quantitatively measure the rate and kinetics of the side reactions between the delithiated cathode and the non-aqueous electrolyte. Our results clearly indicated the dominant chemical reaction within the working potential window is the chemical, not electrochemical, reaction between the intermediate phase of cathode and the electrolyte, generating locally concentrated protons at the surface of the cathode materials.

    Figure 1 shows a generic mechanism of parasitic reactions occurring at the interface of cathode materials. Additional help from advanced characterization tools, including synchrotron probes, will be also be discussed.

    Figure 1: Schematics of parasitic reactions at the cathode surface.

    About Zonghai Chen

    Dr. Zonghai Chen, senior chemist at Argonne National Laboratory, received his B.S. degree in 1997 and M.S. degree in 2000 from University of Science and Technology of China. He earned his Ph.D. degree in 2004 from Dalhousie University, Canada. His research interests include functional electrolytes and electrode materials for advanced lithium batteries, with particular focus on behavior of materials at extreme conditions and interfacial processes in lithium batteries. His contribution to the field has led to 150+ peer-reviewed articles and 2 R&D 100 awards.

  • Gorick Ng, Author, “The Unspoken Rules"

    Join us on Tuesday, October 18

    • 3:30 p.m., WMU Fetzer Center
    • Open to the public
    • First 75 receive free books
    • Refreshments served
    • Sponsored by Custer and Paper Technology Foundation 

    NgGorick Ng is a career advisor at Harvard College, specializing in coaching first-generation, low-income students. He has managed new employees at Boston Consulting Group, has worked in investment banking at Credit Suisse, and is also a researcher with the Managing the Future of Work project at Harvard Business School.

    Ng has been featured in the Toronto Star, the Globe and Mail, the New Your Post and World Journal and on CBC. Ng is first-generation college student, a graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Business School.

    Find him at

  • Dr. Ilias Belharouak, Oak Ridge National Laboratory

    Key Science and Technology Challenges in Current and Future Energy Storage R&D

    • October 6, 2022
    • 10 a.m.
    • D-206, Floyd Hall

    This talk will focus on the energy storage systems designated for mobility and electrification in relation with the R&D performed at the US. Department of Energy Battery Manufacturing Facility (BMF) at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL). BMF receives funds from the US. Government and Industry to sponsor innovations in advanced battery materials research, battery manufacturing science and cell prototyping that enable low-cost, high-power and high-energy, safer and long-life cells capable of fast charging. Being one of the largest open access battery R&D facilities in the Unites States, the facility houses equipment and instrumentation necessary to research every step in the battery manufacturing process with an emphasis on advanced materials, electrode formulation chemistry, innovative coating technology, and high-performance electrode architectures. Resources include three coating lines, a dry room, and a cell assembly line for construction of large-format pouch cells. Collaborations across ORNL strengthen manufacturing science with state-of-the-art materials characterization including advanced microscopy and neutron sciences. BMF research bridges the gap between fundamental materials discovery and requirements for automotive and grid cells with a primary emphasis on integrating next-generation active materials and novel processing methods.


    Dr. Ilias Belharouak is a distinguished scientist and the group leader of the Battery Roll-to-Roll Manufacturing at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee. Ilias also serves as a professor of the Bredesen Center for Interdisciplinary Research and Graduate Education at the University of Tennessee—Knoxville. In his role at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Ilias oversees multidisciplinary R&D programs sponsored by the US. Department of Energy on works relating to battery energy storage and advanced manufacturing. Previously, he was the research director and founding chief scientist of the Electrochemical Energy Storage Center in Qatar Foundation. Ilias also served as a professor at the Hamad Bin Khalifa University (HBKU) for two years. Before joining Qatar Foundation in 2013, he was a material scientist at Argonne National Laboratory, Illinois, from 2001-13.

    Ilias has been recognized with several awards including five R&D 100 innovation awards and four U.S. Federal Laboratory Consortium Awards. He published more than 160 peer-reviewed papers, 50 U.S. Patents and Patent Applications and 5 books. He is currently the editor of the Elsevier’s Journal of Power Sources, holds an h-index of 67 and was invited more than 60-times around the globe. He received a Ph.D. degree (1999) and master’s degree (1996) in materials science and solid-state chemistry from the Institute for Solid State Chemistry, National Center for Scientific Research, Bordeaux 1 University, France.

  • Ricardo Diniz, Solo Sailor and Inspirational Speaker

    Video of Meet Solo sailor, Author, Coach and Actor, Ricardo Diniz, from Portugal.

    The Tool Box of Life

    But when I look back at every country visited, every ocean sailed, every hike in nature and every smooth flight , it wasn't so much about the places but the people who made those places mean something. —Ricardo Diniz

    Ricardo DinizSolo sailor, coach and entrepreneur

    Ricardo Diniz has sailed the equivalent of nearly four times around the world, with more than 100,000 miles logged. He has become a weather router and expedition manager for climbers, rowers and sailors. In addition to his sailing and other related skills, Diniz is an author and entrepreneur.

    Join us for an inspirational presentation on leadership.

    • September 29, 2022
    • 4:30 p.m.
    • WMU, Fetzer Center
  • Annie Murphy Paul, Author and Speaker

    Annie Murphy Paul

    Join us September 14 for a Custer Speaker Series event featuring author Annie Murphy Paul.

    • Wednesday, September 14, 4:30 p.m.
    • Fetzer Center
    • Free book for the first 75 guests
    • Book signing and light snacks following talk

    Annie Murphy Paul is an acclaimed science writer whose work has appeared in the New York Times, the Boston Globe, Scientific American, Slate, Time magazine, and The Best American Science Writing, among many other publications. She is the author of Origins, reviewed on the cover of The New York Times Book Review and selected by that publication as a "Notable Book," and The Cult of Personality, hailed by Malcolm Gladwell in the New Yorker as a “fascinating new book.” She has held the Bernard Schwartz Fellowship and the Future Tense Fellowship at New America; currently, she is a fellow in New America’s Learning Sciences Exchange. She has also received the Spencer Education Reporting Fellowship and the Rosalyn Carter Mental Health Journalism Fellowship. Paul has spoken to audiences around the world about learning and cognition; her TED Talk has been viewed by more than 2.6 million people. A graduate of Yale University and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, she has served as a lecturer at Yale University and as a senior advisor at the Yale University Poorvu Center for Teaching and Learning.

    Book CoverThe Extended Mind: The Power of Thinking Outside the Brain

    A bold new book reveals how we can tap the intelligence that exists beyond our brains—in our bodies, our surroundings, and our relationships

    Use your head.

    That’s what we tell ourselves when facing a tricky problem or a difficult project. But a growing body of research indicates that we’ve got it exactly backwards. What we need to do, says acclaimed science writer Annie Murphy Paul, is think outside the brain. A host of “extra-neural” resources—the feelings and movements of our bodies, the physical spaces in which we learn and work, and the minds of those around us— can help us focus more intently, comprehend more deeply, and create more imaginatively.

    The Extended Mind outlines the research behind this exciting new vision of human ability, exploring the findings of neuroscientists, cognitive scientists, psychologists, and examining the practices of educators, managers, and leaders who are already reaping the benefits of thinking outside the brain. She excavates the untold history of how artists, scientists, and authors—from Jackson Pollock to Jonas Salk to Robert Caro—have used mental extensions to solve problems, make discoveries, and create new works. In the tradition of Howard Gardner’s Frames of Mind or Daniel Goleman’s Emotional Intelligence, The Extended Mind offers a dramatic new view of how our minds work, full of practical advice on how we can all think better.

  • Stewardship through Bees and Seeds

    Join us April 5 for a Custer Speaker Series event featuring WMU gardeners Sharon Mullins and Laura Moss who will share their experience supporting bees, collecting and planting native seeds, and restoring the ecosystem on campus.

    • Tuesday, April 5, 12:30 p.m.
    • C-136 Floyd Hall on WMU's Parkview Campus
    • Lunch provided

    Mullins and Moss have built a pollinator house for native bees on the Western’s Parkview campus to support bees and all pollinators. They also collect and plant native seeds on campus, often sharing seeds with the WMU community. Restoring the ecosystem on campus is their favorite part of about their job!

    Team with large feed house
  • Student Research Presentations

    During this session, you will hear from two Ph.D. students working in the Energy Efficient and Autonomous Vehicle lab about their exciting research projects.

    • March 22 at 12:30
    • D-132 Floyd Hall on WMU's Parkview Campus
    • Lunch provided

    Farhang Motallebi

    Mobility Energy Productivity Evaluation of Prediction-based Vehicle Powertrain Control Combined with Optimal Traffic Management

    Farhang Motallebi, a Ph.D. student in mechanical engineering, will share details about his research—Mobility Energy Productivity Evaluation of Prediction-based Vehicle Powertrain Control Combined with Optimal Traffic Management. Araghi works under Dr. Zachary Asher in the Energy Efficient and Autonomous Vehicles Lab. He received his Master of Science in automotive engineering at Iran University of Science and Technology. His research interest is in vehicle automation and intelligent transportation infrastructure. He is focusing on developing technologies in optimization, control and machine learning to improve energy efficiency and mobility for automated vehicles.


    Johan Fanas

    Performance Evaluation of an Autonomous Vehicle Using Resilience Engineering

    Johan Fanas, a Ph.D. student in mechanical engineering, will present information about his research project—Performance Evaluation of an Autonomous Vehicle Using Resilience Engineering. Fanas works under Asher in the Energy Efficient and Autonomous Vehicles Lab. He received his Bachelor of Science in mechanical engineering at Technological Institute of Santo Domingo and his Master of Science at Western. His research interest is autonomous vehicles, robotics and artificial intelligence. He focuses on developing new system evaluation metrics for autonomous vehicles, localization, controls and using artificial intelligence to improve operational resilience

  • Greg Dobson, COO and Principal, AVB

    Bringing Costco to Kalamazoo: AVB’s Perseverance and Success

    Join us for a special presentation about perseverance and positivity with Greg Dobson, chief operating officer and principal at AVB Inc., a regional leading development company. Hear how the organization’s endurance brought Costco to Kalamazoo. Students, faculty, professionals, and community members will learn what it takes to address the challenges in making a project come to life in any professional role or industry. The construction on the 40-acre development of Corner @ Drake began in November of 2013, but land acquisition and planning took place over the course of more than 20 years as AVB envisioned the long-term potential of the property.

    Join us for an inspirational presentation on perseverance, leadership and success.

    • March 1, 2022
    • 4:30 p.m., followed by a Q&A session
    • Refreshments following presentation
    • WMU, Fetzer Center

    About Greg Dobson

    Greg Dobson is COO and Principal of AVB, a leading construction and development firm dedicated to great homes, buildings and developments. A Western alumnus, Dobson first studied paper science, then earned a Bachelor of Business Administration in 1991, followed by a Master of Business Administration in 1995. From 1991 until 1998, he was assistant to the president under Western’s fifth president, Dr. Diether H. Haenicke. He then  worked as associate athletic director responsible for external affairs and four sports before joining the AVB team in 1999. In 2006 he invested in the firm as a partner and became principal and chief operating officer. He currently serves as president of the WMU Alumni Association.

  • Dr. Barbara Oakley: Educator. Writer. Engineer.

    Photo of Dr. Barbara OakleyLearn How to Learn: Powerful Mental Tools To Help Master Tough Subjects

    • Thursday, Sept. 16, 4:30 p.m.
    • Fetzer Center on WMU's main campus (2251 Business Court).
    • Author of A Mind for Numbers, Oakley will provide free books to first 75 WMU students and faculty attending the event. 
    • Book signing and light snacks to follow talk.
    • Hosted by the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences and Dr. Matthew Cavalli, Associate Dean for Undergraduate Academic Affairs.


    Cover of Oakley's book A Mind for NumbersAbout Barbara Oakley

    Barbara Oakley, Ph.D., is the bestselling author of A Mind for Numbers, a professor of engineering at Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan, and a Professional Engineer. Her research involves bio-engineering with an emphasis on neuroscience and cognitive psychology. Oakley is an internationally recognized expert on learning and on creating high-quality online materials for massive open online courses. With Dr. Terrence Sejnowski, Francis Crick Professor at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, she co-created and teaches one of the world's most popular MOOCs, Learning How to Learn.

For more information about the Custer Speaker Series, contact Carey Schoolmaster.