One of the major benefits of the teacher-scholar model at Bucknell is that we can leverage the benefits of research in our courses — and we do.

Mike Malusis with a student

Professor Mike Malusis ’93, civil & environmental engineering, is proud of what he’s brought back to his alma mater. Since joining the Bucknell faculty in 2005, he’s been a principal investigator on grants totaling close to $1 million, helping the College of Engineering obtain specialized equipment for research and teaching. That equipment has provided research and enhanced classroom learning in ways that are rare for an undergraduate-focused institution.

“My research directly feeds into my teaching,” Malusis says. “Not only do students get involved in the research, but I can bring the research instrumentation that we’ve gathered into the classroom as well. One of the major benefits of the teacher-scholar model at Bucknell is that I can leverage the benefits of research in my courses — and I do.”

National Science Foundation grants won by Malusis and his collaborators have enabled Bucknell to purchase equipment that offers unique opportunities for students, including a customized twin-screw extrusion apparatus for fabricating polymer nanocomposites — one of the first such instruments installed at any university in the world — and a track-mounted, remote-controlled drilling rig capable of boring up to 100 feet below ground.

“We talk about subsurface exploration in class, but it’s so much more meaningful when we can go out in the field and actually drill a hole and see what comes out, log the soil types, measure where the groundwater table is,” says Malusis, who is a geotechnical engineer. “It gives students real experiences that you can’t get from pictures on a PowerPoint.”

A more recent NSF-funded project will benefit Bucknell students for years and even decades to come. At a field-research site just across the Susquehanna River from campus, Malusis and fellow professors Jeffrey Evans, civil & environmental engineering, and Robert Jacob, geology & environmental geosciences, are studying the in-situ properties of an underground vertical barrier, known as a soil-bentonite cutoff wall, as it reacts to seasonal cycles in temperature and moisture, the pressure of the earth around it and other stressors over time. Engineers like Malusis have designed thousands of such barriers around factories and landfills to prevent waste and pollution from contaminating groundwater. But how well these barriers perform that task, especially as they age, remains largely unstudied, he says. Sensors with wireless transmitters will allow Malusis, his colleagues and students to examine how Bucknell’s test barrier responds to stresses in real time for years to come.

A licensed professional engineer, Malusis worked in industry for several years before transitioning to academia, and continues to perform occasional consulting work. His ability to share his real-world experiences also enlivens what students learn in his classroom, enabling them to see beyond the “what” of engineering to understand the “how” and “why.”

“I can give the students a much more insightful window into what it’s like to practice engineering than I could without that type of experience,” he says. “That’s what’s most important to me about my consulting background — it translates to learning opportunities for my students.”

Updated Sept. 23, 2016