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Ron Muzzi
Katie Valentine
/ Categories: Profile, Great Lakes

Ron Muzzi

Ron Muzzi has been a marine engineer at NOAA’s Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory (GLERL) since 1979. Throughout his career, Ron has worked to extend the reach of technology to study the Great Lakes. In leading the GLERL Marine Instrumentation Laboratory (MIL)'s team of engineers, he has worked on the development of instrumentation and equipment to monitor the physical, chemical, and biological changes of our freshwater lakes. Some of these monitoring tools have been invented by Ron and his MIL team and others adapted from oceanographic equipment to large freshwater lake use.

Ron launched his career at GLERL as a part-time engineering aid when he was a college freshman. In the process of completing his college education while working at the lab, he followed the advice of his supervisor by taking courses that built broad foundation in math, science, physics, chemistry, and thermodynamics. This foundation has served Ron well as an electronics engineer, a position that later transitioned into MIL team lead for GLERL.

Ron describes himself as a "jack of all trades" as he manages the front lines in delivering real time data from the Great Lakes back to the lab for analysis and modeling. Speaking from many years of experience, Ron stresses that NOAA GLERL’s monitoring systems must be designed and built to stand up to the rugged environment of the Great Lakes. These monitoring systems — made up of integrated electrical and mechanical components — must not only survive working in the water, but also reliably provide accurate data. He identifies one of the most challenging aspects of his job is “knowing what to do when things go wrong in the field and how to solve those problems, including when problem solving needs to be diagnosed remotely from the lab.”

Ron recognizes the importance of listening carefully to scientists to make sure he understands what they are trying to learn about the Great Lakes in their research pursuits. In doing so, Ron is better able to configure the tools needed to monitor changes in the lakes to meet GLERL’s research goals and objectives. Frequently, this involves designing a new instrument or adapting an existing one designed for the ocean for freshwater use.

Ron compares the challenges in his work as a marine engineer to solving puzzles.“I am really inspired by the creative process of designing and putting together innovative monitoring tools that are efficient, reliable, economical, and functional in rugged conditions,” he says. “Being reliable in the harsh environment of the Great Lakes is especially critical. If our desktop computer crashes, we can easily reboot it, but that’s not an option when the computer is located inside a buoy a few miles from shore on a stormy day.” 

One important development that Ron has helped advance is NOAA GLERL’s Real-Time Environmental Coastal Observation Network (ReCON) buoys, expanding GLERL’s capacity to monitor the Great Lakes. In working with the MIL team, Ron helped build and maintain the ReCON network—a system of wireless Internet observation buoys positioned at coastal locations around the Great Lakes covering approximately 800 square miles. The system of buoys, powered by solar energy, collects meteorological (Met) data and also provides sub-surface measurements of chemical, biological, and physical conditions. ReCON buoys obtain data in real-time that is accessible to the public and ensures the safety of user groups going out on the water, such as surfers, anglers and boaters, duck hunters, sailors, as well as researchers.  

Ron’s advice for young people interested in marine engineering harkens back to how he spent his childhood, experimenting with taking things apart and putting them bck together. “Young people need to experiment on their own, play around with science and technology kits, and get a good foundation in the basic sciences and mathematics. You may even consider exploring music.” Ron plays the piano and organ as well as directing his church choir and strongly believes that his musical pursuits have transferred over to strengthening his engineering skills. “Designing requires a creative spirit which should be explored at a young age.” 

This profile was adapted from an article on GLERL's website. For the full profile, click here

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