Mike Kelly: IBM Engineer Puts Technological Expertise & Love of Lake George to Work for The Jefferson Project

The following profile was prepared by The FUND for Lake George prior to its 2021 merger with the LGA.

June 2020

Mike Kelly vividly remembers standing on his grandfather’s dock on Assembly Point as a child, gazing out over Lake George and thinking, “This place is perfect.” Four decades later, as one of the lead scientists and technologists on The Jefferson Project at Lake George, Mike understands like few others the very real pressures that threaten that aura of perfection — and he’s putting science and technology to work to preserve his boyhood vision.

“Lake George is about as near perfect as any lake on the planet…”

“Lake George is about as near perfect as any lake on the planet, but it’s not perfect and the only way to address the imperfections and the threats is to understand the Lake’s natural systems better,” says Mike, a senior research engineer with IBM, one of the partners in The Jefferson Project along with The FUND for Lake George and RPI.

Founded in 2013, the groundbreaking environmental research collaboration is committed to protecting the Lake’s legendary water quality through cutting-edge science and highly advanced technologies. More than 50 sensor platforms and 500 “Smart Sensors” are deployed in and around the Lake, gathering immense amounts of physical and chemical data, which feed powerful computer models and inform a wide variety of experiments, all designed to pinpoint existing threats to the Lake, identify future threats, and develop science-guided solutions.

Mike Kelly seen with Lake George on the background

Mike, a master’s degree-level electrical engineer, approached IBM leaders at the start of the Project and offered his expertise to develop and implement the Smart Sensor Network. But it wasn’t long before his lifelong love of Lake George and lifetime commitment to learning had him enmeshed in all aspects of the Project’s work — so much so, in fact, that he’s now pursuing a multidisciplinary doctorate from RPI with an emphasis in limnology, the study of lakes.

Accelerating his passion was Mike’s groundbreaking work in the summer of 2018 to understand the root causes of harmful algal blooms. He and other Jefferson Project team members traveled to Skaneateles Lake in Central New York, considered a sister lake to Lake George because of its water clarity and quality, to help determine why that lake had begun experiencing harmful blooms. Sensors were deployed to see what was happening in the lake, and Mike’s analysis uncovered little-known, but hugely important, hydrodynamic influences that created the perfect storm for a toxic outbreak — knowledge that can now be applied toward protecting Lake George.

“Everyone on The Jefferson Project realizes we can be more successful the more we learn about and participate in our partners’ domains,” Mike says of diving into the science side of the Project. In general, he notes:  IBM harnesses its world-leading technology to gather the Project’s data, RPI applies its acclaimed scientific research and analysis, and The FUND develops science-based advocacy and protection programs, like those that combat invasive species, nutrient overloading, and harmful road salt. “The science, the technology, the advocacy, they all work together to strengthen our ability to protect the Lake,” he says.

And so, as the adult Mike Kelly gazes toward the future of Lake George — the threats and the opportunities — is his glass half-full or half-empty?  He doesn’t hesitate.

“If we’re diligent in recognizing and addressing the stressors impacting the Lake, the glass is completely full.”