Research

Mechanical engineering graduate student Songpo Li received the Colorado Innovation S.T.A.R.S. challenge award for “Best Technical Achievement” at the college level during the JeffCo Innovation Faire Sept. 12. Li’s research project, “Gaze-Driven Automated Robotic Laparoscope System,” allows surgeons to interact with the laparoscopic vision easier and more naturally using their gaze, while freeing both their hands for manipulating the surgical instruments in laparoscopic surgery.

“It was a great opportunity to demonstrate our research results to the public through the Innovation Faire, and it was also my great honor and pleasure to receive this award,” Li said. “Using this system, the surgeon can perform the operation solo, which has great practicability in situations like the battlefield and others with limited human resources.”

Submissions were awarded based on research that was "original thinking and solved a real problem."

 

Contact:

Kathleen Morton, Communications Coordinator / 303-273-3088 / kmorton@mines.edu
Karen Gilbert, Director of Public Relations / 303-273-3541 / kgilbert@mines.edu

 

This story appears in the 2014-15 issue of Mines' research magazine, "Energy & the Earth."

 

Water and oil don’t mix. With oil and gas production and water, it’s quite the opposite.

Getting at the unconventional oil and gas reserves at the heart of America’s energy boom can take millions of gallons of water per well before the first hydrocarbons emerge.[1] One estimate puts the hydrologic demands of the 80,000 wells in 17 states drilled since 2005 at more than 250 billion gallons.[2] That’s three times the volume of Denver Water’s Dillon Reservoir.

Yet in the western United States and elsewhere, geologic “accident” has placed some of the most promising unconventional oil and gas reserves below parched landscapes.

Mines researchers are at the forefront of enhancing our still-nascent understanding of this modern story of oil and water, and more broadly in the development of new ways to boost freshwater resources in an era of rising demand and growing scarcity.

ConocoPhillips’ recent $3 million gift to establish the new Center for a Sustainable WE2ST (Water-Energy Education, Science and Technology) is the latest testament to Mines’ strengths in water.

The idea is to focus on a single formation such as the Niobrara, taking a comprehensive look at the complex technical and social interdependencies of oil and gas development and limited water resources. Professor John McCray, head of Mines’ Civil and Environmental Engineering Department, describes a wide-ranging effort, involving remote sensing and hydrological models to map out water sources and the tools of geochemistry, hydrology, microbiology and environmental engineering to develop ways to clean up the water that emerges from the depths during oil and gas operations. The work also will involve a strong social-sciences component led by Mines anthropologist Professor Jessica Rolston, McCray said, to help define ways to communicate the actual risks of unconventional energy development and get energy companies, regulators and the public on the same factual page.

“It’s a partnership with ConocoPhillips that can break new ground, and one that doesn’t exist outside of this center,” McCray said. “We want to come out and be the honest broker.”

Education is a key component of the ConocoPhillips center, said Associate Professor Terri Hogue, who is directing the new center. A big part of the budget will go to fellowships for 15 to 20 masters and PhD students, she said, in addition to 10 undergraduate fellowships each year. The center will attract top-notch talent all focusing on the nexus of water resources and energy development.

Professor Tzahi Cath is among those at Mines already at work at that confluence. Cath directs Mines’ Advanced Water Technology Center (AQWATEC), which is developing a range of water-treatment technologies. This spring, the masters students in Cath’s Environmental Engineering Pilot Lab course were studying if adding an inky slurry of activated charcoal to the city of Golden’s water treatment process might help remove the organics that have spiked in reservoirs along Colorado’s Front Range after the 2013 flood. A green garden hose snaked from a tank in the bed of the AQWATEC pickup parked on the sidewalk outside Coolbaugh Hall. It fed a bench-scale model of Golden’s water treatment plant, its upper tanks full of fluid like curdling apple cider. If it worked here, they would test the activated charcoal in a Mines pilot plant housed in the treatment facility itself and, assuming the city adopts the approach, would help with the transition to the full-scale plant.

“Usually, the city adopts our recommendations,” Cath said.

A bit downhill, in AQWATEC’s space in Mines’ General Research Laboratory, PhD student Bryan Coday was working near several hip-high plastic drums, some encrusted with salt (they’re for a project testing new ways to extract valuable potassium sulfate from the Great Salt Lake).

Others contained produced water from hydraulic fracturing operations, and Coday was working on a system to cleanse it using low-pressure osmosis and flat-sheet polymeric membranes. To the touch, the membranes felt like high-end wrapping paper, but in practice is a very sophisticated material. The system uses salt water to attract clean water from the deep-brown produced water across the membrane, which retains contaminants.

“Produced water is difficult to treat because of the hydrocarbons and complex organic compounds, plus high salinity,” Cath said. Mines environmental chemist Professor Christopher Higgins is working with Cath to identify just what chemicals from the different samples of produced water cross the membranes, and how they can improve the process to produce even drinking-quality water from produced water.

A test system had performed well enough that Coday and research assistant Mike Veres were now in the midst of building a pilot-scale system. “Harnessing the natural chemical energy of brine as the driving force for wastewater treatment has its advantages,” Cath said. “Such systems are mechanically simpler, take less energy, and are easier to clean because the grime hasn’t been rammed into filter pores as happens with high-pressure systems.”

If some combination of low-pressure filtration and microbial treatment (another AQWATEC project being tested across the lab in columns of activated carbon next to the AQWATEC aluminum boat) can economically bring produced water to the high standards of municipal wastewater treatment, the benefits are hard to miss. Water locked up two miles below could be released into streams in drought-prone regions, actually boosting the water budget. And oil and gas operations could reuse some portion of this new resource in their hydraulic fracturing operations. Coday is enthusiastic.

 “It’s a great opportunity to work on a project where industry is moving at such a quick pace on the energy side, on the water side and on the regulatory side,” he said.

Another major project has a similarly sweeping purview, but pertains to urban water use. Since 2011, Mines has teamed with Stanford University, the University of California at Berkeley and New Mexico State University on a 10-year, $40 million effort that aims to transform how cities in the arid West use and reuse water. The program, called Re-Inventing the Nation’s Urban Water Infrastructure (ReNUWIt), is the first National Science Foundation-funded Engineering Research Center to focus on water issues.

McCray, who leads the Mines effort, said a dozen Mines faculty are leading or working on some 20 ReNUWIt projects. Hogue is spearheading an effort involving several Mines colleagues to determine the potential impact of August 2013’s 257,000-acre Sierra Nevada Rim Fire on water supplies to San Francisco and surrounding counties. Cath’s team is refining a portable, commercial-scale sequence batch membrane bioreactor that has proven its mettle with the wastewater from the apartments at Mines Park – capable of producing drinking water from domestic wastewater. Mines professors Tissa Illangasekare and Kate Smits lead a project that is developing technology to allow underground aquifers to treat and store water and then re-use it rather than letting it escape downstream. They are researching the use of sensors that provide real-time feedback on system performance, so decisions can be made to improve operation efficiency. Mines Associate Professor Linda Figueroa is working with the Plum Creek Wastewater Authority south of Denver on a pilot-scale system using anaerobic wastewater treatment. The system has been in operation for 1.5 years and has reduced more than 40 percent of the influent organic matter without the expense of oxygen (unlike traditional aerobic methods) and, as a bonus, produces energy while it cleans wastewater.

As with the ConocoPhillips center, ReNUWIt involves a heavy social science component. That’s because, for all the technological capabilities on display at Mines, the biggest challenges facing smarter water systems may reside between our ears. People just don’t like the idea of drinking reclaimed water (in Singapore they call it NeWater), McCray said, even though that’s what the South Platte River really is. Collectively, such apprehensions coalesce into powerful social and political barriers.

 “They’re by far the biggest hurdles to clear if we’re going to have any change in the way we develop our infrastructure,” McCray said.

 

Mechanical engineering professor Ozkan Celik and two Mines students have designed a robotic exoskeleton, named the Wrist Gimbal, which would assist stroke patients to complete repetitive movement therapy tasks. Based on a previous model Celik designed, this new robotic device focuses on two rotational degrees of freedom and would cost less than $5,000.

Robots have degrees of freedom, otherwise known as joints that enable their movements. Each revolute joint creates one rotational degree of freedom. As the team decreased the degrees of freedom from three to two in the new device, they used more balanced and robust materials and created an improved intuitive visual interface.

“The degree of freedom we eliminated was wrist abduction and adduction—which has the smallest range of motion among the three,” Celik said. “Also, exercising wrist flexion and extension can be expected to benefit abduction and adduction as some muscles are involved in both movements.”

Since wheelchairs are not uncommon for stroke patients, the team developed a robotic exoskeleton that a stroke patient could be strapped into while seated. Patients would hold onto the device and use wrist movements to complete assessment exercises that would determine their maximum range of motion. The robot applies force to aid or deter movements, and records responses in particular tasks.

“The device provides motivation,” Celik said. “Our game-like interface exerts assistive forces to stimulate patients and prompt them to complete exercises with assistance.”

Senior mechanical engineering student and president of Robotics Club David Long worked on the mechanical design and 3D printed, machined and laser cut several of the parts of the device and specialized in the robot’s control system.

“Feedback control is one of those classes I took last semester that I didn’t think I was going to use much. Then suddenly, that’s all I did all summer and it was great because when you see something theoretical like that and apply it in practice, it really gives you a lot of faith in course work,” Long said. “I am going to be using it for a long time.”

Graduate mechanical engineering student Hossein Saadatzi is currently working on the kinematics and dynamics of the device and developing an active gravity compensation method that would allow the robot to provide more accurate force feedback.

“In my graduate study, I wanted to improve my skills in practical and experimental work,” Saadatzi said. “I chose biomechatronics because I can apply my knowledge to help patients get better.”

 

Contact:

Kathleen Morton, Communications Coordinator / 303-273-3088 / kmorton@mines.edu
Karen Gilbert, Director of Public Relations / 303-273-3541 / kgilbert@mines.edu

This story appears in the 2014-15 issue of Mines' research magazine, "Energy & the Earth."

For those of us residing on the planet’s surface, the term “shale” evokes visions of flaking layers of rock you can all but peel away by hand. Oil and gas shale is nothing like this. Pick up a cylindrical core brought up from a reservoir two miles below – from the Bakken in North Dakota, the Niobrara in Colorado, the Vaca Muerte in Argentina, it doesn’t matter – and it’s heavy and solid like a hunk of marble. The hydrocarbons are locked inside, perhaps 100,000 times more tightly than would be the case were it merely mixed into concrete.

This is the stuff, though, of the American – and, increasingly, global – boom in unconventional oil and gas. You can’t just drop a well bore into rock like this and watch hydrocarbons gush out. You muse use advanced horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing technologies to release the oil and gas. Roughly one-third of the U.S. natural gas production heating our homes and fueling our factories is won this way. Two-thirds of all rigs are drilling horizontal wells. Unconventional energy, at least as applies to shale oil and gas, has become conventional.

Hydraulic fracturing has been around for decades, but we’re still learning about it. What are the true environmental impacts? How can we increase yields to bring more output per well and so have fewer wells, lower costs, cut trade imbalances and lessen the impact on the planet? Can these same techniques be applied to renewable geothermal technologies? Researchers at Colorado School of Mines are working to answer these and other questions via a broad set of disciplines and several noteworthy vehicles. Among them include the Marathon Center of Excellence for Reservoir Studies (MCERS); the new ConocoPhillips Center for a Sustainable We2st (Water-Energy Education, Science and Technology); and a new National Science Foundation (NSF)-sponsored program to understand the risks of natural gas development to the Rocky Mountain Region’s air and water.

As Mines Professor Dag Nummedal, who directs the Colorado Energy Research Institute, put it, “We really focus on making fossil energy more sustainable. That means reducing CO2 emissions, reducing methane emissions, and doing energy development in ways that allow the fossil energy industry to coexist with clean water, agriculture, breathable air and optimal temperatures.”

As part of a five-year, multi-institution NSF project, Mines researchers will focus on quantifying what those risks actually are, said Professor Will Fleckenstein. In the public arena in particular, assertions about the environmental and public health impacts of hydraulic fracturing have not infrequently outstripped their scientific basis, he added.

The projects include a study of the stresses in the cement sheaths and well casings for a better sense of what they can actually handle, he said. Fleckenstein is at the forefront of such work, having invented a technology, now ready for market, that uses a pressure test to ensure a sound hydraulic seal at depths of 300 to 2,000 feet, the zone of freshwater aquifers. The team will also examine databases relating to hydrocarbon migration for a better sense of if, how, and how often it happens.

Elsewhere at Mines, researchers will use a wind tunnel filling what used to be the Volk Gymnasium pool to better grasp how methane from natural gas production migrates through surface soils. Ground and aircraft-based sensors are sometimes finding methane hot spots with no obvious methane sources. That ground-based and air-based sensors tend to disagree on the volume of methane leaking has made the work all the more urgent, said Kathleen Smits an assistant professor. PhD student Ariel Esposito was at work on a small-scale version of the experiment at the pool’s edge. She would feed methane into the bottom of a tank of fine gravel, sand and water and detect it through sensors on top at a rate of 500 samples per second.

“It’s a really important field because there’s a lot of uncertainty about the amount of gas that’s leaking,” Esposito said. “We’re trying to lend some insights into the underlying processes.”

Meanwhile, Mines is applying its renowned strengths in reservoir characterization to boost the production of hydraulically fractured wells, which makes both economic and environmental sense. There’s a big potential upside, said Professor Hossein Kazemi, who co-directs MCERS: current production techniques only yield about 10 percent of unconventional oil, compared to 30 to 40 percent for conventional reservoirs. The work ranges from major field studies of the Bakken, Niobrara and Vaca Muerte led by Professor Steve Sonnenberg to lab experiments focusing on the nanoscale properties of reservoir rock.

As with much of the work at Mines, the research involves both experimentation and computer modeling. In one of Kazemi’s Marquez Hall labs, Mines PhD student Younki Cho has spent two years building a core flooding experiment to measure shale permeability at the nanoscale. The experiment can also inject surfactants or carbon dioxide to simulate enhanced oil recovery, he said. The stainless-steel setup was forcing pressurized brine into a 1.5-inch by 2-inch cylindrical rock core at confining stress of 2,625.7 pounds per square inch (psi) and pressure differential of 2,100 psi, producing a flow of 0.003 cubic centimeter (cc) per minute.

“It’s a very slow rate because permeability is so small,” Cho said. “You have to be very patient.”

Downstairs, PhD student Somayeh Karimi was spinning cores in an ultracentrifuge humming at 13,000 rpm. It was 420 hours into a cycle.

“Right now we have not seen any published data on direct measurement of capillary pressure with reservoir fluids in tight shale rocks,” she said. The results will feed into modeling of how much oil and gas might be recoverable, how fast, and how long that recovery might take, Karimi added.

Over in Professor Marte Gutierrez’s Brown Hall lab, PhD student Luke Frash was fracturing rocks of his own, but larger ones of about a cubic foot. Using a black-steel cell of his own design, Frash applies heat and pressure in three dimensions, and then drills into and hydraulically fractures cubes of shale, high-strength cement and granite, testing for strain, temperature, pressure, sound, even micro-earthquakes. The idea is to understand the rock-mechanical behavior of underground formations, Gutierrez said.

“It’s a scale model of what’s going on in the field,” Gutierrez said.

The granite cubes in Frash’s lab are for studies of hydraulic fracturing for renewable geothermal applications, an active field of study at Mines, said Associate Professor Bill Eustes. He and Fleckenstein are working on a project with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory to see if multi-stage hydraulic fracturing technology used in unconventional shale can be applied to geothermal energy. There are many challenges, Eustes said – among them, thicker geothermal well bores and much more heat.

These and other efforts, including work to characterize possible reservoirs for carbon sequestration and storage, illustrate how the definitions of conventional, unconventional and renewable energy are starting to blur. It’s a fascinating time to be in the energy business, Nummedal said.

“The push for sustainability is driving technology at a faster rate of change than ever before,” he said.

 

 

It was a first for Mines when Linda Battalora, associate teaching professor in the Department of Petroleum Engineering, presented her research on bone density and fracture risk in HIV-infected adults at the Joint Session of the 14th European AIDS Conference and the 15th International Workshop on Co-morbidities and Adverse Drug Reactions in HIV, in October 2013 in Brussels.  

And as a Young Investigator Scholarship awardee, she presented her research at the Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections in March 2014 in Boston – another first for Mines.  

Breaking new research ground for Mines has been part of her pursuit toward a doctorate degree in Environmental Science and Engineering, but it was Battalora’s career in the oil and gas industry that sparked her interest in studying a health-related topic.

During her career in the oil and gas industry, she served as engineer, attorney and negotiator for international oil and gas project development. Her interest in the health of people stricken by infectious diseases like malaria, tuberculosis and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) in resource-limited countries led her to pursue cross-discipline, cross-college research with her Ph.D. advisors, John Spear in Mines’ Civil and Environmental Engineering Department, and Benjamin Young, of the International Association of Providers in AIDS Care; APEX Research, in collaboration with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

She earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in petroleum engineering from Mines, in 1987 and 1988 respectively, and then a Juris Doctor degree from Loyola University New Orleans College of Law in 1993. She is licensed to practice law in Colorado and Louisiana, and is a registered patent attorney.

“I grew up on the Gulf Coast, so I was familiar with offshore oil and gas development. I was good in math and science and I wanted to see the world,” Battalora said of her decision to study petroleum engineering.

In addition to her teaching role, Battalora has been a part time graduate student at Mines since 2009. She earned her Ph.D. in Environmental Science and Engineering in May 2014. The title of her thesis was, “Bones, Fractures, Antiretroviral Therapy and HIV.” 

“When I’m asked about my research, and I explain that it’s a public health topic, the typical response is another question: What does this have to do with petroleum engineering? It becomes a teachable moment,” Battalora said. “The short answer is that corporate social responsibility is an integral part of every oil and gas project.  When we enter a location for project development, we have a social responsibility to the community. Depending on where we are in the world, this may include building roads, health clinics, risk-prevention programs, schools or addressing other community needs. “

Asked how her Ph.D. will inform her teaching at Mines, she explained “Every engineering project involves the human workforce and regulatory frameworks.  Understanding the integration of health, safety, security, environment and social responsibility (HSSE-SR) is essential to maintain a healthy workforce and a safe, cost-effective engineering project. Students must understand these elements, integrate them in project development and be able to communicate effectively with representatives from the community, government agencies and other stakeholders.”

Battalora incorporates HSSE-SR in the undergraduate and graduate courses she teaches at Mines. She is a member of the Society of Petroleum Engineers (SPE) HSSE-SR Advisory Board and was recently awarded the 2014 SPE Rocky Mountain Regional Award for her work in HSSE-SR.

Battalora plans to continue her research with the CDC, and collaboration with Spear and Young, on HIV-related topics and HSSE-SR.

 

Contact:

Karen Gilbert, Director of Public Relations, Colorado School of Mines / 303-273-3541 / kgilbert@mines.edu
Kathleen Morton, Communications Coordinator, Colorado School of Mines / 303-273-3088 / kmorton@mines.edu
 

This story appears in the Spring 2014 issue of Mines magazine.

Are Women the Mining Industry’s Most Underdeveloped Resource?

Once legally barred from working in mines, women have spent decades battling for a place in the industry. Today, mining companies are finding that in addition to bringing valuable skills, female leaders are good for the bottom line.

 

By Lisa Marshall

In 1969, Betty Gibbs ’69, MS ’72 graduated from Mines armed with the third mining engineering degree the school had ever granted a woman (the first since 1920). She’d toiled nine years for it, juggling her studies with a part-time job and raising her daughter, but as she began to show up for job interviews, she was greeted with superstition and hostility.

Colorado, Wyoming and many other states still had laws on the books expressly prohibiting women from working underground. Myths that they were too fragile or brought bad luck abounded. On two occasions, Gibbs was refused entrance to mines due to her gender. “I know for a fact that most miners would walk off the job if a woman entered their mine,” a spokesman for the Colorado Bureau of Mines told the Rocky Mountain News in a story referencing Gibbs’ graduation.

Nevertheless, she persevered, becoming the first woman to work underground at Colorado’s Climax mine and quietly opening doors for generations of women to come. “I wasn’t out to prove anything,” says Gibbs, now executive director at the Mining and Metallurgical Society of America. “I just did my work, and eventually I was appreciated for it.”

Fast-forward to today when the mining industry not only is more accepting of women, but—in the face of mounting research showing that companies with more gender diversity enjoy greater profitability, improved safety records and higher social and environmental responsibility ratings—is also actively courting them.

 

Read the rest of the story and more on the Mines magazine website. Blastercast interview with Dr. Priscilla Nelson.

 

Civil and Environmental Engineering graduate student Skylar Zilliox received an Engineering Physics degree from Mines in the spring, but this was not her first degree. She also received a bachelor associate degree in Liberal Arts from St. John’s College in Santa Fe in 2009. Being a non-traditional student, we asked Skylar to tell her about her experiences here on campus and give advice to future students like her.

What was your experience like before you came to Mines?

Since it's kind of an unusual program, I'll give you my 30-second cocktail party spiel on it. It's a Great Books program, which means that we read the original texts in philosophy, literature, math, and science that have been most formative for western civilization. We start with the ancient Greeks (Plato, Aristotle, Homer), and move forward in time from there, up to about mid-20th century; every class is discussion-based, with a strong emphasis on building critical thinking and conversational skills. I loved everything there, but I was probably most passionate about history and philosophy of science.

Why did you choose Mines?

I graduated from St. John's thinking I wanted to become a high school teacher, but three semesters working as an in-class tutor for a college prep program in Denver Public Schools convinced me to seek out a different career path. As important as teaching is, I found myself wanting more concrete results from my work. My parents are both engineers, and my mother actually graduated from Mines in 1980, so going into engineering was a fairly natural transition. I grew up in Denver, and I knew I wanted to stay close to my family, so Mines was far and away my first choice, particularly given the high academic standards here.

Afterwards you became a teaching assistant. What did you gain from that experience?

I was a TA for Physics II, which focuses on electricity and magnetism. I would say the main thing I learned was how to quickly adjust my explanations for different learning styles. I am a very visual person, so to me, the concepts in that class were easiest to grasp by visualizing what the electromagnetic fields were doing. However, many students respond much better to equations, or to analogies to physical objects. Learning to switch up my teaching style was probably one of the most important skills I took from being a TA. That, and compassion: if you assume that everyone in there is having a hard time (because it's a physics class, so who isn't?) and treat them gently and with lots of encouragement, students learn better. Being intimidated by a subject is a serious hurdle to actually learning it.

How did you get involved with the Nanoethics and Policy Education Effectiveness project and what resulted?

Physics professor Chuck Stone was actually a major factor here. I applied to REMRSEC, but told Chuck I was particularly interested in the ethics of energy development; he told me to go knock on Liberal Arts and International Studies professor Carl Mitcham's door, since Dr. Mitcham does a lot of work on ethics and technology. Dr. Mitcham, after a few meetings, arranged for me to work under fellow liberal arts and international studies professor Jessica Rolston's guidance last summer. I analyzed data from courses in Human Systems and Nature and Human Values that looked at how student's views on nanotechnology and related ethical issues changed as a result of those courses; this work continued this past school year as part of an Undergraduate Student Fellowship, culminating in one paper, submitted to NanoEthics, which is currently under review; we will hopefully get another paper, examining impacts across multiple semesters, written and submitted by the end of the year.

As a graduate student at Mines, what will you be working on with Jessica Rolston in the fall?

I will be in the Civil and Environmental Engineering graduate program, as part of a fellowship through the new ConocoPhilips Center for a Sustainable WE2ST (WE2ST stands for Water, Energy, Education, Science, and Technology). My research will be focusing on social aspects of the joint sustainability of water and unconventional energy sources. Jessica Rolston and civil and environmental engineering professor Terri Hogue will both be advising me—Terri will provide support for engineering aspects of the work, and Jessica, with her background in energy anthropology, will be guiding the "human" side of the investigation.

What advice would you give a non-traditional student at Mines?

It's not a race! I think it's easy to feel out of place, unaccomplished, or just "behind" when you're surrounded by people several years younger than you. Forming study groups with other non-traditionals is an excellent way to make friends with people in the same boat.

What do you intend to do after Mines?

You'd think, at my age, I'd have that figured out. Part of me wants to follow up on my passion for education, and end up teaching at the college level; however, I'm also quite interested in environmental remediation, and there are several companies that do very interesting work in that area. If past performance is any indication, I'll probably end up doing a mix of things. 

 

Contact:

Kathleen Morton, Communications Coordinator / 303-273-3088 / kmorton@mines.edu
Karen Gilbert, Director of Public Relations / 303-273-3541 / kgilbert@mines.edu

Colorado School of Mines mechanical engineering student Katarina Bujnoch was recently selected for a remote operated underwater vehicle (ROV) engineering summer internship, during which she will be studying the seafloor aboard the Exploration Vessel Nautilus. The Ocean Exploration Trust oversees the vessel and more than 150 rotating scientists, engineers, educators and students who are part of the mission.

Bujnoch will be examining the impacts of Deepwater Horizon oil spill on coral reefs and other marine ecosystems.

“I wanted to get into robotics, and I think this internship is unique because I get to be on the research side of the field,” Bujnoch said.

Bujnoch will study and maintain ROVs, Hercules and Argus. She will work with the two systems to explore, locate and describe new habitats, geological processes and cultural sites, to name a few.

“I’m hoping to have a better idea of how an actual ROV works,” Bujnoch said. “It will be exciting to learn what research is like in the field, especially in this different environment.”

Currently, Bujnoch is designing an underwater vehicle that can move around and transport objects as part of an undergraduate research fellowship.

 

Contact:

Kathleen Morton, Communications Coordinator / 303-273-3088 / KMorton@mines.edu
Karen Gilbert, Director of Public Relations / 303-273-3541 / KGilbert@mines.edu

If you have seen the James Bond movie, GoldenEye, or played the Nintendo 64 video game, you might remember the radio telescope at the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico. Mines mechanical engineering student Alexis Humann was selected for a 10-week summer research program, during which she will working on building an autonomous robot to clean the world's largest single-dish telescope.

“Right now when people clean it they put on giant snowshoes to even out their weight; the weight of a person would collapse it,” Humann said. “We will need to build a robot that is really light and well distributed.”

The observatory telescope is used to study the properties of planets, comets and asteroids. Scientists who want to use the telescope are required to submit proposals for an independent scientific board. It will be a unique opportunity for Humann to work with the telescope firsthand.

“Everyone in the aerospace industry knows about this observatory and it has a great reputation,” Humann said. “I will be working with some of the top scientists in the world. I am so excited to be able to meet them and learn all about their work.”

Humman is also looking forward to the opportunity to combine her mechanical engineering skills with her interest in aerospace.

“I think space exploration is going to move away from man exploration and go into the robotics side of things,” Humann said. “There is so much technology to improve upon there, and the possibilities are endless.”

Currently Humann is working on an undergraduate research fellowship with Dr. Douglas Van Bossuyt to build a robot that can analyze its health and make its own decisions.

 

Contact:

Kathleen Morton, Communications Coordinator / 303-273-3088 / KMorton@mines.edu
Karen Gilbert, Director of Public Relations / 303-273-3541 / KGilbert@mines.edu

An informational event providing insight into the function and practice of hydraulic fracture stimulation in the oil and gas industry, “Hydraulic Fracturing: Facts and Fiction,” was presented by the Mines student chapter of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists and Coloradans for Responsible Energy Development on the Mines campus on Feb. 26.

Attendees watched Phelim McAleer’s documentary, “FrackNation,” which aims to address concerns surrounding hydraulic fracturing as featured in an earlier documentary “Gasland.” Following the film, a panel discussion was held including Dr. William Fleckenstein, Mines petroleum engineering interim department head, Dr. Steve Sonnenberg, Mines Geology Department Boettcher Distinguished Chair Professor, and David Neslin, the past director of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.

“We had a lot of people there, I estimated around 800,” said Fleckenstein. “There were a lot of questions from the audience and I think the film gave a great contrast to ‘Gasland’.”

Student organizers recognized the importance of holding the event as a way to provide technical insight into a controversial topic.

“The practice of hydraulic fracture stimulation is a politically polarizing subject around the world; even to people that know very little about it. We created this event to shed light on the practice and discuss facts and fiction,” said Alex Gibson, geology graduate student and vice president of the Mines chapter of the AAPG.

Mustafa Al Ibrahim, a second year geology graduate student and an AAPG student officer, said that as a geologist he has been focused mostly on the technical aspects of hydraulic fracturing, but this discussion revealed the importance of the relationship between science, politics and public perceptions.

“My personal hope is that people, irrespective of their position, left the event with the mentality that they should question what they hear and see about such polarizing issues. I also hope that they realized that there are a lot venues to learn more about the issue,” he said.

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