Research

Colorado School of Mines mechanical engineering student Katrina 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. 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.

The Feb. 27-28 Conference on Earth & Energy Research gave graduate students the opportunity to practice presenting their research in a professional environment, while judges provided feedback. Last year, two undergraduates showcased their work, but this year, that number rose to nine.

“I’m very happy about the turnout,” Graduate Student Government Academic Chair John Bristow said. “In the past, they’ve been very grad-centered.”

Two speakers presented keynote speeches between students’ poster and oral sessions.

Ken Salazar, former Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior and U.S. Senator from Colorado, delivered the opening keynote address on North American energy independence. Salazar told stories of the BP oil spill in 2010 and shared conversations with President Barack Obama two years after the disaster.

Dr. Pieter Tans, Senior Scientist and Earth System Research Laboratory at NOAA, closed the conference with “Climate Change: Man Made Climate Change and Energy Policy.” Tans shared his research on measuring carbon dioxide and other gases in the atmosphere, detailing some of the causes of these increases and what this means for our future.

2014 research competition winners:

  • Overall 1st: Tara Pandey
  • Overall 2nd: Susana Guzman
  • Overall Poster: Tara Yoder
  • Overal Oral: Pascale Meysing
  • Overall Off-campus: Vishal Nangla (U Wyo)
  • Undergraduate: Sarah Rommelfanger
  • Chemical and Biological Engineering: Nicholas Rorrer
  • Chemical and GeoChemistry: Jacqueline Cloud
  • Economics and Business: Ben Johnson
  • Geological Engineering: Joshua Day
  • Geophysics: Joyce Hoopes
  • Hydrology: Rachel Feist
  • Liberal Arts and International Studies: Nathaniel Mauger
  • Materials Science: Alyaa Elramady
  • Mechanical Engineering: Brandon Blakeley
  • Metallurgical and Materials Engineering: Stephanie Miller
  • Petroleum Engineering: Taylor Patterson
  • Physics: Lauryn Baranowski
  • Applied Mathematics and Statistics: Brian Zaharatos
  • Mining Engineering: Yu Koizumi
  • Nuclear Engineering: Michael Servis
  • Civil and Environmental Engineering: Kerri Hickenbottom
  • Electrical Engineering and Computer Science: Craig Champlin

More information can be found at ceerconference.org.

 

Contact:

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

Former Mines PhD student and recipient of the 2014 Nicholas Metropolis Award for Outstanding Doctoral Work in Computational Physics, Michael Wall, was invited to present “Quantum many-body physics of ultracold molecules in optical lattices: models and simulation methods,” at the American Physical Society March Meeting 2014 in Denver March 3-7. Nearly 10,000 physicists, scientists and students are expected to attend the conference and present research from industry, universities and major labs from all over the world. Nearly 50 abstracts will be presented by Mines researchers.

 

Q: Why is winning the Nicholas Metropolis award significant in the world of physics? What is the potential impact of your research?

A: The Nicholas Metropolis award is the dissertation award given by the American Physical Society (APS) for computational physics, named after one of the inventors of the Monte Carlo method. The APS dissertation awards are significant because only one person is awarded each year in a given area, even though there were nearly 1,800 physics PhDs awarded in the U.S. in 2012!  It is an honor for me to receive this award, and a great reflection on Mines as an institution.

My research is focused on understanding the behavior of very, very cold gases of molecules.  These systems are expected to enable revolutionary advances in quantum many-body physics, precision measurement, and chemistry, and may also have practical applications in quantum metrology (i.e. atomic clocks).

 

Q: What was your graduate experience like at Mines? How was it working with (physics professor) Dr. Lincoln Carr?

A: I loved attending graduate school at Mines. I visited several schools all over the country when deciding on graduate school, and Golden immediately struck me as one of the nicest places to live. In addition, Prof. Carr took me both around the school and around Golden personally, something that potential advisors at other schools did not do. Lincoln is very enthusiastic about research, and also very dedicated to his students. While Mines was the smallest school that I visited, I still had every opportunity I could wish for.

 

Q: Talk a bit about finding the balance between your PhD work and parenting/other responsibilities.

A: While on one hand obtaining a Ph.D. while raising two small children was challenging, being a graduate student also gave me scheduling flexibility while my wife worked long and odd hours as a nurse. The most important skill for balancing work and family life is good time management, which is key for any graduate student. It also helps that Golden is a wonderful place to raise a family.

 

Q: You are from Alabama, was moving to Colorado a difficult adjustment on top of everything else?

A: The hardest thing about moving is that all of my family is still in Alabama. Several generations of my family are from my hometown of Huntsville, and my brother and all of my cousins and their families still live there. Modern technology makes the distance so much easier, though. My kids routinely see their grandparents, aunts and uncles, and cousins by video chat. Also, while a Colorado summer beats an Alabama summer hands down, the snow took some getting used to...

 

Q: What are you working on now? 

A: After leaving Mines I took a postdoctoral research position at JILA (CU Boulder), working with Ana Maria Rey. JILA is one of the premier places in the world for atomic, molecular, and optical (AMO) research, which is the field of my Ph.D. JILA is also home to the most successful ultracold molecule experiment. My current research is still in the general area of many-body physics of atoms and molecules and computational techniques. However, I also work more closely with the many great experiments here at JILA, including the next generations of ultracold molecule experiments and atomic clocks.

This article is part of a series on the undergraduate research fellowship program

Engineering physics junior Steven Hackenburg is working with physics professor Dr. Lawrence Wiencke on programming that remotely controls the laser systems at the Pierre Auger Observatory, located in Argentina. Hackenburg studies cosmic rays, high-energy particles, mainly originating outside the Solar System, as part of his undergraduate research fellowship.

“Relatively speaking, we understand light and its properties quite well, and we use it to learn about the universe, from confirming Einstein’s theories concerning gravity, to discovering the composition of planets,” Hackenburg said. “On the other hand however we know little about cosmic rays compared to our understanding of light.”

Hackenburg fires laser shots into the sky in directions where potential sources of cosmic rays are believed to exist. He uses the fluorescence detector to study the tracks in the sky created from the laser. The data from the laser tracks are used to verify that the fluorescence detector is measuring the directions of the rare cosmic ray tracks properly.

Hackenburg said he has always been interested in the mysteries of space and the universe.

“It's amazing for me to think about how little of the universe we have been able to explore in any depth compared to the size of the universe or even our own galaxy,” Hackenburg said. “Also, think about how we get the information about the universe; we observe it. We, as scientists, look to the stars for answers.”

In early 2013, research analyzing data from Fermi revealed that supernovae were a source of cosmic rays. However, supernovae do not produce all cosmic rays, and the proportion of cosmic rays that they do produce is a question which cannot be answered without further study.

“The sources of these particles remain an important question, coming from somewhere outside our galaxy. They are very rare,” Wiencke said. “At the highest energies (10^20 eV), the flux is something less than one square mile per century.”

Weincke and Hackenburg generate many tracks with the laser systems every night of operation.

“This data is used to demonstrate that the observatory is working properly and ready for the monster cosmic events when they occur,” Wiencke said.

Applied physics graduate student Carlos Medina helped with the construction, system integration and testing of the Central Raman Laser Facility in Argentina. He collects data from the CRLF that he is analyzing for his PHD thesis in astrophysics.

“I am happy to have the opportunity to study and analyze data that will help us better understand our universe,” Medina said.

Undergraduate research fellowships are administered by the research council. Students can apply for a fellowship to work on a project with a faculty member.

 

Contact:

Kathleen Morton, Communications Coordinator / 303-273-3088 / KMorton@mines.edu

Karen Gilbert, Director of Public Relations / 303-273-3541 / KGilbert@mines.edu

Strokes are one of the leading causes of death in this country. Chemical and biological engineering professor Dr. Keith Neeves and department head Dr. Dave Marr recognize this significance and are combining chemical and mechanical methods to treat blood clots in stroke patients. Their research uses microbots, otherwise known as mobile robots, carrying the clot busting drug tissue plasminogen activator (tPA), as an inexpensive and noninvasive application in healthcare.

Currently, tPA must be used within the first three hours of somebody showing symptoms of a stroke, which makes it difficult to get to the hospital in time to treat the clot.

“If you could open up the therapeutic window so that it could be used in a longer time past its first presentation, that would be a pretty significant advance,” Neeves said.

Neeves works with graduate student Abimbola Onasoga to analyze blood clots under flow conditions. She uses her expertise to study blood samples, imitating what cells would look like when a clot forms. Physicians often don’t have an engineering background in fluid dynamics, so Onasoga is able to approach this research in a unique way.

While Neeves and Onasoga are examining blood clots, Marr is assembling microbots into different shapes and sizes. The devices he is designing have particles on the order of three microns, around one-twentieth the width of a human hair. These microbots are separately injected into the body, charged magnetically to attract to one another in the bloodstream and directed to the site of injury. After the microbots finish dissolving the clot, the device is turned off magnetically and the beads disassemble.

The ability to direct drugs to a particular area in the body is still a novel approach in the healthcare world. Marr hopes this research could have the ability to distribute healthcare into the doctor’s office and beyond.

“If we do enhance the ability to target, it could have applications in cancer as well,” Marr said.

Neeves said this field of research is challenging, as there are drugs that address bleeding disorders, but could cause complications with clotting.

“You end up walking a fine line. Can you prevent clotting without causing bleeding, and can you prevent bleeding without causing clotting?” Neeves said.

During 2013, Neeves and Marr received a $375,000 two-year grant from the National Institutes of Health to pursue this research. Next year, they will be working with neuroscientists at the University of Colorado School of Medicine to test animal models of the disease using their therapeutic strategies.
 

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 Fall/Winter 2013 issue of Mines magazine.

Seven years into his presidency, with plenty of milestones on record, a capital campaign in full swing, and some big changes on the horizon for Mines, we recently sat down with President Scoggins for an informal Q&A. Partly retrospection, partly introspection and partly forward-looking, the conversation that follows will be of interest to all those who support the growth and success of Mines, and are curious to learn more about its president.

Mines: Nearly seven years ago, you transitioned from the corporate world to academia. What motivated your decision?

Scoggins: Not too long before I retired after more than 35 years in the oil and gas industry, I joined the board of trustees of my alma mater, the University of Tulsa. After I retired, I became increasingly active, serving on the executive committee and spending a great deal of time on campus. My wife and I both enjoyed the experience of being involved in the university. When I received the call from Mines asking me to consider being a candidate, I realized this was an opportunity to be part of a remarkable community.

Mines: What aspects of leading Mines do you find most rewarding?

Scoggins: The most rewarding moments revolve around students—seeing them be successful. I’m getting ready to participate in my 15th commencement, so I have had the opportunity to watch many wonderful students walk confidently across the stage, proud of their accomplishment, and poised to make great contributions to society. It’s very special to be a part of that.

I recently heard about an alumnus who is about to graduate from the University of Texas with master’s degrees in environmental engineering and public policy. At Mines, he was a lineman on the football team, and we got to know each other a little. Whenever he saw me on campus, he’d ask, “You gonna come to the game this weekend?” At his graduation, just before I handed him his diploma, I called out his jersey number and said, “James Tyree, #65, you did a hell of a job.” I got the biggest bear hug I think any president’s ever gotten during a college graduation ceremony.

Karen and I try to attend as many student activities as possible—from athletic events to plays and concerts—and we enjoy them all. I particularly enjoy the graduate research conference and looking at the students’ posters, even though I have to admit I really don’t understand all of them.

Really, the most rewarding aspect of my job is seeing the growth in our students over their time at Mines, which is a testament to their own hard work and to the dedication of the Mines faculty and staff who teach and interact with them.

Mines: When you speak to individuals or groups less familiar with the university, how do you make “the case for Mines”? What does the university have to offer that sets it apart?

Scoggins: I talk about the focused nature of the school’s mission, the quality of the education our students receive, and the relevance of our research programs. Mines is uniquely positioned to deal with global challenges related to our focus areas of earth, energy and environment. These issues are at the forefront of the world’s most pressing concerns, and Mines is playing a critical role in educating students who will be leaders in addressing them—through their careers and through meaningful research.

I also always point out something you will hear from almost every Mines alum—and that I completely agree with—which is that our students develop a work ethic unlike almost any other university. By the time they graduate, our students truly have the skills to hit the ground running. They are a very special group.

Mines: The financial crisis erupted relatively early in your presidency. This must have posed some significant challenges.

Scoggins: When I interviewed for the position, the board of trustees indicated they wanted a lot of focus on the school’s financial condition. When I arrived, Mines was already in the process of putting together the all-funds budget. We tightened down our systems, controlled our costs and planned carefully. As a result, we have managed to weather some major cutbacks in state funding. We faced some financial challenges, but the school came through it with minimal adverse impacts...

Read the rest of the story on the Mines magazine website.

Colorado Fuel Cell Center director and mechanical engineering professor Dr. Neal Sullivan and his team are testing Geothermic Fuel Cells (GFC) for a new application of solid-oxide fuel cell technology: heat generation. When placed underground within oil-shale formations, the heat naturally generated from the 750 ºC fuel cells is harnessed to liberate oil from the shale, known as “in situ oil shale processing.” The electricity generated by the fuel cells comes as a useful and valuable byproduct of the oil-recovery process.

Designed and built for IEP Technologies by Delphi Powertrain Systems, the world’s first geothermic fuel cell (GFC) operated continuously for five days at the CFCC in October 2013. During that time, the 6 feet by 1 foot in diameter GFC generated 3 kilowatts of electricity and 6 kW of heat. Follow-on testing in November reached power levels of 4.3 kWe. Both startup and operation of the GFC was thermally self-sustained.

Sullivan’s research team hopes to build on this laboratory-scale success through outdoor GFC operation scheduled for summer 2014. The outdoor tests will be on the Mines campus, and will utilize a significantly larger GFC measuring approximately 28 feet by one foot. It is expected to generate around 15 kW of electricity and up to 25 kW of heat.

Sullivan explained that the GFC recently tested in the CFCC could currently power one or two American homes. However, even a small oil production facility would require thousands of much larger GFCs. The target GFC size during deployment could reach nearly 500 feet in length. Industrial partner IEP Technologies estimates an 80,000 barrel-per-day oil field would require nearly 3,400 GFCs distributed in a network throughout the oil shale formation.

A field of GFCs of this magnitude would generate approximately 700 megawatts of electricity that could be sold back to the utility and put on the grid or provide power for operation of the oil field.

Research engineer Buddy Haun designed and built the extensive data-acquisition systems for the project, building test stands and taking advanced measurements to quantify GFC performance and behavior. Haun graduated from Mines in 1986 with a degree in petroleum engineering.

"I think this has potential to be a technology that alters the economics and political landscape in oil producing nations," Haun said. "We are using green technology to produce a product that is a lot more refine-able."

Graduate student Gladys Anyenya and Associate Professor Robert Braun apply computational models to explore relationships between the GFC operating conditions and the heating of the oil shale. Anyenya uses a chemical engineering program called Aspen Plus to predict electrical performance from the fuel cell. The current GFC in the lab has three stacks of fuel cells; the one underground will have nine.

"These models allow us to do things that we can't do with a physical experiment without the risk of damaging it," Anyenya said.

Research engineer Mark Daubenspeck is also part of the team and has played a central role in the construction of the GFC test stands. Daubenspeck graduated from Mines in 2011 with a bachelor’s degree in engineering physics and got his master’s degree in mechanical engineering in 2012.

 

Contact:

Kathleen Morton, Communications Coordinator / 303-273-3088 / KMorton@mines.edu

Karen Gilbert, Director of Public Relations / 303-273-3541 / KGilbert@mines.edu

Environmental science and engineering graduate student Erin Neil is working on an independent study with civil and environmental engineering professors Dr. Tzahi Cath and Dr. Pei Xu on developing cost-effective and environmentally sound technologies to increase the quality of water from water waste.

“We are trying to use waste streams from one water treatment process to treat another stream that might be used beneficially,” Cath said.

Neil is comparing the removal efficiencies of different types of sludge and evaluating the potential for microbiological contaminants to leach from the sludge to the treated water. The group has collected samples from Golden Drinking Water Treatment Plant, El Paso Water Utilities and other drinking water treatment plants. Neil uses the EPA Membrane Filtration Method to test fluid samples for microbiological contamination.

“We have seen promising adsorption results and expect to better understand the feasibility of re-using this water,” Neil said.

The project is part of a large effort with The National Science Foundation Engineering Research Center Program, ReNUWit Engineering Research Center. It is part of a collaborative study among Mines, New Mexico State University and the industrial partner, El Paso Water Utilities.

The researchers use sludge from drinking water treatment plants to treat reverse osmosis (RO) waste. RO waste is made of concentrated brine, which contains minerals, organics and metals that are rejected by the RO membranes. Treating this concentrate could provide additional water supplies to the public, and reduce the environmental impacts from discharging concentrate laden with salt and toxic heavy metals.

“Treatment of reverse osmosis concentrate can convert the waste stream to additional water for beneficial use, such as irrigation, that is otherwise scarce in arid climates,” Xu said. “Removal of toxic contaminants from RO concentrate will allow beneficial use of the water and protection of environment.”

Although several disposal methods are available, they can be associated with high processing costs, constrained by permitting, environmental impacts and other limitations.

“It can be a challenge with respect to regulations that surround deep well injection,” Neil said. “It can be expensive to dispose of that concentrate.”

 

Contact:

Kathleen Morton, Communications Coordinator / 303-273-3088 / KMorton@mines.edu

Karen Gilbert, Director of Public Relations / 303-273-3541 / KGilbert@mines.edu

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