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.



Kathleen Morton, Communications Coordinator / 303-273-3088 /
Karen Gilbert, Director of Public Relations / 303-273-3541 /

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.



Kathleen Morton, Communications Coordinator / 303-273-3088 /
Karen Gilbert, Director of Public Relations / 303-273-3541 /

Mines students are working with Mechanical Engineering (ME) professor John Steele and Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS) professor Qi Han to build and develop a system to automate oil and gas processes through unmanned robots. Blaster, the original prototype, will be deployed to the Petroleum Institute (PI) in Abu Dhabi to increase the safety in oil and gas refineries. 

Currently, refinery operators are exposed to potential explosions, gas leaks and extreme weather conditions.

“We are trying to get robots to do the same operations humans can do, but by taking the human out of harm’s way, we are increasing safety,” Steele said. “Abu Dhabi can reach up to 130 degrees Fahrenheit, so people are exposed to extreme heat as well as sand storms and possibly gas leaks. If the robot is harmed, you can always build another one.”

The robot is equipped with a methane gas sensor, video camera, microphone, thermal imaging camera, GPS, digital compass, laser-range finder and Wi-Fi client-bridge. Each of these sensors will help it navigate, avoid collisions and transfer information back to the control room operator.

EECS students Adewole Ayoade and Marshall Sweatt are collaborating to develop applications that will take readings from the sensors to determine the robotic location and remotely log those readings for analysis. Alex Yearsly, a ME student, designed and manufactured the 5-degrees of freedom robotic arm after taking over from Dan Albert, a recent graduate. John Steuben, a graduate student in engineering systems, designed and 3D-printed the sensor housing for the robot’s head. 

Ayoade emphasized the importance of testing the robot in conditions similar to the refinery. “Because we are working on a real life project, we have to understand the environmental conditions of where we are sending the system,” Ayoade said.

Once Blaster’s build is completed, Ayoade and Sweatt will travel overseas to test its functionality and transfer the technology to faculty and students at the PI.

“I’m really excited; I’ve never been to the United Arab Emirates before,” Sweatt said. “It is an honor to be invited.”

Blaster’s capabilities will demonstrate Mines’ ability to develop a robotic system for inspection and operations. The robot will become the basis for a proposal to a French robotic competition called ARGOS Challenge, sponsored by TOTAL, in which contestants from all over the world will develop advanced robotic capabilities for oil and gas environments.

Watch a short video of the robot here.



Kathleen Morton, Communications Coordinator / 303-273-3088 /
Karen Gilbert, Director of Public Relations / 303-273-3541 /

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

As part of a two-semester undergraduate research fellowship, junior chemical and biochemical engineering student Rima Baliga is working with mechanical engineering professor Dr. Anne Silverman on creating a rotationplasty model for a project in collaboration with Children’s Hospital Colorado.

“When people think of Mines, they don’t always immediately think of medicine,” Silverman said. “But in our research, we are using engineering tools to advance clinical care.”

Rotationplasty is an uncommon procedure used when a person has a tumor near the knee and needs to have it removed. Rather than amputating the leg from above the knee down, surgeons can remove the tumor and surrounding tissues. They then rotate the remaining portion of the leg 180 degrees and reattach it to the thigh. The rotated ankle joint becomes a new knee joint.

Baliga is developing computational models to analyze the effects of this surgical procedure.

“Modeling this procedure could be used to improve prosthetic design,” Baliga said.

Baliga is currently using the software program OpenSim to build a skeletal model to represent a patient who has undergone rotationplasty. This program allows Baliga to analyze computerized models in extensive detail to gain greater understanding of human motion.

“Musculoskeletal models help us to understand the action of individual muscles,” Silverman said. “In a movement simulation, we can determine when muscles are active and how they coordinate to move the skeleton.

This semester, Baliga will add a prosthetic limb to her model. She will use experimental walking data from Children’s, in combination with the musculoskeletal model, to develop a walking simulation of a patient. Baliga will also compare muscle forces over the gait cycle between a walking simulation of the rotationplasty patient and that of a non-amputee.

Susan Kanai, a physical therapist at the Center for Gait and Movement Analysis at Children’s Hospital Colorado, hopes this project will improve the level of care for individuals after rotationplasty surgery and that research findings could be shared with the medical community.

“This current project has many layers and we hope to continue this collaboration in the future,” Kanai 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.



Kathleen Morton, Communications Coordinator / 303-273-3088 /

Karen Gilbert, Director of Public Relations / 303-273-3541 /

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.


Kathleen Morton, Communications Coordinator / 303-273-3088 /

Karen Gilbert, Director of Public Relations / 303-273-3541 /

Check out this video of a robotics project created by a Mines graduate student last semester in the Mechanical Engineering Department:

“The project assignment was open-ended and the main requirement was that it incorporate mechanical, electrical and software elements,” said graduate student Dan Albert.

Dan Albert

For his semester project in Dr. John Steele’s Mechatronics class, Albert developed an “invisible joystick” that commands a humanoid robot.

Mechatronics combines numerous engineering disciplines and focuses on the design of intelligent machines.

“I am interested in human-machine and human-robot interaction and thought it would be interesting to explore that area by creating a device that lets the user more intuitively interact with and command a robot or computer beyond the traditional means of a keyboard and mouse.”

Albert developed a gesture recognition glove that wirelessly controls “Silver” or “Gold,” Dr. Steele’s Nao robots (autonomous, programmable robots developed by the French company Aldebaran Robotics.)

“The glove collects orientation and movement data from the sensor attached to the back of the hand and transmits this data wirelessly via Bluetooth to my laptop,” he said. “There, I wrote some software to interpret the data to determine the nearest recognizable posture.“

When he graduates, Albert plans to work in the robotics industry or start his own business.

Steele’s research interests include intelligent machines and mechatronics, especially robots. Some of his recent projects have focused on robotic welding, mobile robot navigation and design of rock cutting machines for NASA. He serves as the faculty advisor to the Mines Robotics club. 


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