Colorado School of Mines is a uniquely focused public research university dedicated to preparing exceptional students to solve today's most pressing energy and environmental challenges.
This is Mines.
Colorado School of Mines is a uniquely focused public research university dedicated to preparing exceptional students to solve today's most pressing energy and environmental challenges.
This is Mines.
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."
Petroleum engineering student Kohl Knutson has been skydiving for a year, and recently received an A license through the Accelerated Free Fall program for completing 25 jumps. After free falling in California, Colorado, Utah and Norway, Knutson is ready for a new challenge.
“When I watched someone in a wingsuit for the first time, I thought, that’s crazy. That looks like one of the most intense situations you could be in, and that’s why I want to pursue it,” Knutson said.
Knutson doesn’t peg himself as a team sport player. He was recruited to Mines on a wrestling scholarship, and valued the individuality and strength needed for each fight. As competitions became more challenging, Knutson said he felt a greater sense of reward.
Wingsuit flying would add another extreme element to skydiving. Knutson would be more constricted in a wingsuit, resulting in greater movement sensitivity in the sky. Until Knutson deploys his parachute, he’ll receive extra descent lift and be able to perform aerial tricks, both while descending much slower than he normally would be while skydiving.
“It would be just me and the sky in a very extreme situation ... I would be in the zone.”
But for now, finishing Mines in the spring is Knutson’s first priority. When he tried to skydive and work on schoolwork, he felt himself falling behind. Now he primarily jumps in the summer, and will start wingsuit flying next fall.
“If you want to do anything that’s special or different, it’s going to be hard. I don’t know of a better place that’s going to prepare me than Mines. They push you just as far as you can go.”
After graduating, Knutson will apply to the mechanical engineering master’s program at Mines and focus on wingsuit development.
“I’d like to create an improved wingsuit while I’m flying at the same time. There’s been work with a sustained wingsuit flight – one that’s built to be capable of more than just falling. I’d like to help progress the human flight dream.”
Sport: Mountain Biking
Motivated by his brother, Josh, petroleum engineering student Cory Wittwer began mountain bike riding when he was nine years old, but he didn’t start racing competitively until he attended Mines. Last year, he entered the USA Cycling Collegiate Mountain Bike National Championships and placed 8th overall, receiving sponsorships from several clothing and bike companies.
“Biking is a huge outlet for me because it’s time to myself and distance from everything else,” Wittwer said. “I’d ride everyday if I could.”
Wittwer has traveled with his bike to North Carolina, New Mexico and Utah, but enjoys living in Golden because he has access to local trails such as Chimney Gulch, White Ranch and Apex Open Space.
On the Centennial Cone trail in Jefferson County, Wittwer crashed into a deer that jumped in front of the trail, giving him a fat lip and black eye. In Durango, he saw a mountain lion sitting on a ridge 10 yards away from him. Despite these close encounters, Wittwer said his main worry has been breaking his bike. In several races, he has ridden on flat tires and damaged chains.
“In my last race, I was in second place when I broke my chain and had to go chainless. I had to run a few sections and tried not to touch my brakes on the way down to keep my speed the whole time.”
For two years, Wittwer has been racing in the A category through USA Cycling after two top five finishes, but he hopes to advance to pro. After he graduates Mines in December, Wittwer plans to work in a field related to petroleum or mechanical engineering.
Earlier this year, the Mines Campus Safety Committee set a goal to implement emergency evacuation procedures for each of the university’s academic buildings in an effort to ensure consistency in emergency preparedness campuswide.
“The main problems we see are people milling too close to the building, some wandering back in before the all clear is given by the Fire Department and we’ve even had delivery personnel enter buildings during an evacuation,” said Barbara O’Kane, director for Environmental, Health and Safety (EHS).
Students, faculty and staff from Hill Hall volunteered to be a part of a pilot program that included the use of a building evacuation team. Team members were trained to direct people away from the buildings and to a designated assembly area, keep people from re-entering the buildings, communicate updates from the fire department and answer questions from evacuees.
During a practice fire drill in Hill Hall on Aug. 27, the building evacuation team wore red vests and directed evacuees out of the building to the west side of the Green Center. O’Kane attributes the success of the drill to the clear identification on the volunteers’ vests and their ability to give straightforward directions to students and staff.
“The vast majority of evacuees went to the designated assembly area. This is huge because we now have a central gathering point where we can communicate updates to the evacuees, and evacuees can clearly identify evacuation team members.” O’Kane said.
The team developing the new evacuation procedure consists of Metallurgical and Materials Engineering professors John Chandler and Scott Pawelka, Raymond Castillo from fFacilities mManagement, David Cillessen from Public Safety, and Dick Porter and Barbara O’Kane from EHS.
After a successful pilot, the team plans to expand the process to the other academic buildings.
General Evacuation Procedures
1. Leave class/room/lab
2. Take belongings if they are close at hand
3. Encourage others to leave; close doors behind you
4. Follow exit signs and leave the building at nearest exit
5. Do not use elevators
6. Move away from the building and follow building evacuation team member’s directions to designated assembly area
7. Re-enter the building when prompted by building evacuation team member
8. Do not interfere with Fire Department; direct questions to building evacuation team member
Thirteen-year-old Jaden is a Colorado native and is starting his freshman year at Mines this fall majoring in applied mathematics and physics.
From a very early age, it was clear Jaden was a gifted child. He was reading proficiently at 15 months, working on multiplication and division problems at 2 years old, and by age 9, Jaden had completed the middle and high school core content. He started taking classes at Mines when he was 11.
Q. What was your experience like in elementary school?
When I was 6 years old, I was at a higher grade in math and some of my other subjects. That’s the first time I was aware my math was at a different grade level. To meet my scope of learning, most of my subjects were delivered with a teacher one-on-one or online, which is where I took high school math during third and fourth grade.
Q. Why did you choose Mines?
I chose Mines because of the interesting classes offered, and I knew Mines had accepted two, highly gifted younger learners in the past. One of them being Santiago Gonzalez, who is 16 years old and graduating this December. Santiago attended elementary school previously with me.
Dr. Willy Hereman, Dean of the Mathematics Department, gave me the opportunity to take Calculus I. For the first time, I learned a new subject area with the pace and depth I needed. With so many courses at Mines being group based, this was one of my favorite experiences at Mines. This cooperative learning was something I never had till now and I love the synergy with other students.
Q. What classes are you taking this semester?
I’m taking Chemistry 2, Linear Algebra, C++, CSM 101 and Biology. I’ve never taken five classes (two with a lab) before.
Q. What will your daily schedule be like?
Typically, I will have four or five classes back to back. I will come on campus around 9:30 a.m. and leave around 3 p.m. My on-campus time is a little more limited because we commute and need to take my younger sister to her school and pick her up.
Q. What’s it like being younger than your classmates?
My classmates don’t really care about my age. Being younger doesn't matter when having normal conversations on common topics with friends.
Q. What will you major in at Mines?
I currently declared an applied math and physics double major, but I’m aiming for a triple major in applied math, physics and chemistry. There are many real life situations that involve chemistry and physics (and math underlies everything), and I always like to learn the new elements that have been discovered.
Q. What are your hobbies?
I like playing piano, tennis and golf. I also enjoy playing card games, especially bridge. I am interested in astronomy and the nuclear reactions that create new atoms from ones originally present.
Q. What do you want to do after you graduate Mines?
I might be a mathematics or science professor. I would like to get a PhD from Mines and teach here. I could also be some sort of scientist.
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. One estimate puts the hydrologic demands of the 80,000 wells in 17 states drilled since 2005 at more than 250 billion gallons. 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.”
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.
Former Denver Nuggets dancer and founder of her own activewear company, Kady Zinke, contacted Mines metallurgical and materials engineering research professor Terry Lowe for engineering expertise to develop clothing that could help protect dancers from injury – specifically bruised knees. Knee injuries are among the most prevalent in dancers, and the protection that is offered currently tends to be “bulky, unattractive and constricting.”
Zinke noticed the high-end suits that motorcyclists and car racers wore at events and couldn’t understand why there wasn’t anything comparable in the dancer world.
“No one treats us (dancers) like athletes. I want to create something that’s sophisticated and high tech for dancers,” Zinke said. “This knee problem has existed for years and no one has really solved it.”
Lowe wasn’t convinced he could offer a solution or receive the financial support to pursue the project.
“The constraints imposed by Kady were just too difficult: trying to put aesthetic, non-restricting, nearly invisible padding into dancer-style tights and still provide adequate protection,” Lowe said.
After nearly giving up on Zinke’s concept, Lowe discovered a solution that could meet her requirements: crafting a new energy absorbing hybrid material system that combines shear-stiffening compounds (similar to cornstarch) and specially designed impact-lattices (that look like miniature bridge trusses).
“If you have an impact in one spot, the rest of the pad can contribute to absorbing energy. A pressure wave from the impact goes out into the shear-thickening fluid and transforms it to absorb energy,” Lowe said. “By adding in impact-lattices, you can design structures that absorb four or five times more energy than a typical foam.”
Incorporating specially designed impact-lattices also help the pads recover instantly from compressed while keeping the same protection in place, which in turn reduces the trauma dancers experience from multiple falls.
In June, the duo received a $30,000 grant from the Advanced Industries Accelerator Program to fund the assessment of the best currently available padding materials, and then design, fabricate, and test their new high performance product – nicknamed “dancy pants.”
Metallurgical and material sciences student Michaela Rillings helps Lowe oversee the “Dancy Pants” project team of six students (four from Mines, one from University of Colorado Boulder and one from Princeton University) to test different competitor products to gain information on how to optimize the energy absorption properties of their new prototype hybrid materials system.
“Getting other perspectives and folks from other institutions makes the team richer,” Lowe said. “Success depends on the team, and not a single individual.”
As a competitive Irish step dancer, Rillings knows several people who have suffered impact injuries that have caused them to stop performing.
“I have had personal experience with dance related impact injuries and having the opportunity to combine my two passions, dance and materials and metallurgical engineering, is quite literally a dream come true,” Rillings said. “Quoting some of Macklemore’s lyrics, "And we danced (in other words, we fell) and we cried (but then anti-injury active wear was developed) and we laughed and had a really, really, really good time.”
The team hopes their technology will eventually be incorporated into many different aspects of life, including other sports, protecting police and military personnel, and compact impact tolerant packaging.
A team of Mines computer science students engaged in a field session this summer that focused not only on advanced software engineering, but also on developing a product with a philanthropic mission.
The Giving Child Organization presented a challenge to the students: Develop a game app that appeals to children of all ages, increases awareness of world hunger and raises money for Heifer International.
“When I first read the description for this project, I knew I had to be on the team,” said Walter Schlosser, who will enter his senior year this fall with a double major in engineering physics and computer science. “The project matched perfectly with my interests and skills and I was excited to get to develop a game with a team of other skilled programmers.”
But as Schlosser noted, the project wasn’t just about making a game.
“Before this project, I would have felt that learning game design would be unrelated to helping the less fortunate. However, I loved the fact this project allowed me to use my talents to make a difference. It’s exciting to think of the endless creative ways people can help out.”
According to Asha Barnes, co-director of The Giving Child Organization, the object of the game “Aleksandra” (named for the protagonist of the game) is to herd animals to the market to make enough money to buy a book.
“Our object is to show children solutions to the struggles their peers around the world face,” said Barnes. “Our goal is to invite children into the world of giving in fun and meaningful ways. And right now, that means through games.”
The organization hopes to collaborate with WorldBuilders, a non-profit organization founded by New York Times Bestselling Author Patrick Rothfuss benefiting Heifer International, during its annual fundraiser and sell the game for $22.
“It’s expensive for a game, but the goal is to make a genuine difference, so $2 will go towards The Giving Child to fund the next game and $20 will go to Heifer International to buy a real live gaggle of geese for a family in need,” Barnes said.
“Aleksandra” is currently available for free in the Google Play store. It will officially launch in October.
Barnes said the Mines team was incredibly competent and far exceeded expectations.
“I don’t play games but I found myself skipping out on my responsibilities in order to finish this game,” said Barnes.
Daniel Victor, a computer science major also entering his senior year, said the project taught him a lot about teamwork.
“If you have a good team, it can make a project much easier. The skills and personalities in our team meshed well and made for a really enjoyable field session,” Victor said.
Ben Casey, who recently graduated from Mines with a degree in computer science and minor in economics, would like to see the game go viral.
“It’s a really cool app that is unlike any other on the Play store,” Casey said, noting he chose to work on this project because of the humanitarian mission behind it.
He also learned about seeing a project through from start to finish, delegating work and working with a client.
“The client had only a rough estimate of what they wanted, so this project taught me how to take an outline and implement it in a really cool way,” Casey said.
Cyndi Rader, electrical engineering and computer science teaching professor, coordinated the course and advised the team that developed the game, which also included Kelly Masuda.
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