On Sept. 30, astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson visited the Colorado School of Mines campus to speak to a sold-out crowd of students, alums, faculty, staff and community members in Lockridge Arena.

“This has got to be the geekiest audience I've ever seen; I’m not holding back,” Tyson said at the beginning of the night.

Tyson’s talk, part of the President’s Distinguished Lecture series and a kickoff to the 2015 homecoming weekend, was centered on “Astronomy Bizarre”— a grab-bag of unusual objects, phenomena and ideas in the universe. He included recent NASA images indicating evidence of salt water on Mars, and reminded the audience that of Pluto’s status as a planet.

“We all thought Pluto was just trying to be a victim of its environment with craters and stuff that happened to it. But if you have mountains that means you’re doing something from within. You’ve got some action of your own,” Tyson said. “But regardless of all this, it’s still a dwarf planet; get over it.”

Tyson dropped “knowledge eggs” on the crowd, including his love of black holes.

“The Earth wants to kill us! So does the universe,” Tyson said. Later he added, “The universe is under no obligation to make sense to you.”

Recently Tyson served as executive editor and on camera host and narrator for “Cosmos: A SpaceTime Odyssey," the 21st century reboot of Carl Sagan's landmark television series. Tyson is the fifth head of the world-renowned Hayden Planetarium in New York City and the first occupant of its Frederick P. Rose Directorship. He is also a research associate of the Department of Astrophysics at the American Museum of Natural History.


2015 Neil deGrasse Tyson


Kathleen Morton, Digital Media & Communications Manager / 303-273-3088 /
Karen Gilbert, Director of Public Relations / 303-273-3541 /

Two Mines researchers have been awarded NASA grants to work on an “out-of-this-world” extraction technique called optical mining. Mechanical Engineering Assistant Research Professor Christopher Dreyer and Director of the Center for Space Resources Angel Abbud-Madrid are developing novel technologies to obtain valuable resources from asteroids, which can be used as rocket propellants.

“The optical mining concept is very exciting because it is a large-scale approach for producing resources in space that can be attempted soon,” Dreyer said. “We are contributing experimental evidence for the conditions under which intense light will disassemble carbonaceous chondrite asteroids.”

Optical mining will use concentrated solar energy to heat and fracture asteroids causing them to release volatile elements. These resources will be extracted and used in space to avoid the high cost of transporting them from Earth.

Mechanical engineering student Alexander Lampe and engineering physics student Travis Canney are helping with this research by preparing vacuum chambers for experiments, designing the test matrix, writing experimental procedures and running tests.

Their research project is funded by a $500,000 grant for “Laboratory Demonstration and Test of Solar Thermal Asteroid ISRU,” by the NASA Early Stage Innovations program and a $125,000 grant for “Demonstration of Optical Mining for Excavation of Asteroids and Production of Mission Consumables,” by the NASA Small Business Innovation Research program.

Mines researchers are working in this multidisciplinary effort with Missouri University of Science and Technology Professor Leslie Gertsch (Mines alumna GE ’82, PhD ‘89) and TransAstra Corporation Founder & Principal Engineer Joel Sercel. Other research participants include the University of Hawaii.

Mines’ research efforts were recently highlighted in, SpaceDaily, Sputnik International and Missouri S&T.



Kathleen Morton, Digital Media & Communications Manager / 303-273-3088 /
Karen Gilbert, Director of Public Relations / 303-273-3541 /

GOLDEN, Colo., Sept. 23, 2015 – Colorado School of Mines will celebrate Homecoming and Alumni Weekend Sept. 30-Oct. 3.

Events include a spirit rally on Kafadar Commons from noon to 2 p.m., men’s soccer at 5 p.m. and women’s soccer at 7:30 p.m. on Oct. 2.

On Oct. 3, the homecoming parade begins at 9 a.m., and Mines Football vs. New Mexico Highlands begins at noon at Marv Kay Stadium.

The 1959 Chevrolet Bel Air looks prepped for a vintage auto show, but a different fate awaits. All fins and sharp edges, it takes off straight at a silver teardrop of a Chevy Malibu a half-century younger.

The closing speed is 80 mph, notes University Emeritus Professor David Matlock, a member of the National Academy of Engineering, whose computer monitor presents this generational clash.

The crash-test dummy is crunched in the collapsed cabin of the ’59. The one in the ’09 sits as it had before, spared by advances in automotive engineering and high-strength steel. There are many kinds of steel in a modern vehicle frame, Matlock explains, each designed with an exact set of properties which, in combination, has helped make cars much safer.

Matlock co-founded Mines’ Advanced Steel Processing and Products Research Center (ASPPRC) in 1984 with University Professor Emeritus George Krauss. By the early 1980s, American steel-industry research labs had begun to shrink and university funding for ferrous metallurgy had all but disappeared. Krauss and Matlock approached steel companies with the idea of partnering on a university-industry steel research center, in which a consortium of industry competitors, suppliers and customers would discuss the industry’s unmet research needs, set the science agenda and share results. Mines strengths in ferrous metallurgy research and teaching made it a logical hub.

Six companies signed on, and the National Science Foundation provided seed funding. The center survived a variety of changes in the landscape, including significant industry consolidation in the early 2000s, with member companies merging (for example, five of the current members now represent what was at one time 18 discrete ASPPRC members) as well as globalization of the steel and manufacturing industries.

Constant throughout, though, has been a focus on the research needs of industrial partner member companies that include many of the world’s biggest names in steel, automotive, heavy industry and oil and gas. In addition to annual dues to the center, they commit to sending one or more staff to biannual meetings in Golden where students present, and companies and researchers map the road ahead.

Thirty-one years since its founding, the ASPPRC’s focus on collaboration continues, with 31 companies from 13 countries now jointly setting the course and sharing the fruits of advances in testing methodologies and alloying strategies, and production processes. Eight full or part time Mines faculty lead a team of five research assistants, four postdoctoral researchers and 31 graduate students on a wide array of projects.

Member companies have hired many of these ASPPRC students, including Grant Thomas, a research engineer at AK Steel in Middletown, Ohio, who earned his Mines master’s and doctorate degrees for his ASPPRC work. The center, he said, is “industrially driven, so they’re relevant, and they have the time, the resources, and the equipment that really lets them get to the core of the problem — or opportunity, which are one in the same.”

Wang Li, a senior engineer and member of the board of directors at China’s Baosteel, the world’s fourth-largest steel producer, cited four major benefits in its ASPPRC membership: sponsors share in the center’s research achievements; it’s a good platform for interaction with other sponsors, including steel producers and users; it’s an opportunity for Baosteel staff to get involved in automotive steel research (Baosteel has a researcher doing a fellowship at the ASPPRC); and in helping set the research agenda, Baosteel gains early insights into trends in automotive steel.

All members receive royalty-free licenses for technologies that emerge from the center’s work. Despite many members being competitors, the nature of the business helps this sharing model work, said AK Steel’s Thomas. Fundamental insights into the behavior of a certain type of steel processed in a certain way — the ASPPRC’s calling card — can be taken different directions by different firms, all who have proprietary production techniques and established lines that can cost hundreds of millions of dollars.

“That’s where the competitive part comes in: putting it to use in a specific mill,” Thomas said.

Mines Professor John Speer, who has been ASPPRC director since 2013, spent 14 years at Bethlehem Steel before coming to Mines in 1997, said “we work hard to be relevant because many of the sponsor companies have outstanding corporate research facilities of their own. If the companies become interested in working on an idea we are pursuing, they can put a lot of people on it very quickly. Some of these companies have a thousand researchers.”

“Mines’ advantage,” he said, “is time.”

“If you’re fighting the daily fires of industry, it can be more difficult to sit back and think about the fundamentals,” Speer said, “or on potential processing routes that do not match existing facility investments.”

The ASPPRC’s research focuses on simulating solid state processing done on steel (after it has solidified), explained Assistant Professor Emmanuel De Moor. Important considerations can include combinations of alloying, heating, cooling, or changing its shape at different temperatures.

The center is focused on three major categories of steel: sheet, bar and plate. Sheet steel research is mainly driven by automotive needs; while bar steel research includes cables, gears, crankshafts, axles and wire; and plate steel activities are related to oil and gas pipelines, earth moving equipment, wind-turbine towers, ships, etc.

If the center’s research has a common focus, it’s on microstructure and properties. De Moor, an alloying and thermochemical processing expert, is interested in microstructure along with Associate Professor Kip Findley, a mechanicalproperties specialist whose students spend their days analyzing steel properties and performance. Microstructure, they explain, dictates the steel’s ultimate strength, ductility, formability and hardness.

Caryn Ritosa, a PhD student, is doing her work on the Gleeble 3500, a thermomechanical processing simulator — in this case mimicking an industrial process called multi-pass plate rolling. She’s testing six different steels, each about as thick as a pencil representing the thick plate steel used in pipelines. They’re low carbon, with microalloying additions such as niobium, vanadium and titanium. Ritosa heats each to an orange-red 1,250 degrees Celsius, then commands the Gleeble to twist them 180 degrees, 360 degrees and beyond. Her goal, she said, is to understand how the steel’s recrystallization behavior at high temperature affects its microstructure, with the ultimate goal being to produce higher strength steels at lower cost.

In another lab around the corner, PhD student Lee Rothleutner is fatigue-testing thumb-thick bars, each hour-glassed along the length, of induction-hardened steel. Automakers are interested in improving this steel for drivetrains, he said. Automotive lightweighting is a hot topic in steel, informing many ASPPRC experiments: average light-duty fuel economy standards are poised to leap from today’s 32.5 mpg to 54.5 mpg in 2025. The less a car weighs, the less fuel it takes to move it.

“The drivetrain is really one area of the automobile that hasn’t been intensely lightweighted,” he said. He mounts an article specimen in a fatigue tester that rumbles at a motion-blurring 30 hertz. As Rothleutner works the machine, Findley explains, “Over time, he’ll look at alloying effects, processing effects and some in combination. Which has a better fatigue life? Where are the cracks initiating? How?”

Back in Matlock’s office, shelves of engineering books share space with scores of snapped bits of steel whose failures helped keep so many drivers alive.


This story originally appeared in the 2015-16 issue of "Colorado School of Mines Research."

GOLDEN, Colo., Aug. 12 — Colorado School of Mines has long held the distinction of playing in one of America's most historic football stadiums. Now, they'll enjoy playing in one of America's best.

The 2015 season marks the debut of Marv Kay Stadium at Campbell 

Kathleen Smits is a Civil and Environmental Engineering assistant professor at Colorado School of Mines. Smits has been interested in the environment from an early age and her interest for engineering grew as she advanced throughout her college career, but there are some things about Smits that you might not have known.

1. She is currently a member of the U.S. Air Force Reserves

Smits was on active duty in the Air Force for eight years; for three years, she taught at the U.S. Air Force Academy in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.

Currently she is an operations research analyst in the U.S. Air Force Reserves, working part time at U.S. Northern Command at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs.

“At Mines I study current and emerging environmental problems that are of interest to our nation and the world using both analysis and experimentation. In the Air Force, I do the same thing for different problems and applications. A lot of the understanding and training that I have from being a scientist directly applies to what I do in the military.”

2. She has been scuba diving 150 times

As one of her first jobs out of college, Smits worked with the National Aquarium in Baltimore to help replant eelgrass in the Chesapeake Bay, a job requiring lots of underwater time. 

Since then, Smits has been on several scuba diving trips, mostly in the Caribbean but also in Japan and Hawaii.

Smits also enjoys sailing with her family, starting trips either in Lake Michigan or the Grenadines Islands.

“I love every minute I’m either in or under the water, which is ironic because even though I study water, I focus mostly on water availability in dry, arid regions.”

3. She’s lived all over the place

Smits grew up in Pennsylvania and went to high school in Illinois. She studied Environmental Engineering as an undergraduate student in the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado and then studied Civil Engineering–Water Resources at the University of Texas in Austin. While in the Air Force, Smits deployed to a military base in Saudi Arabia for about six months and lived in both Virginia and Colorado.

“When I came to Mines to do my PhD, I realized that I really love teaching but I equally love the research. That’s why I wanted to work and contribute at a university like Mines that has both a research and teaching focus.”

4. She loves running and has a top three list of the most beautiful places to run:

  • Zion National Park, Utah

    Since high school, Smits has been an avid runner. Whenever her family took her to a national park for a vacation, she didn’t hesitate to use it as an excuse to go running.

  • Nakuru, Kenya

    “There are giraffes and chimpanzees all over the roads that I had to dodge to run down the street. If you run in a straight line, you’ll hit a large animal!”

  • Diablerets, Switzerland

    During a research conference in a small, ski town in the Swiss Alps, Smits went for morning runs along a river that runs from the glaciers through the town.

    “Where the path ends, there is a road that passes by all the farms with the sheep and cattle to keep you company. What a beautiful place!”

5. Her favorite hobby is photography

Smits started taking photos regularly seven years ago when her daughter, Elizabeth, was born. Now Elizabeth is immune to her mom taking photos and poses regularly when Smits has her camera around.

Smits also enjoys playing around with Photoshop to make her photos appear different than the original.

“I also water color to get the other side of my brain work.”

Civil and Environmental Engineering professor Kathleen Smits has been teaching at Colorado School of Mines for three and a half years, but began her journey at Mines in 2007, when she was a PhD candidate. Smits currently teaches Hazardous Waste Site Remediation, Fluid Mechanics and Environmental Pollution.

Smits is working with fellow CEE professor Tissa Illangasekare on studying natural gas leakage from oil and gas production into the environment. She is also one of two Mines recipients of the 2015 NSF CAREER Award, in which she aims to advance the science and education of land surface-atmosphere interactions.


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

GOLDEN, Colo., April 28, 2015 – Forty teams of students in the College of Engineering and Computational Sciences have spent the last two semesters working on projects to present at the Senior Design Trade Fair which was held April 23. Faculty, industry representatives and alumni judged teams on their ability to define, analyze and address a design problem and to present their work through display and dialogue.


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