Alumni

Colorado School of Mines Civil and Environmental Engineering Professor Marte Gutierrez, Petroleum Engineering Professor Azra Tutuncu and alumnus Luke Frash have been awarded the 2017 Applied Rock Mechanics Research Award by the American Rock Mechanics Association.


Luke Frash and Marte Gutierrez during a visit with Darren Mollot, Director of the Office of Clean Energy Systems in the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Fossil Energy.
Luke Frash and Marte Gutierrez showcase their research during a visit from Darren Mollot, Director of the Office of Clean Energy Systems in the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Fossil Energy.

Frash earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in engineering with specialties in civil engineering and a PhD in civil and environmental engineering from Mines, studying under Gutierrez. He is now a researcher at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico.

The team is receiving the award for their 2015 publication, “True-Triaxial Hydraulic Fracturing of Niobrara Carbonate Rock as an Analogue for Complex Oil and Gas Reservoir Stimulation.” The main topics of research, funded partially by the U.S. Department of Energy and the Unconventional Natural Gas and Oil Institute, were development of enhanced geothermal systems and hydraulic fracturing in shale oil and gas reservoirs.

“Well stimulation by hydraulic fracturing is a common method for increasing the injectivity and productivity of wells,” Gutierrez said. “This method is beneficial for many applications, including oil, gas, geothermal energy and CO2 sequestration; however, hydraulic fracturing in shale and other similarly complex geologies remains poorly understood.”

Seeking to bridge the gap in understanding, the team conducted research on large natural rock specimens using true-triaxal stresses, intended to represent field-scale complexities of known oil and gas reservoirs.

“Results from such large-scale hydraulic experiments, particularly on naturally heterogeneous rock samples, remain very limited,” Gutierrez said.

The research team developed special equipment to conduct these innovative field-scale experiments, and Gutierrez says “the results from the scale-model hydraulic fracturing experiments are envisioned to be of important value to the practice of hydraulic fracturing in several fields.”

The award will be presented during the 51st U.S. Rock Mechanics/Geomechanics Symposium in San Francisco, California, on June 25-28, 2017.

Support for the research was provided by the Unconventional Natural Gas and Oil Institute (UNGI) Coupled Integrated Multi Scale Measurements and Modeling Consortium (CIMMM), and the U.S. Department of Energy under DOE Grant No. DE-FE0002760, “Development and Validation of an Advanced Stimulation Prediction Model for Enhanced Geothermal Systems.”

Contact:
Agata Bogucka, Communications Manager, College of Earth Resource Sciences & Engineering | 303-384-2657 | abogucka@mines.edu
Mark Ramirez, Managing Editor, Communications and Marketing | 303-273-3088 | ramirez@mines.edu

Colorado School of Mines has appointed a dean of graduate studies, who will lead efforts to strengthen research-based graduate programs, increase the university's international student population and promote professional master's and certificate programs.

Wendy Zhou, associate professor of geology and geological engineering, begins her new role at the start of the fall 2017 semester.

“I want to keep our uniqueness, but we need to do something different,” Zhou said. “I believe I have creative ideas that can keep Mines’ uniqueness but can change much needed areas of the graduate education here.”

Zhou’s initiatives will include working to promote professional master’s and certificate programs, increase international graduate student enrollment as well as undertaking a graduate student climate survey that will help Mines develop and implement programs and initiatives that enhance co-curricular support of the research-based residential graduate population.

“I want to feel the heartbeat of the students as a whole,” Zhou said. “The climate survey is part of the way to do that.”

Zhou also wants to hold town hall meetings and graduate student seminars to add opportunities for networking and socializing. In collaboration with Roel Snieder, the newly appointed W.M. Keck Distinguished Professor of Professional Development Education, she will create programs to help students develop professional portfolios.

“I see graduate student quality control as a pipeline,” Zhou said. “We will have quality control from admission to graduation, which will better prepare students for success after graduation.”

Zhou joined the Mines faculty in 2008. She received her PhD in geological engineering from Missouri University of Science and Technology. She has a research group of seven graduate students. Her research is focused on the use of geographic information systems and remote sensing for environmental studies and to assess geohazards such as landslides and ground subsidence.

“I chose Wendy for the dean position because she is passionate about advancing a set of well-defined and institutionally important initiatives,” Interim Provost Tom Boyd said. “We hope to develop and create institution-wide initiatives aimed at providing our graduate students—and the programs in which they reside—the opportunity to further develop their professional skill sets.”

 

CONTACT
Joe DelNero, Digital Media and Communications Manager, Communications and Marketing | 303-273-3326 | jdelnero@mines.edu
Mark Ramirez, Managing Editor, Communications and Marketing | 303-273-3088 | ramirez@mines.edu

Four Colorado School of Mines students are seeking to create lasting change on campus as the newest University Innovation Fellows under the mentorship of Mines alumnus Corey Brugh’16, who was the first to take part in the national program.
 
Emma May, computer science; Tanner McAdoo, metallurgical and materials engineering; Sarah Ingram, chemical and biochemical engineering; and Sam Warfield, electrical engineering, underwent six weeks of training earlier this year on design thinking, the lean methodology and how to map their entrepreneurial campus ecosystem.
 
“The training was intense,” said Warfield. “It was like having another four-credit course on top of the normal workload.”
 
Brugh, who was named a University Innovation Fellow in 2014, provided the team with mentoring, encouragement and connections. “This program has changed my life, and it is my responsibility to give back,” he said. Brugh earned a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering and is now a research and development engineer with Procter & Gamble.
 
“He helped us get our foot in the door, so to speak, and secure the audience we needed to make our ideas heard,” McAdoo said. “He was an excellent mentor during training and continues to help as we pursue our own ideas as fellows here at Mines.”
 
Corey BrughInitiatives Brugh helped start at Mines include a relaunch of the Entrepreneurship Club, creating a learning community around the theme of Engineering Grand Challenges, establishing maker spaces, TEDxCSM, organizing the first innovation competition at Mines and identifying his successors as University Innovation Fellows.
 
In addition to reaching out to the latest cohort of fellows during their training, Brugh also met with the four students during the program’s Silicon Valley Meetup, held March 9-13 at Stanford University’s d.school, which brought together 350 students and faculty members from 80 colleges and universities around the world. He shared his experience as a fellow with the entire group.
 
The meetup was incredibly inspiring for May. “This is when the whole program clicked for me,” she said. “It was here that I really understood that I can make a change on campus, and I do not need to settle for the way things usually are.”
 
May hopes to cultivate a culture of entrepreneurship at Mines through workshops and “hackathons.” “I believe many students are hungry to be more than just an engineer, but they don't know how to do that,” May said. “I want to provide them the opportunity to explore what that can look like for them and empower them to think differently, to realize they don’t need to follow the typical career path that we are trained to expect from a young age.”
 
Beyond Mines, May has ideas for reshaping how we view education. “I believe we can rethink how we teach students in order to better engage them and make education exciting from a young age,” she said. “I also believe we need to be incorporating innovative technology into the classroom, because as our tech advances, we cannot remain stagnant in our teaching practices.”
 
Ingram said she is excited to pursue a plan to implement a creative space on campus “for students to exercise the right side of their brain, while also having the chance to relax and de-stress.” She also hopes to work with the different cultures on campus to create more of a community feel.
 
One of the biggest things Ingram learned in training is that ideas take time. “A great idea may come out of the blue, but it takes work to develop it and figure out the goals that are associated with it,” she said. “This is when I realized having a strong team to work with and bounce ideas off of is key.”
 
McAdoo said the training taught him to value networking. “Students tend to underestimate how powerful making connections with people can be,” he said. “As a fellow, I got to meet all sorts of people, including deans and professors at Mines as well as students from around the world who I never would have come in contact with otherwise.”
 
Warfield said he wants to focus on psychological safety, paying particular attention to automatic negative thoughts. “This is where the first thought when attempting a task is just negative, like ‘I can’t do that’ or ‘I’m not cool like them,’” he said. “Part of the problem is that society does not like discussing these issues or their solutions. I hope to combat this at Mines, as it can greatly impact lives.”
 
Brugh said Mines has gotten a lot of value from previous University Innovation Fellows, and he expects the same from this latest group. “You’d have to hire many full-time people to do the same work that fellows do without pay,” he said. “Fellows are more motivated to see their ideas come to life before they graduate.”
 
May said Brugh has pushed her to think bigger. “He has very high expectations for us, and these expectations push me to work harder and dream bigger for Mines,” she said.

 
Contact:
Mark Ramirez, Managing Editor, Communications and Marketing | 303-273-3088 | ramirez@mines.edu
Ashley Spurgeon, Assistant Editor, Mines Magazine | 303-273-3959 | aspurgeon@mines.edu

In its third academic year, the ConocoPhillips Center for a Sustainable WE2ST (Water-Energy Education, Science and Technology) was formed to promote the sustainability of unconventional energy production and conduct research on both community acceptance of resource development and water resources related to energy production. As water resources can become stressed locally, finding solutions to the diverse and specialized challenges affiliated with competition for water use is crucial. The center was established with a ConocoPhillips leadership investment of $3 million in 2014.

In collaboration with the center, ConocoPhillips recently released a video that provides an in-depth look at the work happening in the area of education and outreach associated with water resources and unconventional energy production. Watch the video here.

After Georgianna Zelenak ’13 graduated high school, she participated in a trip with SEA Semester, a non-profit educational institution focused on environmental studies and the world’s oceans.  During the program Zelenak assisted with oceanographic research while learning to sail a tall ship. Little did she know that she would come full circle and get a dream job with the same organization years later; she recently took a job as SEA’s science operations coordinator.

Zelenak is no stranger to working in places that many might not think of. After she graduated from Mines with a bachelor’s degree in geophysical engineering, she did a stint studying plate tectonics in New Mexico and then worked in Hawaii installing sensors to study active volcanoes. “I was getting a lot of experience in magnetotellurics, which is a geophysical method that measures electromagnetic fields and how they change as they propagate into the earth. This method tells us about the conductivity underground, which can help us distinguish between different rock materials and temperatures. It’s a very powerful tool. It was great getting experience with those instruments and having fun out in the field,” she said.

She went to grad school at Scripps Institution of Oceanography and because of her experience in Hawaii, Zelenak was able to work with her advisor to do a project on an active volcano in Alaska. So away they headed to Umnak Island, part of the Aleutian Islands Chain, where they studied Okmok Volcano, an active volcano that had suddenly erupted, without warning, in 2008. Zelenak and her team were going to map where the magma beneath the volcano was pooling in order to better understand the nature of future eruptions.

The region where they were working had just one resident living there year around; they bunked on a former World War II base that was turned into a cattle ranch. They accessed the volcano by helicopter and Zelenak tried to explain how stark the landscape was. “It was out of this world. You’re out on this ranch, rolling green hills, really lush grass. When you get closer to the volcano suddenly it’s barren, lava rock, snow on the side, and you come over the flank of the volcano and see this six mile wide hole in the ground.”

They were dropped into the mouth of the volcano from the helicopter. The team was tasked with putting sensors into the caldera (a feature formed by the collapse of a volcano into itself, making a special form of a volcanic crater). For the next one and a half years of her studies for a master’s degree, Zelenak studied the data that came directly from those sensors.

The skill set she built doing this field work, her involvement in science education (she helped create an exhibit at an aquarium to get diverse students interested in ocean research) and her background on research cruises at Scripps led her to a job with SEA Semester as their science operations coordinator, a position she has held since January 2017.

“My role is in support of the ship and the chief scientists,” Zelenak said. “There are huge amounts to deal with, like making sure everything’s up and running, making sure we have research permits. SEA as a whole has a huge variety of research projects. We do everything from climate science to marine geology, studying coral reefs, and we have a strong program looking at plastics in the ocean.”

As she starts her new job she knows that her time at Mines contributed greatly, especially the basic engineering background she got while she was a student. “I was a geophysics student, I wasn’t mechanical or electrical. But having that EPICS class where you learned some of the basic drafting, soldering, and fundamental engineering skills has served me really well. I know I can open up an instrument in the field and get a basic understanding of what is wrong.”

Contact:
Anica Wong, Communications Specialist, Colorado School of Mines Foundation | 303-273-3904 | acwong@mines.edu

Denise Dihle poses on the Mines campus
Denise Dihle '93 started her own engineering firm, 360 Engineering, which was recognized as the Women-Owned Small Business of the Year by the Department of Energy in 2016.
[Photo by Anica Wong]

From the moment she stepped onto the Mines campus, Denise Dihle ’93 felt at home nestled against the mountains in the small community of Golden, Colorado. She always knew she wanted to be an engineer and felt that Mines was the right size with the right attitude. “Everybody was in the same boat, and sometimes it was sinking, and sometimes it wasn’t,” she said.

Twenty-three years after graduating, Dihle still lives in Golden, running her own engineering firm just a short walk from the Mines campus. She is the founder, owner and president of 360 Engineering, a mechanical consulting engineering firm specializing in heating, ventilation, air conditioning and plumbing for commercial, government and educational buildings.

Yet, Dihle didn’t break into entrepreneurship right after graduating from Mines. With a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering, she worked in the construction industry for a few years before moving to a mechanical contracting firm. She then had the opportunity a couple of years later to work for a consulting engineering firm, where she eventually became a partner.

But after several years, Dihle decided to take a risk and start her own engineering firm. She wanted to “explain highly complicated things in its simplest format to allow owners to make risk decisions based on finances and not need to understand the world of engineering that we deal with.” She spends her days managing a staff of eight and catering to her clients’ needs. And, it turns out, the education she received at Mines proved to be an asset when starting her own business 14 years ago.

Starting from the ground up was challenging when Dihle first became her own boss. “It takes a lot of phone calls,” she said. “It takes a lot of sitting down at meetings, taking [clients] to coffee, going to lunch, all just to get your foot in the door.” In addition to the endless relationship-building meetings, Dihle had to learn how to run a company. “There was a lot of learning that had to happen along the way of how to operate a business and making sure you put the right professional people in place to help you,” she said.

Mines played an integral role in preparing Dihle to be a business owner. “Mines teaches us how to solve problems,” she said. “[Mines] does really well at making us think really broadly about what a problem is, what the problem statement should be and then how to step through it using your resources.”

After years of hard work, Dihle received an email in early March 2016 announcing that 360 Engineering was being recognized as the Woman-Owned Small Business of the Year by the Department of Energy for providing exceptional performance directly contributing to the accomplishment of core DOE mission objectives. Anyone within the Department of Energy may nominate “any business that is woman-owned and providing catering services, representative. services or equipment to the DOE,” Dihle explained. “I had no idea we would go that far, and after I got over the initial shock, I called my marketing coordinator and said, ‘Read this email; we’ve got some work to do now.’”

Dihle’s goal for 360 Engineering now is to expand, preferably with Mines graduates. “We joke that we just tell kids to roll down the hill,” she said, referring to the fact that her office is in Mines’ backyard.

But the DOE award is not the only recognition Dihle has received recently. On September 15, 2016, 360 Engineering was recognized by the Colorado Women’s Chamber of Commerce as its Small Business of the Year. The Colorado Women’s Chamber of Commerce recognizes and honors women in business who significantly contribute to their communities. “It’s quite amazing to be singled out here in Colorado with all these great businesses,” she said.

Dihle gives a lot of credit to Mines for her persistence and dedication, saying that her alma mater has taught her to keep trying. “You have to keep trying to figure out the problem from a different angle, a different direction, a different approach,” she said. “You really just have to keep with it.”


Reprinted from the winter 2017 issue of Mines Magazine, the Colorado School of Mines Alumni Magazine

Story by Leah Pinkus

 
The Department of Geology and Geological Engineering recently hosted WarmeFest, a two-day celebration in honor of Professor Emeritus Dr. John Warme, bringing together over 100 alumni, colleagues and friends from across the world to celebrate his 50-year career. 
Professor Emertius John Warme reminisces on past expeditions during his keynote speech.
Professor Emertius John Warme reminisces on past expeditions during his keynote speech.

“Planning for the WarmeFest was a complete surprise to me, and was set up before I was told," said Warme. "The committee who put it together kept it a secret from me for three and a half months while they set it up, attending to every detail with cooperation from the Alumni Association, Foundation, college and department.”

After earning a bachelor’s degree from Augustana College in Illinois and a PhD from UCLA, Warme went on to hold a postdoctoral appointment as a Fulbright Scholar at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. He began his teaching career at Rice University in 1967, moving up the ranks from assistant to full professor prior to joining the Colorado School of Mines faculty in 1979. Warme served as the director of the Exploration Geosciences Institute during his tenure. He was granted emeritus status upon retirement in 2002.
 
Warme stated that he felt "deeply grateful to realize many things through this event" of which he was not fully aware. "It was a chance for me to review my career for myself as well as outline it for others, and realize that my academic history touched so many people who expressed their feelings,” he said.
 
“We all enjoyed learning more about Dr. Warme’s distinguished and eventful career,” said Geology and Geological Engineering Associate Professor Piret Plink-Björklund, one of the event’s organizers.
 
The Friday program included a welcome from Mines President Paul Johnson, as well as both technical talks and personal stories reflecting on research, field and classroom experiences with Warme.
 
“WarmeFest was a wonderful event honoring Dr. John Warme,” said College of Earth Resource Sciences and Engineering Dean Ramona Graves. “John’s scientific contribution to geology and his commitment to education are renowned. I personally enjoyed reminiscing with him about our co-taught classes and research. He was an important mentor to me as a young faculty member.”
 
A similar event honoring Dr. Robert J. Weimer’s 54 years of contribution to the Geology and Geological Engineering Department, WeimerFest, was held in 2004. In October 2011, the Mines Geology Trail was dedicated to Weimer. Similarly to WeimerFest, attendance registration fees for WarmeFest will be used to enrich the department, particularly students’ field activities.
 
“Every faculty should have such a marvelous chance to gather with former students, faculty and research colleagues, family and good friends, in the campus setting that was their academic home,” said Warme, giving his sincerest thanks to all involved in organizing the event.
 
View more photos from the event in the slideshow below.

 
 
Contact:
Agata Bogucka, Communications Manager, College of Earth Resource Sciences & Engineering | 303-384-2657 | abogucka@mines.edu
Mark Ramirez, Managing Editor, Communications and Marketing | 303-273-3088 | ramirez@mines.edu
 
 
Shayma Amin '00 is working to bolster Kuwait's oil production and reserves on an international scale, fulfilling a dream she had as a child of working in petroleum.
(Photo courtesy of Shayma Amin)

As the Persian Gulf War drew to a close in February 1991, Kuwait experienced one of the country’s worst environmental and economic disasters as Iraqi forces set fire to more than 600 Kuwaiti oil wells, which burned for more than eight months. Crude oil spewed across the desert and into the Persian Gulf, a mark of the devastating environmental consequences of war.

The drama and tragedy of such an event certainly leaves an impression, especially on a ten-year-old. Shayma Amin ’00 was living outside of Kuwait during the Persian Gulf War, but when she was finally allowed to return to her hometown after the country’s liberation, she recalls looking down at the destruction from the airplane window. “From above, we thought it was a lake, but it turned out to be oil spilled all over my country—flaming fires and barely any sunshine for months on end,” she said. “I remember sitting next to my mom and telling her, ‘I am going to one day get into the oil field. I am going to help my country.’”

Nearly a decade later, Amin was on her way to fulfilling that promise. With a high GPA, she was able to go to college in the United States on a full-ride scholarship. She researched the top universities with petroleum engineering programs, and Mines was high on the list. Combining that with the fact that Amin’s then-husband would be pursuing an MBA at the University of Denver made Mines the ideal place for her to pursue her dream of becoming a petroleum engineer.

She completed her coursework in three and a half years, taking 23 credits each semester, despite being told that it was impossible. She even took extra classes during the summer at University of Colorado and DU in order to graduate on schedule. “I am a very stubborn human being,” she said. “So you tell me I can’t, and it just gives me more ammunition and more of a challenge.”

After graduating, Amin worked for Schlumberger Geoquest for about a year, but it wasn’t the career path she really had in mind. “I wanted to work for an exploration and production company. I wanted to work with companies that had the deals, had the assets, and I wanted more international exposure,” she said. She found a job with Kuwait Foreign Petroleum Exploration Company and has worked there ever since, now serving as a senior international business analyst. “For me, it was a learning curve to work in an international company,” Amin said. “You learn a lot more when it’s a diversified field around the world.” She works with the business development side of the company to increase Kuwait’s oil production and reserves on an international level so that should a disaster ever hit Kuwait’s oil reserves again, it won’t be as economically devastating for the country.

Amin’s work at KUPFEC earned her recognition from Kuwait’s oil minister who nominated her to represent the company at the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries’ headquarters in Vienna in 2013. She held a post in OPEC for two years as a Kuwaiti diplomat, working as a petroleum industry analyst in the Energy Studies department. “It was amazing being able to present to oil ministers, to actually to get to do your own thing and be a part of the whole publication that OPEC does,” she said. “It was probably the most rewarding experience of my career.”

Despite her success, there is still a lot of work she would like to do. Amin would eventually like to move back to Vienna to work for the OPEC Fund for International Development and perhaps even build her own company one day. “I like out-of-the-box thinking and having that flexibility,” she said. “It is far-fetched, but what is the point in dreaming small?”


Reprinted from the winter 2017 issue of Mines Magazine, the Colorado School of Mines Alumni Magazine.

Story by Ashley Spurgeon

Black and white photo of the 1966 freshman class celebrating in front of one of the buildings on the Mines campus
Mines students saw a period of change 50 years ago as Mines expanded its curriculum in order to build itself into one of the nation's top technological institutions.
[Photo from Prospector 1966]

In the 1960s, the United States was in upheaval. President Kennedy had been assassinated, the Civil Rights Movement was underway and America was embroiled in the Vietnam War. Many higher education institutions were forced to adapt to America’s changing social and political scene and meet the evolving needs of its students. But it wasn’t easy. Although it hadn’t happened at Colorado School of Mines, colleges across the country were seeing declining enrollments in mineral engineering programs.

When Orlo Childs was in his third year as 11th president of the school, enrollment was at its highest to date with 1,544 students, attributed to new degree offerings and an increase in financial aid for students. Yet, Mines was at a crossroads. The school could continue offering professional degrees, which required about 170 credit hours, or it could more closely approximate the BS degree in mining engineering, requiring as few as 130 semester hours at other colleges. Less than a third of the companies that recruited on campus distinguished between the two degrees, according to a 1978 Mines Magazine article about credit changes. Since Mines graduates with the professional degree were offered the same positions and salary packages as their counterparts from other schools who had completed their degrees in far less time, faculty recommended the professional degree be made into a second degree in recognition of the extra work required.

Additionally, an evaluation of the college and its operations suggested Mines could build itself into one of the nation’s leading technological institutions. Changing the degree structure could help the school attract the kinds of students and faculty that would make that happen. In its ninth decade, the college had evolved from its original academic focus on gold and silver assaying to an expanded curriculum suited for modern students. In 1959 the school increased humanities and social sciences course requirements; in 1962 it offered new degrees in chemistry, mathematics and physics.

“For Mines, the 1950s and 1960s were watersheds of curricular development and predictors of new demands and goals to be recognized and molded into reality,” wrote Wilton Eckley in Rocky Mountains to the World a History of the Colorado School of Mines.

Early in his administration, Childs attempted to rename the college to include the word “university.” He thought having “school” in the name was misleading for an institution that granted doctoral degrees, but he dropped the plan due to vehement opposition. During Childs’ tenure, the school was in a formative stage, so it undertook myriad evaluations. Among them were Alumni Advisory Council reviews in 1962, 1965 and 1968; a 1967 report to the Colorado Commission on Higher Education (CCHE); an evaluation by the Engineers Council for Professional Development in 1967; and a task force report from a panel of CCHE experts in 1967–68.

“There are obvious conflicts in the various recommendations and actions that have been reviewed,” wrote Geology Professor John D. Haun in the “Future of Colorado School of Mines,” a December 1968 article in Mines Magazine. In describing evaluations concluded in the prior year, which had “come with bewildering frequency,” Haun addressed the difficulty in meeting CCHE’s desire for each state college to have a distinct focus. “There will obviously be some overlap with programs at C.U. and C.S.U., but it [is] not possible to expand and strengthen our various departments and at the same time completely avoid duplication,” Haun wrote.

In an effort to meet changing needs and to attract more students, the Board of Trustees voted on March 29, 1968, to approve the BS in engineering or science, the MS in chemistry, mathematics and physics, the MS in mineral economics and the PhD in engineering and science. In response to alumni concerns about dropping the professional degree in engineering, the board compromised by moving the last year of the professional degree to the master’s level. 

Stu Bennett ’66, an undergraduate student during this period of change, recalls students’ concern about the shift in degree offerings. “The traditions of the school were very important to us. The professional degree was a five-year program that covered all aspects of engineering. As a result, Mines students were reputed to be competent in any area of engineering,” he says.

However, the departure from tradition was necessary for the school to remain competitive. “The change made the Mines degree more comparable to those of other engineering institutions, and it brought in quality faculty and research,” Bennett says. “Mines was forced into a culture change, and it has grown from an excellent technical school into a major research and education university that is quantum leaps different and better.”

Childs’ legacy of leadership during a transformational time for the school is perhaps best understood by looking back. In a memorial for Childs published in November 1997 by the Geological Society of America, Robert Weimer and Anton Pegis wrote about his seven years as president of Mines: “His recommended curriculum revisions and new degree programs were instrumental in stabilizing and increasing enrollment at the school.”

Don Van Arnam ’66, who graduated from Mines with a degree in metallurgical engineering, sees the modifications the college made in the late 1960s as part of a long transition that started before his arrival and continues today.

“Mines was originally funded by the legislature of the state of Colorado to provide engineers for the mining belt in the Colorado mountains. While we were at Mines, legislators realized more Mines graduates were going out of state than were staying in state so they reduced their level of support,” Van Arnam says. “Basically, Mines’ customer was changing from industry in the state of Colorado to industry, nationwide and worldwide.”

Van Arnam believes that Mines’ investment in world-renowned faculty and its close connections to industry have helped train graduates to be well-equipped for the workforce.

Today Mines is a highly selective, public research university offering bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in engineering and applied sciences. In 2015–16, through its three colleges and 14 academic departments, Mines’ enrollment totaled 5,924 students, including 4,608 undergraduates and 1,316 graduate students. More than half of the instructional faculty have doctorate or other terminal degrees. In 2015, the school’s research awards amounted to nearly $64 million and were split about equally between federal and non-federal sources. According to the college’s 2016–17 research magazine, Mines is “internationally recognized for its education and research programs focusing on stewardship of the Earth and its resources, developing advanced materials and applications, addressing the Earth’s energy challenges and fostering environmentally sound and sustainable solutions for the world’s greatest challenges.”

The strong enrollment figures, distinguished faculty and quality research are key indicators that the changes the university made decades ago have led to its current status as one of the leading technological institutions in the United States. Mines continually undergoes periods of change and rises to the challenges it faces, but the school always remains true to its roots.

Posed portrait of members of the class of 1966
Members from the Class of 1966 reminisced on old times during Homecoming 2016 for thier 50th class reunion.
[Photo by Thomas Copper]

Reprinted from the winter 2017 issue of Mines Magazine, the Colorado School of Mines Alumni Magazine.

Story by Brenda Gillen

Mines student works on a project in the radiochemistry lab
Jarrod Gogolski, a graduate chemistry student, works on a project in the radiochemistry lab.
(Photo by Leah Pinkus)

You could call them the neglected stepchildren of the periodic table.

Stretching across the bottom of the table, the 15 actinides are among the heaviest elements, are all radioactive and are generally not found in nature. The most famous among them, uranium and plutonium, have been integral in shaping the global political and energy landscape, used in nuclear weapons production until the late 1960s and nuclear plants since the mid-1950s. To this day, roughly 20 percent of the United States’ energy comes from nuclear power. But in the wake of the Cold War’s end and the nuclear accidents at Chernobyl and Three Mile Island, interest in studying such elements fell off in the ’90s, leaving a wide knowledge gap at a time when expertise was still badly needed.

Today, Mines, with a new nuclear science chair, a new state-of-the-art 2,200-square-foot radiochemistry lab and a burgeoning research and education program—all funded with help from Transforming Lives: The Campaign for Colorado School of Mines—is working to fill that gap.

“These additions have allowed Mines to become one of the foremost institutions in the world when it comes to expertise in radioactive elements,” says Mines Foundation President Brian Winkelbauer, who points to the nuclear science program as one of many key successes of the six-year, half-billion-dollar campaign. In all, the campaign, which drew to a close this past fall, raised $456 million which was used to fund scholarships, numerous capital projects, campus programs and fund 10 new faculty positions, including the Jerry and Tina Grandey University Chair in Nuclear Science and Engineering.

As the United States grapples with what to do with its nuclear waste and nations around the world eye nuclear energy as a clean and relatively cheap energy source, Mines is poised to be a go-to source for solid science and informed perspectives.

Mark Jensen works on a project in the radiochemistry lab
 
Chemistry Professor Mark Jensen holds the Grandey Chair in Nuclear Science, a position endowed with funding from the Transforming Lives campaign.
(Photo by Leah Pinkus)

Why plutonium research is still critical

Prior to arriving for his new post at Mines in January 2015, Mark Jensen, director of the nuclear science program, spent 20 years at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory studying radioactive elements, particularly plutonium. Asked why it’s important to study, he responds:

“First, let me tell you why it’s fun.”

Jensen explains that until 1941, when University of California Berkeley chemist Glenn Seaborg secretly isolated and synthesized plutonium in a lab, it had “not existed on Earth” in any significant quantities for about 2 billion years. “What that means is that, unlike other elements, we can’t go learn about its chemistry, biology or physics by looking at the world around us,” Jensen says. “Since it hasn’t existed on Earth, nature—especially biology—hasn’t developed any way to handle plutonium.” For a scientist, that presents a rare and tantalizing challenge.

There are also plenty of practical reasons to study plutonium, he adds. “In the last 70 years, we have gone from having no plutonium on Earth to having many hundreds of tons on Earth.” Roughly 60 tons of spent plutonium are generated per year globally, via nuclear energy production, placed in repositories next to plants where they take an unfathomably long time to decay. “Half of it goes away every 24,000 years,” explains Jensen.

Meanwhile, interest in nuclear energy—a relatively cheap, clean-burning fuel source which uses uranium as its feedstock and produces plutonium as waste—is growing globally as nations like China and India grapple with unmanageable CO2 emissions.

With a group of seven faculty and five associate researchers, Mines’ nuclear science and engineering program is exploring not only how to use uranium for energy most efficiently but also how to better deal with the waste and be prepared to address security and safety issues in the unlikely event that it, or legacy waste from the use of plutonium in weaponry, ends up in the wrong hands.

“I think that peaceful nuclear power production is going to be a really important part of our energy portfolio worldwide in the future,” says Jenifer Braley, an assistant chemistry professor and nuclear science researcher who works with Jensen. “We would like for its implementation to be as secure and responsible as possible.”

Student Nathan Bessen talks to Jenifer Braley in the radiochemistry lab
Graduate student Nathan Bessen, right, talks about nuclear science and chemistry with Assistant Professor Jenifer Braley.
(Photo by Leah Pinkus)

The CSI of nuclear science

Braley says she was always fascinated with the “basement of the periodic table” and got turned on to radiochemistry as an undergrad when she attended a Nuclear Chemistry Summer School sponsored by the DOE to reinvigorate the field.

“Research in this area had basically just died off,” she says.

She came to Mines in 2012, drawn to what was already a growing program, and has watched the program flourish ever since. “The facilities infrastructure and support provided by the Transforming Lives campaign has really helped this research move forward,” she explains.

While research is slowly increasing, there are only seven institutions in the country with the specialized equipment, lab space and expertise to work with radioactive “transuranic” materials like berkelium, plutonium and neptunium. Only two academic institutions in the world—Mines and Florida State University—have the resources required to study berkelium. “We have the best-looking radiochemistry lab in the nation,” Braley says.

She and FSU researchers recently published a paper in Science, heralded as the most rigorous characterization of the actinide berkelium. Just understanding the basic science behind how such elements behave could ultimately lead to more efficient nuclear fuel systems and shorter waste-management times, she says.

Braley also specializes in nuclear forensics research, helping to identify chemical fingerprints and develop forensic tools which could ultimately assist government agencies in identifying the source of nuclear materials should they end up in the hands of rogue states or terrorist organizations.

“It is, in a sense, the CSI of the nuclear world.”

Student Erin Bertelsen works on her research in the radiochemistry lab
 
Graduate student Erin Bertelsen focuses on her research in teh radiochemistry lab.
(Photo by Ronald Kem)

From recycling plutonium to treating toxicity

For years, Jensen has focused his research on a concept called “partition and transmutation”—a proposed technology that would essentially extract radioactive materials from nuclear waste stored in repositories and recycle them, both creating more energy and radically reducing the amount of time it takes waste to decay. “You would take them out and put them in a different reactor that would actually destroy the plutonium and other radioactive materials that are going to last a long time. In destroying them, you turn the problem of radioactive waste into something that could be gone in a thousand years instead of a hundred thousand years.”

In 2011, Jensen and his co-authors published a paper in Nature identifying for the first time, precisely how plutonium gets inside of human cells, causing health problems. As he explains it, plutonium binds to transferrin—a protein responsible for shuttling iron into the cells—changing the shape of transferrin in almost the same way that iron does and “tricking the cells into thinking it is iron” so they let it in.

He hopes that someday the research could be used to help develop a drug to block that “Trojan horse” from entering the cell. It could be used to treat workers who are accidentally exposed to radioactive elements or provide an emergency remedy in the unlikely case of a terrorist attack or accident.

For now, Jensen and his students at Mines are working to better understand how cells in the body process and separate other naturally occurring metals, with the hope of learning new strategies for dealing with nuclear waste.

“The real, practical avenue for this research right now is the recognition that biology does its metals separation differently than I as a chemist would do it, and it works pretty well. There’s a lot we can learn from that,” Jensen says.

Mines alumnus and uranium industry leader Jerry Grandey ’68, who donated $3 million to establish the new chair, said he felt that as a school with a strong emphasis on coal, petroleum, mining and renewable energy, Mines would serve its students well by offering a robust look at the technical and policy issues surrounding nuclear energy, too.

So far, so good, Grandey says.

“It’s achieving the objectives I had hoped—exposing students to the nuclear field from beginning to end and all of the issues that come with it. I feel very good about it.”



 

TRANSFORMING LIVES BY THE NUMBERS

The six-year Transforming Lives: The Campaign for the Colorado School of Mines drew to a close in fall 2016, having raised $456 million and far exceeding its fundraising goal of $350 million.

“This is an unheard of fundraising feat for a small public school like ours,” said Mines Foundation President and CEO Brian Winkelbauer. “We capitalized on the incredible pride that our alumni have for this institution and their willingness and interest in making Mines one of the best STEM institutions in the world.”

WHO GAVE:

·       Out of 8,857 donors, 5,403 were alumni

·       3,566 gave for the first time

·       Mines received 50 gifts of $1 million or more

·       Mines’ endowment now sits at $248 million, a growth of 50 percent

WHAT IT BOUGHT:

Donors contributed $63 million for financial aid, creating 168 new scholarships

Several buildings were built or enhanced, including: Marquez Hall; the Wright Student Wellness Center; the Clear Creek Athletic Complex, including a new football stadium and soccer and track facilities; a renovated student center; the Starzer Welcome Center; and the CoorsTek Center for Applied Science and Engineering (currently under construction).

NEW FACULTY POSITIONS ENDOWED WITH CAMPAIGN FUNDING:

Stephen Liu, ABS Endowed Chair in Metallurgical and Materials Engineering

Open, Fred Banfield Distinguished Endowed Chair in Mining Engineering

Paul Constantine, Ben L. Fryrear Assistant Professor of Applied Math and Statistics

Dehui Yang, Ben L. Fryrear Assistant Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science

Tzahi Cath & Michael Wakin, Ben L. Fryrear Endowed Professorship Fund for the College of Engineering and Computational Sciences

Mark Jensen, Jerry and Tina Grandey University Chair in Nuclear Science and Engineering

Mike Mooney, Bruce E. Grewcock University Chair in Underground Construction and Tunneling

Jamal Rostami, Timothy J. Haddon/Alacer Gold Endowed Chair in Mining Engineering

Erdal Ozkan, F.H. “Mick” Merelli/Cimarex Energy Distinguished Department Head Chair in Petroleum Engineering

Lesli Wood, Robert J. Weimer Distinguished Endowed Chair in Sedimentary and Petroleum Geology

 

To see more about the impact of the campaign visit campaign.mines.edu.


Reprinted from the winter 2017 issue of Mines Magazine, the Colorado School of Mines Alumni Magazine.

Story by Lisa Marshall

Pages

Subscribe to RSS - Alumni