As the population in U.S. urban communities continues to grow exponentially, so does the demand for appropriate housing and office space. Typically, in large urban areas this means building residential and commercial units that are up to 20 stories high, made with concrete or steel, as it has been done in the past century. Yet sometimes, these materials are not ideal in earthquake-prone areas.


A new timber structural innovation, known as cross laminated timber (CLT), is being implemented around the world as a sustainable alternative to conventional structural materials. In comparison to building with steel and concrete, timber outperforms in lightness, cost, speed of construction, and environmental impact. However, building tall with cross laminated timber has been limited in earthquake active regions, since a validated design method for tall CLT buildings to resist earthquakes has not yet been developed. Colorado School of Mines plans to change that, with the development of a resilience-based seismic design for tall timber construction.

Civil and Environmental Engineering Assistant Professor Shiling Pei aims to develop a seismic design methodology over the next four years for resilient tall wood buildings. “This project, scientifically, will answer a lot of questions we have regarding how to design [these buildings] and how to perfect their performance in earthquakes so that the buildings can be immediately reoccupied after a big earthquake,” said Pei, who is also the principal investigator on a $1.5 million award from the National Science Foundation (NSF) for the project, A Resilience-based Seismic Design Methodology for Tall Wood Buildings.

With six universities and multiple domestic and international industry partners collaborating on this project, researchers will design, build and validate the performance of a 10-story wood building by conducting a full-scale sub-assembly system testing at the Natural Hazards Engineering Research Infrastructure (NHERI) experimental facility at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Penn. This will then be followed by a full-scale test at the NHERI outdoor shake table at the University of California at San Diego—the largest outdoor table in the world.

The model tested on the shake table will be an actual building designed to a resilience performance target, Pei explained, with everything from the finishing drywall to the windows. “This will be the largest building that has been tested on the shake table,” said Pei. But since this is a full-scale model and includes all building components, not just the structural framework, the project can get expensive.

In addition to the support from NSF, the research team still needs to raise approximately $800,000 in order to complete the project. They have already received interest from most industry leaders who see the benefits of their work, which would enable a new sustainable construction practice that is also cost-competitive. If successful, implementing the design method would increase the demand for engineered wood production, providing added value for forest resources and enhancing job growth in construction and forestry sectors.

The researchers expect to have all the designs and donations lined up by the end of 2019 with building anticipated to begin in 2020. “We are excited about the new data this landmark experiment will generate,” said Pei. “It could have an enormous impact on the tall timber building industry, and lead to new building practices using more sustainable materials.”



Ashley Spurgeon, Editorial Assistant, Mines Magazine | 303-273-3959 |
Deirdre Keating, Communications Manager, College of Engineering & Computational Sciences | 303-384-2358 |

Over two decades after his show aired on PBS and took the ‘90s by storm, “Bill Nye the Science Guy” is still a hit among science enthusiasts, especially with the millennials who grew up watching him. On Oct. 5, Nye visited the Colorado School of Mines to speak to a sold-out crowd of students, alumni, faculty, and staff in Lockridge Arena. 
Bill Nye speaks to sold out crowd at Mines' 2016 President's Distinguished Lecture.
Bill Nye speaks to sold out crowd at Mines' 2016 President's Distinguished Lecture. Photo Credit: Agata Bogucka
“It was a childhood dream come true,” said sophomore Victoria Martinez-Vivot. Martinez-Vivot got the opportunity to meet Bill Nye prior to the talk, due to her role as MAC Co-Publicity Chair. 
Mines' President Paul Johnson, Bill Nye and Blaster the Burro in their matching bow-ties, all part of the Bill Nye official bow-tie collection.
Mines' President Paul Johnson, Bill Nye and Blaster the Burro in their matching bow-ties, all part of the Bill Nye official bow-tie collection. Photo Credit: Thomas Cooper

Nye’s talk— part of the President’s Distinguished Lecture series and kickoff to the 2016 Homecoming festivities— focused on the biggest problems facing our planet and what society, especially young people, can do to make the world a better place.

His catch phrase for the night was: “I want you guys to — dare I say it — change the world.”

Climate change sparked the conversation, but was only one element of Nye’s advocacy for “renewable and reliable energy for all”. In addition to encouraging the crowd to recognize renewable resources as the future of energy, he also dared Mines students to design the better battery and invent hydro-fusion engines for airplanes.

Fueled by his views on climate and the need to recognize the reality of our rapidly changing planet, Nye challenged the crowd of young engineers to solve the world's top three engineering grand challenges: providing clean water, renewable reliable energy and Internet access for all. He also expressed his support for space exploration.
“Space exploration brings out the best in us," said Nye. "There are two questions we all ask: Where did we come from? And are we alone in the universe?” Nye asserted that our desire to explore space illustrates the innate yearning within humankind to understand our origins, despite problems planet Earth may be faced with.
After a humorous introduction highlighting his father’s fascination with sundials and Nye’s own “MarsDials”, Nye quipped about how times have changed and reflected on his own scientific youth, including the moment he learned that there are in fact, “100 times more stars in the universe than there are grains of sand on the Earth.” One of the most memorable moments of the night was Nye’s birthday call to Neil deGrasse Tyson — last year’s Distinguished Lecturer — where he invited the audience to join him in wishing Tyson a “happy orbit around the sun.” The Mines crowd could not have roared any louder.
One Mines student gave a heartfelt thank you to Bill Nye during the Q&A at the end of the lecture — “I just want to say that your plate tectonics episode is probably the reason I’m here studying geology right now, so thank you.” 
Nye is currently the CEO of The Planetary Society, continuing his legacy of teaching people of all ages the joys and wonders of science. He spent Earth Day 2015 speaking with President Barack Obama about climate change and science education. He also had a short debut on ABC’s “Dancing with the Stars” but had to drop out after sustaining an injury.
Agata Bogucka, Communications Manager, College of Earth Resource Sciences & Engineering | 303-384-2657 |
Leah Pinkus, Communications Assistant, Colorado School of Mines 303-273-3088

Paul Polak address a full house for his humanitarian engineering seminar on solving poverty via design.Sharing his broad world experience as an entrepreneur and activist, Paul Polak presented, “Prescriptions for Helping Poor People Help Themselves: What Engineers Need to Know,” to a large crowd of Colorado School of Mines students and faculty on September 20.

“Instead of trying to bring the newest technology to the poorest regions,” Polak said, “we need to listen and design based on the specific needs and environment of that community.”

Polak’s talk kicked off the Shultz Family Leadership in Humanitarian Engineering Speaker Series, a series aimed at changing the conversation about what engineering is for by showcasing leaders in humanitarian engineering and corporate social responsibility. Author of “Out of Poverty” and “The Business Solution to Poverty,” Polak offers an unconventional approach to solving poverty not through government programs or philanthropic efforts, but by designing for the market of the poorest people on the planet.

“Most design efforts are aimed at the world’s richest 10 percent, while nearly half of the population doesn’t have regular access to food, shelter or clean water,” Polak said, challenging Mines engineers to design affordable technologies that will increase the revenues of the poor.

Even prior to his talk, Polak has influenced design teaching at Mines. Several past humanitarian engineering projects have collaborated with International Development Enterprises (IDE), an innovative nonprofit design organization that Polak founded, located in Denver. Leslie Light, director of EPICS at Mines and a former project manager for IDE, has brought similar human-centered design principals to EPICS, Mines' first-year design course, such as the landmine detection project in fall 2015, and wheelchair redesigns in spring 2015.


The five humanitarian engineering student scholars link arms for a photo.

2016-17 Humanitarian Engineering  Shultz Student Scholars: Michelle Pedrazas, Rosalie O'Brien, Melissa Breathwaite, Micaela Pedrazas, and Stephanie Martella

In addition to the lecture series, the Shultz Family fund also sponsors undergraduate students each year as Shultz scholars. The current five scholars are Melissa Breathwaite, Stephanie Martella, Michelle Pedrazas, Micaela Pedrazas and Rosalie O’Brien. Juan Lucena, director of humanitarian engineering, introduced them as “outstanding students who have demonstrated their commitment to connecting their engineering majors to humanitarian engineering in creative ways, all while maintaining excellent academic standing."

For example, inspired by Polak, Stephanie Martella, a chemical and biochemical engineering senior, is collaborating with John Persichetti, teaching associate professor, on designing chemical processes to produce a nutritious beverage for the poorest markets in the world.

“I got involved with Humanitarian Engineering, because I’m passionate about building relationships through engineering and communication,” Martella said. “I want to apply the engineering skills I’ve learned at Mines to solve problems for humankind.”

According to Lucena, as part of their scholarship, the scholars are also committed to mentoring and learning from low-income, first-generation students at Red Rocks Community College who are considering transferring into engineering at Mines.



Two professors sit outside as they begin their time as Humanitarian Engineering Faculty Fellows.

The new Humanitarian Engineering Shultz Faculty Fellows: Linda Battalora and Kathleen Smits

A third program funded by the Shultz Family Fund is the Humanitarian Engineering Faculty Fellows. Lucena announced this year’s new faculty fellows as Civil and Environmental Engineering Assistant Professor Kathleen Smits, and Petroleum Engineering Teaching Professor Linda Battalora.

In spring 2017, Smits and Battalora will offer two courses of interest to students with minors in humanitarian engineering as well as students in their own departments. Smits is adding a humanitarian engineering focus to CEEN 475: Site Remediation Engineering, which will culminate with a feasibility study on an actual environmental site in a low-income country as the students’ final project.

Battalora is developing a pilot course, PEGN 498A: Environmental Law and Sustainability, which will focus on societal impacts and ethics in the discussion of fundamental environmental regulations, policies and case studies.

Humanitarian engineering at Mines continues to grow, with increased emphasis on corporate social responsibility as well as designing for the world’s greatest problems.



Deirdre Keating, Communications Manager, College of Engineering & Computational Sciences | 303-384-2358 |
Ashley Spurgeon, Editorial Assistant, Mines magazine | 303-273-3959 |



College of Earth Resource Sciences Dean Ramona Graves recently participated in a panel at the Colorado Oil and Gas Association's 28th Annual Rocky Mountain Energy Summit.

The Academic Technical Roundtable: Partnerships, innovative technologies, and studies, focused on how collaborative partnerships between academia and industry can facilitate research goals. By sharing datasets and software applications with university researchers, companies can achieve the results they are looking for more efficiently and universities can better prepare students by providing them practical experience.

In addition to Graves, the panel consisted of Doug Arent, NREL; Bryan Willson, CSU and Mike Ming, GE Global Research Oil & Gas Technology Center. 
To watch a video of the entire panel, please contact with your name and affilitation to Mines or its industry partners. 
Agata Bogucka, Communications Manager, College of Earth Resource Sciences & Engineering | 303-384-2657 |

PhD student Alyssa Allende Motz in an engineering physics lab at Mines.For PhD student Alyssa Allende Motz, physics is not just about learning how matter moves through space and time or the complicated laws that govern our understanding of energy and force. She says that physics is more about “teaching you how to learn and how to think of things so that you can make more conclusions that lead you to more questions.”

Allende Motz is not new to the world of physics. She earned her bachelor’s degree in engineering physics in 2011 and her master’s degree in applied physics in 2012, both from Mines. But she decided to return to Mines to pursue a PhD, because she wanted to continue searching for answers. “The more you find out,” she says, “the more you find out that you don’t know.” And she speaks from experience.

She regularly works with nonlinear optics and nonlinear microscopy, or, in other words, focusing a laser beam to a very small point to the diffraction limit of light to get high-resolution imaging. “In my research, we wanted to push the resolution limits, and we thought this really wouldn’t change the scope of something called a lifetime measurement,” she says. “What we found out was that at first what appeared to be lifetimes that looked incorrect was actually a feature of the measurement being different from the macroscale measurement. It actually led to more questions. But then more was found out with the same kind of measurement, just on a different kind of scale.”

Allende Motz’s research in particular focuses on photovoltaics, which generate electricity directly from sunlight. Specifically, she deals with a technology called thin-film photovoltaics, which she explains is a promising technology because of its potential to be an inexpensive energy resource while also being effective. But researchers are still working out a few questions in the lab. “There’s a theoretical efficiency of these solar cells, and we’re not quite hitting that theoretical efficiency,” Allende Motz explains. “And we’re not quite sure why yet.”

She says the reason for this inefficiency is most likely due to grain boundaries—defects in a crystal structure that tend to decrease the electrical and thermal conductivity of the material. “These grain boundaries are only 50 nanometers or so wide, so you have to have a very high-resolution system to study the nature of these grain boundaries and how they interact with the material and how they affect solar cell efficiency; specifically, what is leading the degradation,” Allende Motz says. She aims to develop a microscope that will have a high enough resolution to determine the physics of grain boundaries and learn more about improving the efficiency of thin-film photovoltaics.

PhD student Alyssa Allende Motz inspects a machine in the engineering physics lab at Mines.The end goal of this technology? To make solar cells that are inexpensive enough and produce enough electricity to make them market competitive with fossil fuels. And although she isn’t directly involved with making these solar cells, her work is just as important. “We don’t make the materials,” she says. “But we make the tools that characterize the materials.”

But Allende Motz’s research isn’t limited to energy-related applications. “I have this idea of studying neurons with something similar to excitons, which is basically the movement of charge. So you could study the movement of charge through neurons, and maybe that could help study things like Alzheimer’s,” Allende Motz says.

There are clearly many benefits to her research and the technology she is developing. “We try to find problems that need solutions,” she says. “What I hope to do with this microscope once I complete my research, is apply for some sort of postdoc grant and continue study with it. I want to show the versatility of the instrument by studying different samples besides just PV, like biological samples.”

While her research answers many questions, Allende Motz isn’t intimidated by the questions that it also uncovers. “I like it, because I get to do something that I feel is creative and artistic, and it’s also applicable to something concrete and realistic,” she says. “We’re discovering new things about materials that are going to help researchers find better materials in the future.”


Ashley Spurgeon, Editorial Assistant, Mines magazine | 303-273-3959 |
Mark Ramirez, Communications Manager, College of Applied Science & Engineering | 303-384-2622 |

The Combustion Institute awarded its highest honor, the Bernard Lewis Gold Medal, to Colorado School of Mines George R. Brown Distinguished Professor of Mechanical Engineering Robert J. Kee at the 36th International Symposium on Combustion August 5 in Seoul, South Korea. Kee received the award in honor of his research in the field of combustion, particularly on pioneering development of chemically reacting flow simulations and the CHEMKIN family of models. The institute also honored Kee by requesting he give a plenary lecture on the future of “Combustion Interfacing with Emerging Technologies.”

Charles Wesbrook, former CI president (2008-2012), Professor Robert Kee, and Katharina Höinghaus, CI President (2008-2016) at the Combustion Symposium in Seoul, South Korea. Photo Courtesy of the Combustion Institute.

Kee is the principal architect and developer of the CHEMKIN family of software, which has been the dominant modeling software in the field of combustion for more than 25 years. The software’s wide adoption stems from its strong code architecture that facilitates ease of use, as well as Kee’s extensive documentation that has been adopted and cited by thousands of researchers and developers worldwide as the seminal work in reactive flow modeling.

Kee continues to push the frontiers of reactive system modeling into new areas and is now acknowledged as an international leader in multiphysics modeling of electrochemical systems such as fuel cells and batteries and of multifunctional reactors for process intensification. This has led Kee to continue to develop software, as highlighted by a recently awarded contract from the Air Force to build the next generation of software for modeling reactive systems.

“Bob continues to set an example to all of us in research,” reflected Greg Jackson, head of the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Mines, “by continually expanding and adapting his modeling skills to address high-impact technical challenges such as better, safer batteries and membrane reactors for upgrading natural gas. We are honored to have a senior colleague as creative, thorough and generous as Bob.”

In addition to the Combustion Institute’s Gold Medal, Kee has been the recipient of numerous awards, including the Combustion Institute’s Silver Combustion Medal, the Bastress Award for Outstanding Contributions to Technology Transfer from Sandia National Laboratories, and the DOE Basic Energy Sciences Award for Sustained Outstanding Research in Materials Chemistry. In addition to more than 200 archival papers, Kee is also the principal author of the leading textbook, “Chemically Reacting Flow.”



Deirdre Keating, Communications Manager, College of Engineering & Computational Sciences | 303-384-2358 |
Mark Ramirez, Communications Manager, College of Applied Science & Engineering | 303-384-2622 |

Emerita Associate Professor Cathy Skokan has been named a fellow of the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) at the society’s annual conference this week in New Orleans. 

Founded in 1893, ASEE is a nonprofit organization of individuals and institutions committed to furthering education in engineering and engineering technology. The organization promotes excellence in instruction, research and public service, and fosters technological education. The honor of fellow is bestowed by the ASEE Board of Directors upon members in recognition of outstanding contributions to engineering or engineering technology education.

The first female to earn a graduate degree at Mines

Skokan’s early interest in rocks led to a love of science, and a wise high school counselor suggested she combine her skills in math and science with her passion for the outdoors and study geophysics.

“I remember I applied to LeHigh University as C. King, my maiden name,” said Skokan, “because they weren’t accepting women at the time. But they eventually figured out I was a woman.”

Mines, on the other hand, offered Skokan a full scholarship. She received her bachelor’s degree in geophysical engineering in 1970, and went on to become the first woman to receive a graduate degree from Mines in any field, receiving her master’s degree in 1971, and PhD in 1974. Her goal remained conducting research for a government organization.


From government researcher to university professor

Skokan’s many contributions to engineering education and to Mines, in particular, almost never came to be. She originally saw herself solely as a researcher rather than a teacher. Thanks to a delay in her government paperwork, she returned to Mines to do postdoctoral research in electromagnetics while waiting to start her new job. Skokan shared how her plans changed: "Just before the beginning of the fall semester, George Keller, who was the head of the department and my thesis advisor, came in and said, ‘We need someone to teach linear systems analysis.’

“I said, ‘I don’t teach.’

"He said, ‘Classes meet Monday, Wednesday and Friday.’ He handed me the class notes, told me what time it started and walked out the door.

“Linear systems was not one of my favorite subjects, though it is now.”

Skokan credits Keller as a mentor throughout her early career. She went on to accept a tenured faculty position in Geophysics. In 1996, she moved to what was then the Engineering Division at Mines (now the College of Engineering and Computational Sciences), where she spent the next 20 years teaching linear systems, senior design and geophysical courses to electrical engineering students.

“Several of my research grants centered around electromagnetic methods of mapping earth structures,” Skokan explained, “so I got to combine electrical engineering and geology, which was the best of all worlds.”

Humanitarian Engineering Program

Skokan was also one of the initiators of the Humanitarian Engineering program at Mines, the first in the nation. Initial funding from the Hewlett foundation aimed to take student engineers to communities that needed their skills most. As a result, Skokan took student groups to Senegal, Honduras and Ghana to work on solving real problems with engineering solutions.

Skokan recalls a particular Humanitarian Engineering trip to Alaska:

"An Alaskan tribal community had invited us to help with projects to prepare them for a community center. Over multiple years, we designed a road and septic system, among other things. One year, we were driving out there from the airport, and a student asked, “Do they live in igloos?” I told him, no, and that he would see what they lived in soon. The Bureau of Indian Affairs had built a series of prefab houses intended for Hawaii, and when they weren’t needed in Hawaii, they were sent there. Some members of the community lived in old school buses, and it reached -40 Fahrenheit during the winters. We left with a real sense of doing work that was needed. It was an eye-opening experience for all of us.”


Humanitarian Engineering students traveled to the University of Ghana with Associate Professor Skokan in 2007 as part of their senior design project.

Music at Mines

Skokan still believes that international experiences are essential for every engineer’s education, and often travels with Mines music students. She currently plays violin with the Mines Orchestra, bassoon with the Mines Band and erhu with the Mines Chinese Band.

"I’ve played in the band since I was a student here in the 60s,” said Skokan. “Believe it or not, I was the first director of the orchestra here, until they finally hired a real musician rather than an engineer to conduct the orchestra.”


                                                   Catherine Skokan and the Mines Marching Band in Dublin's 2015 St. Patrick's Day Parade.

In 2016, Skokan led 150 Mines music students and alumni on a spring trip to march in Dublin’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade. “We always combine an engineering and musical component on these trips,” explained Skokan. “In Ireland, we visited Dublin Institute of Technology, with whom we are now working on a collaborative effort. I also took a group of students into the Tara Mines, a lead and zinc mine near County Meath. Because we are engineers, not just tourists, they took us underground and the students had a blast exploring the machinery. It included electrical, mechanical, civil, mining, geology— talk about interdisciplinary!”


                                                   Students prepare for an underground tour of the lead and zinc Tara Mine in Co. Meath, Ireland.

In 2015, Skokan accompanied Mines music students and alumni to Jamaica. In addition to meeting with engineering students at the University of the West Indies, the Mines group participated in a recording session with Winston “Sparrow” Martin, Bob Marley's percussionist, at the studio that Bob Marley founded.

In 2017, Skokan will be taking Mines music students to Florence. “We’ll be visiting Santa Croce,” said Skokan, “where Galileo, Michelangelo and Rossini are buried. It’s also right on the Arno River, which flooded in 1966, killing more than 100 people and destroying millions of masterpieces. So we’re going to talk to a professor from the University of Florence about flood mitigation and art restoration."

Innovation in engineering education

Skokan became involved in ASEE around the time that she joined the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. She spent a sabbatical writing a pre-engineering curriculum for Adams School District, which is still in use.

“Every project had a computer, math, writing and engineering component,” said Skokan.

“I joined the multidisciplinary division of ASEE,” continued Skokan, “because electrical, mechanical and civil were all under the Engineering Division in those days. I went from Secretary, to Treasurer, then Program Chair and finally Chair.” Skokan is currently the ASEE Vice President for External Relations, which includes chairing ASEE’s international advisory committee and external projects.

"The best thing ASEE offers,” according to Skokan, “is workshops and venues to look at innovative teaching methodsthose that worked and those that didn’t. I believe looking at the failure papers can be even more educational than the success papers." 

Despite retiring in 2015, Skokan remains as busy as ever. She will be giving a talk in Japan at the annual Japanese Society for Engineering Education meeting, and another in Korea in November at an engineering education conference. 

Skokan is the third Mines faculty member to be named an ASEE Fellow in addition to Theodore A. Bickart in 2000 and Joan Gosink in 2010.


All photos from the personal archives of Emerita Associate Professor Catherine Skokan.


Deirdre Keating, Communications Manager, College of Engineering & Computational Sciences | 303-384-2358 |
Kathleen Morton, Digital Media and Communications Manager, Colorado School of Mines | 303-273-3088 |

GOLDEN, CO, June 20, 2016 — Colorado School of Mines and the Alliance for the Development of Additive Processing Technologies (ADAPT), a consortium of academic, industry and government institutions focused on developing technologies to accelerate the certification and qualification of 3D-printed metal parts, will be hosting an open house 5 p.m. June 23 in the ADAPT Advanced Characterization Center (Brown W230).

On April 2, Mines won the American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG) Rocky Mountain section Imperial Barrel Award (IBA) competition. IBA is a prospective basin evaluation competition for geoscience graduate students from universities around the world. The program is rigorous and contributes to AAPG's mission of promoting petroleum geoscience training and advancing the careers of geoscience students. Over 250 teams from over 50 countries around the world partipate in IBA competition each year, and one winner from each AAPG section is chosen.

This win makes Mines one of 12 teams to move forward to the international competition June 17-18 in Calgary, which will take place as part of AAPG's Annual Technical Conference and Exhibtion (ATCE). These teams will be analyzing a dataset (geology, geophysics, land, production infrastructure and other relevant materials) prior to the competition. During the event, teams will be delivering their results in a 25-minute presentation to a panel of industry experts. Students will have the chance to use state of the art technology on a real dataset, receive feedback from an industry panel, impress potential employers in the audience and receive scholarship funds and international recognition. The judges will select the winning team on the basis of the technical quality, clarity and originality of presentation.

The Mines team includes Abdulah Eljalafi, Sarah King, faculty advisor and geology professor Steve Sonnenberg, Michael Harty, Matt Bauer and Evan Allred.

"This is the most successful industry supported student project in AAPG that impacts hundreds of students internationally," said Sonnenberg. "Students love the competition. They meet industry mentors, land jobs on the spot if they do well and learn new computer software by analyzing a data set. Industry loves the competition because they get to see students giving technical presentations on very complex data sets."

This is Mines' fifth time competing in the international competition. In 2012 and 2014, Mines placed third.



Agata Bogucka, Information Specialist, College of Earth Resource Sciences & Engineering | 303-384-2657 |
Kathleen Morton, Digital Media and Communications Manager, Colorado School of Mines | 303-273-3088 |


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