Engineering

John Spear is a Civil and Environmental Engineering Professor at Colorado School of Mines. Step inside his office in Coolbaugh Hall and you might find some strange items, dating back to 1898. Here are seven of Spear's favorite things in his collection.

John Spear
John Spear in his office in Coolbaugh Hall.

1. Canadian Flag

Spear received the flag from a research trip this summer to Nunavut in northern Canada. Nunavut’s flag features the North Star and inuksuk, the universal symbol of greeting for the north and the symbol for the Vancouver Olympics.

Native people of the north would build stone monuments of that shape to say another human had been there and to guide people through the north.

“When you come across a natural one in the wild, it looks like a human standing with their arms out.”

2. Stromatolite Rocks

Since Spear loves microbes, he loves stromatolite rocks. These rocks are laminated and “thought to record fossilized microbial mass.”

This one is 50 million years old. He also owns one that is 3.2 billion years old from Bolivia.

“I have a lot of rocks in my office even though I’m not a geologist.”

3. Gumball Machine

His daughter gave him this gumball machine when she was 7 years old when she was tired of playing with it. It ran out of gumballs a while ago.

4. 1948 Skis & Baby Beads

Skis: These 1948 wooden skis belonged to Spear’s dad. As one of the first metal-edged skis, they are made with bear trap bindings that “used to break people’s legs.”

Beads: Strung across the skis are two sets of beads. One was his daughter’s baby beads and one is his own pair of baby beads.

5. Styrofoam Cup

The once full-sized coffee cup is now one-inch tall after two of his students took it down to the bottom of the ocean in a basket on a submarine last year. They decorated it with an octopus and the words, “Microbes are everywhere,” before submerging it.

As pressures build during descent, the air slowly compresses and the cup shrunk.

6. Typewriter

Spear’s grandmother was a librarian for the U.S. Navy who loved to type notes. “She was a catalogue of information.” She lived to be 104, and would often read 5-10 newspapers a day.

In her lifetime, his grandmother watched major events, from the invention of the light bulb to the space shuttle launch. Her typewriter recorded it all. She even left notes behind for her family to find on items she owned.

“She documented her whole life by that typewriter.”

7. 1898 Coffee Grinder

This 1898 cast-iron coffee grinder weighs more than 200 pounds. Back in the day, it helped wake up the town of Pasadena, California—where Spear grew up. The man who owned the town store gave it to Spear’s father.

Wood handles turn the cranks that can grind about 4-5 pounds of coffee at a time. After dumping beans into the top, you turn the hand crank and then pull powered coffee out at the bottom. The machine can make different grinds from course to fine.

“People were fine and course grinding coffee for 150 years.”

 

Contact:

Kathleen Morton, Communications Coordinator, Colorado School of Mines / 303-273-3088 / kmorton@mines.edu
Karen Gilbert, Director of Public Relations, Colorado School of Mines / 303-273-3541 / kgilbert@mines.edu

This story appears in the 2014-15 issue of Mines' research magazine, "Energy & the Earth."

Colorado School of Mines has been known for its prowess in geology since about 1874. Its reputation in biotechnology has taken just a little bit longer to develop – about 130 years longer, give or take.

Mines is making up for lost time. The school’s faculty, researchers and students haVe shed new light on areas as diverse as the nature of blood clots and the microbial role in rust. They have helped make better artificial limbs and developed laser microscopes capable of capturing video of the inner working of cells. They have reengineered algae to produce biofuels and developed scaffolding that could one day give new cartilage a foothold in creaky knees. In short, biological sciences and engineering have arrived at Mines, and in a big way.

The work is diverse, but there are common threads, said David Marr, who heads Mines’ Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering.

“We are an engineering and technology-focused institution— that’s really where our niche is,” Marr said. “It’s in areas of bioengineering, broadly interpreted, that we have a strong role to play.” Those areas, he added, encompass biomedical applications, biomechanics, biomaterials, environmental biotechnology and biofuels.

Recent hires have bolstered several of these research areas, and curriculum has changed in kind, with courses covering a range of biomedical engineering, biomaterials, environmental biotechnology and biophysics available to undergraduate as well as graduate students. In fall 2013, Mines’ freshman biology course moved to a studio format, where small teams of students sit at workstations equipped with computers, dual monitors, video microscopes, digital cameras and digital balances, as well as with more specialized equipment like micropipettes and oxygen, pH and temperature sensors.

Mines Assistant Professor Nanette Boyle is among the recent arrivals, having signed on in August 2013. Like many at Mines, Boyle considers herself an engineer. But she engineers the genomes of algae and cyanobacteria, microscopic plants using the tools of synthetic biology, systems biology and metabolic engineering.

“The overall goal of my research is to make products that replace petroleum using these photosynthetic organisms,” Boyle said.

In her new Alderson Hall lab, stacked incubator shakers swirled the contents of four beakers, their sloshing fluid of varying light green hues under the bright multispectral light. They were filed with the algae Chlamydomonas and the cyanobacteria Synechococcus. Boyle’s work differs from most algae-based biofuel efforts, which aim to fatten up the algae and then harvest them. Rather, she wants to engineer the algae to produce short chain alcohols, isoprene or other hydrocarbons while they keep photosynthesizing away.

“You can get them to create whatever you want if you can find the genes to do it,” Boyle said.

Mines Professor John Spear, a microbiologist, also focuses on the genomics of tiny creatures. The driving questions of his work, though, are big.

“What are the possible benefits of microbes to make human life and/or the environment better?” Spear asked. “How can we put microbes to work in ways we haven’t done before?”

Genetic sequencing has fostered an explosion in what is known of the tree of life, and Spear and colleagues are discovering new organisms at a dizzying pace. In the mid-1980s, there were perhaps 12 known phyla, or kingdoms, of bacteria. Now there are 130 and counting.

“So when you find 10 or 20 phyla of bacteria as we have found in some environments, that’s like walking out your door and discovering plants for the first time,” Spear said.

On the applied side, Spear has focused on a couple of areas, including wastewater treatment and corrosion. Some corrosion is chemical, but microbes, which feed on the electrons metal has to offer, also contribute, to the point that the oil and gas industry has considered flushing wells with antibiotics. Across industry, the failures and replacement costs associated with corrosion cost tens of billions of dollars annually. More precisely understanding the composition and habits of such microbes can help industry develop better countermeasures and lower costs, Spear said.

Much of Mines’ biology-related work involves the biomedical field. A longstanding collaboration involving Marr and Associate Professor Keith Neeves, recently landed a National Institutes of Health grant to study how microbots – tiny spherical machines each about onetwentieth the diameter of a human hair – might be used to deliver clot-busting drugs straight to the blockage in stroke patients. The idea, Marr said, is to inject a swarm of microbots and steer them to clots using magnets outside the body, “A sort of ‘Fantastic Voyage’ kind of thing,” Marr said.

Marr’s Alderson lab has the markings of an experimental physicist’s haunts, with stainless-steel-topped laser tables rife with grids of screw holes, many anchoring lenses and mirrors. The work there focuses on using light and magnetism to, among other things, test the mechanical properties of cells. A floor below, Neeves’ PhD student Abimbola Jarvis bounced between making microfluidic devices of rubbery silicone and adjusting an Olympus microscope where the screen displayed a fluorescence-enhanced time-lapse of a blood clot forming. Neeves’ main interest is in how blood clots form and dissolve, work that has piqued the interest of clinicians at places such as Children’s Hospital Colorado, where Neeves has helped study hemophilia patients.

“We work where physics and hematology meet,” Neeves said.

Down the hall, Assistant Professor Melissa Krebs is working on where joints meet, among other things. She and her students create biopolymers with applications ranging from tissue regeneration (cartilage being one target) to cancer fighting. The trick, she said, is to create polymers that support cell growth or drug delivery for a prescribed amount of time and then dissolve away.

In Krebs’s lab, PhD student Michael Riederer was creating microspheres for use on the drug-delivery side. Among the inputs were genipin, a chemical derived from gardenias, and chitosan from shrimp shells. As the research progresses, he will work on releasing proteins from the microspheres, controlling the pace and volume of release, Krebs said. These proteins might include growth factors for tissue regeneration or growth inhibitors for cancer treatment, she said.

Mines Assistant Professor Anne Silverman works on joints, too, but from a different perspective. With Mines associate professors Anthony Petrella and Joel Bach, she leads Mines’ Center for Biomechanics & Rehabilitation Research.

“The overall theme is improving walking ability in people who have movement disorders,” Silverman said.

Her team takes experimental measurements on patients using near-infrared cameras, voltage sensors to measure muscle excitations and force plates to measure external loads (such as the heel hitting the ground). They then use this data to develop computer simulations of movement. Amputations below the knee have been a focus, but her team also works with patients who have Parkinson’s disease and cerebral palsy. Collaboration partners have ranged from the Center for the Intrepid at Brooke Army Medical Center and the Colorado Neurological Institute at Denver’s Swedish Medical Center.

“We’re creating complex models and simulations of movement to estimate in vivo muscular and joint behavior,” Silverman said. “We’re using an engineering approach to solve biological problems.”

The College of Engineering and Computational Sciences Senior Design Trade Fair is an opportunity for Colorado School of Mines students to showcase projects that they have been working on with a client during the past two semesters. Nine teams presented their work, while judges consisting of faculty and alumni graded them on their ability to define, analyze and address a design problem and to present their work through display and dialogue.

Trade Fair Results

  • 1st Place: CSM FlightLab
    • Client: Mounir Zok, Faculty Advisor: Joel Bach, Consultant: Sam Strickling
    • Team Members: Michael Blaise, Adam Casanova, Andrew Eberle, Ryan Elliott, Kelli Kravetz and Perry Taga
  • 2nd Place: JB Engineering
    • Client: Edge of Seven, Faculty Advisor: Judy Wang, Consultants: Joe Crocker and Juan Lucena
    • Team Members: Matthew Craighead, Steven Johnson, Ali Khavari, Brian Klatt and Jasmine Solis
  • 3rd Place: AutoBots
    • Client: Jered Dean, Faculty Advisor: Judy Wang, Consultant: Jenifer Blacklock
    • Team Members: Arveen Amiri, Dorian Illing, Adriana Johnson, Keeranat Kolatat and Jennifer McClellan
  • 4th Place: SolTrak
    • Client: iDE, Faculty Advisor: Judy Wang, Consultant: David Frossard
    • Team Members: Miranda Barron, Lincoln Engelhard, Oluwaseun Ogunmodede, Brenda, Ramirez Rubio, Eric Rosing and Kevin Wagner

Broader Impacts Essay Results

  • 1st Place: Jace Warren for "The World Cup, It's Not Rocket Science"
  • 2nd Place: Aaron Heldmyer for "The Modern Renaissance Men and Women"
  • 3rd Place: Jennifer McClellan for "Engineering Modern Vehicles for First Responders"

Winning teams will receive plaques at the post-graduation banquet in December.

You be the judge. Listen to two teams present their projects at the Senior Design Trade Fair.

Senior Design Project: SolTrak

Senior Design Project: CSM Outreach Engineering

View more information about the Senior Design Program.

 

Contact:

Kathleen Morton, Communications Coordinator, Colorado School of Mines / 303-273-3088 / kmorton@mines.edu
Karen Gilbert, Director of Public Relations, Colorado School of Mines / 303-273-3541 / kgilbert@mines.edu

The Colorado School of Mines Colorado Fuel Cell Center hosted the first public demonstration of IEP Technology’s Geothermic Fuel Cell™ (GFC) Oct. 23. This first-ever GFC will enable production of unconventional hydrocarbons, such as oil shale, in an economic and environmentally sustainable way, while producing clean, baseload electricity.

The technology was developed in collaboration with Pacific Northwest National Laboratory/U.S. Department of Energy, TOTAL Petroleum, Delphi Automotive PLC (NYSE: DLPH), and the Colorado Fuel Cell Center at Colorado School of Mines.

“In the Piceance Basin (Northwest Colorado) alone, Colorado’s oil shale reserves are estimated in the trillions of barrels, but there has not been an environmentally responsible or economically viable way to access them,” said Alan Forbes, President and CEO of IEP Technology. “We are now one step closer to recovering oil shale resources while producing clean, reliable energy that will have significant economic impact for Colorado.”

Capital and operating costs of GFC technology are dramatically lower than other technologies when including revenues from surplus power and gases generated in the process. Previous technologies have either used mining/surface production facilities or large amounts of traditional utility-supplied electricity for in-situ technologies, both of which have significant impacts to the environment.

The GFC technology will capture and reuse its own gases produced in the process to become self fueling after startup; can achieve net zero air emissions; and can actually produce water during its operation thus avoiding impact to water needs in arid parts of the state.

IEP Technology’s GFCs use proven and tested solid oxide fuel cell (SOFC) technology from Delphi. GFCs use the heat generated by the fuel cells as the “product,” leaving the clean baseload energy from the fuel cells available to be sold back into the utility grid.

 “We are really excited to apply our knowledge and expertise in fuel cells and oil shale to an innovative industry application like the GFCs,” said Dr. Neal Sullivan, the Colorado School of Mines professor who is also the school’s Director of the Colorado Fuel Cell Center Laboratory.

IEP Technology’s plan is to complete in-situ testing this year to monitor the heat and electrical output of the GFCs. A full-scale GFC field test at a Northwest Colorado oil shale resources site is slated for 2015. Commercialization is expected to follow application validation.

 

About IEP Technology
Independent Energy Partners (IEP) is a clean technology and resource company based in Denver, Colorado focused on the economic and environmentally responsible recovery of unconventional hydrocarbon resources utilizing its patented, breakthrough in-situ Geothermic Fuel Cell(GFC) system. IEP was founded in 1991 and has been involved in the development of more than 15 energy projects employing a wide range of technologies. The company holds exclusive rights to broad, patented GFC processes and technology in the U.S. and Canada as well as its own oil shale resources containing more than 2.0 billion barrels of oil. Patenting and technological development has been underway since 2004 and has been vetted by the US Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.  IEP holds strategic partnerships with Total Petroleum, Uintah Resources, Inc., Delphi Corporation and Colorado School of Mines. Learn more about the company and its technology at iepm.com.

About the Colorado Fuel Cell Center at Colorado School of Mines
Colorado School of Mines, mines.edu, is a uniquely focused public research university dedicated to preparing exceptional students to solve today’s most pressing energy and environmental challenges. Founded in 1874, the institution was established to serve the needs of the local mining industry. Today, Mines has an international reputation for excellence in engineering education and the applied sciences with special expertise in the development and stewardship of the earth’s resources.

About Delphi

Delphi Automotive PLC (NYSE: DLPH) is a leading global supplier of technologies for the automotive and commercial vehicle markets.  Headquartered in Gillingham, England, Delphi operates major technical centers, manufacturing sites and customer support services in 32 countries, with regional headquarters in Bascharage, Luxembourg; Sao Paulo, Brazil; Shanghai, China and Troy, Michigan, U.S. Delphi delivers innovation for the real world with technologies that make cars and trucks safer as well as more powerful, efficient and connected. Visit delphi.com.

Contact: 

Kathleen Morton, Communications Coordinator, Colorado School of Mines / 303-273-3088 / kmorton@mines.edu
Karen Gilbert, Director of Public Relations, Colorado School of Mines / 303-273-3541 / kgilbert@mines.edu
Cindy Jennings, President, Volition Strategies / cindy@volitionstrategies.com

Graduate students Travis Brown (Hydrology) and Kamran Bakhsh (Mining Engineering) received first place as the winning team in the 2014 Geothermal Case Study Challenge, sponsored by the Energy Department’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. Last semester, Brown and Bakhsh worked with Mining Engineering Professor Masami Nakagawa to gather geothermal data on the Waunita Hot Springs Geothermal Area in Gunnison, Colorado. They published their case studies on OpenEi.org, a Wiki for energy information.

“Waunita has some of the higher geothermal potential in the state and right now there are not any geothermal power plants in Colorado,” Brown said. “Part of our interest in doing this site was to complie research that may be 2-3 decades out of date and hope enough people would be interested to conduct more recent exploration there.” As part of the award, Brown was able to attend the Geothermal Resource Council's 38th Annual Meeting, the largest geothermal conference in North America.

Both students learned how to organize research on an open source domain website and to apply exploration techniques to finding geothermal resources.

Their data collection can be found at OpenEi.

 

Contact:

Kathleen Morton, Communications Coordinator, Colorado School of Mines / 303-273-3088 / kmorton@mines.edu
Karen Gilbert, Director of Public Relations, Colorado School of Mines / 303-273-3541 / kgilbert@mines.edu

Travis Gordon attended Mines from 1989-91, leaving in the middle of his degree to enter the Marine Corps. He enrolled back at Mines this summer as a petroleum engineering student. Find out why Gordon left and came back more than two decades later.

In the spring of 1989, Gordon was recruited from Grand Junction High School to play football at Mines by former football coach and Director of Athletics Marv Kay.

“Marv Kay came to my house and sat down with my parents. Marv and my father went to school together, and even though Marv was a little older, my dad knew who he was. It was at that point, I decided to go to Mines,” Gordon said. The common bond between the former Mines alumni provided Gordon with the trust he needed in his new coach and college commitment.

In his first two years at Mines, Gordon enjoyed playing football and rugby, but wasn’t interested in the academics. He recalls a “less professional student” version of himself. Several of Gordon’s friends were in the Marines and encouraged him to try something different. Inspired by the physical nature of the Marines, Gordon left Mines to enlist in spring 1992. Soon after his enlistment began, he completed his bachelor degree and was commissioned, pursuing flight school where he was designated as a Naval Flight Officer. Over the subsequent years, Gordon progressed through the ranks until he was selected to be a commanding officer. In his 21-year military career, Gordon traveled to more than 10 countries, including Iraq where he participated in Operations Southern Watch and Iraqi Freedom, and Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. 

After more than two decades in the Marines, Gordon realized that if he wanted to finish what he had started at Mines, he would have to leave the Marines.

“I decided I wanted to get out (of the Marine Corps) when I was young enough to do something else. I spent several years away from my family and I wanted to get back to be close with them.”

Gordon re-enrolled at Mines this past spring, and is currently a full-time petroleum engineering student. He chose the major due to family influence and his interest in an occupation that balanced aspects of intellectual and physical demands.

Although he realizes it might seem odd that he’s more than 20 years older than most of his classmates, he believes it keeps him young at heart.

“I am very impressed and motivated by the students here. The young men and women who are here are fully committed and know what they want to do. That’s rare to see, even for a lot of students who have graduated college.”

In the past 23 years, Gordon has seen the modernization of Mines campus, including increased access to computer labs, simulators and wireless technologies. While he’s impressed with the new buildings on campus, Gordon appreciates some of the old architecture that he remembers from his first years at Mines.

Gordon noted that downtown Golden has become “trendier” since the early 1990s, but still enjoys frequenting older watering holes, such as Ace High Tavern. “When I was here before, the Foss family businesses dominated Washington Street, now the only place I recognize from before is Ace.”

For now, Gordon is focused on graduating Mines in spring of 2016, spending anywhere from 60-80 hours on campus per week.

“I’m very happy to be here and extremely thankful to all the people who gave me an opportunity for a second chance to accomplish my goals and improve myself.”

 

Contact:

Kathleen Morton, Communications Coordinator / 303-273-3088 / kmorton@mines.edu
Karen Gilbert, Director of Public Relations / 303-273-3541 / kgilbert@mines.edu

Mechanical engineering graduate student Songpo Li received the Colorado Innovation S.T.A.R.S. challenge award for “Best Technical Achievement” at the college level during the JeffCo Innovation Faire Sept. 12. Li’s research project, “Gaze-Driven Automated Robotic Laparoscope System,” allows surgeons to interact with the laparoscopic vision easier and more naturally using their gaze, while freeing both their hands for manipulating the surgical instruments in laparoscopic surgery.

“It was a great opportunity to demonstrate our research results to the public through the Innovation Faire, and it was also my great honor and pleasure to receive this award,” Li said. “Using this system, the surgeon can perform the operation solo, which has great practicability in situations like the battlefield and others with limited human resources.”

Submissions were awarded based on research that was "original thinking and solved a real problem."

 

Contact:

Kathleen Morton, Communications Coordinator / 303-273-3088 / kmorton@mines.edu
Karen Gilbert, Director of Public Relations / 303-273-3541 / kgilbert@mines.edu

 

Kohl Knutson
Sport: Skydiving

Petroleum engineering student Kohl Knutson has been skydiving for a year, and recently received an A license through the Accelerated Free Fall program for completing 25 jumps. After free falling in California, Colorado, Utah and Norway, Knutson is ready for a new challenge.

“When I watched someone in a wingsuit for the first time, I thought, that’s crazy. That looks like one of the most intense situations you could be in, and that’s why I want to pursue it,” Knutson said.

Knutson doesn’t peg himself as a team sport player. He was recruited to Mines on a wrestling scholarship, and valued the individuality and strength needed for each fight. As competitions became more challenging, Knutson said he felt a greater sense of reward.

Wingsuit flying would add another extreme element to skydiving. Knutson would be more constricted in a wingsuit, resulting in greater movement sensitivity in the sky. Until Knutson deploys his parachute, he’ll receive extra descent lift and be able to perform aerial tricks, both while descending much slower than he normally would be while skydiving.

“It would be just me and the sky in a very extreme situation ... I would be in the zone.”

But for now, finishing Mines in the spring is Knutson’s first priority. When he tried to skydive and work on schoolwork, he felt himself falling behind. Now he primarily jumps in the summer, and will start wingsuit flying next fall.

“If you want to do anything that’s special or different, it’s going to be hard. I don’t know of a better place that’s going to prepare me than Mines. They push you just as far as you can go.”

After graduating, Knutson will apply to the mechanical engineering master’s program at Mines and focus on wingsuit development.

“I’d like to create an improved wingsuit while I’m flying at the same time. There’s been work with a sustained wingsuit flight – one that’s built to be capable of more than just falling. I’d like to help progress the human flight dream.”

 

Cory Wittwer
Sport: Mountain Biking

Motivated by his brother, Josh, petroleum engineering student Cory Wittwer began mountain bike riding when he was nine years old, but he didn’t start racing competitively until he attended Mines. Last year, he entered the USA Cycling Collegiate Mountain Bike National Championships and placed 8th overall, receiving sponsorships from several clothing and bike companies.

“Biking is a huge outlet for me because it’s time to myself and distance from everything else,” Wittwer said. “I’d ride everyday if I could.”

Wittwer has traveled with his bike to North Carolina, New Mexico and Utah, but enjoys living in Golden because he has access to local trails such as Chimney Gulch, White Ranch and Apex Open Space.

On the Centennial Cone trail in Jefferson County, Wittwer crashed into a deer that jumped in front of the trail, giving him a fat lip and black eye. In Durango, he saw a mountain lion sitting on a ridge 10 yards away from him. Despite these close encounters, Wittwer said his main worry has been breaking his bike. In several races, he has ridden on flat tires and damaged chains.

“In my last race, I was in second place when I broke my chain and had to go chainless. I had to run a few sections and tried not to touch my brakes on the way down to keep my speed the whole time.”

For two years, Wittwer has been racing in the A category through USA Cycling after two top five finishes, but he hopes to advance to pro. After he graduates Mines in December, Wittwer plans to work in a field related to petroleum or mechanical engineering.

 

Contact:

Kathleen Morton, Communications Coordinator / 303-273-3088 / kmorton@mines.edu
Karen Gilbert, Director of Public Relations / 303-273-3541 / kgilbert@mines.edu

Thirteen-year-old Jaden is a Colorado native and is starting his freshman year at Mines this fall majoring in applied mathematics and physics.

From a very early age, it was clear Jaden was a gifted child. He was reading proficiently at 15 months, working on multiplication and division problems at 2 years old, and by age 9, Jaden had completed the middle and high school core content. He started taking classes at Mines when he was 11.

Q. What was your experience like in elementary school?

When I was 6 years old, I was at a higher grade in math and some of my other subjects. That’s the first time I was aware my math was at a different grade level. To meet my scope of learning, most of my subjects were delivered with a teacher one-on-one or online, which is where I took high school math during third and fourth grade.

Q. Why did you choose Mines?

I chose Mines because of the interesting classes offered, and I knew Mines had accepted two, highly gifted younger learners in the past. One of them being Santiago Gonzalez, who is 16 years old and graduating this December. Santiago attended elementary school previously with me.

Dr. Willy Hereman, Dean of the Mathematics Department, gave me the opportunity to take Calculus I. For the first time, I learned a new subject area with the pace and depth I needed. With so many courses at Mines being group based, this was one of my favorite experiences at Mines. This cooperative learning was something I never had till now and I love the synergy with other students.

Q. What classes are you taking this semester?

I’m taking Chemistry 2, Linear Algebra, C++, CSM 101 and Biology. I’ve never taken five classes (two with a lab) before.

Q. What will your daily schedule be like?

Typically, I will have four or five classes back to back. I will come on campus around 9:30 a.m. and leave around 3 p.m. My on-campus time is a little more limited because we commute and need to take my younger sister to her school and pick her up.

Q. What’s it like being younger than your classmates?

My classmates don’t really care about my age. Being younger doesn't matter when having normal conversations on common topics with friends.

Q. What will you major in at Mines?

I currently declared an applied math and physics double major, but I’m aiming for a triple major in applied math, physics and chemistry. There are many real life situations that involve chemistry and physics (and math underlies everything), and I always like to learn the new elements that have been discovered.

Q. What are your hobbies?

I like playing piano, tennis and golf. I also enjoy playing card games, especially bridge. I am interested in astronomy and the nuclear reactions that create new atoms from ones originally present. 

Q. What do you want to do after you graduate Mines?

I might be a mathematics or science professor. I would like to get a PhD from Mines and teach here. I could also be some sort of scientist.

 

Contact:

Kathleen Morton, Communications Coordinator / 303-273-3088 / kmorton@mines.edu
Karen Gilbert, Director of Public Relations / 303-273-3541 / kgilbert@mines.edu

This story appears in the 2014-15 issue of Mines' research magazine, "Energy & the Earth."

 

Water and oil don’t mix. With oil and gas production and water, it’s quite the opposite.

Getting at the unconventional oil and gas reserves at the heart of America’s energy boom can take millions of gallons of water per well before the first hydrocarbons emerge.[1] One estimate puts the hydrologic demands of the 80,000 wells in 17 states drilled since 2005 at more than 250 billion gallons.[2] That’s three times the volume of Denver Water’s Dillon Reservoir.

Yet in the western United States and elsewhere, geologic “accident” has placed some of the most promising unconventional oil and gas reserves below parched landscapes.

Mines researchers are at the forefront of enhancing our still-nascent understanding of this modern story of oil and water, and more broadly in the development of new ways to boost freshwater resources in an era of rising demand and growing scarcity.

ConocoPhillips’ recent $3 million gift to establish the new Center for a Sustainable WE2ST (Water-Energy Education, Science and Technology) is the latest testament to Mines’ strengths in water.

The idea is to focus on a single formation such as the Niobrara, taking a comprehensive look at the complex technical and social interdependencies of oil and gas development and limited water resources. Professor John McCray, head of Mines’ Civil and Environmental Engineering Department, describes a wide-ranging effort, involving remote sensing and hydrological models to map out water sources and the tools of geochemistry, hydrology, microbiology and environmental engineering to develop ways to clean up the water that emerges from the depths during oil and gas operations. The work also will involve a strong social-sciences component led by Mines anthropologist Professor Jessica Rolston, McCray said, to help define ways to communicate the actual risks of unconventional energy development and get energy companies, regulators and the public on the same factual page.

“It’s a partnership with ConocoPhillips that can break new ground, and one that doesn’t exist outside of this center,” McCray said. “We want to come out and be the honest broker.”

Education is a key component of the ConocoPhillips center, said Associate Professor Terri Hogue, who is directing the new center. A big part of the budget will go to fellowships for 15 to 20 masters and PhD students, she said, in addition to 10 undergraduate fellowships each year. The center will attract top-notch talent all focusing on the nexus of water resources and energy development.

Professor Tzahi Cath is among those at Mines already at work at that confluence. Cath directs Mines’ Advanced Water Technology Center (AQWATEC), which is developing a range of water-treatment technologies. This spring, the masters students in Cath’s Environmental Engineering Pilot Lab course were studying if adding an inky slurry of activated charcoal to the city of Golden’s water treatment process might help remove the organics that have spiked in reservoirs along Colorado’s Front Range after the 2013 flood. A green garden hose snaked from a tank in the bed of the AQWATEC pickup parked on the sidewalk outside Coolbaugh Hall. It fed a bench-scale model of Golden’s water treatment plant, its upper tanks full of fluid like curdling apple cider. If it worked here, they would test the activated charcoal in a Mines pilot plant housed in the treatment facility itself and, assuming the city adopts the approach, would help with the transition to the full-scale plant.

“Usually, the city adopts our recommendations,” Cath said.

A bit downhill, in AQWATEC’s space in Mines’ General Research Laboratory, PhD student Bryan Coday was working near several hip-high plastic drums, some encrusted with salt (they’re for a project testing new ways to extract valuable potassium sulfate from the Great Salt Lake).

Others contained produced water from hydraulic fracturing operations, and Coday was working on a system to cleanse it using low-pressure osmosis and flat-sheet polymeric membranes. To the touch, the membranes felt like high-end wrapping paper, but in practice is a very sophisticated material. The system uses salt water to attract clean water from the deep-brown produced water across the membrane, which retains contaminants.

“Produced water is difficult to treat because of the hydrocarbons and complex organic compounds, plus high salinity,” Cath said. Mines environmental chemist Professor Christopher Higgins is working with Cath to identify just what chemicals from the different samples of produced water cross the membranes, and how they can improve the process to produce even drinking-quality water from produced water.

A test system had performed well enough that Coday and research assistant Mike Veres were now in the midst of building a pilot-scale system. “Harnessing the natural chemical energy of brine as the driving force for wastewater treatment has its advantages,” Cath said. “Such systems are mechanically simpler, take less energy, and are easier to clean because the grime hasn’t been rammed into filter pores as happens with high-pressure systems.”

If some combination of low-pressure filtration and microbial treatment (another AQWATEC project being tested across the lab in columns of activated carbon next to the AQWATEC aluminum boat) can economically bring produced water to the high standards of municipal wastewater treatment, the benefits are hard to miss. Water locked up two miles below could be released into streams in drought-prone regions, actually boosting the water budget. And oil and gas operations could reuse some portion of this new resource in their hydraulic fracturing operations. Coday is enthusiastic.

 “It’s a great opportunity to work on a project where industry is moving at such a quick pace on the energy side, on the water side and on the regulatory side,” he said.

Another major project has a similarly sweeping purview, but pertains to urban water use. Since 2011, Mines has teamed with Stanford University, the University of California at Berkeley and New Mexico State University on a 10-year, $40 million effort that aims to transform how cities in the arid West use and reuse water. The program, called Re-Inventing the Nation’s Urban Water Infrastructure (ReNUWIt), is the first National Science Foundation-funded Engineering Research Center to focus on water issues.

McCray, who leads the Mines effort, said a dozen Mines faculty are leading or working on some 20 ReNUWIt projects. Hogue is spearheading an effort involving several Mines colleagues to determine the potential impact of August 2013’s 257,000-acre Sierra Nevada Rim Fire on water supplies to San Francisco and surrounding counties. Cath’s team is refining a portable, commercial-scale sequence batch membrane bioreactor that has proven its mettle with the wastewater from the apartments at Mines Park – capable of producing drinking water from domestic wastewater. Mines professors Tissa Illangasekare and Kate Smits lead a project that is developing technology to allow underground aquifers to treat and store water and then re-use it rather than letting it escape downstream. They are researching the use of sensors that provide real-time feedback on system performance, so decisions can be made to improve operation efficiency. Mines Associate Professor Linda Figueroa is working with the Plum Creek Wastewater Authority south of Denver on a pilot-scale system using anaerobic wastewater treatment. The system has been in operation for 1.5 years and has reduced more than 40 percent of the influent organic matter without the expense of oxygen (unlike traditional aerobic methods) and, as a bonus, produces energy while it cleans wastewater.

As with the ConocoPhillips center, ReNUWIt involves a heavy social science component. That’s because, for all the technological capabilities on display at Mines, the biggest challenges facing smarter water systems may reside between our ears. People just don’t like the idea of drinking reclaimed water (in Singapore they call it NeWater), McCray said, even though that’s what the South Platte River really is. Collectively, such apprehensions coalesce into powerful social and political barriers.

 “They’re by far the biggest hurdles to clear if we’re going to have any change in the way we develop our infrastructure,” McCray said.

 

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