Engineering

When Kevin Moore was a young associate professor at Idaho State University, he used to wear a tie to off-campus research team meetings. One day a colleague asked, “Kevin, why do you always wear a tie to these meetings?” Someone joked, “That’s because he wants to be a dean someday.”

The prediction came true on January 3, 2012, when Moore was officially named dean of Mines’ College of Engineering and Computational Sciences, a position he had been filling on an interim basis since the college was formed last summer. While Moore’s long-ago colleague might be surprised to learn the accuracy of his prediction, those at Mines who know him well see it as a natural fit.

“I can send an email to Kevin at any time of the day or night, and it is rare not to get a reply—and a follow-up set of questions—within about 5 minutes,” says Provost and Executive Vice President Terry Parker, who describes Moore as a strategic thinker with strong management skills and a broad understanding of academic disciplines.

A member of the former Engineering Division’s Executive Committee, Moore simply says that when the job came up, “I was a logical choice for the interim slot—I had actually been paying attention. It wasn’t until after a few months that I realized, ‘I can do this job.’”

His career certainly includes the requisite experience. Prior to becoming the G.A. Dobelman Distinguished Chair in Engineering at Mines in 2005, he was a senior scientist at Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory. Before that, he was a professor of electrical and computer engineering at Utah State University, where he directed several multidisciplinary teams on autonomous robot development. In the mid-’90s, he spent a year serving as interim associate dean of the College of Engineering at Idaho State University. Along the way, he authored three books, more than three-dozen refereed journal articles, and over 100 peer-reviewed conference papers.

Continue reading on Mines Magazine.

A smile sets in on Dr. Ramona Graves’ face as she gazes through the soaring panels of glass in the nearly finished lobby of Marquez Hall, the smell of fresh paint permeating as an electric saw whines from a distant hallway.

Dr. Ramona Graves“It just feels special,” she says.

Soon this lobby will bustle with returning students as the future home of the Petroleum Engineering Department at Colorado School of Mines opens its doors for the fall 2012 semester.

It is an impressive, modern facility. German terra cotta panels run its perimeter before slipping through sheets of glass and continuing inside, seeming to connect the outdoors with the indoors. Sunlight enters classrooms from windows that capture the surrounding geology of Golden. Black Italian tile embellishes the restrooms. Enormous glass walls suspended from a wing-like steel vestibule encase the lobby.

“It’s something all of our alumni and donors should take great pride in,” said Graves, who heads the Petroleum Engineering Department at Mines. “Our department has always been one of the best. To have one of the most state-of-the-art buildings is only fitting.”

The high level of finish in Marquez Hall (pronounced “Marcus”) is a testament to the generosity of the Mines community. After an historic $10 million challenge grant from Tim ’80 and Bernadette Marquez in 2005, nearly 200 alumni, friends and corporate partners donated to the project. In addition to housing the Petroleum Engineering Department, Marquez Hall boasts 23,600 square feet of much-needed classroom space for use by the entire campus. Student fees helped to make this valuable addition to the building possible.

“The alumni are appreciative of the education they got out here. Their companies love our graduates, they hire them,” said Graves. “Because of this we’ve been able to do some really great things.”

With new state-of-the-art facilities, Graves said the department can continue that trajectory of success.

One of those facilities is the 3D visualization lab, a large room with theater style seating where students wear 3D glasses and can virtually fly through petroleum reservoirs.

“Petroleum engineers work one mile, five miles, maybe even ten miles into the ground. We can’t see where we work,” said Graves. “When students can actually plan a well, step back and see where it’s actually going to go, see how it’s actually going to intersect the geology, that’s huge.”

Roughly 64,000 square feet of computer classrooms, laboratories, research centers, and informal gathering areas were designed with students in mind. Water bottle filling stations dot the hallways. Desks feature multiple plug-ins. Study areas have large tables and frosted glass that can be written on with dry erase markers. 

“We’re recognizing that the informal study space is actually very valuable space,” said Mike Bowker, associate director of Mines Capital Planning and Construction.

Marquez Hall is also a model of efficiency, attaining a LEED Silver certification. Typically laboratories waste massive amounts of energy in air handling. However, the designers engineered ventilation with heat recovery coils to return heat from outflowing air in the winter. Air changeover is raised and lowered by a smart system that senses contaminants — if a chemical is spilled in a lab the building automatically starts replacing the air in the room.

While this is the Petroleum Engineering Department’s home, the entire campus can make use of Marquez Hall. A southeast wing boasts 23,000 square feet of much-needed classroom space. Outside, a courtyard connects Marquez Hall with the Center for Technology and Learning Media (known as CTLM), which is expected to become a central hub for campus.

“This is going to be just tremendously active. You’re going to have about a thousand students — that’s almost a quarter of the campus — coming through here every hour. So, we spent a lot of time developing this,” said Bowker.

As visitors step in to the west lobby, they immediately start to learn about petroleum engineering.

“Because what we do as petroleum engineers is generally misunderstood, a lot of our galleries and lobbies are designed to educate,” said Graves.

With that aim, students helped design a 16-foot model of an oil reservoir constructed of three curved pieces of glass (in the shape of the Mines triangle). Inside is actual petroleum mixed with water, demonstrating the flow of oil through rock.

“According to the glass manufacturer, it will be the tallest curved glass structure in the world,” said Bowker.

The gallery features an enormous cross-section image of the earth beneath Golden highlighting the geology as described by Dr. Bob Weimer, Professor Emeritus of Geology. Panels detail the petroleum industry as a whole, from exploration to geology to refining.

Construction is nearing completion and Marquez Hall will be open for classes beginning Aug. 21. A formal grand opening ceremony is scheduled for Sept. 28 at 4 p.m. in Jalili Plaza outside the west entrance. A public reception with light refreshments and tours follow from 4:50 to 6 p.m.

Graves couldn’t be more excited.

“I can’t imagine the students coming back to this after having left Alderson Hall. I’m getting goose bumps talking about it,” said Graves.

 

Click here for a list of major donors to the Marquez Hall building project.

The hallway was empty when Professor Roel Snieder approached. “No Class Today” the sign on the door announced. But it wasn’t true. Snieder had not cancelled class. “Steam was coming out of my ears,” said Snieder, co-director of Mines’ Ethics Across Campus (EAC) program.

A few moments later two late-arriving students appeared. “Since no one is here,” one asked, “would you give us some advice on a project we’re doing?” Not wanting to waste the hour, the still seething Snieder agreed and followed them into a classroom. “April Fool!” yelled the laughing students from the not-really-cancelled class. Snieder laughed a little too, but the nervous students quickly got serious. It was clear that honesty isn’t something Snieder is comfortable joking about – even on April 1.

EAC encompasses many ethics-related educational, research and outreach activities. Consistent with Mines’ mission statement and its goals for undergraduate and graduate students, ABET (formerly Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology) criteria, and National Institutes of Health and National Science Foundation requirements, EAC promotes responsible and ethical conduct. Mines has always stood for integrity, of course, but in an increasingly complex world, ethics reflection and research have expanded and become more formalized.

As Snieder, who holds the Keck Foundation Endowed Chair of Basic Exploration Science, has noted: “Science and engineering in the broadest sense not only help us better understand the world in which we live; these fields also increase the power that we hold over the world. Unfortunately, neither science nor engineering comes with a recipe how to use that power.”

Undergraduate courses under the EAC umbrella include Nature and Human Values, Environmental Ethics, and Engineering and Social Justice, all delivered by the Division of Liberal Arts and International Studies (LAIS). Students in the LAIS basic general ethics course select a winner each year for the Golden Rotary Club “Ethics in Business Award.” And LAIS faculty working with Metallurgical and Materials Engineering Professor Corinne Packard recently secured a new NSF grant to infuse modules on the ethics of nanotechnology into the undergraduate LAIS curriculum.

Graduate courses include The Art of Science and Introduction to Research Ethics, which is team-taught by one faculty member from LAIS and another from applied science and engineering. And since 2010 LAIS faculty member Jason Delborne has taken a small group of Mines graduate students to “Science Outside the Lab,” a policy immersion program in Washington D.C.

LAIS Professor Carl Mitcham, EAC co-director and director of the Hennebach Program in the Humanities, regularly serves as one instructor in the team-taught Research Ethics seminar. As Mitcham explains, pedagogical research has shown that the effectiveness of such a class depends on an interdisciplinary approach and interaction among participants. Working together, faculty and students collaborate to: 

  • Compare, contrast and evaluate basic ethical theories
  • Address a range of real-world ethical issues they may confront in their professional lives
  • Articulate their own ethical ideals and commitments to science, society and the environment

Mitcham and Snieder are repeatedly impressed by the depth of thought and conviction that students reveal in the personal ethics statements that cap the seminar. They don’t grade the specific ethical perspective students develop, but rather look for the quality of argumentation and materials the students use to support their positions. The process is inspiring. “Their seriousness encourages me to try to lead a more serious life as well,” said Mitcham.

Mitcham is, indeed, serious about the field of ethics. He has edited a four-volume Encyclopedia of Science, Technology, and Ethics (2005), which will come out in a second edition next year. As an expert for the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Research and Innovation, Mitcham is also the editor of a current report on "Ethical and Regulatory Challenges to Science and Research Policy at the Global Level.” This report’s proposal for the promotion of global standards for responsible research and innovation has been endorsed by the Danish presidency of the European Union, which recently sponsored an international conference on “Science in Dialogue: Toward a European Model for Responsible Research and Innovation.” Mitcham was an invited participant.

As Mitcham and co-author Adam Briggle argue in Ethics and Science, forthcoming from Cambridge University Press, “The kind of world we are creating will not simply be decided by expanding scientific knowledge, but will depend on views about good and bad, right and wrong.”

 


Personal Code of Professional Ethics

By Dan Worrall, Mines graduate student

Honest Conduct: Never falsify data; never lie; never give a mostly true, easy answer instead of a difficult, fully true answer. Present contradictory evidence if it exists. Finally, never present others’ work as my own.

Keep Quality Records: Keep clear and thorough records. This will help me to produce better quality research, prevent me from making and publishing unknown errors, and make the results generated more useful to others.

Publicize Research: Publish as much data as possible. Share results as well as detailed methodology. Always be willing to help those who ask.

Mentor Others: Make it a professional priority to help develop other engineers, and never hold back skills or discoveries for personal gain.

Practice Discretion: Refrain from arguing points I am not thoroughly knowledgeable of. Never present a statement as fact when I am not fully aware of the supporting data.

Be Aware of Wider Impacts: Always keep in mind the effects of my work on other people and society at large.

Separate Goals and Ethics: Always keep in mind what my personal goals are and how they may cloud my judgment. A decision may advance my career and still be ethical, but care must be taken to keep personal desires out of ethical reasoning.

Evangelize: Try to let my behavior be a good example of ethical professionalism, and try to promote openness and collaboration in research.

Blow the Whistle: If a superior is acting in an unethical manner, it is my responsibility to confront and/or report him or her.


 

10 Ethics Questions for the Scientist or Engineer

By Roel Snieder, Mines professor

 

What do I value?

What do I want to grow?

Who, or what, do I serve with my work?

What is the noble purpose of my work?

What types of errors are ethically acceptable?

Why is trust so essential in science?

Why does plagiarism constitute an ethical problem?

Why file for a patent?

Who should be among the authors of a paper?

Who should be first author?

Take raw sewage flowing from a major apartment complex. Send it through a 2 millimeter screen. Let a flora of microorganisms feast on it for a while. Filter it – this time through pores just 50 billionths of a meter across. Don’t touch it with a single water-treatment chemical.

That’s what the above-ground sequence batch membrane bioreactor does, and the six gallons per minute flowing out are cleaner than the effluent from most wastewater treatment plants. And unlike the massive, in-ground infrastructure just downriver of our metropolitan areas, the bioreactor is portable. The fruits of Colorado School of Mines’ Advanced Water Technology Center’s (AQWATEC) signature project could form the nodes of a next-generation network of water-treatment facilities, able to reuse water locally for things like irrigation and toilet flushing, saving pumping energy and infrastructure costs, while reducing water demand.

In the control room, Tzahi Cath, a Mines professor and director of AQWATEC overseeing this facility, lifted the lid of a vat and dipped in a Pyrex measuring cup. It looked like… water. “That was sludge a few minutes ago,” he said. “There are technologies that can make good water from almost any source.”

The AQWATEC facility, just downhill from the apartments at Mines Park, is one of many water research efforts led by Mines faculty and students. Their studies of water begin with aquifers 1,000 feet down and continue through the turbulent interface of soil and the air above. Along the way, they use tools as diverse as a managed aquifer recharge site in Colorado’s eastern plains, a wooden wind tunnel built in a converted swimming pool, and the Jaguar supercomputer at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. They aim, collectively, to ensure safe, clean water for people and the environment.

It’s critically important work. A recent United Nations report described global water challenges ranging from water supply to sanitation infrastructure. More than 80 percent of the world’s wastewater goes untreated, according to the report. Furthermore, these challenges occur amid what the UN called “unprecedented” increases in food demand, rapid urbanization and climate change, and they aren’t limited to developing countries.

“Fresh water supplies are unlikely to keep up with global demand by 2040, increasing political instability, hobbling economic growth and endangering world food markets, according to a U.S. intelligence assessment,” Reuters reported in March 2012. 

In the United States, the gap between budgets and needed upgrades to half-century-old water infrastructure is wide and growing, said Professor Jörg Drewes, a co-director of AQWATEC. “We need to come up with new ideas, to be innovative and work with the funding we have available,” Drewes said. “It’s not enough to merely replace what we have today.”

 

NSF Funds New Water Research Center

New solutions will require expertise across a broad swath of science and engineering, as well as legal, political and business realms. In 2011, Mines joined forces with Stanford University, the University of California at Berkeley, and New Mexico State University to create the first-ever NSF-funded Engineering Research Center devoted to water issues. It’s called Re-inventing the Nation’s Urban Water Infrastructure, or ReNUWIt.

Mines’ central role in ReNUWIt came in the wake of years of investment in labs and research infrastructure and the development of one of the country’s leading water-research programs, said Drewes, who is also ReNUWIt’s director of research. He is among a dozen Mines faculty involved in a 10-year effort to transform traditional models of water use to reduce consumption, recover and reuse water, cut energy use in water systems, and harness wastewater nutrients to improve urban habitats. Between the NSF and corporate partners, the program is expected to reap $80 million in research funding and enable an unprecedented degree of cross-institutional, multidisciplinary collaboration.

“The biggest benefits are really the collaboration and the long-term nature of the funding,” Drewes said. “We’re looking at how this might play out in 20 or 30 years, rather than how to help a certain utility with a particular research problem.”

The ReNUWIt projects at Mines are diverse. PhD student Ryan Holloway is working on tuning the AQWATEC bioreactor so its output varies by season. The idea is that, during the summer irrigation season, the system can be tuned so more organics and nutrients can exit for use in outdoor watering, cutting freshwater and also synthetic fertilizer use. This summer, they’ll be testing it on a half-acre plot outside the facility.

A few feet away, PhD student Dotti Ramey paints part of a microscope slide with red nail polish. Algae avoid nesting on that part, she explained. Bubbles rise through nine glass jugs backlit by squint-inducing grow lights. Hints of algae cling to bottlenecks. Outside, stainless-steel paddle wheels turn in what look like giant bathtubs. Rather than warm suds and yellow rubber duckies, the contents are cold and green. The work is part of a collaboration with startup and ReNUWIt partner BioVantage Resources, with the aim of understanding how wastewater could be used to nurture algae, which in turn treats the wastewater. The algae could be turned into useful lipids, biopolymers or even fuel.

Managed aquifer recharge is another Mines/ReNUWIt focus. This work is led by Professor Tissa Illangasekare and the Center for the Experimental Study of Subsurface Environmental Processes (CESEP). The idea is to apply concepts of rural managed aquifer recharge. This involves building ponds with very particular microbiological and subsurface features so clean water seeps back into aquifers rather than evaporating or flowing downstream to urban wastewater treatment systems. Pulling it off at a much smaller scale (think large swimming pools rather than football-field-sized ponds) demands expertise in chemistry, hydrology, biology and engineering, Drewes said.

ReNUWIt’s work extends past the physical into the managerial. Water managers keep tabs on a small number of big facilities. With an integrated network of AQWATEC-style plants enabling local reuse across a metropolitan area, managers will need tools to monitor it all and make smart adjustments. Mines Professor Reed Maxwell is working with UC Berkeley resource economist David Sunding to develop hydrologic and economic models to help quantify the costs and benefits and, ultimately, manage much more complex water infrastructures.

Dr. John McCray“It’s all about finding new ways to use and reuse water. That’s more than just science and engineering because you have to convince the politicians and the water managers, who are very conservative, to take a chance and do something in a different way,” said John McCray, a ReNUWIt investigator and director of Mines’ Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.

Collaboration is woven into ReNUWIt’s fabric. Mines’ expertise in geology, hydrology, biology, engineering and numerical modeling is now connected with Stanford Law School’s legal and policy expertise and UC Berkeley’s economic savvy, Drewes said. The extended team has the breadth to handle the full spectrum of issues that crop up in attempts to reinvent something as fundamental as water infrastructure. Such cooperation might involve, for example, figuring out the best microbial mix to purify water captured after a storm, designing a system to enable it, and ensuring that the solution obeys water-rights law and economic logic, thereby saving money – and water – in the long run. How ingrained is ReNUWIt’s collaborative culture? PhD students in the program must have a core advisor at one of the other universities, Drewes explained.

 

Other Breakthrough Water Projects

           

  • Some of the Mines Park bioreactor’s effluent is flowing into an onsite greenhouse. Inside, a USDA-funded team led by Mines Professor Christopher Higgins is watering food crops with it, in order to study plant uptake of pharmaceutical and personal care products such as sucralose, antibiotics and other chemicals that wastewater treatment plants weren’t designed to capture.

 

  • Cath has won a $1.4 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to study ways to treat the “produced water” that emerges from hydraulic fracturing operations in natural gas drilling. This involves, as Cath puts it, “taking black, black water and, using membrane technologies, turning it into something usable for the next fracturing operation.” For the work, the “AQWATrailer” – a mobile lab with various filters, membranes, pumps and laboratory gizmos – will be called into action, he said. “It allows you to do things on a real scale in the field,” Cath explained. “Not many schools have this type of infrastructure.”

 

  • The same certainly goes for the wooden wind tunnel circumscribing half of what was once the shallow end of the Volk Gymnasium pool. Its loop is large enough to ride a bike through. With the breeze topping out at about 22 mph, you won’t find models of NASA hypersonic vehicles inside – though “it’ll blow-dry your hair,” quipped Mines Professor Kate Smits.

 

Smits and her team are interested in the interaction of soil moisture and the atmosphere, which remains poorly understood. The wind tunnel lets them adjust the air speed above the soil surface as well as temperature and humidity. The heart of the system is a Plexiglas soil tank sandwich 24 feet long, four inches wide and four feet deep. An array of sensors penetrates and surrounds it, including an anemometer system the Mines undergraduate robotics club built. Researchers fill the translucent tank with soil, enabling the precise assessment of basic physical processes at a scale larger than lab bench, but more wieldy than a field site. They then build real-world observations into numerical models.

 

One of her research goals is to help climate modelers sharpen their software’s accuracy in modeling evaporation rate. She’s found, for example, there is a big evaporative difference between a 1 mph wind and a 2 mph wind. But higher winds than that seem to have less of an impact, Smits said.

 

Another application of her work is to increase the ability to accurately detect landmines. The loose soil covering mines and the presence of the mine itself create different thermal and hydraulic properties in the area around the mine, as opposed to a location away from a mine, she explained. “One of the reasons I became an environmental engineer is that I love helping people and helping the environment,” Smits said. “With land mines, we can see the potential positive impact we can make by understanding the science.”

 

  • Alexis Navarre-Sitchler, a Mines assistant professor, focuses on water-related science hundreds of feet below the surface. Her team’s work aims to sharpen the understanding of how acidity affects the amount of lead and other metals in aquifer water.

 

Given the interest of carbon capture and sequestration – pumping carbon dioxide from power plants into formations thousands of feet down – it’s a hot topic. Carbonated water isn’t the problem (that’s what Perrier is, after all). But greater acidity from leaking carbon dioxide could speed up chemical reactions that release lead, uranium and other metals from aquifer rock.

 

In the lab, PhD student Assaf Wunsch bubbles CO2 through half-liter acrylic cylinders. By determining the mineral content of 23 elements in both the water and the rocks, they can see how different types of aquifers may react to carbon leakage. In related work, Navarre-Sitchler is working on models – run on the Jaguar supercomputer at Oak Ridge National Laboratory – investigating the migration of metals in aquifer.

 

Like so much of the water-related work happening at Mines, it’s science with big implications. As Navarre-Sitchler points out, “You can’t accurately understand the risks without understanding the issues.”

 

 

This article appears in the 2012-13 issue of Energy and the Earth magazine.

Check out this video of a robotics project created by a Mines graduate student last semester in the Mechanical Engineering Department:

“The project assignment was open-ended and the main requirement was that it incorporate mechanical, electrical and software elements,” said graduate student Dan Albert.

Dan Albert

For his semester project in Dr. John Steele’s Mechatronics class, Albert developed an “invisible joystick” that commands a humanoid robot.

Mechatronics combines numerous engineering disciplines and focuses on the design of intelligent machines.

“I am interested in human-machine and human-robot interaction and thought it would be interesting to explore that area by creating a device that lets the user more intuitively interact with and command a robot or computer beyond the traditional means of a keyboard and mouse.”

Albert developed a gesture recognition glove that wirelessly controls “Silver” or “Gold,” Dr. Steele’s Nao robots (autonomous, programmable robots developed by the French company Aldebaran Robotics.)

“The glove collects orientation and movement data from the sensor attached to the back of the hand and transmits this data wirelessly via Bluetooth to my laptop,” he said. “There, I wrote some software to interpret the data to determine the nearest recognizable posture.“

When he graduates, Albert plans to work in the robotics industry or start his own business.

Steele’s research interests include intelligent machines and mechatronics, especially robots. Some of his recent projects have focused on robotic welding, mobile robot navigation and design of rock cutting machines for NASA. He serves as the faculty advisor to the Mines Robotics club. 

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