Coal serves as the nation’s largest fossil-fuel resource, responsible for approximately 40 percent of electricity generation in the U.S., but as it remains a great source of air pollution, the Thermal-Fluids Systems group in the Colorado School of Mines Department of Mechanical Engineering is investigating how to harness coal’s energy with the low-carbon technology found in gasification.

Coal gasification as a source of energy depends on advances in the technology, specifically in full carbon capture and storage. Mechanical Engineering Assistant Professor Jason Porter and his graduate student, Madison Kelley, are currently focused on two projects: the first focuses on developing membrane separators and the second is focused on developing a model for char kinetics.

The Mines gasifier is a high-temperature, high pressure, entrained-flow, laboratory-scale system capable of operating at temperatures and pressures up to 1650°C and 40 bar) to generate pure hydrogen using membrane separators. It is unique in its maximum operating pressure, feed rate and ability to switch between flow regimes.

“Basically you have coal and steam,” explained Kelley, “and then it produces hydrogen and carbon monoxide, which is called syngas. It gets the name from its use as a means of creating synthetic natural gas, as well as producing ammonia or methanol.”

Working with Professor Doug Way and his graduate student, Neil Patki, in the Chemical and Biological Engineering Department at Mines, the research team is using gold-alloyed membrane separators that create a sulfur resistance. The project is funded by a grant from Praxair and the Department of Energy.

“Right now there is limited understanding of gasification reactions under the high temperature and pressure conditions typical of commercial gasifiers,” said Kelley. “We will be providing fundamental data needed to improve coal gasification for commercial reactors.”

In collaboration with Professor Greg Rieker at the University of Colorado-Boulder, Porter’s research group is using laser diagnostics to measure the different chemical species that are produced during the conversion.

“We have nine optical ports through which we can feed the lasers,” Kelley continued. “The point is to develop a model for char kinetics – to learn what, exactly, takes place when you gasify coal or biomass at high temperature and pressure.”

The Mines Thermal-Fluids Systems group strives to advance the science and engineering of high-performance energy-conversion technologies, including fuel cells, photovoltaics and rechargeable batteries. With continued collaboration and research, their research can lead the way to cleaner and cheaper energy production.


Deirdre Keating, Information Specialist, College of Engineering & Computational Sciences | 303-384-2358 |
Karen Gilbert, Director of Public Relations, Colorado School of Mines | 303-273-3541 |


Colorado School of Mines has a long tradition of women pursuing studies in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields – dating back to 1898 when Florence Caldwell was the first woman to graduate with a degree in civil engineering. 

Last year, Mines’ total undergraduate enrollment was 26.6 percent women, 6.7 percent above the national average of 19.9 percent (according to the American Society for Engineering Education). The fall 2015 first-year class has set a record with 31.2 percent women (353 students versus 297 in last year’s entering class), an 18.9 percent increase from last year.

Beyond Colorado, these women come from 30 different states and 18 countries including China, Angola, India and Saudi Arabia. Sixty report a legacy relationship and are continuing a family tradition in their attendance at Mines. Thirty-four students are participating across the full spectrum of our women’s varsity athletic programs.

Mines also has the largest collegiate section of the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) in the country with more than 650 members. SWE has weekly meetings devoted to personal and professional development, the members participate in outreach, and it provides a really strong community for women on campus.

“For the past 15 years, Mines has been working to recruit and retain women through the Women in Science, Engineering, and Mathematics (WISEM) program. We are very excited these efforts are working to create a pipeline of future female engineers,” said Stephanie Berry, director of WISEM. “A diverse student population is important to Mines because it leads to more creative problem solving and innovation.”

So what does it look like to be a female engineer on campus this year? Get to know six students from this first-year class.

Kenzley Sparks

Major: Metallurgical and Materials Engineering

Hometown: Murray, KY

Hobbies: Running

Three adjectives you would use to describe yourself:

  • Bubbly
  • Athletic
  • Clumsy

What are you looking forward to this year at Mines?

Meeting new people.

Why did you choose Mines?

I loved the community atmosphere where everyone works together and helps each other through tough classes. Also, the beauty of Colorado is amazing to wake up to every morning and I feel very fortunate for this opportunity.

What is it like to be a woman interested in STEM?

There are a lot of people out there that doubt your ability, but at the same time everyone here at Mines and many others encourage you and believe in you.

What advice would you give to other young women interested in STEM?

Don’t be scared to step away from the norm and go after your dreams.

What are you dreaming about doing after Mines?

Working at Nike headquarters as a materials engineer specializing in synthetic polymers to develop materials for athletic gear and running shoes.

Nicole Demby

Major: Mechanical Engineering 

Hometown: Cortez, CO

Hobbies: Playing sports and hanging out with friends 

Three adjectives you would use to describe yourself:

  • Outgoing
  • Athletic
  • Friendly

What are you looking forward to this year at Mines?

This year I am looking forward to meeting new people and experiencing new things.

Why did you choose Mines?

I chose Mines because it is a top engineering school that is also in one of the most beautiful places in the country. 

What is it like to be a woman interested in STEM?

It is really exciting being a part of the movement of more women in the STEM fields and breaking the stereotypes that surround women in engineering. 

What advice would you give to other young women interested in STEM?

Advice to other young women like me: let the skepticism of others become your motivation for proving them wrong. When people warned me about how hard Mines is and how much math and science I'd have to take, it only made me want to work even harder rather than go to a school with an easier workload. 

What are you dreaming about doing after Mines?

After Mines I would love to use my mechanical engineering degree to work all over the world designing things that will improve the lives of others.

Tatjana Scherschel

Major: Undecided (thinking Petroleum Engineering)

Hometown: Roxborough, CO

Hobbies: Swimming, sailing, running and reading

Three adjectives you would use to describe yourself:

  • Friendly
  • Optimistic
  • Taking from President Johnson's Convocation speech, a little bit quirky

What are you looking forward to this year at Mines?

I am most definitely looking forward to being a member of the Mines community. There are so many different people around campus and all of them inspire me in their own way. Some are just way too good at slacklining and others are fantastic at rock climbing or volleyball. And everyone I have met has impressed me with his or her intellect and ambition.

Why did you choose Mines?

I chose Mines because of the type of people who are associated with the university and, of course, because of its excellence in engineering. The atmosphere is very driven and focused, but yet there is still balance. Students find time to be a part of so many clubs and organizations, and they still excel in very difficult classes, work, and somehow remain very friendly and welcoming. I wanted to be a part of such an energetic group of people while taking classes that would give me the knowledge and ability to obtain the engineering job of my dreams.

What is it like to be a woman interested in STEM?

It is inspiring! As a woman interested in science and engineering, I feel as if I am not only studying for myself but for millions of others young girls, who perhaps have an interest in geology or physics, but talk themselves out of it or never get the chance to pursue a degree. This realization motivates me to do what I can to reach out to other women and encourage them to follow their dreams, even if it requires calculus.

What advice would you give to other young women interested in STEM?

I would tell them to go for it! A young woman should never give up her dreams just because she may currently be a minority. She is tougher than that! I would tell her that she has the strength to earn a degree in science or engineering and that she can become a role model to other young girls just like her. Anything that a young lady puts her mind to she can accomplish.

What are you dreaming about doing after Mines?

I have always been interested in studying the Earth, and after Mines I would like to work in a field that involves geology or earth science to some degree. Right now, I am thinking about petroleum engineering. However, no matter what I decide to major in or where I work, I hope to continue to support women in science and engineering.

Victoria Martinez-Vivot

Major: Mechanical Engineering

Hometown: Colorado Springs, CO

Hobbies: Biking, hiking, soccer, viola, photography and videography

Three adjectives you would use to describe yourself:

  • Dedicated
  • Enthusiastic
  • Thoughtful

What are you looking forward to this year at Mines?

This year I am looking forward to just jumping into the Mines community! I am excited about my classes, and can’t wait to get involved, and try lots of new things around campus. I look forward to meeting lots of new people and to making a lot of new friends. I am just thrilled to be here and can’t wait to see what college will bring.

 Why did you choose Mines?

I chose Mines because I just love the community. It’s a great very focused community and coming from a really small school, I knew I didn’t want to go on to a very big school so when I learned about Mines it just felt like the perfect size and the perfect fit for me. I like that it’s a school where you get to know your professors and is a place where everyone is taking engineering specific math and sciences classes so that we can all work together to succeed. Plus, the campus is perfect!

What is it like to be a woman interested in STEM?

Honestly, it feels pretty normal, at least for me. I feel pretty cool when I tell people that I want to be an engineer and I always get a lot of comments about how awesome it is that I’m pursuing a STEM career. I guess I grew up in a community where a woman being interested in science wasn’t a weird or unusual thing.  

 What advice would you give to other young women interested in STEM?

Just do it! If you feel passionate about math and or science, then go for it. Don’t let the opinions of others or the male to female ratio make you doubt a STEM career. It may be hard work, but in the end it’ll pay off and you’ll be doing something you love. You’ll never have to “work” a day in your life.

What are you dreaming about doing after Mines?

After Mines, I hope to end up working somewhere in the medical field with my mechanical engineering degree. I love medicine and anything medically related but being a doctor wasn’t really the best fit for me, so I hope to be able to make a difference by engineering various different tools and products to better our healthcare.

Kim Marie Bessler

Major: Biochemical Engineering

Hometown: Schenectady, NY

Hobbies: Trail running, mountain climbing, rock climbing and cooking

Three adjectives you would use to describe yourself:

  • Driven
  • Passionate
  • Brave

What are you looking forward to this year at Mines?

I am looking forward to meeting new people, getting to know the faculty, and taking classes that are more relevant to my major.

Why did you choose Mines? 

Mines has a reputation of being tough and producing some of the greatest engineers in this country. That is exactly what I expect out of an engineering school.

What is it like to be a woman interested in STEM?

I think it is fun. I absolutely love learning how everything, including myself, works. 

What advice would you give to other young women interested in STEM?

Work hard because the knowledge gained is incredibly rewarding.  

What are you dreaming about doing after Mines? 

I would like to get involved with the research of clean plastics. My goal is to create a material that replaces current packaging and is able to biodegrade returning elements to the planet rather then polluting — the outcome being a carbon-zero planet. I feel a strong ethical responsibility to leave a clean planet for future generations.

Chloe Archuleta

Major: Biological and Chemical Engineering

Hometown: Arvada, CO

Hobbies: Netflix, listening to music, and organizing my room over and over and over again

Three adjectives you would use to describe yourself:

  • Stressed
  • Organized
  • Passionate

What are you looking forward to this year at Mines?

Exploring my major and meeting students and professors with the same passions as myself.

Why did you choose Mines?

Because more women need to be here!

What is it like to be a woman interested in STEM?

Amazing! I feel like I'm setting a new standard and role model for young women. I am eager to watch and help more and more women enter STEM fields.

What advice would you give to other young women interested in STEM?

Keep up your studies and work hard. Your studies and education should be your top priority and never stop fighting to be successful. Be the role model you wish you had when you were younger.

What are you dreaming about doing after Mines?

Biomedical technology research.



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

“What is it you think you’re gonna find? Boredom sets into the boring mind.”  - Lars Ulrich, Metallica

Weimer Distinguished Chair and Sedimentary and Petroleum Geology professor Lesli Wood isn’t a Metallica fan, but uses the song lyrics to explain that “life is too short to be boring or bored.”

And this Mines professor is far from boring.

Here are a few things you might not learn about Wood in the classroom.

1. She grew up in rural Arkansas where she first became interested in geology.

Wood grew up running around in the hills and creeks of central Arkansas. By the time she was a junior in high school, she already knew she wanted to major in geology at Arkansas Tech College.

“We backpacked several times through the Wind River Range in Wyoming and we camped in the Medicine Bow Mountains. I was immersed in nature and looked for an occupation that I could be in nature. I also grew up liking mysteries. Geology studies the mysteries of earth and other planets. It was the perfect science.”

2. She has a pot belly pig named Bartley.

Along with two Australian Heelers and a chiweenie (chihuahua-dachschund mix), Wood owns a pet pig. The pig named Bartley has his own Twitter account @TheMountainPig where he has more than a dozen followers and a few selfies.

“He is the ultimate miner, able to dig up a stretch of ground in record time—mostly placer mining. But I would not put it past him to don a hard hat and grab a pick, or knowing Bartley, he would be blasting.”

3. She is a singer and songwriter who has performed in four states.

Wood has played in several venues in and around Austin for the past 18 years with her band, The Spiceboys. Over the summer, the band played its fourth appearance at the American Association of Petroleum Geologists Annual Convention and Exhibition in Denver.

Wood has played in music festivals in Texas and Utah, and at a bar in Massachusetts.

Recently she released the solo album, Larger than Life, which is available on iTunes.

“Just like music, geology can be boring or fascinating. It is how you present it to the audience that matters, and I enjoy that stage.”

At Mines, Wood teaches three courses: Seismic Geomorphology, Integrated Petroleum Exploration and Development and Engineering Terrain Analysis.

“I study everything from river systems and dunes, all the way down to the deepest parts of the ocean.”

Most recently, she has been fascinated with researching sea-floor landslides.

“Up to 70 percent of the fill in some of the ocean basins around the world are these huge landscape deposits. We have a lot of affect on them, not only drilling for oil and gas, but also hazards that companies create drilling in deep water. Some of the largest tsunamis that happen in the world are because of landslides that perturb the seafloor.”

Wood hopes to create increased integration between her own research in submarine landslides and that of her colleague Paul Santi, who heads the Geology and Geological Engineering Department and has immense expertise in subaerial landscapes (mountain landslides).

“I always felt like those two communities—those studying ocean landslides and subaerial landslides—could learn a lot from each other. I have already seen the fruits of that relationship. It’s going to be an opportunity to set Mines apart from some other institutions, and I’m looking forward to that.”


Kathleen Morton, Digital Media and Communications Manager, Colorado School of Mines | 303-273-3088 |
Karen Gilbert, Director of Public Relations, Colorado School of Mines | 303-273-3541 |

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Mounir Zok, senior sports technologist for the United States Olympic Committee (USOC), was researching how boxers moved during a match through video taken by an overhead camera suspended in a boxing ring, when he got an idea that evolved into a Colorado School of Mines field session project.

“We are constantly thinking about how can we help coaches and athletes make the best informed decision through current technology,” Zok said. “Because gymnasts are performing coded actions, their movements are ideal to be measured and analyzed.”

In December, Zok met Electrical Engineering and Computer Science professors Bill Hoff and Hao Zhang and computer science graduate student Brian Reily to observe male gymnasts and collect performance data with computer vision technology—a Microsoft Kinect v2 camera. The color camera uses a depth sensor and microphone array to sense the location and movements of people.

Within a few months, Reily was able to take their results to develop a method to track gymnasts and produce data on their performances.

“It was a great opportunity to collect a unique type of data. I'm working on human detection and pose estimation, and pretty much all existing data out there is collected in a lab,” said Reily. “Collecting this data and publishing it as a dataset would actually be pretty important just on it's own.”

Reily requested the help of four Mines students and USOC coaches to add features—such as tracking gymnasts to create useful data visualizations for both gymnasts and coaches. Computer science students Austin Kauffman, Zac McClain, Evan Balogh and Travis Johnson took Reily’s data to build an app that could record and analyze a routine, playback video, and provide performance statistics.

“I’ve always been interested in computer science and bioinformatics,” said McClain. “I would like to use this project to get into a more active area of computer science.”

The Computer Science field session team, advised by Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Teaching Associate Professor Christopher Painter-Wakefield, sees their app advancing in the future if more features could be added, such as color video playback, consistent frame rates and angle tracking.

“We’ve had students involved in our projects for the last year and a half. The engineering talent coming from Colorado School of Mines is helping us gain insights into some of our sports programs,” Zok said. “These students are scientifically prepared to face the challenge.” The USOC has also been working with Mechanical Engineering Associate Professor Joel Bach and a senior design team to develop other technologies to help further athlete development and training.


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

As part of a summer workshop hosted by Colorado School of Mines, 18 of the top female first year students from the Petroleum Institute in Abu Dhabi participated in a hands-on “Engineering by Doing” course that was designed to allow the students to use teamwork as well as creative, critical thinking skills to design an optimal solution to an open-ended problem.

The campus visit was a collaborative effort of the Mines Engineering Practices Introductory Course Sequence (EPICS) Program, Division of Liberal Arts and International Studies, Office of International Programs, and Office of Strategic Enterprises.

The women visited campus July 20-Aug. 1. Between lectures and discussions, the students also traveled to Denver, the Edgar Mine in Idaho Springs, Vail and Colorado Springs. In Golden, students hiked South Table Mountain and attended Buffalo Bill Days.

“We wanted to create something that was interactive,” said Mirna Mattjik, Humanitarian Engineering Program Coordinator, who led the workshop with EPICS adjunct instructor Melanie Brandt and Corporate Social Responsibility Program Manager Benjamin Teschner. “We decided these students should have a combined experience of fun excursions while learning about User Centered Design.”

At the end of the two weeks, the women learned how to apply appropriate technical knowledge to solve social problems associated with the development of a mining or oil and gas project for client Ray Priestly (president of the Colorado School of Mines Alumni Association.) They also were able to assess the needs of stakeholders and incorporate their feedback into the design process.

Mines has collaborated with the Petroleum Institute since 2000, and through the years the partnership has migrated into cooperative research on an array of projects affecting upstream exploration and production and pedagogy in engineering education. Read more at


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


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