Santiago Gonzalez, a graduate student in computer science, started his undergraduate degree at Mines in 2010 at the age of 12. He is currently teaching the Mines course, Operating Systems, and getting ready to defend his thesis in November. Gonzalez is set to finish his master’s degree in December 2015.

We asked Gonzalez about his experience at Mines, what it's like to teach a 400-level course and what he plans to do after he graduates.

Why did you choose Mines?

It’s more that Mines chose me. I got in contact with Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Professor Tracy Camp who is my advisor. She invited me to apply and come to Mines. Everything ended up working out really well.

Did anything surprise you about Mines after coming here?

I was super happy to be with a group of people that thought like me, very scientifically-minded and nerdy.

What’s your favorite spot on campus?

I’m not sure it’s as much a favorite spot as it is where I have to get my work done on campus, but the SINE (Sensing Imaging and Networking) lab in the Brown Building. It’s where I’m doing work for my thesis and getting it ready for my defense Nov. 16.

I spend about 30 hours a week there.

What else are you doing aside from defending your thesis and getting ready to graduate this December?

I’m taking a class this semester called Distributed Computing Systems with Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Associate Professor Qi Han.

I’m teaching CSCI-442 Operating Systems (OS), which is one of the computer science undergrad classes. That should keep me pretty busy.

Also, my advisor and I are thinking of publishing a paper from the results from my thesis.

What has been the best thing you’ve experienced at Mines?

I’ve really gotten an understanding of exactly how computers work and why they work the way they do. It’s not really just some magic box that does stuff when you type things in the keyboard. I think that’s one of the really cool things that has happened here.

What was your favorite project at Mines?

For my thesis, I had to develop some new geophysical sensing mote (hardware) for the SmartGeo research group.

Right now for Distributed Computing Systems, my partner and I are building a simulator to validate different computer systems in high radiation environments in space. We’re simulating a spacecraft around some body and all the different subsystems you would have like reaction wheels. We had an idea for how to make the spacecraft computer systems much more resistant to radiation without having to use any super fancy expensive hardware, just using redundancy with commercial systems. Probably a larger project than we should have chosen for that class, but it’s fun.

How did you choose that project?

The class is studying how to get a network of computers to accomplish some goal. So that goal could be storing data across a large number of computers so that it’s more reliable. Or in our case: spreading computation across several systems to make it more resistant to radiation. We were discussing a bunch of ideas and this evolved out of the discussion.

What has been one of the biggest challenges you’ve faced at Mines?

Physics I was so difficult. It’s a very demanding class. Conceptually, the material is pretty understandable. Physics I is basically mechanics—how things move given a system of things. If I have this book and I tilt it, how long will it take for something to slide down it? But then you start getting into the math and all of the work—it’s just a lot of work.

There’s definitely been tons of challenges, but nothing so insane that you couldn’t overcome it with tons of work.

How did you get involved in teaching?

Dr. Camp has been the professor who taught OS for the past decade here at Mines. She was busy with other work this semester, so she’s teaching another class this time. She invited me to teach the course, and thought it would be a fun experience for me.

What’s it like standing in front of the class instead of sitting as a student?

It’s really different. It’s interesting how different things are. You notice a bunch of things you wouldn’t notice otherwise.

I remember on the first few days, everything seemed super quiet so you try to talk faster to make it less quiet. It’s really interesting.

It’s really cool seeing how when you explain something, suddenly some students understand the material and they’re like, “Oh, OK!” Just being able to see them understand the material is really cool.

Do you think it makes you a better student having that other perspective?

It definitely makes me appreciate it more.

What’s your favorite thing about teaching here at Mines?

Since I’ve been teaching OS, I’ve changed the curriculum and projects a little bit. It’s fun thinking of new projects that students can do that will both be challenging and fun while still relevant to the class.

How do you balance teaching and schoolwork?

It’s one of the things I thought would be easier. It’s actually kind of challenging. You could devote so much time to the class, but ultimately you have to set a stopping point. Because you could either completely change everything (the entire curriculum) and that would take a really long time and you wouldn’t have time to dedicate to other things. But in general, I think I found a good balance.

If you could offer advice to a new student, what would you say?

Make sure you understand calculus because it will come up everywhere, even when you least expect it.

Persevere through everything. Mines is definitely demanding. Make sure you’re on top of everything instead of putting things off until the end. Just keep a good pace throughout the semester.

What are you up to this summer? Tell us about it.

I’ll be interning in a development position with Apple from January through August. I got the internship through someone that I met at the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference this past summer. I was planning on applying anyway, but I got offered the internship. So that was cool, not having to worry about that.

What are your plans after Mines?

I will be pursuing a PhD, and am working on applications right now. My top two choices are MIT or Stanford. They are some of the best engineering universities in the world for computer science.

I know I don’t want to become a professor, but I’d like to work in industry. I’m not sure what I’d be doing; I haven’t thought that far ahead. It would be cool to work at SpaceX or something like that.



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

A steady, reliable, enormous, practically inexhaustible, carbon-free source of electric power, one capable of producing three times the wattage the United States generates each year, is right under our feet. Or more accurately, way under our feet, where it has long tantalized geothermal energy experts.

Now the very technologies that ushered in America’s oil and gas boom may be putting this resource within reach. A collaboration between Mines and the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) is working across several fronts to use the tools of modern hydrocarbon extraction to exploit a potentially game-changing clean energy resource.

The concept behind enhanced geothermal systems (EGS) is simple: inject water into hot, dry rock; let the hot rock heat the water; extract the hot water as a steam; drive a turbine with the steam; produce electricity; re-inject the cooled-off water and repeat. Appropriately enough for an infernal, netherworldly resource, the devil is in the details.

The Mines-NREL “Colorado Collaboration for Subsurface Research in Geothermal Energy” (Colorado SURGE) is gettinginto those details on projects spanning geothermal reservoir characterization, drilling approaches and water treatment. The effort, launched in 2014, is being paid for by funding from DOE starting with $800,000 in 2014 and $1.2 million in 2015. Future years funding will depend on the progress and independent review of proposals, but the Colorado SURGE team is planning for growth.

“The idea of adapting advanced oil and gas technologies for geothermal was a very high priority for the DOE,” said Dag Nummedal, who directs Mines’ Colorado Energy Research Institute and worked with NREL to launch SURGE. In early 2015, Mines Professor Wendy Harrison, just back from an 18-month appointment leading the National Science Foundation’s Earth Sciences Division, took over SURGE leadership at the school.

Tom Williams, who directs NREL’s Geothermal Technologies Program and federal lab’s side of SURGE, said NREL had recognized that the lab lacked capabilities in geology, oil and gas technology, water treatment and other areas critical to EGS — not to mention access to students. Mines, right up the road, was the obvious choice, he said.

The conclusion so far, said those involved, is that while the technology piece is tough, the real hurdles are economic. The key, they said, will be to improve an array of technologies and techniques, particularly on the drilling side, to bring the costs down.

First, a bit about the potential prize. A 2008 U.S. Geological Survey estimate considering the heat below 13 western states suggested a potential geothermal resource of 345 gigawatts to 727 gigawatts. In 2011, and Southern Methodist University’s Geothermal Laboratory estimated the “technical potential” of enhanced geothermal (that is, accessible at depths of 3.5 to 6.5 km and excluding places like national parks and other protected lands), to be 2,980 gigawatts. To put that in perspective, the entire U.S. electrical generation capacity amounted to 1,051 gigawatts in 2011. What’s more, geothermal energy produces baseload power, a steady source that doesn’t care if the sun is shining or the wind is blowing.

But you’ve got to get down there, and the shallow side of EGS is the deep end of oil and gas drilling. To tap into temperatures above 150 degrees Celsius (302 degrees Fahrenheit, the minimum for geothermal power production) in places like Michigan and Florida, you’d need to drill down about 10 kilometers — deeper than Mount Everest is tall. And that’s just the beginning.

The most favorable EGS targets in the West are in granitic rock, as opposed to the sedimentary formations where tight oil and gas are harvested, “So drilling’s a lot slower,” said Professor William Fleckenstein. How hydraulic fracturing might work in such rock at high temperatures and pressures isn’t well-understood, either. EGS wells will need larger diameters, adding to costs that an MIT team estimates will be twice to five times more costly than an oil and gas well. Factor in that the oil and gas drilling costs skyrocket with depth, with an average of $600,000 at a depth of two kilometers leaping to $10 million or more at six kilometers, the MIT team found.

Covering costs like that will take a lot of hot water, said Associate Professor Bill Eustes, one of the principal investigators for Mines’ SURGE research. NREL estimates a barrel of EGS brine to be worth maybe 50 cents, or about 100 times less than a barrel of oil. So the Mines/NREL team has made 100,000 barrels of water a day its baseline flow — 10 times that of a big-producing oil and gas well, said Assistant Professor Luis Zerpa.

Zerpa’s team is adapting oil and gas reservoir models for EGS in sedimentary basins. Traditional geothermal involves crystallized rock, Zerpa said, but sedimentary rock is much more common under the continental U.S. They’re considering vertical drilling for now, but will soon be modeling horizontal wells. So far, EGS looks like “a technical challenge that can be overcome,” he said.

Associate Professors Wendy Zhou and Masami Nakagawa are leading work on an EGS test at the university’s Edgar Mine in Idaho Springs, Colo., which will be used to understand rock-water heat transfer and how fluid flows through fractures in igneous rocks. Zhou’s expertise in 3D subsurface modeling is coming into play, as the positioning and angling of boreholes will depend on the orientation of joints, fractures, faults, bends and other rock discontinuities, among other factors.

Eustes and Fleckenstein have two undergraduates and a graduate student looking at the feasibility of horizontal geothermal completions. Other graduate students are doing EGS fracture stimulations and studying thermal cycling on casing strings and other drilling hardware. Nine Mines undergraduates are looking at drilling performance of oil and gas versus traditional wet-rock geothermal, trying to tease out the limitations and gain insight into what might be done to improve drilling operations, Eustes said.

Water quality will be an important part of EGS operations. “If you recirculate it again and again through a porous medium, you pick up particles and sand grains,” said Associate Professor Tzahi Cath, who directs Mines’ Advanced Water Technology Center (AQWATEC) and leads two EGS-related projects. “If you don’t take the impurities out, you can plug the injection well.”

One of Cath’s EGS projects, part of SURGE, involves enhancing a water modeling system his team developed for the oil and gas industry. It takes into account factors including how dirty the input water is, the required level of purification, treatment approaches (chemical, distillation, nanofiltration, reverse osmosis), electricity or heat constraints, and an economic module that costs out infrastructure. About 30 undergraduate chemical engineering students are working on different EGS “water treatment trains” developed from the model’s predictions as part of their capstone work, Cath said.

Cath’s other EGS work is on a three-year, $2.6 million DOE-funded project with Yale University. Started in 2013, it involves using the heat from water at temperatures expected at the tail end of an EGS power plant to drive two membrane processes (membrane distillation and pressure-retarded osmosis), harnessing chemical energy to create mechanical energy to drive a turbine. A bench-scale machine is up and running and a pilot-scale system is nearing completion.

Mines and other EGS researchers around the world have a long way to go. Globally, EGS is in the demonstration stage, with commercial deployments yet to come. But Williams said DOE is playing the long game, and he sees EGS as a “very early-stage technology,” akin to photovoltaics in the early 1960s, when solar panels cost thousands of dollars per watt (today, rooftop panels can be had for less than $1 a watt).

EGS, at the nexus of energy and the environment, “fits beautifully into the long term mission and vision of Mines,” Nummedal said. “Students keep coming here because this is a vision they’re increasingly aligned with. It’s not one or the other anymore – it’s both.”

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

Terri Hogue, professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Director of the ConocoPhillips Center for a Sustainable WE²ST, and Andrea Blaine, assistant director of WE2ST, have been awarded a $600,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to establish a Research Experience for Teachers (RET) Site at Colorado School of Mines.

The Mines RET project, Water-Energy Education for the Next Generation (WE2NG), will provide summer training and year-round support for 25-30 K-12 teachers over three years with the intention of infusing current research in the water-energy nexus into K-12 classrooms.  WE2NG will recruit STEM teachers from Jefferson County School District to attend a full-time 8-week summer program at Mines engaging in research under the direction of faculty and graduate student mentors. 

The program will include teacher-faculty research development, technical workshops, collaborations with industry (such as AECOM, ConocoPhillips and Denver Water) and integrated curriculum development. The WE2NG program will also establish long-term collaborative relationships with teacher participants by providing classroom support throughout the academic year with integration of graduate and undergraduate students from the ConocoPhillips WE2ST center and the NSF-funded Engineering Research Center for Reinventing the Nation’s Urban Water Infrastructure (ReNUWIt).

“The program will kick off in the summer of 2016,” said Hogue, “though the ground-work is already under way. WE²NG will take the outreach component of the WE²ST even further. Last spring our center delivered over 25 STEM labs at elementary schools, as well as presentations on Earth Day at Ralston Elementary, and Shelton’s Math & Science Night. Training teachers directly and developing curriculum with them allows us to reach exponential numbers of students. Rather than reaching one classroom at a time, all of the participants’ future students will receive a deeper understanding of the water-energy nexus, particularly as it relates to our western region.” 



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 |


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