Research

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

Colorado School of Mines Geophysics Associate Professor Jeff Andrews-Hanna is the lead author of a study documenting the discovery of a giant rectangular structure (roughly 1,600 miles across) on the nearside of the Moon. Using NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) data, he is part of a team that examined the subsurface structure of the Procellarum region, also known as the Ocean of Storms. GRAIL scientists believe the Ocean of Storm's rocky outline is the result of ancient rift valleys, and not an asteroid impact as some previous theories suggested. The lava-flooded rift valleys are unlike anything found anywhere else on the Moon, and may at one time have resembled the rift zones on the Earth, Mars and Venus.

GRAIL gravity data is now allowing scientists to look beneath the surface at structures that are hidden from view, using the subtle gravitational pulls on the orbiting spacecraft. “This dataset has provided us with the highest resolution gravity map of any object in the solar system, including the Earth,” explained GRAIL principal investigator Maria Zuber from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Using the gradients in the gravity data to reveal the rectangular pattern of anomalies, the researchers can now clearly and completely see structures that were only hinted at by previous surface observations. This newly discovered rectangular pattern has an area of approximately 6.5 million square kilometers (or 2.5 million square miles) and covers 17 percent of the surface of the Moon.

“This rectangular structure covers a larger fraction of the surface area of the Moon than do North America, Europe and Asia combined on the Earth,” Andrews-Hanna said. “This goes to show that there are still big discoveries waiting for us on all of the planets."

The rectangular pattern with its angular corners and straight sides is at odds with the notion that Procellarum might be an ancient impact basin, as that hypothesis would predict a circular basin rim. Instead, the new work suggests that internally driven processes dominated the evolution of this region. In contrast, previous work by Andrews-Hanna and colleagues in 2008 used gravity data from Mars to reveal an enormous elliptical structure in the northern hemisphere of that planet, supporting the idea that the northern lowlands of Mars were formed by a giant impact that excavated the ‘Borealis Basin.’ Andrews-Hanna explains, “In two separate studies, we have used gravity data to support the existence of the largest impact basin in the solar system on Mars, and to refute the proposed second largest basin in the solar system on the Moon.”

"Our gravity data is opening up a new chapter of lunar history, during which the Moon was a more dynamic place than suggested by the cratered landscape that is visible to the naked eye," said Andrews-Hanna. More work is needed to understand the cause of this newfound pattern of gravity anomalies, and the implications for the history of the Moon.

GRAIL A and B, later renamed Ebb and Flow, were launched to the Moon in September 2011. The twin spacecraft flew in a nearly circular orbit until the end of the mission on Dec. 17, 2012. The gravity field was measured by tracking the changes in the distance between the spacecraft caused by perturbations to their orbit as they flew over anomalous masses caused by features on the surface or within the subsurface.

The GRAIL mission was managed by JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, Calif., for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The mission was part of the Discovery Program managed at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. GRAIL was built by Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Denver.

Andrews-Hanna’s findings are published online in Nature. For more information about GRAIL, visit nasa.gov/grail and grail.nasa.gov.

The following organizations participated in this research: Colorado School of Mines; University of California, Santa Cruz; Brown University; Southwest Research Institute; Lunar and Planetary Institute; University of Hawaii; Purdue University; NASA Goddard Space Flight Center; Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Carnegie Institution of Washington; and Columbia University.

 

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
DC Agle, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, NASA / 818-393-9011 / agle@jpl.nasa.gov
Tim Stephens, Public Information Officer, University of California Santa Cruz / 831-459-4352 / stephens@ucsc.edu   
Kevin Stacey, Physical Sciences News Officer, Brown University / 401-863-3766 / kevin_stacey@brown.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

 

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.

 

Mechanical engineering professor Ozkan Celik and two Mines students have designed a robotic exoskeleton, named the Wrist Gimbal, which would assist stroke patients to complete repetitive movement therapy tasks. Based on a previous model Celik designed, this new robotic device focuses on two rotational degrees of freedom and would cost less than $5,000.

Robots have degrees of freedom, otherwise known as joints that enable their movements. Each revolute joint creates one rotational degree of freedom. As the team decreased the degrees of freedom from three to two in the new device, they used more balanced and robust materials and created an improved intuitive visual interface.

“The degree of freedom we eliminated was wrist abduction and adduction—which has the smallest range of motion among the three,” Celik said. “Also, exercising wrist flexion and extension can be expected to benefit abduction and adduction as some muscles are involved in both movements.”

Since wheelchairs are not uncommon for stroke patients, the team developed a robotic exoskeleton that a stroke patient could be strapped into while seated. Patients would hold onto the device and use wrist movements to complete assessment exercises that would determine their maximum range of motion. The robot applies force to aid or deter movements, and records responses in particular tasks.

“The device provides motivation,” Celik said. “Our game-like interface exerts assistive forces to stimulate patients and prompt them to complete exercises with assistance.”

Senior mechanical engineering student and president of Robotics Club David Long worked on the mechanical design and 3D printed, machined and laser cut several of the parts of the device and specialized in the robot’s control system.

“Feedback control is one of those classes I took last semester that I didn’t think I was going to use much. Then suddenly, that’s all I did all summer and it was great because when you see something theoretical like that and apply it in practice, it really gives you a lot of faith in course work,” Long said. “I am going to be using it for a long time.”

Graduate mechanical engineering student Hossein Saadatzi is currently working on the kinematics and dynamics of the device and developing an active gravity compensation method that would allow the robot to provide more accurate force feedback.

“In my graduate study, I wanted to improve my skills in practical and experimental work,” Saadatzi said. “I chose biomechatronics because I can apply my knowledge to help patients get better.”

 

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."

For those of us residing on the planet’s surface, the term “shale” evokes visions of flaking layers of rock you can all but peel away by hand. Oil and gas shale is nothing like this. Pick up a cylindrical core brought up from a reservoir two miles below – from the Bakken in North Dakota, the Niobrara in Colorado, the Vaca Muerte in Argentina, it doesn’t matter – and it’s heavy and solid like a hunk of marble. The hydrocarbons are locked inside, perhaps 100,000 times more tightly than would be the case were it merely mixed into concrete.

This is the stuff, though, of the American – and, increasingly, global – boom in unconventional oil and gas. You can’t just drop a well bore into rock like this and watch hydrocarbons gush out. You muse use advanced horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing technologies to release the oil and gas. Roughly one-third of the U.S. natural gas production heating our homes and fueling our factories is won this way. Two-thirds of all rigs are drilling horizontal wells. Unconventional energy, at least as applies to shale oil and gas, has become conventional.

Hydraulic fracturing has been around for decades, but we’re still learning about it. What are the true environmental impacts? How can we increase yields to bring more output per well and so have fewer wells, lower costs, cut trade imbalances and lessen the impact on the planet? Can these same techniques be applied to renewable geothermal technologies? Researchers at Colorado School of Mines are working to answer these and other questions via a broad set of disciplines and several noteworthy vehicles. Among them include the Marathon Center of Excellence for Reservoir Studies (MCERS); the new ConocoPhillips Center for a Sustainable We2st (Water-Energy Education, Science and Technology); and a new National Science Foundation (NSF)-sponsored program to understand the risks of natural gas development to the Rocky Mountain Region’s air and water.

As Mines Professor Dag Nummedal, who directs the Colorado Energy Research Institute, put it, “We really focus on making fossil energy more sustainable. That means reducing CO2 emissions, reducing methane emissions, and doing energy development in ways that allow the fossil energy industry to coexist with clean water, agriculture, breathable air and optimal temperatures.”

As part of a five-year, multi-institution NSF project, Mines researchers will focus on quantifying what those risks actually are, said Professor Will Fleckenstein. In the public arena in particular, assertions about the environmental and public health impacts of hydraulic fracturing have not infrequently outstripped their scientific basis, he added.

The projects include a study of the stresses in the cement sheaths and well casings for a better sense of what they can actually handle, he said. Fleckenstein is at the forefront of such work, having invented a technology, now ready for market, that uses a pressure test to ensure a sound hydraulic seal at depths of 300 to 2,000 feet, the zone of freshwater aquifers. The team will also examine databases relating to hydrocarbon migration for a better sense of if, how, and how often it happens.

Elsewhere at Mines, researchers will use a wind tunnel filling what used to be the Volk Gymnasium pool to better grasp how methane from natural gas production migrates through surface soils. Ground and aircraft-based sensors are sometimes finding methane hot spots with no obvious methane sources. That ground-based and air-based sensors tend to disagree on the volume of methane leaking has made the work all the more urgent, said Kathleen Smits an assistant professor. PhD student Ariel Esposito was at work on a small-scale version of the experiment at the pool’s edge. She would feed methane into the bottom of a tank of fine gravel, sand and water and detect it through sensors on top at a rate of 500 samples per second.

“It’s a really important field because there’s a lot of uncertainty about the amount of gas that’s leaking,” Esposito said. “We’re trying to lend some insights into the underlying processes.”

Meanwhile, Mines is applying its renowned strengths in reservoir characterization to boost the production of hydraulically fractured wells, which makes both economic and environmental sense. There’s a big potential upside, said Professor Hossein Kazemi, who co-directs MCERS: current production techniques only yield about 10 percent of unconventional oil, compared to 30 to 40 percent for conventional reservoirs. The work ranges from major field studies of the Bakken, Niobrara and Vaca Muerte led by Professor Steve Sonnenberg to lab experiments focusing on the nanoscale properties of reservoir rock.

As with much of the work at Mines, the research involves both experimentation and computer modeling. In one of Kazemi’s Marquez Hall labs, Mines PhD student Younki Cho has spent two years building a core flooding experiment to measure shale permeability at the nanoscale. The experiment can also inject surfactants or carbon dioxide to simulate enhanced oil recovery, he said. The stainless-steel setup was forcing pressurized brine into a 1.5-inch by 2-inch cylindrical rock core at confining stress of 2,625.7 pounds per square inch (psi) and pressure differential of 2,100 psi, producing a flow of 0.003 cubic centimeter (cc) per minute.

“It’s a very slow rate because permeability is so small,” Cho said. “You have to be very patient.”

Downstairs, PhD student Somayeh Karimi was spinning cores in an ultracentrifuge humming at 13,000 rpm. It was 420 hours into a cycle.

“Right now we have not seen any published data on direct measurement of capillary pressure with reservoir fluids in tight shale rocks,” she said. The results will feed into modeling of how much oil and gas might be recoverable, how fast, and how long that recovery might take, Karimi added.

Over in Professor Marte Gutierrez’s Brown Hall lab, PhD student Luke Frash was fracturing rocks of his own, but larger ones of about a cubic foot. Using a black-steel cell of his own design, Frash applies heat and pressure in three dimensions, and then drills into and hydraulically fractures cubes of shale, high-strength cement and granite, testing for strain, temperature, pressure, sound, even micro-earthquakes. The idea is to understand the rock-mechanical behavior of underground formations, Gutierrez said.

“It’s a scale model of what’s going on in the field,” Gutierrez said.

The granite cubes in Frash’s lab are for studies of hydraulic fracturing for renewable geothermal applications, an active field of study at Mines, said Associate Professor Bill Eustes. He and Fleckenstein are working on a project with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory to see if multi-stage hydraulic fracturing technology used in unconventional shale can be applied to geothermal energy. There are many challenges, Eustes said – among them, thicker geothermal well bores and much more heat.

These and other efforts, including work to characterize possible reservoirs for carbon sequestration and storage, illustrate how the definitions of conventional, unconventional and renewable energy are starting to blur. It’s a fascinating time to be in the energy business, Nummedal said.

“The push for sustainability is driving technology at a faster rate of change than ever before,” he said.

 

 

It was a first for Mines when Linda Battalora, associate teaching professor in the Department of Petroleum Engineering, presented her research on bone density and fracture risk in HIV-infected adults at the Joint Session of the 14th European AIDS Conference and the 15th International Workshop on Co-morbidities and Adverse Drug Reactions in HIV, in October 2013 in Brussels.  

And as a Young Investigator Scholarship awardee, she presented her research at the Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections in March 2014 in Boston – another first for Mines.  

Breaking new research ground for Mines has been part of her pursuit toward a doctorate degree in Environmental Science and Engineering, but it was Battalora’s career in the oil and gas industry that sparked her interest in studying a health-related topic.

During her career in the oil and gas industry, she served as engineer, attorney and negotiator for international oil and gas project development. Her interest in the health of people stricken by infectious diseases like malaria, tuberculosis and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) in resource-limited countries led her to pursue cross-discipline, cross-college research with her Ph.D. advisors, John Spear in Mines’ Civil and Environmental Engineering Department, and Benjamin Young, of the International Association of Providers in AIDS Care; APEX Research, in collaboration with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

She earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in petroleum engineering from Mines, in 1987 and 1988 respectively, and then a Juris Doctor degree from Loyola University New Orleans College of Law in 1993. She is licensed to practice law in Colorado and Louisiana, and is a registered patent attorney.

“I grew up on the Gulf Coast, so I was familiar with offshore oil and gas development. I was good in math and science and I wanted to see the world,” Battalora said of her decision to study petroleum engineering.

In addition to her teaching role, Battalora has been a part time graduate student at Mines since 2009. She earned her Ph.D. in Environmental Science and Engineering in May 2014. The title of her thesis was, “Bones, Fractures, Antiretroviral Therapy and HIV.” 

“When I’m asked about my research, and I explain that it’s a public health topic, the typical response is another question: What does this have to do with petroleum engineering? It becomes a teachable moment,” Battalora said. “The short answer is that corporate social responsibility is an integral part of every oil and gas project.  When we enter a location for project development, we have a social responsibility to the community. Depending on where we are in the world, this may include building roads, health clinics, risk-prevention programs, schools or addressing other community needs. “

Asked how her Ph.D. will inform her teaching at Mines, she explained “Every engineering project involves the human workforce and regulatory frameworks.  Understanding the integration of health, safety, security, environment and social responsibility (HSSE-SR) is essential to maintain a healthy workforce and a safe, cost-effective engineering project. Students must understand these elements, integrate them in project development and be able to communicate effectively with representatives from the community, government agencies and other stakeholders.”

Battalora incorporates HSSE-SR in the undergraduate and graduate courses she teaches at Mines. She is a member of the Society of Petroleum Engineers (SPE) HSSE-SR Advisory Board and was recently awarded the 2014 SPE Rocky Mountain Regional Award for her work in HSSE-SR.

Battalora plans to continue her research with the CDC, and collaboration with Spear and Young, on HIV-related topics and HSSE-SR.

 

Contact:

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

This story appears in the Spring 2014 issue of Mines magazine.

Are Women the Mining Industry’s Most Underdeveloped Resource?

Once legally barred from working in mines, women have spent decades battling for a place in the industry. Today, mining companies are finding that in addition to bringing valuable skills, female leaders are good for the bottom line.

 

By Lisa Marshall

In 1969, Betty Gibbs ’69, MS ’72 graduated from Mines armed with the third mining engineering degree the school had ever granted a woman (the first since 1920). She’d toiled nine years for it, juggling her studies with a part-time job and raising her daughter, but as she began to show up for job interviews, she was greeted with superstition and hostility.

Colorado, Wyoming and many other states still had laws on the books expressly prohibiting women from working underground. Myths that they were too fragile or brought bad luck abounded. On two occasions, Gibbs was refused entrance to mines due to her gender. “I know for a fact that most miners would walk off the job if a woman entered their mine,” a spokesman for the Colorado Bureau of Mines told the Rocky Mountain News in a story referencing Gibbs’ graduation.

Nevertheless, she persevered, becoming the first woman to work underground at Colorado’s Climax mine and quietly opening doors for generations of women to come. “I wasn’t out to prove anything,” says Gibbs, now executive director at the Mining and Metallurgical Society of America. “I just did my work, and eventually I was appreciated for it.”

Fast-forward to today when the mining industry not only is more accepting of women, but—in the face of mounting research showing that companies with more gender diversity enjoy greater profitability, improved safety records and higher social and environmental responsibility ratings—is also actively courting them.

 

Read the rest of the story and more on the Mines magazine website. Blastercast interview with Dr. Priscilla Nelson.

 

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