Research

Minerals and metals are at the foundation of modern technology-based societies. Each year, the average American uses about 25 tons of earth materials. Exploration for new resources is at the front end of the mining life cycle, with mining companies spending billions of dollars per year exploring for new metal and mineral resources yet often coming up empty. 

Now, Colorado School of Mines researchers are teaming with Virginia Tech researchers, bringing together over 250 years of experience in earth resource research, to develop an integrated approach to locating, characterizing and visualizing mineral resources. Their goal is to boost exploration success rates and advance mining operations while cutting costs and minimizing both financial risk and environmental impact.
An open-pit mining operation at the Veladero Mine in Argentina.
An open-pit mining operation at the Veladero Mine in Argentina.

The researchers have proposed a national cross-disciplinary Center for Advanced Subsurface Earth Resource Models, an industry-funded consortium that would provide exploration and mining companies worldwide with new 3-D subsurface geological models. The models would inform decision-making and risk management at all stages of the mining life cycle, from exploration to operations and including mine closure and environmental reclamation.

The center has received early support from the National Science Foundation through a $15,000 planning grant to each institution. These planning grants will enable the Mines-Virginia Tech team and representatives from the exploration and mining industry to define a joint industry and university research agenda, consolidate support and develop a business plan under NSF’s Industry/University Cooperative Research Center Program. Launched in 1973, the I/UCRC program supports research and workforce development in various industry sectors by establishing and fostering cooperative, long-term innovative university-industry-NSF partnerships.
 
“The purpose and long-term vision of this center is directed toward research challenges in the development of 3-D subsurface geologic models for mineral deposits, with the ultimate goal of informing decision-making and minimizing geological risk in mineral exploration operations,” said Geology and Geological Engineering Professor Ric Wendlandt, Mines’ principal investigator on the project.
 
The Mines team includes 14 researchers from the departments of Geology and Geological Engineering, Geophysics, Applied Mathematics and Statistics and Mining Engineering. Professor Wendy Harrison and Associate Professor Thomas Monecke, both from the Geology and Geological Engineering Department, are co-principal investigators. At Virginia Tech, Math Professor Matthias (Tia) Chung leads a team of 12 researchers.
 
The consortium represents an ideal cross-disciplinary effort, balancing geological and geophysical exploration methods with essential mathematical and computational approaches and risk analysis perspectives.  
 
The research team will explore innovations in measurements of chemical and physical properties of rock materials and improvements to integrating and scaling of diverse geological and geophysical data types. These improvements will help mathematicians, statisticians and computer scientists build more accurate tools for 3-D imaging and visualization of the Earth’s subsurface.
 
According to Monecke, who specializes in economic geology, the exploration and mining sector is unlike other industries. The time between onset of exploration to resource production and recoup of investment often exceeds 10 years.
 
“The mining business is a complex process, taking many years to develop a project from exploration to production and finally mine closure and reclamation. Successful modern mining operations generate wealth and employment for several decades, yet because failure at any step is prohibitively expensive, companies are slow in developing and adapting new technologies and often rely on business strategies proven to have worked in the past,” said Monecke. “Our center’s vision is to advance the digital revolution of the global exploration and mining industry during all stages of the mining life cycle—research in this area will be the stepping stone to transforming exploration and mining into an industry of the 21st century.”
 
The center will need industry support to receive full funding from the NSF. During the initial yearlong planning phase, Mines will recruit companies to join the consortium. “There are already 28 companies interested in working with us, in the long run looking to fund innovative fundamental research that will accelerate the mining sector forward,” said Wendlandt. “We’re very encouraged.” 
A Mines geophysics student works with 3-D imaging software.
A Mines geophysics student works with 3-D imaging software.

Companies expressing interest in the consortium include those in mineral exploration and mining, software development, consulting, geochemistry and exploration geophysics and instrumentation. Federal agencies including the U.S. Department of Energy, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and the U.S. Geological Survey may also participate. Research priorities are set by the consortium’s members, who will establish an industry advisory board.

 
“Mining is intrinsic to modern society’s transition to a sustainable existence,” said Ramona Graves, dean of the College of Earth Resources Science and Engineering. “The center’s projects will promote socioeconomic prosperity and help in reducing the environmental impact of the mining industry.”
 
The center will also be a major effort to prepare college graduates at both the undergraduate and graduate levels to move directly into the industrial workforce, explained Harrison, helping students make essential contacts in the industry even before they graduate. There is an emerging need in the mining industry for professionals who provide expertise in advanced computer-controlled equipment, computer modeling and data analysis that support the daily activity of a company.  
 
“The Center for Advanced Subsurface Earth Resource Models, if successful in attracting members, would be the first geoscience-based program started under the 44-year-old NSF program,” said Harrison. Expectations for the planning year are to gain industry support for the Center’s operation plan, agree on research goals and initial projects and get individual companies to commit to joining the center.
 
 
This research is being made possible by NSF Grant 1650500.
 
Contact:
Agata Bogucka, Communications Manager, College of Earth Resource Sciences & Engineering | 303-384-2657 | abogucka@mines.edu
Mark Ramirez, Managing Editor, Communications and Marketing | 303-273-3088 | ramirez@mines.edu

 

Two Colorado School of Mines professors in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering have been recognized for their achievements in geotechnical engineering with national awards from the American Society of Civil Engineers.

Ning LuProfessor Ning Lu received the Ralph B. Peck Award, given for outstanding contributions to the geotechnical engineering profession through the publication of a case history or publication of recommended practices based on case histories. Professor D. Vaughan Griffiths received the H. Bolton Seed Medal, awarded for outstanding contributions to teaching, research or practice in geotechnical engineering.

Lu was recognized for his multiyear case study monitoring the subsurface hydrological and mechanical conditions leading to landslide occurrence on the coastal bluffs between Seattle and Everett, Wash., and for using the data collected to develop a new hydromechanical framework for slope-stability analysis.

The ASCE said Lu’s research over the past decade has made significant contributions to the study of rainfall-induced landslides. The recurring landslides in Washington are a major concern for Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway and Sound Transit, which operates a railway along the bluffs. Results from Lu’s research is now being used to develop a comprehensive hazard mitigation strategy for the railway.

D Vaughan GriffithsGriffiths was honored for his innovative software developments, publications, textbooks and professional short courses on finite elements and probabilistic methods. According to the ASCE, “his highly cited work on finite element stability analysis has transformed the way engineers perform slope-stability analysis in practice.”

Griffiths’ workshops have made him a de facto “ambassador” for the profession, according to ASCE. He is currently chair of the ASCE GeoInstitute Risk Assessment and Management Committee, a core member of the equivalent ISSMGE TC304 Committee and has co-chaired two major GeoInstitute conferences. He is a current editor of Computers and Geotechnics, a recent past editor of ASCE’s Journal of Geotechnical and Geoenvironmental Engineering and on the editorial/advisory board of two other journals.

Contact:
Mark Ramirez, Managing Editor, Communications and Marketing | 303-273-3088 | ramirez@mines.edu
Ashley Spurgeon, Editorial Assistant, Mines magazine | 303-273-3959 | aspurgeon@mines.edu

 

Manju and Jessica with their award plaques.
Manju Murugesu and Jessica Iriarte with their award plaques.
 
Colorado School of Mines students came out on top during the Society of Petroleum Engineers North America Student Symposium, held February 1 to 4 at Encana Corporation headquarters in downtown Denver.
 
The symposium is a massive conference put together by Colorado School of Mines, New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology and the University of Texas at Austin. This year, the symposium was held in conjunction with the North America PetroBowl Regional Qualifier and the Rocky Mountain North America and Southwestern North America Regional SPE Paper Contests.
 
Mines petroleum engineering senior Manju Murugesu and master’s student Jessica Iriarte both finished in first place in the Rocky Mountain North America Regional SPE Paper Contest. Students from universities across the region competed in three categories: undergraduate, master’s and PhD.
 
“I am glad that I got the opportunity to present—I had guidance from [Petroleum Engineering Professor] Dr. [Manika] Prasad and some of the graduate students,” said Murugesu. “Winning has motivated me to get more involved in research as an undergraduate.”
 
Mines also competed in the Petrobowl Regional Qualifier, represented by students Joe Brady, James Blaney, Lydia Gillespie, Connally Reid and Zak Hartman. The team won 3-2 in pool play, but did not advance to the final round.
 
Murugesu and Iriarte will represent Mines and the region during the International Student Paper Contest at the SPE Annual Technical Conference and Exhibition, to be held in San Antonio, Texas, in October 2017.
 
 
Contact:
Agata Bogucka, Communications Manager, College of Earth Resource Sciences & Engineering | 303-384-2657 | abogucka@mines.edu
Mark Ramirez, Managing Editor, Communications and Marketing | 303-273-3088 | ramirez@mines.edu
 

 

Mines student works on a project in the radiochemistry lab
Jarrod Gogolski, a graduate chemistry student, works on a project in the radiochemistry lab.
(Photo by Leah Pinkus)

You could call them the neglected stepchildren of the periodic table.

Stretching across the bottom of the table, the 15 actinides are among the heaviest elements, are all radioactive and are generally not found in nature. The most famous among them, uranium and plutonium, have been integral in shaping the global political and energy landscape, used in nuclear weapons production until the late 1960s and nuclear plants since the mid-1950s. To this day, roughly 20 percent of the United States’ energy comes from nuclear power. But in the wake of the Cold War’s end and the nuclear accidents at Chernobyl and Three Mile Island, interest in studying such elements fell off in the ’90s, leaving a wide knowledge gap at a time when expertise was still badly needed.

Today, Mines, with a new nuclear science chair, a new state-of-the-art 2,200-square-foot radiochemistry lab and a burgeoning research and education program—all funded with help from Transforming Lives: The Campaign for Colorado School of Mines—is working to fill that gap.

“These additions have allowed Mines to become one of the foremost institutions in the world when it comes to expertise in radioactive elements,” says Mines Foundation President Brian Winkelbauer, who points to the nuclear science program as one of many key successes of the six-year, half-billion-dollar campaign. In all, the campaign, which drew to a close this past fall, raised $456 million which was used to fund scholarships, numerous capital projects, campus programs and fund 10 new faculty positions, including the Jerry and Tina Grandey University Chair in Nuclear Science and Engineering.

As the United States grapples with what to do with its nuclear waste and nations around the world eye nuclear energy as a clean and relatively cheap energy source, Mines is poised to be a go-to source for solid science and informed perspectives.

Mark Jensen works on a project in the radiochemistry lab
 
Chemistry Professor Mark Jensen holds the Grandey Chair in Nuclear Science, a position endowed with funding from the Transforming Lives campaign.
(Photo by Leah Pinkus)

Why plutonium research is still critical

Prior to arriving for his new post at Mines in January 2015, Mark Jensen, director of the nuclear science program, spent 20 years at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory studying radioactive elements, particularly plutonium. Asked why it’s important to study, he responds:

“First, let me tell you why it’s fun.”

Jensen explains that until 1941, when University of California Berkeley chemist Glenn Seaborg secretly isolated and synthesized plutonium in a lab, it had “not existed on Earth” in any significant quantities for about 2 billion years. “What that means is that, unlike other elements, we can’t go learn about its chemistry, biology or physics by looking at the world around us,” Jensen says. “Since it hasn’t existed on Earth, nature—especially biology—hasn’t developed any way to handle plutonium.” For a scientist, that presents a rare and tantalizing challenge.

There are also plenty of practical reasons to study plutonium, he adds. “In the last 70 years, we have gone from having no plutonium on Earth to having many hundreds of tons on Earth.” Roughly 60 tons of spent plutonium are generated per year globally, via nuclear energy production, placed in repositories next to plants where they take an unfathomably long time to decay. “Half of it goes away every 24,000 years,” explains Jensen.

Meanwhile, interest in nuclear energy—a relatively cheap, clean-burning fuel source which uses uranium as its feedstock and produces plutonium as waste—is growing globally as nations like China and India grapple with unmanageable CO2 emissions.

With a group of seven faculty and five associate researchers, Mines’ nuclear science and engineering program is exploring not only how to use uranium for energy most efficiently but also how to better deal with the waste and be prepared to address security and safety issues in the unlikely event that it, or legacy waste from the use of plutonium in weaponry, ends up in the wrong hands.

“I think that peaceful nuclear power production is going to be a really important part of our energy portfolio worldwide in the future,” says Jenifer Braley, an assistant chemistry professor and nuclear science researcher who works with Jensen. “We would like for its implementation to be as secure and responsible as possible.”

Student Nathan Bessen talks to Jenifer Braley in the radiochemistry lab
Graduate student Nathan Bessen, right, talks about nuclear science and chemistry with Assistant Professor Jenifer Braley.
(Photo by Leah Pinkus)

The CSI of nuclear science

Braley says she was always fascinated with the “basement of the periodic table” and got turned on to radiochemistry as an undergrad when she attended a Nuclear Chemistry Summer School sponsored by the DOE to reinvigorate the field.

“Research in this area had basically just died off,” she says.

She came to Mines in 2012, drawn to what was already a growing program, and has watched the program flourish ever since. “The facilities infrastructure and support provided by the Transforming Lives campaign has really helped this research move forward,” she explains.

While research is slowly increasing, there are only seven institutions in the country with the specialized equipment, lab space and expertise to work with radioactive “transuranic” materials like berkelium, plutonium and neptunium. Only two academic institutions in the world—Mines and Florida State University—have the resources required to study berkelium. “We have the best-looking radiochemistry lab in the nation,” Braley says.

She and FSU researchers recently published a paper in Science, heralded as the most rigorous characterization of the actinide berkelium. Just understanding the basic science behind how such elements behave could ultimately lead to more efficient nuclear fuel systems and shorter waste-management times, she says.

Braley also specializes in nuclear forensics research, helping to identify chemical fingerprints and develop forensic tools which could ultimately assist government agencies in identifying the source of nuclear materials should they end up in the hands of rogue states or terrorist organizations.

“It is, in a sense, the CSI of the nuclear world.”

Student Erin Bertelsen works on her research in the radiochemistry lab
 
Graduate student Erin Bertelsen focuses on her research in teh radiochemistry lab.
(Photo by Ronald Kem)

From recycling plutonium to treating toxicity

For years, Jensen has focused his research on a concept called “partition and transmutation”—a proposed technology that would essentially extract radioactive materials from nuclear waste stored in repositories and recycle them, both creating more energy and radically reducing the amount of time it takes waste to decay. “You would take them out and put them in a different reactor that would actually destroy the plutonium and other radioactive materials that are going to last a long time. In destroying them, you turn the problem of radioactive waste into something that could be gone in a thousand years instead of a hundred thousand years.”

In 2011, Jensen and his co-authors published a paper in Nature identifying for the first time, precisely how plutonium gets inside of human cells, causing health problems. As he explains it, plutonium binds to transferrin—a protein responsible for shuttling iron into the cells—changing the shape of transferrin in almost the same way that iron does and “tricking the cells into thinking it is iron” so they let it in.

He hopes that someday the research could be used to help develop a drug to block that “Trojan horse” from entering the cell. It could be used to treat workers who are accidentally exposed to radioactive elements or provide an emergency remedy in the unlikely case of a terrorist attack or accident.

For now, Jensen and his students at Mines are working to better understand how cells in the body process and separate other naturally occurring metals, with the hope of learning new strategies for dealing with nuclear waste.

“The real, practical avenue for this research right now is the recognition that biology does its metals separation differently than I as a chemist would do it, and it works pretty well. There’s a lot we can learn from that,” Jensen says.

Mines alumnus and uranium industry leader Jerry Grandey ’68, who donated $3 million to establish the new chair, said he felt that as a school with a strong emphasis on coal, petroleum, mining and renewable energy, Mines would serve its students well by offering a robust look at the technical and policy issues surrounding nuclear energy, too.

So far, so good, Grandey says.

“It’s achieving the objectives I had hoped—exposing students to the nuclear field from beginning to end and all of the issues that come with it. I feel very good about it.”



 

TRANSFORMING LIVES BY THE NUMBERS

The six-year Transforming Lives: The Campaign for the Colorado School of Mines drew to a close in fall 2016, having raised $456 million and far exceeding its fundraising goal of $350 million.

“This is an unheard of fundraising feat for a small public school like ours,” said Mines Foundation President and CEO Brian Winkelbauer. “We capitalized on the incredible pride that our alumni have for this institution and their willingness and interest in making Mines one of the best STEM institutions in the world.”

WHO GAVE:

·       Out of 8,857 donors, 5,403 were alumni

·       3,566 gave for the first time

·       Mines received 50 gifts of $1 million or more

·       Mines’ endowment now sits at $248 million, a growth of 50 percent

WHAT IT BOUGHT:

Donors contributed $63 million for financial aid, creating 168 new scholarships

Several buildings were built or enhanced, including: Marquez Hall; the Wright Student Wellness Center; the Clear Creek Athletic Complex, including a new football stadium and soccer and track facilities; a renovated student center; the Starzer Welcome Center; and the CoorsTek Center for Applied Science and Engineering (currently under construction).

NEW FACULTY POSITIONS ENDOWED WITH CAMPAIGN FUNDING:

Stephen Liu, ABS Endowed Chair in Metallurgical and Materials Engineering

Open, Fred Banfield Distinguished Endowed Chair in Mining Engineering

Paul Constantine, Ben L. Fryrear Assistant Professor of Applied Math and Statistics

Dehui Yang, Ben L. Fryrear Assistant Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science

Tzahi Cath & Michael Wakin, Ben L. Fryrear Endowed Professorship Fund for the College of Engineering and Computational Sciences

Mark Jensen, Jerry and Tina Grandey University Chair in Nuclear Science and Engineering

Mike Mooney, Bruce E. Grewcock University Chair in Underground Construction and Tunneling

Jamal Rostami, Timothy J. Haddon/Alacer Gold Endowed Chair in Mining Engineering

Erdal Ozkan, F.H. “Mick” Merelli/Cimarex Energy Distinguished Department Head Chair in Petroleum Engineering

Lesli Wood, Robert J. Weimer Distinguished Endowed Chair in Sedimentary and Petroleum Geology

 

To see more about the impact of the campaign visit campaign.mines.edu.


Reprinted from the winter 2017 issue of Mines Magazine, the Colorado School of Mines Alumni Magazine.

Story by Lisa Marshall

There is plenty of room for innovation as the so-called “Internet of Things” continues to grow, but not without increased concerns over safety and security, according to Florence Hudson of the nonprofit consortium Internet2, who met with Colorado School of Mines students and IT professionals Friday, February 3, 2017.

Florence Hudson presents to Mines studentsInternet2 is comprised of over 315 academic institutions—including Mines—and more than 150 research organizations in industry, networking and government developing innovations around the Internet. As senior vice president and chief innovation officer, Hudson keeps an eye on developing trends. “What we’re interested in is, where are the research and education opportunities?” she said. “Where is the economic value?” Hudson’s office also helps connect likeminded people, creating a path for academic research to be put into practice.

The Innovation Office’s three priorities, Hudson said, are end-to-end trust and security, distributed big data and analysis and the Internet of Things (IoT), which are all related. IoT is made up of interconnected everyday objects that can gather and exchange data—anything from printers than can order more ink when it’s running low, to heart monitoring implants and self-driving cars. These objects, Hudson noted, generate large amounts of different kinds of data. “We’re talking all the way up to brontobytes, 10 to the 27th power,” she said. And all that information must be kept secure.

Hudson said the two things that worry her the most concern the security of connected vehicles and health care devices. She shared the story of hackers who were able to take control of a Jeep on the highway—turning on the wipers, blasting the radio, shutting down the engine and disabling the brakes and steering. In addition to safety, consumer confidence in these products is also at risk, said Hudson, who met a person who has refused to drive his Jeep since seeing the video. “People are going to freeze,” Hudson said. On the health care front, Hudson spoke of a diabetic who was able to hack into his own insulin pump. “We need security at every level, like with castles,” Hudson said.

Other concerns include hackers commandeering IoT devices for large-scale attacks, such as the one that targeted a DNS provider in October 2016, taking down Twitter and numerous other sites for users in North America and Europe.

Despite these concerns, many academic institutions are turning their campuses into testing grounds for “smart” technologies for cities and communities. Outside of its direct benefits Hudson noted that IoT has been shown to increase student engagement in K-12 and higher education, ease the learning process and tailor education to students’ needs. “Our opportunity is in thinking of how we can use it for good,” Hudson said.

Mines Associate Professor of Computer Science Qi Han, whose Pervasive Computing Systems Group conducts research in smartphone sensing, wearable computing, robotic and wireless sensor networks and similar technologies, was eager to explore the possibility of collaborating with Internet2 and its Collaborative Innovation Community Working Group. She has since reached out to Hudson and hopes to hear more shortly.

Afterward, over lunch, Hudson spoke to students in the Women in Science, Engineering and Mathematics program, the Graduate Women Student Reading Group and the Mines chapter of the Society of Women Engineers, discussing how diversity and inclusion lead to innovation. Hudson served on the national board of SWE, where she developed programs to inspire women and girls to pursue STEM careers.

Contact:
Mark Ramirez, Managing Editor, Communications and Marketing | 303-273-3088 | ramirez@mines.edu
Ashley Spurgeon, Editorial Assistant, Mines magazine | 303-273-3959 | aspurgeon@mines.edu

An assistant professor of chemical and biological engineering at Colorado School of Mines is working to develop a material to fill cavities while stimulating teeth to rebuild themselves—an innovation that would change the face of dentistry.

Melissa Krebs, whose research is focused on tissue regeneration, recently received one of Delta Dental of Colorado Foundation’s 2016 Innovation Grants, which will fund the development of mineralized materials with various formulations and the testing of how dental pulp stem cells react to these materials.

“We started a little over two years ago, working on mineralized materials to mimic bone, for bone regeneration,” Krebs said. A postdoctoral research associate on her research team, Jacqueline Harding, an inorganic chemist by training, “started exploring the mineral phase more than we had initially intended to,” Krebs said, and this resulted in a material that could be “tuned” to mimic the minerals in enamel, the visible part of the tooth, and dentin, the layer underneath the enamel.

The current treatment for cavities calls for dentists to root out the decay and fill the cavity with materials such as amalgam (an alloy of mercury, silver, copper and other metals), composite resins, porcelain and gold. “It’s purely a restoration of function,” said Krebs, who notes that this treatment is often painful, costly, cosmetically undesirable and “ultimately results in further deconstruction of the tooth matrix, which must be repaired.”

The material Krebs, Harding and PhD candidate Matt Osmond are developing would be applied to a cavity as an injectable hydrogel or moldable putty, depending on the size of the repair. While serving as a filling, it would biodegrade over time while recruiting tooth cells to make collagen, the building block of nails, hair and teeth, and mineralize it to restore the original structure of the tooth. “The material provides them something they can move into, and gives the right mineral signals for regenerating,” Krebs said.

The ability to tune the mineral content of the material to the environment of the implant site is unique to Krebs’ team. “Others have not taken the time to fine-tune the chemistry,” Krebs said. “We have more control than I’ve seen in the literature, and the ability to do it all from the same starting product—I haven’t seen anyone else do that.”

Contact:
Mark Ramirez, Communications Manager, College of Applied Science & Engineering | 303-384-2622 | ramirez@mines.edu
Ashley Spurgeon, Editorial Assistant, Mines magazine | 303-273-3959 | aspurgeon@mines.edu

Colorado School of Mines has received a $7.5 million, five-year grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation to establish a University Transportation Center (UTC), focused on improving the durability and lifespan of underground transportation.

James R. Paden Distinguished Professor Marte Gutierrez from the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering is the lead on this interdisciplinary project that draws on the expertise and reputation of Mines’ Center for Underground Construction and Tunneling (UC&T).

“This is such a huge win for Mines,” said Professor Mike Mooney, the Bruce Grewcock University Chair and Director of UC&T. “This is the first U.S. DOT funded center at Mines and the first ever U.S. DOT center focused on underground infrastructure. This effort will build upon the strong foundation of UC&T at Mines and cements UC&T and Mines as the number one place in the world for underground construction and tunneling research and education.”   

In collaboration with affiliate partners, California State University, Los Angeles and Lehigh University, the new center includes research, education and outreach to make underground construction and transportation safer, more sustainable and more cost-efficient.

“We are running out of land, especially in urban areas. The only way to meet increased demand for transportation is to go underground,” explained Gutierrez. “Underground transportation and infrastructure is key to reducing congestion and pollution.”

UC&T graduate students explore an underground construction site.

The center hopes to work closely with industry leaders to develop advanced technologies that would avoid the problems that often extend the time and cost of underground construction. “Our goal is to help the construction industry,” said Gutierrez, “by providing tools, methodologies and technology for underground construction. We want to partner with the industry so that we can apply our findings, as well as offer continuing education courses—that’s how technology transfer really happens.”

Mines’ UC&T, started in 2011 with generous initial support from Mines alumnus Bruce Grewcock, has been leading efforts toward a more adaptive design system in the field of underground construction and tunneling. Boreholes and geological/geophysical surveys provide limited information on ground conditions until excavation starts. Predicted responses often differ from the reality once a project is underway. Gutierrez is proposing the use of adaptive computational modeling to align design with the site-specific geology. 

“We want to exploit the new knowledge we gain every time we excavate,” said Gutierrez. “The design must adapt. As we improve our understanding of the site’s geology, the design also improves, ultimately avoiding the unexpected high costs and extended timelines that can occur when the natural and built environments do not match.”

The center will also look at extending the life of existing aging infrastructures and how transportation infrastructure can best be repaired with the least impact on congestion. Ultimately, with cooperation from industry, the UTC at Mines will lead to increased safety, reliability and sustainability in underground transportation infrastructures.

“Marte has done such a fantastic job leading the successful proposal effort and now leading a great cross-campus interdisciplinary team,” said Mooney, referencing the diverse expertise of the faculty members who are involved in the project: professors Hugh Miller, Jurgen Brune, Rennie Kaunda and Department Head Priscilla Nelson from Mining Engineering; Andrei Swidinsky from Geophysics; as well as the Co-PIs: Gabriel Walton and Wendy Zhou from Geology, Eunhye Kim from Mining, and Reza Hedayat, Panos Kiousis, and Shiling Pei from Civil and Environmental Engineering—in addition to Mooney and Gutierrez.

Mooney added, “The Mines community of current students and alumni out there shaping the future of underground infrastructure should all be very proud.”   

 

CONTACT:

Deirdre Keating, Communications Manager, College of Engineering & Computational Sciences | 303-384-2358 | dkeating@mines.edu
Ashley Spurgeon, Editorial Assistant, Mines magazine | 303-273-3959 | aspurgeon@mines.edu

A patented technology developed by Colorado School of Mines researchers for quick and accurate testing of bacterial infections has been licensed by a Golden-based start-up, which hopes to bring a product to market by 2018.


University Professor Emeritus Kent Voorhees, left, and Assistan Research Professor Christopher Cox in the lab

Cobio Diagnostics was incorporated in October 2016 and is the result of a partnership between Mines and Traxion, a business accelerator formed in January of this year and based in the historic armory building in downtown Golden.

The company hopes to develop and receive Food and Drug Administration approval for test strips—similar to over-the-counter pregnancy tests—that can detect the bacteria Staphylococcus aureus or “staph” in pets and distinguish between strains that can and cannot be treated with the antibiotic methicillin.  

Diagnosing a staph infection currently requires a blood or tissue sample that is incubated and then analyzed in the lab using microscopy or spectroscopy, a process that can take days.

“Shortly after we founded Traxion, we reached out to the Office of Technology Transfer at Mines looking for technology that hadn’t been commercialized and that Mines was enthusiastic about,” said Chris Cone, who started the business accelerator with Jennifer Thoemke.

Will Vaughan, director of technology transfer at Mines, pitched methods that were developed over a decade ago by Kent Voorhees, university professor emeritus of chemistry, and two of his PhD students at the time, Angelo Madonna and Jon Rees. “They were two of the best students I’ve had,” said Voorhees, who remains a research professor at Mines. The test they developed “is inexpensive, rapid and sensitive,” he said, and so it made sense to try to bring it to market.

A company called MicroPhage was formed in 2002 to license that technology, eventually producing tests for human use before filing for bankruptcy in 2013.

“We had gotten the patents back, and they were just sitting there,” said Vaughan. “There’s already been a lot of investment in it, and it went through FDA trials, so we know it’s good technology,” he added.

In addition, over the past decade or so, Chemistry Assistant Research Professor Christopher Cox, along with graduate students Nicholas Stambach, Kirk Jensen, Nicholas Saichek; postdoctoral fellow Stephanie Carr; technicians Stephanie Matyi and Megan Dupperault; and a cadre of undergraduates at Mines have advanced the work initially established by Voorhees.

Cox is gearing up to begin the initial Cobio work in the laboratory, and he believes these improvements in the sensitivity and accuracy of the technology will allow Cobio to surpass what was achieved by MicroPhage. "The technology that Cobio will actually get has been developed far beyond that which was used in the original product," Cox said.

Cone says continuing to collaborate closely with Mines, and making it an integral part of how the start-up is structured, will allow Cobio to avoid some of the missteps that made MicroPhage ultimately unsuccessful.

While Cobio is confident in the technology, it is taking measured steps in bringing it to market. “Although pets are under the jurisdiction of the FDA, the process for clearing a diagnostic test is still less stringent for animals,” Cone said. “It’s less risky, it’s a softer entry point, but it’s still a large market.”

From that stage, it won’t take much more work to move into the human market, said Cone, since the same strains of staph can be transmitted between humans and animals. The test could eventually be expanded to other bacteria, such as listeria and E. coli.

Cobio will bring together the inventors and a team of professionals who are experts in testing devices and have plenty of experience in winning FDA approval. “It’s an interesting marriage of academics, research and industry,” Cone said. “In some ways it’s still in the science phase, and we’re working to turn it into a product.”

“If we can pull it off, it’s quite compelling, and quite a revolutionary product,” said Cone, who hopes this collaboration with Mines becomes a model for future start-ups. “There’s at least one or two good ideas that could be spun out from Mines every year, whether they’re from alumni, researchers or even undergraduates.”

“We’re very excited about this one,” Vaughan said. “It’s a mature technology that can probably get to market very quickly. All the pieces are in place.”

Contact:
Mark Ramirez, Communications Manager, College of Applied Science & Engineering | 303-384-2622 | ramirez@mines.edu
Ashley Spurgeon, Editorial Assistant, Mines magazine | 303-273-3959 | aspurgeon@mines.edu

 

Rui Zhao sits on the swing on the porch of Coolbaugh House at Mines.
Rui Zhao won the December 2016 Rath Award for the PhD thesis with the greatest potential for societal impact.

Computer science PhD student Rui Zhao was awarded Colorado School of Mines’ December 2016 Dr. Bhakta Rath and Sushama Rath Research Award. Thanks to the generosity of Bhakta Rath, associate director of Material Science and Component Technology at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory, and his wife, Sushama Rath, the biannual Rath Award recognizes a Colorado School of Mines doctoral graduate whose thesis demonstrates the greatest potential for societal impact.

Zhao first discovered the complex world of cyber security after his parents bought him his first computer when he was in high school. “I used the computer as a gaming machine, but one day while playing a game, I noticed that nothing worked,” he said. “I spent a lot of time figuring out that my computer was infected with a virus and then how to remove it.” This experience, combined with learning programming language to help his mother create various automated reports for her job, directed him toward an interest in computer science and network security.

Advised by computer science professor Chuan Yue, Zhao’s dissertation explores the vulnerabilities and data protection in end-user applications, particularly those on web, cloud and smartphone platforms. “I wanted to first explore the vulnerabilities in those applications and then try to propose new, different techniques to protect our sensitive information,” Zhao explained.

In his dissertation, titled "Vulnerability Exploration and Data Protection in End-User Applications," Zhao addresses the most critical and challenging password security problems by systematically exploring a promising password manager approach, leading to two main contributions: a vulnerability analysis of two popular commercial password managers and another analysis of built-in password managers used by popular browsers as well as a cloud-based design. These analyses prompted at least one top web browser vendor and one third-party vendor to make necessary changes to their password managers.

Zhao also investigated sophisticated phishing attacks and performed a user study to evaluate the effectiveness of such attacks. Zhao said that he has seen these phishing attacks up close. During his studies at another institution, he witnessed the effects of a phishing email sent out from a compromised employee account, which led to individual paychecks being directly deposited into the attacker’s account. “I didn’t want to see that happen again,” Zhao said. “That’s the reason why security is so important.”

Yet digital security concerns do not end there. Many extensions exist for browser users to download and use; however, many of these extensions can accidentally leak private information and compromise the user. “Browser extensions can provide you with more functionality, but they can also access everything you access or even everything you type on a webpage,” Zhao said. “We found that many of those browser extensions collect your information, but they do not protect it, and it leaks out to the network.” To help combat this problem, Zhao designed and implemented a framework called LvDetector that combines program analysis techniques for automatic detection of information vulnerabilities in browser extensions.

These efforts are already starting to provide better security protection for Internet users, yet Zhao did not expect to win the Rath Award. “It was a Monday that my thesis was approved. That evening the dean of graduate studies called me and congratulated me,” Zhao said. “That was quite exciting, because I know only one PhD student can get this award and it’s really competitive. And I know the other candidates also had very strong backgrounds and publications. I was very lucky to receive this award.”

 

Contact:
Ashley Spurgeon, Editorial Assistant, Mines Magazine | 303-273-3959 | aspurgeon@mines.edu
Deirdre Keating, Communications Manager, College of Engineering & Computational Sciences | 303-384-2358 | 
dkeating@mines.edu

Did you know that buildings use about three-quarters of the total electricity generated in the United States? And that during the summer months, buildings cooling systems account for about 50 percent of the electricity peak demand?

 
    Dr. Tabares-Velasco and his graduate student, Sajith Wijesuriya, present the new lab to prospective students.

These were the statistics that Mechanical Engineering Assistant Professor Paulo Cesar Tabares-Velasco shared as he led a group of prospective students through his new lab during Meet Me at Mines, an event for prospective students from historically underrepresented groups. These high school students were the first to get a look at the new lab that will celebrate its official grand opening in January 2017.

The Building and Thermal Science Lab, located on the fourth floor of Brown Hall, is a multi-purpose, state-of-the-art environmental chamber. It allows researchers to control the environmental conditions in which their experiments will take place. Whether testing the thermal performance of wall assemblies or thermal storage technologies such as phase change materials, the ability to set exact environmental conditions is essential.

“The lab offers a combination of sophisticated control, a tight environment, and accurate sensors,” explained Tabares. “This allows us to mimic indoor environments like an office for testing passive thermal storage and also outdoor environments. We also have one radiant (hydronic) wall that allows us to set its temperature independent of the room temperature, enabling thermal testing of different wall assemblies among other things.”

In this new lab, Tabares’ research team hopes to find ways to increase flexibility to the electric grid. “Buildings hold great potential, combined with thermal storage, to solve some of the great challenges related to energy, smart grid, and global warming,” said Tabares.

Tabares' students also focus on improving heating and cooling equipment, indoor air quality and comfort. The new lab includes advanced control and laboratory-rated sensors that accurately control and measure several variables:

  • Supply and return air flow rates
  • Indoor air temperature
  • Indoor air relative humidity
  • Wall surface temperature
  • Indoor concentration of CO2 and volatile organic compounds (VOC)

Senior and graduate students will also use the lab for teaching purposes, such as senior design projects and Tabares’ Heating, Ventilation and Air-Conditioning class. Students will be able to control the supply air temperature and the relative humidity as well as air flow rate. The lab will be a hands-on source for learning about psychometrics (moist air properties and processes), indoor air quality, commissioning and thermal comfort.

Several industry leaders contributed to the Building and Thermal Science Lab, such as Building Automation Products, Inc. (BAPI) and EBTRON, which supplied the innovative sensors for temperature, humidity, and air flow stations.

 

CONTACT:

Deirdre Keating, Communications Manager, College of Engineering & Computational Sciences | 303-384-2358 | dkeating@mines.edu
Ashley Spurgeon, Editorial Assistant, Mines magazine | 303-273-3959 | aspurgeon@mines.edu

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