2016 AGI Critical Issues Forum

The Payne Institute for Earth Resources at Colorado School of Mines has teamed up with the American Geosciences Institute to host a series of events on the Mines campus that focus on the High Plains Aquifer. A free film screening of “Written on Water” takes place Oct. 26, followed by the AGI Critical Issues Forum, Oct. 27-28.

Mines to host film screening and forum on High Plains Aquifer

Groundwater is often a "transboundary" resource, shared by many groups of people across town, county, state and international boundaries. Changes in groundwater resources can create unique challenges requiring high levels of cooperation and innovation amongst stakeholder groups, from individuals to representatives at the state and federal government levels.

The Payne Institute for Earth Resources at Colorado School of Mines will host two events centered around the High Plains Aquifer Oct. 26-28.

According to the U.S. Geological Survey, “The High Plains Aquifer, which spans eight states from South Dakota to Texas, is overlain by about 20 percent of the nation’s irrigated agricultural land, and provides about 30 percent of the groundwater used for irrigation in the country.”

Free film screening of “Written on Water”
The series kicks off with a free film screening of “Written on Water” at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 26 at Mines’ Ben H. Parker Student Center, Ballrooms B+C. The screening will include an introduction by the film's director and producer, Merri Lisa Trigilio, followed by a question and answer session after the movie. Refreshments will be served. 

“Written On Water” focuses on the Ogallala Aquifer and examines the conflicts, politics, economics and groundwater depletion in the High Plains region. Farmers and communities survive on the precious waters of the Aquifer, yet it is being depleted at alarming rates. Learn more and reserve your seat by Oct. 18 by visiting

American Geosciences Institute Critical Issues Forum
Work by the Kansas Geological Survey indicates that some parts of the High Plains Aquifer are already effectively exhausted for agricultural purposes; some parts are estimated to have a lifespan of less than 25 years; and other areas remain generally unaffected (Buchanan et al., 2015).

The AGI Critical Issues Forum, “Addressing Changes in Regional Groundwater Resources: Lessons from the High Plains Aquifer,” Oct. 27-28, is a one-and-a-half-day meeting that will cover multiple aspects of groundwater depletion in the High Plains and will include abundant time for participant discussion. Break-out sessions will identify lessons learned and best practices from the High Plains Aquifer experience that might apply to other regions facing changes in the Earth system. Keynote speakers include:

  • Sharon B. Megdal, University of Arizona Water Resources Research Center
  • Jason Gurdak, San Francisco State University
  • Merri Lisa Trigilio, Director/Producer, “Written on Water”

Forum registration is $250; $35 for students; and $10 for Mines faculty and students with promo code: CSMWATER. Learn more, or register for the Critical Issues Forum.

About the Payne Institute at Colorado School of Mines
The mission of the Payne Institute for Earth Resources at Colorado School of Mines is to inform and shape sound public policy related to earth resources, energy and the environment. Its goal is to educate current and future leaders on the market, policy and technological challenges presented by energy, environmental and resource management issues, and provide a forum for national and global policy debate. For more information, visit

About the American Geosciences Institute
AGI was founded in 1948, under a directive of the National Academy of Sciences, as a network of associations representing geoscientists with a diverse array of skills and knowledge of our planet. AGI provides information services to geoscientists, serves as a voice of shared interests in our profession, plays a major role in strengthening geoscience education and strives to increase public awareness of the vital role the geosciences play in society’s use of resources, resilience to natural hazards and the health of the environment. Learn more at

Kelly Beard, Communication Specialist, Division of Economics and Business, Colorado School of Mines | 303-273-3452 |
Agata Bogucka, Communications Manager, College of Earth Resource Sciences and Engineering | 303-384-2657 |

Paul Polak address a full house for his humanitarian engineering seminar on solving poverty via design.Sharing his broad world experience as an entrepreneur and activist, Paul Polak presented, “Prescriptions for Helping Poor People Help Themselves: What Engineers Need to Know,” to a large crowd of Colorado School of Mines students and faculty on September 20.

“Instead of trying to bring the newest technology to the poorest regions,” Polak said, “we need to listen and design based on the specific needs and environment of that community.”

Polak’s talk kicked off the Shultz Family Leadership in Humanitarian Engineering Speaker Series, a series aimed at changing the conversation about what engineering is for by showcasing leaders in humanitarian engineering and corporate social responsibility. Author of “Out of Poverty” and “The Business Solution to Poverty,” Polak offers an unconventional approach to solving poverty not through government programs or philanthropic efforts, but by designing for the market of the poorest people on the planet.

“Most design efforts are aimed at the world’s richest 10 percent, while nearly half of the population doesn’t have regular access to food, shelter or clean water,” Polak said, challenging Mines engineers to design affordable technologies that will increase the revenues of the poor.

Even prior to his talk, Polak has influenced design teaching at Mines. Several past humanitarian engineering projects have collaborated with International Development Enterprises (IDE), an innovative nonprofit design organization that Polak founded, located in Denver. Leslie Light, director of EPICS at Mines and a former project manager for IDE, has brought similar human-centered design principals to EPICS, Mines' first-year design course, such as the landmine detection project in fall 2015, and wheelchair redesigns in spring 2015.


The five humanitarian engineering student scholars link arms for a photo.

2016-17 Humanitarian Engineering  Shultz Student Scholars: Michelle Pedrazas, Rosalie O'Brien, Melissa Breathwaite, Micaela Pedrazas, and Stephanie Martella

In addition to the lecture series, the Shultz Family fund also sponsors undergraduate students each year as Shultz scholars. The current five scholars are Melissa Breathwaite, Stephanie Martella, Michelle Pedrazas, Micaela Pedrazas and Rosalie O’Brien. Juan Lucena, director of humanitarian engineering, introduced them as “outstanding students who have demonstrated their commitment to connecting their engineering majors to humanitarian engineering in creative ways, all while maintaining excellent academic standing."

For example, inspired by Polak, Stephanie Martella, a chemical and biochemical engineering senior, is collaborating with John Persichetti, teaching associate professor, on designing chemical processes to produce a nutritious beverage for the poorest markets in the world.

“I got involved with Humanitarian Engineering, because I’m passionate about building relationships through engineering and communication,” Martella said. “I want to apply the engineering skills I’ve learned at Mines to solve problems for humankind.”

According to Lucena, as part of their scholarship, the scholars are also committed to mentoring and learning from low-income, first-generation students at Red Rocks Community College who are considering transferring into engineering at Mines.



Two professors sit outside as they begin their time as Humanitarian Engineering Faculty Fellows.

The new Humanitarian Engineering Shultz Faculty Fellows: Linda Battalora and Kathleen Smits

A third program funded by the Shultz Family Fund is the Humanitarian Engineering Faculty Fellows. Lucena announced this year’s new faculty fellows as Civil and Environmental Engineering Assistant Professor Kathleen Smits, and Petroleum Engineering Teaching Professor Linda Battalora.

In spring 2017, Smits and Battalora will offer two courses of interest to students with minors in humanitarian engineering as well as students in their own departments. Smits is adding a humanitarian engineering focus to CEEN 475: Site Remediation Engineering, which will culminate with a feasibility study on an actual environmental site in a low-income country as the students’ final project.

Battalora is developing a pilot course, PEGN 498A: Environmental Law and Sustainability, which will focus on societal impacts and ethics in the discussion of fundamental environmental regulations, policies and case studies.

Humanitarian engineering at Mines continues to grow, with increased emphasis on corporate social responsibility as well as designing for the world’s greatest problems.



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



Faculty in the departments of Chemistry and Chemical and Biological Engineering have been awarded $320,000 by the National Science Foundation to turn bacteria into a more sustainable source of jet fuel.

Fiona Davies and Nanette Boyle inspect a dish of blue-green algae.

Chemistry Assistant Research Professor Fiona Davies, left, and Chemical and Biological Engineering Assistant Professor Nanette Boyle inspect a dish of blue-green algae.

CBE Assistant Professor Nanette Boyle, principal investigator, and Chemistry Assistant Research Professor Fiona Davies, co-PI, are using photosynthetic bacteria commonly known as blue-green algae to produce a compound called limonene.

“Limonene is the compound in citrus essential oils which gives them their distinctive scent,” Davies said. “It’s an ideal precursor for aviation fuel because of its high energy density and structural similarity to jet fuel.” This means limonene can simply be blended with current petroleum-based fuels with no changes needed in the existing transport fuel infrastructure.

While some of the increasing demand for energy in the transportation sector can be replaced with vehicles that run on renewable electricity, the aviation, shipping and long-haul trucking industries will still require liquid fuel.

The bacteria—Synechococcus sp. PC 7002—is very similar to plants in that it grows on carbon dioxide and light alone. It essentially functions as a catalytic factory where enzymes in the cell directly convert carbon dioxide into limonene.

“It doesn’t produce limonene naturally, but we have engineered it to produce limonene by introducing a single enzyme from a limonene-producing plant—spearmint,” Boyle said. “Our current limonene production yields are not high enough to be economically feasible, therefore the funded research is focused on rewiring the metabolism of the cell to direct more carbon toward limonene.”

Boyle and Davies will use computational modeling to predict how they can divert more carbon flux to limonene, then use genetic engineering techniques to modify the bacterium’s metabolism to increase production.

Cyanobacteria—or bacteria that obtain their energy through photosynthesis—have been engineered to produce various industrially useful compounds such as ethanol, butanol and isoprene, which Davies has worked with previously. However, yields are typically low, and little progress has been made because the metabolism of the cell is so tightly controlled. “Our study will actually pinpoint where the tightly controlled parts of metabolism are so that we eliminate them specifically,” Davies said.

“Overall, our work will develop a far more sustainable and environmentally friendly source of fuel for the aviation industry because it is produced directly from carbon in the atmosphere instead of the limited fossil fuel reserves, and it removes carbon from the atmosphere to assist with efforts to reduce global warming,” Boyle said.

The project will also include educational activities, with Boyle and Davies mentoring a team of college and high school students to participate in the International Genetically Engineered Machines competition. The program, also known as iGEM, promotes active learning in the field of molecular biology.


Mark Ramirez, Communications Manager, College of Applied Science & Engineering | 303-384-2622 |
Ashley Spurgeon, Editorial Assistant, Mines magazine | 303-273-3959 |

A multidisciplinary team, led by the Ben L. Fryrear Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering Tzahi Cath, has received a $1 million award from the National Science Foundation to develop an innovative monitoring and control system for small wastewater treatment facilities.

The project, titled “Self-Correcting Energy-Efficient Water Reclamation Systems for Tailored Water Reuse at Decentralized Facilities,” draws on the bioreactor at Mines Park, which treats more than 7,000 gallons of domestic wastewater each day, and will integrate existing and new wireless sensor networks to monitor water quality and for process monitoring and control.

“Improved monitoring of water quality and early warning of treatment system vulnerabilities are critical to protecting the public and the environment,” said Cath. “The smart service system we are building uses a network of simple, existing sensors and a novel wireless sensor network. These new, smart sensor technologies can learn from past performance, predict future performance and adapt the system to achieve preset objectives.”

Water pipes with electronic gauges are shown, as the professor kneels to read the information and a student records the data.

Professor Tzahi Cath and a graduate student take readings at the AQWATEC Laboratory.

In addition to being more energy and resource efficient, the new system will benefit many small communities that operate decentralized wastewater treatment facilities and don’t have the resources to improve their system.

Cath also attributed the project’s selection to the foundation laid by the Engineering Research Center for Re-Inventing the Nation’s Urban Water Infrastructure, also known as ReNUWIt, at Colorado School of Mines. “All of this is only possible because ReNUWIt at Mines that has been building these partnerships in an effort to develop new strategies for water management and treatment,” said Cath.

After testing the new monitoring and control system at Mines Park, the team will work with industry partners from Aqua-Aerobic Systems and Kennedy/Jenks Consulting as well as broader context partners such as Ramey Environmental in Frederick, Colorado, to deploy, incorporate and test the system at existing small, decentralized treatment plants.

The team includes Professor Tracy Camp from the Division of Computer Science, Assistant Professor Salman Mohagheghi from the Division of Electrical Engineering, and Associate Professor Hussein Amery from the Division of Liberal Arts and International Studies, as well as professors Amanda Hering and Michael Poor at Baylor University. The team will also include graduate and undergraduate students from CEE and CS.

The grant is one of 13 awarded by the NSF’s Partnerships for Innovation: Building Innovation Capacity program, in support of innovative partnership projects that create new human-centric service systems.

 “The National Science Foundation fosters innovation and partnerships between academic researchers and industry, catalyzing interdisciplinary projects to understand and design smart systems and technologies of the future,” said Grace Wang, acting assistant director, NSF Directorate for Engineering. “These 13 projects are at the forefront of the human-technology frontier, driving innovation to solve problems to benefit society and improve life as we know it.”


Deirdre Keating, Communications Manager, College of Engineering & Computational Sciences | 303-384-2358 |
Mark Ramirez, Communications Manager, College of Applied Science & Engineering | 303-384-2622 |

In a state with an energy economy as purple as its politics, it can be hard to decide where to stand.

The Payne Institute for Earth Resources at Colorado School of Mines teamed up with Inside Energy to host Spark! Unpacking the Politics of Energy in Colorado on Sept. 8 at Mines' Ben H. Parker Student Center.

The Payne Institute and Inside Energy explored everything Colorado’s energy portfolio stands to lose, gain or change in the 2016 election. Journalists from Inside Energy pressed a panel of experts on critical energy issues to help the public make their own decisions in November.

The panel included Ian Lange, PhD, Mineral and Energy Economics Program Director, Division of Economics and Business, Colorado School of Mines; Tracee Bentley, Executive Director, Colorado Petroleum Council; Meghan Nutting, Vice President of Policy and Government Affairs, Sunnova; and Lee Boughey, Senior Manager, Communications and Public Affairs, Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association.

“This panel coversed a wide variety of the Colorado energy landscape,” says Dr. Lange. “It was exciting to hear the views of my fellow panelists and share my thoughts on how Colorado could be impacted by the policies on the ballot this fall.”

Read a recap and view photos from the event.

Visit for more information.

About the Payne Institute at Colorado School of Mines
The mission of the Payne Institute for Earth Resources at Colorado School of Mines is to inform and shape sound public policy related to earth resources, energy and the environment. Its goal is to educate current and future leaders on the market, policy and technological challenges presented by energy, environmental and resource management issues, and provide a forum for national and global policy debate. For more information, visit

About Inside Energy
Inside Energy is a collaborative journalism initiative among public media with roots in Colorado, Wyoming and North Dakota. It is funded by a grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Its mission, in collaboration with its partner stations, is to create a more informed public on energy issues. Inside Energy seeks to make energy issues a household topic and to inspire community conversations on the topic of energy. Learn more at

Kelly Beard, Communication Specialist, Division of Economics and Business, Colorado School of Mines | 303-273-3452 |
Kathleen Morton, Digital Media and Communications Manager, Colorado School of Mines | 303-273-3088 |

Colorado School of Mines Department of Mining Engineering Professor Masami Nakagawa recently brought together two indigenous cultures from the United States and Bolivia to discuss development of natural resources.

The Navajo Nation is a sovereign Native American nation occupying the largest land area of all Native American nations in the U.S.; the Aymara are an indigenous nation in the Andes and Altiplano of South America – both are seeking balanced and sustainable sources of energy.

Enter Nakagawa, who works on building capacity for geothermal resource development and has been focused on sustainable energy initiatives in Bolivia, Peru and El Salvador. During this initial meeting, representatives from the two cultures discussed various options and challenges associated with this development in their native lands.

“Geothermal offers not only power generation, but by using the heat (without even generating electricity) geothermal resources offer many ways to build local businesses that are green and sustainable,” he said, noting that he is currently working on a Navajo GeoPark project that focuses on capacity building through geothermal/solar assisted greenhouses. 

The project will continue into the summer, when Nakagawa will lead a delegation of indigenous people to Bolivia. A group of five from the U.S. (including three Navajo and two from Mines) will visit the capital city of La Paz, Cochabamba, Sala de Uyuni, and a small town called Tocana, where they will discuss sustainable energy solutions.

Nakagawa serves as a Fulbright Specialist on energy and sustainability for Latin and South American countries. This project is funded by the U.S. Department of State.


Karen Gilbert, Director of Public Relations, Colorado School of Mines | 303-273-3541 |
Agata Bogucka, Information Specialist, College of Earth Resource Sciences & Engineering | 303-384-2657 |

The ConocoPhillips Center for a Sustainable WE2ST hosted a Research Symposium for WE2ST, the Department of Civil and Environment Engineering (CEE), and Hydrologic Science and Engineering (HSE) students on April 14. Posters from 20 WE2ST undergraduate scholars and graduate fellows were presented and judged. An additional 18 posters were presented by the CEE and HSE programs, although they were not part of the competition.

First and second place for the best poster by a WE2ST Graduate Fellow were awarded to Ella Walker and Chris Ruybal, respectively. Best Poster by a WE2ST Undergraduate Scholar went Kate Newhart, and second place to Kaylie Haynes. The faculty award for most student presenters outside of WE2ST went to CEE Professor Timm Strathmann.

Attendees also voted for the overall favorite poster at the Symposium, and this award went to Skylar Zilliox.

Finally, the Symposium showcased the winning water project from 6th graders at Shelton Elementary. The four elementary school students presented posters and a model to show off their water-saving shower design.

The symposium connected more than 75 distinguished guests from industry, academia, and the community. Mines students, faculty, and staff enjoyed an evening full of networking and conversations while reviewing student research in the overlapping fields of hydrology, environmental and civil engineering.


The ConocoPhillips Center for a Sustainable WE2ST welcomes you to learn more about their program and get involved by visiting their website.



Deirdre Keating, Information Specialist, College of Engineering and Computational Sciences | 303-384-2358 |

Karen Gilbert, Director of Public Relations, Colorado School of Mines | 303-273-3541 |

Imagining cookie crumbs as dirt and gummy worms as organic matter, Colorado School of Mines students introduced elementary school students to the concept of oil and gas formation in one of several science demonstrations held during the 6th Annual Math & Science Night at Shelton Elementary on Nov. 4.

Mines students had a large presence at the math and science expo: The Water-Energy, Science and Technology (WE²ST) Center ran nine stations and several other Mines student organizations also participated. Shelton’s Math & Science Night provides parents and students a fun, engaging and hands-on learning environment with the goal to get students excited about math and science.

Karen Brown, principal of Shelton, attributed the success of the program to the participation of Mines students. “We are so thrilled to have built a partnership with Mines and its students,” said Brown.

“Since its inception, Shelton’s Math and Science Night has always been well attended because of the expertise and fun the Mines students, as well as other presenters, bring to the table,” Brown continued. “They are also great role models for our students.”

According to Andrea Blaine, assistant director of WE²ST, “one of the strongest aspects of WE²ST’s participation was our ability to establish a meaningful connection between Mines and the larger community. Our presence at the event allowed us to educate children and adults on important current environmental topics, such as water and energy, in a non-threatening, fun atmosphere.”

In addition to the edible “fossil fuels” demonstration, students used a four-foot square model to see the paths of water within a watershed and community at the EnviroScape station and received hands-on experience learning about osmosis, the properties of gasses, aquifer sand tanks, and water use in the U.S. compared to other countries.

“It really is fantastic and wonderful that Shelton offers this type of thing,” said Alison Bodor, a Shelton Elementary School parent, who complimented WE²ST in particular on their organization.

Mines Blasterbotica Team, dressed like cowboys for the event’s Wild West theme, also had a large number of participants. They demonstrated how robots could be used for mining in space exploration.

Mines’ Nao robot, “Gold,” was a star attraction for the children. Mechanical Engineering Professor John Steele encouraged his student Steven Emerson to participate and showcase the robot.

“She was a big hit. The kids seemed a little awestruck when she did her choreographed demo,” Emerson said. He also noted that teaming up with the Mines Society of Asian Scientists and Engineers (SASE) chapter helped, as they provided other demos that allowed the robot time to cool off between groups of children.

Mines Society of Geophysicists, Society of Physics Students, Society of Women Engineers, the Integrated GroundWater Modeling Center at Mines, and the Re-Inventing the Nation’s Urban Water Infrastructure (ReNUWIt) Research Center also set up hands-on learning demonstrations for the students of Shelton Elementary School.


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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