Faculty

Colorado School of Mines is a uniquely focused public research university dedicated to preparing exceptional students to solve today's most pressing energy and environmental challenges.

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GOLDEN, Colo., May 22, 2015 – Members of the Colorado School of Mines academic faculty have received honors for their exceptional work at the university.

Several distinguished faculty members who announced their retirement during the past academic year have been awarded University Emeritus status for demonstrated exemplary service through distinguished teaching and achievement of national and international recognition through outstanding scholarship by the Mines Board of Trustees:

A team of four sophomore students placed first (out of 41 Mines teams) in a Colorado School of Mines Intro to Mechanical Engineering (MEGN200) Wind Station Competition May 5. The team, Stormtroopers, had 2.5 weeks to design, build and program a weather station that was capable of measuring wind speed, temperature and two variables of their choice. Mechanical Engineering students Geordie Campbell, Aaron Fanganello, David Harper and Alicia Helmer created their system with a Star Wars theme, using Legos and an innovative homemade sensor.

“The Stormtroopers used every sensor that was provided to them and purchased additional Arduinos and sensors to use as well,” said Teaching Associate Professor Jenifer Blacklock. “They were very energetic and knowledgeable about their system, and it was clear that they had worked hard and spent numerous hours designing, building and programming their final wind station.”

To measure wind speed, the team 3D printed an anemometer (or windmeter) that they fixed on a rotor shaft of a remote controlled helicopter.

“At the base of the helicopter, we had two brush connections—one that made constant contact and one that made an interrupted contact. This allowed us to count the number of times the circuit was completed and convert that into wind speed,” Campbell said. “We measured temperature in conjunction with a new digital barometric pressure sensor, a BMP 180 chip.”

The top three to four teams from each section of the course were invited to compete in the Wind Station Competition, and were judged by faculty, ME undergraduate and graduate students on four main qualifications: a technically advanced system, appropriate user feedback, creativity and overall aesthetics. Students on the winning team received a $50 gift card to SparkFun, an electronics store.

 

Contact:
Kathleen Morton, Communications Coordinator / 303-273-3088 / KMorton@mines.edu
Karen Gilbert, Director of Public Relations / 303-273-3541 / KGilbert@mines.edu

Kathleen Smits is a Civil and Environmental Engineering assistant professor at Colorado School of Mines. Smits has been interested in the environment from an early age and her interest for engineering grew as she advanced throughout her college career, but there are some things about Smits that you might not have known.

1. She is currently a member of the U.S. Air Force Reserves

Smits was on active duty in the Air Force for eight years; for three years, she taught at the U.S. Air Force Academy in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.

Currently she is an operations research analyst in the U.S. Air Force Reserves, working part time at U.S. Northern Command at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs.

“At Mines I study current and emerging environmental problems that are of interest to our nation and the world using both analysis and experimentation. In the Air Force, I do the same thing for different problems and applications. A lot of the understanding and training that I have from being a scientist directly applies to what I do in the military.”

2. She has been scuba diving 150 times

As one of her first jobs out of college, Smits worked with the National Aquarium in Baltimore to help replant eelgrass in the Chesapeake Bay, a job requiring lots of underwater time. 

Since then, Smits has been on several scuba diving trips, mostly in the Caribbean but also in Japan and Hawaii.

Smits also enjoys sailing with her family, starting trips either in Lake Michigan or the Grenadines Islands.

“I love every minute I’m either in or under the water, which is ironic because even though I study water, I focus mostly on water availability in dry, arid regions.”

3. She’s lived all over the place

Smits grew up in Pennsylvania and went to high school in Illinois. She studied Environmental Engineering as an undergraduate student in the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado and then studied Civil Engineering–Water Resources at the University of Texas in Austin. While in the Air Force, Smits deployed to a military base in Saudi Arabia for about six months and lived in both Virginia and Colorado.

“When I came to Mines to do my PhD, I realized that I really love teaching but I equally love the research. That’s why I wanted to work and contribute at a university like Mines that has both a research and teaching focus.”

4. She loves running and has a top three list of the most beautiful places to run:

  • Zion National Park, Utah

    Since high school, Smits has been an avid runner. Whenever her family took her to a national park for a vacation, she didn’t hesitate to use it as an excuse to go running.

  • Nakuru, Kenya

    “There are giraffes and chimpanzees all over the roads that I had to dodge to run down the street. If you run in a straight line, you’ll hit a large animal!”

  • Diablerets, Switzerland

    During a research conference in a small, ski town in the Swiss Alps, Smits went for morning runs along a river that runs from the glaciers through the town.

    “Where the path ends, there is a road that passes by all the farms with the sheep and cattle to keep you company. What a beautiful place!”

5. Her favorite hobby is photography

Smits started taking photos regularly seven years ago when her daughter, Elizabeth, was born. Now Elizabeth is immune to her mom taking photos and poses regularly when Smits has her camera around.

Smits also enjoys playing around with Photoshop to make her photos appear different than the original.

“I also water color to get the other side of my brain work.”


Civil and Environmental Engineering professor Kathleen Smits has been teaching at Colorado School of Mines for three and a half years, but began her journey at Mines in 2007, when she was a PhD candidate. Smits currently teaches Hazardous Waste Site Remediation, Fluid Mechanics and Environmental Pollution.

Smits is working with fellow CEE professor Tissa Illangasekare on studying natural gas leakage from oil and gas production into the environment. She is also one of two Mines recipients of the 2015 NSF CAREER Award, in which she aims to advance the science and education of land surface-atmosphere interactions.

 

Contact:
Kathleen Morton, Communications Coordinator / 303-273-3088 / KMorton@mines.edu
Karen Gilbert, Director of Public Relations / 303-273-3541 / KGilbert@mines.edu

Meet Sam Spiegel, the director of the Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning (CITL) at Colorado School of Mines. The center—started by Applied Mathematics and Statistics professor Gus Greivel and Physics professor Pat Kohl—is part of Mines’ Strategic Plan initiative to further the school’s STEM reputation, expand research opportunities and increase graduation rates.

Spiegel sees the CITL as a way to enhance faculty connections, provide them with resources and form an active learning community at Mines.

“The pieces that get me excited are real and rich conversations about teaching and learning,” said Spiegel. “I am looking forward to getting involved in the design aspects and supporting faculty and students in changing, growing and enhancing their experiences at Mines.”

The CITL will offer resources in coaching, course review, curricula design, grant support, learning communities, teaching observations and teaching professional development.

“There are quite a number of Mines faculty trying new things and the center is here to be a resource to support them,” Spiegel said. “CITL can provide support and guidance to refine instruction. For those faculty that want more intensive support, we will be offering one-on-one coaching.”

An example of support around course design will happen this summer when Spiegel will work with Department of Chemistry and Geochemistry professors Renee Falconer and Allison Castner to redesign a freshman course with a more active learning style, focusing on furthering student engagement on conceptual learning.

On April 21, Spiegel presented a pedagogy seminar with Chief Information Officer Michael Erickson on how CCIT and CITL plan to collaborate to support faculty and advance teaching and learning at Mines. The CITL will offer seminars this summer on producing educational videos and the science of teaching. The center will also meet with the Office of Academic Affairs to examine student data in efforts to produce consistencies in student learning experiences.

“If you were to put a GoPro on a student and watch them across a week, would their experiences be consistent—particularly at a freshman and sophomore level?” asked Spiegel, who will see the freshman experience firsthand when he serves as a faculty mentor for CSM101 in the fall.

Visit the CITL’s website for information on pedagogy seminars and updates at citl.mines.edu.

Spiegel comes to Mines with 15 years specializing in science education and transforming systems—his past experiences ranging from middle school to university graduate levels. Prior to Mines, Spiegel served as Chair of the Disciplinary Literacy in Science Team at the Institute for Learning and Associate Director for the Swanson School of Engineering's Engineering Education Research Center at the University of Pittsburgh.

 

Contact:
Kathleen Morton, Communications Coordinator / 303-273-3088 / KMorton@mines.edu
Karen Gilbert, Director of Public Relations / 303-273-3541 / KGilbert@mines.edu

There’s more to Mines’ ‘Introduction to Brewing Science’ course than making beer. Chemical and Biological Engineering (CBE) associate professor Paul Ogg is using the class to teach students the science behind beer production.

“The process from going from barley to beer is the almost exact same process as going from cellulose to bioethanol fuel,” Ogg said. “When students interview with an employer, they can say, ‘I didn’t make bioethanol fuel in a semester, but I did make beer.’”  

Before Ogg’s course was offered this spring, students could take the class, ‘Biochemical Process Engineering,’ to study fermentation products and alternative fuels. CBE associate professor John Persichetti works with students through most phases of brewing, and sometimes vinification (wine making)—including enzymatic breakdown of starches to sugars (brewing), fermentation and product analysis— which at times includes chemical analysis using gas chromatography and mass spectrometry (students make beer or wine as part of the fermentation portion of the course lab), to test the impact of process parameters on flavor and color.

The CBE Department is in the process of finalizing a still system designed to remove alcohol from the beer and wine products (those that aren’t as desirable as a beverage).

“This will give us a new experiment where students can step through fermentation to make ethanol, then concentrate the ethanol to levels suitable to industrial use,” Persichetti said.

In Persichetti’s class, students making beer use already malted barley, similar to homebrewing. Ogg wanted his course to take it one step further and have students learn the process of malting their own barley, and explore how to design a recipe to achieve very specific desired product characteristics.

“My hope was we could have local brewers taste the beer students are making and say, ‘This isn’t what the big breweries are making but this works for me because I have a different market and I’m looking for new flavors in my craft beers,’” Ogg said.

This past year, CBE Laboratory Technician Michael Stadick designed and built a small-scale malting system in the Unit Operations Building (located behind Alderson Hall) for students to use in Ogg’s class.

Chemical engineering student Tanner Taylor is one of 40 students in the course. He is working in a team of four students to create a Scottish ale for his final project.

“Learning how to make my own beer and hearing from head brewers has made me want to work at a brewery in the future,” said Taylor. “This course is continuing to help motivate me to follow that path.”

Visit the malting system and you will see students learning all aspects of the brewing process including testing, cleaning, bottling, malting, flavor extracting and tasting beers. Guest speakers from MillerCoors, Odell Brewing Company, Golden Moon Distillery, Bierstadt Lagerhaus, Mountain Toad Brewery and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory have spoken on a variety of topics ranging from sour beer production to malt whiskey production. Several guests have been Mines alums, including Josh Robbins (Chemical Petroleum Refining ’95, ’00, 03) from Mountain Toad. On April 29, local brewers and staff members will be judging student teams on the sensory basics of their beer and will give them a tasting score that will make up 10% of their final grade.

 

Contact:
Kathleen Morton, Communications Coordinator / 303-273-3088 / KMorton@mines.edu
Karen Gilbert, Director of Public Relations / 303-273-3541 / KGilbert@mines.edu

With plenty of humor, Physics Professor Reuben Collins shared insights into the world of academic publishing, particularly the challenges it is facing, via his Faculty Senate Distinguished Lecture on March 26.

Collins opened with the story of how he came to be editor-in-chief of Applied Physics Letters. A year-and-a-half ago, “I was interested in trying something different,” he said. He’d always enjoyed writing, so he took up an offer to update a textbook. Then a colleague called and asked him to apply for the APL post.

“I didn’t know what that was,” Collins said. “So I said ‘yes.’”

He was offered the job last summer and – because he was new to editing a large journal – started as an associate editor, reviewing papers. He then took over as top editor in September. “That’s when I realized what I had said ‘yes’ to,” Collins said.

As editor-in-chief, Collins is responsible for setting the direction of the journal, defining standards and maintaining ethics, hiring and managing staff, and overseeing the process of reviewing papers. But his favorite duty, Collins said, is “I get to pick the cover art.”

Above all, Collins’ job is making sure Applied Physics Letters “services the community represents.” And that comes with plenty of challenges.

“We live in a metric-happy world,” Collins said. “We want to reduce everything to one number.” He shared the story of a friend whose work for the past year – papers, conferences, lab accomplishments – was summed up in one phrase that would determine her pay: “2-plus.” For colleges and universities, that might be ranking in U.S. News and World Report.

In the field of scientific journals, that all-important metric is “impact factor,” determined by the average number of citations received for each paper a journal published in the previous two years.

Unfortunately, some journals are rejecting most of the papers they receive even before sending them out for review, in an effort to increase their impact factor, Collins said. He implied that this was a disservice to the scientific community, given that out of all these rejected papers, surely some were worthy of publication.

But some journals have found a balance, Collins said – publishing many papers, which is good for the community; earning many citations, which benefits both the author and the community; and rating a high impact factor, which benefits the journal and authors.

Collins calls these “Good Science Citizen Journals,” a group he doesn’t put Applied Physics Letters in just yet. He said APL is still publishing too many papers, and many that don’t receive citations. “I want to move us into the good citizenship zone.”

Competition from the big science publishers is another challenge, with so many new journals being launched on what seems like a monthly basis. There’s also the push for open access – where the public can read and use publicly funded scientific research for free. Collins has also seen plagiarism, double-publishing, and other ethical issues crop up as editor-in-chief.

One current problem that will eventually turn into a boon for publishers is globalization, Collins said. In recent years, China has become a leading producer of scientific papers, though most of them end up unpublished. He sees this changing in the future, much like Japan changed its reputation from producer of cheap goods to leading manufacturer of electronics and cars.

“China will do the same thing,” he said. “Publishers have to hitch their wagon to that.”

The Faculty Senate Distinguished Lecturer Award, established in 1990, is an opportunity for faculty to honor outstanding colleagues. Recipients are selected from faculty nominations, and are invited to present on a topic of their choice. They also receive a plaque, and a gift to their discretionary account.

In addition to serving as professor and APL editor-in-chief, Collins is associate director of the Renewable Energy Materials Research Science and Engineering Center, and director of the Center for Solar and Electronic Materials.

Contact: 
Mark Ramirez, Communications Specialist, College of Applied Science & Engineering | 303-383-2622 | ramirez@mines.edu
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

Eleven members of the Mines Band, along with Teaching Professor & Music Program Director Bob Klimek, Colorado School of Mines Alumni Association Board President Ray Priestley ’79 and Electrical Engineering and Computer Science professor Cathy Skokan '70, '72, '75, spent Spring Break (March 9-13) in Jamaica.

While in Mona, the group visited with the environmental science and engineering departments at the University of the West Indies to hear about their senior design projects and see their preparation for the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers robot competition. In Kingston, they teamed up with the Alpha Boys’ School to perform in a five-hour recording session in the Tuff Gong Studio that was founded by Bob Marley in 1965.

Engineering physics student Nick Smith said his favorite part of the trip was recording at the studio, where Mines students had to learn, arrange and record a song in real time.

“We met the students the day before recording, and did not even start rehearsing a song until the morning of the recording session,” Smith said. “Once I figured out the chords, I ended up arranging many of the instrumental parts of the music, and guiding the players through the song as we recorded it.”

Smith plays many instruments with the Mines music department—bassoon in concert band, tenor saxophone in marching band, cello in the orchestra and bass in the jazz band. He wanted to make sure that even though he was not majoring in music, he still had a connection to the arts.

“The greatest way that music makes me a better engineer is that it gives me some sort of connection to humanity, rather than just being a number-crunching, science-doing machine,” Smith said. “I am currently taking an ethnomusicology course, where we study the music of different cultures and how the music is intertwined with their cultural history. Everything in music can teach you about the culture it came from, and this allows me to have a sense of humanity in my engineering.”

As one of the organizers of the trip, Skokan also juggles multiple instruments, playing bassoon in the band, violin in the orchestra and erhu in the Chinese Band. She is not only active in band, but also in the music program, where she organizes small ensembles. Skokan picked Jamaica given that it has a musical as well as technical component.

“Our music students at Mines are very well rounded and are able to use both their creative and analytic parts of their brains,” Skokan said. “We try to expose students to a culture different than in the U.S., but one that they might encounter in their professional careers. Because they have traveled and worked with people from other cultures, they will be more able to adjust when needed.”

In mid-March, the Music program received approval for a new Music Technology minor and will see its first graduates this fall. Next Spring Break, the marching band plans to travel to Dublin to perform in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade.

 

Contact:
Kathleen Morton, Communications Coordinator / 303-273-3088 / KMorton@mines.edu
Karen Gilbert, Director of Public Relations / 303-273-3541 / KGilbert@mines.edu

Eleven students are part of a humanitarian engineering course that is designing plans to relocate a village displaced by mining operations in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in Africa. The course “Projects for People,” taught by corporate social responsibility and Human Centered Design professor Benjamin Teschner, is geared toward students interested in the social challenges associated with the extractive industries and how engineering helps address these problems.

During the first class, Teschner gave each student $20 to design a prototype that would act as a tool to explain to someone living in the village how their lives would change after relocating.

“Commonly, students think of prototypes only as something they build to test their idea or to help themselves as engineers refine a design. What this assignment does is force them to think about how to design a prototype that will show someone else how their idea works so they can engage non-engineers in their design process,” Teschner said. “Students will immediately lay their assumptions about the problem out on the table for everyone to see—assumptions that they didn’t even know they were making.”

Aina Abiina is one of two graduate students in the class. The course is not required for Abiina’s Liberal Arts and International Studies degree, however she chose to enroll because she wanted to learn about the interaction between multi-national companies and people that are affected by these companies’ activities.

“In order to minimize a negative impact on the environment of those people and to optimize the production of the mine, a proper assessment is needed,” said Abiina. “Designing solutions to this complex engineering and social challenge will help students gain valuable skills in human-centered design methods, research techniques, brainstorming tools and approaches.”

Over the next few months, teams in two groups will have three phase gate reviews that will explore problem definition, design exploration and design analysis. The unique thing about this course is that the grades and passage of the phase gates are not linked. Grades are determined instead by how the team works within these phase gates.

“I hope students are able to develop empathy for people who use the things they design and that they recognize by bringing these people into the design process, they can create better, more sustainable engineering outcomes,” Teschner said.

Chemical and Biochemical Engineering student Karyn Burry hopes to end the course with better design flow skills.

“I am a super organized person and that usually is really helpful in a group, but this class is pushing me out of the organizer position into a position where I am forced to think outside the box in attempt to find a solution to this relocation project,” Burry said.

To better understand the village and relocation process, students are working with Thabani Mlilo, manager of sustainability for the America region at AngloGold Ashanti, who is acting as the ‘client’ on the project. Mlilo’s goal is to catalyze a paradigm shift early enough in an engineer’s education so that it is “part of their DNA” and a natural part of how they approach problems or solutions wherever there is a sustainability aspect to their work.

“In the sustainability field, one of the biggest challenges we have is shifting the paradigm of professionals in technical and scientific disciplines to the changing landscape of the business-society interface,” Mlilo said. “My impression of Mines students is that they don’t shy away from a challenge and are not afraid of treading unknown waters.”

For questions about the course, please contact Benjamin Teschner at bteschne@mines.edu.

 

Contact:

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

We spend 90 percent of our time indoors (according to the EPA) without realizing that the air we breathe could be potentially dangerous to our long-term health. Civil and Environmental Engineering professor Tissa Illangasekare has spent the last five years researching how volatile organic compounds, which are commonly entrapped as non-aqueous phase liquids (NAPLs) or dissolved into groundwater to produce plumes, affect our indoor air concentration.

“We drink so many liters of water a day, but we inhale so many thousands of liters of air,” Illangasekare said. (According to the EPA, the average American inhales close to 3,000 gallons a day.) “Sometimes we go to a contaminated site, test the water and we find it’s clean but later we go inside the building and find the vapor is contaminated.”

In 2009, Illangasekare and his research group, including a collaborator from the U.S. Air Force Academy, received funding from the Department of Defense Strategic Environmental Research and Development Program Office. The funding allowed the researchers to improve their understanding of the processes and mechanisms controlling vapor generation from entrapped NAPL sources and groundwater plumes, their subsequent migration through the subsurface, and their attenuation in naturally heterogeneous vadose zones under various natural physical, climatic, and geochemical conditions.

As the director of the Center for Experimental Study of Subsurface Environmental Processes, Illangasekare has an advantage. In his lab, he works with students to control experiments in multiscale test systems, studying vapor and airflow through unsaturated soils. The tanks are instrumented with soil moisture, relative humidity and temperature sensors. Using computation models, Illangasekare can predict how various climates affect soil concentrations expected to be found in a building. 

Their hypothesis was that some of this variability could originate from weather and hydrologic cycle dynamics, such as surface heating, rainfall and water table fluctuation.

“We learned how contaminant vapors move preferentially through the ground and make their way into people’s basements or crawl spaces,” said Kathleen Smits, a professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, who has worked with Illangasekare for the past five years. “We also discovered how this is influenced by changes in climate (e.g. temperature, wind conditions and precipitation).”

In April 2014, Illangasekare received the 2012 European Geosciences Union's Henry Darcy Medal for his scientific contributions in water resources research and water resources engineering and management. Two months later, he was one of the coauthors on a report to the Strategic Environmental Research and Development Program on “Vapor Intrusion From Entrapped NAPL Sources and Groundwater Plumes: Process Understanding and Improved Modeling Tools for Pathway Assessment.”

“Our research has contributed to fundamentally understanding what’s happening to this system, which will help decision makers and regulatory agencies give better guidelines on how to manage these sites,” he said.

Illangasekare’s research will impact closure decisions on waste sites based on vapor intrusion risks.

“There’s a need for this science to exist. We are training a new generation of scientists and engineers to look at these kinds of problems.”

 

Contact:

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

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