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On Sept. 30, astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson visited the Colorado School of Mines campus to speak to a sold-out crowd of students, alums, faculty, staff and community members in Lockridge Arena.

“This has got to be the geekiest audience I've ever seen; I’m not holding back,” Tyson said at the beginning of the night.

Tyson’s talk, part of the President’s Distinguished Lecture series and a kickoff to the 2015 homecoming weekend, was centered on “Astronomy Bizarre”— a grab-bag of unusual objects, phenomena and ideas in the universe. He included recent NASA images indicating evidence of salt water on Mars, and reminded the audience that of Pluto’s status as a planet.

“We all thought Pluto was just trying to be a victim of its environment with craters and stuff that happened to it. But if you have mountains that means you’re doing something from within. You’ve got some action of your own,” Tyson said. “But regardless of all this, it’s still a dwarf planet; get over it.”

Tyson dropped “knowledge eggs” on the crowd, including his love of black holes.

“The Earth wants to kill us! So does the universe,” Tyson said. Later he added, “The universe is under no obligation to make sense to you.”

Recently Tyson served as executive editor and on camera host and narrator for “Cosmos: A SpaceTime Odyssey," the 21st century reboot of Carl Sagan's landmark television series. Tyson is the fifth head of the world-renowned Hayden Planetarium in New York City and the first occupant of its Frederick P. Rose Directorship. He is also a research associate of the Department of Astrophysics at the American Museum of Natural History.


2015 Neil deGrasse Tyson


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

GOLDEN, Colo., Sept. 23, 2015 – Colorado School of Mines will celebrate Homecoming and Alumni Weekend Sept. 30-Oct. 3.

Events include a spirit rally on Kafadar Commons from noon to 2 p.m., men’s soccer at 5 p.m. and women’s soccer at 7:30 p.m. on Oct. 2.

On Oct. 3, the homecoming parade begins at 9 a.m., and Mines Football vs. New Mexico Highlands begins at noon at Marv Kay Stadium.

The 1959 Chevrolet Bel Air looks prepped for a vintage auto show, but a different fate awaits. All fins and sharp edges, it takes off straight at a silver teardrop of a Chevy Malibu a half-century younger.

The closing speed is 80 mph, notes University Emeritus Professor David Matlock, a member of the National Academy of Engineering, whose computer monitor presents this generational clash.

The crash-test dummy is crunched in the collapsed cabin of the ’59. The one in the ’09 sits as it had before, spared by advances in automotive engineering and high-strength steel. There are many kinds of steel in a modern vehicle frame, Matlock explains, each designed with an exact set of properties which, in combination, has helped make cars much safer.

Matlock co-founded Mines’ Advanced Steel Processing and Products Research Center (ASPPRC) in 1984 with University Professor Emeritus George Krauss. By the early 1980s, American steel-industry research labs had begun to shrink and university funding for ferrous metallurgy had all but disappeared. Krauss and Matlock approached steel companies with the idea of partnering on a university-industry steel research center, in which a consortium of industry competitors, suppliers and customers would discuss the industry’s unmet research needs, set the science agenda and share results. Mines strengths in ferrous metallurgy research and teaching made it a logical hub.

Six companies signed on, and the National Science Foundation provided seed funding. The center survived a variety of changes in the landscape, including significant industry consolidation in the early 2000s, with member companies merging (for example, five of the current members now represent what was at one time 18 discrete ASPPRC members) as well as globalization of the steel and manufacturing industries.

Constant throughout, though, has been a focus on the research needs of industrial partner member companies that include many of the world’s biggest names in steel, automotive, heavy industry and oil and gas. In addition to annual dues to the center, they commit to sending one or more staff to biannual meetings in Golden where students present, and companies and researchers map the road ahead.

Thirty-one years since its founding, the ASPPRC’s focus on collaboration continues, with 31 companies from 13 countries now jointly setting the course and sharing the fruits of advances in testing methodologies and alloying strategies, and production processes. Eight full or part time Mines faculty lead a team of five research assistants, four postdoctoral researchers and 31 graduate students on a wide array of projects.

Member companies have hired many of these ASPPRC students, including Grant Thomas, a research engineer at AK Steel in Middletown, Ohio, who earned his Mines master’s and doctorate degrees for his ASPPRC work. The center, he said, is “industrially driven, so they’re relevant, and they have the time, the resources, and the equipment that really lets them get to the core of the problem — or opportunity, which are one in the same.”

Wang Li, a senior engineer and member of the board of directors at China’s Baosteel, the world’s fourth-largest steel producer, cited four major benefits in its ASPPRC membership: sponsors share in the center’s research achievements; it’s a good platform for interaction with other sponsors, including steel producers and users; it’s an opportunity for Baosteel staff to get involved in automotive steel research (Baosteel has a researcher doing a fellowship at the ASPPRC); and in helping set the research agenda, Baosteel gains early insights into trends in automotive steel.

All members receive royalty-free licenses for technologies that emerge from the center’s work. Despite many members being competitors, the nature of the business helps this sharing model work, said AK Steel’s Thomas. Fundamental insights into the behavior of a certain type of steel processed in a certain way — the ASPPRC’s calling card — can be taken different directions by different firms, all who have proprietary production techniques and established lines that can cost hundreds of millions of dollars.

“That’s where the competitive part comes in: putting it to use in a specific mill,” Thomas said.

Mines Professor John Speer, who has been ASPPRC director since 2013, spent 14 years at Bethlehem Steel before coming to Mines in 1997, said “we work hard to be relevant because many of the sponsor companies have outstanding corporate research facilities of their own. If the companies become interested in working on an idea we are pursuing, they can put a lot of people on it very quickly. Some of these companies have a thousand researchers.”

“Mines’ advantage,” he said, “is time.”

“If you’re fighting the daily fires of industry, it can be more difficult to sit back and think about the fundamentals,” Speer said, “or on potential processing routes that do not match existing facility investments.”

The ASPPRC’s research focuses on simulating solid state processing done on steel (after it has solidified), explained Assistant Professor Emmanuel De Moor. Important considerations can include combinations of alloying, heating, cooling, or changing its shape at different temperatures.

The center is focused on three major categories of steel: sheet, bar and plate. Sheet steel research is mainly driven by automotive needs; while bar steel research includes cables, gears, crankshafts, axles and wire; and plate steel activities are related to oil and gas pipelines, earth moving equipment, wind-turbine towers, ships, etc.

If the center’s research has a common focus, it’s on microstructure and properties. De Moor, an alloying and thermochemical processing expert, is interested in microstructure along with Associate Professor Kip Findley, a mechanicalproperties specialist whose students spend their days analyzing steel properties and performance. Microstructure, they explain, dictates the steel’s ultimate strength, ductility, formability and hardness.

Caryn Ritosa, a PhD student, is doing her work on the Gleeble 3500, a thermomechanical processing simulator — in this case mimicking an industrial process called multi-pass plate rolling. She’s testing six different steels, each about as thick as a pencil representing the thick plate steel used in pipelines. They’re low carbon, with microalloying additions such as niobium, vanadium and titanium. Ritosa heats each to an orange-red 1,250 degrees Celsius, then commands the Gleeble to twist them 180 degrees, 360 degrees and beyond. Her goal, she said, is to understand how the steel’s recrystallization behavior at high temperature affects its microstructure, with the ultimate goal being to produce higher strength steels at lower cost.

In another lab around the corner, PhD student Lee Rothleutner is fatigue-testing thumb-thick bars, each hour-glassed along the length, of induction-hardened steel. Automakers are interested in improving this steel for drivetrains, he said. Automotive lightweighting is a hot topic in steel, informing many ASPPRC experiments: average light-duty fuel economy standards are poised to leap from today’s 32.5 mpg to 54.5 mpg in 2025. The less a car weighs, the less fuel it takes to move it.

“The drivetrain is really one area of the automobile that hasn’t been intensely lightweighted,” he said. He mounts an article specimen in a fatigue tester that rumbles at a motion-blurring 30 hertz. As Rothleutner works the machine, Findley explains, “Over time, he’ll look at alloying effects, processing effects and some in combination. Which has a better fatigue life? Where are the cracks initiating? How?”

Back in Matlock’s office, shelves of engineering books share space with scores of snapped bits of steel whose failures helped keep so many drivers alive.


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

GOLDEN, Colo., Aug. 12 — Colorado School of Mines has long held the distinction of playing in one of America's most historic football stadiums. Now, they'll enjoy playing in one of America's best.

The 2015 season marks the debut of Marv Kay Stadium at Campbell 

Mounir Zok, senior sports technologist for the United States Olympic Committee (USOC), was researching how boxers moved during a match through video taken by an overhead camera suspended in a boxing ring, when he got an idea that evolved into a Colorado School of Mines field session project.

“We are constantly thinking about how can we help coaches and athletes make the best informed decision through current technology,” Zok said. “Because gymnasts are performing coded actions, their movements are ideal to be measured and analyzed.”

In December, Zok met Electrical Engineering and Computer Science professors Bill Hoff and Hao Zhang and computer science graduate student Brian Reily to observe male gymnasts and collect performance data with computer vision technology—a Microsoft Kinect v2 camera. The color camera uses a depth sensor and microphone array to sense the location and movements of people.

Within a few months, Reily was able to take their results to develop a method to track gymnasts and produce data on their performances.

“It was a great opportunity to collect a unique type of data. I'm working on human detection and pose estimation, and pretty much all existing data out there is collected in a lab,” said Reily. “Collecting this data and publishing it as a dataset would actually be pretty important just on it's own.”

Reily requested the help of four Mines students and USOC coaches to add features—such as tracking gymnasts to create useful data visualizations for both gymnasts and coaches. Computer science students Austin Kauffman, Zac McClain, Evan Balogh and Travis Johnson took Reily’s data to build an app that could record and analyze a routine, playback video, and provide performance statistics.

“I’ve always been interested in computer science and bioinformatics,” said McClain. “I would like to use this project to get into a more active area of computer science.”

The Computer Science field session team, advised by Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Teaching Associate Professor Christopher Painter-Wakefield, sees their app advancing in the future if more features could be added, such as color video playback, consistent frame rates and angle tracking.

“We’ve had students involved in our projects for the last year and a half. The engineering talent coming from Colorado School of Mines is helping us gain insights into some of our sports programs,” Zok said. “These students are scientifically prepared to face the challenge.” The USOC has also been working with Mechanical Engineering Associate Professor Joel Bach and a senior design team to develop other technologies to help further athlete development and training.


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


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