Agata Bogucka

In first Quantitative Biosciences and Engineering field session, students explore what lives deep below ground

Interdisciplinary undergraduate program traveled to Edgar Experimental Mine to learn about underground biosphere
Student wearing hardhat collecting sample underground

Students used a specialized spoon to carefully collect samples from the walls of the Edgar Experimental Mine during the Quantitative Biosciences and Engineering field session. (Photos by Agata Bogucka/Colorado School of Mines)

Colorado School of Mines’ first interdisciplinary undergraduate program, Quantitative Biosciences and Engineering, held its inaugural field session this summer. 

As part of the immersive, hands-on learning experience, students traveled to the Edgar Experimental Mine in Idaho Springs to take samples of the microbes living on the underground rock walls. Back on campus, they headed straight to the lab to investigate what they found. 

“One science reason why we wanted to take the QBE Field Session underground at the Edgar Mine was to expose students to the living subsurface world and biosphere," said John Spear, professor of civil and environmental engineering.

"We can walk in to a mine or a cave and notice everything for what it is. But we now realize that the rock is alive — on it, in it and all around it — throughout any subsurface environment on Earth," he said. "Understanding how this ecosystem provides services to the local environment and world is critical to better understanding."

A total of 42 QBE students participated in field session, the undergraduate program's first since it launched in Fall 2021. The first class of QBE graduates received their Bachelor of Science degrees in May.

"The goal of our QBE field session was to investigate biological solutions for addressing plastic waste and recycling," said Justin Shaffer, teaching professor of chemical and biological engineering. "We did that through two projects: 1) by looking for new microbes in water and soil samples and 2) by engineering enzymes that have greater abilities to break down plastics. We are so proud of our 42 QBE students who successfully completed both projects in an action-packed three-week field session."

Two students in hardhats look at sample in mine
Students measure the pH of a sample taken from the Edgar Experimental Mine. Owned by the university, the Edgar Mine provides students in Mining Engineering and other disciplines with a unique environment for research and practical training.
John Spear advises students during sample collection in cave
Civil and Environmental Engineering Professor John Spear, second from left, advises a group of students collecting samples during QBE field session.
Student put samples into vial
Students carefully scooped samples into test tubes to be taken back to the lab on campus for analysis.
Three students take notes in mine
As part of the process, students took detailed notes about the samples to be taken back to the lab.
Two students with professor in underground classroom
Chemical and Biological Engineering Teaching Professor Justin Shaffer talks with students in the underground classroom at the Edgar Mine. The QBE program provides rigorous training at the interface between biology and mathematics, computer science, and chemistry.
Student runs test on sample in the lab
Back on the Mines campus, students run tests in the lab on the samples collected at the Edgar Mine. The QBE program is a popular option for undergraduate students interested in attending medical school.  (Photo by Ben Funk/Colorado School of Mines)


Agata Bogucka

Multimedia Manager
About Mines
Colorado School of Mines is a public R1 research university focused on applied science and engineering, producing the talent, knowledge and innovations to serve industry and benefit society – all to create a more prosperous future.