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Above: "Mining Researchers Awaiting Test Study Results." This photo taken by Richard Bishop, Ph.D. candidate in the department of mining and minerals engineering, earned 2nd Place in the Society for Mining, Minerals and Exploration (SME) 2019 Photo Contest.


News and Noteworthy from the Department of Mining and Minerals Engineering

Kevin S. Crutchfield, Class of '86, Inducted into the College of Engineering's Academy of Engineering Excellence

Kevin S. Crutchfield, a 1986 Virginia Tech Mining and Minerals Engineering alumnus and current President and CEO of Compass Minerals, has been inducted into the College of Engineering’s Academy of Engineering Excellence.

After earning his bachelor's degree in mining and minerals engineering from the department in 1986, Kevin Crutchfield worked for Pittston Coal Company in various operating and executive management positions, including vice president of operations from 1986 to 1995. Over the course of his career, he served in various executive roles, including multiple leadership roles within Alpha Natural Resources, Inc. In July 2016 he became CEO and director of Contura Energy, and he also served as chairman of the Board’s Safety, Health and Environmental Committee.

In May Crutchfield became president and CEO of Compass Minerals, a producer of minerals and plant nutrition products. He also serves as a member of that company’s board of directors. He is currently the director and past chairman of the National Mining Association, director of the Coeur d'Alene Mines Corporation, a member of the board of advisors for the Electro Mechanical Corporation, and an advisory board member for the Virginia Tech Department of Mining and Minerals Engineering. He has previously served extensively on numerous coal and energy boards, including the Coal Industry Advisory Board of the International Energy Agency, and as director for Rice Energy, Inc.

Virginia Tech’s College of Engineering Academy of Engineering Excellence was founded in 1999 by F. William Stephenson, former dean of the College of Engineering, and by the college's advisory board. The academy consists of 156 alumni out of Virginia Tech's approximately 68,000 living engineering alumni, who have achieved exceptional career successes.

College of Engineering Dean Julia Ross presents Kevin Crutchfield's award to Erik Westman, head of the Department of Mining and Minerals Engineering at Virginia Tech. Westman accepted on behalf of Crutchfield, who was unable to attend.

Hassan Amini Wins SME Dissertation Award

Dr. Hassan Amini, Post-Doctoral Associate in the department of mining and minerals engineering, is the recipient of SME’s 2018-19 Rong Yu Wan Ph.D. Dissertation Award. The award is presented annually to recognize a recent Ph.D. graduate for outstanding dissertation research in the general areas of metallurgical engineering, mineral processing, hydrometallurgy or extractive metallurgy. Hassan's dissertation was completed under the direction of Dr. Aaron Noble, department Associate Professor.

Hassan earned his B.Sc., M.Sc., and Ph.D. in Mining Engineering from Amirkabir University of Technology, University of Kentucky, and West Virginia University, respectively. His expertise lies in the fields of physical separations, separation circuit design, and process optimization, modeling, and simulation. As an instructor, co-instructor, and teaching assistant at four different institutes, Hassan has been involved in developing lectures and teaching courses in the general areas of mineral/coal processing and mining engineering. In addition to the Rong Yu Wan Ph.D. Dissertation Award, Hassan was the recipient of the 2017 WVU Outstanding Graduate Student Award. He is an active member of SME and currently serves as the chair of the YLC Professional Development Subcommittee.

Dr. Hassan Amini

Visit from the Colombian School of Mines

This spring, mining engineering students from the Universidad Nacional de Colombia (UNAL) in Medellin, took time to visit the department and its students while on their way to the SME Exhibit and Conference in Denver. Virginia Tech's mining and minerals engineering department has had a growing relationship with UNAL during the past several years, and more recently organized a 5-day international visit to the university and nearby mining operations in Colombia [see Fall Issue].

During their two-day stop in Blacksburg, the UNAL undergrads sat-in on classes, attended presentations given by the Hokies in the Senior Design Project class, and  gave their own informative presentation on mining engineering studies at UNAL and the Colombian mining industry.

Students from the Universidad Nacional de Colombia (UNAL) in Medellin are treated to coffee and donuts while visiting Virginia Tech's mining and minerals engineering department in February.

Guest Speaker Series

Each year, industry friends and alumni of the department visit Blacksburg to meet students and provide special presentations and lectures on a variety of field and career-related topics, such as new technologies, best practices, and leadership. Many of these presentations are tied to the department's numerous student chapters and organizations, such as the Burkhart Mining Society or the International Society of Explosives Engineers. 

Bethany Witter, ISEE Student Chapter president, introduces Stuart Brashear, senior product and applications manager at Dyno Nobel. Stuart presented on the growing use of drone technologies in the mining industry.
Bryan Smith and Thomas Epperson of Luck Stone led a talk and workshop on Values Based Leadership to students in the Mining Engineering Seminar senior course. Also on hand to run student-discussion groups were Luck Stone junior managers Britt Cupp, Charlie Jones, Adam Beissner and Brandon Cole--all recent VT Mining and Civil Engineering graduates.
Luke Provencher, technical representative at Austin Powder Company, gave students in the Senior Design Project course an in-depth look at the new Paradigm Blasting Tools software, which is designed to make blasting more efficient, safer, and minimize impacts to nearby residences and communities.
Students pose with Jason Threewitts of Carter Machinery. Jason gave a great talk and demo of the Vantage Point software to department undergraduates.

Department Ph.D. Candidate Awarded the G.W. Kalb Scholarship

Chad Sechrist, a doctoral candidate in the department of mining and minerals engineering, is the recipient of the 2019 G.W. Kalb Scholarship from the Coal Preparation Society of America (CPSA), an organization which serves coal processing professionals and engineers. 

Department Head Erik Westman presents Chad Sechrist (right) with the 2019 CPSA G.W. Kalb Scholarship.

Mining Engineers Compete for Martian Ice

Three department seniors, working on a collaborative team made up of other Hokie engineering students, recently competed in NASA’s 2019 Mars Ice Challenge.

The technology-innovation competition seeks to advance critical capabilities needed on the surface of the Moon and Mars. The competition asks eligible undergraduate and graduate student teams to design and build hardware that can identify, map and drill through a variety of subsurface layers, then extract water from an ice block in a simulated off-world test bed.

At the event, held in early June at the Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, students faced a simulated Martian subsurface ice station composed of clay and rock, covering solid blocks of ice. There they attempted to break through the overburden, reach the ice, and implement some means of extracting the ice or water.

The three mining and minerals engineering students on the VT team were Matias Marquez, Michael McCampbell, and Jack Carden, all graduating Class of 2019 seniors. “Our robot was named OLIVER which stands for Overburden Layer Ice to Vapor Extraction Robot,” explains team member Matias Marquez. The year-long design work and final competition gave members some real engineering-under-pressure experience. “While we didn’t place anywhere noteworthy,” says Matias, “we were able to overcome a multitude of problems to get OLIVER functioning properly, and it was a great experience getting to work with engineers of various disciplines to tackle problems that were sometimes outside the scope of mining.”

Much of the team’s design work was carried out at the Virginia Tech Mechanical Engineering Field and Space Experimental Robotics (FASER) lab, under the guidance of Dr. Komendera, Assistant Professor in mechanical engineering. For the mining engineers on the team, their work also counted towards the department’s capstone course, Senior Design Project, under the direction of Dr. Erik Westman, mining and minerals engineering Professor and Head.

At the competition in Langley: from left to right: Michael McCampbell and Matias Marquez (both from mining and minerals engineering) along with Matthew Anderson (mechanical engineering), Maria Wass (general engineering), Joshua Moser (mechanical engineering), and team advisor Dr. Erik Komendera.
Department senior Jack Carden shows off OLIVER's drill bit at the FASER lab at Virginia Tech.