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Department graduate students have an opportunity to test several autonomous drones in an underground limestone mine. (Photo: Richard Bishop)


News and Noteworthy from the Department of Mining and Minerals Engineering

Wencai Zhang joins Virginia Tech Mining and Minerals Engineering

Wencai Zhang
Wencai, Xinxin and Kevin at their first department Hokie Tailgate.

This fall the department welcomed Wencai Zhang as its newest assistant professor. Wencai joined the department after having served as a post-doctoral research associate and assistant research professor at the University of Kentucky. Wencai brings strong research expertise in rare metal extraction and purification, flotation, surface chemistry, mineral processing, coal preparation, and hydrometallurgy.

Wencai grew up in the Yishan town of Zouchen, China, well known for its coal production and coal mines. He earned his bachelor’s degree in mineral processing engineering from the Shandong University of Science and Technology (2011) and his master’s degree in mineral processing engineering from Central South University (2013). He completed his PhD in 2017 at the University of Kentucky.

Though Wencai has had several internships in the coal, iron, and nonferrous mining industries, much of his career has centered on academic instruction and research—primarily in the areas of rare metal extraction and purification, flotation, and hydrometallurgy. “For the last five years I have been working on rare earth elements recovery from coal,” said Wencai. “This research topic is fairly new and requires an in-depth knowledge of multiple disciplines such as coal geology, mineralogy characterization, mineral processing, and hydrometallurgy.”

According to Wencai, his proposed research “can lay a solid foundation for the future of clean energy industries while providing a safer and more reliable supply of rare earths for the United States.”

Wencai will continue previous research projects in rare earth element recovery and flotation chemistry, but is looking forward to taking new projects with his colleagues at Virginia Tech. Also, he has already started working with both undergraduate and graduate mining engineering students, and has enjoyed teaching two courses this fall: Mineral Processing and Materials Handling and Power Systems.

He and his wife, Xinxin Shao, finally have settled down in Blacksburg and are enjoying the Hokie community. In addition to running, basketball, badminton, and films, Wencai enjoys spending time with newest family member, Kevin, who was born in June!

Department Grows its Petroleum, Natural Gas, and GeoEnergy Programs

Dr. Bahareh Nojabaei (left) explains the program to attendees at the conference and exhibit.

Dr. Bahareh Nojabaei, mining and minerals engineering assistant professor, along with several graduate and undergraduate students, recently exhibited at the 2019 Eastern Regional Meeting of the Society of Petroleum Engineers held in October 2019 in Charleston, West Virginia. The annual meeting and exhibit was a great opportunity for the department to showcase its growing Petroleum and GeoEnergy programs.

As part of its strategic plan, the department has been developing two new program specializations within the curriculum for both undergraduate and graduate students.

The first is a Petroleum and Natural Gas Engineering specialization which will enable undergraduates to pursue a minor focusing on critical topics such as production engineering, formation evaluation, and reservoir engineering. The minor promises to expand students’ career opportunities while also giving them broader knowledge of the energy-related aspects of the industry.

The second specialization, designed for graduate students, leads to a certificate in GeoEnergy. This program will allow masters and doctoral candidates to pursue studies and conduct research in areas such as unconventional and conventional hydrocarbons, multiscale subsurface fluid transport modeling, carbon storage and sequestration, and enhanced geothermal systems.

Michael Karmis Honored by the Society of Mining Professors

Michael Karmis (center) receiving the Ludwig Wilke Award from members of SOMP.

Michael Karmis, Stonie Barker Professor in the mining and minerals engineering department and director of the Virginia Center for Coal and Energy research, was recognized this fall by the Society of Mining Professors with two distinguished honors.

Karmis was named the 2019 Ludwig Wilke Award recipient for his distinguished contributions to the body of knowledge in mining engineering, his innovative research, and his significant service and commitment to the Society. Karmis received the prestigious award during the Society’s annual meeting and conference in Bochum, Germany. The award is named after Professor F. Ludwig Wilke, one of the Society’s founders and a distinguished engineer, researcher and academic.

In addition, this year the Society established a new PhD Fellowship named after Karmis. The Dr. Michael Karmis Fellowship Award recognizes a junior member of the Society who desires to pursue an academic career by acquiring a PhD in the field of mining engineering and/or mineral processing. The award, consisting of a 1,000-Euro cash gift and certificate, will be presented each year to a chosen candidate during the Society’s Annual General Meeting. The fellowship is intended to aid mining and minerals engineering PhD candidates in their academic and research-related expenses. In naming the fellowship, the Society recognized Karmis as a “distinguished and inspiring SOMP leader who has transformed and positively impacted the Society.”

Michael Karmis’ expertise is in the areas of geomechanics and mine systems, health and safety, carbon management and energy planning, and the sustainable development of energy and mineral resources.  He has authored/co-authored over 200 scientific papers and directed/co-directed 65 major research projects valued at +$60million.  His research has been funded by federal and state agencies, foundations and the private sector. In addition, Karmis is widely recognized for his many years of service to the profession, including his serving as the 2002 President of the Society for Mining, Metallurgy and Exploration (SME) and the 2008 President of the American Institute of Mining, Metallurgical and Petroleum Engineers (AIME). He is a  Distinguished Member of SME; a Fellow of the Institute of Quarrying, and a Fellow of the Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining.

The Society of Mining Professors (SOMP) is a global academic community committed to making significant contributions to the future of the minerals disciplines. Its main goal is to guarantee the scientific, technical, academic and professional knowledge required to ensure a sustainable supply of minerals for mankind. 


BAR 20

Save the date for the Virginia Tech Black Alumni Reunion, April 17-19, 2020. Come back to campus, celebrate and commemorate milestones, meet students, and learn what’s happening at our university. The 2020 reunion will feature opportunities to network, learn, and have fun all during spring game weekend.


Look for the Virginia Tech Mining and Minerals Engineering Department at this year's MineXchange 2020 SME Annual Conference & Expo in Phoenix, AZ, February 23 – 26, 2020.