With society’s ever-growing need for natural mineral and energy resources, the mining industry constantly seeks ways to ensure that the extraction of these resources is done as safely as possible. Two graduate students at Virginia Tech’s mining and minerals engineering department have been carrying out major research efforts in advancement of this goal and were recently recognized for their outstanding contributions in areas of environmental health and safety for the mining industry.

Paige Guse and Jon Baggett are each recipients of an SRK Scholarship Award for 2018. SRK is an independent, international consulting practice that provides focused advice and solutions in the earth and water resource industries. Established in 2012, SRK’s scholarship program encourages and supports students undertaking graduate studies in fields related to the mining industry. Its scholarship program is part of an ongoing commitment to furthering education within the mining industry.

The award marks the second consecutive year that Virginia Tech students have won the scholarship. Last year Chelsea Barrett, also a department graduate student, was awarded the prestigious scholarship. “SRK’s Scholarship is a generous and competitive award that recognizes graduate students in mining engineering with an environmental focus,” notes Emily Sarver, mining and minerals engineering Associate Professor and advisor to Barrett as well as Paige Guse.

Paige Guse

“I feel very lucky and thankful to have won this scholarship,” explains Paige, a native of Oak Ridge, North Carolina. “It will cover all of my school fees for every semester of my graduate program, which is very substantial.”

Paige graduated from Virginia Tech with a B.S. in mining engineering in 2017, but she wanted to explore a different side of the mining industry. “I decided on graduate school as a way of experiencing what the research and academic side of the mining industry was like. I lucked out to work with Dr. Sarver and this project because it is an ongoing funded project. Emily is a great advisor; she maintains the perfect balance of involvement.

Paige’s research is part of Dr. Sarver’s project on monitoring and abatement of Diesel Particulate Matter (DPM) in underground mines. DPM can pose a respiratory health hazard for miners, so accurate measurements are needed to ensure a safe work environment. Occasionally, measurements using the industry standard method can be affected by analytical interferences. Paige is working to identify possible sources of interference, and to modify the method to eliminate or reduce associated errors.

One of the best parts of graduate work for Paige has been the opportunity to work independently, manage tasks, and get to work with outside organizations. “My project is unique in that I work very closely with our contacts at NIOSH and travel to their lab in Pittsburgh for a sample collection and analysis, as well as more general tips on writing the thesis.”

Jon Baggett (right) conducting research at an underground limestone mine.

Jon Baggett is the second Virginia Tech recipient of this year’s SRK Scholarship Award. “SRK’s scholarship represents the strong relationship between early-career mining engineering researchers and professionals with expertise in a global industry” explains Jon, a native of Winchester, Virginia. “I’m so grateful to see that relationship in action in my own life, and excited to reciprocate that support in the future”

Jon is also a 2017 Virginia Tech graduate with a B.S. in Mining Engineering. As he neared graduation, he felt drawn to researching the field further and decided to stay on for graduate studies under Dr. Nino Ripepi, department Associate Professor. “Virginia Tech has always promoted this idea of ‘inventing the future,’ and since I started here in 2013, I haven’t let go of that,” explains Jon. “From my perspective, that initiative to innovate, improve, and enhance the status quo of safety within mining engineering is bolstered through research. I’m fortunate to have an advisor in Dr. Ripepi who shares that idea.”

As a graduate researcher, Jon’s efforts are part of Dr. Nino Ripepi’s Underground Mine Health and Safety project, and focus on the use of ground penetrating radar and laser scanning to accurately map discontinuities and voids present in a rock mass. These methods supplement traditional geologic forecasting and rock mass characterization in order to predict conditions prior to tunneling in underground mines or rock masses. By determining the size and location of karsts in a rock mass, mine flooding, roof collapses, and other risks can be better avoided.

One of the best parts of graduate work for Jon are the interactions amongst researchers. Whether it be at conferences, on field trips, in meetings, or just over coffee in a break room, Jon always enjoys hearing about the progress his colleagues are making in their work as well sharing his own research successes and studies.