Professor Emeritus Gets Top Industry Award

SOCORRO, N.M. May 8, 2012 -- Dr. Cathy Aimone-Martin has dedicated her career to explosions. The retired Tech professor spent 25 years educating mineral engineers in the finer points of explosives, rock blasting and vibration monitoring.

This article is featured in the current issue of Gold Pan, the alumni magazine published at Tech.


Dr. Cathy Aimone-Martin
Professor Emerita and winner of the ISEE Distinguished Service Award

Since retiring in 2006, she has embarked on a new career as a consultant and contractor for companies in coal mining, quarrying, construction and other civil engineering projects. In February, Aimone-Martin was recognized for her career achievements with the Distinguished Service Award from the International Society of Explosives Engineers.

“This award is way past due,” said Dr. Navid Mojtabai, chairman of the Mineral Engineering Department. “She’s done so much for the Society and for the field. She’s done a lot in the areas of instrumentation and blasting vibration. When there’s a high-profile job, she’s the first to get the call.”

Aimone-Martin was performing underwater pressure measurements for blasting on the Columbia River in 2008 when she got one of those calls. The Fire Department of New York was overseeing blasting for the reconstruction of the subway station adjacent to Ground Zero at the site of the World Trade Center.

“The Chief Inspector of Explosives Jimmie Lauer called me and my associate, a PhD graduate from New Mexico Tech, and said, ‘I want you to get this project going. I need you’,” Aimone-Martin said. “That work came natural to us. We were blasting right next to tall buildings at the south end of Manhattan and we got the rock excavation completed on time.”

For four months in the dead of winter, Aimone-Martin oversaw seven or eight blasts every day, six days a week. She helped the blasters apply explosive products, set up instrumentation, and used vibration monitoring as a guide to blast designs.

“New York presents many challengers,” she said. “Manhattan schist is the hardest rock I’ve worked with.  We were blasting next to subways and high-rises. Some of the job sites were near iconic building such as Carnegie Hall, the Russian Tea Room, and Tiffany’s. We have to be extremely careful using explosives close-in to structures while everyone is watching. In addition, we must deal with the complexities of construction management and regulatory agencies.”

Aimone-Martin Associates is a company that specializes in blasting and vibration control.

“We are not a blasting company but rather we help blasters be the best they can,” Aimone-Martin said. “That’s my vision. We help blasters perform their work safely and in a cost-effective manner.”


Dr. Cathy Aimone-Martin oversees blasting project at the site of the World Trade Center in Manhattan.


Dr. Cathy Aimone-Martin said the World Trade Center project was one of the most challenging of her career -- and helped take her business into a new realm.

Photos courtesy of Cathy Aimone-Martin

Over the years, Aimone-Martin has assisted blasters in the application of many innovations to the explosives industry, including new explosives, detonators, initiation systems and developed new data-gathering instruments.

“We use data as a tool,” Aimone-Martin said. “We use special analyses of measured ground and structure motions to modify the blasting process in an effort to protect structures”. Keeping nearby structures safe during rock blasting is part of the public relations needed to be successful.

Her successes at the World Trade Center site led to several other high-profile jobs in Manhattan and necessitated the opening of an office in nearby New Jersey.

“The World Trade Center job was our breakthrough,” Aimone-Martin said. “That launched our career and took it to a new level. It has been a privilege to work there and on other projects.”

Around the same time, Aimone-Martin fielded an email from Anthony Simonitis, the special effects guru working on the Terminator: Salvation movie.

“I got an email from someone asking to purchase seismographs,” Aimone-Martin said. “I am always skeptical when people I do not know the person wanting to purchase equipment. I searched the internet and he turned out to be the top special effects person in Hollywood. So, I thought I’d better call him.”

Aimone-Martin helped monitor fireball-type “explosions” that later appeared in the movie.

Later this year, Aimone-Martin will work on a large New Mexico project – constructing in-take structures at the Ute Reservoir in Logan.

“I enjoy working on New Mexico projects, close to home” she said.

Aimone-Martin Associates first became incorporated in 2000 when she landed a large contract from the federal Office of Surface Mining. New Mexico Tech, as a public institution, could not administer the contract, so she started a shell company to run the grant. That grant supported five graduate students who conducted research on coal mine blasting. Upon her retirement, Aimone-Martin Associates continued consulting work with offices in Socorro and in Hawaii. Since then, she has worked all over the country.

She stays connected to New Mexico Tech in several ways. She teaches the Drilling and Blasting course and often hires Tech master’s students to work in the field.

“I love hiring Tech’s grad students,” Aimone-Martin said. “New Mexico Tech educates exceptional students in the explosives engineering programs. I have one mechanical engineering student now and I plan to hire one more.”

She fell in love with Socorro and New Mexico Tech almost instantly when she interviewed for a faculty position.

“I came to New Mexico in 1980 after earning a doctorate at Northwestern University and Socorro won my heart,” she said. “The people here are genuine and very dedicated”.

She served as department chair, advised dozens of graduate students, taught classes, conducted research and raised her two daughters. She used the mines of New Mexico as field laboratories.

“I was very lucky,” she said. “The administration was very supportive of independent ideas and helped the faculty to succeed”

Aimone-Martin always stayed in close contact with leaders in private industry – to find research projects and to better define the Mineral Engineering Department’s curriculum.

“I asked the mining industry what they needed in an engineer,” she said. “They wanted graduates that knew how to solve problems and how to communicate. So we revamped the curriculum based on that.”

The company is a family affair. Her daughter Jennifer runs the Socorro office and is the heir apparent to take over New Mexico operations. Her daughter Sara lives in Utah and recently completed her first engineering job for Aimone-Martin Associates.

Jennifer was the secret keeper and co-conspirator to surprise Cathy with the award at the annual ISEE banquet.

“It was a total surprise and I feel extremely honored,” she said. “I could not have achieved my successes without the support of my peers and colleagues. The blasting industry represents some of the most dedicated people in the field of engineering and I am proud to have joined the ranks”

– NMT –

By Thomas Guengerich/New Mexico Tech