Tech Students Present Research Papers at Mining Association Conference, Sept. 15, 2008

By Thomas Guengerich

SOCORRO, N.M., Sept. 15, 2008 – Four New Mexico Tech graduate students got a taste of the experience of presenting research to a roomful of professionals at the New Mexico Mining Association conference in Grants on Friday, Sept. 5.

More than 300 professionals from various mining and engineering companies attended the conference, many of whom heard the four students present their papers.

Eric Osantowski, Samuel Nunoo, Bahareh Ghazvinian and Melissa Lindholm offered their research for the review of a roomful of mining professionals Friday.

“At first glance, I was nervous,” said Samuel Nunoo, a master’s student in mineral engineering. “I thought it was going to be a small group, but then I realized it was a big one. After I got started, I became more comfortable.”

Lindholm had experience as an undergraduate presenting research at a Geological Society of America conference.

“It was a little nerve-wracking, but not as big as GSA,” she said. “In the mining industry people are pretty informal. Plus, they’re easy to talk to and they’re pretty engaged.”

Nunoo talked about his research into the mountainous mine rock pile at the Questa molybdenum mine north of Taos. He reported that weathering of rock fragments in rock piles since their formation 30 to 40 years ago has not noticeably changed their original angularity. Because greater angularity of particles can contribute to the stability of rock piles, Nunoo concluded that weathering has not adversely affected the stability of the rock piles with respect to changes in grain shape.

Osantowski, a doctoral student in chemistry, is also studying the stability of the Questa mine rock piles. He presented his findings from an investigation using a deionized water leach method to learn more about the chemical weathering of rocks.

“Eric’s project evaluates how the chemical weathering might affect the stability of the rock pile,” professor Michael Pullin said. “In his experiments, we are weathering rock material and tracking changes in the lab.”

Osantowski is in the final stages of a research assistantship funded by Chevron Mining Inc. to investigate the effects of weathering on slope stability of mine rock piles.

David Jacobs, senior geologist for Chevron Mining at Questa, said both research papers provide insight into understanding the processes and products that may affect the stability of rock piles.

Osantowski’s and Nunoo’s research is part of the Questa Rock Pile Weathering and Stability Project, the goal of which is to develop a methodology to assess the long-term effect – as long as 1000 years – of weathering on the gravitational stability of rock piles, especially those at the Questa mine.

“Our partnership with New Mexico Tech has contributed to greater scientific and technical performance than if we were to go it alone,” Jacobs said.

Bahareh Ghazvinian, a master’s student in geotechnical engineering, presented her research about erosion control by chemical additives, specifically cement kiln dust. She has found that using cement kiln dust, when done carefully, can reduce erosion for a variety of applications, including civil engineering, agriculture and mining.

Ghazvinian, who recently completed an internship with Freeport McMoRan in Morenci, Ariz., found that cement kiln dust significantly improves properties of loose soils, including shear strength and plasticity characteristics.

Lindholm, a master’s student in geology, recently returned from her second summer as a junior geologist in remote southwest Alaska. She presented her research into the geology of the untapped Pebble Deposit.

Lindholm presented her findings that relate to the zoning and composition of the Western Hemisphere’s largest deposit of copper and gold.

“Pebble’s spectacular size and potential make any investigation of this system interesting to exploration geologists, as well as ore genesis researchers,” she wrote.

Lindholm worked for the company for the past two summers, helping drill core samples and create three-dimensional mineral zone images of large portions of the subterranean ore bodies. Her work is contributing to the basic understanding of the geology and formation of the ore.

– NMT –