Mines News

Release Date Friday, August 19, 2022

High School Students Spend Summer Doing University Research at South Dakota Mines Thanks to Army Program

Olivia Grinager, an incoming freshman at Mines, spent the summer helping analyze the chemical formulation and the application of glazes on new types of pottery clays. Samuel Barnes, a high school student, spent his summer working on projects like the manufacturing of nanofiber filaments.



Two high school students spent their summer contributing to high-level research projects at South Dakota Mines thanks to a special program funded by the US Army.

The Army Education Outreach Program (AEOP) joins with Mines each summer to host the Research and Engineering Apprenticeship (REAP) program. REAP provides opportunities for pre-college students to conduct research for five to eight weeks alongside faculty and graduate students.

“High school students come to the table with a fresh mind, and there is value in the perspective they can sometimes bring that yields simple solutions to complex problems,” says Katrina Donovan, Ph.D., a lecturer of materials & metallurgical engineering at Mines who led the university’s REAP program this summer.

Samuel Barnes, a junior at Stevens High School in Rapid City, worked in the Karen M. Swindler Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering as a member of Dr. Travis Walker’s research group alongside Dr. Maryam Amouamouha. Barnes helped develop the high-end manufacturing process of nanofiber filaments. These filaments make up the water filters inside the AMBER wastewater treatment system being developed at the university.

“Sam was an important team member who helped solve problems in manufacturing centrifugal spun nanofibers. He is a resourceful and innovative student,” says Amouamouha, Ph.D., a graduate student and entrepreneur at Mines. 

Barnes says the experience gave him a taste of the interdisciplinary cooperation required to advance cutting-edge science and engineering projects. 

“I think it really showed me what an overlap there is between all of the STEM fields,” says Barnes. “In our centrifugal spinning setup, everything had to work in harmony and this meant that all the individual systems had to be perfect – the chemicals we were using, the motor and its electrical system and the code that ran the entire thing. If one thing went wrong, we would have to troubleshoot everything to figure out what caused the problem and we had to become experts in many different systems in order for the project as a whole to come together."

Olivia Grinager, an incoming freshman at Mines, graduated from Rapid City Christian School. Grinager spent the summer working in the Department of Materials and Metallurgical Engineering with Donovan and two undergraduate researchers, Kiran Green and Isabel Nielson. She helped analyze the chemical formulation and application of glazes on new types of pottery clays that have undergone various forms of processing.

“She came in on a newly founded National Science Foundation arts and engineering grant and quickly became a real contributor to the team,” says Donovan. Grinager’s work will be used to inform further pedagogy in materials science and ongoing efforts to create new local pottery clays and glazes at Mines.

Grinager gained experience with scientific equipment such as an X-Ray Diffractometer and a scanning electron microscope. “My favorite part was the hands-on experience in the lab and learning to throw clay,” she says. “I really enjoyed learning about some of the more creative sides of engineering.” 

The research that both Grinager and Barnes took part in is being prepared for submission to scientific journals for later publication.

“It is a short program and it’s amazing how much these students grow in just two months,” says Donovan. “Before long, they are coming up with their own innovative ideas that advance the science itself.  It’s wonderful to see them evolve.”

For faculty like Donovan, there is great value in seeing young people get laboratory experience in their high school and early college career. These students are the innovators of tomorrow.

“Educationally and experiencedly a program like this can springboard students to become very useful in a research setting,” says Donovan.

For Grinager, the summer solidified her future plans. “This experience reinforced my decision to pursue a degree in STEM,” she says.

Barnes enjoyed the experience of overcoming multiple challenges that lead to a successful manufacturing process for the nanofiber filaments by the end of his experience. “The best part was definitely when we finally managed to get our centrifugal spinner working,” he says. “We had been working on it for two months and I was really glad to be around for some of the milestones, particularly when we used it to make fibers for the first time. It was a really great feeling to see our hard work come to fruition, especially through all of our setbacks and struggles, and it made me feel proud of what we had accomplished. Engineering isn't easy, but that makes a working project feel all the more rewarding.”



About South Dakota Mines  

Founded in 1885, South Dakota Mines is one of the nation’s leading engineering, science and technology universities. South Dakota Mines offers bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees and a best-in-class education at an affordable price. The university enrolls 2,493 students with an average class size of 24. The South Dakota Mines placement rate for graduates is 98 percent, with an average starting salary of more than $70,036. For these reasons  South Dakota Mines is ranked among the best engineering schools in the country for return on investment. Find us online at www.sdsmt.edu and on FacebookTwitter, LinkedInInstagram, and Snapchat.

Contact: Mike Ray, 605-394-6082, mike.ray@sdsmt.edu

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