Research Inquiries

For inquiries related to SD Mines Research, contact:

Research Affairs

S.D. School of Mines & Technology
501 E. St. Joseph Street
Suite 102, O'Harra Building
Rapid City, SD  57701

(605) 394-2493

Research@Mines - by Subject
Entrepreneurs

Engineering End to Back Pain

Marit Johnson, a PhD candidate at SD Mines, is focusing her research on intervertebral discs in the lower back.

There is a good chance you are sitting down right now. It’s possible you’ve been sitting all day, or maybe you’ve even been sitting every day for the last few decades.

“There is a trend in the 21st century that 80 percent of our jobs require sitting, and it’s even more so when you include leisure time,” says Marit Johnson (CE 96), a PhD candidate in biomedical engineering at SD Mines.

You may guess that spending all this time in a chair is not so good for your health. In fact, research is now showing prolonged sitting may contribute to lower back pain. “Eighty percent of us will experience back pain in our lifetime,” says Johnson. "If your job requires long hours in a chair, back pain can be a real issue."

Johnson’s research is focused on the intervertebral discs of the lower back. These discs are in between the vertebrae, or bones, of the spine, and their softer tissue provides cushion and flexibility. They are key components of a healthy and functional spine.

Research shows that intervertebral discs need to exchange fluid to maintain a healthy environment, similar to how our bodies need breathing to exchange carbon dioxide with oxygen for our survival. “Typically, when we wake up in the morning we’re taller,” says Johnson. At night when we sleep the discs pull in fluid and they expand. As the day goes on,...

Last Edited 5/25/2018 11:36:38 AM [Comments (0)]

SD Mines Helps Keep Two of the World’s Most Sensitive Dark Matter Experiments Clean

Radon reduction researchers pictured with the machine they designed are (from left to right) SD Mines physics graduate student Joseph Street, Richard Schnee, Ph.D., along with lab technicians David Molash and Christine Hjelmfelt.

South Dakota School of Mines & Technology is helping to ensure highly sensitive underground dark matter experiments are free of radon that could contaminate the results. SD Mines researchers are building a radon mitigation system at SNOLAB in Canada and at the Sanford Underground Research Facility (SURF) in Lead, S.D.

The team, led by Richard Schnee, Ph.D., professor and head of the physics department at SD Mines, is building machines that filter out radon particles to produce ultra-pure air needed for the SuperCDMS experiment in SNOLAB and for the LZ (LUX-ZEPLIN) experiment in SURF.  The team is also helping ensure the parts used to build the experiments are relatively free of radon.

“Our detectors need very low levels of radon,” Schnee says. While the radon levels at the 4850 Level at SURF are safe for humans, they are too high for sensitive experiments like LZ, which go deep underground to escape cosmic radiation, Schnee explains. “We will take regular air from the facility and the systems will reduce the levels by 1,000 times or more.”

The system in SURF will be installed in the...

Last Edited 5/17/2018 03:54:35 PM [Comments (0)]

SD Mines Researchers Work to Develop Latent Fingerprint and DNA Collection System

The Latent Fingerprint Extraction Team includes (from left to right) Sierra Rasmussen, graduate student; Jon Kellar Ph.D., Mines; William Cross Ph.D., Mines; John Hillard, undergraduate student; John Rapp, graduate student; Stanley May, Ph.D., USD; Jeevan Meruga, Ph.D., SecureMarking, LLC.

Researchers at South Dakota School of Mines & Technology and the University of South Dakota in Vermillion have received a grant of more than $840,000 from the National Institute of Justice to research the development of a handheld device that will read fingerprints and potentially collect DNA. The device, which might look like a handheld bar code reader or be attached to a smartphone, uses nanoparticles and infrared light to detect latent fingerprints on surfaces where fingerprint extraction has traditionally been difficult.    

“We’re designing the whole system,” says Bill Cross, Ph.D., a professor in the Department of Materials and Metallurgical Engineering at SD Mines. “This also could potentially connect via the internet to various fingerprint databases and produce real time results at the scene of the crime or back in the forensic lab.” 

Traditional development of fingerprints has limitations due to several factors, such as the surface where fingerprints are found. Tools with neon colored handles, for example, don’t work well with some curren...

Last Edited 4/26/2018 04:31:36 PM [Comments (0)]

Killing Anthrax

Lori Groven, PhD, an assistant professor in the chemical and biological engineering department at SD Mines, is pioneering new ways to fight biological weapons.

In the weeks following the September 11th attacks, a series of letters containing anthrax spores arrived at media outlets and the offices of US Senators Tom Daschle and Patrick Leahy. The acts of bioterrorism gripped the nation in confusion, anger, and fear. Scores were hospitalized and five people died. It was a senseless tragedy. But, it could have been much worse.

“Ten grams of anthrax spores could wipe out all of Washington, DC, and the surrounding area,” says Lori Groven, (BS ChE, MS ChE, PhD Nanoscience and Nanoengineering). “Biological weapons are scary for everybody, because it takes so little to do so much damage,” she adds. The minimum lethal dose for anthrax is estimated to be 5-10,000 spores, and one gram of anthrax contains well over a trillion spores. 

Groven is a research scientist and assistant professor in the chemical and biological engineering department at Mines. She and her team are part way through a five-year half-million-dollar grant from the Defense Threat Reduction Agency. The research has led to new materials and methods for combating bioterrorism.

One challenge Groven and her team have faced is the instability of the chemicals currently used to neutralize biological weapons. These compounds, or biocides, are made up mostly of a fuel and oxidizer (iodate) powder. They have a very short shelf life. “This stuff doesn’t age very well," says Groven. “If you put it out on the counter,...

Last Edited 4/26/2018 01:40:45 PM [Comments (0)]

SD Mines Researchers Hope to Sanford Lab Extremophiles to Create Low-Cost Renewable and Biodegradable Polymers

Courtney Carlson, a senior majoring in Chemical Engineering at SD Mines (right) and researcher Navanietha Krishnaraj Rathinam, Ph.D., (left) work in the Chemical and Biological Engineering and Chemistry (CBEC) building at SD Mines. Carlson and Krishnaraj Rathinam are using benchtop reactors in the lab to perform CNAM-Bio research that seeks to optimize and scale-up the manufacturing of biopolymers from lignocellulosic biomass using extremophiles. The center is a scanning electron microscope image of the bacteria the research team are studying.

A team of researchers with the Composite and Nanocomposite Advanced Manufacturing – Biomaterials Center (CNAM), led by David Salem, Ph.D., at the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology are using microbes that were discovered deep underground in the Sanford Underground Research Facility (SURF) in an attempt to make low-cost plastics that are renewable and biodegradable.

“Most commercial polymers, or plastics are petroleum based which is a non-renewable resource,” says Salem. The team is working to find ways to mass manufacture low-cost plant based plastics and composites. “A problem with bio-based polymers is they are expensive, and one goal of this center is to use genetically engineered microbes to help reduce the cost of manufacturing these kinds of plastics,” says Salem. “Another goal is to engineer the properties of the biopolymers and biocomposites to serve a wide range of commercial applications.”

There is a huge potential for new green-based manufacturing jobs in the area if the center succeeds in developing mass manufacturing techniques for turning plants into low-cost bio-based polymers.

“The top ten petroleum based polymers make up about a $500-billion global market,” says Salem. “These biopolymers potentially can cover the whole range of properties of those.”

A group, led by Rajesh Sani, Ph.D., from SD Mines’ Department of Chemical & Biological Engineering, have isolated th...

Last Edited 6/20/2017 10:39:43 AM [Comments (0)]