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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
Microbiology

Powerful Bugs: Harnessing the Electric Eels of the Microbial World

“We’re studying the electric eels of the microbial world,” says Navanietha Krishnaraj, Ph.D., a research scientist in the Chemical and Biological Engineering department at SD Mines. - Photo Credit NOAA

Researchers at the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology are studying ways to harness electricity generated by a unique set of microbes. 

“We’re studying the electric eels of the microbial world,” says Navanietha Krishnaraj, Ph.D., a research scientist in the Chemical and Biological Engineering department at SD Mines.

Researchers, such as Venkata Gadhamshetty, Ph.D., an associate professor in the Civil and Environmental Engineering department at SD Mines, and his team including Namita Shrestha, Ph.D., are working on maximizing the efficiency of what’s known as bioelectrochemical systems. By understanding the right combination of microbes and materials it’s possible to harness clean energy for widespread use in various applications.

Possible outcomes of this research include new ways to generate electricity and treat solid waste during NASA space missions, the ability for a wastewater treatment plants to help generate electricity while turning effluent into clean water, a new way to clean saline wastewater generated in oil drilling operations, and better ways to turn food waste, like tomatoes and corn stover into elec...

Last Edited 8/30/2018 01:53:43 PM [Comments (0)]

SD Mines Researchers Trace Pollution from Historic Northern Hills Mine Tailings Hundreds of Miles Downstream

Students taking part in research on this project include Bryce Pfiefle, the lead author of this paper, who graduated from SD Mines with a master’s degree in geological engineering.

The Black Hills of South Dakota was once home to the largest underground gold mine in North America – the Homestake Mine. Following its closure in 2002, the mine was turned into the Sanford Underground Research Facility. But, newly published research shows evidence of the past mining activities can still be found hundreds of miles downstream.

The history of gold mining in the northern Black Hills dates back about 130 years. During the first to middle part of the 20th century, about 100-million tons of mine tailings went down Whitewood Creek and into the Belle Fourche, Cheyenne and Missouri rivers. Research by a group of scientists, including James Stone, Ph.D., a professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology, along with others at the USGS Dakota Water Science Center show elevated levels of arsenic and other contaminants in these historic mine tailings.  

“The concentrations in the pore waters and sediments were quite high for arsenic in some sampling sites,” says Stone. 

In the 1980s, mine tailings along Whitewood Creek, found to contain arsenic, mercury and other pollutants, became an Read Full Article

Last Edited 7/20/2018 01:54:58 PM [Comments (0)]

Ballooning in the Shadow of the Moon

This image, courtesy of the South Dakota Solar Eclipse Balloon Team, shows the moon's shadow crossing the Nebraska Panhandle during the Great American Eclipse of 2017.

At 10:35 a.m. on August 21, 2017, in a field in front of a small Nebraska Panhandle farmhouse, a team consisting of SD Mines students, Black Hills area high school students, teachers and community members, meticulously followed a set of steps they had practiced many times before. Payloads were carefully secured, batteries checked, and scientific instruments turned on and tested. Soon, helium was coursing through a hose from tanks in the back of a pickup truck into an eight-foot-tall balloon laid out on the soft grass.

Above the desolate cornfields and sandhills of northwestern Nebraska the moon was starting its path across the sun–the arc of its shadow racing across the country toward this team. The Great American Eclipse was underway.

The South Dakota Solar Eclipse Balloon Team had been working for two years to prepare for this one sliver in time. Their goal—to launch this balloon at the exact moment to loft the payload to an altitude of about 100,000 feet, under the moon’s shadow, during two minutes of totality. On board were video cameras, a radiation detector, GPS, and other scientific experiments. This project aimed to capture images and data from the eclipse. The radiation detector would help measure the flux of cosmic rays in the upper atmosphere as the moon obscured the sun. The video cameras would capture the circle of the moon’s shadow on the earth. The team designed and built some of ...

Last Edited 5/17/2018 03:53:34 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)]

As Good As Gold

Rajesh Sani, associate professor of chemical and applied biological sciences at SD Mines, is pictured third from left.

In 2009 the former Homestake Mine was a dark, wet, and difficult place to conduct research. The deepest mine in North America began filling with water following its closure in 2002. As momentum built to turn the mine into an underground lab, pumps were installed to dewater the flooded shafts and tunnels. As the water receded, Rajesh Sani, PhD, was among the first researchers to enter the deeper sections of the mine.

“We went 5,000 feet deep, for sampling which took a great deal of effort,” says Sani, an associate professor in the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering at SD Mines.

Sani and his team were not deep underground hunting for precious minerals, they were looking for bugs. “The microbes we found were as good as gold,” he says with a smile.

Extremophiles are microorganisms that live in harsh environments. They have learned to thrive in places like the geothermal vents of the mid-Atlantic rift, the frigid waters of Antarctic lakes, or the veins of hot water found in tiny cracks deep underground. Extremophiles have evolved unique characteristics that make them very useful to scientists like Sani. Twelve years after that first trip, the former Homestake Mine is now the Sanford Underground Research Facility (SURF). Today, the microbes discovered inside SURF are at the center of exciting new research at SD Mines.

The BuG ReMeDEE

In 201...

Last Edited 4/26/2018 01:34:38 PM [Comments (0)]

The Gas Cube – Turning Remote Base Waste Into Energy

The Gas Cube is a compact reactor that can turn waste into methane gas.

Cows, as many people know, have four stomachs. Cows also generate lots of methane.  So, if your goal is to describe a machine that turns food waste and cardboard into methane gas, the bovine digestive system is an analogy that makes some sense.  

“Our reactor is some ways a two-stomach cow,” says Jorge Gonzalez-Estrella, a post-doctoral research associate in the Chemical and Biological Engineering Department at Mines.

Gonzalez-Estrella is one of the researchers working on the Gas Cube project.  The semi-trailer-sized reactor is much larger than a cow, but it’s still portable. It’s one of the projects in development at Mines aimed at turning a range of remote base waste into energy. This is all thanks to a $4.8 million grant from the United States Air Force, $1.2 million of which funds the Gas Cube.  A remote Air Force Base can produce lots of waste. The Air Force seeks to save waste handling and fuel costs at mission-based remote bases. This is a challenge that the Gas Cube is designed to overcome. 

How does it work?  Back to the cow analogy. At the Gas Cube’s input, or mouth, a shredder grinds up the solid cardboard or food waste and deposits it in chamber number one. This is sort of like a cow chewing and swallowing its food. Then in that first chamber, or stomach number one, hydrolytic microorganisms break down the mix of food waste and cardboard into sugars, and fermenting microbes then break up those su...

Last Edited 4/26/2018 01:36:39 PM [Comments (0)]

Microscopy Trifecta Examines How Cells Engulf Nutrients, Viruses

As part of her doctoral research at the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology nanoscience and nanoengineering program, Amy Hor examines chemically fixed cells using correlated fluorescence and atomic force microscopy. She worked under the direction of professor Steve Smith. The collaborative research, which also involved microscopy teams from South Dakota State University and the National Institutes of Health, showed that membrane bending occurs at all stages of clathrin assembly.

Scientists have a better understanding of a mechanism that allows cells to internalize beneficial nutrients and not-so-beneficial viruses, thanks to collaboration among researchers from two South Dakota universities and the National Institutes of Health.           

South Dakota State University associate professor Adam Hoppe, South Dakota School of Mines & Technology professor Steve Smith and NIH scientists Justin Taraska and Kem Sochacki combined three unique types of microscopy to track how a protein called clathrin triggers cell membrane bending. They found that clathrin, which creates a honeycomb shaped scaffold on the cell membrane, has an unexpected amount of plasticity when pinching off small portions of the cell membrane. Their work was published in the Jan. 29, 2018, issue of Nature Communications.

Hoppe and Smith work collaboratively through the South Dakota BioSystems Networks and Translational Research (BioSNTR) center, which is funded through the South Dakota Research Innovation Center program and the National Science Foundation’s Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research program. A greater understanding of how cells internalize material will help BioSNTR researchers working with Sioux Falls-based SAB Biotheraputics to develop new alternative treatments for influenza.

The contributions of NIH scientists Justin Taraska and Kem Sochacki were made possible through a federally fund...

Last Edited 4/26/2018 01:37:40 PM [Comments (0)]

SD Mines Researchers Pioneer New Testing Method That Identifies Pathogenic Potential in South Dakota Waterways

The project included over 1000 DNA extractions from bacteria in water samples taken out of Rapid Creek and the Big Sioux River over a two-year period.

Researchers at the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology have completed a groundbreaking study on harmful bacteria found in two important South Dakota waterways. The research, undertaken by Ph.D. candidate Kelsey Murray, found genes related to harmful E. coli in parts of the Big Sioux River and Rapid Creek.  

Public health officials often test streams and rivers for fecal coliform bacteria or E. coli, as this group of bacteria can be an indicator of pollution from animal or human waste. But, not all forms of E. coli are dangerous to humans; in-fact most are harmless. This study pioneered new testing methods that more accurately assess the public health risk from fecal contaminated waters by singling out and testing for genes associated with harmful forms of E. coli, including Shiga-toxigenic E. coli (STEC). 

Murray’s research, performed under Linda DeVeaux, Ph.D., and Lisa Kunza, Ph.D., is titled “Path-STREAM: Development and Implementation of a Novel Method for Determining Potential Risk from Pathogenic Bacteria in Surface Water Environments” Path-STREAM stands for Pathogenicity Profiling: Shiga Toxins and Related E. coli Attributes identification Method.

The project included over 1000 DNA extractions from bacteria in water samples taken out of Rapid Creek and the Big Sioux River over a two-year period. The effort built a method to identify the pathogenic genes associated with STEC and other...

Last Edited 8/24/2018 03:49:36 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)]

DeVeaux, Kunza, Murray Study E. coli in State Waters

Mines researchers have been testing toxin levels in South Dakota waterways in an effort to trace the extent and the origins.

The Big Sioux River and Rapid Creek winding through the heart of South Dakota’s two biggest cities transform into nature’s playground during the summer months, but they are far from pristine. They are among the nearly 70 percent of waterways on the state’s list of impaired bodies that do not meet water-quality standards. 

The Big Sioux has been on the list nearly two decades, but until last year no one had sampled it for genes that can make the often-harmless E. coli into a disease-causing pathogen, which sickens around 95,000 Americans annually, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Faculty researchers Dr. Lisa Kunza, an aquatic ecologist, and Dr. Linda DeVeaux, a microbiologist and geneticist, both from the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology Department of Chemistry & Applied Biological Sciences, are searching for answers that could ultimately improve public safety. Biomedical engineering doctoral student Kelsey Murray has been assisting.

Their initial findings last spring caused alarm among Sioux Falls city and county officials. Ninety-five percent of the samples pulled from Skunk Creek and the Big Sioux, both in Sioux Falls, contained a Shiga toxin gene that can turn E. coli into a dangerous strain. Intimin, a gene that helps E. coli colonies embed themselves in the human gut and thrive, was found in 100 percent of the samples.

In comparison, the prese...

Last Edited 11/3/2016 03:04:35 PM [Comments (0)]