SOCORRO, N.M., March 13, 2001 -- New Mexico Tech has harbored a longstanding tradition of educating professional engineers for the mining industry since the university's inception 112 years ago. And, as such, teaching its mining students to use explosives has always been part of the university's specialized curricula.
However, it wasn't until last semester that New Mexico Tech began offering its students the opportunity to pursue either bachelor of science or master of science degrees with specializations in explosives engineering. So far, two degree granting programs at the university have opted to offer degrees with particular emphases on explosives engineering. Mineral Engineering offers explosives engineering as a specialty on both the bachelor's level and the master's level, and Engineering Mechanics offers the specialization within its master's program.
In conjunction with these new academic degree specializations, New Mexico Tech also has established the Center for Explosives Research and Education, a new research entity designed to link all the existing academic programs at the university which are related to education and research in the various disciplines of explosives science and engineering.
The Center also was initiated as a means of fostering interdisciplinary education and research collaborations in explosives engineering among Tech, other universities, related industries and government agencies, and national laboratories.
"The Center for Explosives Research and Education has been set up primarily to educate Tech students," says Catherine T. Aimone-Martin, professor of mineral engineering at New Mexico Tech and coordinator of the university's mineral engineering program. "Every department that we have here at New Mexico Tech can participate in the Center.
"And, it's important to note that it's not a center supported by money," she adds. "Instead, it's a center supported by people."
"The Center is designed to function as a clearinghouse, or as a transfer station, if you will," says Harold Walling, an associate professor of mechanical engineering at Tech. "As a result, the Center and the associated academic programs at New Mexico Tech in explosives engineering do not become internal programs, but instead become external programs."
Distance education, therefore, becomes an important aspect of the ongoing operations conducted at the Center for Explosives Research and Education, Walling points out.
"With distance education, the focus broadens from students who are at Tech for two or more years, pursuing graduate degrees, to include professionals who may already be working in industry or at Sandia or Los Alamos national labs and who also want to pursue an advanced degree in the field," Walling relates.
In turn, especially now through New Mexico Tech's recent connection to the state-of-the-art Internet 2, Tech students will have the opportunity to take classes transmitted from other universities on a real-time basis . . . and at a fraction of the cost the university would typically pay for a standard satellite- based instructional television hook-up.
In fact, on March 26, five New Mexico Tech students pursuing degrees with an emphasis in explosives engineering will begin taking an on-line course in "construction vibrations," being transmitted from Northwestern University through the Internet 2 and marking the first time the state-supported university in Socorro has employed the cutting-edge technology in one of its
"Through a reciprocal agreement, Northwestern University students will come to Tech later this summer to complete the field component of the course," says Aimone-Martin. "They'll get hands-on experience at a New Mexico mine site that they wouldn't be able to obtain at Northwestern. And, this coming fall semester, we'll be sending a drilling and blasting course back to Northwestern via the Internet 2.
"These type of cooperative agreements, spurred by the Center for Explosives Research and Education and the Internet 2, expand the capabilities of Tech, as well as other universities, and enhance the educational and research components of this university," she maintains.
"Interest in the new academic emphases available in explosives engineering is increasing," says Navid Mojtabai, associate professor of mineral engineering and chair of that department at New Mexico Tech. "Students here at Tech already are asking, 'How can I take some courses in this new program?' And, we've also had people from the mining industry, for instance, asking us, 'How do I get recertified as a blaster?' Through arrangements with this new center and Tech's existing Energetic Materials Research and Testing Center, we'll also be able to provide certification in explosives processing."
And, to further underscore the burgeoning student interest in things that go boom at New Mexico Tech, Aimone-Martin points to a charter which was recently awarded to the newly formed Tech student chapter of the International Society of Explosives Engineers: "It's only the fourth student chapter that has been established among all the universities," she says, "and already there are well over 100 members, making it the fastest growing student organization on campus."