By Thomas Guengerich
SOCORRO, N.M., Oct. 3, 2008 – New Mexico Tech sophomore Joe Koby (right) was selected to present a research poster at an annual conference in Tennessee.
Koby is a sophomore materials engineering student who graduated from McCurdy High School in Espanola.
He will be presenting his research about the properties of various types of sandstone at the Science & Energy Research Challenge, hosted by the U.S. Department of Energy.
Deidre Hirschfeld, professor of materials engineering at Tech, said Koby’s selection is an excellent sign that he’s doing great work.
“His research is quite compelling,” she said. “He’s an exceptional student – very bright and personable.”
The event was open to any college student who worked for the Department of Energy. Koby recently finished his second summer working at Los Alamos National Laboratory.
“He’s one of many New Mexico Tech students who get the unique opportunity of working at Los Alamos,” Hirschfeld said. “And he’s typical of those students – outstanding.”
Koby was pleased to be invited to the SERCh conference, but he didn’t seem terribly surprised.
“My mentor, Jim Tencate of LANL, has been putting research posters together for a long time,” he said. “I was happy with how this poster came out, and it was pretty validating to be invited.”
Koby has high hopes for his research to be published. He said the work to which he has contributed is under review for publication in Geophysics Research Letters, one of the most prominent journals in the field.
Koby has been investigating the various properties of sandstone for two main purposes: to examine how oil might be extracted from oil-rich sandstone deposits.
“Basically, we squeeze it and see how much it squashes,” he said. “I could explain it better than that, but it gets pretty technical. Rock behaves very interestingly when you take those measurements.”
Koby studied a variety of sandstones with different compositions – some “clean” samples with high quartz content and other “dirty” samples with more clay and dirt.
“To make a long story short, they behave differently, as expected,” he said.
Funded by Chevron, Koby and his fellow researchers aimed to find how oil bonds to sandstone and how it might be extracted.
Also of concern to the oil and gas industry is carbon dioxide and how to sequester the toxin. Because sandstone is quite porous, sandstone deposits represent a potential media for trapping and storing CO2, he said.
Koby found an interest in sandstone because it shares properties with plastic explosives, “which I’m way into,” he said.
“They behave similarly, but I can study sandstone properties without all the paperwork and security clearances it requires to research explosives,” he said. “I’ve been into explosives as long as I can remember. I was one of the few people in my kindergarten class who knew what nitroglycerine was.”
For now, Koby has thrown himself into materials engineering and plans to become a member of the Tech chapter of International Society of Explosives Engineers.
– NMT –