First Ph.D. in mining engineering at South Dakota Mines builds computer program to improve underground mine safety
Ankit Jha, Ph.D. is the first graduate of South Dakota Mines’ new doctoral program in mining engineering.
Dr. Jha’s research, conducted under Associate Professor Purushotham Tukkaraja, Ph.D., included a new computer system that integrates and enhances underground mine ventilation, safety, communication and rescue operations. The concept involves developing a command center with software that allows for real-time tracking of individuals on digital maps inside a mine. It also records real-time sensor data from the atmospheric monitoring system within the mine. The data collected with specific algorithms from mine ventilation engineering and computer science were utilized in developing the software.
When the system alerts operators of danger, it highlights the fastest and safest path for a mine rescue and recovery operation. Jha’s research also examined the flammability of ventilation ducts in underground mines and made recommendations for improvements. Furthermore, Jha investigated efficient ventilation designs to mitigate radon emission in underground metal mines by using experiments and computational fluid dynamics simulations.
In his dissertation, Jha writes, “As mine rescue operations are stressful because human lives are at stake, it is not surprising that pertinent information could be missed, which could adversely affect the rescue operation. Decision-making in a rescue operation is tedious and requires the consideration of different variables at stake.”
This work has the potential to save lives and improve the bottom line for future mining operations. “An integrated system that combines mine ventilation, air quality monitoring, location data of miners, and enhanced rescue operations would be very beneficial to the industry,” says Dr. Tukkaraja. During the project, Jha built the backbone of the software program, but he says further refinement is needed to make it ready for the marketplace.
“Definitely we are looking into commercialization,” says Dr. Tukkaraja. The next steps include working with the mine rescue team at the Sanford Underground Research Facility in Lead to continue testing and developing this system in real-world scenarios.
Jha’s research was funded in part by a 2014 grant of $1.25 million from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). “I’m very grateful this Ph.D. gave me the opportunity to undertake a broad range of study, from computer science to mining engineering. This work helped me land an internship while studying and an eventual job in the industry. South Dakota Mines got me to where I am today,” says Jha.
Jha graduated the spring of 2020. The new Ph.D. program in mining engineering started in fall 2017 and is a combined effort of the university’s Department of Geology and Geological Engineering and the Department of Mining Engineering and Management.