Having a blast at summer camp

Students participate in a demolition during Explosives Camp at S&T's Experimental Mine.

Students participate in a demolition during Explosives Camp at S&T’s Experimental Mine. Photo by Aimee Whitmire/Missouri S&T

Who needs the campfires and bugs that traditional summer camps offer when you can learn how to detonate dynamite instead?

For 10 years, incoming high school juniors and seniors have come to Missouri S&T’s Explosives Camp looking forward to a week of demolition and explosives demonstrations – the perfect mix of education and exhilaration. This year’s sessions didn’t disappoint, providing campers with many opportunities to test-drive the technology that moves the mining industry forward.

A few years ago, Blaine Benham, a junior from San Diego, California, watched a controlled implosion take down a decommissioned power plant in his home state. He came to Explosives Camp seeking a broader perspective on the use of explosives.

“This camp isn’t like others. It’s hands-on and very interactive,” he says. “At other camps, they would show you things like dynamite. But here, they let you use it.”

During the two, one-week sessions, high school juniors and seniors from across the U.S. learned about priming and shooting dynamite, rock blasting, display fireworks and, most important, safety.

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 The above gallery, courtesy of Sam O’Keefe and Aimee Whitmire, gives a glimpse into the fun, activities and surroundings at this year’s Explosives Camp.

Creighton Miles, a senior from Advance, Missouri, first attended Explosives Camp last year, after hearing about how Popular Science named the university’s Experimental Mine its No. 1 “Awesome College Lab.” He says explosives have always fascinated him. He came back this year because he wants to eventually do research and development in the explosives field.

“I really like setting off the blasts underground,” Miles says. “We learned how to prime and detonate a stick of dynamite in order to shoot a hole in the mine. I couldn’t stop grinning when we shot it off. After we shot off more, I realized one stick wasn’t that much. But at the time, it was awesome!”

Many of these activities took place at the university’s Experimental Mine but campers also took several field trips for exclusive experiences at nearby industry partners, including Capital Quarries, Buckley Powder, Doe Run’s Brushy Creek Mine and Premier Pyrotechnics. Here on campus, they also learned how to use dragline and shovel-trucks in a virtual surface mining simulator – the only one of its kind at a university – and operate two bomb squad robots brought in by the Department of Defense.

Paul Worsey, professor of mining and nuclear engineering at Missouri S&T, leads the camp. He says the field trips to Doe Run and other corporate partners provide a critical part of the camp experience.

“It shows real life,” he says. “We’re not just talking about it.”

For example, at Capital Quarries Holt Summit facility, campers witnessed a lift shot that used 23,000 pounds of explosives. The blast, which was confined on all sides, moved more than 30,000 tons of rock. They also were able to handle the company’s drone, which is used in mapping the facility.

The above video, courtesy of Keith Anderson at Buckley Powder, shows a lift shot at Capital Quarries’ Holt Summit facility.

During another field trip, Maria Fischer, a senior from Wentzville, Mo., and other campers operated a remote-controlled loader 11,000-feet underground at Doe Run’s Brushy Creek Mine. She says she didn’t have much experience with explosives engineering before coming to the camp but now feels very comfortable with it. Her favorite camp activity was the “Arts and Crafts with C4” class, where students made shape chargers that were used to cut through metal.

“We also blew up dynamite, a tube of emulsion and a booster made of PETN and TNT,” she says. “They have quite a shock wave.”

Campers ended the activity-packed week with a few booms at the Experimental Mine by setting up a fireworks display for their parents.

Missouri S&T became the first university in the nation to offer a minor in explosives engineering (through its mining engineering program) in 2005. The university now offers a master’s degree and Ph.D. in explosives engineering as well.

By Mindy Limback
Photos by Sam O’Keefe and Aimee Whitmire, Missouri S&T