King blazes path through math

Christina King teaches math at Owensville High School

Christina King teaches math at Owensville High School on Nov. 3, 2015. An OHS graduate, King plans to pursue a teaching career after graduating from Missouri S&T. Sam O’Keefe/Missouri S&T

No one told her she couldn’t do it. No one, that is, but herself.

Christina King graduated from Owensville (Missouri) High School in 1997, and her path was clear — and it didn’t include college.

“It wasn’t really anything I thought I could do,” King says. “Coming out of high school, I wanted to get married and start a family. Going to college wasn’t anything I even thought about.”

Eighteen years later, that thought has been turned upside down, and King is set to become a December 2015 graduate of Missouri S&T with a bachelor’s degree in mathematics.

Before coming to Missouri S&T, King’s path was just as she envisioned it. She married her high school sweetheart, Jason. She had two girls, Kaitlynn and Cassidy.

Before she knew it, King’s children were school age. And with Jason gone for a week at a time working as a welder on railroad bridges, King needed something to do. When her youngest daughter Cassidy, now 15, was in kindergarten, King volunteered at the girls’ school.

The seed was planted for her college career to come.

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Celebrating ‘110010’ years of computer science

Missouri S&T Computer Science Golden JubileeThe first computer on the Missouri S&T campus — a Librascope General Precision, or LGP-30 — was about the size of two desks. Its memory was nonexistent. It retailed for $47,000, or about $400,000 in today’s dollars.

It was worth the price, too. That first computer sowed the seeds of the computer science program at Missouri S&T, the first of its kind in Missouri and a national leader in the field.

To celebrate, Missouri S&T is kicking off a Golden Jubilee celebration marking 50 years (or 110010 years in binary code) of its computer science degree program, says Pam Leitterman, who earned a bachelor of science degree in mathematics from the university in 1975 and is president of the Academy of Computer Science. The celebration will last through the fall 2015 and spring 2016 semesters. [Read more…]

Close-knit S&T lures, launches Lampe to success

Missouri S&T graduate Kyle Lampe, now an assistant professor at the University of Virginia, is conducting research that may one day lead to treatments for multiple sclerosis and other diseases.

Missouri S&T graduate Kyle Lampe, now an assistant professor at the University of Virginia, is conducting research that may one day lead to treatments for multiple sclerosis and other diseases. Photo contributed by the University of Virginia

Twenty-one thousand, three-hundred ninety-five. That’s the difference between Kyle Lampe, the English literature scholar and Kyle Lampe, the chemical engineer. That number is the difference in enrollment between Iowa State University (26,110) and Missouri S&T (4,715) when Lampe started college in 1999.

Bigger was not better for Lampe, who earned a bachelor of science degree in chemical engineering at Missouri S&T in 2004, and now is an assistant professor of chemical engineering at the University of Virginia.

“I didn’t want to go to Iowa State because it was just too big,” says Lampe, who grew up in Clarinda, Iowa – a town of 5,806. “I felt like I would get lost there.

“When I went to Rolla, it was the right size school. I didn’t know anybody, but I got to know a lot of people, and the professors knew your name. When I got to Rolla … everybody was on equal footing. Nerdy was cool.”

These days, Lampe leads his own “nerdy” engineering students in cutting-edge research that may one day lead to cures or treatments for diseases such as multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and people who have suffered a stroke or a spinal cord injury. The work is done through the Lampe Biomaterials Group, which launched at U.Va. in 2014.

There, Lampe is using synthetic polymer materials to encapsulate oligodendrocytes in a 3-D hydrogel that simulates properties of the brain. Oligodendrocytes are cells with many branches that support and insulate axons in the central nervous system by wrapping the axons in a myelin sheath. In people with MS, Lampe says, the oligodendrocytes go haywire. Finding a way to target or replace the malfunctioning oligodendrocytes could lead to a treatment.

For people who have suffered a stroke — the second-leading cause of death worldwide — treatments such as transplanting neural stem cells are ineffective, Lampe says, because 95 percent of those cells die within a week. Using a new biodegradable polymer hydrogel might be more effective because as they erode, they scavenge free radicals, thus acting like an antioxidant in the brain. Being able to place the slowly released antioxidants in a specific site of injury could help limit a stroke’s damage, Lampe says.

It’s the kind of work Lampe was — well, maybe not born to do, but it’s his life’s work now.

“I knew I was interested in engineering and science, the STEM disciplines,” says Lampe, who saw one of his older brothers, Paul, graduate from S&T in 1990 with an electrical engineering degree.

Kyle credits his advisor, Oliver Sitton, associate professor of chemical and biochemical engineering, with igniting his spark for research. With Dave Westenberg, associate professor of biological sciences, he dove into research.

“When you meet him, you know he’s going to be successful,” says Westenberg while leafing through Lampe’s old research notebook. “He picks up what he learned, and he works hard to put his own stamp on it.”

From Rolla, Lampe went to the University of Colorado Boulder for his Ph.D. in chemical engineering. After five years at Colorado, Lampe worked as a post-doctoral fellow at Stanford University for three years to prepare for a research-intensive faculty position.

He has no problem with motivation.

“The thing I’m most excited about … the thing that gets me up is working with students,” Lampe says. “The fun part is, it’s different every day. There’s always something new and exciting.”

At S&T, he kept busy, not just with coursework. He was a resident assistant for two years at Thomas Jefferson Residence Hall, and then was the head RA at the Quad. He also acted in nine plays and musicals, including My Three Angels, The Foreigner, My Fair Lady, Guys and Dolls, and Camelot.

And he met his wife of eight years, Lisa Hartman Lampe, who earned her bachelor of science degree in applied mathematics from S&T in 2004. Lampe also works at Virginia as the director of undergraduate success in the School of Engineering and Applied Science.

For Kyle, everything that has followed started at S&T.

“Obviously, I got my initial training in how to approach research not from a lecture course, but with an approach toward getting the students to ask the questions,” Lampe said. “Moreover, I found this trait in many of the leaders at (S&T); students were really imbued with the authority to do things. We got the direction and support we needed and often failed. But that was part of it. As an RA, we had a lot of training, but the learning was a process, never complete.

“Honestly, though, I would say the most lasting impact of my time in Rolla was that I met and wooed my wife, who is my partner in intellectual, social and personal challenges every day.”

By Joe McCune


Gantner engineers his path to Google

Austin Gantner, who graduates in May, has already secured a job at Google's office in Boulder, Colorado.

Austin Gantner, who graduates in May, has already secured a job at Google’s office in Boulder, Colorado. Photo by Sam O’Keefe

Austin Gantner knows exactly what his future holds:

Graduate. Tour Europe. Work for Google.

In that order.

Oh, sure, first there is studying for and passing final exams to get through: World Literature and Biotech and Film and a presentation and paper in Object Oriented Numerical Modeling. But for Gantner, a senior computer science student at Missouri S&T, the future is going according to plan. It’s a plan more than three years in the making; a plan that S&T advises students to follow; a plan the university actively encourages them to pursue.

“The best thing about S&T is that they let you go take a co-op while keeping your full-time student status,” says Gantner, a St. Louis native. “They make it easy for you to get the real-world experience you need to get a job after graduation.”

Gantner secured a co-op with Nucor Yamato Steel from January to August 2012. He worked full-time and part-time internships for Garmin from January to July 2013. And he nabbed an internship with from May to August 2014. He hit the ground running in all three.

“With internships and full-time work, you don’t get any training when you get there,” he says. “You’re expected to know it. It’s a trial by fire. At all three internships, I made contributions that are still in use today.”

But he believes that the last internship, the one with Amazon, really put him on Google’s radar, where just getting an interview is half the battle.

After an initial interview in October, Gantner was invited on-site in Boulder, Colorado, in early November. He studied for 10 hours before his first interview — and for 15 hours before the on-site trial.

In the on-site interview, he had to write code while Google team members watched, asking him questions about why he went about things the way he did. They wanted to know the thought process that went into it, looking for more than just a programmer, but instead for someone who could think logically about problems he would face in the job and articulate ways to solve them.

His day was broken up in to four 45-minute interviews. His lunch break wasn’t a break but pretty much an interview, too.

After spending the day in Boulder, the wait began. He was cautiously confident.

“There were a couple interviews I knew for a fact that I nailed,” Gantner said. “There was one where I had absolutely no clue how I did. And there was one where it could go either way.”

In late November, Google offered him a job as a software engineer. Of course he said yes.

“It’s the best place to work in the country — if not the world,” Gantner says.

And maybe it wasn’t just three years ago that he started on the road that has led him to Google. He came to Missouri S&T’s CHIP camp (Computer Highly Interactive Program), now known as CyberMiner Camp, before his senior year of high school. By then, he knew where his future was headed — to Missouri S&T.

“It was the only school I applied to,” Gantner says. “This is the place for me.”

By Joe McCune

For Friz, NASA holds universal appeal

Doctoral student Paul Friz worked with NASA last fall in California and is working with the space agency again this year in Langley, Virginia. Here he’s at the Langley gantry, where crash tests are conducted on spacecraft, aircraft and helicopters.

Doctoral student Paul Friz worked with NASA last fall in California and is working with the space agency again this year in Langley, Virginia. Here he’s at the Langley gantry, where crash tests are conducted on spacecraft, aircraft and helicopters. Contributed photo by David C. Bowman, NASA

When he was a teenager, Missouri S&T doctoral student and NASA employee Paul Friz looked up into the night sky, the twinkling points of light a thousand beacons in the darkness, irresistible. He was hooked.

So when he was 14, Friz saved up his lawn-mowing money and bought his first telescope – an 8-inch Dobsonian Reflector – to bring the sky’s lights up close. He looked at the gas giant Saturn; it’s the solar system’s sixth planet from the sun and looks like a star to the naked eye, but its rings and moons came to life in his telescope’s lens. Then he went farther into the heavens and out of Earth’s solar system – somewhere between 520 to 610 light years out – to view M44, or the Beehive Cluster, located in the constellation Cancer.

“I believe I chose those objects because they were easy to find in the sky, and I didn’t really know what I was doing at that point,” Friz says.

Looking through that first telescope in a cemetery behind his Creve Coeur, Missouri, home was the first step in a journey that has led Friz, 25, to where he is today: working as a NASA Pathways intern in Langley, Virginia, and pursuing his Ph.D. in aerospace engineering from S&T.

At NASA, he’s learning software tools that will help him complete cost analyses for space missions, taking into account a mission’s lifetime, research and development, maintenance, operating costs, scientists’ hours – basically everything that has a dollar amount.

Before that, Friz was at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, as an assistant to the project manager on the Rosetta mission that put an orbiter around comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. His specific job involved writing software to analyze the data coming from the Microwave Instrument for Rosetta Orbiter, or MIRO, that’s on the Rosetta spacecraft. MRIO measures the comet’s gas emissions, which, Friz says, are mostly water with smaller amounts of ammonia, carbon dioxide and methanol.

He was there when the orbiter launched the Philae lander that synched up with and landed on the comet. When it finally touched down and started sending data, the relief in the room was palpable.

“It was awesome,” Friz says. “It definitely was one of the most exciting experiences in my life.”

Last fall, Paul Friz worked on the joint European Space Agency and NASA project that deployed the Rosetta orbiter around Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. This image of the comet was taken March 25, 2015, from a distance of 86.6 km from the comet’s center.

Paul Friz worked on the joint European Space Agency and NASA project that deployed the Rosetta orbiter around Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. This image of the comet was taken March 25, 2015, from a distance of 86.6 km from the comet’s center. Contributed photo by ESA-European Space Agency. Used with permission under license:

The path that led him to being there in the room with the other NASA scientists just sort of came about naturally.

“There was no real eureka moment,” he says of his early stargazing days, which included trips to an aunt and uncle’s house in a remote area east of Rolla. “Mostly I was just really interested in exploring and learning awesome things about the universe.”

After earning his bachelor of science degree in physics from Truman State University in Kirksville, Missouri, he came to S&T and earned a master of science degree in aerospace engineering. He worked on two different projects during his master’s studies, and both are part of his thesis.

Because his interests are wide and varied – he was an orchestral violinist at Truman State and is an accomplished photographer – he hasn’t settled on a Ph.D. area of concentration. He’s plenty busy as it is with the work he’s doing for NASA – his dream long-term employer. Projects such as sending astronauts to Mars and an asteroid redirect project that aims to capture an asteroid and put it in orbit around the moon hold his imagination.

“They’re bigger than anything NASA has done; bigger than the Apollo landing,” Friz says.

He acknowledges, however, that these big-dream projects have no guarantee of being funded.

“It seems that Mars has been 20 years away ever since we landed on the moon,” he says.

Still, he’s undeterred. The stars of his youth are the stars of his future.

“Going to space has always been a dream of mine,” he says. ”If I ever have the opportunity to be an astronaut I will take it, but there are thousands of other people who are more qualified for that job than I am. So right now, I’m not betting on it. But I am aligning my career and lifestyle so that I can take the opportunity if it comes up.”

By Joe McCune

Alumni couple says you’re ‘mine’

S&T alumni Genevieve (DuBois) Bodnar and Greg Sutton exchange vows in the Experimental Mine on Dec. 20, 2014.

S&T alumni Genevieve (DuBois) Bodnar and Greg Sutton exchange vows in the Experimental Mine on Dec. 20, 2014. Contributed photo

Hard hats? Check. Overalls? Check. Steel-toed boots? Check.

Marriage license? Checkmate.

In an unusual twist on the fairy tale wedding, Missouri S&T alumni Genevieve (DuBois) Bodnar and Greg Sutton were married underground at S&T’s Experimental Mine on Dec. 20, 2014. Wearing hard hats, overalls and steel-toed boots, the couple tied the knot before hard-hat-wearing friends and family.

Bodnar and Sutton first met at a Society for Mining, Metallurgy and Exploration meeting in St. Louis about eight years ago. They’ve both participated in and judged the International Intercollegiate Mining Competition, which is considered by some to be the Olympics of mining, with seven events that demonstrate techniques used by old time miners.

“We just came up with the crazy idea we wanted to be married in the student mine,” says Bodnar, who earned bachelor’s degrees in metallurgical engineering and mining engineering from S&T in 1998 and 2001, respectively. Bodnar also helped start the Haunted Mine that’s become a Rolla Halloween staple.

The wedding took place about 100 feet inside the mine from the adit – the horizontal entrance to the experimental mine. Portable lights illuminated the ceremony.

“We decided to do it that way because of our great appreciation of mining,” says Sutton, a 1988 mining engineering graduate. Sutton helped teach a drilling and blasting lab and a surveying lab at the mine during his time on campus. He also worked at the experimental mine as a laborer.

Jimmie Taylor, the experimental mine supervisor who oversees all mining operations, including explosives storage inventory, has worked at S&T since 1992. He’s seen about all there is to see when it comes to the mine – until December.

“It’s the first I have heard of anyone getting married at the mine,” he says.

They capped the ceremony – literally – by setting off seven blasting caps with an old-time plunger detonator on a five-second delay. Dr. Paul Worsey, director of explosives engineering education and professor of mining engineering, and senior mine mechanic DeWayne Phelps set up the explosions, Taylor says.

Dr. Samuel Frimpong, chair of the mining and nuclear engineering department, gave permission for the wedding to take place – safely. No alcohol was served.

These days, Sutton runs G&G (Genevieve and Greg) Mining Solutions in Bunker, Missouri, where the two make their home. Genevieve works for the Doe Run lead mining company, which is where Greg worked from 1992 to 2014.

For the couple, mining is in the blood, and getting married in S&T’s experimental mine was the next logical step.

“It was a way to incorporate our passion for each other into our passion for the mining industry,” Sutton says.

Are you one half of a Miner couple in love? Share your story in the Comments section.

By Joe McCune