UAF engineering team wins mine design competition

Photo courtesy of Alan Lipka
UAF’s winning team at a mine design competition in mid-February pose with the championship trophy. From right, Professor Hong Kim; students Blaze Brooks, Nori Niibu, Alan Lipka, Ethan Trickey, Cole Snodgress and Jordan Hildreth; and competition chairman Andrew Storey.

A team of University of Alaska Fairbanks mining engineering students has captured first place in an international mine design competition.

The finals of the competition, which was held from Feb. 17-19 in Denver, combined disciplines that included economics, engineering, communication and mining techniques. The winning UAF team earned a trip to the finals after advancing past the initial round last fall.

The winning squad include six senior mining engineering students — team leader Alan Lipka, Ethan Trickey, Jordan Hildreth, Noriyasu Niibu, Cole Snodgress and Blaze Brooks. It’s the first team from UAF to win the competition, which attracts roughly 20 teams from around the world.

Rajive Ganguli, a UAF mining engineering professor and the team’s advisor, said topping a field of prestigious international programs is a huge accomplishment.

“It’s a very comprehensive competition,” he said. “It requires many skill sets, so it’s a very good test for the students.”

The annual competition is hosted by the Society of Mining Metallurgy and Exploration and the National Stone Sand and Gravel Association. Teams are given two days to design mines based on a scenario that weighs economic conditions, environmental regulations and mineral demand, among other factors.

Lipka said the team spent months preparing by reviewing the mine scenario that was offered at the 2016 design competition. Four members of the winning UAF team participated in that competition, which he said provided invaluable experience.

“Trying to come up with realistic solutions in a time crunch is hard, but everyone broke off and knew exactly what they needed to do,” Lipka said.

Team sponsors included Sumitomo Metal Mining Pogo, which funded the team’s travel to Denver, and software vendor Maptek, which offered a laptop and mine design software.