Graduate builds computer program to improve underground mine safety

RAPID CITY, SD — Ankit Jha, Ph.D., is the first graduate of South Dakota Mines’ new mining engineering doctoral program.

Jha’s research, conducted under Associate Professor Purushotham Tukkaraja, Ph.D., included a new computer system that integrates and improves underground mine ventilation, safety, communication and rescue operations. The concept is to develop a command center with software that allows real-time tracking of individuals on digital maps inside a mine. It also records real-time sensor data from the mine’s atmospheric monitoring system. Data collected with specific algorithms from mine ventilation engineering and computer science were used to develop the software.

When the system alerts operators to a hazard, 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 improvement. In addition, Jha investigated effective ventilation designs to mitigate radon emissions in underground metal mines using computational fluid dynamics experiments and simulations.

In his thesis, Jha writes: “As mine rescue operations are stressful because human lives are at stake, it is not surprising that relevant information may be missed which could harm the rescue operation. Decision-making in a rescue operation is tedious and requires consideration of different variables at play.”

This work has the potential to save lives and improve the results of future mining operations. “An integrated system that combines mine ventilation, air quality monitoring, miner location data and enhanced rescue operations would greatly benefit the industry,” says Tukkaraja. During the project, Jha built the backbone of the software, but he says further improvements are needed to make it ready for the market.

“Certainly, we are looking at commercialization,” says Tukkaraja. The next steps are to work with the mine rescue team at the Sanford Underground Research Facility in Lead, SD to continue testing and developing this system in real world scenarios.

Jha’s research was funded in part by a $1.25 million grant in 2014 from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. “I am very grateful for this doctorate. gave me the opportunity to undertake a wide range of studies, from computer science to mining engineering. This work allowed me to get an internship during my studies and a possible job in the industry. South Dakota Mines got me to where I am today,” says Jha.

Jha graduated last spring. The new doctorate. The Mining Engineering program began in the fall of 2017 and is a combined effort of the university’s Department of Geology and Geological Engineering and the Department of Mining Engineering and Management.

Gordon K. Morehouse