Stefanie Tompkins

Transcript

Stefanie Tompkins:

One of the things that inspires me the most about Mines research is that it’s grounded in physical reality and yet it has the ability to go into the farthest reaches of people’s technological imagination. So we talk about quantum and we talk about machine learning. Because we have this commitment to solving real problems, I feel like our history and our connection to earth, energy and environment really allows some pretty exciting connections between where your feet are on the ground to where your imagination can take you as far out into the future as you can possibly see. My name’s Stefanie Tompkins, and I am the vice president for research and technology transfer.

The Conveyor:

You are listening to The Conveyor, the podcast that brings you the latest research, new discoveries and world changing ideas from Colorado School of Mines. Stefanie, thank you so much for joining us on our first teaser episode to discuss research at Mines.

Stefanie Tompkins:

It’s a pretty exciting topic, there’s so much going on. I’m not entirely sure where to start.

The Conveyor:

Well, I guess a good start is you are the vice president for research and technology transfer. Can you elaborate a little bit more about the research part as well as the technology transfer part?

Stefanie Tompkins:

Sure. Well, part of the university’s mission is to advance knowledge for the betterment of society and industry, and it is a pretty active part of the university campus that people might not always see. It involves large numbers of our faculty members and I think a pretty significant portion of our graduate student population. And they’re working across fields as diverse as planetary resources, water remediation, quantum engineering, and metallurgical materials engineering, manufacturing, and the list could clearly go on and on.

Stefanie Tompkins:

Although it’s all tied together, I think around some pretty exciting themes which we can get to later. And the technology transfer part is what you do with the results of your research in order to actually get it out into society. So it’s one thing to make discoveries and to invent new things. If they simply sit fallow, then you wasted your time. And so, technology is often transitioned through traditional academic means like publishing papers, which is great because lots of people can read those papers. But sometimes if you really want something to make it out into the world, it’s going to need additional investment. It’s going to need people who really want to champion the technology. And they’re more likely to do that if they have maybe an exclusive access to it or some kind of special privileges that allow them to be incentivized to make those investments.

The Conveyor:

Well, as vice president, what makes research at Mines unique?

Stefanie Tompkins:

Our motto is earth, energy and environment. And when I think about how I might map out research, those are big problem areas and they’re pretty loose and open-ended problem areas. But along with that, we have extensive expertise in areas like material science and manufacturing. I think of that almost as like a foundation under the other three, because you need that kind of capability in order to solve problems in earth, energy and environment. And similarly, we have a really diverse array of expertise in what I think of as connectors and enablers in different types of technology.

Stefanie Tompkins:

So an example might be mathematics and statistics, or machine learning and artificial intelligence, synthetic biology or any type of biology as it might be applied to solving these kinds of problems. And when I mentioned quantum, that’s another great example where the long-term potential of quantum computing for example, is going to be hugely important to solving some of the really complex problems associated with earth, energy and environment.

The Conveyor:

Yeah. That diversity is important. What else sets Mines apart?

Stefanie Tompkins:

One aspect of Mines and that’s extraordinary is that it always has this very use-inspired focus on research. So you can think about research as being purely exploratory and you can also think of it as a different aspect of research is where people are actually looking at solving a big problem and they’ve particularly focused their research towards how to solve that problem. Sometimes it’s still very basic scientific research, but they’re doing it with an end goal in mind. And I think that is a philosophy that tends to permeate a lot of Mines research projects and what tends to get Mines faculty really excited is because that they have the chance to see end results of the research that have real impact. So part of that is that we do an extraordinary amount of research with industry directly. And I think it’s something like 20 percent of our total income is from industry and which is a very, very high percentage.

Stefanie Tompkins:

It might be one of the highest in the country and it’s often done through consortia where collections of companies in a certain industrial area will form a consortium working with universities. And then they will pay through, for example, like membership fees or through sharing of data and results and things like that in order to advance the specific needs of the overall industry. And so, our Steel Center is a great example of that, which focuses on steel processing methods and has been around for almost 30 years, has a global membership base and has inventions that are at this point embedded in steel processing plants, pretty much as industry standards.

The Conveyor:

What a great opportunity for the students at Mines to really have that, not just the hands-on, but just that networking opportunity on such a massive scale, a prestigious scale at that sense.

Stefanie Tompkins:

Exactly. The students get a lot of professional development help through this because part of what they get to do is present the results to these industry members. And the industry members are pretty excited about it too, because it’s a great opportunity in order to recruit some of those students and to build up their long-term workforce pipeline.

The Conveyor:

What do you see for the future of research at Mines, and how does the work researchers do at Mines remain relevant?

Stefanie Tompkins:

So in order to solve societal problems, you typically have to work outside just a single discipline and you need to be able to collaborate with folks who work in different fields. That is really common already, but I think the future of research at Mines and really research around the world is going to have to really require more and more of that multidisciplinary collaboration sometimes at levels that are really, really intimately connected together. And we see that happening more and more as different aspects of Mines expertise expand in directions that may not have existed previously. So, the Space Resources Center, our planetary resources center is a great example. If you go to their website and you look at their membership, it spans, I think, close to a dozen different research departments, including our policy institute, as well as say chemistry and mining and metallurgy and electrical engineering.

And you can kind of run down the list and you realize that all of those folks are coming together to think about what do resources in the future involve. And I think when people think of space resources, they often think of people going maybe to an asteroid and mining metals out of it. That may be one aspect of space resources, but really think about a future in which we have a space-based economy that involves larger and larger orbits going out as far as the moon in order to get raw materials, for example. And that economy is going to have to be powered by resources that come from space directly in order to make them cost effective. And so our space resources folks are thinking about that entire future vision and how it’s going to work. And it’s kind of their mission and they need all of those different people with their different skill sets to be able to make it happen.

The Conveyor:

What do you look forward to seeing and or hearing from research at Mines, whether it’s on The Conveyor or just on campus or beyond?

Stefanie Tompkins:

I would love for people to get a little bit of kind of a deep dive into any one of these topics where you have to bring people from completely different disciplines together.

Stefanie Tompkins:

If you’d like to learn more about our research and programs, visit research.mines.edu. And thanks for listening to The Conveyor. To learn more about how Colorado School of Mines is solving some of the world’s biggest engineering and scientific challenges, visit mines.edu, and then join us back here for our next episode.

This episode of The Conveyor was produced by Ashley Spurgeon and was hosted and edited by Dannon Cox. 

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About the Podcast

The Conveyor brings listeners insights into the latest research, new discoveries and world-changing ideas from Colorado School of Mines.

The viewpoints and opinions expressed by featured guests do not necessarily represent those of Colorado School of Mines.