Mays links groundwater, biogeochemistry and chaos through supercomputing

David-Mays- (10-2014)-web
Associate Professor David Mays

With several colleagues and students, civil engineering associate professor David Mays is pioneering a new approach to clean up contaminated groundwater. According to the National Ground Water Association, groundwater—the water occupying the space between soil grains and fractured rocks in the Earth’s crust—provides drinking water to 44% of Americans plus more than 50 billion gallons per day for agricultural irrigation. When groundwater becomes contaminated, however, cleanup is no easy task.

“Groundwater remediation is a challenge for several reasons,” Mays notes, “For one thing, it is hard to manage subsurface resources, simply because they are out of sight. We share this challenge with geotechnical and petroleum engineers. Second, groundwater remediation works through a complex system of linked hydrological, microbiological, and geochemical processes that we call hydrobiogeochemistry. And third, because groundwater moves slowly, there is essentially no turbulence, which is really frustrating for anyone wanting to mix treatment chemicals into subsurface contaminants. So the cleanup problem is important, invisible, complex, and slow.”

Over the last several decades, researchers from the Environmental and Molecular Sciences Laboratory at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory have developed cutting-edge, sophisticated computer model simulations to understand the hydrobiogeochemistry of groundwater remediation.

Mays explains, “These models account for groundwater flow, geochemical reactions, and microbiological processes, which boils down to solving staggeringly large systems of equations on their Cascade supercomputer. And then, what is really impressive, the team from PNNL can validate the simulations with gene expression data taken from a field site. It’s great stuff.”

While PNNL has been working to address the complexity of groundwater remediation, Mays and colleagues have been working to improve mixing in groundwater aquifers by applying new ideas from chaos theory. According to the fluid mechanics research literature, chaotic advection—where flows have sensitive dependence on initial conditions—provide the best possible mixing in the absence of turbulence. “It sounds like rocket science,” Mays comments, “but actually chaos theory can be quite simple. For us, it boils down to stretching and folding the plume of injected treatment chemical, kind of like a saltwater taffy machine.” This work has been supported by NSF grants awarded in 2011 and 2014, and is illustrated in a short animation.

The goal now is to incorporate chaotic advection into PNNL’s existing computer simulation of hydrobiogeochemistry. Mays explains, “Fortunately, this can be done by a fairly straightforward modification of the hydraulic boundary conditions that does not require changing the overall model architecture. And this has been fun. When I started at CU Denver in 2005, I never imagined that I would ever be doing research with a supercomputer.” Work is in progress, but preliminary results have been presented at the American Geophysical Union’s Fall Meeting in New Orleans, Louisiana in December 2017, and most recently at the Hydrologic Sciences and Water Resources Engineering Seminar at CU Boulder in January 2018.

Mays Hosts Indigenous STEM Affinity Group

Civil engineering associate professor David Mays has formed an affinity group within the National Science Foundation’s INCLUDES program, where INCLUDES stands for Inclusion across the Nation of Communities of Learners of Underrepresented Discoverers of Engineering and Science. This affinity group brings together principal investigators (PIs), evaluators, and NSF program officers interested in Indigenous science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), where the term Indigenous comprises the terms Native American, American Indian, Alaskan Native, and Hawaiian Native.

Mays writes, “Under the leadership of NSF director France Córdova, INCLUDES has been designated as one of NSF’s Ten Big Ideas. I am happy to be involved with this effort, because it builds on my prior experience with Teach for America and with my interest in sharing quality engineering education with anyone and everyone. Forming the Indigenous STEM affinity group made a lot of sense, because we can learn a lot from colleagues at other institutions who are united by a common awareness of the value of Indigenous STEM.”

Mays is co-PI on an INCLUDES design and development grant, active from 2018-2019, to build a network of tribal and government partners for Environmental Stewardship of Indigenous Lands. Mays continues, “This undergraduate certificate program, spearheaded by PI and biology associate professor Timberley Roane, is a first-of-its kind program designed to provide students with training in STEM, plus additional training in cross-cultural communication, historical awareness, and facilitation designed to prepare graduates for careers as tribal liaisons. It’s a unique program designed to fill a known gap in our educational system.” Other co-PIs include Grace RedShirt Tyon, director of CU Denver’s American Indian Student Services; Brenda Allen, Vice Chancellor for Diversity and Inclusion; and Rafael Moreno-Sanchez, environmental science associate professor.

Mays Edits Special Issue of Open-Access Journal Water

David-Mays- (10-2014)-webCivil engineering associate professor David Mays has been appointed co-editor for a special issue of Water, focused on groundwater contamination and remediation:

Mays will be co-editing this special issue with Tim Scheibe of Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. Mays writes, “We hope to solicit a nice group of papers within the broad field of groundwater contamination and remediation, including (but not limited to) processes controlling contaminant sources, transport, and fate in the subsurface; methods to identify the concentration and extent of contaminant plumes; and novel approaches to predict and enhance the performance of remediation techniques.”

Water is a peer-reviewed journal published by Multidisciplinary Digital Publishing Institute (MDPI) of Basel, Switzerland and indexed on the Web of Science. Water will be accepting manuscript submissions this special issue through Wednesday 6/20/2018.

Yakacki’s tech startup wins big at NFL 1st and Future competition

Associate Professor Chris Yakacki, far right, receives a $50,000 check for winning the technology category in the NFL’s ‘1st and Future’ competition. Pictured from far left are Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks quarterback; Carl Frick, Yakacki’s co-founder of Impressio; NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell; Chairman of NBC Broadcasting and Sports Mark Lazarus; President and CEO of the Mayo Clinic John Noseworthy; and Yakacki.

Chris Yakacki, associate professor of mechanical engineering, and his tech startup company Impressio, Inc. won the Advancements for Protective Equipment category at the NFL’s “1st and Future” competition last Saturday for inventing a liquid-crystal foam technology to improve the safety of football helmets. The advanced material is better than legacy materials at absorbing forces of impact that can cause concussions and brain damage, a major issue for the league. He and his colleague Carl Frick, University of Wyoming, won $50,000 to support their research and tickets to the Super Bowl.

Read the NFL press release.
Read the CU Denver Today story.
Read the C|NET story.
Read the Denver Business Journal story.
Watch the Fox31 report.


Kim inaugurated president of the Bridge Engineering Institute

jimmy kim2015Jimmy Kim, professor of civil engineering has been inaugurated as president of the Bridge Engineering Institute (BEI), an international technical society. BEI is a non-profit, non-political and non-biased organization consisting of the executive committee and the international advisory committee, including world-class researchers and engineers in the area of bridge engineering and related fields. The objectives of BEI are to advance the knowledge of bridge engineering and related fields, to promote the state of the art, to foster young professionals who will lead tomorrow’s technology, and to provide a forum for international cooperation.

Kim’s research interests encompass advanced composite materials for rehabilitation, structural informatics, complex systems, and science-based structural engineering, including statistical, interfacial, and quantum physics. He is the chair of two national technical committees and participates in developing several design specifications and guidelines to transfer research into practice. Kim is an elected Fellow of American Concrete Institute (ACI) and elected Council Member of the International Institute for FRP in Construction (IIFC), and serves as an Associate Editor/Editorial Board Member for two international journals.

Rens and team featured in CU Today


How does one become the engineer of record on dozens of Denver’s infrastructure rehabilitation projects?

For Civil Engineering Professor Kevin Rens, PhD, PE – and the many students he’s mentored in both the classroom and the field – it’s quite simple. It comes down to loving the minutiae of the craft – identifying each crack in the pavement, rating the structural integrity of every component, and planning in precise detail the path to a longer life for bridges, streets, sidewalks, curbs and just about anything else that makes up Denver’s road system.

Read the entire CU Today story here.

Jacot lab, research featured in NSF video

The National Science Foundation has produced a video on associate professor of bioengineering Jeffrey Jacot’s research and work being done at Children’s Hospital Colorado. The video, titled Bioengineering infant heart patches with the baby’s own heart cells, is posted on the NSF YouTube site, the NSF Science360 News Service, as well as NSF social media platforms.

Watch the video here.

Mays Teaches Hydrology to 2nd Graders in Denver

On Friday 10/6/2017, civil engineering associate professor David Mays led a hydrology field trip for Ms. Sara Goodwin’s 2nd grade class at Park Hill Elementary School here in Denver. The field trip reinforced the students’ prior learning about maps, directions, and scales while introducing the basics of urban hydrology: storm water flows downhill, enters a storm drain, and then flows through storm sewers that are accessible by manholes. The field trip to Ferguson Park culminated in a flood when Mays, outfitted for safety in a CU Denver hard hat, dumped 35 gallons of water from a pre-loaded garbage can graciously loaned by STEM-supporting neighbors Amy, Dennis, and Tomá.

By Robert Lawton – Robert Lawton, CC BY-SA 2.5,



Banaei-Kashani and team receive NIH R21 award

CUD_7-18_ENG_041__D3_6259Farnoush Banaei-Kahani, assistant professor of computer science and engineering, and a team of researchers have received an NIH R21 award for their proposal “Omics Data Integration to Identify Disease Pathways in COPD.” This is a two-year award for $275K with equal support for the three PIs and up to two post-docs with potential for R01 funding in the next phase.

The team consists of:

  • Katerina Kechris (PI), Associate Professor, Biostatistics, Colorado School of Public Health
  • Farnoush Banaei-Kashani (Co-PI), Assistant Professor, Computer Science and Engineering, University of Colorado Denver
  • Russ Bowler (Co-PI), Professor, Precision Medicine, National Jewish Health