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UW Student Helps Riverton Engineering Firm Broaden its Geophysical Capabilities

September 11, 2014
Man working at construction table
Mike McClure, a UW student and WyCEHG summer intern with Inberg-Miller Engineers in Riverton, logs test boreholes at a work site. During his internship, he gained experience in surveying, soil sampling/testing, concrete density/testing, and drilling throughout Wyoming and in parts of Colorado.

A University of Wyoming student from Riverton made a big difference for a Riverton engineering firm this summer, especially for a project on Casper Mountain.

Mike McClure, a UW senior double majoring in geology and geophysics and history, interned at Inberg-Miller Engineers, primarily as a borehole logger and to broaden the company’s opportunities to apply geophysical testing to its work.

Working with the Riverton firm, McClure gained experience in surveying, soil sampling/testing, concrete density/testing and drilling throughout Wyoming and in parts of Colorado. His work included density and concrete testing for various construction projects in Fremont County and also as a seismic reflection survey in Cheyenne for a new public safety center the city hopes to build.

McClure also worked on Casper Mountain where plans are to install a world-class biathlon center.

“This job was my baby for the summer,” says McClure.

The Casper Mountain site requires a lot of excavation, so stands can be installed, along with other required structures, he explains. The excavation contractor for the job submitted high bids because of concern over having to take out large amounts of bedrock. To ease the contractor’s worries, McClure and two others ran seismic refraction lines throughout the site. The survey produced the depth of bedrock and also its rippability.

“Overall, hiring Mike was a mutually beneficial experience,” says Glen Bobnick, a senior geotechnical engineer with Inberg-Miller Engineers. “I think we gained some confidence in applying geophysical methodology to what we do, and Mike got some hands-on experience with field exploration and laboratory testing.”

Prior experience

McClure obtained his internship through previous experience he gained working with UW’s Wyoming Center for Environmental Hydrology and Geophysics (WyCEHG) on a project for Inberg-Miller.

Bobnick says an out-of-state engineering firm contacted Inberg-Miller to explore subsurface conditions at a large industrial expansion site at the J.R. Simplot Co. phosphate plant in Rock Springs. The project entailed developing geotechnical recommendations for earthwork and foundation design and construction. WyCEHG performed geophysical work for the company at the site in fall 2013.

Inberg-Miller Engineers is a full-service firm that specializes in civil, geotechnical and environmental consulting engineering, construction materials testing and land surveying. It was founded in 1971 and has offices in Riverton, Casper, Cheyenne and Green River.

“While we performed a conventional exploration campaign, we also looked to WyCEHG to help ‘fill in the gaps’ between test borings and provide a more integrated view of subsurface conditions,” Bobnick explains of that initial project. “We also felt that better data could be obtained at less cost than entirely by direct drilling and sampling. Mike was actually part of the field crew that performed the geophysical survey.”

Inspired by that success and the company’s relationship with Steve Holbrook, a UW Department of Geology and Geophysics professor, Bobnick says the company looked into ways to broaden the use of geophysical testing to assist the company with other geotechnical applications. This led to Holbrook’s referral of McClure for the internship and provided the company with access to WyCEHG equipment to evaluate a few techniques.

A rewarding collaboration

UW’s collaboration pairing students with environmental companies for internships for a second consecutive year, is part of the outreach component of a five-year, $20 million grant award from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to Wyoming’s Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR). The grant has enabled WyCEHG to acquire unique instrumentation for field and lab studies in hydrology and near-surface geophysics, as well as to hire experts in the use of those instruments.

“A significant goal of WyCEHG is to help connect UW students, researchers and technology to the private sector in Wyoming and the region,” says Holbrook, WyCEHG director. “Some of our expertise and equipment -- especially in near-surface geophysical imaging -- are useful to environmental engineering firms, but lie outside their typical in-house experience.”

“We offer companies a simple exchange: They hire our students for a summer and, in return, they get free access to our equipment for use on their projects, which might help their business model,” Holbrook continues. “It worked really well this past summer.”

While the work was rewarding, McClure admitted he wasn’t quite ready for all his internship would entail, at least initially.

“I was expecting the internship to deal more in geophysical exploration, but I mainly worked with the drilling crews and in the soil lab,” McClure says. “That was a bit of a shock at first, but I enjoyed the variation that came with the internship. For example, one week I would be out of town logging wells. The next week, I would test the soil samples I had collected the previous week. The next week, I would do a seismic study.”

McClure credited past geology and geophysics courses with helping him understand structure loads.

“While logging test boreholes, I was able to classify soils quickly and accurately,” he says. “My work with WyCEHG gave me the skills needed to run crews for seismic testing.”

Work locations included the Tata Chemicals plant in Green River, the Oregon Basin oil field near Cody, a small job near Sterling, Colo., and several projects in the Big Horn Basin and around Riverton, Bobnick says.

“Our relationship thus far with WyCEHG has been excellent, and we look forward to future possible internships as we move our geophysical capabilities forward,” Bobnick says.


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