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Global Mining and Materials Research Project

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Under the direction of Eleanor Swent, the Oral History Center (then known as the Regional Oral History Office) recorded the history of mining for over thirty years. In 2013, we embarked on a new project entitled Global Mining and Materials Research, which focuses on key transitions in technology, policy, and geopolitics that have brought mining to its current state worldwide.

These eleven new interviews feature leading metallurgists, software engineers, experts in mine health and safety, executives in the fields of industrial minerals, coal mining, hard-rock mining, and an executive director of a mining association. We wish to acknowledge the Hearst Foundation, the American Institute of Mining, Metallurgical, and Petroleum Engineers (AIME), the Society for Mining, Metallurgy, and Exploration (SME), the Association for Iron & Steel Technology (AIST), The Minerals, Metals, & Materials Society (TMS), and the Society of Petroleum Engineers (SPE) for their assistance in producing these interviews. As part of this collaboration, audio versions of these interviews are now available. We are most grateful to the narrators featured below for taking time out of a busy schedule to speak to us about the evolution of the mining industry over the past forty years. 

Project Interviews

Diran Apelian: Metallurgy and the Transformation of Modern Research Universities

Diran Apelian is the Alcoa-Howmet Professor of Engineering and Founding Director of the Metal Processing Institute (MPI) at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI). From 1976 to 1990 he held various positions at Drexel University, including professor and vice-provost of the University. He joined WPI in July 1990 as Provost, and in 1996 he returned to the faculty and leads the activities of the Metal Processing Institute. Apelian is the recipient of many distinguished honors and awards—national and international; he has over 600 publications to his credit; and serves on several technical, corporate and editorial boards. During 2008/2009, he served as President of TMS, is a member of the National Academy of Engineering (NAE) and the Armenian Academy of Sciences.

Tom Falkie: Navigating Change as an Educator and an Executive in the U.S. Mining Industry

Tom Falkie, a native of Mt Carmel, PA is retired President and CEO of Berwind Natural Resources Corp. A pioneer in the use of computers and operations research in mine planning, he joined International Minerals and Chemical in various engineering and management positions in its headquarters and Florida phosphate operations. He then became Professor and Head of the Mineral Engineering and Mineral Engineering Management programs at Penn State. From 1974-1977 he was head of the US Bureau of Mines. He then joined Berwind. Falkie is a Past President and Distinguished Member of SME and Past President and Honorary Member of AIME. He was awarded the Erskine Ramsey and Charles F Rand awards. He is a member of NAE and a past member of its Governing Council and Industry Advisory Committees. He is Chairman of the Board of Governors of the National Mining Hall of Fame and Museum. He is a Distinguished alum of Penn State. He is author of over 200 publications, lectures, and speeches.

Bob Freas: Creativity and Teamwork in the Industrial Minerals Field

Robert C. (Bob) Freas is President of Industrial Minerals Resource Consultants Inc. (IMRC), Brentwood, TN, a firm he formed upon his retirement as Vice President, Corporate Development for Franklin Industrial Minerals, Nashville, TN. Prior to joining Franklin, Mr. Freas was Director of Operations and Corporate Secretary, Limecrest Corporation, Sparta, NJ. Prior to that, he was Chief Geologist, Dravo Lime Company, Pittsburgh, PA. Mr. Freas has authored over forty professional/technical articles and papers, including publications on both lime and limestone as a scrubber reagent material, and articles on mineral marketing, logistics, and resource development. Mr. Freas is Past-President of the Board of Trustees of the United Engineers Foundation, Vice Chairman of the Board for the National Mining Hall of Fame and Museum, and a member of the Board of the SME Foundation. Mr. Freas was the 2005 President of the American Institute of Mining, Metallurgical, and Petroleum Engineers (AIME), and was the 1994 President of the Society for Mining, Metallurgy and Exploration (SME). He is also a member of several technical and professional organizations including the American Institute of Professional Geologists (AIPG), and the Association of Engineering Geologists (AEG).

Betty Gibbs: Mining Engineering and the Software Revolution

Betty Gibbs has been involved in the minerals industry for more than 40 years. As an engineer, author, university professor and consultant, Ms. Gibbs has been at the forefront of technology development and adaptation for the mining industry. She has extensive experience in geological database development, resource modeling and is familiar with the requirements of international codes for resource modeling. Ms. Gibbs has experience with a wide variety of minerals and deposit types including seam and bedded deposits; massive, disseminated deposits; and vein deposits. Ms. Gibbs is an active participant in professional organizations and societies, has been a member of the Society of Mining, Metallurgy, and Exploration (SME) since 1960, and is currently the Executive Director of the Mining and Metallurgical Society of America (MMSA).

Leonard Harris: Seventy Years in Mining Communities around the World

Leonard “Len” Harris has been involved in the mining for the past seventy years. He was born in Queensland Australia in 1927 and graduated as a metallurgist from Mount Morgan Technical College in 1949. From there he distinguished himself in various roles in mining operations in Australia, Ghana, and Peru, South Africa and elsewhere, eventually becoming the Director of Newmont Exploration Ltd. Mr. Harris is also known for his work in Peru in health and education programs through ADAMINYA, an organization he founded with his wife Rosa. In addition to his many other awards, he is the recipient of the Gold Medal from the Mining and Metallurgical Society of America. As of 2015, Mr. Harris is still consulting for the industry and remains an active participant in mining associations.

In Spite of the Boa Constrictors: Paul C. Jones and Tangles in the Mining Industry

Paul C. Jones has worked for over fifty years as a mining engineer, executive, and consultant in over twenty countries. Jones oversaw the exploration, development, and management of mining properties around the world. Key topics include the transformation of the industry, especially in coal mining, the rise of environmental regulation, his efforts to mitigate the consequences of the Summitville mine disaster, and his work in education and education outreach.


Alex King and the Critical Materials Institute: Challenges and Opportunities

Alex King has been the Director of the Critical Materials Institute at the Ames Laboratory since 2013, where he oversees innovation in the processing and recycling of rare-earth minerals, the development of substitute materials for these elements, and economic analysis of their global supply. He was previously the Director of the Ames Laboratory (U.S. Department of Energy), head of the School of Materials Engineering at Purdue University, and professor of materials science at SUNY Stony Brook.

Bill Langer: A Geologist in the US Geological Survey and in Industrial Minerals Research

Bill Langer is a geologist with over forty years of experience with the US Geological Survey, with the last two decades devoted to research on industrial minerals and aggregates. He holds a master’s degree in geology from Boston University after completing a bachelor’s in geology at Alfred University. He was the 2015 recipient of the Hal Williams Hardinge Award from the Industrial Minerals &Aggregates Division of the Society for Mining, Metallurgy, and Exploration (SME) for his “extraordinary contribution to the science and sustainable development of industrial minerals and aggregates.” He is currently working as a consultant.

George Luxbacher: Mine Planning, Consolidation, Remediation, and Adaptation to Regulatory Change in the Coal and Chemical Industries

George Luxbacher is Principal at MELM Consulting, LLC, providing liability management services to the mining, oil & gas, chemical industries related to environmental issues and discontinued operations. After graduating from Penn State, he began his career in the early 1970s as a mining engineer for Pittsburgh Coal Company (a then Consolidation Coal Company subsidiary), leaving to return to Penn State for his MS and PhD degrees. After graduation in 1980 he joined Occidental Research Corporation, remaining employed by various Occidental Petroleum Corporation subsidiaries, including Island Creek Coal Company and Glenn Springs Holdings, Inc. (Occidental’s environmental remediation/reclamation subsidiary), until he retired in 2015 as Senior VP at GSH. After retirement he formed MELM to return to his mining roots. He served as President of the Society for Mining, Metallurgy, and Exploration (SME) in 2008 and the American Institute for Mining, Metallurgical, and Petroleum Engineers in 2012.

Ted Massalski and the Development of Theoretical and Experimental Metallurgy after World War II

Thaddeus “Ted” Massalski is Professor Emeritus of Materials Science, Engineering and Physics, Carnegie Mellon University, formerly one of the directors of the Mellon Institute, and Institute Professor. Ted Massalski was born in Warsaw, Poland, which he left at age 16 to fight with the Polish Second Corps in the British 8th Army during World War II. He stayed in Italy to begin his college education, which he then completed in London and Birmingham. His academic career began in 1955 at the Institute for the Study of Metals at the University of Chicago. As confirmed by his curriculum vitae at the back of this oral history, Dr. Massalski is the author of hundreds of publications and several key scientific discoveries over the decades of his service to the field of metallurgy.

John Murphy: Mine Safety Research at the US Bureau of Mines and the University of Pittsburgh

John Murphy serves as the Executive Director of the McGowan Institute and as a Research Professor in the Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering, University of Pittsburgh. His academic interests are primarily related to process and workplace health and safety. Prior to joining the University, Professor Murphy served as the Research Director of the Pittsburgh Research Center of the U.S. Bureau of Mines from 1978 until 1997. He is the recipient of the Department of Interior Distinguished Service Award in 1985, the Presidential Rank Award for Meritorious Executive in 1986, and the Presidential Award for Distinguished Executive in 1993. He served as the 2011 President of the Society for Mining, Metallurgy and Exploration (SME), and is also the Past President of the SME Foundation, and a past leader of many other mining organizations.

Alex Scott: The Evolution of the American Institute of Mining, Metallurgical, and Petroleum Engineers and Its Member Societies, 1970-2010

Alex Scott was Executive Director of the Minerals, Metals, and Materials Society from 1973 until 2008. Mr. Scott was also a key organizer of the TMS Foundation. In 2007, the TMS Distinguished Service Award was named in his honor. He remains active in both organizations.


These interviews were funded with support from the American Institute of Mining Engineers, Metallurgists, and Petroleum Engineers (AIME), which also partially funded the previously released interviews with Dick Teets and Stan DempseyThey were also partly funded from an endowment established for oral histories of mining with support from the Hearst Foundation.

With generous support from the Society for Mining, Metallurgy, and Exploration (SME), we were able to digitize the audio from interviews that Eleanor Swent undertook for the Western Mining series from the 1960s to the 1990s. AIME is hosting audio versions of these oral histories.

We have also collaborated with the IEEE to host these oral histories on the Engineering and Technology History website.

Finally, we wish to thank Michele Lawrie-Munro, the Executive Director of AIME, and her team for their support coordinating the interviews at conferences in Pittsburgh, Denver, and Orlando in late 2014 and 2015.

Paul Burnett, Berkeley, CA, 2016