Five years ago, students at the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) College of Engineering and Mines performed a controlled blast at the University-owned Silver Fox Mine. It was the first blast conducted in more than twenty years, and the first since completion of a four-year, student-led rehabilitation project on a 300-foot portion of the mine.
"It was the first time the blasting was supposed to happen after the rehabilitation had taken place, and there was lots of anxiety about how the mine would react," says Dr. Tathagata Ghosh, chair of the Department of Mining and Geological Engineering.
That worry proved to be misplaced. Orica Mining Services worked closely with UAF students to ensure adherence to industry standards for industrial blasts throughout the entire process, and engineers from nearby Pogo Mine offered additional support, Ghosh says. Students prepared risk assessments and safety plans, prepped the site, and filled the mine with explosives. Local news outlets, community members, industry supporters, and even local elementary students came out to watch the detonation.
"The blast went off with no untoward incident or anything, so we were really thankful," Ghosh says. "It was a good experience for everybody."
It also epitomized the type of real-world, hands-on learning experience that Silver Fox offers students.
Silver Fox Acquisition
Silver Fox sits off the Elliott Highway in Fox, 20 miles north of UAF. Comprised of seventeen mining claims and filled with pockets of high-grade silver ore, Turry Anderson staked his claims on the mine after World War II, according to Rock Poker to Pay Dirt: The History of Alaska's School of Mines and Its Successors by Leslie Noyes, Ernest N. Wolff, and Earl Hoover Beistline, published by the University of Alaska Foundation in 2002. Anderson used the mine as a supplemental source of income of sorts, extracting and selling silver when he needed extra cash. He worked closely with the university during that period--he taught a practical mining course at Silver Fox and let students practice drilling and blasting. In the 1970s Anderson donated the claims to UAF.
The acquisition filled a void created in the '50s when UAF shut down its adit after several groups of students conducted improper, non-sanctioned blasts in various portions of the 5-foot, square tunnel that runs hundreds of feet under the UAF campus. Until the adit's closure, the school used it to provide practical training to mining students.