Center for Sustainable Solutions Researchers

Lisa Kunza

Director Sustainable Solutions

Associate Professor

Chemistry Biology and Health Sciences

Dr. Kunza's research examines the influence of environmental change on aquatic ecosystem processes and functions.  In particular, we are interested in linkages among biogeochemistry, ecosystem ecology, and food web dynamics in aquatic ecosystems with an emphasis on applying our scientific findings to broader audiences.  Currently, we are examining the influence of environmental alterations to ecosystems including nuisance and invasive species bacterial loading and pathogenicity, nitrogen loading, pollutant such as PFAS, and hotspots of oligotrophication below dams. Dr. Kunza strives to increase interdisciplinary research with colleagues at South Dakota Mines as well as via regional, tribal, national, and international collaborations. 

Steering Committee

Gokce K. Ustunisik

Associate Professor

Geology and Geological Engineering

The central theme of my research is the magmatic conditions and time scales of processes that modified chemistry of igneous materials present in Earth (mantle and crust) and other planetary bodies (moon, mars, chondrules, and chondritic meteorites). The geochemical signals of these processes (crystallization, mixing, recharge, decompression, and degassing) are often preserved in the zoning and reaction rims of minerals; major and trace element composition of phenocrysts and melt; and volatile elements (Cl, F, S, C, H, and OH) trapped in melt inclusions. By combining experiments with geochemical data and numerical modeling, I examine processes that take place on the mineral scale and apply them to the broader picture. I conduct experiments (piston cylinder, one-atm quench and gas mixing furnaces) to recreate the conditions happened in regions inaccessible by drilling or other means of direct observation in terrestrial and planetary environments. For the analysis of natural samples, meteorites, and experimental run products; I use a variety of microanalytical tools including electron probe microanalysis (EPMA), laser ablation inductively-coupled-plasma mass-spectrometry (LA-ICP-MS), scanning electron microscopy (SEM), secondary-ion mass spectrometry (SIMS), fourier transform infrared spectroscopy (FTIR), and Raman spectroscopy. My research activities can be described as 5 overlapping categories including “Petrogenesis of Mid-Ocean Ridge Basalts”, “Carbon Sequestration”, “Planetary Petrology and Cosmochemistry”, “Trace Element Experiments and Modeling”, and “Big Data Petrology”.

Heidi L. Sieverding

Associate Professor of Practice

Civil and Environmental Engineering

Heidi’s current research centers on water treatment, regenerative agricultural systems, life cycle analysis (LCA), and systems thinking. Her primary area of research is on sustainability and developing climate-resilient sustainable systems. 

Kurt Chowanski

Research Scientist II

Chemistry, Biology, and Health Sciences

Dr. Kurt Chowanski has over 20 years of research experience with vegetation, soils, hydrology, climate, and wildlife.  His research collaborations have included work on respiration beneath snow, aquatic chemistry in low nutrient alpine watersheds, biogeochemical function in prairie pothole wetlands, remote sensing, cattle grazing in forested lands, estimating river ecosystem metabolism and nitrate uptake, and developing remediation approaches for PFAS.  


Andrea Brickey


Mining Engineering and Management 

My research is focused on various aspects of the minerals extraction industry, from mine planning, ore reserves, operational efficiencies, critical minerals, workforce development, and health and safety. I am interested in improving national security and ensuring the future mineral needs of the US. 

Maribeth H. Price

Dean of Graduate Education

Graduate Education/Geology and Geological Engineering 

Maribeth Price specializes in geographic information systems (GIS) and remote sensing applied to geology, forestry, hydrology, environmental protection, agriculture, and planetary geology. She is the author of the Mastering ArcGIS and Mastering ArcGIS Pro textbooks published by McGraw-Hill and Switching to ArcGIS Pro by Esri Press. Her specific research interests are Applications of GIS and remote sensing to natural resources.

Rajesh Sani

Distinguished Professor

Chemistry Biology and Health Sciences and Karen M Swindler Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering

Research activities of Sani’s group are focused on both basic and applied research in Extremophilic Bioprocessing of Solid Wastes including Agri-materials to Biofuels and Value-added Products (e.g., Biomaterials/Biopolymers, Enzymes) for Biomedical and Agriculture applications, Rules of Life in Biofilms grown on 2D materials, Space Biology (Effects of microgravity on Extremophiles), Biogas to Liquid fuels (BioGTL, Genome Editing), Bioengineering  (Protein Engineering, Metabolic Engineering, and Genome Engineering), Bioinformatics and Computational Biology (e.g., Big Data analysis including OMICS data), and Greenhouse gas as the economy (Carbon dioxide and Methane). For over 17.5 years here at SD Mines, his group has been working on extremophiles isolated from the deepest mine in North America, Homestake Gold Mine (also known as the Sanford Underground Research Facility, SURF, 7800 ft. deep), and Rapid City Landfill Compost, SD for the required functionalities mentioned above. As of today, in his culture collection, we have more than 800 unique and distinct bacterial species, ranging from hyperthermophiles (≥80℃), thermophiles (≥60℃), to psychrophiles (≤4℃). These unique thermophiles are currently being used to design novel bioprocesses, including single-step bioprocessing of various inexpensive regional untreated biomass that eliminates all pretreatments, bio-solutions for preventing corrosion, tunable mulch films for improved soil health, carbon sequestration from deep wells, as well as well as controlling the phase changes of porous media in frost-susceptible soils.

Zhengtao Zhu


Chemistry, Biology, and Health Sciences

My research focuses on the development of advanced nanomaterials with unique chemical and physical properties, tailored for diverse applications across various fields, including sustainable environmental solutions. Specifically, our work centers on the creation of porous materials designed for the efficient removal of pollutants such as PFAS, the development of fluorescent sensors for detecting metal ions and organic pollutants, and the innovation of energy-efficient technologies for water desalination and mineral recovery. 

Kurt Katzenstein

Associate Professsor

Geology and Geological Engineering

Dynamic processes on Earth’s surface, both natural and anthropogenic, often impact society in negative ways. It is imperative that we understand the causes of these processes and the potential impacts they can have on public safety and the general well-being of important resources and infrastructure. We use remote sensing techniques, field investigation techniques, and laboratory testing to insure that these processes are better identified and understood.

Bret N Lingwall

Associate professor

Civil and Environmental Engineering

I am “all-in” on team science and convergence research. My mission as a researcher has been to cultivate effective team science on multi-, inter-, and trans-disciplinary teams (my record shouts to my commitment and success. I love to build teams with researchers from a wide range of backgrounds, looking at complex problems and developing solutions that could not be found in traditional silo-ed research. Why do I deeply love convergence research? I am not the kind of person who is content to only study one single narrow topic. It is not me. I enjoy a diverse research portfolio. I like love taking the skills and knowledge from one field of study and applying them to another in collaboration with experts in that field.

Daniel K. Owens

Associate Professor

Chemistry Biology and Health Sciences

My lab is interested biochemistry with much of our work focusing on plant model systems. One of our primary focuses is fundamental question in examining the potential of Citrus flavonoid enzymes to interact in three dimensions forming a metabolon and the implications of this on natural product biosynthesis. We also have a very strong interest in investigating the utilization of natural products for human benefit, such as investigating the herbicidal potential of natural products from allelopathic plants as a means to improve sustainable crop production. 

Rudrajit Mitra

Associate Professor

Mining Engineering & Management

We live in an era defined not just by information and energy, but also by the imperative of sustainability. This global model drives innovation across all aspects of our lives, and within this, mining plays a crucial and undeniable role. Without the minerals extracted from the earth, the advances and discussions around climate protection would simply be inconceivable.

Mining contributes significantly to achieving the UN SDGs, creating jobs, income, and infrastructure while improving living conditions in rural areas. However, it also faces challenges concerning OHS, environmental protection, and social acceptance. The global focus on achieving net-zero emissions by 2050 puts the onus on the mining sector to evolve. Stakeholder demands for digitalization and sustainable production further underscore the need for change.

Therefore, mining research must prioritize both digitalization and sustainability, playing a key role in the global shift towards net-zero emissions. My own research agenda reflects this commitment, aiming to increase extraction efficiency, improve safety, and reduce costs, all within a sustainable framework. I actively champion the integration of innovative technologies from other disciplines into the mining industry, as evidenced by my co-founding of the Future Mining Conference series and involvement in projects exploring big data, robotics, artificial intelligence, and machine learning.

Tanvi Govil

Assistant Professor

Karen M Swindler Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering

Tanvi Govil specializes in microbiology and bioprocess engineering. Her research interests span across microbiology, fermentation science, synthetic biology, and systems biology, with a strong emphasis on leveraging extremophilic microbes for initiatives centered around unraveling the physiology, molecular interactions, metabolisms, and pathways of extremophilic microbes for environmental sustainability initiatives. These initiatives encompass a wide range of applications, including bioremediation efforts targeting pollutants, plastics, and per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS); bench-scale bioprocess development for scalable NextGen Biopolymers and Biochemicals; and bioengineering microbes for Carbon Capture, agricultural nitrogen fixation enhancement, and soil freezing prevention. 

Mary E. Witlacil

Assistant Professor 

Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences

Mary Witlacil is an environmental political theorist who has drawn on critical theory to develop a theory of critical ecopessimism. Her current research incorporates contemporary political thought and critical theory to consider how we cope with climate change and environmental injustice. Previously, Witlacil’s research focused on negotiated water settlements between the Navajo Nation and the state of Arizona. With a background in Indigenous politics and environmental justice, she is committed to finding ways to support Indigenous communities in their efforts to seek environmental and energy justice. 

Kelsey Gilcrease


Chemistry, Biology, and Health Sciences

My main research interests include historical ecology, wildlife population ecology, statistical methods, conservation, and planning. I am also active through instruction in biology, anatomy, and physiology labs, ecology, and bioethics.

Scott Beeler

Research Scientist III 

Engineering and Mining Experiment Station (EMES)

My research is focused on utilizing geochemical tools to investigate the interaction and feedbacks between geological, biological, and physical processes in both modern and ancient ecosystems. Understanding these relationships is key to understanding ecosystem function and has implications for addressing many of the challenges facing the world today. Specific areas of interest including tracking the source and fate of contaminants in water and soil and understanding the ecosystem response to environmental disruption.

Patrick Kozak

Research Scientist II

Chemistry, Biology, and Health Sciences

Dr. Kozak has over 25 years of GIS and remote sensing experience and is applying it to regional climate and environmental issues. His research has included issues related to surface water salinization, energy, natural hazards, climate change, flood plain management, hazard identification, mitigation planning, threat and hazard identification, and assessment with Tribes, tribal colleges, at-risk communities, and non-profits across the United States. Dr. Kozak believes that outreach to key community stakeholders is critical, so that research and results become an active part of decision-making and problem-solving.

Brooke Lamonte Long-Fox

ADVANCE Project Coordinator

Chemistry Biology and Health Sciences

Dr. Long-Fox’s research is focused on evaluating interactions between anthropogenic impacts, and organism morphology and evolution, as applicable to conservation paleobiology. Her research expertise spans phylogenetics, biodiversity, and ecosystems, emphasizing the examination of modern systems. She investigates live-dead fossil assemblages to unravel baseline information predating human activities to compare to modern systems. In pursuit of understanding the intricate relationships within ecosystems, Dr. Long-Fox employs various tools, including geometric morphometrics, phylogenetic systematics, sediment geochemistry, and microbial diversity analysis. These tools serve as crucial instruments in her investigations related to conservation, habitat management, and restoration. Through research, Dr. Long-Fox aspires to contribute to a comprehensive understanding of how anthropogenic influences have shaped and continue to shape biological communities. By identifying key evolutionary and ecological patterns, she aims to inform evidence-based conservation strategies that mitigate human impacts and foster resilience in natural systems. 

Jennifer N Walker

Research Scientist IV

Chemistry, Biology, and Health Sciences

I am most interested in research at the nexus of landscape and watershed health and human health, particularly pertaining to rangelands.  I am especially interested in the interactions among ecosystems and human communities in the context of a changing climate.