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Recent & Active Research — Uranium

During a period of nearly three decades (1951-1980), the Grants uranium district in northwestern New Mexico yielded more uranium than any other district in the United States. There has been renewed interest in uranium resources because ore values are rising due to concern about greenhouse gas emmissions from burning hydrocarbons. There also continiues to be a legacy of health and environmental hazards related to abandoned mines in New Mexico. Our staff and students have conducted several recent studies regarding uranium mineralization and mine-site remediation.

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The current and recent research projects shown below are listed in random order.
Uranium dissolution from dust in bodily fluids
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Many metals can be harmful to humans when they are taken into the body. We often think of drinking water when we think of these sources, however, toxic metals can also be taken into the body as inhaled particles or as part of our food. In this study, dust particles were mixed with one of two simulated lung fluids in an airtight glass reactor (configured as the figure to the right) where the solution was heated to a constant temperature of the standard human body temperatures – 37?C (98.6 ?F) – in a vessel purged with oxygen just before adding the dust sample. The study found that the uranum in some dust samples (and lab standards) dissolved better in one or the other of the fluids and that this phenomenon seemed to be based on the mineralogy and available surface area of the dust and the pH of the fluid.

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Uranium Transport and Sources in New Mexico: A five-year EPSCoR program
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In 2013, a team of New Mexico Tech researchers began a study of uranium transport, uranium source characteristics, and uranium legacy issues in New Mexico. The effort was funded by Energize New Mexico, a five-year NSF EPSCoR program that concluded in 2018 and that encompassed five research components focused on developing non-carbon emitting energy technologies. The uranium team, which included researchers from UNM, addressed uranium deposits and mine waste mainly in the Grants Mining District, including Laguna Pueblo, and on Navajo Nation lands. These uranium studies span a range of science and engineering disciplines, and not only provide new conclusions impacting remediation, hazard management, and uranium extraction, but hold implications for human health.

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Critical Minerals in the Zuni Mountains, Cibola and McKinley Counties, New Mexico

As part of the Earth MRI project “Geochemical reanalysis of NURE samples from the Colorado Plateau, New Mexico, Utah, Colorado, and Arizona” (G23AC00561), New Mexico is resampling geologic material, including stream sediments and rocks, in the Zuni Mountains, Cibola and McKinley Counties. The purpose of this sampling is to assess the critical minerals potential of this area, which was historically mined for fluorspar and base metals. An exploration geochemistry focused class was taught in the fall semester of 2023. Sampling in the Zuni Mountains was conducted primarily by this class which allowed 17 students with varying field experience to learn how to plan and execute a sampling program. The students were split into five groups to sample different areas within the Zuni Mountains.

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