Graduate student wins Geothermal Resources Council Award

11/5/2009 - By: Mary Hunton

For more than 30 years the Geothermal Resources Council (GRC) has been meeting to bring geothermal producers and service companies together. The annual meeting serves as an exhibition of sorts where companies display their prospects, software, and data. Aside from that, the GRC holds a poster competition as well, and Annie Kell-Hills, a graduate student in hydrogeology from the University of Nevada, Reno, won the session for the 2009 meeting.

“Every association, when they have a technical poster session, wants to support students and the scientists and engineers who are up and coming in the field,” said John Louie, a professor and advisor in the geophysics program. “She worked hard on it; it’s good to see her getting rewarded.”

This year’s council was held in Reno on Oct 4-7, and according to Louie there were around 2,000 attendees. Within the single poster session there were more than 50 participants displaying projects in all fields of geology and engineering. Kell-Hills' success was no small feat.

“It was voted on by everyone that attended the poster session,” she said. “It ended up winning it.”

Though the poster was partially a collaborative work, as most research projects in the program are, Kell-Hills was made the primary author for several reasons. According to Louie, her dedication to the project, both with collecting data and compiling the presentation, is what put Kell-Hills at the top of the list.

“I make my students lead authors when they really take responsibility for their publication and presentation,” he said. “She had to assemble the poster. She had to rehearse her little three minute speech that she would give over and over again to people in front of the poster during the session. She’s really the representative of my program and the geothermal center and UNR. Without Annie the work wouldn’t have been done.”

The poster focuses on an area in Northeastern California in Surprise Valley and the seismic imaging Kell-Hills did there. She and her team collected data and for a year compiled it into the images and data used on the poster.

“There’s a pretty large geothermal production facility there, and it’s fault controlled, so the way that the fluid migrates to within a usable distance of the surface is controlled by those faults,” she said. “It was just another study of this fault as a geothermal-controlling system.”

Louie believes that Kell-Hills’ research, both for her poster and her thesis, could be beneficial to the future of geothermal resource utilization. Currently the success rate for geothermal drilling is one well in 10, and Louie believes that Kell-Hills can substantially increase that number.

“Our objective is not only that she’s going to get us a long way toward that 50 percent success for geothermal drilling,” he said, “We want her to be successful at any career level that she wants to take.”

Kell-Hills will be graduating in May 2010, and after that she is considering staying at the University for her Ph.D.

“I think I’m going to stay on for the geophysics Ph.D.,” she said. “John Louie has got to be hands down the best advisor in the whole school. All the professors are really nice and the curriculum is great.”


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