The new laboratory, the Holden Hall lab, is the result of the combined efforts of Kray Luxbacher, associate professor of mining and minerals engineering; Harold McNair, professor emeritus of analytical chemistry at Virginia Tech; and Patrick Fromal, regional manager of Shimadzu Scientific Instruments Inc., manufacturers of a wide range of analytical instruments for research, development and quality control in a variety of fields.

Its centerpieces are a Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometer (GC-MS) and Gas Chromatograph with Electron Capture Detector (GC-ECD) and Auto Sampler, which Shimadzu donated to the department through a longstanding relationship with McNair. “We are excited to be a part of the ground breaking research on improved safety,” said Fromal, who is also a Virginia Tech alumnus.

Work on the new facility was developed via a National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health-funded project for enhanced ventilation controls and emergency responses.

“This has allowed us to carry out cutting edge work in mine gas and tracer gas detection,” said Luxbacher. “We can detect and quantify routine mine gases, along with novel and traditional tracer gases.”

In addition to the equipment donated by Shimadzu, the lab supports two gas chromatographs: one mine gas analyzer and another GC-ECD. The new lab also provides experimental capability beyond ventilation, with equipment enabling inter-departmental cooperation with other Virginia Tech colleagues for improved gas sensing technology.

Future research, according to university officials, may include tracing of hydraulic fracturing fluids in shale reservoirs and carbon dioxide plumes associated with carbon sequestration in coal reservoirs. Luxbacher and McNair, university representatives added, see the lab having teaching capacity, too, allowing students hands-on exposure to gas analyses and monitoring.