Virginia Tech Summer 2017

By Eleanor Pitcher - GERC affiliated PhD student funded by the NERC Oil and Gas CDT

Thursday 6th July at 0345 the journey to Virginia Tech starts with a very early flight from Birmingham International via Dublin and Washington DC to Roanoke, the nearest airport to Blacksburg, VA. A journey totaling over 25 hours. The following morning I headed from Roanoke to Blacksburg, the town where Virginia Tech and all Hokies call home.

Blacksburg (the red marker) is situated on the west side of Virginia (outlined in yellow), right in the heart of the Appalachian Mountains (outlined in blue).

My visit to Virginia Tech was enabled because of the joint partnership that the GeoEnergy Research Centre (GERC) has with the Virginia Centre for Coal and Energy Research (VCCER). Where research aims are to undertake multi-scale and multi-disciplinary research in geoenergy.

The joint partnership between the groups is fantastic for facilitating the collaboration of research between individuals of different academic backgrounds. This allows research questions to be addressed in a variety of ways, and by collaborating with others extended my own breadth of knowledge and showed me different paths I could take to begin to find answers. I personally found this an enriching experience as it gave me the opportunity to, in this case, look at ways to answer these questions from a much more industrially minded engineering capacity.

Whilst I was there I worked alongside Prof. Nino Ripepi and post-doc Xu Tang to look into spontaneous imbibition of water in shales, and the possible counter-current flow in assisting oil recovery. As well as the impact that the orientation of the exposed surface to the laminations of the shale has on the imbibition process. These two research points are widely applicable in industry; from an environmental perspective looking at water recovery in the fracking processes, to enhanced recovery of oil.

As well as working with Prof. Nino Ripepi and Xu Tang I also met Dr Ellen Gilliland who holds a joint position between Virginia Tech and the University of Nottingham, plus the VCCER staff and other students who have been involved in the joint partnership such as Charlie Schlosser and Kyle Louk.

Since it was outside of term time it meant that there were plenty of opportunities to socialise and meet the other graduate students in the Mining and Minerals Engineering department (featured below).

Some of the graduate students in the Mining and Materials Engineering department

Blacksburg is idyllically situated in the midst of the Appalachian Mountains which means there are so many opportunities to go hiking, have BBQs or do water sports.

At the New River Junction you can tube down the river, where you can then get out and have a BBQ and play some volleyball or just go back up and down again. For any of these choices the scenery is still absolutely stunning. Since the East Coast is so humid the mountains are unusually covered from head to toe in trees making the view so fantastically green.

Tubing on the New River

There are also an extensive choice of hiking spots, too many to do in one summer. But we made it to Cascades and Barneys Wall, Dragon’s Tooth and also Bottom Creek Gorge.

Cascades and Barneys Wall make up one long hike where you are able to swim in the punch bowl under the waterfall, as well as walk under it and jump in. Be warned, even in the middle of summer the water is still extremely cold!!


View from the Barneys Wall lookout

Dragon’s Tooth makes up one longer hike where as you hike higher and higher the view creeps out from between the trees. Once you reach the top of the hike the best view can be found if you scramble up the tooth itself, see below. If you make friends with people who particularly like England you might find yourself boiling water for tea and listening to The Beatles at the top of the tooth itself.

Dragon’s Tooth
Drinking tea at the top of Dragon’s Tooth while listening to The Beatles

Our final hike took us to Bottom Creek Gorge, where we were promised by “The Hiking Hokie” that we would find the second highest waterfall in Virginia. We later found out when we arrived and spoke to a ranger that the flow of water from the waterfall is highly variable. Picture of waterfall below, I promise there is a little bit of water falling.

Second highest waterfall in Virginia

Despite the lack of water falling from the waterfall the hike is relatively flat which gave us the prime opportunity to see some wildlife, in this case many deer.

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