Based on his recent research projects, as well as his recurring role as a demolition expert on a Discovery Channel television show, it could be easy to get the wrong idea about Dr. Braden Lusk.
Currently, a large chunk of Dr. Lusk’s active research projects deal with blast mitigation. Working with the Department of Homeland Security, Dr. Lusk is identifying structures—such as power transformers—which could be potential terrorist targets, and figuring out ways to increase their resiliency if they were to be attacked. His work in this area stems from prior research on blast-resistant windows, meaning about 75% of Dr. Lusk’s present research portfolio has to do with blast mitigation.
Also, in 2009, Dr. Lusk played a leading role on The Detonators, a Discovery Channel show built around the demolition of buildings and other large, public structures. Each show followed Dr. Lusk and other blast experts as they oversaw the implosion of banks, hotels and bridges, some of which stood disconcertingly close to other structures. Dr. Lusk looks back on the show as an incredible experience which provided national exposure for UK’s Department of Mining Engineering.
However, despite his recent study of blast mitigation and his fame as a “Doctor of Demolition,” Dr. Lusk first and foremost considers himself a mining engineer who specializes in blasting. “I got started in mining and would rather do mining projects,” he says. “Most of the explosives used in the U.S. are geared toward mining applications. I love demolition, but as far as real-world application, improving demolition wouldn’t have near the impact that improving mining blasts would.”
Like most young boys, Dr. Lusk enjoyed setting off fireworks and creating small explosions, but never planned on becoming a professional blaster until he sat in Dr. Worsey’s blasting seminar while an undergraduate student at Missouri-Rolla (now Missouri S&T). Dr. Lusk recalls: “Paul came in and played a video called ‘Dance of the Detonators.’ It was nothing but mine blasts set to classical music. The whole time, he was in the back of the room, laughing like he had never seen it before, and I thought, ‘Man, this is crazy…I’ve got to do this!’” Dr. Lusk began taking as many of Dr. Worsey’s classes as he could.
After graduating with a B.S. in Mining Engineering in 2000, Dr. Lusk began working in an underground salt mine in Cleveland, Ohio. The experience continues to strongly influence how he sees the entire mining operation. “There is so much to be said for having to make a profit. You have to make money or you’re not there. The experience was invaluable. I couldn’t be where I am today if I didn’t spend those years working in the salt mine.” He later transferred to an evaporation mine where he supervised 30-40 people across three departments, and while he says it was a great job with a great company, something was missing. “I wasn’t using any explosives, and I didn’t like that,” he explains. Eventually, Dr. Lusk returned to Missouri-Rolla and obtained his Ph.D. in Mining Engineering.
As he was completing his Ph.D, he had the opportunity to deliver a paper at an International Society of Explosives Engineers conference. After the question and answer session, UK mining professor G.T. Lineberry notified him of an opening in the Department of Mining Engineering at UK and encouraged him to apply. Convinced that the department was determined to become the number one mining program in the country, Dr. Lusk joined the faculty in 2006 and began teaching its blasting courses. His vision is to one day have mining classes taught at an experimental mine where students can get hands-on blasting experience. “I find the best way to get someone to understand the technology and the science is to have them look at something and see its application,” he says.
One aspect of teaching Dr. Lusk most appreciates is seeing students gain confidence throughout their time in the program. “I find myself in a unique position because I get students early on for my blasting classes—maybe the first semester of their sophomore year—and then I teach the last class they have to take, the Mine Design Capstone Project. I get to see a person when they’re coming in and when they’re going out the door. The confidence builds in the progression. Mining is a wonderful field. If an incoming engineering student has any interest at all, they should give it a try.”