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Mining Feature: NIOSH Researcher Receives Two Government Engineering Awards

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Dr. John Sammarco

Dr. John Sammarco

Dr. John Sammarco has received two top honors awarded by the federal government to engineers: the Public Health Service (PHS) and Centers for Disease Control (CDC) 2016 Engineer of the Year award, and the 2016 Federal Engineer of the Year (FEY) Agency award. The PHS and CDC award was given on February 25 at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Conference Center in Rockville, MD, and the FEY Agency award was presented at the National Press Club in Washington, DC, on February 26.

The PHS and CDC award recognizes overall outstanding engineering achievement by professionals who use their skills to safeguard the public and to research and identify solutions to the nation’s health-related problems. The FEY Agency award, established by the National Society of Professional Engineers, honors engineering achievements, education and continuing education, professional and technical society activities, awards and honors, and civic and humanitarian activities.

As an electrical engineer with NIOSH’s Pittsburgh Mining Research Division, Dr. Sammarco has led the way in NIOSH illumination research, which is critical for the safety of mine workers, who depend heavily on visual cues to detect hazards in their environment. Dr. Sammarco’s most recent research has developed a light-emitting diode (LED) area light for roof bolting machines, which are among the most dangerous machines to operate in underground mining. This area light, referred to as the “Saturn LED,” dramatically improves illumination to reduce the likelihood of slips, trips, and falls as well as pinning and striking accidents and fatalities, and reduces glare that can mask the visibility of hazards during the operation and maintenance of roof bolters. NIOSH testing shows that by comparison to the existing roof bolter lighting, the Saturn LED results in 2303% more floor illumination, requires 675% less electrical power, and increases service life by 437%. This light is now being commercialized by the world’s leading manufacturer of roof bolting machines.

Laboratory photos of standard two-piece roof bolter lighting (left) replaced by the single NIOSH-developed area light (right). All illumination in these photos came from the machine-mounted lighting.

Standard two-piece roof bolter lighting (left) replaced by the single NIOSH-developed area light (right). All illumination in these photos came from the machine-mounted lighting.  (Photos by Bill Kendall, J.H. Fletcher & Co.)

In Dr. Sammarco’s case, the PHS and CDC Engineer of the Year award and the FEY Agency award help to recognize him as one of the world’s foremost experts on mine lighting and the safety of programmable electronic mining equipment. Among his many professional accomplishments during his 28-year career, Dr. Sammarco has developed an LED cap lamp, recognized with the Health and Human Services Innovates Award in 2011, and a visual warning system (VWS) for heavy machinery. His work has had a direct and meaningful impact on the mining industry, as evidenced by a commercial cap lamp design that incorporates the core functionality of his LED cap lamp, and the licensing of the VWS that is now a commercial product for mining. Dr. Sammarco’s research has also directly influenced the Mine Safety and Health Administration’s certification and regulatory procedures for field inspection of mine lighting, and the International Electrotechnical Commission standard for cap lamps.

Dr. Sammarco receiving the Federal Engineer of the Year Agency Award

John Sammarco receiving the PHS and CDC 2016 Engineer of the Year award from Rear Admiral Randall J.F. Gardner. Photo by Joshua Barnett.

Reflecting his commitment to engineering education and the upholding of high related standards, Dr. Sammarco is also an active member and Federal Liaison for the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), the Committee on Engineering Technology Accreditation Activities (CETAA), and ABET (formerly the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology), where he serves as Past Chair.