Mining Feature: Mining Researcher Named a Finalist for Government Service Medal

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Image of man in suit smiling with lapel flower

Dr. John Sammarco

The Partnership for Public Service recently announced that John J. Sammarco, Ph.D., is a finalist for a prestigious Service to America medal — commonly known as a "Sammie." He’s nominated in the Career Achievement category for his exceptional record of public service. Winners will be announced at the nonprofit’s annual gala on October 2.

Dr. Sammarco is an electrical engineer by training and has focused his work on improving the challenging lighting conditions in underground mines.

His work was motivated by reports of frequent injuries and fatalities occurring in the dim light of underground mines. According to MSHA data from 2008-2012, slips, trips, and falls were the second leading accident class of nonfatal lost-time injuries at underground mines. During that same time period, 27 people died from being struck, pinned, or otherwise entangled in equipment.

Dr. Sammarco’s most recent work has produced a number of game-changing lighting innovations to improve visibility and reduce glare, thereby making it easier for workers to see hazards around them.

His first innovative lighting technology was an improved light-emitting diode (LED) cap lamp design, which offers a more intense spot beam and overall broader light coverage than previous cap lamp designs. It’s turned out to be an overwhelming success, but when he first started working with LEDs, the path wasn’t so clear.

“I think if the lighting research hadn’t been successful with that first project, I might not have continued on,” Sammarco recalls. “At the time we started, LEDs were much more expensive, but I looked at it and LEDs are just mini semiconductors, and the cost of semiconductors goes down over time, so I knew if we could make it work, it was going to change everything. It’s a good thing I was so convinced it would work, because I really didn’t have a Plan B.”

Sammarco has also used LEDs to develop an innovative machine-mounted device called the Saturn area light that cuts glare, improves visibility, and helps workers see hazards more readily. More area light designs are also in the works.

His research stands to have a profound positive impact for the nation’s 340,000 miners, and Dr. Sammarco knows these advances in technology go farther than making dim mines brighter.

“Proper lighting is about more than just seeing things better,” Sammarco says. “It’s about the health effects that come with lighting, such as reducing fatigue, and helping workers on shift work. One thing snowballs into another. I’m excited to tackle bigger and bigger problems.”

This award nomination caps an impressive sustained record of achievement for Dr. Sammarco, which was recognized by a string of eight prestigious awards since 2011, including the 2016 Federal Engineer of the Year Agency Award from the National Society for Professional Engineers and the 2017 NIOSH Bullard-Sherwood Award for Research to Practice. Last year, Sammarco was named an ABET Fellow—an honor bestowed on select members of the worldwide, nonprofit, non-governmental professional organization who have shown extraordinary dedication to the accrediting body.

Despite all these honors, Dr. Sammarco remains extraordinarily humble and cares more about teamwork with his NIOSH colleagues to improve miner safety and health.

“John Sammarco is one of those government employees you dream of having on your team,” says Dana Willmer, Ph.D., his branch chief who nominated him for the honor. “He has such powerful vision to see where technology can step in—now or in a few years’ time—and make an enormous impact on worker health and safety. He’s generous with his time, talents, and mentoring the rising generation of researchers. I can’t think of a more deserving individual.”

Page last reviewed: December 2, 2019
Page last updated: May 7, 2018