Picture of M Mountain from a water hazard.
Hantush-Deju National Center for Hydrologic Innovation

Student Recollections

Dennis Williams, Class of '68

Founder of Geoscience Support Services, Inc.

When I graduated from the University of Redlands in geology in 1962 under Dr. Steven Dana, the only jobs available were in the oil industry or geophysics. As I was not interested in either one, Dr. Dana told me about a school in New Mexico that was starting (or had already started), a program in hydrology. The New Mexico Tech professor starting the program was Dr. Mahdi Hantush. I applied for graduate studies in hydrology and was informed I would have to take some advanced math classes before I could take any of Hantush’s groundwater classes.

Image of two students working on a drill.

Image Caption: NMT hydrology students drilling a water well near Magdalena, N.M., circa 1960s.

Also, during my first semester at Tech, Stavros Papadopulos lived next to me in married student housing. Stavros graduated from Tech a year or so before I entered in 1962. I don’t know exactly when he started but he received his master's degree under Hantush at Tech and went on to Princeton for his Ph.D.  However, he came back to Tech during my first year to study under Hantush for his Ph.D. work (something to do with developing or refining the leaky aquifer theory). I graduated from New Mexico Tech in 1965 with a M.S. in groundwater hydrology. I then left and went to work in Los Angeles for the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power drilling wells in the Owens Valley for the second Los Angeles aqueduct.  I returned in 1966 to work on my Ph.D. Hantush had already left but C.E. Jacob was now head of the Hydrology Department.

The Jacob/Hantush Connection

The connection between Hantush and Jacob resulted in Jacob coming to Tech and taking over the hydrology program after Hantush left.  When I came back to Tech in 1966 to study for my Ph.D., Hantush had already left and was teaching in Kuwait. As I understand it,  Professor C. E. Jacob was looking for work after not being paid (or delays in being paid) while consulting on a project in Saudi Arabia. Anyway, it was definitely Hantush who started the hydrology program at New Mexico Tech in the late 50s or early 60s and Jacob continued the program after Hantush left ~ 1966 until he died around 1969.

When I started my assistantship in June 1962 I worked for both the hydrology dept (Zane Spiegel) as well as the Bureau of Mines (doing drafting).  I really couldn’t take any of Hantush’s classes as I had to take a lot of math first (which I didn’t have at Redlands).  The hydrology graduate students had a room in the research building.

The students consisted of myself, Dan Raviv, Nathan Columbus, Miguel Marino, John Halepaska, Adiran Visocky and Zubair Saleem.  We all had different tasks but mostly we were tabulating a lot of the equations developed by Hantush using simple calculators as well as our slide rules.  We didn’t have access to a real computer until my last years at Tech 1967-68.  There was an IBM we could take our punched cards to at the end of my time at Tech. I graduated in 1965 with an M.S. in groundwater hydrology and in 1968 with a Ph.D. in hydrology

Hantush as a Person/Professor

Dr. Hantush was wonderful as a teacher.  You could walk into his office at any time and he would put down what he was doing to answer your questions and/or show you how to approach or solve a problem.

Stavros S. Papadopulos, Class of 1962

My Years at New Mexico Tech, and How I Became a Ground-Water Hydrologist

I did my undergraduate studies in civil engineering at Robert College, an American school in Istanbul, Turkey.  The engineering school at Robert College had a 4-year program, like that in U.S. universities, leading to a B.S. degree.  Most of the Turkish engineering schools, however, had a 5-year program leading to an M.S. degree.  It was, therefore, customary for those graduating with a B.S. from Robert College to go to the U.S. and obtain an M.S. so that, when they returned to Turkey, they would be accepted as being equivalent to engineers educated at the Turkish universities.  My interest was in the design of structures and at the start of my senior year, I applied to several U.S. universities which had a good program in this field.  By early Spring I received an acceptance letter from the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor.

Two things, that affected my plans to go to Michigan, happened soon after that. First, the Turkish lira was devaluated; this almost quadrupled the cost of a year of study in the U.S.  My father, who was prepared to send me to the U.S. for a year before the devaluation, made it clear that he could not afford to do it anymore.  Second, Robert College established a graduate school for awarding M.S. degrees.  I had, therefore, to decide whether I should continue my studies at Robert College or whether I should go to work for a few years, save some money, and then go to the U.S. for graduate school.

One evening, as I was leaving the campus for home, I ran into the Chairman of the Civil Engineering Department.  As we were walking towards the exit from the campus, he asked me about my plans for next year and when I explained my situation, he suggested that I stop by his office next day.  He said he had received a pamphlet from a college in New Mexico which was offering assistantships in a Ground-Water Hydrology program.  When I asked what Ground-Water Hydrology was, his reply was “it has to do something with hydraulic engineering.”  I stopped by his office next day to pick up the pamphlet and spent that weekend writing a letter to a Professor Mahdi Hantush at the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology (NMIMT), in Socorro, New Mexico...

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John Halepaska, Class of 1969

Founder and President of John C. Halepaska and Associates, Inc.

There is an old saying about people that look but don’t see. First arrivals at 1963 Tech had a sense of the true meaning of that saying. It felt like an old frontier Army post, and the first reaction was to get out of Dodge! After a short time you could ”see” what a marvelous community it was.

I arrived in 1963,  a Navy veteran, with a B.S. in geology and chemistry, two years experience as a roughneck on big Gulf Coast drilling rigs and two years working for a petroleum reservoir engineering company. I selected NMIMT from many others for graduate school simply because, the head of the groundwater department, Dr. Hantush had sent me a hand written letter of acceptance.

During the span of time I was at Tech, the world was in turmoil, the Tech administration changed, the department chair changed, and the fundamental approach to solving groundwater problems changed from analytical to computer methods.

Dr. Hantush was from Bagdad and arrived at Tech after receiving a Ph.D. studying under Professor Jacob, who would succeed him as chairman of the department. Iraq was in turmoil and Dr. Hantush’s wife returned there. After Saddam Hussain took over Iraq in 1966, Dr. Hantush was offered the position of minister of oil. Dr. Hantush feared for his life and declined. Dr. Hantush’s wife was a part of the royal family that had ruled Iraq before Hussain took over. Dr. Hantush never returned to Tech.

Dr. Hantush was a slight man in stature, huge in intellectual presence and a kind, helpful person. His ability to define and solve groundwater problems was remarkable. He would show how to arrive at a partial differential equation (PDE), appropriately define the boundary conditions, the initial conditions and explain the assumptions necessary. That led to applying  a variety of transforms and manipulating until the results could be tabulated and a solution methodology defined. While this method was powerful, it was also painfully tedious, slow and obviously constrained by the assumptions.

About the time Dr. Hantush left Tech, Professor Jacob came aboard. Also, the president of Tech, Dr. Workman, departed and Dr. Colgate arrived as president of Tech. It also began the transition from analytical methods of solving groundwater PDEs to computer methods. While the computer methods are powerful, much of the discipline and rigor of explaining the assumptions and various conditions began to fade.

Professor Jacob was a practical problem solver. He had a long history of working for the USGS, Utah University, State Department and as a general consultant. What was truly remarkable was that he would bring these different consulting problems into the classroom. For example, we discussed the Indus Plain water quality issues, the Rocky Mountain arsenal disposal well, control of salt water intrusion issues in Israel, seepage problems in deep uranium mines of New Mexico, issues with the various Colorado Compacts. Also included were his many technical issues with others in other disciplines especially his famous arguments with Dr. M. King Hubbard, and Dr. Muscat.

As time went on, many of his students, myself included, questioned Professor Jacob’s availability to the students. What we didn’t understand was that he was critically ill. He had a bad heart condition and at the worst possible time, his friend and doctor was killed in a plane crash. Sadly, he passed away shortly after I departed Tech. Without question, he represents the ideal modern model of a professional working on theoretical and practical engineering problems in many different disciplines. 

So what was remarkable about Tech in the 1960s? I believed that a professor from Baghdad, teaching groundwater hydrology in a desert, was a precious opportunity! His relationship with Professor Jacob was also evident in the classroom, often to make a critical point regarding the evolution of theoretical groundwater hydrology and how to squeeze theoretical into practical.

The graduate students during this period of time were a remarkable cross section of intellectually hungry individuals that fed off of each other. In and out of the classroom, there were “Bull” sessions that everyone participated in. If there was a problem, there was a group chewing on it. While many solutions were and remain elusive, it wasn’t due to lack of definition.

The professors at Tech at that time were composed primarily of World War II contributors. The proximity fuse, the bomb, high speed photography, aircraft design, radar systems, projectile design were all topics that crept into lectures. Many of these issues were defined by incredibly ingenious methods. While secrecy was often a perceived necessity, intellectual freedom ran wild. Most remarkable of all was the availability of these wonderful professionals virtually any time.

Tech also housed some very special facilities that were super supportive. How about TERA with Dr. Merle Hanson and Mr. Kempton, The Instrument room with John Richie and Joe Alloway. Dr. Holmes, Dr. Moore and Dr. Brooks with the Mountain lab. Dr. Sanford with his geophysical work.

Dr. Gross with his tritium lab. Finally, the remarkable surplus equipment bone yard. All the way from P51 engines to very early test jet engines. All you had to do was scrounge!

There were some notable events during those years worth noting, beyond the professional interface.

  1. Working within the university system to assemble several drilling rigs used to support various departments and by different students to fulfill requirements for degrees.
  2. Opportunity to interface with the Nevada test site personnel regarding site issues.
  3. Opportunity to meet with Dr. Edward Teller informally regarding issues including water on the moon.
  4. Opportunity to prepare and set explosives in support of Dr. Sanford’s effort to correlate loud noise with geophysical signal.
  5. Extracting Phelps Dodge drill pipe from a failed experiment on fracking. This included development of a shape charge to shoot off the bit.
  6. Drilling holes in support of Dr. Sanford’s study of the earth’s heat gradient.
  7. Drilling holes in support Dr. Brook’s work on Langmuir Laboratory.
  8. Drilling holes in support of groundwater research in the Estancia Valley.
  9. Development of a down hole gun for fast sampling and extraction.
  10. Development of a pump truck with all equipment necessary for a quick pump test.
  11. Development of a modified rocket launch system with the instrument room in support of Dr. Brook’s thunderstorm research.
  12. Developed initial theories on tornadoes using equipment originally constructed by Dr. Dennis Williams.
  13. Organized several major pump tests on campus. Applied many analytical methods in an effort to catalog the variability of the answers on the issue regarding: Does the test define the geology or does the geology define the test method?
  14. Worked with the Tech attorney to get the IRS to allow assistantships to be tax free.

I enjoyed many friendships on campus especially Drs. Dennis Williams, Merle Hanson and Mr. John Richie.