Graeme Thompson and Stewart Kelly from Murdoch’s School of Chemical and Mathematical Sciences are helping students see the dynamic side of the science.
“Not only do we go to schools and talk about extractive metallurgy, we get students in the lab for experiments, some of which have real ‘pop’”, said Mr Thompson, a current PhD student.
“We show them metal reactions that produce coloured sparks, like those used in fireworks. We also demonstrate a Thermite reaction, which involves using iron oxide and aluminium to create molten iron ore.
“Because of the immense potential energy in aluminium, the instantaneous reaction produces iron coming in around 2500 degrees. That’s how railroad tracks used to be fused together, so it’s a good demonstration of chemistry’s power and its application.”
The day sees students get hands-on too, working through the extraction process starting with ground copper ore. They dissolve the ore in an acid leach, decant, electrolyse and use steel wool for removal.
The Geraldton visit is part of Murdoch University’s ongoing ‘Extracting Talent for Metallurgy’, which has already seen the University travel to Karratha, Mandurah and Duncraig. The program hosted 500 students on Murdoch’s South Street Campus in June for a day of talks, demonstrations and experiments.
‘Extracting Talent for Metallurgy’ has been funded for $100,000 over five years by Rio Tinto, which Mr Thompson sees as a sound investment for students and the nation.
“Minerals and energy are at the centre of Australian life, making up roughly 50 per cent of export income. In order to keep the industry running effectively, we need to add 60 to 100 new extractive metallurgists each year,” Mr Thompson said.
“At the moment, Australian Universities are graduating about 50, so the math is pretty simple. We want students to see mineral extraction as an exciting, not to mention well compensated, option.”