Murdoch’s metal men promote STEM program in the Pilbara

June 7, 2018

Applied science: Students at Roebourne District High School learned all about the chemistry behind the metal extraction processes employed by mining companies.

Another successful year of the Science Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) outreach program in the Pilbara has concluded, with more than 300 secondary school students in mining communities learning about the basic principles of metal extraction.

Now in its second year, the current STEM outreach program is the result of a partnership between Murdoch’s School of Engineering & IT and Rio Tinto, with the aim of inspiring students to consider studying at Murdoch University and ultimately, pursue a career in the mining industry.

A former high school teacher and metallurgical student, Rio Tinto-Murdoch University STEM Outreach Program Coordinator Graeme Thompson said this was achieved by demonstrating the methods of extracting some of WA’s most valuable metals.

“These visits allow the students to meet with people from a University and realise that science has application in the real world,” Mr Thompson said.

“As part of this outreach, we try to challenge the students to think about continuing their studies in STEM type subjects and aim for a higher level than they may originally think.”

The outreach program begins with students learning a bit about the mining industry, before Mr Thompson and Technical Manager Ken Seymour guide them through some experiments to show how metals are extracted from ores.

“We demonstrate how copper is produced from its ore, through leaching, decanting, cementation (metal displacement) and electrowinning,” Mr Thompson said.

“We explain the chemistry behind these extraction processes, and relate them back to what actually happens in the minerals industry, so they get an insight into what it is like to be a metallurgist for day.”

This year’s outreach program was well-received by the students of Karratha Senior High School, St Luke’s College, Roebourne District High School, and Tom Price Senior High School.

Some schools also had the chance to witness Mr Seymour’s awe-inspiring demonstration of a thermite reaction.

Mr Thompson said this was the first time Roebourne District High School and Tom Price Senior High School were included in the outreach program: “What struck us most was the enthusiasm, participation and knowledge of the Roebourne students, given the type of class we run is very different to their regular learning schedule.”

Roebourne District High School teacher Rebecca Stokes said she was impressed with the level of her students’ enthusiasm and understanding of what was occurring.

"The students and staff at Roebourne District High School loved having Graeme and Ken come out to visit us, it would be great if it happened every year," she said.

"As a result, our students are becoming more interested in university and other tertiary options."

Rio Tinto general manager Communities and Communication, Linda Dawson said:  “education is critical to a productive, active and informed society and we support educational initiatives that encourage learning from early childhood through to adulthood.”

“We focus on building capacity in future generations and fostering a culture of innovation, particularly through supporting education programmes in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) disciplines,” she said.

“We are committed to developing a pipeline of diverse graduates who are STEM-literate and engaged potential future employees, who are aware of STEM related pathways in the resource sector, with particular emphasis on innovation and automation to complement our future diverse workforce composition.”

Through the partnership, the Rio Tinto-Murdoch University STEM Outreach program is continuing, with participating Perth schools visiting the University throughout this month.

Media enquiries: Paige Berdal 9360 6742 /


Lit up: Murdoch University Technical Manager Kenneth Seymour demonstrates a thermite reaction to staff and students at Roebourne District High School.




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