|Recruiting at a school in northern England in 1980|
Monday, 3 October 2016
The photo below was taken at the Lifetime Achievement Awards (LTA) Banquet at last month's IMPC in Quebec. In the centre of the picture are four LTA Award Winners, Profs. Janusz Laskowski (2008), Graeme Jameson (2016), Ponisseril Somasundaran (2016) and Roe-Hoan Yoon (2014), flanked by the IMPC's Prof. Eric Forssberg (left) and on the right Profs. Jim Finch and Cyril O'Connor.
What is so remarkable about this line-up? Well, all the familiar figures in the photo are eminent flotation scientists, highlighting the importance of this technology not only to the minerals industry but to the world in general.
There was much talk at the IMPC about the lack of manpower in the mining industry and the need to recruit new blood (and hopefully to retain these people when times are bad!), but how can we attract young people into this industry, often perceived by the media and the general public to be dirty and environmentally unfriendly?
Well, maybe just by explaining what flotation is and why it is so important.
A good start is to explain why mining is the most important industry. The minerals industry serves society- without it society as we know it wouldn’t exist, as everything we use in our daily lives is either mined or grown. Ask any pre-University student what is the most important branch of technology, and the answers will probably be computer science, electronics, genetics etc. What needs to be impressed on them is that without the minerals industry these branches of science and technology would not exist- they are totally dependent on sophisticated electronic instruments which need metals of every description.
As ores become ever more complex and refractory it can be argued that the minerals engineer, whose job it is to economically extract these metals holds the key to sustaining and advancing modern society. Recycling also plays its part, but again it is the minerals engineer who has the key role, and recycling also presents immense technological problems- for instance how do we economically recover small amounts of elements such as lithium and germanium from used computers?
So although there was much talk, as always, at the IMPC about the need to attract young people into our industry, there is little evidence of direct action to do this.
During my time at Camborne School of Mines I spent a lot of time visiting schools, showing students how their fundamental science knowledge could be utilised in a challenging field such as mineral processing. I can honestly say that I recruited to CSM at least one student from every school that I visited, and it was flotation that really grabbed their attention. It is easy to explain why flotation, essential to producing the metals needed for civilisation, is probably the most important technological invention since the discovery of smelting, which catapulted man out of the stone age into the bronze age, and unlike, say, nuclear fission, is, in terms of its basics, a very easy process to explain- next time you call in at Buckingham Palace, I am sure that Her Majesty will explain the rudiments!
On every school visit I put a flotation cell in the boot of my car, and after describing the basics of flotation to the students I showed them a sample of a finely ground lead ore. All they could see was a white powder with a few flecks of black within it. This was then introduced to water in the Denver cell, and the looks of amazement when the air was switched on and those black flecks of galena formed a rich froth was something to behold- many of them were hooked!
So, IMPC, Societies, Universities, if you want to attract students to our industry, let's become more proactive.