Thursday, 26 January 2017

A Rising Star: Anita Parbhakar-Fox

The second person in our Rising Stars series is Dr. Anita Parbhakar-Fox, of the University of Tasmania, Australia, who we have met at various conferences around the world, and who has impressed us with her professionalism, enthusiasm and commitment to the minerals industry.
Anita with Prof. Barrie Johnson in Cambridge, UK, December 2015
Anita is 33 years old and trained as an environmental geologist at the RSM, Imperial College (MSc 2005) where she undertook a research project examining arsenic contamination in Bangladesh, which made her realise "that as a geoscientist I could use my skills to make a positive difference in terms of protecting human health and ecosystems". She built on this passion by completing a PhD (at CODES, University of Tasmania, 2012) focussed on developing techniques and protocols to assist the mining industry with predicting and managing acid rock drainage.
Anita with Julie Hunt and Elly van Veen, examining acid mine drainage at Rio Tinto, Spain
She worked on the fringe of the AMIRA P843/A geometallurgy projects and was in the very fortunate and unique position of exploring the links between geometallurgy and geoenvironmental datasets and establishing new proxy and domaining tools for early life-of-mine environmental planning. Since then her interest and participation in geometallurgy has grown through her first post-doc with CRC ORE (posting of 26 December 2016) and now with the Transforming the Mining Value Chain (TMVC) hub, particularly in the context of evaluating mine waste materials (tailings, slag and waste rock) as potential commodities and with the establishment of the UN Sustainable Development Goals. She says that "the time really is now to be in this very exciting field!"
Anita's main research continues to focus on improving early life-of-mine geoenvironmental characterisation, mainly through using hyperspectral and automated mineralogy tools as well as mineral chemistry analysis as funded directly by the TMVC Hub. In this framework she has had the opportunity to supervise and mentor PhD students and collaborate with industry partners to optimise the applications of these datasets with the potential to improve mine waste management strategies. In addition, she is a unit-coordinator/lecturer of BSc Environmental Geology, where she gets to directly teach 3rd year students her research outcomes- she says "there is nothing more satisfying at the end of the semester than seeing the students able to perform environmental logging, critically evaluating acid-base accounting datasets and recognising different mineral processing techniques for recovering metals from tailings. Tasmania is a fantastic place to teach this subject- there are many ‘natural laboratories’ to work in!"
This year Anita also had the pleasure of organising and chairing a special environmental session at the AusIMM geometallurgy conference. "This was a great opportunity to engage with the wider geometallurgy community and demonstrate how they can further embed environmental indicators into their overall systems" she said.
Anita with Regina Baumgartner (Goldfields) and Simon Dominy (Exchange Minerals)
at the geometallurgy conference
Other projects have been on working with the Tasmanian State Government and the Tasmanian mining industry geochemically evaluating historic and abandoned mine sites and identifying the best possible rehabilitation options based on the mineralogy and mineral chemistry. For example, she started work characterising a historic tailings facility with an honours student in 2014, where they determined that pyrite was cobaltiferous and she has since performed bioleaching tests at ALS Metallurgy (Burnie, Tasmania) to determine Co recovery (the preliminary findings were presented at Biohydrometallurgy ’16). This project will continue into next year. Her group has just completed a project examining the application of boiler ash generated by a local paper and pulp mill for controlling acid rock drainage generated by a range of different mine waste materials- using one industries waste to manage another’s - very much in keeping with circular economy principles. Finally, she has been working on optimising static and kinetic testing of waste materials directly with industry sponsors and will have funding to continue this next year with an Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering grant enabling collaboration with Process Mineralogy '17 sponsor Petrolab Ltd.   
I asked Anita what were her plans for the near future and her aspirations for the long term? She said "In the short-term, my career will continue to focus on improving mine waste management through developing tools, techniques and frameworks which allow for sustainable mining and the economic evaluation of mine waste material. This is an area of research with outcomes that are so important to society, and with groups like CSIRO and University of Cape Town developing better bioleaching of mine waste techniques, establishing new collaborations will be critical to achieve this. I have several new industry-collaborations planned for the new year, where we will be implementing new waste classification methods during the early life-of-mine stages. Next year the CODES MSc Geometallurgy course will run in Sep/Oct and I will be assisting in the development of an up-to-date programme which will include a range of industry and academic lecturers. Long term, my goal is to establish a formal ‘Mine Waste Evaluation’ research centre whereby researchers can work closely with industry to design bespoke best practice mine waste management strategies. However, with the mining industry paying such close attention to the UN SDGs, this could happen much sooner than planned!"
Anita tells me that outside her very busy professional life she does not have a great deal of time for other interests, although she enjoys architecture, technology, interior design and science fiction. Her life outside work revolves around her family life. She is married to Nathan Fox, an economic geologist, who she met on their first night of university at the RSM back in 2001, and they became instant friends. She says that having a partner in geoscience really helps, and "it's fantastic that our paths have recently crossed and we've been able to collaborate on some projects- not many couples can say they've published together- and enjoyed it"!
Anita and Nathan with Elaine Govender-Opitz of University of Cape Town,
at Sustainable Minerals '16
Nathan and Anita married in Sydney in 2009, and have two small children, Cohen (6) and Archibald (3).
Wedding day 2009, and Anita with Archibald and Cohen
It is always a pleasure to talk to Anita, and we at MEI look forward to following the progression of her career, which has got off to a flying start.
Twitter @barrywills

1 comment:

  1. Good to know, in detail, the very relevant work Anita is doing and plan to do; mine waste has many facets and Anita's work would be of great value. I feel the work on arsenic would lead to understanding arsenic in ground water in many parts of India.
    Congratulations and all the best to Anita.


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