Wednesday, 11 October 2017

In memory of Alan Bromley: an inspirational geologist and a pioneer of geometallurgy

Only two months ago I reported on the death of Prof. Keith Atkinson, former Director of the Camborne School of Mines, and a geologist with a keen interest in mineral processing (posting of 6th August). Now I report sadly on the death of one of his fellow CSM geologists, Dr. Alan Bromley, who died yesterday at the age of 79.
Alan's career at CSM began in 1969, and he was an inspiration to me during my time at CSM. He was of a rare breed, a geologist, who like Keith Atkinson, had a keen interest in mineral processing. He was one of the pioneers of the then new discipline of process mineralogy, and, although the word had not yet entered the dictionary, one of the early geometallurgists. He was a brilliant teacher, with a zany sense of humour, and a lecture that he gave way back in 1975 "A geologist looks at mineral processing" had a profound influence on the way that I also looked at mineral processing, as he showed that mineral processors should have a thorough knowledge of the mineralogical composition of their ores and concentrates. Now this is obvious, but at that time I had left Zambia only a couple of years before, and during my time on the Nchanga Concentrator it is hard to believe now that, despite the wide suite of copper minerals, there was not even an optical microscope in the metallurgical office.
We often reminisced on how process mineralogy has evolved since then, with sophisticated automated scanning electron microscopes now commonplace in large operations. In the early 80s, CSM was the proud owner of one of the early image analysers, the monochromatic Quantimet 720, capable of performing linear scans on mineralogical specimens. Such was the power of this machine, that it lured the late Prof. Peter King from Wits University to a sabbatical at CSM, where he worked closely with Alan on his pioneering research into liberation analysis.
Alan left CSM in 1991 to found Petrolab in Redruth, Cornwall. He sold the business to James Strongman in 2006 and the last time that I saw him was during a visit to Petrolab two years ago to look at the installation of their new Zeiss Mineralogic Mining automated mineralogy system, a machine that Alan and I could never have even dreamt about in the mid 1970s.
Alan (3rd right) at Petrolab in 2015, with James Strongman demonstrating the new Zeiss machine
Alan will be sorely missed and our thoughts are with his wife Lesley, also a geologist, and his two sons from a previous marriage. I would like to invite all of you who knew Alan to share your memories of him below.
Twitter @barrywills


  1. Dr Chris Parks ACSM 198511 October 2017 at 11:09

    Alan was Professor of Geology for all three of my years at CSM and was instrumental in me achieving a 2:1 in Mining, which I needed to study for my PhD. His guidance and support helped me to achieve that and ultimately the career I have followed; for that I will always be grateful. I can still hear his distinctive voice and recall several of the conversations we had about “mega-cryst Granite” at the Porthmeor Cupola, a place he introduced me to and which I studied for my Third Year project. In August this year I visited Porthmeor Cove with my eldest daughter, whilst on holiday; the first time I had set foot in the cove in 32 years. My daughter embarked on a university degree earlier this month studying Environmental and Earth Sciences at UEA. She was impressed by the geological features at the cove and has the same curiosity and appreciation for geology that Alan instilled in me all those years ago. I hope that she passes on that knowledge and experience to others in the future, in the same way I have to her and Alan to me all those years ago. He will be sadly missed but never forgotten.

  2. I always remember him showing me the geological boundary between the Lizard Peninsula and the rest of Cornwall at Polurrian Cove- magical!

  3. Alan was my Head of Department at the Camborne School of Mines ; a humorous, stimulating and supportive colleague. Alan was an outstanding geologist both in the field and in the laboratory. He was a brilliant teacher who could pitch his presentation at exactly the right level whether addressing an International conference or a class of primary school children. Alan rarely took a holiday, such was his devotion to the subject. However, his wide-ranging research was often not published or else published obscure journals. Fo example his insightful interpretation of the Lizard Complex as an ophiolite was published in the ‘Lizard Naturalist'!

    After our retirement a group of us from the School of Mines used to meet for lunch when I enjoyed his well informed and wide-ranging conversation.

    My move to Malvern stopped those enjoyable events but we met briefly on a beach in Pembrokeshire last year - both still enjoying geological fieldwork.

    I will always remember him with great affection.

    Richard Edwards, Malvern, UK

  4. A proper geologist, a proper lecturer and a proper gentleman. A great loss.

    Peter Ledingham ACSM 1980

  5. Some very sad news indeed, Alan will be hugely missed by myself and all of the team at Petrolab. He was as many people will agree an inspirational lecturer, but was also right up to the end a proper scientist, always interested to engage and debate on wealth of topics, including most recently Cornish lithium mineralisation, which he worked on many year ago. I feel very privileged to have have spent so many years working with Alan, from a fresh graduate, to taking on the business after he retired and then his continued support over the years. Alan would always making time to discuss a problem and taking it back to the evidence at hand and work methodically to its solution. He would always be looking for the next advance in microscopy and mineralogical investigation and how these tools could be utilised to answer our clients questions. This philosophy has been at the core of Petrolab and has taken us to where we are today and where we look to be in the future.
    I will greatly miss being out in the field with Alan and that voice, which he seemed to save just for the field. I will also miss our rambling discussions on the mineralisation of Cornwall, which would invariably end with a quote or anecdote from his time working with Ken Hosking. Alan will be sorely missed and our thoughts are with Lesley and Alan’s family.

    James Strongman, Petrolab

  6. Geology is the backbone of Mineral Processing.Geologists with mineral processing understanding are becoming a rare species. Very unfortunate to read that Alan is no more; from your earlier posting and the above expressed sentiments about his contribution, we all may say that profession lost a man who contributed so much to our profession.
    I share your feelings.

  7. I'm very saddened by the news of Alan Bromley's passing. Alan was enormously helpful and gracious with his time and expertise during my PhD at CSM in the early 2000's, when I went to see him at Petrolab's first base near Carn Brea station. I knew Alan by reputation,; no-one who was working on granites and mineralisation in Cornwall could fail to come across his body of work, alone or with Julie Holl and the 'little white book' (Water-Rock Interaction, 1989), which I carried everywhere with me in the field. He was up there with Ken Hosking, JH Collins, Foster, Davidson and the other greats of Cornish geology. The man himself was quiet-spoken, friendly and vastly knowledgable without being daunting; I learnt an awful lot from him. He never forgot a face and even years later meeting him in Portreath he still had time for a chat and wanted to know what I had been up to.
    I hope that CSM will publish a fitting obituary for him; he was a major part of the school during its prime. My condolences to Lesley and his family and friends at this sad time.

    Nick Le Boutillier MCSM 2004.

  8. The tributes so far have come from fellow scientists, but mine is from the viewpoint of a Chartered Surveyor who valued Alan’s contribution to the process of investigating the mundic problem. He was a very clever man, but he bore this lightly, so he was one of those rare people who not only provided knowledge, skill and judgement to technical matters but often managed to amuse and entertain those he was advising.

    In particular, I shall always remember the time, some years ago now, when the RICS sent a callow youth from the BRE to address a meeting of surveyors to introduce new Guidance Notes. At a late stage, someone suggested that Alan should be asked for his view. Better late than never, I thought. Alan rose to his feet and pulled out some notes from his pocket. ‘Yes’, he began, with a broad grin on his face, ‘I made these just in case anyone asked me’. He then proceeded to give his learned view, but gently and without a trace of arrogance. It was a superb innings for the ‘home team’.

    Andrew Pool FRICS (retired)

  9. As I commented on the CSM Facebook page - so sad...just back in the UK to discover the news. He was my mentor and inspiration during my time at CSM (1968 - 1971) and was instrumental in setting me off on my career pathway. When I arrived at CSM from the navy I didn't really have a clue about what i wanted to do - mining in South Africa sounded like fun - but a combination of the minerals museum and Alan's inspiration (and contacts) led me off to exploring for minerals on the ocean floor and I've never looked back. I owe him and last saw him in July 2016 during the original Man Engine tour and he was his usual self - charming, witty and great fun. A splendid geologist. Cheers Al.

  10. Alan supervised my MSc Mining Geology dissertation project at CSM back in 1982. In addition to being a superb microscopist, geologist and all-round good bloke, Alan's oversight was invaluable in helping me to focus on key aspects of my project, such that I could bring it together as a coherent document.

    I last saw Alan in person a few years ago at an EIG conference, and I am very sad that he has left us.

    Richard Small MCSM


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