Thursday, 23 April 2020

Memories of Egypt and CMRDI

Today Barbara and I should have been on a plane to Cape Town for Comminution '20, with Jon and Amanda following tomorrow.  But unfortunately not to be; not only are conferences being postponed or cancelled worldwide, so is travel.
Travel has played a big part in my career, and I have been fortunate to have visited around 50 countries. I am often asked which I consider to be the most beautiful, or the most interesting. Cornwall is pretty high on either list, but in terms of sheer beauty I would have to say the Jungfrau region of Switzerland (MEI Blog 24 March 2019) is my favourite.
The most interesting, without a doubt is Egypt, which I have visited twice, both times thanks to the amazing generosity and hospitality of Cairo's Central Metallurgical Research and Development Institute (CMRDI).
In 1980 Camborne School of Mines had a visitor from CMRDI (sorry I can't remember who), who was impressed by the pilot plant which we had just put together to give students some early operating experience (MEI Blog 4 December 2010). Twelve months later I was invited to CMRDI to advise on their own fledgling pilot plant, and during my week long visit, I was taken to see the sights of Cairo, and the Pyramids at Giza (MEI Blog 13 December 2010), after which they kindly provided air tickets and accommodation for a fascinating trip to Luxor in Upper Egypt.  Luxor, on the east bank of the Nile, lies on the site of ancient Thebes, the pharaohs’ capital at the height of their power, during the 16th–11th centuries BC.
During my few days in Luxor I took a ferry across to the West Bank of the Nile, where a young Egyptian villager offered to take me down to the Valley of the Kings, which turned out to be a hair-raising journey by donkey on a very narrow path down the precipitous cliff to the tombs of the New Kingdom pharaohs. Only to find when we arrived, that the tombs had been closed for the day!
Fourteen years later, in 1995, Tawfik Refaat Boulos, Prof. of Mineral Technology at CMRDI invited me again to Cairo, this time with Barbara, a purely goodwill gesture, as I did not have to sing for my supper and we were also provided with a guide for our few days in Cairo, Kamel El-Shamy.
Cairo with Kamel El-Shamy, Refaat Boulos and his wife Brenda
By camel to the Pyramids of Giza
Inside the Great Pyramid, the Grand Gallery leading to the King's Chamber
and the granite sarcophagus of Khufu (c2500 BC)

With Kamel overlooking the old city of Cairo
The sarcophagus of Tutankhamun at the Cairo Museum
As in 1981, after Cairo, we were flown to Upper Egypt, first to Luxor, and then on to Aswan to see the awesome Abu Simbel temples of Rameses II, built in the 13th century BC. In an amazing feat of engineering the temples were relocated in 1968 on an artificial hill high above the Aswan High Dam reservoir. This was to prevent the complex being submerged during the creation of Lake Nasser, the massive artificial water reservoir formed after the building of the Aswan High Dam on the River Nile.
The Great Hypostyle Hall at Karnak (c1250BC) near Luxor
and the Mortuary Temple of Queen Hatshepsut (1458 BC) at Deir el-Bahari on the West Bank of the Nile
The Valley of the Kings and the tomb of Thutmosis III (1450 BC)
Visiting a Nubian village at Aswan
Abu Simbel
Egypt is truly magical and should be on the bucket list of anyone interested in ancient history. Unfortunately, I have totally lost touch with Prof. Boulos and would be grateful for any information on how I might contact him. And finally, a belated thank you to the staff of CMRDI for their wonderful hospitality all those years ago.


  1. Barry, let that small super computer , in a corner of your brain ,keep working--it store memories, retrieves, narrates in a most pleasant manner which persons like me enjoy, particularly in these times.
    Young fellows do not opt for studies in earth sciences, thinking that they may have to work in remote places; after reading this Blog they would know how to combine work with pleasure and get opprtunities to see stunning places, if ther is a will.

  2. Barry, Egypt is indeed a fascinating place. We spent 2 years in Cairo from 2005 when I was working on a magnesium smelter project. We saw just about all of Cairo and much of Egypt from Siwa in the west to the Sinai in the east, Abu Simbal in the south to Alexandria in the north and many places in between. Apart from being the cradle of civilisation one little known fact is there are 90 pyramids along the west bank of the Nile. Most are small but several are nearly as big as Cheops. For TC, yes the mining industry can offer insights into many remote places from the Atacama Desert to the Arctic Circle. Also since many head offices are in cities there are some fringe benefits by attending meetings in Paris or New York!!

    1. Looks like the magic of Egypt has rubbed off on you Peter, as it has with me

  3. Hello Dr. Wills! How nice to hear from you after such a long time via your MEI blog. You have always been in my mind in view of your conferences all over the whole world and your great Minerals Engineering periodical. Although I retired years ago, I still am working for CMRDI as a consultant research professor. We have done so many projects in Egypt, the Arabic area and Africa as well. I have so many publications all over the whole world with two patents in the field of phosphate and active carbon production.

    I am so happy that you still remember Egypt with its monuments, but you know, Dr. Wills, that the whole Middle East is so exciting in many ways. For example, have you been to Petra and Jerash in Jordan and the Holy Land? I am just encouraging you for some other visits after things get safe from this pandemic, and we will be able to take you to some of the wonderful beaches in Egypt at Sharm El Sheikh.

    Have a safe summer time and all the best for you and your family, and your excellent magazine, Minerals Engineering.

    Best regards from Brenda and me to you and Barbara,


    1. How great to hear from you Refaat. I am pleased to hear that you and Brenda are well. I hope you are coping with the lockdown. We are all fine here but sorry that some of our MEI Conferences are postponed for the foreseeable future.

      I would certainly like to see Petra sometime, and I always wanted to visit the Red Sea coast, particularly in my scuba diving days (now long past!).

      What became of Kamel, who was our guide in 1995?

      Please stay in touch. Best wishes to Brenda and look after yourselves during this difficult time.

      Best regards, Barry

    2. So sorry that we will be missing your excellent conferences for the time being. Do hope that the situation will clear up in the near future. It is really so sad to see the whole world in such suffering.

      I am sorry to tell you that Kamal ElShamy passed away few months ago. He was a very good guy and will be greatly missed.

    3. Really sorry to hear the sad news of Kamel's death. We remember him as a strong, fit man

    4. Dear Refaat!
      I am glat to know that you and Brenda are doing well and that you are still active, consulting for CMRDI.
      We are very sorry about Kamal's death. Great person, great public relations professional.
      I am still working as volunteer at UFMG as Professor Emeritus.
      We will never forget your hospitality during our most outstanding trip. We visited 40 countries and Egypt is number one, for sure.
      The phosphate conference in Florida is also unforgetable.
      Warm regards to Brenda and you from your Brazilian friends,
      Ivone and Antonio Peres
      PS If you want to contact me please use the e-mail address:

    5. Great to hear from Antonio that he and Refaat are now in contact, and nice to know that the blog is able to bring people together in this way

    Fathi Habashi, Laval University, Canada


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