Louise Schoneveld shoots rocks with lasers to find new reserves of critical minerals. Yes, you read that right!
An inspiring Earth science teacher at high school sparked a lifelong passion for
geology in Louise Schoneveld.
A pull to wanting to understand our Earth propelled her through a geology degree and geochemistry PhD. It took her on internships to a copper exploration site in Queensland and a lab in Japan where she grew tiny rocks. And it continues to drive her now, working as a research scientist at Australia’s national science agency, CSIRO, in Perth. “I had always hoped that I could work for CSIRO eventually,” Louise beams.
Louise shoots rocks with lasers using a piece of equipment called a laser ablation inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometer. “We make little particles, and then we can count the elements in each of the minerals in the rocks.” Traces of particular elements hint at whether the rocks come from near mineral deposits. Like nickel. It’s an important mineral used in solar cells, wind turbines, electric vehicles and energy storage. And rocks can show where to find it.
Most of Louise’s time is spent in the lab analysing rock samples, but she does get to go out in the field from time to time. “Recently, we flew out to Kalgoorlie and took our four-wheel drive to one of the mine sites,” she says. “We collected some samples for the mine geologists, brought them back, and now my task is to analyse the samples in the lab.”
Her advice to anyone interested in a career combining science and critical minerals? “Follow what you’re interested in and reach out to people with those careers,” Louise says. “See if you can visit some sites or do work experience.”
Follow Louise’s science adventures on Twitter: @L_Schoneveld
Louise’s STEM study + career path to becoming a research scientist
- Bachelor of Geology (Honours), James Cook University
- Intern, Institute for the Study of Earth’s Interior, Okayama University
- PhD Geochemistry, Australian National University
- Postdoctoral Fellow, CSIRO
- Research Scientist, CSIRO
This profile originally appears in Careers with STEM: Science 2022.
Author: Ben Skuse
Ben Skuse is a UK-based former mathematician turned professional science writer, who has written for the Careers with STEM magazines for over 5 years. You can follow him on Twitter @BenSkuseSciComm.