Images of open-cut mines or trucks laden with sand may not make you think of science and technology but Australia operates some of the safest, most efficient and environmentally focused mines in the world.
The resources sector is a big industry in Australia and a major employer of people with science skills. Australian companies mine resources like coal and aluminium as well as many of the world’s ‘new and critical’ resources — those that are both economically important, difficult to find and important for future technology.
Some, like rare earth elements and lithium, are part of everyday items like phones and cars while others can make existing products better. For example, plane turbines made with newer materials are more powerful and fuel efficient, which is better for the environment and our climate.
Scientists in the resources sector have been spectacular innovators for decades, creating many world-first technologies that have improved productivity and generated a lot of money. Think:
- Wearable technology that detects driver fatigue (biggest cause of accidents)
- Autonomous vehicles (Rio Tinto currently has 70 autonomous trucks, trains and drills operating in the Pilbara region of Western Australia)
- Bacteria to extract minerals and fix contaminated sites
- Earth-observation satellites to detect underground resources
- 3D metal printing of custom-shaped drilling parts reducing time and cost
- Digital and X-ray technology to analyse ores during processing
As the resources sector evolves with new technology — such as employing robots instead of humans in dangerous areas — new jobs will emerge. Artificial Intelligence (AI), IT security, satellite, sensor, software and data science skills are already in demand.
Jenny Do, graduate metallurgist with Newmont Goldcorp, recommends students consider the resources industry because it is creating vast wealth and thousands of jobs for Australia. “It’s an essential industry for the future, without mining there’s no technology,” she says.
“Australia’s mining industry is one of the most forward-thinking and environmentally robust. As developing countries expand and upgrade their infrastructure, they will require huge amounts of mined minerals,” Jenny continues.
To unlock the potential from Australia’s resources, science graduates from all sorts of fields will be required. They will be working with mining and exploration companies, consultancy
firms, government agencies and other businesses (like IT, laboratory testing or research and development).
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“Science really opens the doors for career opportunities and there is more demand for graduates in the resource sector right now,” Jenny says.
“I use and see science every day; from chemistry, physics, geology and metallurgy to environmental and psychology,” she says.
“Mining was a work opportunity that came along as a result of my transferable chemistry skills,” she says. “BHP saw my potential and gave me on-the-job training in metallurgy which ultimately led to my career change and becoming a hydrometallurgist.”
Suzanne now manages a team at ANSTO conducting applied research using computers and
laboratory tests to advise clients on how best to process mined rocks to extract the valuable metals inside, like lithium, a major component of batteries.
“The mining and resources industry has such a breadth of careers, from operations on site through to high-end technology development, there’s a place for anyone with an interest in STEM,” says Suzanne. – Claire Harris
Same, same but diff? Get the lowdown on what each industry actually covers
Resources: refers to mining, oil and gas development, mining services and the people and
communities around them including those working in trades and professions with businesses, governments and research organisations.
Mining: speaks to the companies and operations focused on exploration and extraction of resources including metals, oils and precious stones.
This article originally appears in Careers with STEM: Science.
Author: STEM Contributor
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