MGE assistant professor Isabel Barton has earned a $500,000 National Science Foundation CAREER Award. The funds will support her work bringing together multiple industry specialties, academic disciplines and demographic backgrounds to improve understanding of mining sustainability. Barton is on a mission to make mining processes more efficient by breaking down silos between geologists, who are experts on ore deposits, and metallurgists, who know how to extract the metals from rock. Barton’s background in geometallurgy, which bridges the two fields, makes her the perfect candidate for the job.
“If you look at the course of green energy, every time you eliminate fossil fuels, that means you need more metal,” Barton said. “But minerals are complicated. Minerals are messy. So, the extractive processes that should work great in theory sometimes fall down in real life.”
Barton is looking beyond the narrow range of mineral properties typically examined to establish a more proactive approach to extraction. She plans to apply detailed characterization methods to quantify all the relevant ore properties, then link them to leaching results with a series of experiments.
“If the results indicate that things like crystallinity are important in determining extraction behavior, we could add them to the routine battery of analyses and point the industry in a more efficient direction,” she said.
Though Barton’s research will be focused on the Colorado Plateau, she hopes the methods she is developing will be used worldwide to improve mining operations.
News channel KOLD also recently interviewed Barton about her work breaking down barriers in mines and in the workforce.