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Earth science students shine at world’s largest conference on mineral exploration
Author: Media & Communication, Faculty of Science
Published: 21/07/2022

​Yann Waku and Steve Chingwaru, postgraduate students in the Department of Earth Sciences at Stellenbosch University (SU), recently walked away with the first and third prizes in the MSc online presentation category at the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada's (PDAC) conference.

According to their study leader, Dr Bjorn von der Heyden, their achievement is all the more remarkable as the PDAC conference is generally regarded as one of the world's largest international conferences on minerals exploration and investment.

Yann, who works as an exploration geologist at Kibali Gold Mines in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), is doing his Masters' degree in exploration geology on a part-time basis. This means working on site for nine weeks at a time, followed by a month's work in the lab at SU, and then back to work again.

“The DRC is one of the greatest countries in the world for geological exploration, but most of it is understudied. In my work, I experience this daily. Through my research, we have obtained a larger scientific basis to help direct and drive our exploration efforts".

To date, his research is leading to the generation of new greenfield exploration targets. To achieve these results, he had to methodically work to combine geophysical and geochemical data with data derived from a detailed study of the gold ore textures, chemistry, and minerals that are associated with it. This information then has to be interpreted in the context of past and present theories about the geological history of the area.

Steve, who grew up in Zimbabwe and finished his schooling in South Africa, says he enjoys Earth Sciences because of his interest in the great outdoors, camping and the idea of travelling to the most remote places of the world.

He has also been inspired by his grandfather, the late George Henry Nolan's memoir titled The Road to Lithium Lodge, which tells the story of his journey in the 1920s to prove the economic value of the world's largest petalite deposit at Bikita in Zimbabwe.

His current research, however, focuses on extractive metallurgy: “Geometallurgy is the practice of combining geology or geostatistics with extractive metallurgy. This field has gained momentum over the years due to the overall decrease of high-grade ores globally. I am now working with tailing dump material from the Witwatersrand goldfield to show that there may be a significant portion of invisible gold hosted in the sulphides of these dumps."

The aim of his research is to give the mines sufficient reason to mine the tailings dumps in a sustainable way. This means they can unlock the extra gold and get rid of the pollutants associated with tailing dumps at the same time.

“I enjoy that my research is contributing to overall cleaner production. This is in alignment with where the world is trying to go now, in terms of fixing the mistakes that were made in the past," he concludes.