Leslieville Grade 4 Class visits Lassonde Institute

As the students of Leslieville P.S. eagerly look forward to summer, they took some time on their last week before the summer break to visit the Lassonde Institute of Mining.

As a culmination to their rock and minerals unit, the grade four class came to learn about how mining affects everyone’s everyday lives, about how new technologies are being used in mining and about what kinds of minerals are mined in Canada.

Highlights of their visit included seeing how drones are used in mining and using a point load tester to determine the strength of various rock samples. With a selection of minerals on hand, the class could already identify pyrite, quartz, amethyst and graphite!

Thank you to the Leslieville Grade 4 class for your visit!


Thank you to graduate students Greg Gambino, Thomas Bamford and Johnson Ha sharing your knowledge with the Leslieville class.

Could microbes hold the key to more environmentally friendly mines? | The Northern Miner

Prof. Lesley Warren in The Norther Miner, January 9, 2017.

 

Geochemist and professor Lesley Warren (right) collects water samples for geochemical analyses from a waste deposit undergoing reclamation.

Ancient microbes could offer insight on better mining wastewater strategies

Professor Lesley Warren (standing, at right) and her colleagues are mining the genomes of microbes that thrive in wastewater generated by the resource extraction industry. Insights into how these organisms derive energy from metals and sulphur compounds could lead to new strategies for preventing pollution and optimizing mine reclamation. (Photo courtesy Lesley Warren)

This story originally appeared on U of T Engineering News.

Professor Lesley Warren (standing, at right) and her colleagues are mining the genomes of microbes that thrive in wastewater generated by the resource extraction industry. Insights into how these organisms derive energy from metals and sulphur compounds could lead to new strategies for preventing pollution and optimizing mine reclamation. (Photo courtesy Lesley Warren)

Professor Lesley Warren (standing, at right) and her colleagues are mining the genomes of microbes that thrive in wastewater generated by the resource extraction industry. Insights into how these organisms derive energy from metals and sulphur compounds could lead to new strategies for preventing pollution and optimizing mine reclamation. (Photo courtesy Lesley Warren)

Wastewater from a mine doesn’t sound like a cozy habitat, but for untold numbers of microorganisms, it’s home sweet home. A new research project led by Professor Lesley Warren (CivE) will examine how these microbes make their living by studying their genes — an insight that could help further reduce the environmental footprint of the mining industry. The $3.7-million endeavour is funded in part by Genome Canada through the Large Scale Applied Research Projects (LSARP) program.

Extracting valuable metals such as copper, nickel and gold from rocks, which typically contain only a few weight percent metals, requires substantial amounts of water. All wastewater generated must be cleaned to strict federal guidelines before it can be discharged back into the environment. It is these wastewaters that the microorganisms studied by Warren and her team thrive in.

“These wastewaters contain a variety of sulphur compounds that certain bacteria can use for energy,” says Warren, who holds the Claudette Mackay-Lassonde Chair in Mineral Engineering at U of T. “Their ability to do so evolved billions of years ago, long before more complex life arrived on the scene. If the history of Earth were a 24-hour clock, they have been around for over 23 hours, while we humans have been around for only 17 seconds.”

However, our ability to investigate these bacteria and most importantly how they are cycling these sulphur compounds, which will influence the quality of mining wastewaters, has been very limited until now. If these sulphur compounds become too concentrated, the company has to implement costly chemical treatment systems to make the water acceptable for release and avoid toxicity problems in lakes or streams downstream from the mine.

Dr. Lesley Warren is the Claudette MacKay-Lassonde Chair in Mineral Engineering within the Department of Civil Engineering.

Dr. Lesley Warren is the Claudette MacKay-Lassonde Chair in Mineral Engineering within the Department of Civil Engineering.

Warren believes that genomics can help. She has spent years travelling mine sites from Canada to South Africa to better understand the sulphur geochemistry of their wastewaters and how bacteria are implicated. “I have always preferred dirty water to clean,” she jokes.

For this project, Warren and her team will apply genomics directly in tandem with comprehensive geochemical analyses and modeling to wastewaters. She will collaborate closely with Professor Jill Banfield, a trailblazer in environmental genomics at the University of California, Berkeley, Professor Christian Baron, a microbial biochemist from the Université de Montréal, and Dr. Simon Apte, a research scientist in analytical chemistry and geochemical modeling from Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) Land and Water in Australia, to unravel the role played by these sulphur-loving microbes in important geochemical processes affecting mining wastewaters.

“Mining companies know that microorganisms are driving these reactions, but its still a black box” says Warren. “The lack of available technologies has meant that there has been little research to determine which bacteria are doing what, which ones could serve as early warning signals, or those that could actually be used as the biological treatment itself. Most importantly, mining companies don’t know which levers to pull to control the system.”

Those levers are what Warren and her colleagues aim to identify. Informed by genomic and geochemical insights they plan to develop new tools that can help mine managers make better decisions about how to manage their wastewater. “Once we understand the microbes and how they affect wastewater geochemistry, we can pinpoint the drivers of their behaviour: Which wastewater compounds are they using? Do they like it hot? Do they like it cold? We can adjust those drivers to design new processes that do what we want them to do. Essentially we are mining the bacteria that already exist in these wastewaters as a biotechnology resource.”

With this new knowledge, mines could ensure conditions that encourage the growth of organisms that break down toxic compounds, or prevent the growth of organisms that produce those toxic compounds in the first place. The team is collaborating with three Canadian mining companies, as well as two engineering consulting firms, Advisian and Ecological and Regulatory Solutions. In addition, the Mining Association of Canada, the Ontario Mining Association and CSIRO are further supporting the project.

The project also has the endorsement of the Canadian Institute of Mining, Metallurgy and Petroleum (CIM), the leading not-for-profit technical society of professionals in the Canadian minerals, metals, materials and energy industries. CIM National Executive Director, Jean Vavrek, commented: “CIM are in full support of this exciting new project.  While genomics itself is relatively new to the mineral resource industry, it has the potential to provide significant returns and generate new areas for investment in the sector.  We consider this a flagship project and will continue to follow Dr. Warren and her team closely as they pioneer genomics research for mine wastewater characterization and possibly treatment.”

“The mining industry has driven this project from its inception because they want to reduce their environmental footprint. Harnessing the biological potential of their wastewaters will facilitate the development of such strategies to achieve this goal,” says Warren. “So many of the organisms we’re finding are new to science. The chances that we are going to find organisms that are capable of doing creative things that could be useful are very high.”

CivE alumnus wins international Rocha Medal in rock mechanics

Bryan Tatone addresses the 2016 Lassonde Research Day

Prestigious award is the ultimate prize in rock mechanics for young researchers, putting two graduates and one faculty member on the map

Bryan Tatone (CivE PhD 1T4) has been named the 2017 recipient of the international Rocha Medal, the most prestigious award a student can receive for rock mechanics research.

Bryan Tatone addresses the 2016 Lassonde Research Day

Bryan Tatone addresses the 2016 Lassonde Research Day

Tatone is the second student of Professor Giovanni Grasselli (CivE) to win the Rocha Medal in as many years. Grasselli, who holds the Foundation CMG Industrial Research Chair in Fundamental Petroleum Rock Physics and Rock Mechanics, won the prestigious honour just 12 years ago.

The prize is awarded each year by the International Society for Rock Mechanics (ISRM) to one doctoral student with an outstanding thesis.

“Rock mechanics is the study of how rocks respond when we engineer them, and it has a lot to do with how rock deforms and fractures” explains Grasselli. “This is especially important for building tunnels, assessing the stability of rock slopes, laying foundations on rock, and assessing reservoir behaviour for the petroleum industry.”

For Grasselli, the awards are recognition of the quality of his group’s work over the past 10 years, and global research excellence in the field of rock mechanics at U of T Engineering.

Tatone’s thesis on the behaviour of shearing rock fractures — lateral movements of rocks against each other underground — is important to projects with geological components. Tatone’s work represents a breakthrough in geological imaging — it is the first instance of micro X-Ray Computed Tomography (µCT) being used to study shearing evolution. It also features the use of a novel numerical modelling approach called the Finite-Discrete Element method (FDEM), which allows the process of rock fracturing to be explicitly simulated.

“Having my work recognized by the international selection committee is a welcome validation of my research efforts, and an immense honour,” said Tatone.

Andrea Lisjak Bradley (CivE PhD 1T3), another of Grasselli’s PhD students, won the award in 2015 for his research on the underground disposal of radioactive waste. It is the first time in Rocha Medal history that two students of a previous recipient also won the award.

Lisjak’s research has helped the current site-selection and design process for an underground radioactive waste repository in Switzerland. His numerical model of shale behaviour can be applied to several issues including stability of surface and underground excavations.

For Lisjak, his experiences during his PhD have been crucial in succeeding in his role with Geomechanica, a start-up company spun out of the research performed by Lisjak, Tatone and their peers. The company develops geomechanical simulation software and provides consulting and laboratory testing services for rock engineering operations, using algorithms and numerical procedures to better simulate the mechanics happening underground before project begin.

“The technical expertise and extensive knowledge I gained during the course of my PhD, as well as developing a professional network in part due to the Rocha Medal, has resulted in greater business development and several consulting opportunities for Geomechanica,” he said.

“When we first started this research, we did not have any guarantee that it would work,” said Grasselli. “The start-up company and the number of published papers that have come out on this topic since we started the research prove how innovative it is.”