A bright discovery: U of A intern discovers better way to extract diamonds
'You don't need to have a PhD to make an exciting discovery'
One Grade 11 student's summer research at the University of Alberta has the possibility to change how industry leaders extract diamonds from rocks.
As part of a six-week internship called the Wisest Summer Research Program, students get the chance to spend their summer doing research at the university.
Hamdi Ali spent this summer at the university's Earth and Atmospheric Sciences department as part of the internship program. She had the chance to work with various researchers in the geology department for six weeks.
As part of her research, she learned how the mining industry separates diamonds from rocks.
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She discovered a machine on campus called SELFRAG could be "a smarter way to separate the rock into minerals," she told CBC's Radio Active on Friday.
The machine sends about 200,000 volts of energy into a rock, destroying it, she explained. It then makes it easier to sift through in hopes of finding the valuable rock.
'They were really excited'
University staff are testing the machine's capabilities and Ali's tests were some of the first to prove the machine can find more quality diamonds than traditional methods.
"She basically found that when she used this new technique, she recovered 10 diamonds. When she used the conventional technique that mining companies used, she didn't recover any," said graduate student Margo Regier, who worked with Ali.
She had the opportunity to present her findings to some employees of De Beers Group Exploration while they were visiting the campus last summer.
She basically found that when she used this new technique, she recovered 10 diamonds.- Margo Regier, University of Alberta graduate student
"They were really excited," Ali said. "They gave me a lot of positive feedback and they were interested in the results. That was when I realized I might be onto something there."
She also recently presented her findings to the Yellowknife Geoscience Forum in front of industry leaders.
Regier said it's rare to have high school interns make such important discoveries in just six weeks but it's encouraging.
"You don't need to have a PhD to make an exciting discovery. You just need some hard work, some good ideas and I think Hamdi successfully did that," said Regier.
As for Ali's future career path, she said geology is now higher up on her list of career options.
"I wasn't really sure about geology as a career and it didn't cross my mind, but now it's a viable option."