‘Full-circle’ microscope donation from Murdoch University alumna to help reach a green steel future

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A cutting-edge microscope donated to Murdoch University by Rio Tinto will considerably advance mineral analysis capabilities, leading towards a more sustainable future.

The ZEISS EVO Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM) can deliver detailed images of mineral samples magnified up to 300,000 times.

This technology serves a multitude of purposes, including detecting contaminants and conducting failure analyses.

Murdoch University’s partnership with Rio Tinto has been instrumental in developing sustainable methods to extract the minerals needed for electrochemical systems and batteries.

In what is described as a ‘full-circle’ moment, the leader of the Rio Tinto team behind the microscope donation is Murdoch alumna Rebecca Pickering.

Ms Pickering began her undergraduate degree in 2001, studying Extractive Metallurgy and Chemistry.

She said she fondly remembered practical lessons in laboratories, and simulations that inspired her to move into the mining industry.

"We used the small-scale mining equipment to simulate real mining and processing activities,” Ms Pickering said.

This gave me a real appreciation of how the theory I was studying would actually be scaled up in industry and is what really got me excited to work in this industry.”

After finishing her degree, Ms Pickering worked as an extractive metallurgist and in process engineering, cutting her teeth in technical, leadership and strategy roles across copper, uranium, mineral sands and diamonds.

Her current role is general manager for process engineering and major hazards for the Rio Tinto iron ore Pilbara operations.

In a portfolio with an enormous scope, from chemical engineering and geometallurgy to tailings and process and functional safety, Ms Pickering said she was working to “shape the future of processing” which included how Rio Tinto would participate in a “green steel future”.

She said the microscope donation was a serendipitous moment to return to her alma mater.

“Making this donation is an opportunity for me to give back and provide support to those preparing to enter the industry in the same way I was supported over 20 years ago.

I remember the significant impact the generosity of mining companies had during my undergraduate years. Their contributions (financial, technical and in field trip support) made it possible for us to be exposed to industry and better prepared me for the workforce.”

Ms Pickering said the microscope was a critical tool to understanding the fundamental properties of ore bodies, and for diagnosing current stage processing problems, which has informed much of the program to decarbonise the steel industry into the future.

Her advice to other students wishing to go into the field was that there was never a better time to join the mining industry.

“Metals and minerals are critical to the world’s emission reduction journey, and we need the best and brightest minds joining us to identify how to most-efficiently extract the key materials the world needs,” Ms Pickering said.

Curious about a career in engineering? Looking to learn more about working in the mining industry? Learn more about Murdoch University's engineering and energy courses
Posted on:

26 Feb 2024

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