October 2019

Educating the next generation of geoscientists

  • By Dr Graham Heinson and Dr Richard Lilly, University of Adelaide; and Patrick Lane, NExUS 2018 participant

Following on from its successful NExUS graduate program, the University of Adelaide is looking to expand its offering to Honours students studying mineral geosciences 

Since 2016, the University of Adelaide has had a national presence in the delivery of graduate level coursework in mineral exploration through its National Exploration Undercover School, or NExUS. The three-week NExUS summer school program is well regarded by industry, providing high-level training in mineral exploration and geoscience for 30 of the best graduating Honours students from around the country. A new Honours in Mineral Geoscience course, starting in 2021, will build on this reputation, providing a year-long training program that will lead to greater employment outcomes for students looking to work in the minerals industry. 

New Honours course format

The first half of the year of the new Honours degree consists of coursework split into three themes:

  • Mineral Exploration Science: understand the challenges and opportunities in the global minerals industry (five-week module)
  • Mineral Exploration Skills: develop technical skills, from geological context to the emergence of new technologies and data analytics (ten-week module)
  • Mineral Exploration Professional Practice: understand workplace skills, from leadership and communication to native title, stakeholder engagement and environmental best practice (five-week module). 

In the second half of the year, students will put these skills into practice with a collaborative project with one of the State and Territory Geological Surveys in South Australia, New South Wales and the Northern Territory. 

The new Honours program will use blended delivery/teaching methodologies (such as flipping) that include online learning modules to enhance face-to-face involvement and a student-centred approach. Students in the program will experience varied modes of assessment including assignments, examinations, practical work, reflections, competency-based assessment and field trip reports. 

For more details contact Professor Graham Heinson University of Adelaide via Graham.Heinson@adelaide.edu.au.

NExUS – a three-week course providing world-class training in mineral exploration

The new Honours program builds on the reputation, experience and teaching methods developed in the University of Adelaide’s NExUS program. The most recently completed program, the third annual National Exploration Undercover School (NExUS) took place over three weeks in November-December 2018, and was attended by 32 eager and excited geoscience students and early career mining and exploration professionals. 

NExUS is funded by the Minerals Council of Australia (MCA) Minerals Tertiary Education Council (MTEC). Delivered by key figures in industry, government and academia, NExUS participants are exposed to leading exploration concepts and technology to face the challenges of effective exploration through post-mineralisation cover. The course consists of workshops, interactive lectures and hands-on activities both in the field and in the classroom, with evening networking events with senior representatives from industry and professional organisations.

‘As we are forced to explore not only deeper, but under extensive cover, specialist skills are required to meet the challenges that arise.’

The 2018 NExUS cohort represented every Australian state and territory and were selected from eleven different universities, together with early career geoscientists from five different exploration and mining companies, Geoscience Australia and the NSW geological survey. Participants (including geology and geology/engineering undergraduates, Honours and Masters students, and recent graduates), are encouraged to not only to think critically about the challenges facing mineral explorers today, but also the technology and practices required to overcome these challenges. As we are forced to explore not only deeper, but under extensive cover, specialist skills are required to meet the challenges that arise. NExUS aims to bridge this knowledge and training gap with this intensive introductory course, focusing on the four core themes of the broader, nationwide UNCOVER Australia initiative, which aims to help lift the success rate of finding Tier 1 and Tier 2 deposits to the rate enjoyed 30 years ago in the exposed domain. The four themes are:

  • Characterising the cover – new knowledge to confidently explore beneath the cover
  • Investigating Australia’s lithospheric architecture – a whole-of-lithosphere architectural framework for mineral systems exploration
  • Resolving the 4D geodynamic and metallogenic evolution of Australia – understanding ore deposit origins for better prediction
  • Characterising and detecting the distal footprints of ore deposits – towards a toolkit for minerals exploration.

NExUS 2018 recap

The 2018 participants (nicknamed ‘NExFam’) assembled in the state-of-the-art South Australian Drill Core Reference Library in Tonsley, SA – their base for the first week. Diving into the core themes, the class was given introductory presentations from Rohan Cobcroft (Geological Survey of South Australia) and Phil McFadden (UNCOVER) on the challenges facing the exploration and mining sector. This was followed by Stephan Thiel and Kate Robertson (GSSA) with an in-depth explanation of the 4D architecture of the Gawler Craton, focusing on the newly acquired AusLamp data. This was rounded off by showcasing the potential of Magnetotellurics (MT) for deep crustal imaging in the facilities 3D visualisation suite. Anthony Reid (GSSA) gave an enthusiastic presentation of the history of the GSSA and the lessons we can draw from the past to help us in the future. All this in the first day, setting the pattern for the rest of NExUS: a knowledge packed, three-week journey.

Week one continued to expand on the UNCOVER themes with a one-day regolith workshop under the expert guidance of Carmen Krapf and Malcolm Sheard (GSSA), with components of biogeochemistry and hydrology from Anna Petts (GSSA) and Adrian Costar (DEW), followed by a one-day geochemical dispersion workshop by Ravi Anand and Walid Salama from CSIRO. Discussions and practical exercises on sampling mediums, regolith interfaces and appropriate geochemical techniques put the students’ newfound knowledge to the test.

Logging exercises on core from the Coompana drilling campaign, led by Rian Dutch and Adrian Fabris (GSSA) were followed by a tour of the Hylogger, incorporating a hyperspectral data workshop taught by Alan Mauger (GSSA). Week one ended with a stand-out structural geology workshop by Jun Cowan and Brett Davis (Orefind) utilising their new software where students learnt to identify and plot structures using assay data, as well as the ‘dos and don’ts’ of collecting structural measurements from drill core.

Week two took the cohort to Strathalbyn in the Adelaide Hills, where lessons learnt in week one were put into practice in the field at Hillgrove Resources’ Wheal Ellen prospect. A wide range of activities took place over three days of intensive field work. Some teams focused on detailed mapping of the prospect under the tutelage of Michael Belperio (Newmont), while others conducted geophysical surveys with Mike Hatch, Derrick Hasterok, Ben Kay (University of Adelaide) and representatives from ZZ Resistivity, Zonge Geophysics and Geoscience Australia. Detailed and honest discussions were had while acquiring data from induced polarity, magnetics, resistivity, MT and gravity surveys as well as geochemical soil sampling. 

Evening discussions on each day’s activities and pXRF analysis of the soils proved fruitful in practicing data processing and analysis. NExFam also visited the historic Brukunga pyrite mine to learn about rehabilitation from John Mignone (GSSA) and the Boart Longyear drilling research facility, learning how new technology is transforming the drilling industry.

Returning to Adelaide for the end of the week, the cohort attended the South Australian Exploration and Mining Conference (SAEMC), giving many of the students their first experience attending a conference, and a great chance to test their newly developed networking skills with enthusiasm. Inspired by the evening networking talks, an impromptu session was also held by representatives of the AusIMM Women in Mining Network (WIMnet) and Women in Earth and Environmental Science Australasia (WOMEESA) on inclusion and diversity in the mining industry. The day was topped off by an inspiring session with senior geoscientists from BHP discussing their career paths and passing on some personal advice for graduates.

‘An essential component of NExUS is networking, giving participants the confidence, means and contacts to return home and continue learning.’

Week three was based at Walleroo on the historic Copper Coast of the beautiful Yorke Peninsula, where Richard Lilly taught several workshops on ore textures and breccia systems combined with daily field trips to historical copper mine sites. Highlights of the week were paragenetic logging exercises conducted on highly altered drill core from Rex Minerals IOCG-Skarn Hillside deposit, in situ regolith studies courtesy of Colin Conner, as well as numerous opportunities for specimen fossicking (including beautiful atacamite!). 

Week three tied together the knowledge and skills developed during the first two weeks with fun field work and enthusiastic discussions among participants. To conclude the course, Gavin Springbett (G&S Resources) presented a workshop on the JORC code, resource estimation and a 3D orebody modelling session in Maptek Vulcan software. The final morning also included a ‘real world’ talk and highlighted the importance of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural heritage, safety systems, effective communication and teamwork.

An essential component of NExUS is networking, giving participants the confidence, means and contacts to return home and continue learning from those they met during the course. Most nights throughout the course finished with an informal talk by industry professionals on a diverse range of subjects from general advice for graduate geologists to different perspectives on exploration methodologies. Leading industry professionals such as Kathy Ehrig, Jamie King and Jesse Clarke (BHP); Janine Harzig (AusIMM President); Joel Blake and Alex Richards (Rio Tinto); Glen Little and Anna Olgivie (Minatour Exploration); Kevin Stephens and Christine Thomson (FMG); and Josh Leigh (AIG) all shared their experiences, advice and some great stories. Importantly, these informal evening sessions gave participants insights into the different aspects of working for both large and small companies, as well as the opportunity to ask a myriad of questions on all aspects of careers and exploration. The cohort also fostered strong ties between themselves with friendships made and experiences swapped.

The importance of this course to the participants and the minerals industry cannot be underestimated. A strong social media group continues daily to discuss and share knowledge and experiences as they move into new roles in the industry, enthusiastically passing on lessons learnt to their peers. Cumulatively the NExFam has just reached a century; with 102 alumni since inception. A mid-year reunion took place in Perth in early September 2019 and reunited many of the 102 participants of the 2016, 2017 and 2018 groups. 

The next program will be delivered in November-December 2019 and had a record number of high-quality applications.

Share This Article