Supercomputers break down minerals research

Supercomputers break down minerals research
December 18, 2014 Sarah Nisbet

Professor Andrea Gerson

Professor Andrea Gerson

In such a complex and technical area of knowledge, Professor Andrea Gerson’s research is proving invaluable for mining companies.

“I’m looking at two ends of the same process. One is extracting valuable metals and the other is reducing the environmental impact,” Professor Gerson said.

“Much of my work is on the surface reactions of different types of minerals which can be broadly divided into two parts – one is looking at weathering and that’s related to environmental remediation, and the other is focused on minerals processing and that’s to do with extraction.”

“Both of these processes are enormously valuable for mining companies as they are key to their operations.”

“Quite often companies aren’t necessarily sure how minerals and rock types will react with each other and how these interactions may be useful. They may not consider them to be immediately valuable, but they may be extremely important in environmental remediation.”

Professor Gerson’s work involves complex molecular modeling of rock surfaces, which wouldn’t be possible without the powerful computer facilities provided by eResearch SA’s supercomputers, Corvus and Tizard.

“Molecular modeling of minerals surfaces requires us to look at how materials such as water, oxygen or mineral processing chemicals interact with the surfaces to better understand the mechanisms of what is taking place,” she said.

“The desired outcome is if you can understand the basic mechanisms you have a feel for what you can do to either improve them in terms of minerals processing or retard them, which is often the desired outcome for environmental applications.”

“One of the issues with this modeling is that it’s computer intensive, so if you only have a limited CPU, you can only look at a very small model so it’s not necessarily very realistic.”

“The way that rock surfaces and minerals react is very specific, so the more exact the model the more accurate the outcome.”

“Having access to greater computer power provided through eResearch SA helps us put in place a more realistic model in terms of the number of atoms you can have in the system and that improves the predictive power of the calculations.” Professor Gerson said another benefit of working with eResearch SA was gaining access to molecular modeling software.

“Over the years, the interaction with eResearch SA has been extremely good and the service provided has been excellent. It has given us access to facilities that otherwise wouldn’t have been readily accessible,” she said.

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