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Laurentian lays out red carpet for grad students

December 1, 2006
by Norm Tollinsky
In: Research with 0 Comments

Sudbury mining research organizations are gearing up to recruit graduate students and researchers from across Canada and around the world to assist with an expected flood of research projects.

According to Paul Dunn, Director of the Mining Innovation, Rehabilitation and Applied Research Corporation’s (MIRARCO) Centre for Mining Technology, as many as 30 new researchers will be required to work with MIRARCO and Laurentian University staff on a broad range of projects either under way or in the pipeline.

Dunn and his colleagues are preparing to undertake an ambitious recruitment campaign to attract students and post doctoral fellows to Laurentian University.

“We ‘re basically going to be dragging young minds from all over Canada and the world to Sudbury,” said Dunn.
A hot mining market and a general shortage of mining engineers will force the University and its research organizations, which have recently been brought together under the umbrella of the new Centre for Excellence in Mining Innovation, to look for these “young minds” in some unconventional places.
International students from China, India and South America will be recruited and efforts will be made to offer a bridge to employment for immigrants with mining engineering degrees who are already in Canada but unable to find work due to a lack of Canadian experience.

“There are people with mining engineering degrees and work experience in Toronto who are driving taxis,” said Dunn. “Eighty per cent of immigrants in Canada with undergraduate degrees are working in jobs that have nothing to do with their degrees because they’re not recognized.”

Dunn envisions a Laurentian University “finishing school” that will provide mining engineers from around the world with an eight or 12-month academic upgrading program to “convert their degrees into something the mining industry will recognize.”

Chandra Nagulapolly, a Masters student with an undergraduate degree in mining engineering and nine years of work experience in India is cited as an example of the talent the University is attracting.

“These people arrive in Toronto with high hopes, but their ideals disappear after two years of unsuccessfully trying to find a job. So we’re already acting as a finishing school. What I’m suggesting is something much broader in scope.”

Other disciplines

Dunn also hopes to attract students from other disciplines, including Industrial and Mechanical Engineering, Chemical Engineering, Geology, Mathematics and Computer Science.
Canadian mining engineers already in the workforce and interested in earning a Masters or a PhD are another potential source of talent. The objective is to work with mining companies, engineering consulting firms and mining suppliers to develop a graduate co-op program that would free up employees to upgrade their academic credentials.

A possible scenario could see an employee freed up for 10 hours per week to assist with a research project in return for a contribution to the individual’s salary by the research organization. It’s a win-win proposition, said Dunn. An employee able to work towards an academic goal will likely be grateful for the opportunity and easier to retain. He or she will also bring an employer additional expertise and, if the employer is a consulting firm, it may be able to charge more for the employee’s time.

MIRARCO will also leverage its growing contacts in China, which have come about as a result of the Sudbury-based research organization’s success in selling virtual reality technology to several Chinese mining schools.

One research initiative already under way is a three-year, $10 million Planning and Rapid Integrated Mine Optimization (PRIMO) project. Led by Dunn, the project will be a co-operative effort involving MIRARCO, Laurentian’s Centre for Excellence in Mining Innovation, Australia’s Amira International and other research partners.

PRIMO will aim to adapt and integrate a series of existing software modules into a single planning and scheduling software framework to assist mining engineers in optimizing mine design and scheduling.

Optimization for an underground mine is a complex task involving “the collection of exploration information, figuring out whether it is a mine or not, then designing it in an optimal fashion, scheduling, it and planning it right through to closure,” explained Dunn.

Lean departments and heavy workloads are preventing mining engineers from taking the time to come up with an optimum solution. On top of that, mining engineers “with less experience are getting into very important roles a lot quicker than used to be the case,” said Dunn.

“In my day, you had to work your way up and it took a number of years. Now, we’re finding people with one year of experience who are actually designing mines”

Without all of the tools in place and the data in the right format, developing an optimum mine plan is very difficult, especially if there is an experience issue, said Dunn.


“What we want to do is produce a semi-automated, integrated set of software tools containing intelligent optimization algorithms to help engineers make better decisions. It will give the different scenarios automatically, so they can spend more time reviewing the options and less time generating them.”

Mining companies, including CVRD Inco, and Rio Tinto have committed to funding of US $120,000 per year, and several software suppliers have come on board to advise and assist the research team and leverage the results for inclusion in their own software products.



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