Curiosity creates…a better gold rush

Posted on August 13, 2020

Atefeh Azizitorghabeh image in the lab

For ages, one of the world’s most precious metals has been extracted using one of the world’s deadliest substances.

A Queen’s PhD candidate in the Robert M. Buchan Department of Mining may be about to change that. Atefeh Azizi Torghabeh is working on a more environmentally friendly process for extracting gold from other minerals.

“The agent I use in my experiments is 1,000 times less lethal, and has no harmful emissions,” she says. “If we can industrialize this method, it could change the world.”

Azizi Torghabeh studied material science and engineering in her home country of Iran at the University of Tehran. She visited several mines during her studies and saw the difficulties around managing wastewater. AziziTorghabeh wanted to help rebalance the focus so that the environment and zero-waste processes became more of a consideration in her industry.

That wasn’t her only motivation to succeed, however.

“In my country, metallurgy and mining is mostly offered ‘for men’,” AziziTorghabeh said. “I wanted to prove that I could do it too.”

And prove it she did. With the support of her parents and friends, AziziTorghabeh became the top ranked master’s student at the University of Tehran.

When it came time for her PhD studies, she sought out an international top ranked university, and she landed on Queen’s Engineering and Ahmad Ghahreman. As it turns out, not only was Prof. Ghahreman’s lab a great fit, so was Kingston.

“I really like it here, having come from a large city like Tehran,” she said. “It’s perfect for me, except for perhaps the winter weather.”

Through COVID-19, AziziTorghabeh has had more time for literature review, and has been keeping busy with one of her favourite hobbies: photography. The Instagram star took home second place in the 2019 Queen’s University International Centre photo contest with her mini snowman.

Once her PhD is complete, AziziTorghabeh plans to bring her research to life by working in industry. She hopes to stay in Canada, helping to bring safer practices to the many Canadian mines operating across the country.

To learn more about graduate studies in mining, visit the department’s graduate studies page.