Research

Women in Engineering Profile - Chemical Engineering PhD candidate Candice Brill (UQ)

Chemical Engineering PhD Candidate Candice Brill is working to make minerals processing less wasteful by blowing bubbles’ and making mud pies’

A fascination about how the earth’s minerals and metals are formed, combined with a love of chemistry, began Candice Brill’s journey towards chemical engineering as a profession. 

Once an aspiring vulcanologist, Candice moved her focus to mineral and metal recovery methods, and is currently pursuing a PhD in Chemical Engineer

ing at the University of Queensland. 

Metals are fundamental for building the structures and objects that make up our everyday lives, and Candice wants to contribute to making their extraction from the earth more sustainable. 

Through her research, Candice is discovering new and more effective ways to separate precious minerals from their ore as an ARC Centre of Excellence for Enabling Eco-Efficient Beneficiation of Minerals researcher.

Specifically, Candice is looking to improve the flotation’ process, a commonly-used, initial stage of mineral separation technique that recovers metal bearing minerals (like copper, nickel and gold) from the ore that surrounds them. This separation method needs the ore to be mixed with water and ground into a fine powder — in a process which his one of the highest energy consuming stages of mining.

Candice’s work aims to better understand the chemistry behind the separation process. She is testing new ways to make larger (known as coarse’) mineral particles float better, which will reduce the energy needed to grind rocks into very fine powders.

Some minerals are, or can be made hydrophobic, meaning they will repel water like duck feathers’. Others can be hydrophilic / attracted to water. This means that different mineral particles can be encouraged to sink or float based on their affinity for water, with the help of air bubbles and by adding other ingredients to the mixture. 

Candice explains: This is where the complex chemistry comes in – ores contain many different minerals, making it extremely challenging to only make the minerals 

you want hydrophobic”. 

We blow bubbles through a liquid mix of mineral and water (‘slurry’), and the water-repelling (hydrophobic) minerals attach to air-bubbles — to get away from’ the water — and float to the surface, where they can be recovered.” 

It’s exciting when an experiment responds the way you expect it to, thought-provoking when it doesn’t, and no matter how often you’ve repeated a particular test there are always observations that interest and surprise you,” she shares.

Much of Candice’s research relates to chalcopyrite, a copper-bearing mineral. She hopes her work will one-day be offer industry a better way to recover copper with less energy use, delivering cost and operational efficiencies to industry, as well as sustainability improvements.

Candice moved into PhD studies after having worked in industry. This meant many adaptions, but according to Candice, there are benefits to having experience in both worlds’.

I recommend everyone spend some time working in industry, to learn what is important and practical for industry, making you better equipped to think about

how research can be applied and adopted.”

Doing a PhD enables a greater ability to, really focus on projects with longer time horizons”. As a creative and practical problem-solver by nature, Candice also finds that PhD research offers her the ability for her to think deeply about a subject, which can have the benefit of finding unexpected solutions to challenging problems.

A value-add for chemical engineering as a profession is that it requires, getting out from behind a desk”.

Moving between the lab at the university and visiting industrial plants, where we explore challenges and test new ideas on a larger scale with industry, gives me a fuller view of how the innovation lifecycle, from idea to invention and application. I really like how applying scientific theory becomes real’ in a lab or on a mine site. It requires all of your skills and senses as you work, often applying your knowledge in a new way, adapting and collaborating to solve challenges, and finding better solutions to solve problems knowing you are contributing to making a positive change in the world.”

Teamwork is an important skill for Candice, and in many workplaces, but it’s not always something immediately associated with completing a personal PhD. However, collaboration a necessary and value part of being a researcher with COEMinerals. 

I’m always learning and discovering how people in other fields think and do things, which is inspiring, and I’ve made personal connections with peers from other universities that I’m sure I’ll be in contact with in years to come.”

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When it comes to Women in Engineering / Engineering Careers:

While W

omen remain a minority in the engineering profession and STEM studies globally, Candice encourages others to considering engineering and STEM roles.

If finding tangible solutions to real world problems is something that interests you, engineering is a good study and career choice. 

Yes, you may face problems – some people may try to make you feel like you don’t belong, and you may come across infrastructure, policies and systems that remind you that you’re operating in a world and profession designed for men — but you will also find wonderful people who support you and value what you have to contribute.