A week long summer camp at New Mexico Tech provided a venue for undergraduate students from New Mexico and other states to be exposed to research, field work and lab opportunities related to geochemistry and minerals, especially rare earth elements.
The Minerals and Fluids Summer Camp offered July 25 to 29, was funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) to promote science and educational opportunities for students traditionally underrepresented in science, technology, engineering and math.
Alexander Gysi, an economic geologist in the New Mexico Bureau of Geology and Mineral Resources and an assistant professor in the Earth and Environmental Science Department, organized the first-ever camp as an outreach component of his NSF Early Career Grant.
Gysi recognized the need for such a camp when, in reviewing dozens of graduate school applications, he saw that students from other universities don’t always have the same type of exposure to hands-on research opportunities that students at Tech receive during their undergraduate years.
“The goal of this summer school is actually to give an opportunity to students to learn about New Mexico Tech, to learn about our NSF-endowed research, to get practical research experience, and also to interact with researchers known in their field,” he said. “We do research in economic geology, we study ore deposits. There are not that many universities that give that education.”
During the week, students participated in workshops, discussions, and lectures on ore-forming processes. They also gained laboratory skills and experience, working in the bureau’s Ore Deposits and Critical Minerals and Raman MRI labs for hands-on experimental work, used microscopes for studying thin sections, and performed a mineral analysis of a water sample. Students also gained field experience and learned about field methods studying a critical mineral deposit location in the Lemitar Mountains northwest of Socorro.
“We have the field component, where we do geology,” Gysi said. “We have the laboratory component, where we do some experimental work, so fundamental research. We also have the modeling part, in which we use the computer to try to simulate these natural systems. It’s a good opportunity for them to come and kind of have a dip into three areas that span from fundamental research to applied geosciences for societal applications.”
A main focus of the camp, Gysi said, is studying critical rare earth elements, which are used in hybrid cars, energy efficient lights, cell phones and computers.
“These elements have significant now and future applications in green technology and high-technology industries,” he said. “There’s a high interest to learn more about the geology — where deposits are and how to extract them.”
The camp also provided students with multiple opportunities to interact with Tech faculty and scientists, graduate students, and post-doctoral fellows to learn about their research and career opportunities in the geosciences.
“One of the goals – and also part of the NSF mission – is to make students aware of this field of science and also how we can apply the fundamental research to real-world problems,” he said.