Speaker Spotlight: John Ralston

25 July 2019

In our latest Q&A, we interviewed MetPlant 2019 keynote speaker, John Ralston, Emeritus Laureate Professor at The University of South Australia on his presentation titled “Interfacial Science – A Critical Enabler in Hydrometallurgy and Mineral Processing”

John is a Physical and Colloid Chemist with complementary training in metallurgy, whose research interests embrace various aspects of interfacial science and engineering.
Read more on John Ralston.

With such a distinguished career and being a teacher and mentor to so many in the industry, do you still feel you have anything to learn about surface chemistry and hydrometallurgy?

I still have an enormous amount to learn about both surface chemistry and hydrometallurgy. For example, in the case of surface chemistry, there are exciting developments in understanding real time motion of organic and inorganic species as they move into and out of interfaces, along with new insights into the structure of condensed phases such as sediments and pastes. Hydrometallurgy is taking on new dimensions as knowledge transfer from nanotechnology is absorbed and utilised in leaching and solvent extraction. There is still much to explore.

How important do you feel lifelong learning and professional development are in our industry?

It is a critical component of the career path for all professionals and is non-negotiable for success. Professional bodies such as AusIMM are fundamental to providing a platform for this continuing professional development.

Your career sees you travelling all over the globe. Is there one particular project or destination that you have found most rewarding in recent times?

I have greatly enjoyed helping a polytechnic in Windhoek, Namibia transform into the Namibia University of Science and Technology. I have developed fine relationships with colleagues from Zimbabwe, the DRC, Nigeria, South Africa and Germany. Together we have built a new and exciting Department of Mining, Chemical and Process Engineering which serves as a resource for the entire nation.

At the sharp end of research, my engagement and interaction with the excellent Department of Chemical and Materials Engineering at the University of Alberta has and continues to be a real joy, allowing me work on problems as diverse as the nucleation of bubbles at interfaces, to determine why the face and edge of molybdenite behave differently in saline environments and to understand how liquids behave in confined environments.

What are you most looking forward to at this year’s MetPlant conference?

I look forward to catching up with old friends and listening to fine papers. It is all about World’s Best Practice and MetPlant provides this in spades.

What message would you most like delegates to take from your keynote? Does this differ between younger and later stage professionals?

For the younger set, I hope that my keynote lecture will open their eyes to the critical role played by interfacial science and engineering in mineral processing and hydrometallurgy.

For the more mature professionals the insights gained will, I trust, help them make more informed choices when designing plants and processes.

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