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How Childhood Exploration Inspired a Masters Thesis

Student Spotlight: David Tomlinson


What sparked your interest in geology, and in your decision for your thesis topic?

My dad is a geologist, but my mom also loves being outdoors. Growing up we were constantly going to state and national parks and camping. I think being outdoors and being exposed to how understanding geology affects so many aspects of our lives made me decide on studying it for both my undergraduate and graduate studies. Specifically, I find it fascinating how understanding ore deposits helps shape our societies and how critical the metals we mine are to technological advancement. To better understand the mining industry and ore deposits, I did several internships in Australia and the US--one of which was for Rio Tinto at the Bingham Canyon mine here in Utah. I had not yet selected a thesis topic when I first worked for Rio Tinto, and was able to set up a project with the help of my committee and mine geologists.

What is the main objective of your thesis?

My thesis is focused on late-stage fissure ore at the Bingham Canyon mine, which is a sulfide-rich Pb-Zn-Cu-Ag-Au ore concentrated in large veins on the outer fringes of the deposit. The fissure ore has long been recognized (since the late 1800s), but poorly studied. The mine has encountered these fissures once again as part of an expansion project, which has resulted in a renewed interest in understanding their characteristics and how they formed.

What is the contribution of your research to the geology community?

The Bingham Canyon mine is a porphyry copper deposit, which can be found all over the world. They form large deposits and contribute the overwhelming supply of copper globally with appreciable amounts of gold, silver, and molybdenum. The fissure veins at Bingham are similar to other base-metal veins associated with several other porphyry copper deposits. Understanding how they form and characterizing them can help making mining and exploration of this ore more effective, which can potentially enhance mine life and contribute a greater metal supply to the global economy.

What challenges did you have to overcome?

I was excited to partner with Rio Tinto for my project because mining is what I wanted to go into eventually upon completing my degree. However, that also meant that I would have to start from scratch with my project and decide how I would acquire funding, collect and analyze samples, and decide what information would both contribute to the geologic community while helping Rio Tinto in their objectives. This really helped me appreciate the work that professors do in setting up a project, and gave me insights into the benefits of partnering academia with industry. I am very thankful for the guidance along the way from both my committee and the geologists at the mine.

What are your plans for research and work now?

I have accepted a full-time position with Rio Tinto as a graduate geologist where I will work in ore control. It's exciting that I will be able to immediately apply all the work from this project to my career. I hope that I can continue to stay on top of research by regularly reading from academic journals to make myself a better geologist and employee.

What do you wish you would have known about doing a thesis before you started? Any advice?

Most students (myself included) want to finish their thesis as quickly as possible. However, I think it is a terrible mistake to neglect looking for internships because you are so focused on your thesis. Internships are so critical for those wanting to work in geology-related industries, and will make those who want to remain in academia better to advise future students because of the experience they obtain. I typically applied to 10+ internship positions each September during both my undergraduate and graduate career, and kept applying to those companies the following years even if I was initially rejected. I actually ended up getting internship offers from some of those companies that initially rejected me, so just because they say no one year does not mean they will not consider you next time. In my case, my internship with Rio Tinto resulted in a thesis project I was very excited about and eventually led to a full-time job offer.