The Somalian-Canadian teenager has discovered a new way to extract rough diamonds from a rock without using the current method that might otherwise destroy the gems.
Crushing kimberlites (the host rock) is the first step in finding whether they contain diamonds. The process “plays a role not only in reducing the ore to a size suitable for downstream processing but more importantly in liberation of the sought after mineral,” explained an article on Diamond Recovery Techniques.
But this process, otherwise known as the mechanical crushing, destroys the diamonds within the rock. Thanks to the discovery by Ali, diamonds could now be electrically separated with little damage as compared to the traditional method.
The high school student made this landmark discovery with a new tool – SELFRAG lab system – during the summer while conducting research at the University of Alberta.
She participated in the Women in Scholarship, Engineering, Science, and Technology (WISEST) Summer Research Program which aims to empower women and other underrepresented groups in science.
Among a group of 37 high school students who were brought to conduct paid research, Ali, so far, stands out for her astounding discovery that has caught the eye of stakeholders in the diamond industry.
“I didn’t really know anything about geology,” Ali told CTVNews in an interview.
“So it was a little disconcerting when I first saw the SELFRAG and realized I was going to be working with it.”
The SELFRAG, Ali explained, is “a high-voltage electronic disaggregation device, which sounds pretty fancy, but it just means that it destroys rocks using 200,000 volts of electricity.”
The teenage genius would later discover that the Swiss-made machine, which is “ideal for use in geosciences, mining and recycling research”, could also harvest diamonds that would otherwise be destroyed by the traditional crushing method.
The manufacturers of the SELFRAG machine were not even aware that their equipment had this potential, reports the University of Alberta.
To test the machine, Ali started by X-raying a piece of rock to indicate that it had diamonds in it before cutting it into two halves.
One half was processed traditionally while the other half was run through the SELFRAG machine, shooting high-voltage pulses to break down the rock, reports CTV News.
Ali discovered that the diamonds inside the half piece of rock that was traditionally-processed were all destroyed while the other half that had been separated with the machine produced 10 perfectly-formed undamaged diamonds.
“What that implies is that when you use a mechanical crusher you are actually damaging a significant number of diamonds and decreasing your total diamond yield,” explained Margo Regier, Ali’s graduate student mentor.
“Maximizing diamond recovery is essential for producing a responsible and sustainable mine.
“We realized that this was an important result that could have large impacts for industry,” Regier was quoted by the University of Alberta.
Ali later shared her discovery to a team of diamond industry geologists.
“I actually presented in a theatre with a lot of people there,” the teenager said. “I was nervous but it was a pretty great experience.”
Stakeholders in the diamond industry have since welcomed the discovery while the University of Alberta is optimistic that Ali’s discovery will encourage other young people to enter into the field of science.
For Ali, who had never even considered a career in geology when she began the summer programme, she now considers it as an option.
Watch the video below for details of her discovery: