Hamdi Ali, 17, is a Muslim high school student from Edmonton who spent last summer in a research program aimed at helping women and other minorities in STEM subjects. In that time, she made headlines and could possibly have revolutionized a niche of the mining industry.
“What Hamdi discovered was pretty unique and unexpected,” said Margo Regier, Ali’s grad student mentor, in an interview with local TV.
What Ali discovered was a new, more efficient way to harvest industrial diamonds. The current method uses a mechanical crusher, destroying mined stone to find industrial-quality gemstones. The process is known to destroy a certain percentage of diamonds, shrinking the total yield but not by enough to rule it out. What Ali discovered was a new use for an existing machine, the SELFRAG.
“I didn’t really know anything about geology,” Ali said. “So it was a little disconcerting when I first saw the SELFRAG and realized I was going to be working with it.”
The SELFRAG is a “high-voltage electronic disaggregation device,” which essentially means that it pumps electricity into rocks until they shatter, leaving the diamonds, with their higher resistance, undamaged. The higher percentage of recovered gemstones may well make a substantial difference in the industry, and could also have environmental benefits, with less stone being required to yield sufficient product.
The program that put Ali in the position to make this discovery is called WISEST (Women in Scholarship, Engineering, Science, and Technology). WISEST, which is run by the University of Alberta, has a 36-year history of encouraging women to engage, educate, and apply their resources to STEM subjects and advancements. WISEST hosts the six-week summer research program in which Ali participated, along with conferences for girls as young as 6th grade and networks for their alumni to help them find careers in adulthood.
“The program seemed like a great opportunity to broaden my understanding of what a career in science could look like,” Ali said.
And it did.
Before participating in the WISEST program, Ali hadn’t even considered a career path in geology. But by the end of the summer, she was presenting her findings in front of industry specialists, many of whom were very interested.