School of Graduate Studies

School of Graduate Studies
School of Graduate Studies

Can you dig it? – Meet Sebastián Ávalos

PhD student in Mining Engineering

By Phil Gaudreau, November 2020

sebastian AvalosWhether you’re digging into the ground to make a garden or to start a mine, you never know what you’ll find until the shovel turns the sod.

For geologists, the process of confirming whether a field will be suitable for mining starts with the creation of several drill holes. These holes offer geologists a ton of information about the ground’s attributes such as mineralization and hardness.

Once this is done, mining engineers like Sebastián Ávalos then create a 3D model to determine if the area is worth mining and where the ideal spot might be. By looking at the metal content, the fragments and metallurgical responses of samples, and other variables, they can identify the optimum way to extract the valuable minerals from the earth.

This process is what mining engineers call geometallurgical modeling.

“By understanding, applying, and developing predictive modeling tools based on advanced techniques, relationships between geometallurgical attributes can be captured and managed resulting in better forecasting and optimal decision making,” he says.

Ávalos has been interested in mining for several years now, dating back to his undergraduate studies in his native Chile. He completed undergraduate and masters studies in his home country and worked in industry before beginning his PhD at Queen’s in 2018 under the supervision of Julian Ortiz.

“After working at a research institute and a consulting company, I became interested in how different disciplines inside mining projects are related to each other,” says Ávalos. “So, the window of seeking graduate opportunities was open and the idea of pursuing a PhD became real.”

When he looked for PhD options, Ávalos chose to pursue his doctorate abroad. As it turns out, Queen’s mining department is well known in Chile. When Avalos connected with Dr. Ortiz and learned about his research into deep learning techniques, he couldn’t pass up the opportunity. Conveniently, as he began his work with Dr. Ortiz, Ávalos was able to keep collaborating with Willy Kracht from the University of Chile.

Like many academics, Ávalos’ research has been impacted by COVID-19. Ávalos was awarded the Mitacs award which earned him a three-month internship in Germany scheduled for this summer but, due to growing cases of the pandemic, it was postponed indefinitely.

“It’s hard to move things forward without the interaction of colleagues. I get really inspired by talking with other researchers and it’s not the same over video conferencing, but we have to adapt and change,” says Ávalos.

It has also changed his career plans, as COVID-19 has made it harder for him to predict what he might do after graduation.

“I always like to think you can plan ahead but opportunities can be hard to come by,” says Ávalos. “What I know for sure is that, for me, being part of an academic environment and working close to the industry is key.”

To keep himself occupied and reduce stress, Ávalos has been continuing his Bikram Yoga routine which he has been practicing since 2008.

To learn more about graduate programs with the Robert M. Buchanan Department of Mining at Queen’s University, visit their website.