‘Not all chemists wear white coats’: Dr Ellen Moon selected for Homeward Bound

Published in the May 2017 issue

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Dr Ellen Moon from Southern Cross GeoScience

Geochemist Dr Ellen Moon, a Southern Cross University early career researcher, has been selected for Homeward Bound, a 12-month international leadership initiative for women in STEMM.

Homeward Bound aims to promote women with a science background into positions of leadership affecting policy around the sustainability of our planet. The virtual and on-ground program develops leadership, strategic and communication skills, and culminates in a three-week voyage to Antarctica. The inaugural Homeward Bound in 2016 gathered the first 76 of a targeted 1000 women over 10 years.

For the 2017 program, which started in March, Dr Moon was one of 70 women – and 34 from Australia – selected from applications around the world. Thirteen countries are represented.

“As one of the only geochemists in the program, I hope to be able to contribute knowledge surrounding the resilience of landscapes to future climate challenges,” said Dr Moon, a Research Associate in Southern Cross GeoScience.

“I’m looking forward to developing my skills in leadership, team work and science communication, and hope to return from the Antarctic expedition in February 2018 a more well-rounded scientist, better prepared to tackle the environmental challenges we face in the future.”

For several years, Dr Moon has been investigating ways to reduce the environmental footprint of Australia’s mining industries. A research paper on this topic – completed while at ANSTO Minerals – was recently published.

“Despite being situated in some of the driest parts of the country, Australia’s uranium mining and processing operations currently use large amounts of water,” she said.

“The findings of our recent paper are integral to the effective design of mineral processing circuits incorporating seawater—a cheaper and more sustainable water source than fresh water.”

In a piece for The Conversation, Dr Moon reflected on the impact of significant amounts of groundwater from the Great Artesian Basin that will be extracted by Adani’s proposed Carmichael coal mine.

“In a region experiencing prolonged drought conditions, the provision of unlimited water for one of the largest mining operations in the Southern Hemisphere seems like a commitment at odds with current climate predictions. The decision has also prompted a raft of wider questions about the industry’s water use,” Dr Moon wrote.

Born and raised in the UK, Dr Moon has a PhD (2012) in Geochemistry from the University of Southampton, and a Master of Science (Chemical Physics) (2006) from the University of Bristol.

“I always enjoyed science at school, and I remember being captivated by a series of posters with the tagline ‘Not all chemists wear white coats’ that we had on the walls of our science labs,” said Dr Moon.

“They showed scientists out in muddy fields, underwater collecting coral samples and even marching through the snow in Antarctica. It was then that I realised a career in science could open the doors to some amazing experiences.”

Dr Moon relocated to Australia in 2011 to work as a research and development chemist at ANSTO Minerals.

“My research applied spectroscopic and scattering techniques to provide a molecular-level understanding of the chemistry of mineral processing streams. Identifying the chemical reactions that happen under different conditions allows us to adapt current technologies, or design targeted circuits, to improve the efficiency and reduce the environmental impact of mineral processing.”

She has been at Southern Cross GeoScience for three years.

“My research is centred on understanding the molecular-level relationships between minerals, metals and biological surfaces in the environment. This type of work allows us to not only accurately predict the fate and mobility of contaminant elements in soils and waterways, but also assess the resilience of vulnerable landscapes to climate change, design efficient new water treatment strategies, and unlock the potential of novel paleoclimate proxies.”

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