Hard rock meets heavy metal

Economic geologist focused on crystallizing Canada's key role in global mineral deposits.

Jennifer Pascoe - 05 December 2017

"Picture the periodic table, and draw a box around the metals on it. Everything in that box is something that is needed for technology right now," said Matt Steele-MacInnis, new assistant professor in the University of Alberta's Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences. "Whether it's massive amounts of iron for all types of infrastructure building or tiny but crucial amounts of rare earth elements to help power modern electronics, the world is recognizing there is a huge need for metals, "

The Newfoundland-born-and-raised economic geologist focuses on hydrothermal systems, the hot fluids that crystallize minerals. "I specialize on the properties of water at high pressure and temperature and particularly its properties when it crystallizes minerals to form a deposit."

Though the geologist spends most of his time in the lab, Steele-MacInnis' field work can take him from volcanoes to submarine settings and anywhere in between where hot fluids circulate below Earth's surface.

After living abroad for the last nine years--first for a PhD at Virginia Tech, followed by a postdoctoral fellowship in Zurich, and finally for a faculty position at the University of Arizona--Steele-MacInnis said he's happy to be back on home soil in Canada, with abundant mineral deposits and research opportunities just below the surface.

"Living outside your own country makes you see it in a different perspective," said Steele-MacInnis. "Canada is a huge global player in the world of metals and mineral deposits. We are probably in the best position worldwide to really be at the forefront of what's happening with mineral deposits."

Steele-MacInnis said he's most looking forward to collaborating with colleagues in his department, ranked fifth in the world for geology, with a leading reputation for research on Earth's energy, mineral, water, and soil resources. The responsible characterization, extraction, and environmental monitoring of these resources is critical to the Canadian economy, and UAlberta currently leads both the country and world in research on and developing technology for Earth's resources. From geobiology to diamond exploration to Earth's biosphere, the department is home to a renowned research and teaching program as well as the world's largest array of analytical infrastructure.

"The type of research I do presents opportunities for working with people in different topics," said Steele-MacInnis. "It's sort of a carte blanche. It's a chance to define my own program in a place with a really great reputation."

In recognition of his work, Steele-MacInnis will be honoured with the Hisashi Kuno Award by the American Geophysical Union at their annual meeting this December.