Rare Earth Elements and How To Make Millions

By on Mar 8, 2017 in Blog |

Professor Frances Wall, an applied mineralogist and geochemist from the University of Exeter came to Nexus today to share her research about extracting Rare Earth Elements. Her lecture was a fascinating insight into a little known area of Science – but one which we depend on fully in our day-to-day lives.

Did you know, for instance, that every single touchscreen has a thin layer of a compound called indium tin oxide without which it couldn’t function? Well it turns out that Indium is an incredibly rare and expensive metal and if you can find a rich indium ore to mine you will almost instantly become a multi-millionaire. Don’t get too excited though, Prof Wall explained that finding the right place to mine was incredibly expensive, based largely on trial-and-error and very likely to end in failure – according to her you probably have more chance of success by buying a lottery ticket!

Professor Wall’s talk included some audience participation as she highlighted some of the very strange properties of the rare earth elements and showed many photos of the exotic places she has carried out field work.

Professor Wall has agreed to work with our Year 5 Girls STEM Summer Camp – more details can be found here.

Wall 1

Professor Wall introduces her work.


Wall 3

Audience participation – CSIA students act as Rare Earth Elements decreasing in size despite their mass increasing.


Wall 2

Mia and Meghan, Nexus VI students, look at a sample of a rare magnetic mineral called magnetite.