International geoscience success for UQ grad

12 Mar 2024
Winning team
Winning team members Misael Robles (Universidad Catolica del Norte), Jhon Amasifuen (Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú), Sebastian Espinoza (Universidad Católica del Norte) and Katherine Lopez (The University of Queensland).

Recent University of Queensland Master of Environmental Management graduate Katherine Lopez has helped take home the grand prize in a prestigious international geoscience competition.

Ms Lopez’s team was awarded the Frank Arnott – Next Generation Explorer’s Award (NGEA) in the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada’s 2024 Challenge – a part of the association’s annual convention.

Twenty-seven students from six finalist teams competed in Toronto to collaborate and innovate, transforming geoscience data sets and interpreting subsurface geology and mineralisation targets.

Ms Alvarez said she was surprised when an unsolicited email to collaborate for the event arrived in mid-2023.

“I unexpectedly received a proposal from a group of Peruvian geologists to support them with the analysis of prospective zones for geological activities in northwest Queensland for this competition,” she said.

“To be honest, I didn't think much about it – accepting it straight away – as I had plenty to contribute with my background as a geographer and environmental manager, hoping to present a more holistic piece of work.

“Our objective was to establish which areas are most prospective to develop exploration activities for commodities, such as copper, zinc, silver, etc.

Winning team
The winning team members at the BHP/Rio Tinto Student Reception

“And, as part of innovation, we included environmental and social variables, from an extensive literature review, resulting in variables that help in the conservation of species and the physical environment.

“In addition, we were looking to promote employment and local connectivity in the region.

“It was a nail-biting finish, but the judges loved it, awarded us the grand prize and $5,000.”

Three other international teams received $3,000 awards for their efforts, taking out the Innovation Category, the Data Integration Category and the Impact and Exploration Category.

Ms Lopez said she’s always been attracted to learning about the mining industry and how we can contribute to its sustainability.

“Being able to attend one of the largest mining conventions in the world made me come to terms with the significant advances in mining and technology, but also recognise the importance of environmental and social aspects in the life cycle of mining operations,” she said.

“And being able to work with an interdisciplinary team has allowed me to expand my technical knowledge about geology and minerals.

“It’s been a phenomenal experience, and I would totally recommend that more science students apply.

“Even though the competition is more focused on geology, environmental scientists – or other sciences for that matter – can contribute to building a more respectful, sustainable and ethical approach to mining.”

Applications for the NGEA 2025 Challenge are now being accepted.

Media: UQ Faculty of Science Media,, +61 438 162 687.