How do mining companies best reach their valuable minerals?
BHP Billiton has sought the brightest minds of university students across the globe to come up with the answer to this question, with two ANU students coming first in the Phase-X Challenge and winning $35,000 in prize money.
The two students, Heyang Li (from the Department of Applied Mathematics) and Robin Candy (from the ANU Research School of Computer Science) competed against 284 participants from 20 different countries.
In the Phase-X Challenge, teams compete to create a computer algorithm that figures out the best way for a mining company to create an open-pit mine based on factors including the mine's processing capacity, grade and quality of the mineral and the slope of the pit's walls.
Heyang Li (also referred to as Thomas) says it was great to use the skills he obtained through his PhD at ANU to come up with a real-life solution to a practical problem.
"Currently they are using more of a conventional method where they use a geologist with some experience in open cut mining - they figure out the algorithms more manually," Thomas said.
"Using an algorithm, you can search through many possibilities whereas a geologist or open cut mine expert wouldn't be able to do that in the short amount of time they have. So it enables them to make quick and efficient decisions in open cut mining."