She's farming for gold: Geologist uses wheat to recover the yellow metal

12 June 2017 - 08:50 By KGAUGELO MASWENENG
GOLD STAR: Geologist Tshiamo Legoale is welcomed back by friends, family and colleagues at OR Tambo International Airport after winning an international science competition.
GOLD STAR: Geologist Tshiamo Legoale is welcomed back by friends, family and colleagues at OR Tambo International Airport after winning an international science competition.
Image: ALAISTER RUSSELL

Using wheat to "grow" gold has won 27-year-old South African geologist Tshiamo Legoale an international science competition.

Legoale - one of three entrants from Africa - walked away with the Fame Lab award on Friday at a ceremony in the UK.

"I feel ecstatic; I am extremely happy about winning and I'm also humbled," the Mintek scientist told The Times.

Her presentation on how wheat enzymes can be used to extract gold from tailings (the residue after the extraction of most of the gold from ore) won her the award.

Legoale described gold as "the introvert of the periodic table" because it does not bond easily with other metals - but the wheat has a trick up its sleeve.

"It's able to release enzymes that change gold into a soluble liquid.

"I thought that if vegetation can be used in extracting harmful metals, why not do the same with metals we want?

"Through research I found that wheat could be used to absorb gold and that's where it all began."

She said her proposal conformed with global sustainability goals related to gold extraction.

"With the use of additional innovative technology this idea will probably be used in Virginia, in the Free State, to rehabilitate mine dumps and create jobs."

She said that during her presentation she labelled herself a "gold digger".

"But in fact I'm a gold farmer.

"Science, when it is done well, can influence a sector but when it is done well and communicated well it can change the world."

According to the competition's panellists, it was Legoale's content, clarity and charisma that won them over and got her first place.

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