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The University of Arizona supports the advancement of mining by investing in research and development across the entire mining life cycle. (Photo: UofA)

Clean energy demands more minerals and more mining professionals. Meeting this need will require investment in mining talent and innovation, both of which are happening at the University of Arizona’s new School of Mining & Mineral Resources.

By Mark Barton, Misael Cabrera, Carmie Garzione, David Hahn, and Kray Luxbacher

As the global energy system transitions into a low-carbon future, the demand for mineral resources has never been greater. Technologies like solar panels, wind turbines, and electric cars require minerals such as copper, silver, lithium, cobalt, nickel, and rare earth elements in increasing quantities, creating rapidly growing markets to fuel this development on a global scale.

Organizations such as the World Bank Group and International Energy Agency have identified risks to this planned transition to clean energy, and top among them is a shortage in critical minerals.1,2 Left unaddressed, these shortages can make a clean energy future slower to achieve and more costly and create disruptions and volatility in global markets and supply chains.

But another critical challenge must be overcome on the path to a greener future: the global shortage of mining talent. While the demand for mineral resources — and the workforce to extract them — is increasing, fewer students are choosing to enter this field. The impact is being felt worldwide, with 71% of mining leaders reporting in 2022 that the talent shortage is keeping them from meeting production targets and strategic objectives.3

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The Geotechnical Center of Excellence fills knowledge gaps for professionals working in the field. (Photo: UofA)

Mining and Minerals Careers, Redefined

The University of Arizona is meeting this challenge head-on. The transdisciplinary School of Mining & Mineral Resources was created to fill the workforce gap with emerging talent, to revolutionize the way mining is being taught, and to deliver holistic solutions for industry through research that combines disciplines from across campus. The school formally brings together multiple programs, centers and facilities around a shared vision of advancing sustainable mining and mineral exploration. This unique “innovation ecosystem” can be found nowhere else in the world.

Anchored by top-ranked programs in mining engineering and economic geology, the university supports the advancement of mining by investing in research and development across the entire mining life cycle. Through facilities like its Tailings Center and Center for Environmentally Sustainable Mining, the university works with industry to improve operational processes and reduce the environmental impacts of mining. The Lowell Institute of Mineral Resources and the Geotechnical Center of Excellence engage industry to innovate and fill knowledge gaps for professionals working in the field. Our Centers for Mining Safety and Superfund Research advance the most pressing issues related to improving mine safety and enhancing health and environmental outcomes. Through these and other projects, students contribute to solving real-world problems and develop the kinds of skills that no ordinary education can deliver.

One of the ways the university is addressing the talent shortage is by increasing the aperture of who studies mining. Research done by the University of Arizona4 shows that most students are aware of mining and its economic importance, however, they don’t know about the critical role of mining in securing our future. Through community outreach programs beginning in elementary education, the School of Mining & Mineral Resources is helping spread awareness of the importance of sustainable mining practices.

Through virtual and in-classroom presentations, students engage in hands-on activities illustrating mine design, mineral extraction, and mine site reclamation. Modern mines are technologically advanced, driven by robotics and AI, requiring cross-functional skills across a wide range of disciplines that can match any interest. By outlining the diverse array of educational opportunities and career pathways that mining presents, the school is helping young people envision a future in mining by seeing themselves in those careers.

Mining and Minerals Education, Reimagined

The School of Mining & Mineral Resources is breaking down educational silos and meeting the call to modernize curriculum by working with industry partners to develop the skills needed in the workforce of the future, and we’re doing it today. Industry has asked it to deliver talent with knowledge of environmental and social issues, with better communication skills, and with more hands-on experience and business savvy. And the school is doing just that by updating existing courses, developing new offerings, and leveraging the unique San Xavier Mining Laboratory.

For the multitude of mining industry careers that are not based in engineering or science, the School of Mining & Mineral Resources offers a minor degree in Sustainable Mineral Resources so that accountants, supply chain specialists, human resources professionals, and others can be familiar with mining topics before their first day on the job. The university is also delivering professional development and graduate-level courses for existing professionals in topics like ore deposits mapping, slope performance monitoring, and integrated mine planning. For those seeking a Master’s in Legal Studies degree from the College of Law, the Mining Law and Policy Concentration offers more than 15 mining-specific courses.

Mining and Minerals Research, Reinvigorated

In just the first 12 months of its existence, the School of Mining & Mineral Resources has engaged more than 50 faculty, researchers, students and staff on more than 25 research projects across 25 departments. These early-stage research projects include eco-friendly dust suppression compounds, acid mist suppressants for worker safety, carbon sequestration using mine tailings, and other very promising projects. Researchers even created an app for hazard recognition in underground mines!

By focusing on the challenges that the mining industry is facing today, the School of Mining & Mineral Resources is proving itself to be a high-value, long-term partner, helping to secure sustainable mineral resources for generations to come. To learn more about how the University of Arizona is reimagining mining and minerals education visit and explore the school and the university’s many programs.

Mark Barton is the director of the Lowell Institute for Mineral Resources; Misael Cabrera is the director of the School of Mining & Mineral Resources; Carmie Garzione is the dean of the College of Science; David Hahn is the dean of the College of Engineering; Kray Luxbacher is the department head for Mining and Geological Engineering at the University of Arizona.


World Bank Group, Minerals for Climate Action: The Mineral Intensity of the Clean Energy Transition. 2020. 

International Energy Agency, The Role of Critical Minerals in Clean Energy Transitions, World Energy Outlook Special Report. March 2022. 

McKinsey Survey of Mining Senior Leaders and Executives, 2022. 

Barton, I., Banta, J., Hutson, L. (2022.) Getting students interested in mining engineering: How can we reach them? Mining Engineering. March 30-34. 

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By updating curriculum to reflect the realities of mining and economic geology in the age of AI and autonomous systems, the School of Mining & Mineral Resources is addressing the industry’s needs. (Photo: UofA)

Mining School in Arizona’s “Silicon Valley” Drives Innovation and Addresses Workforce Gaps

The Grand Canyon State may not be the first thought when one hears the words, “Silicon Valley,” but for those close to the mining industry, the association is clear. Arizona offers a rich ecosystem of ore deposits, hosts more than 400 major hardrock and aggregate mines, boasts more than 200 mining technology suppliers, and houses top mineral research institutions. And the region south of Phoenix serves as the home to the Caterpillar and Komatsu proving grounds, as well as a city that ranks as a top emerging U.S. tech market.

Based in Tucson, the University of Arizona is the epicenter of a growing innovation ecosystem dubbed the ‘Silicon Valley of mining’ by industry experts, educators, and government leaders. With more than 2,700 invention disclosures and 130 plus start-ups launched, this Tier 1 research institution is driving technological advancements across numerous industries, including mineral resources. Possessing more than a century of mining education experience, the university recently launched a school focused on spearheading industry-advancing research and modernizing educational programs for miners and non-miners alike, at every stage of learning.

Investing in Research and Technology

In its inaugural year, the School of Mining & Mineral Resources at the University of Arizona has mobilized dozens of faculty members, researchers, students, and staff, to collaborate on 25 research projects spanning 25 departments. These initiatives cover early-stage research topics such as eco-friendly dust suppression compounds, acid mist suppressants to enhance worker safety, carbon sequestration utilizing mine tailings, and other pioneering ventures, many on the path of commercialization.

Recent research highlights include a $3.6 million Regents’ Research Grant to help university scientists assess the metal content from mine tailings throughout the state in search of critical elements such as lithium; a mining engineering cyber-physical systems partnership with
Antofagasta plc; the formation of the Hyperspectral Research Consortium; and numerous partnerships between faculty and global industry leaders to advance mining automation technologies driven by robotics, AI, and machine learning.

The Hub of a Vibrant Mining Innovation Ecosystem

Recognizing the demand for upskilling existing workers, the school’s Geotechnical Center of Excellence offers courses in structural geology, radar and slope monitoring, and water in mine operations, and has trained more than 1,900 working professionals from 45 countries. GCE’s industrial partners also benefit from research projects like the comparison of different types of synthetic aperture radar (SAR) to aid in more effective monitoring of mining sites. A recent National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) grant is supporting a test of various models of thermal imaging cameras at open pit mines around the country to see if they can predict rockfalls and slides before they occur. If successful, this research could potentially save miners from injury or death caused by slope failures.

Holding a degree is often not a prerequisite for professional development programs. The school provides underground rescue training for the military and delivers critical safety courses for industry through the Mining Safety Center of Excellence. With an emphasis on mining sustainability from the workforce perspective, SCE is a research, education, and training community that innovates mining methods in pursuit of achieving zero injuries, illnesses, and fatalities.

Central to its mission to provide hands-on, experiential learning, the University of Arizona owns the San Xavier Underground Mining Laboratory, a multi-level training facility. The only underground mining laboratory in the U.S. with a working vertical shaft, the site has a rich history as a teaching, research, and training site. The mine has four levels of underground workings to a depth of 250 feet. This training facility has attracted projects critical to national defense, geosciences, and mine rescue.

Advancing the Future of Mining

Undergraduate programs emphasize modernized curriculum in tracks for mining engineering, geosciences, and hydrology, among other mining-related disciplines. By updating curriculum to reflect the realities of mining and economic geology in the age of AI and autonomous systems, the school is answering the call from industry to produce a highly prepared, transdisciplinary workforce capable of meeting the growing demand for cross-functional and high-tech skills.

To learn more about the innovative research taking place through the School of Mining & Mineral Resources in Tucson, Arizona, mining’s own Silicon Valley, explore the website at