Elliott Skierszkan

Determination of the chemical behavior of metals in mine wastes using metal stable isotopes

Why did you decide to pursue a graduate degree?

A combination of fascination with the natural environment and experiences working at contaminated sites during my undergraduate studies led me to seek graduate opportunities in research into the fate of contaminants in the environment.

Why did you decide to study at UBC?

Groundwater movement is the vector which transports contaminants in the environment, and geochemistry is a means by which we can understand the chemical reactions that govern their mobility. The strong combination of the hydrogeology program and state-of-the-art analytical facilities available in the geochemistry labs made UBC a top choice for my field of research.

What was the best surprise about UBC or life in Vancouver?

I have become quite involved with the UBC's Varsity Outdoor Club and have discovered a fantastic community of people who are devotedly passionate about keeping an active lifestyle and exploring physical and personal boundaries in the forests and mountains of our region.

Elliot Skierszkan, 2016 UBC Killam Doctoral Scholarship Recipient

What aspect of your graduate program do you enjoy the most or are looking forward to with the greatest curiosity?

I enjoy the variety of tasks and challenges faced during graduate studies, including organizing and conducting field sampling work, completing laboratory analyses, writing scientific papers and presenting my research to colleagues.

What do you see as your biggest challenge(s) in your future career?

I am not sure exactly which career path I may take, although it will most certainly remain in the broad field of environmental sciences. As an environmental scientist, I hope to continue to be able to share with people around me the wonder that is our natural environment, and increase our society's awareness that we need a healthy environment to survive and be happy; and we need to reduce our environmental impacts by making changes in our lifestyle.

What do you like to do for fun or relaxation?

I like to move! From October to May I spend as much time as possible ski touring in the Coast mountains around Vancouver with friends, admiring the beauty of the mountains under their snowy blanket. Summers are the time for exploring flowery alpine meadows and swimming in tarns.


Learn more about Elliott's research

The mining industry is a driving force in the Canadian economy, but the extraction of mineral wealth requires careful management of mine waste rock and mine tailings to prevent contamination of water by trace metals. Indeed, costs for the remediation of Canadian sites impacted by runoff from mines are estimated to range a few billion dollars.

Improving our understanding of the chemical reactions which are responsible for the release, and the immobilization of trace metals in mine wastes will assist with making long-term predictions of water quality at mine sites, and therefore improve our ability to anticipate and manage mine effluent.

My PhD research is taking advantage of recent developments in analytical techniques to develop the use of metal stable isotopes to determine which chemical reactions are responsible for controlling metal concentrations in mine water. Research is conducted in collaboration with operational mines in the USA and in Peru, providing access to real-world study sites where I apply my research.

More broadly speaking, this research also improves our understanding of the mobility of metals in a variety of natural and contaminated environments.