Don’t chuck that old mobile phone, there’s gold in there

By Glen Corder, The University of Queensland

In Australia there are many more mobile services in use than there are people.

The majority of Australians upgrade or exchange their mobile phones every 18 to 24 months, while an increasing number have owned their mobile for more than two years. The upshot is that there is around 22.5 million unwanted mobiles cluttering up homes around Australia.

And many of these mobiles incorporate components using elements from across the periodic table, including many rare and valuable ones, such as gold. On average, there will be a total of one gram of gold across 41 mobile phones. In other words, about 1 metric tonne of smartphone handsets could yield 340g of gold, which on current gold prices is more than A$18,000.

So if we’re smart, we should be extracting as much value as possible from these disused smartphones through recycling.

What goes around…

There are several services around Australia that can recycle your mobile phone and prevent it going to landfill, including Clean Up Australia, Youth Cancer, which is run by Sony, and Aussie Recycling Program (ARP).

The largest service is MobileMuster, which is a free not-for-profit product stewardship program of the Australian mobile phone industry and has been running since 1998.

MobileMuster uses the recycler TES-AMM’s process, which includes six steps, including separating out various types of batteries, and recovering precious metals from circuit boards.

More than 90% of the materials used in mobile phones are recyclable and can be reused to make things like stainless steel goods, new batteries or plastic fence posts.

New approaches for collecting mobile phones in Australia are now being tested and implemented, such as Telstra’s eCycle program. This program, which is supported by MobileMuster and is free until March 2016, arranges for couriers to collect boxes full of electronic waste (e-waste), including mobile phones, for recycling.

How many of us have old smartphones lying around the house?
Intel Free Press/Flickr, CC BY-SA

The mining connection

Collection and transport logistics are a key part of the mobile phone recycling value chain. But current best practice for the actual process of mobile phone recycling is still a combination of semi-automated and manual extraction processes. The most difficult of these is the separation process.

One idea that we have been exploring is applying the expertise and technologies from the very beginning of the metals value chain right to the end of that chain.

The mining industry has vast expertise in metallurgical, mineral and chemical processing techniques, and use these to extract minerals and metals from ore. The mining industry uses technology that can cost effectively mine large volumes of rock, moving over a million tonnes a day in some large mines.

It can also process high rates of ore at low grades, in some cases, several thousand tonnes per hour, to produce mineral concentrate ready for smelting, and if necessary, further refining to pure metal.

We think these approaches could be modified, adapted or honed to efficiently collect mobile phone from urban areas. They could then use automated techniques to separate the valuable components of mobile phones for metals recovery.

At present, the total amount of metals in old mobile phones is only a fraction of the metals in minerals ore bodies around the world. But the worldwide trend of increasing e-waste is pushing the metals recycling industry from a medium scale scale to one treating a “bulk commodity” e-waste, with similarities to the extraction of metals from mined ore bodies.

For the time being, the best thing to do with your old mobile phone is donate it to a service such as Mobile Muster or Telstra’s eCycle program. That way, toxic materials can be removed and valuable metals might remain in circulation rather than being consigned to the tip.The Conversation

Glen Corder, Principal Research Fellow – Sustainable Minerals Institute, The University of Queensland

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Students with laptops did better in HSC sciences

Here is an article I wrote recently, published originally in The Conversation.
Laptops did have a positive effect on learning. AAP/Alan Porritt

While there are plenty of reasons why students should be exposed to technology in schools, educational research is yet to produce consensus on the degree to which personal laptops boost learning.

Historically, when researchers examine what makes a difference in education, laptops, and other technology, come way down the ranks. Some educationalists go as far as to describe the use of computers in schools as distractions, plus there are concerns about screen time.

A report from the European Commission which looked at 31 recent “one laptop per child” initiatives from across 19 countries found little or no improvement in learning outcomes. However, recent research which examined a group of Australian schools found laptops did make a positive difference to learning. Not surprisingly, how the laptops were used determined the size of the benefit.

The Digital Education Revolution

In 2008, the then newly elected Labor government began implementing the (subsequently much maligned) A$2.1 billion “Digital Education Revolution”, whereby it was intended that every Year 9 student would receive a laptop over four or five years, thus creating a 1:1 computer-to-student ratio.

For 12 Catholic secondary schools in Sydney this meant that half of the Year 9 students in 2008 received a laptop and half did not. The distribution of who received the laptops was random in terms of socioeconomic status and average performance, having being imposed independently by a federal audit.

This ultimately lead to a dichotomous scenario whereby in 2011 half of the students in these schools sitting for the NSW HSC had been schooled for over three years with 1:1 laptops and half had not.

This created a natural experiment beyond our influence rather than a researcher-designed randomised experiment. This was also quite timely as many principals and education authority directors were wondering what would happen to their exam results.

The effect

We looked at the examination data from the 12 schools to see if the students with laptops performed better or worse in the sciences (our field of research) than those without. We predicted a null result.

To our surprise, when controlling for other factors (socioeconomic status, gender, school type, prior attainment and more), we found that those who had been schooled with a laptop did better to varying degrees and that this was statistically significant in biology, chemistry and physics.

HSC physics students had the most significant gains from laptop use from

In senior science laptops were found to have no effect and the sample size for earth and environmental science was too small to produce a result.

We then found the “effect size” (an approach taken by prominent education researcher John Hattie who gave a score of effect size to every kind of educational intervention so that we may compare them) was much greater in physics than in biology or chemistry. This presented the follow up question – why?

The why

In our follow up paper we investigated why the students with laptops did better, particularly in physics, by surveying how physics and biology teachers and students actually used their laptops.

Interestingly, the physics students and teachers consistently reported performing more “higher-order” activities such as simulations and spreadsheets with their laptops than their biology counterparts, and much than those without laptops.

The biology students and teachers consistently reported more use of “lower-order” activities such as word processing, electronic textbooks and internet searching.

We also scrutinised the NSW HSC syllabuses. Despite both the biology and the physics syllabuses providing identical motherhood statements about the use of technology in their guidelines there were no explicit mandates or recommendations for the use of technology in the biology content, unlike physics where there were many.

Ultimately we found that in HSC biology, chemistry and physics, those students schooled with laptops actually performed better than those without. This effect was much more pronounced in physics which correlated with greater higher-order use as mandated by the curriculum.

The aftermath

There are several repercussions from this research. The findings, as ever, are highly contextual (for these 12 schools; in southwest and south Sydney; in the HSC sciences; in 2011), but we now have some robust quantitative data regarding the use of technology and student academic performance in Australia. The crude data is freely available for anyone to perform their own analysis.

The research also suggests the “Digital Education Revolution” was not as shambolic or a waste of money in all cases, as portrayed in the media . With the NSW HSC syllabuses about to be rewritten, we hope there will be greater consistency in the capitalisation on technology for “higher-order activities” across all subjects.

These four amazing @home science experiments will blow everybody’s mind

Science is obviously fun to read about right? Because why would you otherwise like a science page – Like Duh. But what probably is even more fun, doing science experiments at home. So here are four simple but amazing science experiments you can do at home.

1. Freeze water on command

Ever wanted to freeze water in just seconds, all it takes is a quick knock or ice cube to instantly freeze the water in front of your eyes. To learn how, just click here.

2. Create Fluorescein

Fluorescein is a non-toxic powder that can be found in just ordinary highlighter pens, but when this powder comes into contact with water is creates an enchanting fluorescent green colour. And did you know that NASA is using the same chemical to find shuttles that land in the sea.

Want to learn how you can do this little experiment at home click here.

3. Make a Rocket engine with pasta

Pasta can be very delicious, but as it turns out it can also make rocket science surprisingly easy. Rocket engines use a combination of a solid fuel source (like pasta) and a liquid oxidizer(mouthwash and yeast) to propel themselves into the air.

To create your own pasta rocket just follow this link.

4. Turn glass invisible

We all know that when light passes from one object to another it changes speed and direction – the so-called refraction. An object can only be visible if it reflects light, but when two substances with the same reflective properties come into contact one disappears.

If you want to learn how you can make a glass disappear, just go over here.