Potash to Potassium

Lesson Overview

Potash Pond Near Moab

Students will learn about the distribution of minerals in the earth’s crust. They will understand that the increasing human population will increase the need for mineral resources found in the earth’s crust and that we need to be good stewards of the planet. Mining is the process by which these minerals are gathered. Potash is a mixture of minerals that contain sylvite. Sylvite/Potassium is an important mineral used in fertilizers that increase the global food supply. Students will model the separation of Potassium chloride form a brine solution. They will separate Potassium Chloride (KCl) from a salt (NaCl) solution using heat to cause it to precipitate.

About the Scientist

Debra Shewfelt

Institution: RESPEC Consulting, Inc.

Hi there, I'm Deb and I am super passionate about all things Earth Science-related. Here's a bit about my science journey…like any great odyssey, it's ongoing! In my current role as a consulting geologist at RESPEC (short for REsearch SPECialists), I work with teams that find stuff (where are the minerals of interest?), calculate stuff (how much of that mineral is in the ground and how much is extractable?), provide solutions to problems (how will we extract this resource with the least impact to the environment?) and present information (condense intricate data into something that is easily understandable) for our clients and their global natural resource projects. No two days are the same, and there's always complex problems to solve with a group of smart people, which is what I love about being a consultant. Through my geological experience in many different resource sectors over the last 16+ years, I have been fortunate to have worked with multi-disciplinary teams involving engineering, science and GIS components. I am also passionate about K-12 educational outreach that highlights careers in STEM. I wish I would have known about geoscience in high school! Check out my industry-funded outreach project here It's not just for the girls… So how did I get a place in this fascinating industry? I grew up in a small town in Manitoba, Canada and although there were oil and gas fields and potash mines in the surrounding areas, I was not aware of the career opportunities in geoscience. I knew I would be a scientist (my dad was a science teacher…it kind of rubbed off) â€" but I wasn't sure what discipline was the best fit. I discovered Earth Science as a second year University student when I enrolled in an introductory course on a whim. After the first lecture on plate tectonics, I was hooked - I had found my purpose! I loved it so much that I continued my studies and completed a Master of Science degree in Geology. Every day I learn something new and amazing about the Earth and its processes. While our link to the natural resources within the Earth has always been an intrinsic part of our lives, from the buildings we live and work in, to the electronics that entertain us, and the medical equipment used to diagnose illness, we are more aware that we must extract resources in a sustainable way. Humans will always be tied to the land to continue our modern way of life. The next generation (…that means you) must make great strides in the important work of developing a balance between resource dependence and environmental protection. What will YOUR career in Earth Science look like?