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MEI Online: People News: Australasia: January 25th 2019

 
 

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:: Dr. Ying Gu (1956-2019)

 

Dr Ying Gu, developer of the Mineral Liberation Analyser (MLA), has died in Brisbane aged 62 after a three year battle with lung cancer. The attendance of many friends and former colleagues at his funeral last week reflected the high regard in which Ying was held by those who knew him.

 

Ying Gu made a seminal contribution to the automated quantitative analysis of minerals. Like all great innovators, Ying had the passion to want to change the world, the vision for what he wanted to change, the technical skills to do it, and the work ethic and resilience needed to overcome the difficulties and obstacles that inevitably arise.

Knowing the mineral composition of process streams in mineral and coal processing plants, particularly the degree of liberation of the value and gangue minerals, allows mineral engineers to trouble-shoot their plants and to operate them at maximum efficiency. In former years this was done manually, if at all, using optical microscopes, a slow and painstaking process. In the 1970s and ’80s the CSIRO in Australia pioneered a technology which adapted a scanning electron microscope (SEM) to do the job automatically, called QEM*SEM (later QEMSCAN). Although a significant advance, for many years the technology was not widely available and interpretation of the output was difficult. In the early 1990s the JKMRC decided that it needed access to automated mineral measurement in-house and employed Ying to develop a system.

Ying Gu
Dr Ying Gu

 

Ying had the perfect preparation for the role. Born in China’s Jiangxi Province on the 24th February 1956, both his parents were geologists who were often away for long periods on field trips so he was brought up partly by a grandmother. Despite his tertiary education being delayed by the Chinese Cultural Revolution, he obtained first class honours in geochemistry at Nanjing University in 1981, followed by a masters degree in 1985. He then came to Australia and completed a PhD in earth sciences at Monash University in 1993, and a graduate diploma in computer studies in 1996. He worked with Western Mining at Kambalda in WA for two years, developing software for automatic mineral analysis using a SEM, and then moved to Brisbane to work for CSIRO where he made contributions to the QEM*SEM technology. Ying then joined the JKMRC in 1996 with a brief to develop what became the MLA.

Ying therefore had in abundance the two skills essential to deliver his vision: deep mineralogical knowledge and highly developed software virtuosity, with theoretical and practical experience of both.

Ying had his own ideas about what the MLA should look like and pursued them single-mindedly. He built the system entirely in software using a conventional SEM supplied by Philips Electron Optics (now FEI) as part of a commercial arrangement struck between Philips and the JKMRC. He exploited the fact that the electron backscatter signal from the sample reflected the atomic number of the material which in turn was a proxy for mineral identification. This novel approach was accurate, fast and high resolution, and was further enhanced by the addition of X-Ray pattern matching for mineral identification. Several measurement modes were developed for particular applications, including the very effective rare phase search used for precious metals such as gold and PGMs.

The commercial version of the MLA was officially launched in 2001, with Ying leading a small team of specialists to support system delivery and development. By any standards it was a success, with sales all over the world. The JKMRC also set up a bureau to carry out MLA analyses for customers. Both businesses, sales and bureau, were transferred to the JKMRC’s commercial company JKTech and later sold to third parties, though the JKMRC retained the capacity to conduct MLA analysis in its own laboratories which it continues to do to this day.

 


The MLA and QEMSCAN competed in the same market place though they had complementary capabilities and both are now marketed by FEI. The competition, though brutal at times, raised everybody’s game to the ultimate benefit of the industry. The ability to conduct these analyses thus evolved from a painfully slow process to a routine procedure which these days is largely taken for granted, with many systems now on the market. It was Ying Gu who lit the touch paper which set this race going. Ying’s achievement as an innovator led to his receipt of the prestigious Innovation Hero Award from the Warren Centre for Advanced Engineering at the University of Sydney in 2011.

 

It is often said that the sooner you separate the inventor from his invention the better, because inventors are generally not good business people. Ying was the exception. He was a great salesman because he knew his product and he loved his customers and wanted them to be successful in using his technology. His customers often became his friends. Ying was the man who never said no to a customer’s request for a new feature. Even in MLA User Group meetings every request was met with his standard phrase of “I think that can be done”, and it usually was. Each customer thought that they were the ones always asking Ying for new features but when they talked among themselves they realised that everyone was at it and Ying was busy tapping away on his laptop to keep all of them happy. His bosses at the JKMRC and JKTech were sometime less happy because he was always reluctant to send his customers a bill for his bonus after sales support!

Ying Gu spent nearly 20 years with the JKMRC and JKTech, responsible both for the MLA development, sales and support, and latterly made important contributions to the technology of X-ray tomography for mineral texture analysis. He was also appointed to run the Centre’s software development group, his great knowledge of computer technology and his programming skills allowing him to implement rigorous software development procedures and protocols which greatly improved the process.

Ying was President of ICAM 2008-2011, and was also a regular attendee at the MEI Process Mineralogy conferences. He was a committed marathon runner and many would remember how he liked to run up Table Mountain at least once during those visits to Cape Town for the MEI conferences.

Ying Gu was a devoted family man. He was kind, humble and easy to get on with. He is survived by his wife Wenqin Li and two young daughters.

Tim Napier-Munn/Cathy Evans

 

 

   

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