Kati Laakso thinks that it’s good to have a goal – no matter if it’s the finishing line of a marathon or the improvement of sustainable methods to detect minerals. The Finnish researcher shows the necessary persistence for both.
42.195 kilometers – that’s the official distance of a marathon. Following the river Elbe from Augustusbrücke in Dresden to the southeast such a race would take runners almost to the border of the Czech Republic. On their way they would spot the three adjacent castles Albrechtsberg, Lingnerschloss and Eckberg, throning over the river behind steeply rising vineyards. They would pass by the beer gardens close to the bridge Blue Wonder. They would cross the magnificent palace grounds of Schloss Pillnitz. Finally, they would see the famous rock formation Bastei and its bridge of the same name, towering almost 200 meters above Elbe in the Sandstone Mountains, and discover the fortress Königstein on the horizon.
So far, during her first five months in Germany, Kati Laakso hasn’t taken this tour. But the Finnish researcher might consider it – after all, she’s yet run eleven marathons in her life. And the road next to the river Elbe, the so-called Elberadweg, is already one of her favorite places in the Saxon capital. “It’s a wonderful area to go for a run, walk, or just to enjoy the beautiful view,” Kati Laakso recounts. “There are so many cities, which have almost no public green spaces. In Dresden you will find nature basically within the urban areas.” For the scientist from Helsinki the escape to these spaces is a way to relax – although it might remind her of work: “My research sometimes takes me to remote places.”
What the human eye can’t see
To some even her last place of residence – Oulu, the fifth biggest city in Finland – might seem like a remote place, since it’s almost at the Northern polar circle. “There I finished my PhD, which I started at the University of Alberta in Canada. So I’m pretty used to cold weather and I’m looking forward to see, what winter in Germany is like.” In the meantime the geologist develops new methods for the sustainable exploration of minerals at HZDR’s Helmholtz-Institute Freiberg for Resource Technology. “The process of finding ores affects landscapes at times in unnecessarily harsh ways,” Laakso explains. “We try to optimize noninvasive and nondestructive technologies to gather information that can lead to ore deposits.”
Her preferred method is hyperspectral imaging. Whereas the human eye can only perceive the three primary colors red, green and blue, this technique collects many more bands, ranging from the ultraviolet up to longwave infrared. “Since minerals have characteristic spectral features, hyperspectral images tell us a lot about rock samples without destroying them,” Laakso summarizes. “Based on this, it becomes possible to decide, if mining makes sense, while simultaneously minimizing the effects on nature.” Thus, in a certain sense her research helps to preserve the pristine areas, which attract her so much. Nevertheless, in her opinion the method can still be improved.
“So far these images are mostly taken from planes or satellites. Now we can also use drones, as very recently new lightweight spectrometers have been developed to acquire geological information. Shortly we will also have a laboratory scanning system that allows us to collect hundreds of meters of hyperspectral drill core data per day, providing us with the ability to cover large areas both horizontally and vertically.” Kati Laakso and her colleagues are currently testing new methods to obtain mineralogical information using such devices. The necessary persistence to reach as well this goal is certainly at her disposal.