In the face of the global climate crisis, demand for elements such as copper, nickel and lithium is projected to increase substantially as we rapidly transition to a net-zero carbon economy. At present, the sources of these minerals are uncertain, and it is unclear how projected future demands will be met. Moreover, mining activities have had strong negative environmental and social impacts, with disproportionate harms inflicted on Indigenous communities. Moving forward, we must understand how mineral resources can be responsibly utilized, as we seek to tackle the climate crisis and promote Indigenous sovereignty.

The UBC Future Minerals Working Group (FMWG) is a new inter-disciplinary initiative, bringing together world-class Canadian scholars working on all facets of mining and mineral exploration. Through the FMWG, Canadian geoscientists and geological engineers seek to reimagine the global mineral resource sector, in collaboration with scholars in law, economics, public policy and other fields, and with Indigenous and industry partners. The group is working to advance research and education, and has also been active in public outreach and engagement. As part of this work, we are commissioning the Heavy Metal Suite, a major new collaborative project that will engage the public, and support informed societal discourse about the future of Earth’s mineral resources. The project will use an artistic lens to explore the challenges and opportunities of renewable energy based on metal-intensive technologies.

The Heavy Metal Suite will be comprised of individual movements inspired by different critical metals (e.g., copper, gold, lithium, platinum). Working with the Chicago-based Axiom Brass quintet, we have commissioned music by international composers from countries that supply large quantities of critical metals. The composers come from diverse, multi-ethnic backgrounds, including Indigenous and non-Indigenous people at various career stages. Over the coming months in 2023 and 2024, the composers will engage in dialog with each other and with members of the FMWG, to better understand the unique properties of the metals and draw inspiration for their creative work.

The Heavy Metal Suite will be premiered in Vancouver on Earth Day (April 22), 2024 by the Axiom Brass. The musical movements will be interspersed with short and accessible presentations from Earth scientists and others with expertise in the mineral resource sector. Such an arts-based approach is increasingly recognized by the science outreach communities as a powerful means of broadening communication to engage more diverse audiences.

Musical Motif running through every movement - Conductivity by Augusta Read Thomas

Conductivity will be the common musical motif running through every movement, weaving together the diverse compositions into an over-arching work. This word has several meanings, all of which represent significant themes underlying the Heavy Metal Suite. Electrical conductivity represents the ability of a material to carry an electrical current, which is a key characteristic of metals such as copper and silver that are used in electronic devices. Superconductivity is observed in certain materials where electrical resistance vanishes under low temperatures and an electric current can persist indefinitely with no power source. Hydraulic and thermal conductivity represent the ability of a material to transmit water and heat. These two properties are fundamental to the formation of mineral deposits in the Earth’s interior. At a societal level, we can understand conductivity as a fundamental inter- connectedness among individuals and nations. Tackling the climate crisis and supplying  mineral resources for the future green economy will require global connections, as represented by the diverse composers who have come together for the creation of the Heavy Metal Suite.