Academic CoursesEcuador

  • CHM 281 -  Introduction to the Chemistry of Artisanal and Small-Scale Gold Mining

  • CHM 481/CHM 481L - The Chemistry of Artisanal and Small-Scale Gold Mining

  • EVE 491Special Topics: Mercury Aerosol Capture and Reuse Systems for Artisanal and Small Scale Gold Mining Operations

  • ECN 477 - Special Topics: Institutional Barriers to Entrepreneurship
  • PBH 401 - Current Topics in Public Health:  Community-Based Practices
  • SPN 353S - Special Topics: Communication and Culture in Artisanal and Small Scale Gold Communities (Prerequisites –SPANISH 252)

****Students are required to sign up for 6 hours of credit from among these course options.


  • Adam M. Kiefer, Ph.D.- Assistant Professor of Chemistry, College of Liberal Arts

  • Laura Lackey, Ph.D., P.E.- Senior Associate Dean and Professor, Department of Environmental Engineering

  • Antonio Saravia, Ph.D. - Assistant Professor of Economics/Director BB&T Center for Undergraduate Research in Public Policy and Capitalism

  • Brad Lian, Ph.D. - Associate Professor, Community Medicine

  • Clara Mengolini, Ph.D. -Assistant Professor, Foreign Language Department, College of Liberal Arts

Ecuador 3


Location: Zaruma, Ecuador

Chemistry Program Highlights

Artisanal gold miners around the world harvest ore from mountains and streams, and then process the ore with mercury and/or cyanide to extract the gold. These processes release a tremendous amount of toxic materials into the surrounding environment and communities.  Mercer students will travel to the El Oro Province of Ecuador, where they will teach miners and gold processors basic chemical hygiene and safety when using mercury and cyanide to extract gold from ore.  Students will also use cutting edge technology to monitor human health and environmental pollution, and will develop rapid, in-field tests to determine miner exposure to mercury and cyanide.  Lastly, students will map point sources of mercury contamination to determine the fate of mercury in the atmosphere.  All findings will be shared with miners, mining officials, and various governmental agencies Ecuador 2working in the area.


Engineering Program Highlights

A frequented practice of artisanal and small-scale gold miners (ASGM) in underdeveloped countries uses mercury to purify gold from ore; this process is referred to as amalgamation. When mercury is in contact with pure gold, the two elements combine to form a compound termed an amalgam. As the mercury is liberated from the amalgam, miners often inhale toxic vapors and mercury is released into the air, soil, and water. Mercer University students that travel to Zaruma, Ecuador will participate in the design, installation, and testing of three mercury aerosol capture and reuse devices.

Economics Program Highlights

There is widespread agreement that institutions –the laws and informal conventions within societies that both permit and bound economic behavior –matter a great deal in the process of economic development. Economists have produced a large body of literature providing empirical evidence on this claim. Most of these studies use country level data derived from macro indices such as those of economic freedom, country risk ratings, etc. Much less has been done using case studies or fieldwork for specific regions or communities. This project falls under the latter category.

Benefiting from an ongoing relationship between Mercer University and the town of Zaruma in the southern part of Ecuador, the project will consist of studying the relevant features of the institutional setting in the region as they relate to coffee production. Using iterative field research as our main methodological tool, our group of faculty and students will collect data through surveys and conversations with economic agents to elicit information about the incentives shaping their economic behavior (in terms of production, consumption, investment, etc.) and the institutional arrangements that determine those incentives in the first place.

The ultimate goal is to utilize the information collected to build an institutional roadmap of the economics of coffee production in Zaruma. We expect that this information will allow us or other researchers to further expand our understanding of the challenges of development faced by agricultural communities in Latin America and assess the potential impact of different public policies.

Public Health Highlights

Potentially harmful substances may be released into the air, soil, and water during mining processes, perhaps affecting the health of those immediately involved as well as residents of surrounding communities. Furthering our understanding of the health systems, beliefs, and issues in mining regions may improve lives. This course will provide the context for community health needs assessments work in under-resourced areas of the world.

Students will learn principles of conducting needs assessments and field research in public health and then actively engage in the research process by conducting capacity and service assessments of local institutions and organizations involved in healthcare.

Students will also be exposed to broader issues and topics specific to the location, such as mining processes, health education, literacy, culture, and health beliefs and gain a better appreciation and understanding of the opportunities, obstacles, and challenges associated with everyday living and surviving in under-resourced regions of the world. Their work may ultimately help local institutions, officials, and scholars better identify the region’s health-related needs and develop priorities and contextually relevant responses.


Spanish Program Highlights

Cultural understanding and excellent communication between Mercer On Mission program members and communities are essential in order to ensure both the success and sustainability of a project. 

In this Mercer On Mission, Spanish students will join students in business and in chemistry for a program in Ecuador designed to help communities about the benefits of coffee production, as well as the harmful effects of gold mining.

Spanish students will be prepared through class work prior to travel for both communication and translation in a three part course including medical, business and chemistry related terminology.

Students will have field experience interacting with miners, mining official and governmental agencies working in the area. Lastly, students will be also cooperating with economic agents about the incentives shaping the economic behavior in their coffee production.

Contact Information

For more information, e-mail or call (478) 301-2992.