I can only think of a single instance where a bumper sticker ever galvanized my outlook on anything. Years ago I saw a bumper sticker which read, “If it’s not grown, its mined”. The truth of that statement resonated with me because I was quickly able to see that all the resources we use to make everything we have around us came from either something grown or something mined. Obviously wood and food is grown but metal, salt, rocks, minerals and even the oil we use to make plastics has to be pulled from the ground. This of course includes all forms of mining from deep underground hard rock mines to solution mining, without these we would not have glass, sheetrock, tiles or steel. There would be no concrete, no bricks, no silver or gold not even copper for modern electricity and plumbing.
Just digging up rocks is simply not enough to extract the elements and minerals sought after. Often the raw ore has to be processed both mechanically and chemically to obtain the materials needed to make a finished product. Most metals start with crushing the rock to a fine powder. After this, the material can go through an acidic or basic solution for further separation. Some newer techniques use a slightly basic solution (almost soapy) for the slurry of water and powder followed by bubbling gas up through the mix creating a surface froth to carry away the concentrate in a simple separation step for further processing.
There are many forms of mining spanning the range of solution mining, hard rock mining, soft rock mining and shallow surface mining. Solution mines can be as simple as filling an old salt mine with water and pumping water in one end and out the other then evaporating the water to start the cycle over. Here the salt dissolved underground is transported to the surface as a solution for separation at the surface with minimal energy being used to bring it to the surface.
Extracting the ore itself can only be done after the deposits are first identified and verified to have cost effective concentrations of the material to allow a commercial venture to go forward. Mining and mineral engineers are trained in how to identify deposits and on the technologies available to extract and refine them. In addition to the standard suite of physics, chemistry and math (up to two years of each), mine engineers have to know how to provide adequate ventilation for an underground mine. If you took a very, very long straw or a not too long air tight water hose (having a total volume of around 500 mL), you would suffocate if you tried to breath solely through this tube. The reason is that the air you exhale would fill the straw and not mix with the outside air before you breathed it back in again. You are left breathing the same air you exhaled over and over again. An underground mine can be similar if you are operating large diesel equipment which will consume the oxygen in the air that otherwise would be used by the minors, getting fresh air into a mine can be pretty important.
Of course a mine and minerals engineer must also study geology and rock mechanics as they must design the controls to keep the mine from caving in as well as safe drilling, blasting and cutting used in making the mine. They also must understand how water travels through rocks and soil and also the commercial aspects of cost effective processing and refining.
Mines can also have an impact on the environment. Another requirement for mining engineers is to understand all potential environmental issues related to the whole process so that a mine can be planned to have minimal impact and allow fully regulatory compliant reclamation at the end of the mines life.