“As a kid my favourite toy was the globe,” says geological engineering student Neil de Laplante. “I’ve always been drawn to the empty places on the map.”
Neil followed that pull to the edge of the Sahara, where he spent three months scouting for oil in the spring of 2006. It was a co-op work term with the Ottawa-based Sander Geophysics Limited (SGL), a company that conducts surveys for petroleum and mineral exploration using airplanes and helicopters.
Neil was part of a five-member team based in Sebha, Libya. Their mission: to map the gravitational and magnetic anomalies of 40,000 square kilometres of the Sahara.
While the airplane mechanic kept the plane flying and the two pilots took off at the break of dawn every day to fly sweeps over the desert, Neil and one other geophysicist served as ground crew, instrumentation specialists, data analysts and general trouble-shooters.
“Once the mechanic needed a lamp, just a hanging lamp, to help him see inside the engine,” he remembers. “Imagine trying to buy one when you only speak 10 words of Arabic. It’s not as if you can go down to the Canadian Tire and ask.”
“Well,” Neil smiles. “They do say engineers are problem solvers. And I did find a solution to the problem.”