Trace elements: Selenium and its weed across the ‘Badlands’

Ms Amelia Hine1, Ms Maggie-Anne Harvey1

1University Of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia


‘[C]apitalism has naturalized itself to the earth, feeding off the fossil stocks and mineral flows of the substratum’ (Yusoff 2017, 113). In seeking the edges of this capitalist attachment to earth processes, this investigation follows the story of the element selenium, a nonmetal necessary for human and more-than-human health but which can easily turn deadly, in its sympoietic relationship with Neptunia amplexicaulis, or the selenium weed. N. amplexicaulis has been known as a hyperaccumulator of selenium, that is a plant that grows in and absorbs high concentrations of specific metals or elements, since the 1960s but has been largely ignored by the research community until recently. The ongoing process of understanding N. amplexicaulis-selenium entanglement from a scientific perspective requires an examination of Queensland’s settler colonial history through its record-keeping alongside propagation and examination of individual plants. Simultaneously, to understand the marginalisation of N. amplexicaulis despite its global standing as third most efficient selenium hyperaccumulator, requires a consideration of the peripheral nature of the ‘Badlands’ in Central Queensland within the research community itself. Together, selenium and N. amplexicaulis tell a complex story of capitalism-intersected change leading to their combined potential future as the new face of (agro)mining.. or is it pharmaceuticals?


Amelia is about to complete her PhD in the Sustainable Minerals Institute at the University of Queensland. With a background in design and museology, her visual and written practice identifies and builds on arts and science intersections, and her PhD has worked to highlight the central role of landscape assemblages within the mining industry. Find her at or on Twitter @AmeliaHine

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