As we labor away on our extractive metallurgy project, I continue to marvel at how even complex extraction schemes reduce to the application of fundamental chemistry and basic unit operations. It is crucial to have a comprehensive understanding of the composition of your ore and the fate of the components as they are exposed to unit operations. The extraction of desired metals from your ore requires extensive use of analytical resources in order to keep the process economics in line.
Extractive metallurgy also requires an extensive knowledge of descriptive inorganic chemistry- something that was glossed over when I was in college. When I took undergraduate inorganic chemistry the emphasis was on ligand field theory, group theory application to symmetry and vibrational modes, coordination complex chemistry, etc. Lots of content that took many lecture hours to cover. Basic reaction chemistry was neglected in favor of admittedly elegant theory.
The fun for me (an organikker) has been in learning lots of descriptive inorganic chemistry and inorganic synthesis.
Extractive metallurgy in practice comes down to a relatively short list of operations. Roasting or calcining, comminution & classification, extraction, dissolution, flocculation, frothing, dewatering and filtration, redox transformations, precipitation, and drying. Since most of the solution work is water based, the main handles you have to pull are temperature, selective solubility, and pH.
My undergrad coursework in inorganic qualitative analysis, specifically the separation schemes, has been very valuable both in terms of benchwork as well as descriptive chemistry.