“The force is strong in this one,” Darth Vader once quipped. Was the masked one referring to the Jedi power or was he actually alluding to magnetic power? Either way, Jedi and magnets both have a powerful pull – but only one can actually work in real life: magnets. More specifically, rare earth magnets, which are used in many applications and found in a number of products. Here are top four things to know about this fascinating magnet.
A rare earth magnet is a strong permanent magnet made up of alloys and rare earth elements, which include praseodymium, neodymium, samarium, and 13 other elements. These elements were reportedly discovered in the 1800s but it wasn’t until the late ’60s when the it was developed in a U.S. Air Force lab where samarium and cobalt produced the largest magnetic anisotropy. This means that the magnetic force was so great that a magnetised object could resist being pulled in another direction. The effect is kind of like Angelina Jolie “magnetising” Brad Pitt away from his marriage to Jennifer Anniston.
The two most popular rare earth magnets are neodymium magnets and samarium-cobalt magnets. Neodymium is considered to be the strongest and more affordable kind. It’s used for jewellery clasps, electric motors for cordless tools, hard drives, and others. Meanwhile, samarium-cobalt is considered to be on the pricey side and is commonly used by industrial manufacturers.
Clean tech developers and a few car manufacturers are reportedly seeking to replace the permanent magnet they use. Both GM and Toyota, according to a Reuters report, are trying to reduce their usage and dependence on rare earths. Toyota has in fact found a way to make electric cars without rare earths and Renault SA has made electric motors that do not need permanent magnets. However, GM reps say that the permanent magnet is still the best magnet to use.
Some interesting applications for the rare earth magnets include roller coaster technology, stop motion animation, electric guitar pick-ups, neodymium magnet toys, diamagnetic levitation experimentation, self-powered flashlights, and more.
As essential and advantageous it is to certain industries, it is quite hazardous as well. It needs to be handled with great care because when these magnets come together, they splinter and break into pieces at high speed. Also, they squeeze powerfully when they come into contact against the skin. But the world needs them. And wherever you are, whatever you’re doing-rocking an electric guitar or riding the roller coaster-it helps pull things along efficiently.