WHAT MAKES MATERIALS MAGNETIC? Magnetism comes from the constant movement of charged electrons in atoms. As electrons swirl around an atom, they create an electrical current, and whenever electricity moves in a current, a magnetic field is created. So magnetism is a force between electric currents: two currents flowing in the same direction attract, while those pulling in opposite directions repel. The reason some materials are magnetic, while others are not, has to do with how the electrons are ordered. A magnet is an object made of magnetic materials; naturally occurring magnets are known as lodestones. Every magnet has at least one north pole and one south pole. In fact, if you take a bar magnet and break it into two pieces, each of the smaller pieces will still have a north and south pole. The Earth itself is a giant magnet with a north and south pole, which is why a magnetic compass's needle always points north/south.
WHAT ARE THE RARE EARTH ELEMENTS? The rare earth elements are a class of 17 chemical elements, grouped together because of their chemically similar properties. They are usually soft, malleable and react easily with other chemicals, especially at higher temperatures. Despite their name, the rare earth elements are not especially rare. They can be difficult to harvest, since they are contained in other naturally occurring minerals as trace elements, and must be separated out. They are used for many purposes, for polishing glass and optical lenses; as additives to strengthen soft metals; in permanent magnets; and as ceramics and as dyes for glazes and coatings. The phosphors, which glow when struck by light or an electrical charge, are used in. Rare earths can also be found in color televisions, fluorescent lighting, nuclear detectors, lasers, electronic components, jewelry, and as anti-corrosive additives in paints.
The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc., the Materials Research Society, and the American Physical Society contributed to the information contained in the TV portion of this report.