University of Minnesota researchers have found a way to make “stupid gold” more appealing.
They made it magnetic, according to a new study.
“Most people with knowledge of magnetism would probably say that it was impossible to electrically convert a non-magnetic material into a magnetic one,” said Chris Leighton, the study’s lead researcher, in a university statement. “When we looked a little deeper, however, we saw a possible path and made it happen.”
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The study appeared Wednesday in the peer-reviewed scientific journal.
“Stupid gold,” a free substance also known as pyrite, is often found in quartz veins and is used primarily to create sulfuric acid for industrial applications, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.
The University of Minnesota team had separately explored ways to test and make new types of solar panels from sulfur and ferrous sulfur materials, Leighton said. And they were starting to look at ways to use electrical voltages to control magnetism.
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“At one point, we realized we had to combine these two research directions, and it was settled,” he said.
The result is the first time scientists have managed to take a non-magnetic material and make it magnetic, according to the university.
They used a process called “electrolyte electrosphere” – using an electrolyte-rich solution, “comparable to Gatorade”, and small applications of electric volts to move around molecules and make the substance magnetic.
“We were surprised it worked,” Leighton said.
“By applying voltage, we basically pour electrons into the material,” he explained. “It turns out that if you get enough concentrations of electrons, the material wants to spontaneously become ferromagnetic (potential magnet), which we could theoretically understand.”
And the technique could have even more applications.
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“That has a lot of potential,” Leighton said. “Once we’ve done it with iron sulfide, we think we can do it with other materials as well.”