HomePhysicsMaking Cosmic Magnets on Earth

Making Cosmic Magnets on Earth

• Physics 15, 182

Supplies scientists have found a brand new technique to kind an iron-nickel alloy discovered largely in meteorites, demonstrating a attainable pathway to extra environmentally sustainable magnets.

This scanning-electron micrograph of an iron-nickel alloy reveals branch-like dendrites with a tetragonal crystal construction. This so-called tetrataenite part has magnetic properties that might probably be helpful in inexperienced applied sciences.

Excessive-performance magnets are the spine of many very important inexperienced applied sciences, together with wind generators and electrical automobiles, however mining for the rare-earth supplies on the coronary heart of those machines can have a hefty environmental impression. Researchers have due to this fact been seeking replacements for rare-earth magnets, with a prime contender being tetrataenite—an iron-nickel alloy with a tetragonal crystal construction. Sometimes, tetrataenite types in meteorites underneath an especially sluggish cooling course of that takes millennia, however a brand new research has discovered a technique to forged this magnet in a lab in a matter of seconds [1]. The method doesn’t but lead to a sensible magnet, however the researchers hope that additional work will enhance the magnetic properties of those “cosmic magnets” and supply insights into how they kind.

Meteorite samples of tetrataenite have been first recognized within the Nineteen Eighties. This magnetic materials is made out of generally discovered components—iron and nickel—organized in a easy tetragonal construction by which the magnetic moments are biased towards one path. This so-called uniaxial magnetic anisotropy is a trait required by high-performance magnets. In consequence, tetrataenite has captured the eye of researchers searching for alternate options to rare-earth magnets.

The difficulty is that the meteorite-based recipe for making tetrataenite requires extraordinarily sluggish cooling charges (lower than 0.01 Ok per 12 months). Making an attempt to chill the iron-nickel elements at a quicker fee sometimes winds up producing a cubic crystal construction quite than the specified tetragonal one. Researchers have managed to make small portions of tetrataenite within the lab however solely underneath excessive circumstances, corresponding to with neutron irradiation. Now Lindsay Greer and Yurii Ivanov on the College of Cambridge and colleagues have discovered a technique to rapidly kind this metallic underneath nonextreme circumstances. The researchers say that the key hiding underneath scientists’ noses was an ingredient inside tetrataenite-forming meteorites: the component phosphorus.

“It was already recognized that phosphorus accelerates the diffusion in meteoritic compositions,” Greer says. However nobody had but investigated the impact that phosphorus might need on tetrataenite synthesis in a laboratory setting. “The presence of phosphorus appears to be crucial in allowing formation of tetrataenite with out such remedies as neutron irradiation,” Ivanov says.

The researchers weren’t initially making an attempt to make tetrataenite. As an alternative, their objective was to review the mechanical properties of Fe-Ni-P-B alloys, which generally have a disordered, glass-like microstructure. The group used a standard casting course of by which the alloy elements have been heated at a temperature of 1123 Ok after which quickly cooled. The solidified samples contained a sample of skinny branches known as dendrites. Analyzing these options with x-ray diffraction and transmission electron microscopy, the researchers have been stunned to seek out the chemically ordered construction of tetrataenite. By adjusting ratios of components of their alloy elements, the group discovered that phosphorus was answerable for dashing up the supplies’ ordering. The outcomes confirmed that tetrataenite can kind underneath a cooling fee that’s greater than 100 billion instances quicker than the speed in meteorites.

Michael Coey, a magnet skilled from Trinity Faculty Dublin, says the method for making tetrataenite is attention-grabbing, however he doesn’t suppose the fabric meets essential magnet-energy necessities. “I feel the work will affect the path of analysis on tetrataenite, because the soften casting technique of manufacturing the tetragonal ordered Fe-Ni alloys is new,” Coey says. “However I see no prospect of those alloys changing rare-earths in any everlasting magnet utility.”

Greer and Ivanov agree that current, albeit restricted, knowledge on tetrataenite’s magnetic properties counsel that it could not match high-performance neodymium-based magnets. However the researchers preserve that optimization of the tetrataenite casting course of might enhance its magnetic properties and thus make it a worthwhile possibility. “It’s good to have a wider vary of everlasting magnet supplies, as a result of that permits higher balancing of such elements as magnetic efficiency and environmental impression,” Greer says. “A one-for-one swap with rare-earth magnets will not be essentially the objective.”

For now, the group has demonstrated learn how to make a bit of tetrataenite, however they are saying that future work will deal with learn how to consolidate many items right into a bulk magnet. “The analogy right here could be that we’ve got proven we are able to make a brick—a bit of tetrataenite—however not but a home—a magnet,” Greer says.

Past supplies science, the researchers trace that this work could even impression astrophysics analysis as scientists rethink how lengthy it takes for tetrataenite to develop in a meteorite and how briskly the cooling fee is in that area setting.

–Sarah Wells

Sarah Wells is an impartial science journalist based mostly in Boston.


  1. Y. P. Ivanov et al., “Direct formation of hard-magnetic tetrataenite in bulk alloy castings,” Adv. Sci. 2204315 (2022).

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