North­eastern Uni­ver­sity researchers have designed a super-​​strong mag­netic mate­rial that may rev­o­lu­tionize the pro­duc­tion of mag­nets found in com­puters, mobile phones, elec­tric cars and wind-​​powered generators.

The research was sup­ported by a three-​​year, $360,000 grant from the National Sci­ence Foun­da­tion. The find­ings — which dove­tail with Northeastern’s focus on use-​​inspired research that solves global chal­lenges in health, secu­rity and sus­tain­ability — will be pub­lished in an upcoming edi­tion of the journal Applied Physics Letters.

State-​​of-​​the-​​art elec­tric motors and gen­er­a­tors con­tain highly coer­cive mag­nets that are based on rare-​​earth ele­ments, but we have devel­oped a new mate­rial with sim­ilar prop­er­ties without those exotic ele­ments,” said coau­thor Don Heiman, a physics pro­fessor in the Col­lege of Sci­ence.

Heiman’s work aligns with Northeastern’s existing exper­tise in this area. The university’s Center for Microwave Mag­netic Mate­rials and Inte­grated Cir­cuits, for example, works to develop next-​​generation microwave mate­rials and device solu­tions for radar and wire­less com­mu­ni­ca­tion tech­nolo­gies for U.S. defense and com­mer­cial industries.

For this study, the team of researchers, including under­grad­u­ates Tom Car­dinal and Thomas Nummy and grad­uate stu­dent Steven Ben­nett, found that the com­pound man­ganese gal­lium can be syn­the­sized on the nanoscale to pro­duce a coer­cive field that rivals mate­rials con­taining rare-​​earth ele­ments, which are con­sid­er­ably more expen­sive to process and mine.

The need to develop low-​​cost mag­netic mate­rials is at an all-​​time high. Last year, China, which has cor­nered the market on the supply of the rare earth ele­ments, pur­posely reduced pro­duc­tion by 40 per­cent to drive up prices throughout the rest of the world.

As Heiman put it, “The gov­ern­ment would be in a bind if it had to rely on China to pro­duce hybrid cars and wind generators.”

He pre­sented the team’s research in November in Scotts­dale, Ariz., at the 56th Annual Con­fer­ence on Mag­netism and Mag­netic Mate­rials. Rep­re­sen­ta­tives of Toyota, LG Elec­tronics and hard-​​drive man­u­fac­turers Sea­gate and Hitachi Global were par­tic­u­larly inter­ested in the findings.

It gar­nered a lot of interest,” Heiman said.

He praised the con­tri­bu­tion of the trio of student-​​researchers, whose lab work taught them how to approach sci­en­tific prob­lems in new ways. “The goal is to get stu­dents in the lab as soon as pos­sible,” Heiman explained. “In class, stu­dents work on prob­lems with spe­cific answers, but when you enter the real world, it’s not like that.”

View selected pub­li­ca­tions of Don Heiman in IRis, Northeastern’s dig­ital archive.