The peri­odic table seems to epit­o­mize an older, well-​​established ver­sion of sci­ence that is more high school chem­istry than high-​​tech wind tur­bines or fuel-​​efficient car engines.

But whole swaths of the peri­odic table that most people have never heard of are cru­cial for tech­nology and clean energy gen­er­a­tion. And in recent years, these mate­rials, with names like neodymium and yttrium, have been threat­ened by short­ages and inter­na­tional politics.

Last year, the Depart­ment of Energy funded a $120 mil­lion Crit­ical Mate­rials Insti­tute at the Ames Lab­o­ra­tory in Iowa, devoted to increasing pro­duc­tion and devel­oping sub­sti­tutes that could pre­vent shortages.

At North­eastern Uni­ver­sity, chem­ical engi­neer Laura Lewis sums up the sci­en­tific problem she is working on with a quick demon­stra­tion: she’ll push a shallow metal dish with a slightly rusted magnet in it across a table and chal­lenge vis­i­tors to try and pry the magnet off. It’s pos­sible — but very difficult.

Read the article at Boston Globe →