- Number 327 |
- December 20, 2010
Ames Laboratory’s “Mr. Rare Earth” still going strong
Karl Gschneidner Jr.
At a time when most researchers have hung up their lab coats and settled into retirement, DOE Ames Laboratory senior metallurgist Karl Gschneidner Jr. is still going strong. Known internationally for his work in rare-earth materials, Gschneidner (aka “Mr. Rare Earth”) has spent much of this past year traveling both here and abroad, speaking, conducting media interviews and testifying before Congress on the looming shortage of rare earths that threatens nearly every segment of the technology market. Between recent trips, he did manage to find time to celebrate his 80th birthday in November.
In March, Gschneidner took his message about the importance of rare-earth elements to the Investigations and Oversight Subcommittee of the House Committee on Science and Technology. In follow-up correspondence, Gschneidner told the subcommittee if the United States is to have a significant manufacturing role in the technologies and products that rely on rare earths, “it is essential that we play a leading role in the development of new techniques for the efficient production of rare-earth materials from the available resources and technologies, which maximize the benefit derived from the rare-earth content for a given application, and lead in the development of new rare-earth processes and applications.”
One such application Gschneidner has helped pioneer is magnetic refrigeration, which uses a property known as the magneto-caloric effect of a gadolinium alloy to provide cooling instead of conventional gas compression. When the gadolinium-silicon-germanium alloy Gschneidner developed is placed within a magnetic field, it heats up and conversely cools down once the field is removed.
More recently, Gschneidner and a colleague devised a new process for creating the neodymium-iron-boron magnets that holds the promise of being cheaper and more environmentally benign than the methods currently used. And with modification, the process could also work to prepare a lanthanum master alloy to produce the lanthanum-nickel-metal hydride batteries used in hybrid and electric vehicles.
Submitted by DOE's Ames Laboratory