Researchers at the University of Minnesota have found a way to make “stupid gold” more attractive.
They did it magnetically, according to a new study.
“Most people who know magnetism would probably say that it is impossible to electrically convert nonmagnetic material into magnetic,” said Chris Leighton, a lead researcher at the study, according to a university statement. “But when we looked a little deeper, we saw a potential route and we did.”
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The study appeared Wednesday in the peer-reviewed journal Science Advances.
“Stupid gold,” a cheap substance also known as pyrite, is often found in quartz veins and is used primarily to make sulfuric acid for industrial applications, according to a U.S. geological survey.
The University of Minnesota team was separately researching ways to test and create new types of solar panels made of sulfur and ferrous sulfide materials, Leighton said. And they had begun to look for ways to use electrical voltages to control magnetism.
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“At one point, we realized we had to combine these two areas of research, and it paid off,” he said.
The result is the first time scientists have been able to take non-magnetic material and make it magnetic, according to the university.
They used a process called “electrolyte stem” – using an electrolyte-rich solution “comparable to Gatorade” and small applications of electric volts to move around the molecules and make the substance magnetic.
“We were pretty surprised it worked,” Leighton said.
“By applying the voltage, we are essentially pouring electrons into the material,” he explained. “It turns out that if you get high enough concentrations of electrons, the material wants to spontaneously become ferromagnetic (potential magnets), which we were able to understand in theory.”
And the technique can have even more applications.
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“It has a lot of potential,” Leighton said. “Once we did it with ferrous sulfide, we guess we can do it with other materials.”