By Mary Hoff
Permanent magnets are increasingly important—they do everything from help power electric cars to make recording devices work. But they also are a big environmental burden because they depend on mining rare earth minerals, an energy-intensive process that requires the use of toxic chemicals with potential harm to agriculture, human health, and ecosystems. That picture could be changing soon: With funding from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency–Energy, a team from the College of Science and Engineering led by professor of electrical and computer engineering Jian-Ping Wang is developing a permanent magnet made from iron and nitrogen that is not only environmentally friendlier but also twice as strong as its conventional counterparts. Ph.D. student Md A. Mehedi recently won a $10,000 award for his work on the project from the Dow Sustainability Innovation Student Challenge Award competition, a program of Dow Chemical Company and the U’s Institute on the Environment. A start-up company, Niron Magnetics, has come on board to help move the innovation to market.