Researchers at the University of Minnesota have found a way to make “fool’s gold” more attractive.
According to a new study, they made it magnetic.
“Most people who know magnetism will probably say that it is impossible to electrically transform nonmagnetic material into magnetic,” said Chris Leighton, the study’s lead researcher, in a statement from the university. “However, when we looked a little deeper, we saw a potential route and put it into practice.”
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The study appeared Wednesday in the peer-reviewed journal Science Advances.
“Stupid gold,” an inexpensive substance also known as pyrite, is common in quartz veins and is used primarily to make sulfuric acid for industrial use, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.
The University of Minnesota team was separately researching ways to try to make new types of solar panels from sulfur and ferrous sulfide materials, Leighton said. And they began to look for ways to use electrical voltages to control magnetism.
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“At some point, we realized that we had to combine these two areas of research, and it paid off,” he said.
As a result, for the first time, scientists were able to take non-magnetic material and make it magnetic, according to the university.
They used a process called “electrolytic lattice” – using a solution rich in electrolyte, “comparable to Gatorade”, and small programs of electric volts to move through the molecules and make the substance magnetic.
“We were very surprised it worked,” Leighton said.
“By applying 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 theoretically.”
And the technique could have even more applications.
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“It has great potential,” Leighton said. “Having done this with sulfide iron, we think we can do it with other materials.”