Given China's status as the worlds largest producer of rare earths and its recent proclivity for reducing exports of the stuff, everyone else is looking for ways to reduce dependency on rare earths or optimize the use of these sought-after elements. Well, neodymium is one of those rare earths, and a team from St. Pölten University in Austria recently discovered "disturbances in the crystalline structure in neodymium magnets" that weaken their magnetic fields -- and consequently the efficacy of all those electric motors and hard drives that utilize such magnets. For now, research is ongoing to fully understand the properties of neodymium and other rare earths so that their use can be "optimized." We aren't exactly sure how we'll benefit from all this optimization, but we hope it means cheaper and more powerful gadgets, TVs, and cars for all of us.

[Image source: Thomas Schrefl]