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Computer models help form new magnetic materials

Digital models took the guesswork out of making viable magnets.
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blackred via Getty Images

Magnetic materials are extremely difficult to find. They're rare in nature, and creating one in the lab usually involves both a lot of experimentation and a little luck. Duke University, however, has found a way to take the mystery out of the process: its researchers have used computer modelling to help generate two new kinds of magnetic materials. The models whittled down the potential atomic structures from a whopping 236,115 combinations to just 14 candidates by subjecting the structures to increasingly tougher tests. How stable are they? Do they have a "magnetic moment" that determines the strength of their reaction to an outside magnetic field? After that, it was just a matter of synthesizing the few remaining materials to see how well they worked in real life.

This kind of modelling could help shave years off of the time needed to create a magnetic material, and that in turn could lead to discoveries that just weren't realistic before. One of the materials resulting from the Duke effort, a blend of cobalt, magnesium and titanium, is magnetic even at extremely high temperatures -- it could take much more abuse before it stops working. The other, a mix of manganese, palladium and platinum, is unusual in that it doesn't have its own magnetic moment but does respond to outside magnetic fields. Instead of scrounging to find any kind of magnetism, scientists could focus on developing magnets for specific purposes.

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