Increased magnetic power creates more compact, efficient appliances

Posted on Tuesday, August 23rd, 2005

Paul Shand, professor, UNI Department of Physics, (319) 273-2930
Rebecca Schultze, University Marketing & Public Relations, (319) 273-6728

CEDAR FALLS, Iowa -- The University of Northern Iowa has received a financial boost from the National Science Foundation (NSF) for small-scale scientific research that could have a big impact on magnetic technology used every day.

Paul Shand, UNI professor of physics, received $123,000 from the NSF as a part of a collaborative research effort with the University of Nebraska to investigate 'Magnetic Properties of Disordered Rare-Earth Nanostructures.' Shand and his team will study crystals to find how disorder at the atomic level affects the crystals' magnetic properties. The information gained may help scientists design magnetic materials with specific properties by controlling the type and amount of disorder within the crystal, Shand said.

'Permanent magnets are used in electric motors, which in turn are used in a number of commercial appliances like washing machines, dryers, blenders and computer disk drives. They also are used in hybrid gas/electric vehicles, which are becoming increasingly popular in efforts to reduce gasoline consumption,' Shand said. 'If the magnets are more powerful, they can be made smaller so the motors can be more compact and efficient.'

The scientists will look at disorder on a scale of about one nanometer, which is several atoms wide. For perspective, a nanometer is one-billionth of a meter, and a human hair is about 80,000 nanometers thick according to the National Nanotechnology Initiative, a federal research and development program.

This three-year project will support one physics undergraduate student at UNI, and Shand will integrate magnetic experiments and research experience into UNI's Upward Bound Math & Science activities.

The National Nanotechnology Initiative predicts that nanotechnology has the potential to change the economy and improve the standard of living in the same way information technology has impacted lives in the past two decades.