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Critical Materials

March 22, 2016

A government laboratory works to maintain supplies of some little-known metals.


1024px-Yttrium_sublimed_dendritic_and_1cm3_cube Alchemist-hp via Wikipedia

Sublimed, dendritic, and cubed yttrium. (Alchemist-hp/CC BY-NC-ND 3.0, via Wikipedia)


Safeguarding critical metals. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Gold, platinum and silver come to mind when we think of precious elements. But at the Critical Materials Institute at the Ames Research Laboratory, yttrium, neodymium, and dysprosium top the list. Director Alex King says these metals are vital for high performance motors, batteries, and LEDs. And the United States relies on other countries—primarily China—to supply them.

ALEX KING (Critical Materials Institute, Ames Research Laboratory):

We use them in just about everything we make these days. And if anything should happen to cut off supplies, then those materials become a showstopper.


At a New America forum in Washington, DC, King discussed the importance of these materials, the hunt to find new sources, and efforts to identify the critical materials of the future—elements needed for exciting new technologies now only in development, but likely to be critically important in decades to come. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.