Magnet Performance Customized by Replacing Atoms

Monday - 2/7/2011, 12:22pm EST

Scientists at the Department of Energy's Ames Research Lab have been able to customize the performance of magnets by strategically replacing key atoms within the material of the magnet.

It's a process similar to what bioengineers use when they add or delete genes to create synthetic organisms. A group of researchers successfully replaced key atoms in a magnetic compound with atoms of lutetium and lanthanum.

Researchers say the discovery may eventually help as scientists search for new exotic substances for use in high-tech products used today and for those in the future.

Researchers say - knowing how to identify key atomic positions is similar to understanding the roles specific genes play in an organism's DNA sequence - and that knowledge could ultimately lead to materials by design.