Imagine a lightweight magnet that, unlike a dense bar of iron, could bend like plastic. It’s a strong possibility after a major advance in the lab of Chemistry Prof. Robin Hicks. When he and former post-doctoral student Raj Jain mixed three carbon-based (organic) nickel compounds into a muddy blend they, quite accidentally, discovered that the synthetic molecules become magnetic at room temperature.
It’s a rare find, something that has eluded science for two decades. The exact reason why the molecular structure becomes magnetized is unclear, as is the question of how to control the process. That’s for another day. For now, the new class of molecular magnets has generated world-wide attention since the breakthrough was published in the journal Nature. Light, pliable magnets could improve efficiency wherever they’re used, from telecommunications and computer memory to aeronautics and space flight.
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