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Friday, December 15, 2006

Small Organisms Help Create Stronger Magnets

Small organisms collected 10,000 feet below the Earth's surface can produce magnets up to 50 percent more powerful than normal.

Environmental scientist Tommy Phelps of the U.S. Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory has been leading the research effort on this nanofermentation technology more than 14 years.

"We discovered that these organisms would reduce metals and make little magnets," Phelps says. "When we looked in the sedimentary rock, we actually observed small magnetite structures in sediments. It took us a couple of years before we were able to teak the natural organisms to produce these small magnets."

Phelps says combining these organisms with alternate molecular structures of different metals strengthens magnetism.

"You are taking away some of the conflicting forces -- the molecular forces -- of the iron atoms," Phelps says. "You are actually replacing some of the iron atoms in the magnetite structure with things like zinc, cobalt or chromium that actually add an ability to provide a greater appearance of magnetic field."

The research recently earned two awards from R&D magazine, including a prestigious R&D 100 Award as one of the world's top technological innovations.

ORNL is managed by UT-Battelle for the Department of Energy.

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