College Physicist Collaborates with UA Scientists to Seek New Source of Magnetism as World Supply Ebbs

Patrick LeClair
Patrick LeClair, associate professor of physics, is working with MINT researchers to find alternatives to naturally magnetic materials.

Dr. Patrick LeClair, an associate professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy and fellow researchers in UA’s Center for Materials for Information Technology (MINT), have been researching alternative materials to produce magnets. Their research is a response to the growing concern in the scientific community that the supply of naturally magnetic materials will not keep up with demand.

Magnets are used in nearly all electronic devices such as computers, cellphones, and medical appliances. And although these appliances are in abundant supply, the materials needed to create the magnets for them are not. LeClair and researchers all over the world are seeking out ways to solve this problem.

“We really need to come up with an alternative that is readily available, inexpensive and not too toxic,” said LeClair. “We need to come up with a better magnet that uses a combination of materials around us.”

LeClair is working directly with Dr. Takao Suzuki, a professor in UA’s College of Engineering and director of the MINT Center. Suzuki and his team are leading an international effort to find alternative magnetic materials. The $1.6 million project, of which the MINT Center will receive $600,000 over the next four years, involves 13 additional MINT Center researchers, as well as scientists in Delaware, Germany and Japan.

One material LeClair and the team have been focusing on is manganese. The reasoning is that this element and its compounds are abundant, which would have the potential to lower costs. The materials being developed will also exhibit a similar or higher strength magnet, which means it will be lighter and smaller. Once suitable materials are found and tested, the industry will then develop the product for market.