Nathaniel Oster, a PhD student in materials science and engineering, is part of a research group developing rare earth magnets that can be used at temperatures around 200 degrees centigrade. The work has important implications for the auto industry because in electric motors a stronger magnet facilitates greater efficiency. The magnets currently used in electric, hybrid, and experimental fuel cell cars lose about half of their power when they are heated to 250 degrees Fahrenheit.
The characteristics of rare earth magnets, based on a mixture of neodymium, iron, and boron, can be altered by adding other elements. Challenges include finding an alloy with desired properties, producing a magnet powder, and consolidating the powder.
Working under Iver Anderson, adjunct professor and senior metallurgist in the U.S. Department of Energy’s Ames Laboratory, Nathaniel is part of a research group of three principal investigators, two additional PhDs conducting data collection, and an assistant scientist who holds a master’s degree. They are working on metallic “super glue,” seeking to add metals to get better adhesion without detracting from the magnetism. This Ames Laboratory project is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy through EERE (Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy) and the FreedomCAR (hybrid electric car).
A second project Nathaniel is working on relates to isotropy of powders. His research group is working on developing anisotropic powders, which magnetize in only one direction. The resulting magnets are much stronger. This research is tied closely to the automotive industry. These magnets will improve the efficiency of high torque electric motors, particularly necessary for hybrid and electric cars.
Being affiliated with the Ames Laboratory provides excellent opportunities for Nathaniel as he performs cutting-edge research on materials. The research is well funded, facilities are excellent, Nathaniel has access to research instruments not commonly found on a college campus, and his work is conveniently located on campus.
Nathaniel’s future offers several options. He might pursue a postdoctoral position, choose an industrial experience with a company that produces magnets, or become a professor at a large research university.