The pyrite, iron disulfide, is known as the gold of fools. The problem with pyrite for treasure hunters is that it glows even brighter than real gold. That Phoenician glow is the one that has caught many adventurers and seekers. That is why they call pyrite the “fool’s gold”.

Now pyrite could be more valuable than we thought: it is the first time that a group of researchers has achieved electrically transform a completely non-magnetic material into a magnetic one.

Find useful for computing

Iron sulfide offered the possibility of electrically induce ferromagnetism in a completely non-magnetic material. The finding could be the first step in creating valuable new magnetic materials for more energy-efficient computer memory devices.

In the study, the researchers used a technique called electrolyte activation. They took the non-magnetic iron sulfide material and put it in a device in contact with an ionic or electrolyte solution, comparable to Gatorade. They then applied just 1 volt (less voltage than a household battery), moved positively charged molecules to the interface between the electrolyte and iron sulfide, and induced magnetism.

As explained Chris Leighton. principal investigator of the study and professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science at the University of Minnesota, lead author of this finding:

Most people with a background in magnetism would probably say that it was impossible to electrically transform a non-magnetic material into a magnetic one. However, when we looked a little deeper, we saw a potential route and made it happen.

What’s also interesting is that they were able to turn off the voltage and return the material to its non-magnetic state, meaning they can reversibly turn magnetism on and off.

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