Theoretical modeling has led to a key development in our understanding of the deeply complex magnetic properties in a series of rare-earth intermetallic materials. Rare-earth elements are unique in that their cores hold strongly localized electrons that underpin their novel magnetic properties. When combined with transition metals, rare earths become technologically-useful intermetallic materials. Here gadolinium—an element from the middle of the rare earth series—and either magnesium, zinc, or cadmium was combined to create the materials. Researchers developed a theory explaining how the local gadolinium electrons fluctuate with temperature and correlate with one another. Local electrons fluctuate slowly compared to the mobile, valence electrons. These mobile electrons not only act as communicators between the local electrons, but also unexpectedly play a larger role in the particular magnetic pattern displayed by each intermetallic compound. Rare-earth compounds are increasingly important in the development of novel materials for high-tech applications ranging from smart phones and radiation detectors to air conditioning and wind turbines. Creating robust modeling to predict their properties is vital to developing new uses.
Cover featuring an image from Petit et al. The figure shows the 3D Fermi surface for a paramagnetic compound of gadolinium and magnesium.
Complex Magnetism of Lanthanide Intermetallic and the Role of their Valence Electrons: Ab Initio Theory and Experiment