Ames Laboratory and New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO), a Japanese energy and industrial technology R&D organization, signed a memorandum of understanding today to promote cooperation between the two agencies in rare-earth and critical-materials research.

The memorandum establishes a framework for Ames Laboratory and NEDO to collaborate on rare-earth scientific efforts and to exchange information and scientists.

“I’m very excited about the memorandum of understanding being executed today. This MOU will provide the foundation for the Ames Laboratory and NEDO to explore common interests in and share information on rare earth research and other critical materials. The MOU will help both organizations with the global perspective on these materials,” said Deb Covey, Ames Laboratory’s director of technology transfer and commercialization.

NEDO Executive Director Fumio Ueda, left, and Ames Laboratory Interim Director Tom
Lograsso shake hands after signing the memorandum of understanding between the two

Ames Laboratory and NEDO signed the MOU in Ames on Sept 9,  as part of the inaugural events for the Critical Materials Institute, which is led by the Ames Laboratory. The CMI is a DOE Energy Innovation Hub that brings together national laboratories, universities and industry to help ensure U.S. access to critical materials.

“I’m very happy to have this MOU event because this MOU will pave the way for reinforcement in the field of critical materials, such as rare earths, in the pivotal bilateral relationship between the United States and Japan,” said Tohru Nakamura, NEDO’s director of electronic, materials technology and nanotechnology department.

Ames Lab Interim Director Tom Lograsso presents a gift to NEDO Executive Director Fumio Ueda
Ames Lab Interim Director Tom Lograsso accepts a gift from NEDO Executive Director Fumio Ueda
The NEDO delegation, left, poses with Ames Lab representatives Lograsso, interim Deputy Director David Baldwin, Associate Director Deb Covey, Assistant Director Cynthia Jenks, Chief Operations Officer Mark Murphy, and Chief Research Officer Duane Johnson.

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Ames Laboratory is taking advantage of Titan, one of the world’s most powerful computers, to discover substitutes for rare-earth magnets. In the race to find substitutes, supercomputers are the lead-off runner, ensuring that scientists can rapidly target the best possibilities for materials discovery. Titan, located at the DOE’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Oak Ridge, Tenn., uses a combination of traditional central processing units and graphics processing units that were first created for computer gaming.

ImageU.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Ames Laboratory’s scientists Bruce Harmon, Kai-Ming Ho, and Cai-Zhuang Wang use the enormous capability of supercomputing to identify promising compositions of new magnetic materials that do not contain rare earth elements, elements that are increasingly in short supply. Stronger non-rare earth permanent magnets are critical to replace the current rare earth magnets for energy efficient electric drive motors (used in hybrid and electric vehicles) and more powerful electrical generators (used in wind turbines).

Harmon, Ho, and Wang are using a highly efficient genetic algorithm (GA) developed in the 1990s at the Ames Laboratory by Ho and David Deaven to search the enormous phase space of stable crystal structures and compositions.

It’s a very visual model that looks at possible compositions in terms of “parents” splitting and joining to produce “offspring,” with each successive generation being evaluated and selected to optimize specific traits, explained Harmon.

 “Back in the ‘90s it would take 65,000 iterations to get a result using this algorithm, and that would take several months. But paired with increased abilities in supercomputing, this algorithm has been the foundation for what we’re trying to do in solids right now. It’s powerful, and it works,” said Harmon.

Titan’s capabilities offer scientists the tools to complete computational research work in mere hours, said Wang.

“To get the new materials we are looking for with the right magnetic properties, we are most likely looking at ternary structures with a larger number of atoms. This is a much more complex problem, and very difficult to explore,” said Wang. “The increased computer capabilities paired with an efficient algorithm will open up new areas for us to search for new alloys.”

Harmon believes supercomputing will be useful in reducing the need for both the painstaking experimental work and often sheer luck involved in finding a useful magnetic material in the huge number of yet undiscovered ones.

See how far
calculating power
has come.

Slide Rules to Petaflops

“For thousands of years, humans have discovered useful alloys through hit-or-miss metallurgy,” said Harmon. “Now, we finally have the computing capability to explore greater complexities using quantum mechanics-- greater numbers of atoms, the possible crystal structures, and their properties. We can determine which will be optimal, hand it to experimentalists, and say ‘this alloy composition may have a ‘sweet spot’ with ideal properties.’ In turn, experimentalists can return to us and say, ‘this did not work, but maybe the addition of this other element can help.’”

In this way, Harmon said, theorists and experimentalists will be able to work closely together to speed the discovery process for alternatives to rare earth alloys.

The computer time was granted through the DOE’s Innovative and Novel Computational Impact on Theory and Experiment (INCITE) program, which promotes scientific discoveries and technological innovations by awarding time on supercomputers annually on a competitive basis. A total of 61 projects, including the Ames Laboratory’s, were granted computer time for 2013.

The computational search for the crystal structures and new materials for permanent magnet applications is supported by the Beyond Rare Earth Materials project, led by Iver Anderson at the Ames Laboratory and funded by the DOE’s Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) Office, Vehicle Technology Program. The basic science, algorithms, and computational code development for the structure prediction and phase diagram exploration is supported by the Exploratory Development of Theoretical Methods project funded by Materials Science and Engineering Division of Basic Energy Sciences, U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science through the Ames Laboratory.

The Ames Laboratory is a U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science national laboratory operated by Iowa State University. The Ames Laboratory creates innovative materials, technologies and energy solutions. We use our expertise, unique capabilities and interdisciplinary collaborations to solve global problems.

DOE’s Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States, and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, please visit

ImageWhen Bruce Harmon, senior scientist for the Ames Laboratory, attended Lane Technical High School in Chicago, slide rules were the uniform for scientists and engineers.

“You were a nerd if you wore your slide rule on your hip,” Harmon remembers. “So I never wore mine on my hip because I didn’t want to look too nerdy.”

By the time he graduated, simple calculators that could add numbers electronically were just beginning to be available. “They were primitive. I could beat them with my slide rule most of the time,” he said.

When Harmon joined the Ames Laboratory as a post-doctoral worker in the 1973, computing as a tool in scientific research was beginning to take hold. In his office today, he keeps a stack of computer punch cards as well as a shelf of magnetic data tapes, as reminders of how computing has evolved as a problem-solving tool for scientists.

Just decades later, Harmon and fellow Department of Energy scientists are accessing the power of supercomputers like Titan, located at the DOE’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Oak Ridge, Tenn., capable of processing calculations in petaflops, or 1015 calculations per second. For Harmon and other Ames Laboratory scientists, it’s a tool to analyze crystal structures and discover new material alloys.

“It’s on a scale that’s hard for people to grasp,” said Harmon. “Imagine every man woman and child on the planet, doing one calculation in one second. That’s six gigaflops and you can get that on your desk top right now. Let’s ask the whole planet to do 1000 calculations in one second. That is six teraflops. Now let’s have them doing a million calculations in one second. That’s six petaflops. And we’re already well past that in supercomputing.”

The calculations for his own doctoral thesis, completed 40 years ago, he estimates could be done in 15 minutes today.

 “Really, it’s been like a miracle,” said Harmon, reflecting on the growth of computational power. “You could think of some scientific problem way too difficult, and ten years later the computers would open a door that you could go through, and begin tackling the solution.” That is still going on he said, as the Dept. of Energy works towards a goal of computers capable of processing in exaflops, or 1018  calculations per second.

Iowa State University News Service issued a news release on work by a team ISU and Ames Laboratory researchers that discovered where a protein binds to plant cell walls, a process that makes it possible for plants to grow. Researchers say the discovery could one day lead to bigger harvests of biomass for renewable energy. The findings have just been published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Online Early Edition.

Ames Laboratory's founding director, Frank Spedding was one of several Iowa inventors featured on Iowa Public Radio's Sept. 24 River to River program. Host Ben Keiffer talked about a number of Iowa inventors, including John Atanasoff and Clifford Berry, Inventors of the first digital computer, the "ABC computer;" George Gallup, creator of the Gallup poll; and Otto Frederick Rohwedder, inventor of the sliced bread machine. Keiffer talked with Ames Laboratory senior metallurgist Karl Gschneidner Jr. who was a graduate student of Spedding's in the 1950's.

Listen to the show

Magnetics Magazine carried a press release on work by Ames Laboratory's Matt Kramer to develop a new material based on manganese as a rare-earth-free alternative to permanent magnets that contain neodymium and dysprosium. These manganese composite magnets hold the potential to double magnetic strength relative to current magnets while using raw materials, such as iron, cobalt, chrome and nickel that are abundant and less expensive than current permanent-magnet materials.

Contacts:                                            For release: Feb. 24, 2014
Karl Gschneidner Jr., 515-294-7931
Breehan Gerleman Lucchesi, 515-294-9750


ImageKarl A. Gschneidner Jr., senior metallurgist at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Ames Laboratory, was presented the 2014 Acta Materialia Materials and Society Award on February 18. The award honors scientists who have made a major positive impact on society through materials science.

Gschneidner, known as “Mr. Rare Earth,” is considered the world’s foremost authority on the science of rare earths, a group of elements that are necessary ingredients in clean-energy technologies, including electric-drive car motors, and direct-drive wind turbines; personal electronics, such as color televisions, computers, cell phones, and sound systems; and military applications.

ImageThrough his long scientific career and expert testimony before Congress in 2010 and 2011, Gschneidner has been instrumental in bringing attention to the importance of rare earths for the nation’s energy and security future. Earlier this year, Gschneidner was named the chief scientist for the Critical Materials Institute, a $120 million DOE Energy Innovation Hub led by Ames Laboratory that will find innovative technology solutions to help avoid a supply shortage that would threaten the U.S. clean energy industry and security interests.

Gschneidner is also the co-discoverer, with Ames Laboratory scientist Vitalij Pecharsky, of the giant magnetocaloric effect in a gadolinium-silicon-germanium alloy, which can be used to create magnetic cooling devices. These devices will offer significant energy and environmental benefits as they begin to replace conventional refrigeration technology.

Gschneidner, who is also an Anson Marston Distinguished Professor of materials science and engineering at Iowa State University, started his career at Ames Laboratory and Iowa State University in 1952-1957 as a graduate student. After working at Los Alamos National Laboratory, he returned to Ames Laboratory and Iowa State University in 1963. In 1966, Gschneidner established the Rare Earth Information Center and was its director for 30 years. He’s published a series of handbooks on rare earths, with volume 44 currently in press. Gschneidner has published more than 510 scientific journal articles, 173 book chapters, conference proceedings and reports, and 204 phase diagram evaluations. He holds 15 patents (with four more pending) and has given 324 invited talks.

Among many other honors, Gschneidner was elected to the National Academy of Engineering in 2007, received the Acta Materialia Gold Medal in 2008, and the Frank H. Spedding Award (named for Gschneidner’s mentor and the first director of Ames Laboratory) from the Rare Earth Research Conferences in 1991.

“Karl has been an outstanding member of the Ames Laboratory and Iowa State University research community. His enthusiasm for the rare earths is contagious and he is an inspiration to his colleagues and students,” said Thomas Lograsso, Ames Laboratory Interim Director. “Many of the technological advances we enjoy today are based on Karl’s work or work of his well trained students.”

Gschneidner was selected for the Materials and Society Award by an international panel of judges appointed by the Acta Materialia board of governors.

Ames Laboratory is a U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science national laboratory operated by Iowa State University. Ames Laboratory creates innovative materials, technologies and energy solutions. We use our expertise, unique capabilities and interdisciplinary collaborations to solve global problems.

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