Scientists Say: Rare earth element

atom: The basic unit of a chemical element. Atoms are made up of a dense nucleus that contains positively charged protons and uncharged neutrons. The nucleus is orbited by a cloud of negatively charged electrons.

catalyst: (v. catalyze) A substance that helps a chemical reaction to proceed faster. Examples include enzymes and elements such as platinum and iridium.

concentration: (in chemistry) A measurement of how much of one substance has been dissolved into another.

copper: A metallic chemical element in the same family as silver and gold. Because it is a good conductor of electricity, it is widely used in electronic devices.

crude oil: Petroleum in the form as it comes out of the ground.

crust: (in geology) Earth’s outermost surface, usually made from dense, solid rock (in planetary science) the outermost surface of rocky planets, dwarf planets and natural satellites.

data: Facts and/or statistics collected together for analysis but not necessarily organized in a way that gives them meaning. For digital information (the type stored by computers), those data typically are numbers stored in a binary code, portrayed as strings of zeros and ones.

electron: A negatively charged particle, usually found orbiting the outer regions of an atom; also, the carrier of electricity within solids.

element: A building block of some larger structure. (in chemistry) Each of more than one hundred substances for which the smallest unit of each is a single atom. Examples include hydrogen, oxygen, carbon, lithium and uranium.

extract: (v.) To separate one chemical (or component of something) from a complex mix. (noun) A substance, often in concentrated form, that has been removed from some source material. Extracts are often taken from plants (such as spearmint or lavender), flowers and buds (such as roses and cloves), fruit (such as lemons and oranges) or seeds and nuts (such as almonds and pistachios). Such extracts, sometimes used in cooking, often have very strong scents or flavors.

fiber: Something whose shape resembles a thread or filament.

field: (in physics) A region in space where certain physical effects operate, such as magnetism (created by a magnetic field), gravity (by a gravitational field), mass (by a Higgs field) or electricity (by an electrical field).

fMRI: A special type of medical scanning technology for studying brain activity. It uses a strong magnetic field to monitor blood flow in the brain as an individual is performing some task (from reading or viewing pictures to thinking about various spoken words). Tracking areas of elevated blood flow can tell researchers which brain regions are especially active during those activities. (See also, MRI or magnetic resonance imaging)

hard drive: A device that reads and writes — and hence can store — digital data onto a rigid magnetic disk.

internet: An electronic communications network. It allows computers anywhere in the world to link into other networks to find information, download files and share data (including pictures).

laser: A device that generates an intense beam of coherent light of a single color. Lasers are used in drilling and cutting, alignment and guidance, in data storage and in surgery.

levitate: To seemingly defy the force of gravity by hovering (or floating) in some fluid, especially air, or to make that hovering happen.

magnet: A material that usually contains iron and whose atoms are arranged so they attract certain metals.

magnetic field: An area of influence created by certain materials, called magnets, or by the movement of electric charges.

magnetism: The attractive influence, or force, created by certain materials, called magnets, or by the movement of electric charges.

metal: Something that conducts electricity well, tends to be shiny (reflective) and is malleable (meaning it can be reshaped with heat and not too much force or pressure).

neodymium: A chemical element which appears as a soft, silvery metal when it is pure. It is found in some minerals, and can be used to trace the source of mineral grains carried long distances by water or wind. Its scientific symbol is Nd.

neutron: A subatomic particle carrying no electric charge that is one of the basic pieces of matter. Neutrons belong to the family of particles known as hadrons.

ore: A naturally formed rock or mineral that contains a metal that can be extracted for some new use.

rare earths: (in Earth science) These are a group of metal elements that tend to be soft, bendable and chemically reactive.

recycle: To find new uses for something — or parts of something — that might otherwise be discarded, or treated as waste.

smartphone: A cell (or mobile) phone that can perform a host of functions, including search for information on the internet.

technology: The application of scientific knowledge for practical purposes, especially in industry — or the devices, processes and systems that result from those efforts.

tin: A metallic element with the atomic number 50.

turbine: A device with extended arm-like blades (often curved) to catch a moving fluid — anything from a gas or steam to water — and then convert the energy in that movement into rotary motion. Often that rotary motion will drive a system to generate electricity.

vibrate: To rhythmically shake or to move continuously and rapidly back and forth.

wind turbine: A wind-powered device — similar to the type used to mill grain (windmills) long ago — used to generate electricity.

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