Pyrite has the look of gold but, historically, none of the value—hence the nickname fool's gold. But researchers have now come up with a way to make the commonly found mineral much more appealing—and in the process, they induced magnetism electrically in a non-magnetic material for the first time, per New Atlas. Few materials exhibit the strongest form of magnetism, known as ferromagnetism. But researchers at the University of Minnesota transformed non-magnetic pyrite, also known as iron sulfide, into such a material. They first placed pyrite in contact with an electrolyte-rich solution similar to Gatorade, per Fox News. They then applied one volt of electricity—less voltage than a household battery, per a release.
It was enough to move positively charged molecules to the connecting areas, creating a magnetic force. "By applying the voltage, we essentially pour electrons into the material," explains lead researcher Chris Leighton. "It turns out that if you get high enough concentrations of electrons, the material wants to spontaneously become ferromagnetic." When the voltage disappeared, so did the force, according to the study published Wednesday in Science Advances. In other words, the magnetism can be turned on and off. "This has lots of potential," particularly for more energy-efficient computer memory devices, which would otherwise require ferromagnetic materials like iron, cobalt, and nickel, says Leighton. "Having done it with iron sulfide, we guess we can do it with other materials as well." (Read more discoveries stories.)