Tuesday, April 21, 2015

R is for rare earth minerals

Finally. Today we arrive at one of the most relevant letters in the alphabet when it comes to the plot of River and Ranch. Of course "River" fits the letter and so does "Ranch", but the Salmon and sidebar-T both are covered in many other places. "R" evens fits "rafting", which is another big part of this series.

However, I think those pale next to today's intended phrase for "R" - rare earth minerals, at least in terms of being an unexpected core piece of this fiction AND of the reality for this part of the American West. For me, the actual real-life presence of rare earth minerals on Lemhi Pass is one of the big surprises in fiction I have ever come across. This combination of reality and fiction to match it, has never happened to me before.

Rare earth oxides, the processed results of rare earth minerals, are at the foundation of numerous objects in the military world, but they also provide crucial parts in the civilian world. In both cases, the most common objects are magnets, smaller, lighter and stronger magnets that allow for continued miniaturization of all manner of products from hard drives to wind turbine rotors.

In reality, this is a very interesting time in high tech R&D and the closely related and crucially necessary process of discovering material sources. The downsides are two in number - the presence of thorium and the absence of domestic processing. How the slowly revitalizing domestic mining industry handles these issues remains to be seen.

All in all the Last Chance vein, found high up on Lemhi Pass, for me, is one of the most fascinating stories I have ever come across in the category of "high tech".

1 comment:

  1. Hi,
    To be honest with you, I'd never given thought to rare earth minerals, but after reading your post it has awakened my interest.
    Visiting from the A to Z Blog Challenge.
    Patricia at Everything Must Change