“Holmium” is becoming a buzz word in the REE and Tech communities, but what is it?
Would you believe that bundled with the familiar touchscreen and backing of your smartphone, Rare Earth Materials, or REMs (or Rare Earth Elements (REEs)), are making the latest advances small and light enough to fit in your pocket?
You should, because they are, and these materials are going to spark the next worldwide oil rush, mark our words.
Here at Edgy Labs, we try to scope out trends before they happen, and we’ve found a big one: Holmium
Recently, computer giant IBM put holmium in the news by using a single atom of it to store data, but the REM rush doesn’t stop there because the element and REMs like it also have applications in energy as well as defense.
But let’s not go too far too fast because using holmium to store data is a very big deal for the entire field of computer science. So, let’s take a look at the first item on our list: Data storage.
1. Data Storage
It all starts with IBM.
Back in March, researchers at IBM’s Almaden Research Centre in San Jose, California proved that you can encode data onto a single atom, potentially giving us the next big thing in data storage technology since the cloud (and before quantum computing messes everything up).
I won’t get too heavily into how they accomplished this, suffice it to say that Holmium can act as the world’s smallest magnet and can be set into states that can be clearly recognized as ‘one’ or ‘zero’. As the savvy computer nerds no doubt want to tell us at this point, ones and zeroes make up the elements of Binary code, which is the basis of modern computing programming and data storage.Holmium is the next REM REE to revolutionize computer science.Click To Tweet
By using small amounts of Iron as a type of sounding rod, the researchers were able to confirm that Holmium was indeed retaining its binary state, proving the possibility of using a single atom for data storage.
This is huge for the computing industry in more than one way. First off, if data is being stored on a single atom, expect the size of hard drives to jump exponentially. It may not beat what quantum computing is supposed to be capable of, but it will be quite beyond what we know now.
Also, remember that article we did last week about why data storage is so important to AI technology? The tl;dr version goes something like this: More storage translates into a better education for a budding artificial intelligence. If our data storage capability increases by leaps and bounds, then I can’t wait to see what kinds of AI start popping up. Maybe they’ll finally finish the self-driving car that I’ve been waiting for.
Correction: The self-driving car that *we’ve been waiting for. I can’t be the only person that wants to take a nap on the way to work.
So far, Holmium is the only element that has been used for this purpose, but confirming what Holmium can do for us means that scientists are busy looking for other light, magnetic elements that can accomplish the same task. Hopefully, they find one that isn’t so rare, but we’ll see.
2. Next-Gen Energy Boom
This one is kind of ironic, but not in a delightfully funny way. I’ll cut straight to it: apparently, REMs are key components in many future technologies, including hybrid cars and wind turbines. The ironic part is the environmental effect that processing REMs has (and it’s not pretty).
Despite this, countries are already preparing for the REM rush of the near future. Matamec is gearing up for it, and China is even better prepared when it comes to mining and refining.
It’s not all bad for the U.S., though. Wyoming, for instance, is another source of holmium in the States. Hopefully we can clean up the processing requirements before the REM rush really gets going.
Of course, we should be careful in our pursuit of REMs during the upcoming boom. When the North Dakota Oil Boom happened, lots of high-paying work was created and could not be sustained, leaving the folks in the mid-northwestern state high and dry.
So if REMs are the new oil, then we need to tread carefully, because the extraction and refining process for them is way more harmful to the planet than is for oil. The U.S. wants economic success, sure, but they have a vested interest in mitigating the social and environmental effects lest the price of success become too high.
3. Directed Energy Weapons
I love science fiction, but sometimes I’m both amazed and horrified when it becomes science reality. This leaves me torn when discussing our third item: Directed Energy Weapons (DEWs).
See, holmium has the “strongest magnetic force of any element,” if you listen to the Royal Society of Chemistry. Think about that for a moment. Now think about rail guns, which are weapons that use magnetic acceleration to shoot a single particle with devastating results.
I never want to see what a railgun can actually do to a person (or bunker), but I’ll be damned if the kid in me doesn’t want to shoot one at a mountain. Hopefully, the U.S. comes up with it first and gives me a call, but it’s more likely that such a call will come from China since they are a bit ahead of the game in holmium processing and are thus closer to making their own brand of DEWs.
If you’re in the U.S., don’t fret. The United States Air Force already has many a directed energy weapon, they just need to make them smaller, lighter, and more effective before they can see any actual use. If our previous article on Navy tech told you anything, though, it’s that they are working on it.
How will holmium have a key role in the future of warfare? Undoubtedly it will because even if it doesn’t prove super useful for the directed energy weapon, it will doubtless find a role in military intelligence and coordination technologies.