Material Matters: The Past and Present of the Rare Earth Elements Essential to Our Future

Joseph Priestley Society
Thursday, February 14, 2019
11:30 a.m.–2:00 p.m.
Science History Institute
315 Chestnut Street
Philadelphia, PA 19106
United States

Research fellow Roger Turner hosts the February gathering of the Joseph Priestley Society.

The lanthanides have been known as “rare earths” since the late 18th century. Hard to separate and hard to study, these elements troubled chemists for a century and a half. After a brilliant young chemist destined for tragedy used them to rationalize atomic numbers just before World War I, they languished for decades, as afterthoughts floating at the bottom of the periodic table. But the quirk of quantum chemistry that makes the rare earths so hard to separate has recently made them essential to electronics and the green technologies we’ll need to avert climate destabilization. Mining them is toxic, however, and production is currently dominated by China. This talk uses the history of “rare earth” to explore how we might rethink lanthanide production in ways that enhance democracy and don’t create environmental sacrifice zones.

Event Schedule

  • 11:30 a.m.
    Networking Reception

  • 12:15 p.m.

  • 1:00 p.m.

This program is presented in celebration of the International Year of the Periodic Table.


About the Speaker

Research fellow Roger Turner studies the uses of science in managing the environment and—much to his surprise—recently helped make a video game about scientific instruments. Since earning his PhD at the University of Pennsylvania, he has taught at Penn, Dickinson College, and the Rochester Institute of Technology. His research has been funded by the National Science Foundation, the American Meteorological Society, and the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. When not exploring archives, he likes to birdwatch along Conodoguinet Creek.

About the Series

The Joseph Priestley Society (JPS) promotes a deeper understanding of science, technology, and industry, with an emphasis on innovation and entrepreneurship. Speakers are leaders from a wide variety of large and small chemical companies and the financial, consulting, and academic communities.

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