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Fun With Rare Earths at the US Patent Office

Posted by admin at 1:44 PM on Aug 27, 2009

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By Clint Cox

It’s late at night and you’re sitting in front of your computer wondering what you can do to expand your brain. Go to the US Patent Office and look up really cool inventions! Search by keyword. A friend of mine got me started on this. Of course, I chose keywords related to rare earth and found some pretty cool stuff:

Super Shiny Stripes on the Street

Marvelous Microspheres! Rare earths are really coming to light — and reflecting it back to you! Courtesy of 3M, we have reflective pavement marking from Patent #5,853,851:

Another desirable component of the glass compositions of the present invention is a rare-earth metal oxide, such as La.sub.2 O.sub.3. Lanthanum oxide (La.sub.2 O.sub.3), for example, promotes glass formation, aids in melting, and helps raise the refractive index while not deleteriously affecting the acid resistance or crush strength.

Tiny lanthanum microspheres — coming to brighten a street near you?

Goodbye Kidney Stones?

I have heard that kidney stones are excruciatingly painful. I am a big fan of relieving pain, so I bring you Patent #7,192,609:

This invention relates to a method of preventing or treating urolithiasis (kidney stone disease) by administering rare earth salts, e.g., Lanthanum salts, to bind dietary oxalate and preventing its absorption into the gastrointestinal tract.

Rare earths are known to have a variety of medical uses, but this is the first time I had seen a description of this patent.

Go-go Golf Balls

The merits of neodymium for use in magnets is well known, but who knew that we could smack the neo down the fairway? The Callaway Golf Company is employing the merits of rare earths in Patent #6,739,985:

Golf ball cores formed from blends of neodymium and cobalt synthesized high molecular weight butadiene rubber

I am under no illusions that rare earths will provide the solution to my hideous golf game, but I am glad to know that golfers may be getting better with a little help from neodymium!