These Microbes May Help Future Martians and Moon People Mine Metals

Microbes may be the friends of future colonists living off the land on the moon, Mars or elsewhere in the solar system and aiming to establish self-sufficient homes.

Space colonists, like people on Earth, will need what are known as rare earth elements, which are critical to modern technologies. These 17 elements, with daunting names like yttrium, lanthanum, neodymium and gadolinium, are sparsely distributed in the Earth’s crust. Without the rare earths, we wouldn’t have certain lasers, metallic alloys and powerful magnets that are used in cellphones and electric cars.

But mining them on Earth today is an arduous process. It requires crushing tons of ore and then extracting smidgens of these metals using chemicals that leave behind rivers of toxic waste water.

Experiments conducted aboard the International Space Station show that a potentially cleaner, more efficient method could work on other worlds: let bacteria do the messy work of

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How electrons supertransport current in ‘bad metals’

The transformation of a pair: How electrons supertransport current in 'bad metals'
In their research, the researchers also demonstrated the peculiarity of a new type of “Bad metals”, called “Hund’s metals”, important for a class of iron-based materials. Scientists believe that these materials are particularly interesting because they are superconductive and rather malleable, which makes them highly suited to technological applications. Credit: Gerd Altmann on Pixabay

To researchers in the field, they are known as ‘bad metals,’ but they are not really so bad. As a matter of fact, they are the best superconductors because they are able to conduct current with the highest efficiency and without resistance up to high temperatures. This has been seen experimentally. Yet their behavior remains a mystery. The repulsive forces between the electrons in these materials are much stronger than in low-temperature superconductors: so how do particles with the same charge overcome these forces and manage to pair-up and to transport current as it happens in

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Microbes could be used to extract metals and minerals from space rocks

A species of bacteria can successfully pull out rare Earth elements from rocks, even in microgravity environments, a study on the International Space Station has found. The new findings, published in Nature Communications today, suggest a new way we could one day use microbes to mine for valuable metals and minerals off Earth. 

Why bacteria: Single-celled organisms have evolved over time on Earth to extract nutrients and other essential compounds from rocks through specialized chemical reactions. These bacterial processes are harnessed to extract about 20% of the world’s copper and gold for human use. The scientists wanted to know if they worked in microgravity too.

The findings: BioRock was a series of 36 experiments that took place on the space station. An international team of scientists built what they call “biomining reactors”—tiny containers the size of matchboxes that contain small slices of basalt rock (igneous rock that’s usually found at

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