IYPT 2019 Elements 067: Holmium: Magnets and laser surgery

Element 67 in our International Year of the Periodic Table series is holmium. Holmium is used in powerful magnets, in laser surgery, and have also been used for atomic data storage.

Holmium has the highest magnetic strength of any element in the periodic table. Though it is not ferromagnetic at room temperature, like iron, cobalt and nickel, it becomes magnetic in the presence of a magnetic field. Consequently, it is used to make the pole pieces of the most powerful magnets.

Holmium can be used in lasers in combination with yttrium aluminium garnet (YAG). Ho-YAG lasers are used in various types of surgery for their cutting power, including to remove small cancer tumours and kidney stones.

Finally, scientists have recently succeeded in encoding data onto single holmium atoms by changing their magnetic state. They were used to make an atomic hard drive, though this is still far from practical applications.

Remember, you can keep track of all of the previous entries in this series on the site here, or on the Royal Society of Chemistry‚Äôs dedicated page.