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Rare Earth Elements Project

Join the Science History Institute as we examine the rare earth elements and their impact on society.

Rare earth chemistry and quantum science have the potential to profoundly change our lives. Breakthroughs on the horizon could affect energy, communications, computing, and more. We invite scientists and engineers, educators and students, economists and environmentalists, policy makers and politicians, and the interested public to engage with us as we explore these themes.

The project’s capstone program—“Rare Earth Elements: The Intersection of Science and Society”—was held in Los Angeles on September 24, 2019. Led by award-winning science correspondent and Science Friday host Ira Flatow, this event brought together scientists, journalists, and the scientifically curious to consider the potentials and challenges of extracting and refining rare earth minerals.

Despite their name, rare earth metals are not rare at all. Their unique magnetic, luminescent, and electrochemical properties make them essential to such products as smartphones, electric cars, camera lenses, X-ray scanners, wind turbines, and computer hard drives.

There are 17 rare earth elements on the periodic table: scandium (Sc), yttrium (Y), lanthanum (La), cerium (Ce), praseodymium (Pr), neodymium (Nd), promethium (Pm), samarium (Sm), europium (Eu), gadolinium (Gd), terbium (Tb), dysprosium (Dy), holmium (Ho), erbium (Er), thulium (Tm), ytterbium (Yb), and lutetium (Lu).

According to “Rare Earth Elements and Why They Matter: The Importance of Understanding the Elements of Technology,” a recent survey commissioned by the Science History Institute, one in five Americans can’t name a single element on the periodic table. Read more about the survey results on

The Rare Earth Elements Project was made possible by a generous grant from Roy Eddleman, founder of Spectrum LifeSciences and namesake of the Roy Eddleman Institute for Interpretation and Education at the Science History Institute.