Drive a hybrid car? Then you're using lanthanum (No. 57 on the periodic table).
Reuters reported last year that a single Toyota Prius electric motor requires 1 kilogram (2.2 lb) of neodymium, and each battery uses 10 to 15 kg (22-33 lb) of lanthanum. "The Prius hybrid automobile is popular for its fuel efficiency, but its electric motor and battery guzzle rare earth metals, a little-known class of elements found in a wide range of gadgets and consumer goods," according to the British news agency.
Lanthanum is also essential in some superconductors, as the Monitor reported in 2008.
Common as copper, cerium (No. 58 on the periodic table) is one of the most abundant of the rare earth metals.
It is often converted into cerium oxide, which is known as "optician's rouge" for its ability to polish glass and semiconductors. Cerium oxide (CeO2 ) is also essential in catalytic converters, helping to turn smog-causing molecules into carbon dioxide, as well in the massive carbon-arc lighting used on movie sets.
Bloomberg reported recently that cerium oxide prices rose to $36 per kilogram Oct. 19 from about $4.70 a kilogram on April 20, according to Metal-Pages.
You'll never think of a rock concert the same way. Neodymium (atomic No. 60) is most commonly used in magnets for microphones, loudspeakers, in-ear headphones, and guitar and bass guitar pick-ups.
“It’s a seller’s market now,” says Bai Baosheng, 43, puffing a cigarette in his office in Baotou, China, where his company sells bags of powder containing a metallic element known as neodymium, vital in tiny magnets that direct the fins of bombs dropped by US Air Force jets in Afghanistan.
... Neodymium, a silvery metal, is essential in a magnetic alloy developed separately by engineers at General Motors Co. in Detroit and Sumitomo Special Metals Co. in Japan in the 1980s. The magnets are now in millions of stereo speakers, computer disk drives, and motors.
Bloomberg recently reported that the price of neodymium has doubled since July to $92 a kilogram, according to Metal-Pages, pushing up the cost of magnets.
If you've held a Euro banknote, then you've held europium.
Named after the Western continent, europium (atomic no. 63) is luminescent. For that reason, it's used in Euro banknotes as an anticounterfeiting phosphors. Under certain conditions, the banknote will appear red. Europium is also used in LED screens in TVs for red coloring.
For the Monitor, science reporter Pete Spotts reports: "Europium, for instance, helped drive the shift from black-and-white to color TV by turning the dull reds in early TV screens to reds that popped. Erbium placed at intervals along fiber-optic lines amplifies the light carrying data, allowing it to travel long distances."
Erbium (atomic no. 68) brings you Dancing With the Stars. Really.
The element is essential in fiber-optic telecommunication cables, which bring cable television and Internet to your homes and apartments.
According to the US Geological Survey, "fiber-optic cables can transmit signals over long distances because they incorporate periodically spaced lengths of erbium-doped fiber that function as laser amplifiers. Er is used in these laser repeaters, despite its high cost (approximately $700/kg), because it alone possesses the required optical properties."