As if classified as a top-secret government project, the group of metals known as the rare earth was so shrouded in complexity that it took 151 years from the discovery of the first rare-earth element in 1794, for the final element to be discovered in 1945. Cloaked in secrecy, the principal ore mineral of the group, bastnasite, rarely appears in the leading mineralogy texts. The long names of the rare-earth elements and some unusual arrangements of letters, many Scandinavian in origin, may have challenged and intimidated even those skilled in phonics. In fact, ion-exchange separation technology developed as part of the top-secret Manhattan Project to produce enriched uranium included production of the rare-earth elements (Johnson, Quill, and Daniels, 1947).

As everyone awakes and makes their way in the world you do it with the help of the rare-earth elements. Whenever you ride in a car or bus the gasoline or diesel fuel is produced with lanthanum-rich fluid cracking catalysts, cerium is used in the catalytic converter, and an yttrium-zirconium oxide ceramic monitors the oxygen/fuel mixture. Neodymium magnets are components in the ABS brake systems, cruise controls, car stereo systems, speedometers and gauges, and in tiny electric motors controlling the door locks, power windows, heater/air conditioner fans, electric mirrors, windshield wipers, fuel pumps, and starter motors. Your ability to access your checking account balance (hopefully you have a balance), retrieve data from your computer's hard drive, or listen to music from your iPod or smart phone is all possible because of the discovery of high-strength samarium-cobalt magnets. Laser crystals composed of neodymium, yttrium, holmium, erbium, and other rare-earth elements are used extensively in the aerospace, automotive, microelectronics, and medical industries for cutting, drilling, welding, and scribing. The radioisotopes yttrium-90, gadolinium-153, and dysprosium-165 are used to destroy cancerous cells, diagnose osteoporosis, and treat rheumatoid arthritis. When you get home at night be thankful for scandium and other rare-earth additives in specialty bulbs that light-up the highway signs on the Interstate and provide "daylight-like" stadium lighting for nighttime sports games. Hundreds of applications exist for the rare earths and more are being discovered every year.    /...2