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Alex King is director of the Critical Materials Institute, a part of the U.S. Department of Energy's Ames Laboratory. CMI is heavily involved in making rare earth minerals slightly less rare by means of supercomputer analysis; researchers there are approaching the ongoing crunch by looking both for substitute materials for things like gallium, indium, and tantalum, and easier ways of separating out the individual rare earths (a difficult process). One team there is working with "ligands – molecules that attach with a specific rare-earth – that allow metallurgists to extract elements with minimal contamination from surrounding minerals" to simplify the extraction process. We'll be talking with King soon; what questions would you like to see posed? (This 18-minute TED talk from King is worth watching first, as is this Q&A.)
- A UNIX kernel context switch?
- A SHA2 algorithm for Bitcoin mining on an ASIC?
- A scientific calculation running on a supercomputer?
- A 'for-loop' inside on an obscure microcontroller that runs on all GE appliance since the '60s?"