The world’s first plastic magnet to work at room temperature has passed the elementary test of magnetism. Its creators at the University of Durham in the UK have used it to pick up iron filings from a laboratory bench.

In 2001, chemists from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln claimed to have created the world’s first plastic magnet, but it only worked below 10 kelvin. Other researchers have made plastic magnets, but typically they only function at extremely low temperatures, or their magnetism at room temperature is too feeble to be of commercial use.

So the Durham team can claim to have made the first plastic magnet that could be used in everyday products. One of the most likely applications is in the magnetic coating of computer hard discs, which could lead to a new generation of high-capacity discs.

Jerry Torrance, a materials scientist based in California who is a consultant to some of the world’s largest electronics and engineering companies, including IBM, describes the work as “a significant scientific breakthrough”. However, he says that practical applications are probably still a long way off.

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