Later this week I’ll be flying out to Europe, ahead of the 21st International Workshop on Rare Earth Permanent Magnets and their Applications – also known as REPM’10 or simply “The Workshop” within the magnet industry.
This Workshop will be held on the shores of the picturesque Lake Bled in Slovenia, and is the latest in a long series of similar events stretching back to the 1970s. Karl Strnat, the co-discoverer of the first generation of permanent magnets based on rare earths, organized the first Workshop at the University of Dayton, Ohio in 1974. Dr. Strnat worked at the US Air Force Research Laboratory, part of the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio, and it was there that he, Alden Ray and others undertook the research that led to the discovery the first RE-Cobalt magnetic compounds.
I’ve had the privilege and the pleasure of attending three prior Workshops, which are held every two years. I say without hesitation that the Workshop is the most important meeting for the permanent magnet community on the calendar. The attendees are a unique blend of folks from industry and academia, technical and non-technical, and drawn from all around the world. This year’s event is being hosted by the magnetics research group at the Josef Stefan Institute in Ljubljana, Slovenia’s capital, a group with a distinguished track record of research and development in magnetic materials.
As a slowly developing postgraduate research student in magnetic materials at the University of Birmingham, I had the somewhat dubious honor of working as part of the security detail at the Workshop held at that University in 1994. I was also part of a musical “ensemble” during that meeting that passed into Workshop legend too, but that’s about all I’ll say on that.
What I will mention though, is that it was my attendance and participation at that Workshop in Birmingham in 1994, that led to my being introduced to the leading players of the industrial and academic sectors of the rare earth magnets industry. I made contact with one particular individual at that meeting, who would eventually go on to introduce me to my first employer after graduating in 1997.
At the Workshop in Slovenia next week, I will present an invited paper titled ‘Recent Developments in the North American Permanent Magnet Industry and its Supply Chain’. It was not without a considerable sense of satisfaction at being able to “close the circle”, that I discovered that the Chair of the session in which I’ll be presenting this paper, was none other than the gentleman I first met in 1994, who helped propel me into the commercial world of permanent magnets – Mr Reinhold Strnat, a distinguished member of the magnetics community in his own right, and a now long time friend and colleague.
The ability for young, wet-behind-the-ears postgraduate research students to present their work to crusty old professors and captains of industry alike, in a non-threatening, non-pretentious setting is a near-unique aspect of the Workshop series, and was certainly an essential part of my growth in the discipline. It is from meetings and interactions like these, that the future researchers, developers, engineers and scientists in the field of rare earths, permanent magnets and allied arts will be drawn. I am pleased to note that the attendance at the Workshop in Slovenia will be as high as ever – perhaps 150 attendees, representing all the research groups, companies and other organizations of importance to the rare earth permanent magnet industry.
Interestingly, this year will see a number of presentations from folks within the broader rare earths industry, including Jack Lifton, Gary Billingsley of Great Western Minerals, and others. I’m hoping to snag some interviews and Q & As with the various leading rare earth magnet researchers while in Bled. I look forward to being able to share that info and perhaps a few photos, on my return.