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Science rocks – the rare earths that technology can’t live without

Rare earth elements are used in smartphone screens, speakers, vibration units and circuitry. Image: Shutterstock/Hadrian
Rare earth elements are used in smartphone screens, speakers, vibration units and circuitry. Image: Shutterstock/Hadrian

You may not have heard of scandium and yttrium, but rare earth elements like these are all around us – in our homes, at work and even in our pockets.

The problem is that they come almost exclusively from resource-hungry China, and if supplies start to dwindle our high-tech industries are at risk.

Horizon looks at the researchers who are trying to solve this, by making components that don’t need them, by developing ways to recycle them from electronic waste, and by investigating how to mine and process them here in Europe.