NIST Rethinks the Nickel

The researchers have come up with a way to cut the cost of materials for the coin. Their results also may aid high-tech companies looking for new materials to use in resilient electronics such as phones and laptops, according to the agency.

Working with the U.S. Mint, a research team at the National Institute of Standards and Technology has come up with a method that would cut the cost of materials for the nickel by as much as 40 percent while still producing a tough, reliable coin, according to a June 20 agency news release. Their paper on the discovery was published that day in the journal Integrating Materials and Manufacturing Innovation.

The finding is important because nickel is a key ingredient in many modern products, raising its market value so much that sometimes making each five-cent coin costs as much as seven cents. "As an added benefit," the release said, "the data from this research has also produced results that may aid high-tech companies looking for new materials to use in resilient electronics such as phones and laptops, and in a variety of radical new colors, to boot."

It discusses the "complicated and demanding" process of making U.S. coins and notes that they also must contain a predetermined amount of electrical conductivity to work in vending machines.

The researchers made use of new tools from the NIST Materials Genome Initiative, which was started in 2011 with the goal of decreasing the time it takes a new material to reach market by at least half while keeping costs down. "Rethinking the nickel was one of the first times we were able to deploy the new MGI tools to design a material for a specific application," said NIST scientist Carelyn Campbell. "We were very pleased with the results."

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