Li neatly describes the new catalyst as "use a magnet and pull them out!" The technology is known as nanomagnetics and involves nanoparticles of a simple iron magnet. Nanoparticles are sized between 1 and 100 nanometres (a strand of hair is about 80,000 nanometres wide). The catalyst itself is chemically benign and can be efficiently recycled. In terms of practical applications, their method can already be used to generate the reactions that are required for example in pharmaceutical research, and could in the future be used to achieve reactions necessary for research in other industries and fields.
The discovery was published in Highlights in Chemical Science on January 18, 2010. Li is known as one of the world leading pioneers in green chemistry, an entirely new approach to the science that tries to avoid the use of toxic, petrochemical-based solvents in favour of basic substances.