Researchers mimic magnetic monopoles

Researchers from Imperial College London have for the first time created a structure that acts like a single pole of a magnet at room temperature.

The researchers say their new Nature Physics study takes them a step closer to isolating a ’magnetic monopole.’

Whichever way they’re cut, magnets have two poles, north and south. But scientists have theorised for many years that it must be possible to isolate a magnetic monopole – a pole which is either north or south on its own. However, they’ve never been able to show this in experiments.

Researchers at Imperial have now enabled tiny nano-sized magnets to behave like magnetic monopoles, by arranging them in a cobalt honeycomb nanostructure. It’s believed to be the first to contain magnetic monopoles at room temperature.

In late 2009, various teams of scientists reported they had created monopole-like behaviour in a material called ‘spin ice’. In these materials, monopoles form only at extremely low temperatures of -270 degrees Celsius. Other claims to have created them have been considered untrustworthy.

Magnetic monopoles could in theory have a number of weird and wonderful applications, from quantum computing and electrical generators to levitation systems.