Synthetic Magnetic Field Shows That Magnets With One Pole — Monopole — May Exist

By Ajit Jha on February 1, 2014 4:53 PM EST

monopole
Most magnetic fields, like the Earth's, have both a north and south pole. But what if it was possible for particles to have just one pole? A monopole. (Photo: NASA Goddard, CC BY 2.0)

Every magnet, regardless of whether you break it in half - or into more pieces, down to its atomic level - is invariably accompanied by two poles, north and south. Magnetic monopoles (magnets with only one pole) have yet to be detected by scientists, even though they are predicted to exist. But now, physicists from Amherst College claim to have created a synthetic version of magnetic monopoles.

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An isolated atomic particle consisting of only one pole - whether it is north or south - could possibly exist, according to a hypothesis by physicist Paul Dirac in 1931. Dirac's thesis spoke of the existence of this single-poled particle, which contained a "magnetic charge" capable of producing an electrical field. If they were in fact real, then all electric charges in the universe would be quantifiable. It would help physicists understand why electrons can't be cut in half - or any other fraction - as they always come packaged together to form a fundamental charge. Understanding monopoles could help physicists answer questions about time, space, and other issues, according to io9.

Should monopoles be real, it's possible that they were created immediately after the Big Bang when conditions were hotter and denser in space. However, the reason we have yet to come across true evidence of magnetic monopoles - if they even exist - is because they are extremely rare. There could only be one for every 1029 protons and neutrons, which means that there may be less than 100 throughout our solar system.

To create a monopole, a team of Amherst College physicists cooled rubidium atoms to a billionth of a degree above absolute zero, causing the atoms to achieve a state known as the Bose-Einstein condensate (BEC). A BEC occurs when separate atoms or subatomic particles are cooled to near absolute zero, and become a single entity.

The rubidium condensed and started to act unlike normal rubidium. What resulted was a single cloud, which was manipulated into a spinning vortex, making it possible for the rubidium particles to align to the same magnetic orientation. They then passed just one rubidium atom through the center of the vortex, which resulted in a hole completely devoid of atoms, and created monopole atoms in a synthetic magnetic field.

While this experiment raises the hopes of the actual possibility these elusive particles exist, there's still a lot of research that needs to be done, the scientists said.

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