Physicists have created a wormhole device that can tunnel a magnetic field through space. It sounds like Star Trek, but we won't be zapping humans across the universe anytime soon, but the breakthrough could revolutionise certain magnet-based technologies, including MRIs.
Wormholes are wrinkles in the fabric of space and time that can connect two different places, and they have a long and colourful history in science fiction. But on the science side, they have always been an abstraction — something that the physicists model on whiteboards using fancy equations. So far, no one has found any definitive evidence that space-time wormholes actually exist.
Magnetic wormholes? Clearly another story. As described this week in Scientific Reports, physicists have constructed a device that tunnels magnetic field lines from one place to another, while rendering them invisible to an outside observer.
"From a magnetic point of view, this device acts like a wormhole, as if the magnetic field was transferred through an extra special dimension," lead study author Jordi Prat-Camps of the Autonomous University of Barcelona in Spain told Live Science.
The wormhole device, depicted above, consists of an interior spiral of ferromagnetic metal (bottom right) surrounded by two concentric spheres. The ferromagnet transmits magnetic field lines from one end of the device to the other. Meanwhile, a shell of yttrium barium copper oxide (a superconducting material, yellow) bends and distorts the magnetic field lines as they travel.
An outer shell composed of "mu-metals" (used for shielding electronic devices, silver) perfectly cancels out the magnetic distortion of the superconductor, rendering the entire thing "magnetically invisible" from the outside.
Dunk it all in a liquid nitrogen bath — superconductors only work at extremely low temperatures — and voila, you've got yourself a wormhole.
I'll say it again: We won't be using this wormhole to shuffle matter around the universe. Still, a device that can tunnel magnetic fields from one point to another could have fascinating applications. For instance, we might be able to take pictures of a human body with a strong magnet from far away — without sticking that person in an MRI machine. As someone who's irrationally afraid of confined tubes, I can get down with that in a big way.
Secretly, though, I'm still holding out for the device that will let us dump Donald Trump in the Crab Nebula.
Top image: Prat-Camps et al. via Live Science