September 24, 2011

Scientists Develop Prototype Antimagnetic Cloak

A team of Spanish researchers claim to have designed what is being called an antimagnetic cloak -- a cloak that shields objects from external magnetic fields, while keeping internal magnetic fields from escaping.

According to a September 22 press release, physicists and engineers from the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB) designed the cloak, which they said can be created "using practical and available materials and technologies."

Richard Chirgwin of The Register reported Friday that the UAB scientists believe that they can create the device by beginning with an inner superconducting layer, then overlaying ten layers of metamaterials to complete the design. All they need, according to research published in the New Journal of Physics, are superconductors and isotropic magnetic materials.

The researchers believe that the cloak could have many useful applications, especially in the field of medicine. For example, they say that it could be used when giving an MRI scan to a patient with a pacemaker.

Ordinarily, the MRI's magnetic field could interact with the heart device, causing damage to both machines and harming the patient. This new antimagnetic cloak could prevent that from happening by acting as a shield against the magnetic field.

However, not all of the uses could be construed as good, according to Professor Alvar Sanchez, lead author of the study.

"The ideas of this device and their potential applications are far-reaching; however it is conceivable that they could be used for reducing the magnetic signature of forbidden objects, with the consequent threat to security," Sanchez said in a statement. "For these reasons, this research could be taken into account by security officials in order to design safer detection systems and protocols."

The professor added that the members of the UAB team "believe, and hope, that some laboratories could start constructing an antimagnet soon. Of the two components, superconductors are readily available, for example in cylindrical shape, and the key point would be to make the magnetic layers with the desired properties. This may take a bit of work but in principle the ingredients are there."

John Pendry, a theorist at Imperial College London and co-inventor of a so-called invisibility cloak that is able to hide objects from light, sound, and water waves, told Kate McAlpine of ScienceNOW now that the UAB invention "will take cloaking technology another step forward."


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