Well, Darn

by Jimmy Akin

in Uncategorized

I've been busy with a home improvement project of late and haven't been able to blog (that's now getting toward being done; yay!).

I was going to blog this morning about the apparent discovery of magnetic monopoles that was recently announced.

Monopoles, for those who may not be aware, are magnets that effectively have only one pole. They are a staples in science fiction as, if we found them, they could be used to create a number of new technologies.

So I was delighted when it was announced that scientists had finally found them.

Unfortunately, a lot of science–or science announcements–turn out to be wrong (about 1/3 if memory serves), and that seems to have happened in this case.

Wikipedia is claiming that the publications announcing the discovery got it wrong by confusing a different phenomenon with true magnetic monopoles.

So now I can't blog on this.

Darn.

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{ 10 comments }

Rachel December 1, 2009 at 9:16 am

So instead you blog about not being to blog about it. Very sneaky. At least I learned something!

Alan December 1, 2009 at 9:23 am

A case of reality mirroring art or vice versa – the geek comedy Big Bang Theory has had several episodes about the search for magnetic monopoles.

pseudomodo December 1, 2009 at 9:26 am

Great post, Jimmy!

TC December 1, 2009 at 3:42 pm

Someday we’ll have to figure out which is worse, science reporting or religion reporting? Stories with headlines starting “Researchers Find” and “Vatican Spokesman Says” are almost always misleading.

Michael Bolin December 1, 2009 at 6:12 pm

TC: Actually, I can’t remember the last time I saw a headline starting “Vatican Spokesman Says.” Usually it’s “Vatican Says” (or “Vatican Cracks Down”), frequently when the speaker isn’t even an actual spokesman.

Jamie Beu December 2, 2009 at 8:51 am

I’m surprised you’re not blogging about Climategate at all. I thought for sure, if anyone would be talking about it, it would be you.

The Masked Chicken December 2, 2009 at 10:23 am

The magnetic monopole headline would have been correct if it had said they found monopole-like behavior. The scientists did the science correctly, but the translation to the general public was botched. I heard about this a month ago and the whole thing was pretty quickly clarified.
The Chicken

Will December 2, 2009 at 6:03 pm

Alan is right – I am a fan of “the Big Bang Theory” and when I first read this post, I was actually thinking that Jimmy was setting us up for a clip or something from the show! If you haven’t seen it Jimmy, you should watch the latest episode, I think you will get a kick out of it -

Jimmy Akin December 2, 2009 at 7:59 pm

Thanks for the info on The Big Bang Theory, guys! I haven’t seen it (well, I saw a Blu-Ray of it sitting in a rack in Best Buy). Didn’t know what it’s about, but I’ll see if I can find it on Hulu or something.
Right now I’m working my way through the first season of Fringe on DVD.

Hans December 4, 2009 at 4:19 pm

It’s an interesting effect, but it’s really more like electron holes in a semiconductor than like an electron.
When the ‘Magnetricity’ article came out a while ago, one of my brothers sent it to the family group email. The following was the explanation I sent:
Having reread the article, what they’re talking about is a magnetic analog of holes moving in a semiconductor, but in this case the hole is in the magnetic spins instead of the electric charges.
For those who never studied solid state physics, in some semiconductors the outer electron shell almost completely full, so that there are only a few places where another electron could go in the shell, but there isn’t one there; it’s a hole in the ‘electron sea’. Since there are many electrons in the shell (say something of the order of 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 or more electrons) but only a few holes, it’s much easier to describe the behavior of the holes.
What’s happening in the ‘spin ice’ is similar, but different of course. In most materials, the magnetic spins (okay, I’m being a bit redundant when I say that, but it’s easier than explaining how magnetism comes from spin) try to line up parallel to each other (ferromagnetically, FM) or antiparallel to each other (anti-ferromagnetically, aFM) if they interact. (If they don’t interact, they can be paramagnets or diamagnets, but that behavior doesn’t play a role in what we’re seeing here.)
In some materials, such as spin-glasses (because they have a spin structure that’s amorphous, like the ‘crystal structure’ in glass) and spin ices (mentioned in the article), there is a combination of FM and aFM interactions between spins that leads to “frustration”, a state in which not all interactions can be satisfied.
If a real magnetic monopole existed (and so far nobody’s found one), then all magnets would point the same pole toward it, depending on its ‘sign’. North poles would point toward a ‘South’ monopole, and south poles would point toward a ‘North’ monopole. It would look rather like an allium flower, where the florets are represent the magnets, and the center would be the location of the monopole.
What’s happening in the situation described in the article is that the frustration due to the crystal structure causes some number of spins to point toward or away from (it doesn’t have enough information to say which) a point, so that that point seems to be the location of a magnetic monopole. What they’ve now been able to do is get a crystal (perhaps the ones they had before?) in which this composite monopole behavior can move freely enough that it doesn’t break up, resulting in a magnetic current. Going back to the allium flower picture, the magnets have become spins, but there’s no monopole in the center.
It seems unlikely, given the fragile or brittle structure of such materials — they tend to be glass-like in crystal structure as well, that large-scale applications would be developed easily, or soon. But it’s an interesting effect and could have small-scale applications.

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