(Nanowerk News) Researchers at Aalto University and Amherst College have now created and photographed synthetic magnetic monopoles under laboratory conditions. These observations lay the foundation for the underlying structure of the natural magnetic monopole – the detection of which would be a revolutionary event comparable to the discovery of the electron. The results were recently published in Nature magazine ("Observation of Dirac monopoles in a synthetic magnetic field").
Artistic illustration of the synthetic magnetic monopole. (Image: Heikki Valja)
Although predicted over 80 years ago, the fundamentally quantum-mechanical configuration of the monopoles has not previously been observed in any physical system. The reported results demonstrate the structure in an ultracold atomic gas.
“Our achievement opens up amazing avenues for quantum research. It feels incredible to have been a part of such a major breakthrough,” says a delighted Dr. Mikko Möttönen from Aalto University, Finland.
Evidence for magnetic monopoles has been sought in sources as diverse as lunar samples and ancient micas. The multibillion-euro LHC particle accelerator at CERN has also been used in the search – but no magnetic monopoles have been convincingly identified. The discovery of the synthetic monopole provides a stronger foundation for these efforts.
“The creation of a synthetic magnetic monopole should provide us with unprecedented insight into aspects of the natural monopole,” says Prof. David S. Hall from Amherst College, USA. “It's not every day that you get to poke and prod the analogue of an elusive fundamental particle under highly controlled conditions in the laboratory.”, he continues.
“Synthesis of the monopole is the starting point for many new breakthroughs in quantum physics research. In the future, we want to get even a more complete correspondence with the natural magnetic monopole”, says Dr. Möttönen.
A magnetic monopole is a particle just like an electron, but with a magnetic rather than an electric charge. Some 80 years ago Paul A. M. Dirac, one of the founders of quantum physics, discovered a quantum-mechanical structure allowing the existence of magnetic monopoles. Dirac’s original framework has now been experimentally realized for the first time.