WHY THIS MATTERS IN BRIEF
Wormholes that transfer electromagnetic signals, energy and other “stuff” via an unknown dimension are the stuff of science fiction, but they also have practical applications in healthcare, apparently.
Sci-fi fans around the world have long been waiting for the news that we can, finally create aliens, blackholes, deflector shields, food replicators, teleporters, time travel, tractor beams, warp drives and wormholes and, well, hey sci-fi fans your dreams are coming true. Sit down, grab a flat white and take ten minutes to feel awesome about science again.
Over the last few years scientists have been able to create almost all of those. Aliens? Done, say hey to our six base DNA alien buddy right here. Blackholes? Check out this freaky molecular sized blackhole that was created in the lab last year. Deflector shields? Check out this concept from BAE. Food replicators? Well, change the word replicator to 3D printer and bingo food on demand! Teleporters? Say goodbye photons, enjoy your 300km trip, and hey virus, how did you end up on Mars all of a sudden? Time travel? There’s a formula for that. Tractor beams? What else would you use to move ball bearings around with and make smartphones with? Warp drives? Theorised. And what about wormholes? Well, there’s great news there too…
This week a team of physicists at the Autonomous University of Barcelona (AUB) in Spain announced they’d managed to create “a wormhole that tunnels a magnetic field through an extra special dimension.”
“This device can transmit the magnetic field from one point in space to another point, through a path that is magnetically invisible,” said study co-author Jordi Prat-Camps, a doctoral candidate in physics at the AUB, “from a magnetic point of view, this device acts like a wormhole, as if the magnetic field was transferred through an extra special dimension.”
The idea of a wormhole comes from Albert Einstein’s theories. In 1935, Einstein and colleague Nathan Rosen realised that the general theory of relativity allowed for the existence of bridges that could link two different points in space-time. Theoretically these Einstein-Rosen bridges, or wormholes as they came to be known, could allow something to tunnel instantly between great distances, but so far, no one has found evidence that space-time wormholes actually exist.
A Great Explainer from D
The new wormhole isn’t a space-time wormhole, that’s a different type of wormhole apparently, but it is instead a realization of a futuristic “invisibility cloak” first proposed in 2007 in the journal Physical Review Letters. This type of wormhole would hide electromagnetic waves from view from the outside, but the trouble was, for the team to make the wormhole that “hid light” they’d have had to use exotic materials that are “extremely impractical and difficult to work with,” said Prat.
However, fortunately for wormhole fans, it turned out the materials to make a magnetic wormhole already exist and they’re much simpler to come by. In particular, superconductors, which can carry high levels of current, or charged particles, expel magnetic field lines from their interiors, essentially bending or distorting these lines. This essentially allows the magnetic field to do something different from its surrounding 3D environment, which is the first step in concealing the disturbance in a magnetic field.
In order to create their wormhole the team designed a three layer object consisting of two concentric spheres with an interior spiral cylinder. The interior layer essentially transmitted a magnetic field from one end to the other, while the other two layers acted to concealed the field’s existence.
The inner cylinder was made of a Ferromagnetic Mu-Metal. Ferromagnetic materials exhibit the strongest form of magnetism, while mu-metals are highly permeable and are often used for shielding electronic devices.
A thin shell made up of a high-temperature superconducting material called Yttrium Barium Copper Oxide, or YBCO for short, lined the inner cylinder, bending the magnetic field that travelled through the interior.
The final shell was made of another mu-metal, but composed of 150 pieces of material that had been cut and precisely placed to perfectly cancel out the bending of the magnetic field by the superconducting shell. The whole device was then placed in a liquid-nitrogen bath because, in this case high temperature superconductors need low temperatures to work.
Normally, magnetic field lines radiate out from a certain location and decay over time, but the presence of the magnetic field should have been detectable from points all around it. However, the new magnetic wormhole funnelled the magnetic field from one side of the cylinder to another so that it was invisible while in transit, which made it seemingly “pop out of nowhere” on the exit side of the tube. And voila, one magnetic wormhole.
“From a magnetic point of view, you have the magnetic field from the magnet disappearing at one end of the wormhole and appearing again at the other end of the wormhole,” said Prat.
For now there’s no way to know if similar magnetic wormholes lurk in space, but the technology could have applications on Earth, Prat said. For instance, Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) machines use giant magnets and require people to be in a tightly enclosed central tube for diagnostic imaging, but if a device could funnel a magnetic field from one spot to the other, it would be possible to take pictures of the body with the strong magnet placed far away, freeing people from the claustrophobic environment of an MRI machine, Prat said.
However, to do that, the researchers would need to modify the shape of their magnetic wormhole device. A sphere is the simplest shape to model, but a cylindrical outer shell would be the most useful for commercial applications, Prat said.
“If you want to apply this to medical techniques or medical equipment, for sure you will be interested in directing [the field] toward any given direction,” Prat said, “so a spherical shape is not the most practical geometry.”
The researchers paper appeared in the journal Scientific Reports.