Researchers have discovered a magnetic equivalent to electricity: single magnetic charges that can behave and interact like electrical ones.
The work is the first to make use of the magnetic monopoles that exist in special crystals known as spin ice.
Writing in Nature journal, a team showed that monopoles gather to form a “magnetic current” like electricity.
The phenomenon, dubbed “magnetricity”, could be used in magnetic storage or in computing.
Magnetic monopoles were first predicted to exist over a century ago, as a perfect analogue to electric charges.
Although there are protons and electrons with net positive and negative electric charges, there were no particles in existence which carry magnetic charges. Rather, every magnet has a “north” and “south” pole.
In September this year, two research groups independently reported the existence of monopoles – “particles” which carry an overall magnetic charge. But they exist only in the spin ice crystals.
These crystals are made up of pyramids of charged atoms, or ions, arranged in such a way that when cooled to exceptionally low temperatures, the materials show tiny, discrete packets of magnetic charge.